Title: Come Due
Author: Lois Fogg (utsusemia on LJ)
Disclaimer: I own nothing but my crazy, crazy brain
Genre: angst, h/c, elements of casefic
Characters: Sam, Dean, Castiel, Anna
Spoilers: through 4.22
Wordcount: About 10,300
A/N: I've been working on this story for essentially a month, now. I'm not sure how it got this long, frankly, but I hope you enjoy it. I've decided to post the three SPN stories I've written here, so stay tuned for the other two.
You are twenty four and your brother has been in hell for two months. You dream that you're there with him, strung up on meat hooks and buried under hot coals, until you wake up with salt on your cheeks and a demon in your bed, stroking your cock and begging you to forget. You drink booze, you drink blood, you try to make deals and fail, fail, fail.
You think about how much you'd give up for him, if you could, if anyone would let you. Your life, your soul, any chance you have of stopping Lilith. You'd do that for him, because he did it for you, and you don't care that he'd hate you for it, because at least he'd be alive.
"What do you want?" you scream at one of them, the demons who come to point and laugh like you're in a cage at the circus. "I don't care, whatever it is..."
He laughs. "Haven't you figured it out? You're worthless, Sam Winchester."
You are twenty five; tonight you and your brother hunt an angel. There's a first time for everything, you suppose. Now, even demons seem like small potatoes. Funny how Armageddon changes things. This angel hasn't gone rogue so much as Old Testament. A week ago, the mining town of Erbach, South Dakota experienced a freak explosion that happened to incinerate every soul in the city limits. Two days ago, Little Falls, Tennessee was caught in a wildfire that mysteriously stopped just at the county line.
Dean has a knife that Castiel gave him; you've spent the last two nights memorizing every glyph of angelic binding that Cas or Anna could draw. If Imriel walks out of this alive, you doubt either you or Dean will. "Imriel and I...have a history," Cas said, when he first gave Dean the knife. "He won't stop unless we kill him. And we can't kill him."
"You're sure he'll come down here?" Dean asks. He's standing in the middle of the warehouse floor, looking around in the moonlight that streams through the shattered windows. There's still heaps of heavy, rotting furniture lined along the walls; if you listen carefully, you can hear the patter of the rats that live there.
You shake the can of orange spray paint--just enough juice to get the last of the glyph on the floor. "The rune only works on a full moon, only pointing west, only near a flowing body of water...yeah, I don't think he'll have much choice."
"You know this isn't a good idea," Dean says.
"I don't think we've had a good idea in, oh, a year. At least."
He unsheathes the angels' knife. You look away--the one time you tried to touch it, your fingers blistered.
"Just move fast," you say.
"I thought you said he couldn't get out."
"He's an angel, Dean. These glyphs are like riding a bull with a band-aid."
Dean swipes at the moonlight with the blade; you think you can see its ribbons falling to the ground.
"Don't worry about me, Sammy. You? Try not to get choked."
You share a tense smile, and before you lose it you draw the last glyph.
The empty paint can rolls to the edge of the room, near the furniture and the rats who have gone as still as you and your brother, waiting to kill an angel.
You will tell him to leave, you swear you will, only just now there's nothing to stop it from hurting except his voice and his hands and that strained way he says "Sammy" when he's really fucking worried and you know he'll have to leave you but stay, please stay just a little while longer.
"I'm not going anywhere, Sammy."
You think he believes it.
Imriel is a man, but Imriel's body is a blue haired old lady with a mouth full of crowns and Dean's blade slows and stops for that crucial second when this terrible plan might have, maybe worked.
"Dean!" you yell, but you can both see that it's much too late. Imriel might not be able to leave the confines of the angel's trap, but he can do plenty from inside.
"And I wondered why the Antichrist wanted to see me," Imriel says. Your fingers itch to plant a bullet in his/her head, but you know that would just kill someone's grandmother and leave the angel free to smite more medium-sized suburban towns into Biblical oblivion.
"Sorry," Dean says, "we forgot the tea." His arm moves so fast even you can hardly follow it, but Imriel just laughs and suddenly your brother is flying backward like a sack of grain. He smashes into the furniture and drops the knife.
You call his name, and he groans, which at the moment is good enough. You rush to get the knife, but before you're halfway there Imriel's power stops you-- rubber bands pulled taut around your heart. You look back at him/her, feel a growl in your throat. The demon blood rises within you, struggling to hurt this beautiful, holy thing. You want to crush him like a cockroach, you don't even care about the vessel he's riding.
"Ah," says Imriel. "And so the Antichrist finds his power. Will you use it, boy? Or will you let me kill your brother?"
But of course it's too late. It's always too late, you've spent your life in second place, playing catch up with Dean even when you're miles ahead.
Dean is on the floor, only the corded muscles in his neck revealing the extent of his struggle to move. And you know he's trying pretty fucking hard, because a chest of drawers is levitating in the air right above him. Oak, some part of you notes, probably an antique and valuable if not for the rat nests. But more importantly it's at least three hundred pounds, because they made them well in those days, and you wonder why the hell you couldn't have done this in an Ikea.
"Well?" says the grandmother who is an angel. "Quickly, Sam."
But what can your demon-self do against an angel? You strain against him, but you can feel the immensity of it; the burning pain of his pure light. Perhaps you could fight that--the demon part of you aches for it--but what would you become if you did? How much of you would be left?
And then you remember the blade even now lying on the floor beside Dean. You remember how it seared your fingers so you had to run cold water over the burns for ten minutes and Dean never felt a thing. You think that if you have to grasp a power, you'd rather try that than Azazel and Ruby and Lilith's thing trying to claw its way out of you.
