A Gift for Armageddon

S s S s S

Independence

I never did, I never did,
I never did like "Now take care, dear!"
I never did, I never did,
I never did want "Hold-my-hand";
I never did, I never did,
I never did think much of "Not up there, dear!"
It's no good saying it.
They don't understand.

By A A Milne

Oh Sammy. Another tag just for you.

Disclaimers etc. All the characters and basic plot points in the following text are the sole property of Mr. E. Kripke and are his to do with as he pleases. Doesn't mean I have to like it.

Warnings: A few f bombs and the like, angst, death wishes etc. And yes, I know Sam wasn't on his own for a year, but I can't resist digging the knife in deeper.

S s S s S

In the long and myriad history of fuck-ups it was probably the most spectacular, most thorough and most hard fought the world, nay the universe, had ever seen.

Sam had always been to his mind, moderately ambitious in a rather mundane and, not that he'd ever admit to using the word, bourgeois kind of way. It was true though that at the end of the day a decent education, a successful career and a pretty wife to share his life had long been the focus of his hopes and dreams. Hardly world changing, oh the bitter, bitter irony, but given his upbringing a hard enough road to travel.

And man, had he ballsed up that simple white bread, middle of the road wanna-be-suburbanite aspiration. No white picket fences for him.

Failure was just not adequate enough a word to describe the depths of his complete and utter lack of success at anything remotely approaching normal, if he had the time he would have wept. He was at the moment as far from being safe and normal as it was humanly possibly to get. Human? Sam choked down a hysterical sob.

He had fashioned with his own wit and cunning, and a little help, the most epic, cataclysmic catastrophe since, Sam's teeth bit into his lower lip, his brain had definitely short circuited and he was running out of adjectives, since, well the last time some stupid freak had let Ol' Nick out of his box. Sam clenched his fingers around the rough fabric of his brother's jacket. Had anyone ever let him out before? He thought not. Score one for Samuel Winchester.

Dean was shouting in his ear but the intense white light streaming from the broken ground smothered his senses and his vision and hearing were filled with the snap, crackle and pop of unholy power. Sam swallowed a belch as his last meal sloshed with unhappy guilt in his stomach.

Really, Sam pondered, his frazzled synapses misfiring over the enormity of his actions, what to do for an encore? What next for the gullible fool that raised Lucifer? After all nothing else was ever going to compare to being the opening act at the beginning of the end of the world. There was no where to go but down.

Desperation tugged at his arm and he staggered to maintain his balance and then he was running, hands shoving at his back, past bodies lining a corridor, hanging doors and fractured windows, until he was standing under the night sky and looking back at the shadowed lines of the convent.

The pillar of light had ripped through the chapel roof and was pulsing upwards into the tumultuous clouds that hung low and heavy in the midnight sky. Within their grey forms flashes of light flickered on and off and the grumble of thunder shook the air. The light from the roof seemed to expand, the column wider and so bright that Sam closed his eyes for a second and suddenly it was gone. Lightning crashed across the sky as the clouds billowed out towards the farthest reaches of the night, and the convent stood ruined and silent.

And then Dean was there, in front of him, hands bunched in Sam's jacket. His lips were moving, rather frantically Sam noticed but no sound was coming from them. Sam frowned and Dean looked alarmed. Sam stuck a finger in his ear and wiggled it about.

"Damn it Sam. Say something. Are you okay?" Dean was pleading, which didn't make a lot of sense from where Sam was standing. He supposed he should be grateful that Dean wasn't smacking him in the face again. Although Sam had to admit, he deserved it a teeny tiny bit more this time and there was always the possibility that Dean was just waiting for the right moment to shove a stake through his heart or something equally and poetically gruesome.

"Not really," he replied honestly.

Dean looked momentarily confused and dropped his hands, turning from Sam. A figure loomed large in the long shadows, stepping purposely toward them. "Cas," he yelled and Sam was surprised by the accusatory lilt in his brother's voice.

