Title: Devils and Dust
Rating: PG-13 (language)
Summary: If this one wrong could be made something close to right, then he could believe there might be a way to save everyone else. Tag scene to "Lucifer Rising."
Disclaimer: Not mine, but now I'm more willing to leave them in Kripke's hands than I have been since, oh, I don't know, the start of this season.
A/N: So is it bad form to answer your own prompt for a challenge that hasn't officially started yet? Yeah, I thought so. This is unbetaed in an attempt to appease the plot bunny that attached itself to my ankle this afternoon and wouldn't let go, which can be really awkward when you're in the middle of a Target store.
Fear's a powerful thing, baby
It can turn your heart black you can trust
It'll take your God-filled soul
And fill it with devils and dust
In the end, it wasn't so different than the Devil's Gate. There was blinding white light instead of billowing black smoke, and they were confined inside a dank and dusty building instead of huddling under the wide Wyoming sky, but the net result—cowering in terror while the forces of evil flew right on by like they weren't even there—was the same.
Sam kept clutching Dean's jacket with both hands until long after the column of light had winked out, noticing in some small, grateful corner of his mind that Dean's hand was wrapped up just as tightly in his sleeve. The migraine-strength headache that had flared to life along with the light diminished to a dull roar like dark voices murmuring in the back of his head. The candles fluttered out, leaving only moonlight filtering in through the long-broken windows and the fresh, gaping hole in the stone roof to outline Dean's stunned profile as he stared down at the swirling smears of blood on the floor.
The dim lighting was fine, because Sam really didn't want to face his brother right now. If it wasn't for the way that the jagged hole inside of him had started to close back up when he heard "Sammy!" shouted through the thick oak door, he would have said that he never wanted to face him again.
What might have been seconds or minutes later, Dean unclenched his hand and took a step back, forcing Sam's hands to fall away as well. The silence was loud enough to hurt his ears, and the headache was sliding out towards his temples, apparently trying to colonize his entire head.
Sam cleared his throat. "Go ahead," he said, turning to face Dean full-on and spreading his arms wide, lifting his chin and tightening his jaw against the punch he hoped would come. "World's biggest 'I told you so,' right here."
Dean stared at him for a long minute, a series of expressions flickering across his familiar features that were too fleeting to place. Finally he said, his voice rough, "You were just doin' what the angels wanted, Sammy."
"What?" He stared back incredulously, waiting for the punchline. There wasn't any other way to respond to a statement as ludicrous as that.
His brother rubbed a hand over his mouth and jaw, the circles under his eyes looking like bruises. "Think the Flood without the Ark. Wiping everything away and starting over with a clean slate. They were playing us the whole time and we never knew it."
Sam's gaze flickered down to Ruby's corpse at the "playing us" part before moving back up to Dean. "So, you're saying it's not my fault that I just unleashed fucking Armageddon?" he barked out harshly, dropping his arms to his sides and taking a step forward to loom over Dean. He needed Dean to be angry at him, to take it out on him, to give him everything he deserved after being so epically stupid for an entire year. "Give me a break."
Dean tilted his head to the side, unfazed at Sam's closeness. "Not saying that," he responded honestly. "Just saying it's more complicated than you know."
He looked into Dean's eyes for a moment longer before dropping his head and taking a step back. Sam suddenly wished that he hadn't been strong enough to take on Lilith, that she had been the one to waste him and that he had been the one to sacrifice himself for the good of his side. He wished that that final drink of demon blood hadn't been enough to—
"Oh, God." He lifted his eyes to Dean's. "She's still out there."
"Who?" Dean asked, but Sam was already off and running, racing out of the crumbling convent, heart pounding hard once again. Maybe this was one person he could save, one wrong he could right. There was no way that even a lifetime of saving people would be enough to atone for what he'd done here tonight, but he had to try.
He heard Dean's feet pounding behind him on the stone floor, past the crumpled bodies that Lilith had done God knew what with before he arrived. Then they were out into the night air, thick and humid this close to the Chesapeake, the clean scent of marsh grass tinged with the all-too-familiar sharpness of sulfur.
Was the whole world going to smell like that now?
He skidded to a halt at the rear of the car and the body lying on the ground behind it. The moonlight was spilling over Cindy McKellan's white face and the two clotted red lines on her neck. Sam could still taste the sharp tang of her blood on his tongue, and he brought the back of his hand up to his mouth to keep from retching.
Behind him, he heard a quiet, "Damn it," as Dean came up next to him. Out of the corner of his eye, Sam could see horrified understanding sweeping across his brother's face before his expression went carefully blank. "Is she—"
"I don't know," Sam said hoarsely. He'd taken what he needed and left her there, sure that he wasn't going to be able to come back to see if she'd survived, writing her off as another innocent sacrificed to the Law of War. He knelt down but was too terrified to reach out to the unmarred side of her neck and check for a pulse. When he looked at her bruised hands, he could still hear her muffled screams and sobs coming from the trunk, and a shiver swept over him.