"Okay," you say. You sound defeated. "Just...let him go."
"Make me," she/he says.
You smile. "Okay."
The demon-you pushes at the bonds, just enough to confuse him. Dean grunts and manages to roll on his side. Above him, the chest of drawers wobbles, as though atop a jello mold. Fuck. You'd forgotten about that.
You dive for Dean first, push him out of the way and reach for the knife. He has the same idea--your hands both touch the hilt at the same time.
For a moment all you can think is that it hurts a lot more than you thought it would.
You are eleven; it's New Years Eve and you're watching an old movie with Dean. You know it's old because of the way everyone speaks with almost-British accents and the elevators all have doormen.
This one is strange. It's all about a man who tried to kill himself but shattered his knee instead. He's the hero.
"Did his gun jam?" you ask Dean. "Why didn't he clean it?"
Dean's smile is a little bleak, but you're used to that. "Guess he wasn't thinking straight."
You watch the man on the television screen; he walks with a limp. You think he wasn't very smart--trying to commit suicide and ending up crippled.
You're tired by the time the movie is over, though you'd never admit it. It's New Years, Dean let you have a sip of his beer, and damn if you're going to fuck things up now by going to sleep like some little kid.
"Dean, do you think he could hunt?"
"Dick Clark? Yeah, with his walker, maybe."
"No, the guy. The one who tried to kill himself."
Dean sighs. "What do you think, Sammy? You can't walk, you can't hunt. End of story."
Dean's talking about you, though he's not using your name. His voice is tight and contained in that way you know means he's about to explode. You wonder what happened; maybe if you can open your eyes you can stop him from getting into a fight. Just what you both need right now: a visit from the cops. As if letting some genocidal angel get free wasn't bad enough...
And then you feel it, a bloom of pain like roses with bloody teeth. It's your left side--your left leg--your left knee. You remember: reaching for the knife and pushing with your mind to make Imriel let Dean go. The antique furniture, forgotten above you.
"No, I've got it, Bobby," Dean says. The phone, you think. You're a long way from South Dakota.
"Yeah, I'm sure. He's going to be here for another week at least. Then I'll find the bastard and split his fucking intestines."
Despite the pain, something is trying hard to pull you under. It feels like drowning. It's a struggle, but you open your eyes. Your vision is hazy, you can barely make out Dean propped against the windowsill, his hand cradling the phone.
"Christ, Bobby," Dean says, after a long silence. "Christ, you should have seen him. I thought...yeah. Well." He takes a deep breath. "I'll see you in a few days."
He seems so alone, so shattered, standing there by the window. You cough, and even that sharpens the roses' thorns.
"Sammy?" He's beside the bed. You think whatever's in that IV drip must be pretty strong, because you're sinking again.
"I'll live?" you say. You're not sure how to ask the harder questions. You can see from Dean's face that he's had a long day of asking them himself.
"Yeah, Sammy," he says. "The PT will be a bitch, but you'll live."
You will ask Castiel, too. Not to heal you--that narcissism you lost years ago--but to help him, because he's going to die and no one else can save him. You think you have a chance because Dean is important, Dean will save the world.
You're just his hobbled little brother. The Antichrist no one can quite figure out what to do with.
Cas won't say yes.
Which isn't, you will learn, quite the same as saying no.
Seven nights, you dream of walking. Seven days, you watch Dean pace like a caged tiger across the length of the room--six steps and then he turns, sometimes that becomes five, even four, if the doctor's visited or Bobby's checked in. He doesn't flirt with the nurses, even though the one who checks your stitches is a cute brunette and totally Dean's type. You tried to ask, but only once, because he regarded you so blankly you wondered for a horrified moment if you might cry.
Dean only has eyes for angels. He asked Cas to heal you, not like he told you this, but you know because it's what you would have done (what you did do) and you recognize his absence, the drunken, knuckle-bruising fury with which he returns to your hospital room like a worn sweater. Cas would have said no.
So you ask, "Win anything?" instead, and Dean shrugs and says, "Should have. Turns out Hell's Angels don't like losing pool."
"You okay?" you ask, before you can stop yourself. Dean just looks at you.
"Bobby's coming tomorrow," he says.
"It'll be okay, Sammy."
It's his if-only-I-believed-that voice. You have to laugh. "Sure. How many pins did you say they used, again?"
"You're going to be fine."
You don't want to be angry; this isn't his fault. "Yeah, in nine months."
Dean raises his hands, and you notice the purpling bruise on his jaw, the barely-contained fury in his eyes. You've never wanted to fight more in your life.
"Do you know how fucking close you came to never, Sam?"
"Sorry," you say. You think of Dean pacing the room, getting into fights in biker bars, tracking a rogue angel as best he can but utterly unwilling to leave you behind.
"You're going to lose him if you wait much longer," you say.
Dean shrugs. "Then I'll find him again."
"When Bobby comes, you should leave."
Dean just shakes his head, which means he's thought of it. You want revenge as much as he does; you're so scared of being left alone like this you want to vomit.
The roses bloom again, florets of pain from your toes to your hip and you're not really aware of how bad it is this time until Dean grips your hand. His breathing is as ragged as your own.
"No. No, I'll be fine."
You fall asleep a few minutes, an hour later. Dean's hand is on your shoulder. You dream of running, heart pounding and your legs moving and some beast behind you, ready to rip your head clean off your shoulders and you laugh to feel the burn of lactic acid in your thigh muscles, the sweat dripping down your back, the fear so pure and untainted by any awareness that you might be as helplessly evil as the creature behind you, the thing your father will kill.