"Oh goody," Sam muttered sourly and peered sideways at the angel. Castiel was looking a little worse for wear; his face was flushed and smudged with sooty circles, scorch marks covering his ever flapping coat. While he did look rather aggrieved he didn't look like someone with smiting on his mind, maybe he and Dean had come to a vengeful compromise and were going to whack him together. Sam ducked his head and wondered if he'd be allowed any last requests.

Castiel gazed solemnly at them and then heaved a great sigh and turned his eyes heavenward. "Dear Lord," he whispered at the great flashes of light that rolled overhead.

"No, quite the opposite," Dean snapped irritably and crossing his arms stared belligerently at the angel.

Castiel looked mournful and then cocked his head, peering at Sam, "I'm sorry," he intoned carefully glancing back at Dean. He stretched out his hands and even as Sam felt his facial muscles slacken in shock, the cold Maryland night and the odorous bite of sulfur on the wind fell away and they were all standing in Bobby's living room. Sam wobbled as his internal organs slithered sideways before settling back into place, Dean seemed suitably unperturbed.

The man himself was standing over the table apparently engaged in a heated argument with the prophet Chuck, who sat in a chair glaring defiantly up at the old hunter.

Sam blinked in surprise. Chuck, who it appeared was no longer in possession of his eyebrows and whose singed hair was sticking up in unruly tufts, was clutching an unopened bottle of whiskey possessively to his chest.

"It's a 25 year old single malt and it's mine and I think you've already had enough," Bobby yelled trying to snatch the bottle.

"It's the end of the world, who fucking cares!" Chuck's voice was hoarse and from across the room Sam caught the slight whiff of charred timber and heavy smoke. He hated that smell.

"Uh, Bobby." Dean cleared his throat and the pair swung around. Bobby was utterly unfazed by their sudden appearance and flapped a hand impatiently.

"There you are. 'Bout time you two showed up 'cos I'm pretty certain me strangling this weasel of a prophet ain't gonna make your freakin' apocalypse go away any faster," Bobby growled and made another grab for the bottle, Chuck twisted around in his chair huddling over his prize.

Dean raised an eyebrow in the general direction of Castiel.

"After we emerged victorious in our fight with the archangel and his brethren, I brought Chuck here. Your friend Bobby and I have done our best to secure the house; we should be safe and hidden here for a while at least," Castiel remarked blandly and Sam could only stare in wonder.

At the convent Castiel had been submerged in darkness but now in the wash of bright artificial light Sam could see him clearly. Huge tattered wings rose from his back, one was completely lopsided and sagged sadly in the middle, the white feathers burnt at the tips and weighted with sooty ash, the other twitched, its uppermost feathers brushing the ceiling and Sam's eyes followed the ripple of soft down across its length.

"Yeah," Chuck piped up, "it was awesome, we kicked some holy butt." Castiel winced and his wings shimmered dislodging a curling feather that drifted to the floor. A strangely familiar smell teased at Sam's nose. He watched curiously as the errant feather spun slowly downward, landing at his feet. Behind him Dean was talking to Bobby in urgent tones and using words like 'fools' and 'suckered' and 'doomed'.

Sam bent down and picked up the small white plume, offering it to its owner.

"You smell like barbequed chicken." Which wasn't what he meant to say at all. Castiel mutely accepted the feather and stuck it into a pocket, staring at Sam as if he'd grown an extra head or two.

"Sorry, you know, for killing Lilith and everything," Sam cringed at such a pitiful apology and was quite unprepared when Castiel grabbed his hand between his own.

"No, no. You must not blame yourself. You went where you were led." Castiel's mournful expression returned and Sam gazed in consternation as the angel's eyes filled with tears.

A hand fell on his shoulder; Bobby stood by his side, his face a vivid technicolor display of purple and yellow, the result of an accurately deployed rifle butt.

"He's right son, from what Dean's told me, you never stood a chance, either of you. I'm sorry too, Sam. What we did to you before was wrong. Locking you up like that." Bobby shook his head and patted Sam's shoulder before turning back and glaring at Chuck.

