A/N: Spoilers for No Rest for the Wicked. I know there are dozens of tags for the finale, and I know I said I wouldn't, but how could I not? I'll have chapters of Feral and Welcome up later this week, but I couldn't write ANYTHING until this was out. There's some very vivid imagery, so be warned. Title is from the song by Sting. NOT DEATH FIC!! Let me repeat that, NOT DEATH FIC.
The Soul Cages
Bobby heard the screams, they tore through the house with a physical violence. He was struggling to get to the boys, but he was trapped, held immobile. Bobby fought to get free of the force that was holding him—he couldn't. All he could do was listen to the agonized screams from elsewhere in the house.
Then, suddenly, he was free.
Bobby ran through the house, focused on the sound of Sam's voice. Focused on the desperate sobbing of the young man's voice. He'd dreaded this moment, feared it, from the instant, a year before, that Dean had told him. His heart had given an odd skip. He loved the boys like his own, always had, and the thought of losing one to Hell was terrifying. Sadly, he knew that wasn't the worst of it. He'd always known what would happen, he'd been mourning for weeks.
Sam's voice was suddenly silent.
Bobby burst through the door. The boys were lying on the floor. Dean was covered in blood, his chest ripped open, his legs torn to shreds. Sam was cradling his brother, curled around him protectively, as if he could shield his brother from what had happened. Bobby ran to the prone figures and gently turned Sam over, feeling for a pulse.
"No, damn it boy, no!" he said, tears running down his face. His worst fear realized.
Sam was dead.
Hell was surprisingly un-Hell like. The tunnel he was walking through glowed a grotesque green, blood dripped down the walls and up from the floor. The walls were the color of rotten flesh, gray-brown, with hints of darker decay. The air was filled with screams, echoing back and forth. I've actually been worse places. Sam walked on, towards the end of the tunnel, towards a red glow in the distance.
Sam had known this was coming, he'd been ready for days, hoping against hope that they would solve it before this, before he lost Dean, before his brother had to face Hell. Even if the visit will be short. But, over the last year, Sam had lost some of his optimism, some of his hope. The time after the trickster had taken Dean had left a mark. Sam had been prepared for the worst and was ready to risk everything to save Dean.
He'd found an entry in the writings of a twelfth century monk, Knute the Younger. A man who had dabbled furiously in the black arts before he'd retired to an abbey. His father, a minor king, had sold his soul to save his people from pestilence, the son had been unwilling to let his father face damnation for a selfless act, so he had set out to find a way out of Hell.
And he found it.
A spell let him follow his father into the abyss. Once there he stood before the Judge of Hell and offered himself in combat. Since his father had sold his soul to save his people, to save lives rather than for gain, the combat was allowed. Even Hell had rules. Knute faced the "Thirteen Furies"—demons who lived for combat. But he'd defeated them and had retrieved his father's soul.
And Sam used the spell.
As he'd held his brother in his arms, the agony of his loss nearly overwhelming him, he'd silently whispered the spell and followed Dean to Hell. Only Dean wasn't there. Knute's writings spoke of the tunnel that led to the great hall, they told of the place of the Judge. He made it clear that his father was held elsewhere.
Sam wondered how long his body would last without him. Time was different in Hell, he knew that. Moments on earth were years in Hell. Or could be. I hope it hasn't been too long for Dean. He knew his brother's body was badly damaged and saving him would require medical help and fast.
Doubt trickled through him, the first drops before the dam burst. What he was doing was a huge gamble. He knew it, pinning everything on the writings of a man who claimed to have gone to Hell and made it back…It was a little insane. But I think I might be a little insane. I know who I am without Dean. I can't…Sam forced the thought away. Another tiny stream of doubt invaded. What happened to Lilith? I stopped her. How? No, I know how, but can I keep that in check so I don't become what I've feared? He shoved his hands in his pockets, his left gripping a small box. Will it work?
A hand grabbed at him, sharp talons tearing pieces from his face. Pain lanced out from the touch, from the wounds. The claws continued to pull at him, tearing at him. "Go away," he whispered to the empty tunnel. The sharp points stopped, they rested on his face, he could feel one hovering near his eye. "Go away," he growled, rage bubbling up through the cold doubt. He heard a whimper and the claws went away.
The tunnel opened.
It was a vast cavern, the ceiling soared above Sam, reaching beyond his sight. Darkness gathered there, in the vault. Black flitting evil, bubbling and writhing like a sea of maggots. The walls stretched on either side, the black mass dripping down, dropping to the floor. Dark creatures moved, just beyond his sight, invisible shadows lurking in that vast space. Hands reached up from the floor, grabbing at his ankles. Anguished screams echoed through the cavern, drifting down from above him, drifting down from the writhing darkness.