You are twenty-two, and your brother is dying of heart failure, like an old man. He can barely walk, and when he does sometimes he has to pause and cough great gouts of phlegm that turn him pale and clammy. You spend three days awake, burning coffee and adrenaline, before you find something. Not much, just a glimmer: a faith healer who might have a reason to be faithful. You're glad-- you've always liked religion, mostly because your dad never did, Pastor Jim notwithstanding.
Dean doesn't want to go, but he does because you insist. And when it works, when Dean stumbles off that stage, healthy and alive and a fucking miracle, man you feel like you've done something truly right for the first time in your life.
Until you realize that someone died to save him. Until you realize that even knowing the consequences, you might have done it anyway.
Dean leaves three days after you get to Bobby's, and though you've expected it the moment you hobbled through that door, you have to dig your fingernails deep into the flesh of your palms just to keep your face neutral. He has to leave you. You knew that even in the shattered moments right after, lying among the splinters of aged oak, rats scurrying over your prone body and Dean cursing and none of it quite making any sense at all.
"Take care of yourself," Dean says.
Your eyes flick to the crutches, propped against a wall, within easy reach. Like there's much trouble you could get into like this. But Dean knows this as well as you do, so you just nod.
"And do those exercises."
You roll your eyes, but you feel a tremor deeper down. You ended the last two sessions practically in tears, sweating and shaking. Without Dean around, you don't know how you're going to hold yourself together. Nine months like this, nine months with him gone, they're starting to stretch out like eternity.
"You have the papers?" you ask.
"I'm not going into this blind, Sam. I fucking well know what he's capable of."
He pauses and you share a hard smile. He's your brother and he's going to do what you can't. He's going to do it for you.
"Gank the fucker," you say.
"It's a promise."
You hug, tight and brief, and he's gone. You hear the purr of the Impala like home, but you don't watch him leave. Your leg hurts, damn it, and it's the vicodin that makes you weep.
You beg because you have to. But you'll never be sure why Castiel listens.
"Just this once, I need to save him. There's no one else."
Castiel's eyes widen; he takes a step closer, and you're reminded of Ruby, how she didn't smell human even though she possessed a human body. Castiel smells like running water, like vapor and granite dust.
"There would be...consequences."
"I don't care."
"I couldn't do it myself. Even knowing of the arts you require is...frowned upon."
"And rebelling against heaven?"
Dean would have laughed; Castiel frowns. "Is the great sin from which there is no redemption. You're not the only one capable of sacrifice, Sam Winchester."
A week after he leaves, Dean calls Bobby. You're not supposed to know. He calls late at night, on the FBI line, which only rings in the kitchen. But you were thirsty enough to get up and grab some water, and so you're just in the hallway when Bobby picks up.
"What the hell, Dean? I thought you said that knife could gank anything with wings."
Dean's speaking. You strain to hear what he says, but it's only a faint squawk from the hallway.
"Sam," he says, and for a horrified moment you think he's seen you. "It's Sam, isn't it? He changed the knife somehow. Fuck. We're going to have to--"
You still can't hear words, but the squawking gets louder and you know Dean's yelling.
"Dean, you really think the kid is going to thank you--"
More squawking, even louder this time. Loud enough that you think you might be able to make out some words. Like "crippled," and "insane." Your hands tighten around the grips of the crutches. Your knee throbs.
"All right," Bobby says. "All right, calm down. I won't say anything. We'll get you out of this. Somehow. Just lay low for now. I've never heard of an angelic curse before, and I really don't want you to be the first case study."
You feel yourself start to wobble, panic and exhaustion and pain all conspiring to make you lose your balance just as Bobby puts the phone back on the cradle. You fall against the wall, and you don't try very hard to bite back the inevitable grunt of pain. An angelic curse? What the fuck has Dean gotten himself into?
Bobby's arm is under your shoulder, helping you to a seat. The white haze recedes and you look up at him. He knows what you heard, he doesn't try to deny it.
"Angelic curse," you say, after you've gotten yourself a little more under control. "Like, my hands get hairy every time I touch myself angelic curse, or the hand of god will smite me angelic curse?"
"I think he's pretty well smitten."
Deep breath. Count to five. "And the knife doesn't work?"
"He says it's frozen. Took the skin right off his fingers when he tried to hold it."
"Imriel cursed the knife?"
Bobby sighs. "No, Sam. Imriel cursed Dean. To 'burn in heaven's flame' if I recall correctly."
Bobby doesn't want to answer, you can see that clear as a streetlight, but he does. "A week. Well, six days, now."
"The knife worked before," you say. "Did he ask Castiel? What happened?"
"No one knows. Sam, listen, I know this is hard on you, but we'll find this bastard and we'll kill him. I promise."
You're overcome with a desire to move so fierce that your muscles vibrate like a plucked string; they itch like hives. You look down, very deliberately, and regard the brace on your leg, the macabre contraption of black plastic and chrome metal and heavy velcro straps. You force your awareness of your half-metal knee and its steady, maddening pain. You look at the crutches lying on the floor, just beyond your reach.
You make yourself understand: you can't walk, you can't hunt. End of story.
You're twenty four and Dean has been out of hell for a month. Seeing him every morning is like a gift, and the first few times you catch him running from nightmares to the bathroom, retching his guts, you figure that it's natural. Hey, it was hell after all, not a fucking Club Med vacation and he's going to have some trouble dealing. But he's alive and with you again and neither of you even had to sell your souls to do it.
Except, there's Ruby, and the "psychic shit" and the demon blood. There's the nightmares that don't stop, but get worse. There's the secrets-- yours and his. There's your brother right beside you; there's your brother miles away. The longing gets deeper. His nightmares get worse.
He tells you about Alastair. About what pain really means, and what it feels like to break.