Had they all gone mad? Sam gaped. Dean had got it right the first time. He was a monster, a demon-blood supping addict, a murderer, a liar, a freak. A bringer of death and destruction, a, a… Sam gave up, all in all pretty impressive credentials for someone who was supposed to be one of the good guys.

Then there was Dean at his side again, pulling him gently away from Castiel and guiding him to one of Bobby's ratty old couches and making him sit.

"Hey, you in there?" Dean pressed his fingertips under Sam's chin, tilting his head to meet his eyes. "I meant what I said before. You're my brother and I'm sorry. We were played, Sammy. They wanted you to kill Lilith. Zachariah, the angels. They want a war; they don't care about us, about humanity. They wanted Lucifer out of his cage. I opened the first seal in hell and you busted up the last. Don't you see? We were both wrong and both right, not that it did us any good." Dean eyes never left his face.

"Oh," said Sam faintly. They were all crazy. He might look like Dean's little brother on the outside but inside he was something more, or something less depending on whatever bench test for good and evil was the accepted industry standard . There was still hemoglobin of the demonic variety hurtling through his veins. There was no going back and Dean had promised to end him, more than once and now it looked like his brother was trying to worm his way out of that one. Never mind, Sam could pick up the slack. So what if he had been manipulated left, right and center? As Ruby had said, everything he done he'd done willingly.

"Would you all just stop apologizing already? I unleashed Satan. Me. Okay? There are no excuses. I did what I did because I chose to. And I was wrong, you were all on my case before so don't try and pretend anything's changed." Sam pushed up from the couch and past Dean. "If you'll excuse me, I need the washroom."

"Hey, I'm not apologizing for anything. I saw this coming, but did anybody listen? Oh no. You're all jerks, just wait until my next book comes out, it's all gonna come out in the wash." Chuck declared with drunken resolve and then squeaked as Bobby kicked him in the shins.

"Jackass, there won't be anybody left to read your damn book."

"Oh shut up and by the way Sam's going to try and kill himself in the toilet."

Sam faltered mid-step and then squared his shoulders, conscious of the four pairs of eyes zeroed in on his back.

"I'm going for a pee," he enunciated tersely, staring straight ahead, because he was and if the knife in his boot was sharp and ready and scars on his arms from the feeding ghouls were a useful guideline, it was nobody's business but his own. Chuck was full of it. Mostly.

"Yeah, well my last vision says different. Messy way to go Sam. Ow." Chuck whined as Bobby cuffed him. "What was that for?"

"I felt like it." Bobby's voice cracked.

"Sammy." Dean spoke gruffly, "Come over here, would you?" Sam stayed as he was, keeping his head down.

"I don't think so, Dean," he whispered, "It's time this was over. I'm long past due. Whatever happens next, I'm a liability. I won't do this anymore." He turned round, Dean stood in the center of the room looking at him with such compassion that Sam could feel himself beginning to come undone. He would not let it happen again. "You have to let me go this time. No more, Dean. I'm so sorry for what I've done but this, no. You don't owe me anything, I know that, but please don't try and stop me, you'd be doing the world and yourself a favor."

Dean nodded sadly. "I see. Cas." And before Sam could process what Dean meant, Castiel stepped quickly forward and raised his hand, Sam jerked his head back; it was too late, he felt the soft touch of fingertips and the tingle of energy that flowed from them. The room tilted and faded into black.

S s S s S

The walls were startlingly white, freshly painted and reflecting the bright sunshine that streamed in through the uncovered windows. Sam slowly blinked awake; he was lying in a large bed, complete with an old fashioned wrought-iron frame, cream paint peeling and white cotton coverlets. Directly opposite the bed in the middle of the wall was a large sigil, the twists and turns of an ancient script penned in black and foreign to his eyes. He tried to sit up but his body refused any such activity, his arms lay limply across the cool sheets. Sam swallowed, as his brain caught up with the rest of him. Everything ached and a familiar, bone deep hunger was seeping up through his muscles, pooling on the surface on his skin and burning its way over his body. He let slip a frustrated groan.

"Hey." Dean's voice and then the cool pressure of a cloth over his face.

