The demon found them at a rest stop in Wyoming.
Dean should have been prepared for it happening, but the vessel this demon chose took him by surprise.
Demons were usually predictable. They liked routine and tended to follow a certain pattern when it came to choosing a vessel. Dean had long since noticed that they liked to choose the most ordinary, harmless looking men they could find to possess, Sam being a notable exception. On the other hand, they almost always chose drop-dead beautiful women to possess, the more stunning the better. Dean figured they got their kicks ruining beauty where they could find it.
The woman who approached Dean could've been a grandmother with her close-set eyes and weathered skin, absurdly clutching a quilted handbag to her chest. Sam had been at the other end of the rest stop, walking off some of the early shakes of withdrawal, and when she asked for help with her car, Dean figured there must be something about him that just exuded mechanical competence. He was leaning over her engine when a blast of something furiously cold hit him from behind.
Dean instinctively reached for his missing Colt, but when he turned around, Sam was already there. Dean could feel that his brother was somehow wrong even before the demon hissed like she'd been burned alive.
Sam's face was taut with pain, his hand outstretched and trembling. More terrifying, his eyes were every bit as black and soulless as the demonic grandmother who was frozen in her place.
"Stay back, Dean."
"No! There's gotta be another way."
"No other way. Just me."
"Sam Winchester." Even in Sam's thrall, the demon's tremulous voice almost sounded flirtatious. "It's an honor."
"What the hell is this crap? Let's get out of here, Sammy."
"No!" Sam waved his hand distractedly, and Dean found himself stuck. The paralysis was an unpleasant tingle, like a direct hit to his funny bone but all over his body. Sam asked the demon, "What do you want from me?"
"I made a special trip to thank you. You've done a wonderful thing, and we're all so grateful."
"Like hell, lady! You got what you wanted, now just leave my brother alone." Dean couldn't even move his fingers, but he wanted to kill something so badly, it wasn't even funny.
But Sam wasn't backing down. "You want to thank me? Okay, I want answers. Why all the storms, the earthquake, the volcano? Who's trying to kill us?"
She flashed an indulgent smile. "Oh sweetie, why would we be trying to kill you? We're having a party. The victory is won, dear. We're celebrating with you."
"Okay I've had enough. Screw this. Waste her, Sam."
Sam stared at Dean. "You want me to exorcise the demon?"
"Sure. Might as well use your freaky superpowers for something productive."
But the demon told Sam, "Oh no, save your powers, dear, for when they're really needed. I just wanted to thank you. We're not going to forget you, Sam Winchester."
The woman's eyes flashed black, and she tipped her head back, spewing a demonic gray cloud. Sam gasped and folded to his knees, just as the woman started to go down. Sam's mojo disappeared in time for Dean to catch the elderly woman before she collapsed completely. Dean could feel human warmth flooding back underneath her skin, even as Sam retched again and again on the muddy ground, blood and bile coming out of his nose and mouth. Dean set the woman down, and crouched next to his brother, feeling more helpless than he'd ever been before.
"It's okay. You're all right now, it's over." Dean kept his hand on Sam's back and didn't stop talking until the vomiting stopped.
The woman just sat on the muddy ground. She said, "But I don't understand. I was on my way to Wall-mart…"
"This isn't working, Dean."
Damn straight it wasn't working, but there wasn't much Dean could do about it. They'd been driving through the night, the darkness interrupted only by an occasional pair of headlights coming from the other direction. Standing down the demon had taken its toll on Sam, making his symptoms even worse. Slumped against the window, he was drenched in sweat and overwhelmed by violent shivering. His shirt was wet and dappled in blood, but he was too cold to take it off, so Dean didn't push it.
"Bobby's had a couple days to work on this. He'll have some ideas by now. Maybe, we can figure out a way to dry you out so you won't have to go cold turkey again."
"That's not what I'm talking about," Sam said, his teeth chattering even though Dean had the heater on full blast.
"Yeah well. At least the rain's stopped. You think that demon told your other groupies that natural disasters weren't the way to win you over?"
"It's not the blood. It's me."
"A little random, dude."
"Ruby said I never needed the demon blood. This thing was already in me. The whole demon blood thing was some screwed up way of helping me believe in myself, I guess."
"And you believe her?"