I tried, you want to say. I tried everything I could, and nothing worked. But you can see it in his eyes: you didn't try hard enough. You just failed, all over again.
After that, you suck Ruby's blood like a fucking vampire, and you don't care. This time you won't fail. This time you'll save him. You'll save the world.
You stare at the Milky Way and wish for some booze, something strong and harsh and most definitely not approved for mixing with heavy narcotics. You wish for a hundred impossible things: for heaven, for hell, for the passenger side of the Impala, leather sticky in the summer heat, for Dean's shitty metal tapes, for a woman--any woman--Ruby, because she had hands that could jerk off Jesus and that's not the only thing you miss about her.
But, you're worthless, Sam Winchester, you finally get it, and so you take out your cell phone and call him. It's not like things could get much worse for either of you.
"Sam? Where the hell are you?"
"Bobby should keep his fucking mouth shut."
"Yeah, well, no argument here."
"He let you overhear. Bastard."
You realize what must have been obvious to Dean from the start: you're hardly in any state to sneak up on a half-deaf cat, let alone a seasoned hunter.
"And? You were really going to let some angel kill you without even dropping me a line?"
"There's nothing you can do, Sam."
For a moment you wonder where the stars have gone and then realized you've shut your eyes. "Heard that one before."
"Sam...seriously, are you okay?"
"Horizontal or vertical?"
"Pretty horizontal. Better for star gazing."
"Okay...deliberate star gazing?"
"Gopher hole," you say. "But it's nice out here."
Dean curses and you smile. "Fuck, Sammy, I do not need to deal with this right now."
"That makes two of us."
"So maybe you could try to stay in one place?"
"I have this theory," you say, and there go the stars again, distorted and streaked with rainbows. "When I first touched the knife, it burned my hand. Like a torch. And now when you touch the knife, it's really cold, right?"
"Tongue on the jungle gym cold, yeah."
"I remember that. Not the smartest thing you ever did."
"It was a dare! Whatever. Your theory."
"So, it's obvious, right? Back in the warehouse, right before...yeah, so we touched the knife. Both of us. And I'm fine."
"You're not fine."
"My hand is fine. No blisters. And I bet it didn't freeze you, either. So somehow we changed the knife. Or maybe it was going to happen anyway. So the only way you can get out of the curse is to gank Imriel. And the only way to gank Imriel is to use the knife. Which means--"
"That you're going right back to Bobby's and taking some fucking vicodin and not moving for a week, Sammy, got it?"
" If I don't help you hold that knife, you'll die, Dean."
"Not this time, Sam. Not again. I won't fuck this up again."
There's something strange in his voice, like he's looking at the stars, too.
"Again?" you say.
"Not that I want to guilt you or anything, but I totally stuck my tongue on that pole for you."
"What the hell?"
"These bullies. They kept trying to get you to do it, so I did it for you. Stupid. Dad had to pour hot water over my face to get me off. I couldn't taste for a week."
You try to curl yourself in, as though the pain were just a chill you could fend off by rubbing your arms.
"I saw it falling."
"You couldn't have--"
"There's a lot of things I couldn't have done. Save Dad. Save Mom. Boink Marilyn Monroe. You'll have to give me this one, Sam. I saw it falling. So, no. Not again."
The old man doesn't want to do it, which is how you know this will work. It's almost a relief to work past his objections.
"An angel brought me to you," you say. The old man shakes his head and turns up the volume on The Newlywed Game.
"If you don't do this, you'll let a genocidal maniac go free," you say.
"Another angel, is it?" the man asks.
He changes the channel: another game show, this time in Spanish.
"My brother will die," you say.
The man sighs and turns off the television.
"Remember," he says, his lips too close to your face. "This will come due."
You stay in bed all day, a model patient, and though of course Bobby suspects something there's nothing he can say. You can almost hear his thoughts: how much harm can the kid do, laid up like that? You sleep, because you think that will be good for the work you have to do. You try to meditate, and when that fails, relieve yourself with a sock and feel more like a teenager than you have in four years. You wait and wait and wonder if Bobby became a vampire when you and Dean weren't looking. Finally, he goes to sleep. At least, he shuts the door to his room with a firm click, and that's as much as you're willing to wait for. He'll find you gone, but hopefully you'll be well on your way to Dean by then and there won't be anything he can do.
You're careful once you get outside. This time you bring a flashlight, and it's slow-going but at least it's vertical. After nearly an hour, you deem yourself far enough from the house to be able to do this in peace. You shiver beneath your thin coat and toss back your head.
"Castiel! You fucking bastard angel come down here and talk to me!"
It's still a thrill--talking to angels the way you would talk to a demon. The way Dean talks to them. Of course, he's their anointed one. You they just keep around because it would piss Dean off if they killed his little brother.
Cas takes his sweet time, of course. You lean against a tree, but you know better than to sit down. Your hands feel arthritic, like claws, and you try to flex them as you wait. It hurts, but that hardly registers. Every little thing helps distract you--from what you're about to do, from why you have to do it.
"You should show more respect, Sam."
He's behind you, which is a fucking dirty trick, all things considered. You stay put and eventually he walks into your line of sight. Same as always: the mussed hair, the god-bothered gaze, the accountant's clothes. You remember when all you wanted was to shake his hand.
You laugh. "You need me to kill an angel. What are you going to do, ignore me?"
Cas takes a step towards you. "There are others we can find to do the Lord's work."
"The Lord? Isn't it a little late for that, now?"
"I haven't lost my faith," he says, and you recognize denial when you hear it.
"Yeah," you say, with a smile that isn't one. "Neither have I. Will you help me?"