Dean moved into his line of sight, silhouetted against the windows, his features pale and shadowed, fingertip bruises on his neck. "How do you feel?"

"Not so good." Sam rasped, Dean's face was impassive and Sam tried again to lift his arm. "I can't move."

Dean nodded. "Castiel laid some angel whammy on you. Keeps you immobile and relaxed. Cuts down on damage to the furniture and stuff. " Dean shrugged carelessly and dragged the cloth across Sam's neck. Sam sighed, the cold water dulling the itchy heat of need. He had a brief flash of memory, of flying across the panic room and colliding with its curved metal walls.

"How long?" Sam asked, nursing a faint and ridiculous hope that the worst was over and he'd slept through the psychotic trash his mind had spewed out the last time. He could still taste the coppery warmth lingering on the back of his tongue; still hear the cries of the possessed innocent. It was going to be so much worse this time, but Dean couldn't know that.

"Only about 15 hours. Your temperature and respiration's been rising the whole time. I guess you're still detoxing. No doubt Ruby fixed you up." Dean knew enough. He sat on the edge of the bed, fiddling with the frayed edges of the washcloth. He cleared his throat and Sam tensed instinctively, his weak muscles pressing into the hard mattress.

"I'm sorry about leaving you to deal with it by yourself. It was cruel and stupid and I think we both been doing enough of that to each other. Bobby didn't think you'd make it last time; guess you were stronger than we thought. Locking you up like some crazed animal didn't really help anybody. I guess it made things even worse. "

Sam couldn't argue with that, but he hadn't given Dean much of a choice. Still no point crying over spilt milk or, he thought darkly, the copious amounts of red stuff shed by himself and just about anybody who'd been unfortunate enough to make his acquaintance.

"You're honored, this is Bobby's room. Castiel's been busy scribbling all over the house. Supposed to make this place invisible to anything. Although if Lucifer's out there he's keeping a low profile. The world doesn't seem any closer to ending than it did last week. Bit of an anti-climax. Castiel thinks both sides are," Dean tapped the air in finger quotes, "amassing their forces before engaging in a preliminary conflict to assess each other's strength. Blah, blah, blah. Which according to Bobby means they're gonna kick the unholy shit out of each other and any one who gets in their way."

Dean wrung out the cloth and leant over to the floor and straightened up, the cloth dripping with fresh cold water, "Chuck is still trying to get drunk," a bead of water trickled down Sam's neck, his sensitized skin acutely aware of its gentle progress, "he claims all the wards on the house are blocking his visions. Sounds like a load of bull to me." Dean sat back from his ministrations and said quietly. "And you, you don't get off that easy, Sammy. Thought you could leave me to clear up your mess, huh?" Dean didn't sound angry, just tired. "You're not going anywhere, you've got a lot to make right."

And there lay the crux of the matter. Sam didn't want to make it right or make it up to anybody or spend the rest of what was bound to be a pretty short life shuffling around on penitent knees. Sam thought of all that he'd done to defeat Lilith, every deluded act of supposed sacrifice and each pathetic attempt to do the right thing. He'd believed his shelf life would not extend beyond that of his appointed task. What had Ruby expected from him? She promised him unimaginable rewards there at the end, but for all he knew she might well have been expecting him to shrivel up and die at that very moment. He had expected to go out in a blaze of glory and now he was left to suffer the indignities of going cold turkey. If he was lucky it might kill him anyway or he could end it while he still had some control of what was left of his squandered life.

"I thought you wanted me dead." The words caught in his dry throat. For a moment Sam imagined that guilt flashed through his brother's eyes, if it did it was gone too quickly to be sure. Dean hung his head and Sam was reminded painfully of his father, the John Winchester patented hunch of disappointment.

"However bad things are or were between us Sam, I have never wanted that. After everything, why would you even think that?" His brother spoke wearily and Sam realized that whether Dean had left the message that had stabbed into his heart and extinguished his last hope or not, he didn't give a damn one way or another any more.