Just like that, her eyes snapped open, black as the night sky above them. "Well done, Sammy!" she grinned.
"Shut up, bitch," Dean instantly growled from behind him.
They both ignored him. "You knew?" Sam asked, staring intently into her dark eyes as if he could read the truth there.
The corner of her mouth turned up. "Not until after the fact. But damn, am I proud to have played a role. Giving you that one final boost to set everything in motion. And here I thought I was just playing Pampered Chef for Lilith."
"Ruby said it wasn't the blood," he shot back, swallowing hard.
"She told you a lot of things," the demon taunted. "Why believe that one any more than anything else?"
Sam drew in a long, shuddering breath and rose to his feet. "You're right," he said. "So there's no reason to believe anything you say, either." He automatically started to reach inside himself, extending his hand out in front of him, watching her eyes narrow.
The choked cry from behind him was a slap in the face. "Fuck," he breathed, yanking his hand back as if it had been burned, his heart pounding. He looked down at the demon for a moment and then wet his lips and began in a hoarse voice, "Exorcizo te, omnis spiritus immunde, in nomine Dei—"
"Aw, why go old school on me?" the demon asked, her back starting to arch against the gravel of the driveway despite her casual words. "I was looking forward to the full treatment."
"Shut it," Dean barked, laying a supportive hand on Sam's shoulder.
Grateful for the encouragement, he went on, "In nomine Dei Patris omnipotentis, et in nomine Jesu Christi Filii ejus—"
"She's going to die, you know." The harshly panting voice cut through his words. "You sliced her good, Sammy. As soon as I'm outta here, she'll be dead as a doornail."
He faltered. He didn't think he'd made the cuts that deep, but he had been in a bit of hurry. "Domini...Domini et Judicis nostri, et in…" Damn it, he couldn't remember what came next! He'd spent months memorizing exorcisms after the Devil's Gate opened, and in no time they'd rolled off his tongue like honey. It hadn't been that long since he'd used one, had it?
"In virtute Spiritus Sancti," Dean prompted as his fingers gripped Sam's shoulder harder.
He couldn't remember the last time he'd spoken an exorcism out loud. He'd gotten so used to the rush of power, the way he could make a demon scream in pain and fear, and the way he could get them back piece by piece for what they'd done to Dean, what they'd torn out of his brother. A little exorcism was like a slap in the face after what he was used to doing, and he didn't think it was wrong of him to mourn that loss at least a little. Besides, if Ruby was right and it didn't have anything to do with how much blood he consumed…
That meant every human he'd cut open over the past few months had been for nothing. For absolutely fucking nothing.
"Sam?" Dean's voice was right in his ear. "You with me?"
The realization washed over him, making him want to drop to his knees and hurl. The knowing smile on the face of demon made it even worse. For a moment, he was so tempted to reach out and blast her into oblivion that it almost hurt.
Then he cleared his throat, stood straighter, and closed his eyes. No more, he said firmly to himself. "In virtute Spiritus Sancti," he echoed, reaching back blindly for Dean's jacket the same way he'd done in the convent.
A second later, Dean's baritone joined in, strong and sure, and they recited the words of the exorcism together, voices blending in a cry against the dark that felt more powerless than such ancient words of banishment should ever be. When they reached, "et saeculum per ignem," Sam shivered and opened his eyes in time to see the dark cloud shoot skyward from the nurse's mouth. And the world by fire indeed, he thought, watching the smoke fly across the dark horizon, the smell of sulfur lingering behind it.
A small, choked noise from the ground caught his attention, and he looked down to see Cindy McKellan's brown eyes open and roaming around wildly. When they caught on his face, she shrank back against the ground, her hands scrabbling at the gravel. "Please," she cried through a throat he knew was hoarse from screaming. "Please, no more. Please, let me go."
Sam opened his mouth, ready to do whatever it took to reassure her that it was over, when Dean's fingers dug into his shoulder. "Go with me," Dean muttered in his ear, and the thought that his brother even had to ask was another knife blade in his heart. He jerked his chin upwards in acquiescence.
"Is this the man who was hurting you?" Dean asked Cindy, reaching out to twist Sam's arm up behind his back. Sam played along, grunting as if it hurt, writhing in place as if he was trying to get away.
"Yes," she answered without hesitation. "He—he kidnapped me and brought me here in the trunk. I thought…" her voice trailed off. "I thought he was going to kill me."
Sam could feel Dean tensing more with every word Cindy said. "Are you okay?" Dean asked roughly. His grip on Sam's wrist was tight, but Sam didn't have any right to complain.
"I—I think so." She slowly sat up and reached for her neck, blanching when her fingers came away sticky and red. "He—he cut me with a knife and then he was—" She swallowed hard, either unable or unwilling to remember him slurping away at her neck.
"I said I was sorry," Sam whined, figuring that the crazier he played this, the better. "I told you, I had to do it to kill the demon."