"I can't heal you, Sam."
"Then what do you want me to do?"
He looks genuinely curious. Almost childlike, in that over-intense way of his. "Imriel knows the knife has changed," he says, maybe to himself. "If you're not there, he knows Dean alone can't kill him."
"Dean has five days," you say, and you have to swallow before you can get out the rest. "Just give me those five days. Take this," you tap your knee, "away for five days."
And Castiel tells you about consequences, about You're worthless, Sam Winchester. But not this time. Not now. "You'll help me?" you say.
Cas sighs and for a moment you see a hint of some human emotion on his face--something like wistfulness or admiration or regret.
And then you're in a basement apartment in Buffalo, New York, with an old man who watches game shows much too loud and is far too nonchalant about your sudden appearance. He balks at what you want him to do, but he knows who brought you here. You both know he'll agree.
He says it will come due, and you want to laugh. Like it hasn't already. Like this isn't the only chance you have to set it right.
You are eighteen, and you haven't heard your brother's voice for ten days. This is the longest you've ever gone without seeing Dean, let alone speaking with him. You've made a dozen friends (at least, you've collected a dozen email addresses), you've gone to five parties and picked out all your classes. You join the Ultimate Frisbee team and drink local wine and pretend that you don't know how to pick locks when the RA confiscates your fake IDs. You are so normal, you could eat it; you are so desperate, so homesick and alone that waking up is like swimming through shattered glass. You want to talk to Dean--every time you see his name on the screen of your cell phone you almost pick it up. And then you think about those twelve email addresses, those six classes, those five parties and the fake IDs that mysteriously reappeared in all your friends' dorm rooms. You think about the Beretta under your bed, the silver bullets in your sock drawer, the bobby pin in your pocket.
You will make a life here. You will, and they can't stop you.
You will make a life here. You will, and they will always know the part of you that denial has shattered.
Fifteen days, and you decide to answer the phone. But he's stopped calling.
You leave the crutches in Buffalo and buy a car for two grand right off a downtown lot. It's a piece of junk, a white hatchback with bald tires and a cracked windshield, but it gets nearly forty miles a gallon on the highway. You want to run, you want to jump, you want to climb trees and dance and fuck in the back seat of a car. But you drive.
It's a long way to Indiana, after all, and Dean only has four days left.
You catch up with him in a pay-by-the-hour forty miles outside of Bloomington, and you want to cry, it feels so much like home. You knock, because you hear Dean inside.
"Sam, what--" He's yelling, and then he stops. It's obvious as a red flag; you just smile.
Dean hugs you, tight, like he hasn't seen you in months, not days. "Christ, Sam. It's good..." He lets you go, and shakes his head. "What did you do? And if you made a deal with some demon--"
You shake your head. "Of course not," you say. As though that wouldn't have been the next thing you tried. "Cas helped me out."
"Well, that bastard. How'd you do it?"
"Told him their chosen one would die otherwise." You shrug, and sprawl on the unoccupied bed. Funny that Dean still got a room with double beds. "So, where's Imriel?"
"Fuck if I know," Dean says.
"You know, you don't look cursed."
"What were you expecting, hairy palms?"
"Been stuck in this place that long, huh?"
"Dudes in Klingon suits get more action. Christ, you should have heard Bobby when I said I went out to get a burger."
"Yeah, I think I did, actually. That bit about cursing your charred bones from hell?"
Dean grins, suddenly, like the little kid he might once have been but you never knew. "Something like that. So when did this happen? Why didn't Bobby tell me?"
You look away from his expectant gaze, but casually, out the window. It's easy to lie to Dean when you're telling him something he wants to hear. You told him so many whoppers this past year that by the end it was difficult for even you to separate what was real from what you wished were true.
"About that," you say, "I didn't actually tell him. I just kind of...split."
"And he didn't fucking call me?"
"Probably didn't want you to worry." Actually, he's probably cursing your guts and hunting for you himself, but no need to tell Dean that.
Dean narrows his eyes. You force yourself to meet his gaze, a defiant "okay, I'm fibbing a little, so what?" that you've also mastered this past year. He'll see the holes in your story, but if you do this right, he'll assume they're not important. That you had a fight with Bobby, maybe, said something stupid you don't want to admit. Not the truth: that Bobby would never have believed even a rebel angel would heal the goddamn Antichrist.
"All right. So how'd you get here? Angel coach?"
"That hatchback out front."
Dean actually goes to the window and looks outside. He whistles. "Fuck, man. How'd you even fit in there?"
You stretch, taking exaggerated pleasure in the way the tendons and joints and muscles in your left knee execute flawlessly. "I don't think I did. Fuck, I could run a marathon. Or, you know, not be the dude in the klingon suit."
Dean takes a few steps towards you, then pauses. "So, it's really okay? Everything. You feel--"
"Fine, thank you, Doctor Quinn."
"Aw, come on, Sammy."
"I know, Dean. I do." Your stomach takes a lurch at that, but you push on. "And I'm here and I'm fine and maybe we should talk about the fact that an angel seems to have cursed you to burn to a crisp in a week because, yeah, speaking from experience here? That would make me not fine."
Dean laughs. "You and me both."
And there it is, the thing neither of you are saying. If Dean dies this time, his trip to hell won't come with a return ticket. You swallow thickly and propel yourself off the bed. Your knee doesn't hurt, but your hyper-awareness of it somehow still presses on your mind like pain. It ticks like a clock, blares like the too loud television of the old man you left behind in Buffalo, speaks endlessly of Castiel's consequences and the old man's simpler locution: come due. You have to save Dean before that happens.
"So, what's the plan?" You're pacing, you can't help it. Dean watches, carefully, but he doesn't say anything.