"Something someone said. Sorry." Sam felt his throat close up and he wheezed in discomfort, a cup of water appeared in front of him. "Dean." He took a shallow breath. "I can't do this. Can you? Is this what you want? Be honest."

"What do I want? A time machine, another life. Who the fuck knows?" Dean scrubbed a hand over his face. "I can try and forgive you, I don't trust you but I do not want to do this or be here without you. I want you to be you again. My Sam, my brother and I want this all to go away, instead I don't know who you are and the angels think I'm some kind of hit man and Lucifer's the mark. I mean, crap, how's that supposed to work?"

Dean stopped and stared at Sam, his eyes distant, winding loose threads from the washcloth around his fingers and snapping them as they got too tight. Unable to move anything other than his head and then only slightly, Sam closed his eyes. What Dean wanted he couldn't give him, hadn't been able for some time and now it was too late to even try.

"The Sam you want died in Cold Oak and let's face it Dean, it should have stayed that way. You've always thought I was a freak and now you're right. Please Dean." Suddenly he was begging, he could feel his voice fading and useless body felt leaden and empty.

Dean's fingers stilled and he rose abruptly. "You looked wiped, get some rest, I'll back in a while," he said and walked quickly from the room. Sam closed his eyes against the brightness of the room and slept.

S s S s S

Someone coughed. A weight pushed down on the mattress by his feet. He kept his eyes closed, his attention focused on the million pinpricks of pain that rippled over his body. He wished Dean would leave him alone. The someone tugged at his covers and then strong fingers tweaked his toes.

"Wakey wakey, sleepy head." A brash cheerful voice that Sam recognized all too quickly. Reluctantly, he peered out from half lidded eyes.

"Fuck off," he growled, quite effectively he felt, for someone on enforced bed rest.

"Oh don't be like that. I've come to cheer you up. No tricks up my sleeve. Look." The figure perched on the end of the bed raised his arm, hooked a finger into a roomy cuff and wiggled it to and fro.

Sam opened his eyes wider. His visitor was wearing old camouflaged army fatigues bunched tightly at the waist with a webbing belt, a steel helmet tilted back on his head, the worn strap digging into his chin.

There was only one explanation Sam concluded, he must have done something unbelievable terrible in a previous life, which considering the current state of affairs was ridiculously hard to imagine. He must have done something terrible in many lives. Why else would every supernatural being with nothing better to do be hounding him relentlessly in his fruitless tenure as Samuel E. Winchester? Maybe it was a centuries old pattern and killing himself would only result in another reincarnation as fate's luckless bitch.

"What is it this time?" Sam croaked tersely, "'Cos, really I get it. I really get it. Big time screw up. Me. End of the world. Lesson learnt. Go away."

The Trickster pouted at him. "Yes well, that whole time loop thing didn't turn out quite the way I'd hoped. You're so bloody stubborn. Anyway," he crossed his legs and patted Sam's feet, "I'm sure you're glad to know I've also come to apologize about that. On reflection I probably pushed you just a little too far. All that time on your own and all those deaths. You didn't seem appreciate the message or the medium. And then your brother dying for real. Hmm." The Trickster drummed his fingers across his knee and smiled. "You went kind of crazy, didn't you? Not that it excuses all your life style choices."

Sam stared up at the ceiling and noticed for the first time the spiral of green markings traced out across the uneven surface. Which was it, he wondered, a spell to keep him safe or one to keep others safe from him?

"I did what I did. What do you care?" He had tried so very hard to forget that long and lonely year. A year without Dean, a year without anyone and each and every day losing his grip on who he was, until nothing or nobody mattered. And in the end it hadn't even been real. Twelve months of his life swept untidily under the rug.

"A lot. In fact I'm extremely put out by all this." The Trickster sighed. "Seriously do you have any idea the effect this is going to have on my long term plans. A war?" He smoothed down his rumpled uniform. "Do you like it? I'm thinking John Wayne in 'Sands of Iwo Jima'.

"I'm so sorry." Sam rolled his eyes, "Yes, I raised the devil just to piss you off; getting the apocalypse started was just an added bonus."