Dean set his jaw, looking straight ahead at the road while trying to control his rising anger. "Ruby lied to you about everything, and you're willing to take her word on this?"
"She had no reason to lie about this. She was bragging. Dean, I think… she was excited for me. It was like she was proud of me."
"She practically killed you, Sammy. She strung you out, so you'd have no choice but follow her for your next fix. Demons don't care about people. They don't love. They can't. That's why they're demons."
Dean glanced over, and Sam's eyes were full again, his nose leaking more blood.
Sam said quietly, "I…I can love. Sort of disproves your theory."
Dean's eyes filled up with tears, and he swallowed, trying to hold it together.
"You're not a demon."
"But I'm not human either. I'm a freak – you said it yourself."
"You're you. You're my brother, and you can join the circus for all I care."
They were quiet for a while. The waning moon was high in the night sky, dark shadows on either side of the road. There had never been any guarantees in this life, and Dean knew how quickly things could change. He wished he could promise Sam that everything would be okay, but he was finished with lying to his brother.
That was when Sam said, "I don't know if I can stop."
"You can. I'll help you."
"I'm not sure I want to stop."
And that was something else altogether. Dean swore and turned the wheel, bringing them to a hard stop on the shoulder of the road.
"What the hell, Sam? You better not be telling me you want this!"
"I don't! I never did. But I can feel it in me, Dean. This is me. It's who I am."
"Oh well that's just awesome, Sam. Good for you. And the blood? Do I get to be your dealer now, go around ganking poor possessed sons of bitches so you can get your fix?"
Sam flinched. "I'm going to quit."
"Fine. That's all that matters."
"It's not that simple."
Yeah, it really was that simple. Dean had to get out of the damn van and give himself a chance to breathe again.
The air was viciously cold, but it felt good; it helped him clear his head. Dean stared at the sky, hoping to find some kind of answer there. The stars were awesome, vast, and eternal. They made him feel small like they always had, but knowing there was something or someone up there who'd taken a personal interest in him and Sam scared the hell out of Dean. It made no sense. He and Sam were nothing, just a couple of brothers from Kansas, and yet he'd been told that they were the key to the fate of everything.
Dean was sick to death of being so damn important. And he was pissed. This had gone on long enough, and he'd had enough of being screwed around for the benefit of immortal creatures who would never, ever understand what it was like to take care of a kid brother.
Dean shouted to the heavens, "Stop screwing with us! What do you want from us anyway?"
Sam opened the door, getting out of the van. "Who the hell are you yelling at, Dean?"
"My keepers. I figure they owe me an explanation."
Sam leaned against the van, and Dean was about to tell him to get back inside, when all of a sudden, the truth came to him. The revelation was so unexpectedly simple, it made him laugh out loud. Sam was looking at him like he'd lost his mind.
"Thank you," he called out to whoever had been listening. To Sam he said, "I understand now."
"Dude, I think you need to get some sleep."
"Think about it Sam. What are they afraid of? Why'd they try so hard to keep us away from each other? All that time they had me stuck in that freaking green room, they offered me anything I wanted except for the one thing I did want."
"What did you want?"
"You, dumbass. And that's what scares them. It's us, Sammy, me and you together."
"Ruby…she tried to keep me away from you. I didn't see it when it was happening."
Dean smiled and cuffed his brother on the back of his head. "If we're scaring the crap out of angels and demons, then I'd say we're on the right track. We own this apocalypse thing, Sammy."
"I tried to kill you."
"Yeah, that was a shitty thing to do, and I'll beat the hell out of you once you're up for it. No offense dude, but you fail at this arch-nemesis stuff."
Sam might have smiled, but it was hard to tell in the moonlight. "What now?"
"We get you to Bobby's. We dry you out, and stick together."
"Okay Dean," Sam said and got back into the van. Okay. Now that was a start.
He stood for a minute all by himself underneath the brackish night sky. It was so elemental and so absurd, Dean couldn't figure out how he'd missed it.
Dean was going to defeat Lucifer, just like the angels said. He was going to save the world. But first, he was going to save Sam, destiny be damned. It would start with Sam. The world would have to wait its turn.