"Yeah, yeah, save it for the judge." Dean gave him a shake, and Sam amplified it, jerking his head back and muttering under his breath. "Ma'am, my name is John Bonham and I'm with the State Police. We've been looking for this guy for a while now, and I'm thankful we were able to find you."
Cindy looked around as if to see the "we" that Dean was talking about. "Where's your car?" she asked warily.
"I, uh, spun it out on the way here, had to come the rest of the way on foot," Dean said quickly, and Sam bit his lip. If Dean could get Cindy to trust him and get her back to safety, if this one wrong could be made something close to right, then he'd believe there might be a way to save everyone else.
Otherwise, it was damn tempting to give himself the same treatment with Ruby's knife that she'd gotten from Dean.
"So how are you going to take him in?" the nurse asked, never taking her eyes from Dean.
Sam turned his head slightly to see Dean reaching for his belt. When the clink of metal rang out through the air, his sandy eyebrows furrowed in confusion. He quickly covered it up, through, pulling out the handcuffs that had apparently dropped out of thin air and spinning Sam around to slam him up against the orange car. He leaned over as he loosely cuffed Sam's arms behind his back, muttering in Sam's ear, "Guess Chuck's back at his keyboard."
Sam let out a huff of breath. He didn't really want to think about the scruffy prophet's warnings and what he might or might not have seen coming. "The car's a two-seater, you know," he murmured back, using Dean's bulk to shield his face from Cindy as he spoke. "You're gonna have to put me in the trunk."
The hand around his forearm tightened painfully, and Dean scowled down at him. "Like you'd fit, Sasquatch."
"I can do it," he ground through his teeth, turning away to look out across the empty marsh. I have to do it.
Dean bent closer and said right in his ear, "You don't have to prove anything, Sam."
"We don't have a choice," he replied quickly before pushing himself away from the car and shouting, "Are you nuts? You can't put me in the trunk! That's police brutality!"
Dean shot him a quick look before saying, "Extreme circumstances, but then a scum like you doesn't deserve anything better." The apologetic look on his face didn't soften the blow any, and Sam turned away, a lump rising in his throat. He was finding it harder with every minute to believe that Dean had left the snarling message on his voicemail, but he'd heard Dean's voice with his own ears.
So he didn't even pretend to fight as "John Bonham" made a show of forcing him and his long limbs in the trunk. He closed his eyes as the lid came down, unable to face either the anguished look he knew must be on his brother's face or the fearful expression Cindy was sure to have at the reminder of what she'd been through. And even though shouting and screaming would have been in character with the nutjob he was supposed to be, the thought of subjecting the woman in the front seat to any kind of reminder of her journey out here was enough to turn his stomach.
So instead he curled up his cramped limbs as tightly as he could and let the memories of everything Ruby had ever said to him flow through his head like the thick, dark blood spilling out from below the altar. He started picking them apart to examine the double meanings he hadn't been looking for, trying to put together a timeline of exactly how she had so completely manipulated him into something he hadn't seen coming. It hurt like daggers every time he saw now what he should have seen then, but the pain was welcome compared to the complete gibbering terror he was likely to dissolve into once he stopped to think about what had actually happened tonight, what he had actually done.
He saw now that it was fear, plain and simple. It was fear that had let him to trust Ruby, first when she promised to get Dean out of his deal, and then when she promised to get him through the aftermath of the hellhounds and exact his revenge. He'd never questioned how she'd managed to claw her way out of Hell, never wondered how they were always just far enough behind Lilith to keep him motivated, keep him training, until it was far too late. Fear of what he was becoming had made him put his head down and embrace his so-called destiny, ready to sacrifice himself to save the world, imagining all of his sins washed away if he gave himself up for the angels who didn't even want him.
Except if what Dean said was right, it turns out they did want him. Just not in the right way.
He dimly registered the car pulling up to a hospital, the faint sounds of sirens in the background layered over two car doors opening and shutting. He let out a breath. At least Cindy would be taken care of. He wondered how long she'd been possessed and how much missing time she'd have to account for. He'd never remembered more than a few sharp images from his time in the passenger seat with Meg, but he had no idea if that was due to his…special nature or not.
A moment later, the driver's side door opened and closed, and they were off again. It wasn't more than ten minutes before the car came to a stop again, but by then the anticipation of being let loose was sending pins and needles through his arms and legs. There was one final short trip that must have been to the backside of a motel, and then the creaking of a door that was not the Impala and Dean's footsteps coming closer.
Sam took a deep breath and forced back the paralyzing guilt and fear that was threatening to overwhelm him. They had a job to do, and since Dean was apparently willing to speak to him, they were going to have to map out an action plan. He was going to have to tell his brother everything Ruby had ever said to him about Lilith and the seals, sifting through the dross for nuggets of information that might help them figure out what to do next. He was going to have to swallow back his revulsion over everything he'd done and hope his brother could do the same, since it suddenly appeared that it was literally the two of them against the world—and the worlds above and below.
When Dean opened the trunk, he was ready.