The Trickster bounced up the bed until he was perched by Sam's hip; he picked up Sam's slack hand and squeezed it, leering at him in a manner that Sam sincerely hoped was purely avuncular.

"How touching. No really, I'm truly glad that you're keeping your chin up, after your little stint as hell's patsy." Sam would have wrenched his hand away but he could only grit his teeth and snarl quietly.

"Don't take on so. I told you, I feel a tad responsible myself." The Trickster frowned, "And I must say it's not a feeling I'm used to. You were ripe for the picking and that's partly my fault. You spent too long on your own the first time, stewing in your fevered fantasies of revenge and then after your amazingly brainless brother went fireside you were way too susceptible to the whims of that demon bimbo. You should have kept it in your pants, buddy. I could have stepped in but I was hoping you'd figure it out in the end." Sam could feel the soothing circles made by the Trickster's thumb massaging the frozen muscles of his palm. It was both relaxing and disconcerting.

"And whose side are you on?" Sam gave on up on being annoyed or afraid, his life was a circumstance beyond his control and, he thought resentfully, his death was forever in the hands of people who thought they knew better.

"Me?" The Trickster said brightly and clasped Sam's hand to his heart. "Mine. Honestly, angels, demons and everyone in between, nothing but a blight on the earth. No seriously, you humans don't have a clue. I've seen it before. Angels rule, nothing but peace and harmony and free will gets fucked up the ass. Boring, boring, boring and if Lucifer and his hangers on get their way there's no room for someone like me, trying to bring a little levity into human existence. That and you guys get wiped off the face of the earth. Who am I going to play with then?" The Trickster dropped Sam's hand and leaned forward, nose to nose as Sam went cross-eyed trying to focus and trying to ignore the strangely sweet breath that warmed his skin.

"You need to fix this, ASAP," he told Sam earnestly and then patted his cheek. "You always were my favorite."

Sam glared into the twinkling eyes so close to his own. "Yeah, I've heard that before. Biggest freak out there, huh? But you're talking to the wrong Winchester. You want Dean. The angels think he's their guy. He's gonna take out Lucifer and set the world to rights. If you haven't noticed I'm not allowed out any more and," Sam didn't feel like telling the Trickster about his unnatural need for demon blood and its associated problems so he stopped and closed his eyes.

"Tsk, tsk. Sammy. You weren't listening and," the Trickster tapped his forehead, "angel magic ain't that special. You let it affect you because you believe it can. You're bigger and better than that now." He sat back. "See?"

To Sam it was as if he was suddenly lighter than air, his arms seemed to float above the mattress, the muscles in his back gently contracted and with little effort Sam found himself sitting up. He opened his eyes.

The Trickster punched him lightly on the shoulder. "Atta boy."

Sam stretched out his arms in front of him, splaying his fingers wide and then dropped his hand onto the coverlet gripping and releasing it tightly, kneading the tension from atrophying muscles. "Thanks," he muttered grudgingly.

"You're welcome. Now pay attention, I've got things to do, people to compromise. Yes, the holier-than-thou dopes want Lucifer dead. So they win, paradise on earth. Ding ding, wrong answer. No, we want the status quo back. Lucifer locked up or cast into the deepest depths of hell, whatever. That's the way it works. Heaven and hell, good and evil, temptation and abstinence, yin and yang, black and white, night and day, Hope and Crosby…" His next comparison was muffled by Sam's hand slapped over his mouth.

"I get it. Back the way it was and you want me to do it and if I'm not up to the job? What then? I'm not exactly flavor of the month, in case you hadn't noticed." Sam snatched his hand back at the tickling sensation of a wet tongue against his hand; he wiped it over the sheets. "Ew. Why can't you do it? Wind back time or something?"

"While I may be a demi-god, I'm only one demi-god and I like to keep a low profile. I don't have enough juice to reshuffle this big of a mess. Anyway there are some advantages to being mostly human. I'm not suggesting you do it on your own; your brother is the popular choice so he can chase Mr. Beelzebub down with you. You can make sure he doesn't screw up and kill something he shouldn't. "

Sam flinched and stared down at his knees. Mostly human. That's where it fell apart, where the paper thin desire to patch things back together dissolved like wet tissue, leaving behind misshapen lumps only fit to be flushed away.