Bobby's place was a desolation of weeds, rusted hulls of old cars, and broken glass, but it was the closest thing they had to a home, and Dean was awfully glad to see it again. All the same, he'd stopped at the bottom of the hill that led up to the house. Bobby tended to shoot first, and there wasn't much that would spook him more than a freaking Honda Odyssey pulling into the salvage yard.
"Are we there yet?"
Startled, Dean turned to find Sam awake. He'd finally given in to an unsettled sleep, but only after hours of hallucinations and waking dreams. They'd had to stop a few times during the night so Sam could dry heave by the side of the road. There was no doubt about it. His little brother was absolutely and utterly fucked up. It made Dean ache inside.
"Yeah, we're there, kiddo. Just trying to figure out how to break the news to Bobby."
Sam was quiet for a while, staring out the window. He looked just awful, pale and bruised all over like he'd been on a month-long bender.
But Sam's voice was surprisingly steady when he said, "Dean, tell me what you swore to them."
"What you promised the angels. Tell me exactly, word for word."
"I don't remember exactly. How come?"
"Dude, the most important conversation of your life and you don't remember what you said?"
"Cut me some slack. I had other things on my mind. You and your demon DTs for one."
"Try and remember."
"Why? What does it matter?"
"I couldn't get you out of the first deal. Maybe I can get you out of this one."
It was so very like his Sam to reason his way through a problem that Dean leaned over and ruffled his kid brother's hair for old time's sake.
Sam swatted at him, frowning. "Cut it out, Dean, I'm trying to think."
"Knock yourself out, Sammy."
"Angels and demons…they're legalistic right? They follow their contracts to the letter."
Dean couldn't help grinning. "You're looking for a loophole, aren't you? Damnit Sammy, you'd make an awesome lawyer."
"Tell me what you swore, Dean. Word for word."
"Okay, okay. I said something like 'I give myself wholly to serve God and those dicks.'"
"Yeah. Wait – no, there was more. Cas asked if I promised to follow their orders the same way I followed Dad's."
"You promised to obey them like you obeyed Dad?"
"Yeah, what about it?"
Sam was getting worse, and he'd pulled Dean's jacket up to his chin to keep warm, but he had that look on his face that Dean hadn't seen for so long. Sammy had an answer.
"It's our loophole. Think about it, Dean. How often did you ever do exactly what Dad told you to do?"
"All the time. You were the screw-up, not me."
"That's not true…I…I just wasn't trying to hide it. Look Dean, if you'd obeyed Dad, I wouldn't be here. Dad told you to kill me if you couldn't save me. You wouldn't do it."
"Dude, I saved you," Dean said, scowling at him. "Stop complaining."
"But you didn't stop me."
"You are such a control freak."
Sam groaned out loud, banging his head softly against the window. "Yeah, I guess I am. But kill me next time, okay?"
Dean snorted. "Sure thing. Remind me if I forget."
They sat there for a while, both looking out the window at the last stretch of road. Dean knew he had to put it in gear and see this thing through, but there was a part of him that just wanted to stay with his brother a little bit longer.
Sam was the one to break the silence. "Hey Dean, I wanted to tell you…"
"I know, Sammy. I already know."
They never did have to say everything out loud.
Then Sam cried out and doubled over, breathing raggedly through what had to be one godawful cramp. "It hurts, it's bad, Dean. I don't know if I can do this again."
Dean kept his hand on the back of Sam's neck, rubbing it gently until the worst of it passed. "Don't worry, Sammy. When Bobby's done reaming our asses, I betcha facing Lucifer won't look so bad."
But Sam let his head sag back against the door, and he shut his eyes tight, withdrawing into a dark place where Dean couldn't follow. Grimly, Dean put the van in drive and started up the steep hill that led to Bobby's.
Dean knew this much. The little brother he'd raised was gone for good, and Dean was going to miss him bitterly. But Sam was still the best thing in Dean's whole world, and he wasn't going to forget it. If they were going to kick this, he was going to have lock up Sam in that damn pit again, and it was going to be a nightmare just like before.
But this time, it was going to be different. This time, Sam wasn't going to be alone. Not ever again. Sic transit gloria mundi. Thus passes the glory of the world. This Dean swore wholly.
Let heaven and hell try to get between them.
Thanks so much for reading! I would love to know what you thought of the completed story.