One scream broke free of the cacophony. "SSSAAAMMMM!!" Dean's voice, drenched, drowning in pain, in agony, in terror. The scream stopped Sam in his tracks, he ground his teeth together. They are letting me hear him on purpose. To distract me. To keep me from going on. He forced himself forward, into the cavern, towards a red glow flickering across from him.
Dean's scream wrapped around him, a physical sensation of whirling air filled with his brother's anguished voice. This time, instead of stopping him, the voice spurred him to action. "DEAN!" he shouted into the vault above him. "DEAN! HANG ON!" He didn't know if his voice would carry beyond the writhing masses of darkness, but he shouted anyway.
"I'm here for my brother," he spoke quietly, knowing his voice carried to the dark things waiting at the edge of the huge space.
"He's ours," one voice—many voices answered.
"He gave his life selflessly."
"He gave his life selfishly," the voice hissed. "He gave it because he couldn't survive without you."
"No matter the motivation, he gave his life for mine. It was a selfless act."
"You are splitting hairs," the voice said. Darkness coalesced in front of Sam, black smoke swirling until it became visible. "Playing semantics with me," the demon said, speaking from a myriad of mouths, walking towards Sam.
"I ask for his soul."
"You challenge us for his soul?"
"I challenge you for his soul."
The demon in front of him split apart. Parts skittering away on spiders' legs, something flew, the sound of its wings whispering over the screams surrounding Sam. Something roared in the dark.
"SSSSSAAAAAMMMMMMM!! PLEASE,!!" Dean's scream sounded from behind him.
Something hit him hard from behind, claws ripping at his throat. Sam pushed upwards, throwing it off, mind and body suddenly completely focused on the fight. The white rage, the numbing cold he had known in the months Dean was dead returned, allowing a single-minded focus. Nothing existed except that moment, Dean's screams faded to the background, as did all else. Even Sam's own pain, spiraling to agony as the demons attacked and tore at him, faded into nothing. All that existed was the battle.
And it was a battle he would win.
The rage filled him. He needed a weapon, and suddenly one was in his hand. Sam struck out with it, a battle axe, tearing through the demon in front of him. It shrieked and dropped apart, cut in two by the swing. Something ripped at his back, Sam turned, everything was washed in red, as if a curtain of blood hung between him and his opponents. Another screamed and fell before him and another.
He was filled with glee, power, as he struck them down. Someone was laughing, a harsh laugh, cruel, filled with the sound of death. The power flowed through him, he recognized it—the same feeling had filled him in the instant before Lilith had failed. Power, yes, power. The rage moved him on, he struck again and again. The laughter increased, cruel, harsh…
Sam realized it was his voice.
Black blood splattered over him, acid-like drops searing his skin. Still he fought on. He dropped to the ground as a sliver of doubt glimmered darkly in his mind. What have I become? In that moment Dean's screams were once again audible. Dean! He forced himself up, feeling the rage, letting it flow through him, letting it fill him with power. Finally the last of the Thirteen stood before him, wounded, growling like a trapped animal. Its life was nearly over, Sam laughed, mocked its pain and then struck, the single blow cleaving it in two.
Sam took a breath, the air burning in his lungs. He dragged himself to the massive chair suddenly resting in the center of the cavern. "I want my brother," he said, his voice unrecognizable.
"You fought well," the Judge said.
"Dean," Sam growled.
"Let me think about that." The Judge looked at him. "Uh, no."
"What do you mean?" Sam hissed.
"You can't have him."
"I fought the challenge, I defeated the Thirteen. By the rules…" Sam drew a breath, trying to push the growing anger away. No, Dean, no. I'm so sorry.
"It only works for humans," the Judge laughed.
"And you aren't, are you? Not quite."
"He used magic to defeat the Thirteen. Only magic or someone with demonic blood can defeat them. You didn't use magic."
"You cheated." The rage was growing again, building in him, pulsing with a darkness that both terrified him and filled him with joy.
"Of course I did. It let you come to me." The demon rose from his throne and walked to Sam, resting a hand on Sam's cheek. He could hear his flesh sizzling from the touch. "You could be great…You are great."
"No," Sam shook his head.
"Serve as my right hand. I'll give you all the earth as your playground."
Sam was shaking his head as the idea filled him. "What about Lilith and her friends?"
"They will serve you, Sam," the demon crooned gently.
"Serve me?" The white rage, the darkness pulsed through him. Anger flowed out, he heard the things around him whimper and move away. The floor trembled beneath him.
"All of them. You surpass them. You can have anything."