"At the moment? Wait to hear something from Bobby and try to get Cas to talk to me."
"Cas won't talk to you?"
"I figured he was getting sick of me asking him to heal you."
You stare at him, but this is definitely the sort of thing said once and never spoken of again. "So Cas hasn't said anything about how we can find Imriel? Maybe we can summon him again?"
"That dog won't hunt, Sam. It worked once. Imriel's not going to let us get close that easy again. Fuck, why didn't I just stab him when I had the chance?"
"The old lady--"
"That old lady died anyway."
You pause. You remember the blue hair and the cold glare in her eyes as she taunted you. You remember worrying about her grandchildren. "She...when?"
"You were kind of out of it, Sammy."
A chill presses hard against your chest. Panic, and an all-too-familiar helplessness. How are you going to get Dean out of this when his only connection to the angelic world won't even tell him how to find the bastard that laid the curse?
"Maybe Castiel has his reasons for not telling you."
Dean's mouth twists. "I've been over 'angel knows best' for about a year now, Sam."
And so have you, but no need to bring that up. You and Dean meet each other's eyes, determination and an underlying bleak desperation. You'll go down fighting, but suddenly you're not so sure that either of you are going to make it out of this one alive.
"You sure you know what you're getting into?"
The old man has laid out his devices: the candles and the chalked symbols that you've come to expect, and the entrails of small, beautiful caged animals that you certainly didn't. Even knowing of the arts you require is frowned upon. No fucking kidding, Castiel.
"Consequences, bills coming due, chickens home to roost, yes, you might have mentioned something like that."
You're sick of this build-up, these endless warnings. Your leg is killing you and your brother is dying. How much fucking worse could it get, you want to ask (but you don't, because you're always afraid of the answer).
"Your knee, you wouldn't be here if it wasn't bad, no? You're on what, at least two kinds of painkillers right now. I used to be a nurse. Retired two years ago, so I know these things."
"Okay, not to be rude, but could we--"
"Other things I know: ways a knee injury like yours can go bad. You walk on it enough, or fall on it, things could shatter. Fractures can travel up and down the bone. You had surgery, right? Of course you did. Surgical complications, they're a big fucking book. Those pretty incisions can turn septic. MRSA, you know it? Super bugs. Even fucking gangrene, you hear me? It can eat away from inside your bones and before you know it..."
He blows on his fingers and you really, truly wish that you didn't understand exactly what he means, but you do and it makes you shiver and wonder for a horrible, treacherous instant if maybe Dean really can handle this on his own.
"But you don't think that...that's really going to happen--"
"I said come due, kid. I mean, whatever the bill is you need to rack up? Someone's gonna make you pay. Not me. No, I just arrange the deal. The rest, that's with a higher power. Or the great earth spirit, whatever bullshit you kids believe in these days. Me? I'm old fashioned. God is good."
You have to smile at that. God may be good, but you've long since given up any hope he gives a flying fuck about you.
Late that night, after you and Dean have gorged on burgers and rhubarb pie, you fall asleep. Not on purpose, but you're slumped over your computer and Dean is sprawled across your bed when every window in the room blows in a spray of powder and glass ice. Dean's up in a second, but groggy, and he nearly falls to the floor before he realizes what's happened.
"Sam!" he calls, but you're already there, gripping his elbow, because it's hard to see past the sudden, intense light.
"I'm here," you say, and again, "I'm here."
You're expecting hellfire and agony, but instead the wind gets louder and the light dims. Suddenly, Castiel appears in front of you both, frowning and panicked as you've ever seen him.
"He's found you," he says, pitching his voice so it can be heard over the howling. "Leave now. Go here. Don't stop unless you have to."
He hands Dean a slip of paper, folded over. Dean doesn't even have time to stutter a response before the winds die down as quickly as they rose and the light vanishes and the two of you are alone in a motel room that looks as though it's been visited by its own personal tornado.
"Fuck," you say.
"Let's go, Sammy," Dean says, and you guess that in this case, 'angel knows best' is better than 'barbecued forty miles outside of Bloomington, Indiana.'
You've grabbed your shit and gotten in the car in under a minute-- fast, but not even record time for the Winchester brothers in need of a speedy motel departure. Dean guns the engine and roars out of the lot; you just hold on.
He slows to a steady eighty miles an hour on the highway and you spread out the crumpled white note Dean tossed on the dashboard. 141 East Pearson Drive, Detroit.
"Where the hell is this?"
"What, do I look like Google Maps over here?"
You sigh, look out the window, see nothing but your reflection. You seem gaunt, tired, not particularly healthy, but you of all people know how relative that adjective can be.
"Driving two hundred miles in the dead of night to an address we don't know on the word of an angel."
"Yeah, well, some things never change."
You fall asleep despite yourself and when you wake up-- a crick in your neck, and drool on your sleeve-- you catch Dean doing that deliberate rapid blinking thing that never bodes well for his ability to stay between the white and yellow paint.
"I can take over for a while."
You expect his reflexive denial, and so are surprised when he pauses, looks at you and quietly pulls over.
"Dude," you say, "what's that about?"
"You asked," he says, getting out of the car and yawning. "I'm tired."
"Hasn't stopped you before."
"I thought maybe you missed it or something. Since you couldn't..."
You can't speak, suddenly, which is just as well.
When Dad first showed you how to use a gun, you surprised everyone by being good at it. First a simple rifle, then a handgun, then one of the big shotguns filled with rock salt that were much too big for a scrawny eight year old, like that would ever stop John Winchester. It knocked you on your ass every single time, but you still made your target. You and Dean would have shooting contests sometimes, on long weekend stakeouts during hunts. That leaf over there, Dean would say. This beer bottle, you would say. This beer bottle I'm throwing over my shoulder, Dean would say, and win. He always won, but you came close. You always figured there would be a day when you were as good a shot as your big brother.