An arm came around his shoulders and the Trickster snuggled into his side, wriggling in the effort to reach around someone taller than himself. That Sam found himself almost welcoming the physical contact was a bleak reminder of how long his life had been empty of genuine affection and comfort.

"Sore point, eh? You've got to look at as more of an opportunity than a hindrance. It's not so bad and the thing with the blood. Yeah, it could be a problem." The Trickster withdrew his arm and took off his hat, with a flick of his wrist he sent it flying. It settled onto the iron bedpost with a clatter, spinning erratically for second or two. The Trickster clapped his hands together and bumped Sam's shoulder, grinning gleefully.

"I know, I've got just the thing for you. A present. Who doesn't love presents? I don't know why I didn't think of it before. It's perfect and kills so many birds with one stone. I'm a genius." He dug into a pocket, pulling out a large candy bar and ripping of the wrapper. "Want some?" Sam shook his head.

"Mmm, that's good." The Trickster took a large bite and chewed, a look of blissful concentration on his face. "You want to kill yourself. You think you're going to die anyway and there's work, dangerous work for a mortal, to be done. Therefore," the Trickster stuffed another chocolate coated chunk into his mouth, while Sam crossed his arms and pursed his lips unsure as to whether he should be angry or humiliated.

"Therefore," the Trickster said, his mouth full. "I'm going to fix it so you can't die. Just yet."

Sam stared at the Trickster in disbelief and then dropped his face into his hands. Why wouldn't people just leave him the fuck alone? All he had ever wanted in life was to be allowed to be himself, to go where his heart led him and yet here he was, fed demon blood as a baby, pushed from pillar to post by his father, bestowed visions by a vindictive and uncaring universe, dragged back from a perfectly respectable death by his brother and constantly toyed with by demons and a persistant trickster and angels. Enough was enough.

"No thank you," Sam pinched the bridge of his nose and gave a hysterical and watery laugh. "I'll pass on that, 'cos, you know, I just don't give a rat's ass any more. Why don't you and everybody else piss off and have a happy shiny apocalypse without me."

The Trickster shifted away from him, standing and sighing theatrically. "Well, that is the reason I've always had a soft spot for you Sammy boy, you march to the beat of your own drum, or at least you give it your best shot. Unfortunately for you, my mind is made up."

Sam flopped back onto his pillow. "I guess I can't stop you." He raised his eyes to the deceptively friendly face of his tormentor. "But, please no more," he implored softly and tried not the blink too many times.

"Oh cut it out. Those puppy dog eyes may work on your brother and I admit they tug at my heartstrings. Or they would if I had any, but business is business, Sam." Hands on hips the Trickster smirked unrepentantly at him

Sam plucked at the sheets. "It was worth a try."

"You're cheering up already; I have that effect on people. Now," a finger waved under Sam's nose. "Here's the deal, no dying for you for a year, by which time I expect this highly inconvenient situation to be resolved. After that you're back to normal, or whatever passes for normal around here. It's kind of sweet." The Trickster hummed tunelessly, evidently very pleased with himself.

Sam glanced down, thick ropey scars standing in vivid relief against the pale underside of his arms. "So when something tries to bleed me dry. What? The knife bounces off?" It couldn't be so simple, nothing ever was.

"Ahh, no," an awkward cough, "knife cuts you bleed, but hey, no dying and in a couple of hours you're good to go."

"Great." Sam said bitterly. "Peachy swell."

"You're just pissed because you can't go and throw yourself off the nearest precipice. It's just for a year and after that you can go tragically overdose in some dusty garret, good bye cruel world and so forth." The Trickster sat back down and nudged Sam with an elbow. Sam said nothing; perhaps his next life would be marginally less mind-bogglingly awful. A hand came to rest gently against his heart. "Good luck Sam."