"I want Dean."
The demon shook his head and ran a gentle hand through Sam's hair. "His contract is already…"
"No." Sam pulled away. The creatures who had ventured back flitted away. "No." He dug in his pocket and pulled out the small box. "I surpass them?"
"You are the greatest of them, my child."
"I want Dean," he said, opening the box.
"Sam," he said gently. "His soul was already purchased."
"Yeah." Sam unfolded the paper from the box. He handed it to the Judge.
The demon roared in anger. Another appeared before him. "You purchased…you…how…" The Judge struck out and the demon before him sizzled, screaming and dissolving into the ground. Sam smiled as he watched the thing die. He looked up and met the Judge's eyes, the smile still there. The Judge handed him back the paper. "If you can find him, he's yours. We aren't finished."
"Yes we are." Sam carefully folded the document and put it back into the box, then turned to search for Dean.
Pain, agony, blinding, terrifying anguish filled him. Every second every breath was pain. It filled him. If he moved it ached, if he didn't it ached. The hooks dug at his flesh, the heat of the air burned his flesh. Blistering agony. Never ending. If he closed his eyes to block out the horrific sights before him, tiny claws would wrench the lids open again. The world changed around him, he was suspended miles above the ground, then he was hanging only feet above a blackened, writhing floor, hands reaching out to tear at him from below.
They came to torment him. Small flitting bits of darkness. Perching on him, bouncing so the hooks would tear his flesh. He screamed. They laughed. He begged for mercy and they tore his eyes out, only to shove them back in again, laughing again. He screamed for his brother.
And he was there. Sam, standing before him. "Sam? Please help me." Sam looked at him, his eyes gentle, he took a step forward and then the eyes changed to demonic black, empty soulless eyes and the thing laughed. The dark creatures bouncing on Dean's chest laughed and began tearing strips of flesh away.
It was only the first time Sam appeared. Each time relief would flood through Dean, each time the laughter grew as his sobs tore through the air. There were other demons, they all knew his name, they came to pull, to tear, to torture. The small creatures stayed on him, laughing, ripping at him, amusing themselves with his screams, with his tears. He could hear his voice begging for Sam, calling his brother.
"DEAN!" Sam's voice echoed around him, "DEAN! HANG ON!"
"Sammy?" he whispered. The things on his chest tore at him, laughing, the agony increased. The only thing that mattered was that voice, that call. It sounded like Sam. They had increased the torture for some reason. Laughing as he screamed his brother's name, laughing as he begged them to stop. He begged the silence for release, knowing it would never come, knowing this would never end.
But it did.
The creatures stopped. He looked at them. They were frozen, looking at something beyond him. He tried to turn his head, the hooks holding it tore at his skin. He moaned and held still. Footsteps were approaching. Dragging footsteps. The dark things on his chest were suddenly trembling. Dean could sense their fear, their terror of whatever was approaching them.
"Release him," a terrible voice growled. The creatures rushed to do the voice's bidding. They pulled the hooks from him, undid his bonds. He dropped to the floor. The clawed hands reached through the ground to grab at him. "Let him go." The hands retreated with a whimper.
Dean closed his eyes. The floor burned already charred flesh. The pain didn't diminish even though the bonds were gone. The footsteps got closer, the things that had been watching from the walls, from around him, moaned in fear and he was alone with the footsteps. They filled the cavern. They had sounded weary, dragging, but now they approached at a run. He braced himself, trying to burrow into the burning ground.
A cooling breeze brushed him, like a summer rain on a hot day. Gentle hands pulled him up and into an embrace—tight, fierce, possessive. He recognized the touch, knew it without opening his eyes, knew it without a word. "Sammy?" he sobbed against his brother. "Sammy?"
"We're going home, Dean." The embrace tightened. "We're going home."
"No, damn it boy, no!" Bobby's gruff voice was full of tears.
"Call 911," Sam groaned.
"Call 911. Dean…" Sam opened his eyes and pushed Bobby's hands away. "CPR." He heard Bobby calling as he started the round of breaths and chest compressions, ignoring the blood, the wounds that covered Dean's body. Bobby bent to help. Sam heard the scream of the sirens, and then medics were there, working on Dean, asking what happened. He heard Bobby say something about a pitbull.
Focusing was getting harder and harder. The effort expended, the wounds received, in Hell were affecting his body. He stood and walked towards Bobby, following Dean's stretcher as they pushed it out the door. "Bobby? You should drive."
"SAM!" Bobby caught him as he fell, as he pitched into darkness untouched by screams.
Awareness crept in, pushing him out of a quiet sleep. He heard the soft beeping of a heart monitor. He took a breath, someone beside him put a hard, callused hand on his wrist.