When the roadside ghost came up behind him on your third hunt, all you had to do was pull the trigger. It was simple, John said, and he'd watched you do it a hundred times. You had it in your line of sight. But in the moment, you hesitated. She had blond hair, like the mother you saw in the pictures they hoarded, and for a horrified moment you wondered if this was your mother. If somehow she'd decided to take revenge on the people who loved her.
And in that moment of confusion, the ghost catapulted Dean into the road, where he was clipped by an approaching sedan and broke his right arm. You spent months afterwards furious at yourself, reliving that moment of hesitation over and over until it gave you nightmares. Dad never said anything, but you knew he held it against you. In his world, you were either hunter or hunted. Savior or victim. With Dean, no matter how hard you tried, you could never quite manage savior.
And you and Dad knew, even if Dean didn't, what option that left.
141 East Pearson Drive is one of those now-infamous Detroit streets, the kind that look like discarded movie sets of the Warsaw ghetto. What isn't abandoned and boarded up and half-burned down is boarded up and half burned down with squatters inside.
"Great place to find an angel," Dean says. "Destitution and misery...he must feel right at home."
"You think that's what this is? An address for Imriel?"
"That's what it keeps coming down to, isn't it?"
The building itself is another bricked-in row house, but this one at least has a functioning door. Its neighbors seem empty as far as you can tell, though it's always possible there's a crackhead or two sleeping it off inside. You hope, for their sake, that no one's home. You're pretty sure the collateral damage with this one is going to be a bitch.
Dean has a shotgun in his hands and the knife, carefully wrapped, in the waistband of his jeans. You have a gun and a hundred angelic symbols crammed into your head. You don't linger in the street, even though you're worried about what might be inside. Castiel's instructions were clear, and you don't want to think about what might be strong enough to put that fear in his eyes. Dean pushes open the door--the lock was smashed ages ago-- and you cover him. It stinks of rotting wood and the lingering scent of long-decayed flesh, but the only things that move are the cockroaches that scurry away from the flashlight when Dean points it at the walls. You take another step forward and try really hard not to think about the sudden crunch under your boots.
"Charming," Dean says. "Cas, you here, cause I've got to say, you could really work on the hospitality!"
He swings the flashlight in a circle. It catches a rat staring at you from the corner, its eyes silvered and haunted.
"I think it's empty, Dean."
He sniffs. "You don't smell angels, do you?"
"Not unless Imriel smells like year-old rat carcass."
Dean laughs. "He probably smells like a house fire."
You walk further into the house, careful on the floorboards that creak like they might fall in at any moment. In the kitchen, you see a few tattered blankets and a collapsing mattress pressed against the corner, away from the gaping holes where a stove and sink and refrigerator might once have been. The mattress breaks apart at your kick-- no one has been here for a while.
"This is a fucking joke."
"Somehow I never thought we'd be fighting an angel in an abandoned crack house."
Suddenly, Dean pauses. "Do you think this could be a trap?"
"He is an angel."
You shrug, helpless and a little angry. "I don't know, Dean. But what are we supposed to do? Clear out of here? You saw what happened to that hotel room. Maybe there's something here they can use."
"Broken glass pipes and used hypodermic needles?"
"Maybe Imriel will give himself tetanus...hey, you want to try the knife?"
"I still need the skin on my fingers, thank you."
"No, I mean, together. It should work when we're together."
"Cas didn't say--"
"And you're really going to do whatever he says?"
Dean glances at your knee and his jaw sets. "All right." He unwraps the knife, careful not to touch it, until it lies naked on the one cracked countertop. It doesn't look special, that's the funny thing. The hilt is plain wrapped leather. The blade is silver, but dull and pitted on one side. It's not even sharp enough to cut a steak, let alone kill a person.
But it was never intended to kill a person.
Dean looks at you, takes a visible swallow. "Okay," he says. "On three."
You reach for the hilt at precisely the same time, ready to flinch back if it hurts. But it doesn't. In fact, nothing happens at all. Not even a tingle.
"Awesome," Dean says. "Now we just have to--fuck."
You're so surprised you nearly take your hand off the hilt. And then you look around and see.
The kitchen has transformed. On every surface-- every wall, every ceiling, every inch of floor space-- someone has drawn angelic symbols of summoning and binding. There's a treasure trove here, a wealth of knowledge not written in any spell book. You almost salivate looking at it all, trying to match what you see here with the little that Cas and Anna taught you before that first summoning. One thing's immediately obvious: these are infinitely more varied and more powerful. If this is Tolstoy, the symbols you spent so much time learning are Dick and Jane. You recognize pieces: the sequence for summoning, the sequence for binding, but with a hundred variables that you know must tie it to a time and a place and a purpose. You understand a moment later: someone has laid a trap for Imriel.
And you and Dean are the bait.
"Dean..." you say. You thought you kept the tremor out of your voice, but he looks sharply at you, anyway. "I think we should get the fuck out of here."
"What is it?"
"Cas..." You cough, try again. "Castiel and Anna. I don't think they were telling us everything. About this knife, about--"
And then you see something else: a scrawl on the wall, just below a symbol you don't recognize at all. But this one isn't in incomprehensible angel-speak, it's in large, almost-childish handwriting.
Say his name three times, and he'll come.
You wrack your brain, struggling through all you and Dean have said once you came into this house. Once, you've said it at least once. Definitely not three times, because you'd know it. So safer to assume twice.