Sam snorted and opened his mouth to say something cutting; instead what emerged was a full blown scream as his heart tried it's very best to explode out from his chest. Everything went fuzzy, but he could clearly hear the feet that pounded up the stairs and along the hallway. The door flew open and Dean burst into the room, Castiel po-faced, hovering at his shoulder.

"Sam?" Dean yelled.

Sam clutched his chest, panting through the agony that the Trickster had kindly gifted to him.

"Nothing. I'm okay, bad dream." Sam raised a hand it an attempt at a casual wave and hastily dropped it as Dean and Castiel stared at him in shock.

S s S s S

It was too far, he was never going to make in time, they should never have split up. Perhaps it was his fault, like everything else. He had held back on offering his opinion on anything in the last month. He'd let Dean make each decision, usually aided and abetted by Bobby or Castiel, with the occasional dash of Chuck chiming in to complete the mix. He'd nodded his agreement, did what he was told and forfeited his independence in the uphill struggle to make amends and prove his worth and it was driving him out of what was left of his mind. His sanity was already dangerously eroded after a week of fevers and random seizures, nightmares and bone shaking cravings. He was certain that his heart had stopped at least twice, he had felt it spasm in his chest and heard the rush of restarted blood pounding in his ears. No one else seemed to have noticed, relieved, he supposed that he had actually survived detoxing from his sordid addiction.

Sam pounded across the dry earth, clouds of dust dogging his progress. The barn door swung in the wind and he could hear the steady chanting of an exorcism bouncing of the weathered timbers, he tumbled through the door.

Bobby looked up, not stopping the monotonous stream of Latin. Dean was standing by his side and did not take his eyes of the demon caught in the Devil's Trap that was painted onto the dirt floor.

"Get out of here," Sam bellowed, "it won't work. He's just waiting for the others. Come on." The demon was possessing the body of a teenage boy and it looked far too smug for Sam's liking. It was the same every time, they'd follow the signs; the storms, the inexplicable phenomena, tripping across small gaggles of demons but Lucifer was never anything more than a chill whisper on the wind.

Dean and Bobby's eyes met and Sam could have sworn that Dean gave a minute shake of his head.

"For fuck's sake, Dean. Trust me on this." Sam grabbed Bobby's arm to pull him away just as the demon flung himself from the trap and onto Dean, clawing and scratching. They both fell to the ground, a tangle of flailing limbs. Dean outweighed the boy but the demon's strength was far superior. Sam danced around the struggling pair trying to pull the boy off Dean when his brother fell back, his hand at his throat, choking and struggling for breath.

Sam froze and black eyes mocked him. His hand came up automatically and he found himself hesitating. Four weeks since he'd done this, four weeks since he'd fucked over the human race. It had alway been his choice to make and he was making that choice again, but his hesitation cost him. The boy turned from Dean and charged at him. Sam doubled over at the hard blow to his stomach, something ripped through him, his flesh yielding too easily to its brutal edge. The boy stepped back and laughed, the glint of a long bloodied knife in his hand.

Dean sat up, rubbing his neck. "Sammy," his voice broke. Sam could feel the heat of blood seeping through his fingers, and for first time since that day in the white washed bedroom he hoped that the Trickster had been telling the truth. He had considered testing out his unwanted gift but Dean's beady eyes followed him everywhere. He straightened up, one hand keeping his guts where they belonged, the other turned towards the demon.

"That all you got?" He rasped as he let the power break free, reveling in the satisfaction that came as the demon's borrowed face filled with fear. It was the quickest exorcism he'd ever done, even with the soft patter of his blood dropping onto the dry earth at his feet. As the demon was banished Sam sagged to his knees and Dean was there to catch him, murmuring comfort. Sam was too busy comtemplating the mangled state of his innards to pay much heed. He was horrified to feel some part of himself shift under its own steam and retract back further inside, he moaned in disgust and gratitude. He had almost forgotten about Dean until his brother's hands were on his face.

Dean's eyes were full of tears, his expression oddly calm and resigned. "I'm sorry," he whispered.

Sam grinned, tasting the blood that coated his tongue and teeth. "Don't be."

The End