"Sam?" Bobby's asked.
Sam opened his eyes and looked at the older man. "Hey, Bobby." He shifted, he was stiff, looking around he realized he was in a hospital bed. "What happened?"
"You collapsed. You've been out nearly two days."
Sam struggled to sit up. "Dean?"
"He's okay, still unconscious, but the doc said he'll recover." Bobby looked at him. "What happened?"
"Knute the Younger…"
"You went to Hell to fight for Dean's soul? What the hell were you thinking?" Bobby shouted.
Sam shrugged. "It worked."
"Sam, we don't know what happened to Dean. He might not make it all the way back."
Sam tried to push away the memory of his brother's body hanging above the floor, of the things that had been torturing him. "He will, Bobby, he has to." Sam leaned back and closed his eyes. "I need to sleep a little longer…"
He slept the rest of that day, and most of the next. Bobby wheeled him down to check on Dean, he laid his hand on his brother's chest, feeling the gentle beat of Dean's heart. He let the tears go, let them run silently down his face as he sat beside Dean. We made it.
The doctors backed off the painkillers they were giving him for the mysterious injuries and "illness" that afflicted him. Sam chuckled to himself as he listened to the doctor trying to explain what was wrong, but they finally released him. He walked out of his room and to Dean's, settling in the chair beside his brother's bed.
They'd pulled the vent, Dean was breathing on his own, but still out. Sam was beginning to doubt his glib assurance to Bobby that Dean would be okay. His brother moaned, fighting something unseen. Sam knew what it was, the doctors didn't and mumbled quietly as they came and went. Sam slept in the chair by the bed. Refusing to leave, knowing he needed to be there when his brother woke. Bobby came and went, bringing Sam food, sitting with him. He'd left to get them both coffee and Sam was flipping through the stations, hoping to find something watchable.
A moan from the bed pulled his attention away. "No," Dean groaned. "No." Sam sat on the bed and put his hands on Dean's arms, trying to keep him still so the hundreds of stitches wouldn't rip. Dean fought against him.
"Dean, no, it's okay. You're in the hospital. It's over. You're okay."
Dean stopped moving and opened his eyes. Tears sprung into his eyes and ran down his cheeks. "Over?" Dean blinked. Sam could see the horror of memories in his brother's eyes. "Sam?"
"Over, Dean." Tears were running down Sam's face. Oh god Dean…
"Sammy?" Dean held his hand out. Sam looked at it for a moment, then reached down and gathered his brother into his arms. Dean's arms went around him. "Over?" he sobbed.
"Yeah, Dean," Sam said. Dean was sobbing against him, Sam let his own tears go, the horror of what they'd both experienced alive in the room. "Over," he said as he wept against Dean's shoulder.
Dean finally leaned back against the bed. He reached for Sam's hand. Sam took it in both of his. "You were there," Dean said softly.
"If you tell me I shouldn't have, I swear Dean, I'll kick your ass."
"You shouldn't have."
"I should have left you in Hell?"
Haunted eyes met his. Somehow Sam knew that haunted look would never leave his brother's eyes. "Yeah."
"Well, I didn't."
"Bitch." Dean tightened his hold on Sam's hand.
"Thank you," Dean whispered, tears starting down his cheeks again. "But how?"
Sam thought about the battle, about nearly giving in to the darkness in himself, then smiled. It was worth it. I made it, Dean made it. That's all that matters. "Turns out someone else held your contract."
"Yeah," Sam grinned.
"But, Sammy," Dean's voice was panicked.
Sam pulled a hand free to pat his brother's chest. "Don't worry. He's on the right side."
Dean relaxed and smiled. "Sleepy," he said, his eyes closing. "You staying?"
"I'm not going anywhere," Sam said softly. He squeezed Dean's hand. "And neither are you."
"Have to find the guy who holds the contract."
"Don't worry about that Dean, sleep."
"Yeah." Dean relaxed, his breathing evened out. There was a small smile on his face.
Sam shifted off the bed, keeping Dean's hand in his, thinking about what it all meant. He smiled. It had been a joke, years before, the day after "The Simpsons" had aired. He reached in his pocket and pulled out the small box. The real one, not the conjured one he had carried with him to Hell. It meant a myriad of things, most good, some dark, some so terrifying Sam could barely consider them.
Someone else held Dean's contract.
Sam unfolded the paper, scorched at the edges, signed in blood.
From this day forward, October 10, 1995, let be known that I, Dean Winchester, do hereby sell my soul and all that means for the sum of 25, no chores for three weeks and two bags of M&Ms, to Sam Winchester.