"Dude, what the hell? What do Cas and Anna want, then? Not to gank--"
The room begins to shake. Clouds of plaster fall from new cracks in the ceiling.
Dean looks around, panicked. You can tell he wants to get the shotgun, but neither of you have time to orchestrate letting go of the knife.
You just point to the writing, which now seems to glow along with the rest of the symbols covering the house.
"Oh fuck. You know, Sammy, if we get out of this, we're going on vacation. Some place safe and quiet and far away from all this shit."
"I hear the moon's nice this time of year."
Dean smiles, thin-lipped and feral. "All right. Let's gank this fucker."
"You speak to your mother with that mouth, Dean?"
Imriel laughs. His body this time is young, no older than twelve or thirteen.
"Don't worry," the boy says. "You will."
The old man gives you a safe word-- something that will end the spell when your need for it is over.
"What if I just don't let it end?" you ask.
He sucks his lips in over ruined teeth. "You look like a smart kid. Too smart to ask something like that. What do you think will happen?"
"I'll die and the spell can't reach me?"
His laughter is a bark, so rough it scratches your ears. "You'll die and it will have eternity to reach you. You think your brother liked it in hell?"
You stare at him, caught out. His laugh is softer this time, but no less jarring. "Of course I know who you are, boy. You Winchesters are famous."
He winks and lifts up his shirt. Just a little. Just enough so that you can see the scars on his back, the precise pattern of splayed feathers burned into him from a Fall.
Dean's hand tightens around yours on the hilt and that's all the signal you need-- he wants to go for this now, before the banter and the torture and any chance that Imriel might have to escape. Dean won't hesitate this time, and though that boy's face will always haunt you (just like the nurse whose blood you drained), you won't either. You feel the three count in your blood, in your nerves, in the ferocity behind your eyes.
And then you're running across a creaking floor covered in glass and plaster. You're raising your arm, and aiming it straight at Imriel's surprised boy's face. He tries to move, you can see it, but the strange bindings hold him. Dean snarls as he bears down, a noise so fierce that Imriel goes silent and you find your own savagery transmuted to a calm, guiding precision. Right there, you want to say, between the eyes. And, hard, you feel Dean say back, we won't have a second chance.
You wonder, for a moment that seems to hang for a century, if it worked. Your hand hurts, which would make sense if you just pushed your way through someone's skull. On the other hand, you're halfway through the wall on the opposite side of Imriel, and he seems to be glowing like a torch. And you can't see Dean, which makes the bottom drop out of your stomach faster than the downhill slope of a roller coaster.
"Castiel, Anna," the boy, the torch says. "I should have known."
"Only an angel can kill an angel." It's Castiel's voice, saying what you remember Alastair telling you months before, saying what Anna said just before she murdered another of her kind. And how could you have forgotten that? How could you, of all people, have believed Cas when he handed Dean that knife? Had you really bought so deeply into the myth of the chosen Winchester boys that you'd forgotten such simple, basic truths as this can be killed and this can't?
You struggle out of the wall-- you're just bruised, nothing serious. You try not to think about what that fall might have added to your bill.
"Dean?" Your voice is hoarse, but it's there. Something groans in answer, but it's on the other side of the room, opposite Imriel and Cas and Anna. You'll never get to him.
But maybe it doesn't matter, anyway. Imriel has turned himself into a white pyre, a flame so fierce you know his host must be long dead.
"You would never have succeeded without these tricks, you know," the pyre says, and it's no longer just the voice of the boy.
"I know," Castiel says.
"You rely too much on those brothers. They're just human. Imperfect vessels. They break."
"We know." That's Anna-- perhaps with a touch of disapproval.
"Then do it," he says. And then, more softly. "Hurry, love. Your bonds hurt, as always."
And you stare in helpless wonder as Castiel takes the knife from Anna, leans forward and kisses the flames. Maybe, if you squint, you can make out eyes and a nose and just the hint of lips. Maybe, if you squint, you can see tears on Castiel's cheeks that turn to vapor almost as soon as they fall. You almost don't notice him plunging the knife deep into Imriel's neck, the gesture is so smooth, so unerring, so tender.
When the light goes out, the boy is dead and the ashes of great wings mark the floor. Castiel drops the knife and Anna almost touches him, then doesn't.
"Sam?" Dean's up, and safe. There's a bleeding gash on his forehead, but he heads towards you in more or less a straight line. You take a breath, let it out in a long sigh. Dean's okay. He's okay, and maybe you didn't exactly save him, but at least he's saved. You'll take it.
"Here," you say, and meet him halfway. Your knee feels fine. It feels fine and you want to cry.
"What do you think of Mexico," Dean is saying. "Cancun? Great beaches, hot chicks--"
"Sam." It's Cas. Your heart squeezes. You have to force yourself to breathe.
"Fuck off," Dean says, rounding on the two angels. "You guys used us--"
"We had to. There was no other way to trap Imriel."
"You could have let us in on your little plot."
"We're sorry, Dean," Anna says. "Truly, we are. But the only way to convince Imriel you were a threat was for you two to believe it yourselves. Only we could kill him, and he would never let us close enough to do it."
You look at Dean, aware of his anger, but at a distance. You feel time like quicksand around you. The ticking in your knee that you could ignore when Dean was in danger makes you want to puke now that he's safe.
"Sam," Cas says again, warningly. Dean stops his tirade, takes a good look at you for the first time since this happened.
"Sammy? What is it?"
You didn't know this would be the hardest part. That look of giddy relief on his face-- the reprieve that ought to mean alive and safe and together-- that's what you're going to smash. He'll never trust you again. Not after this on top of the past year of escalating lies. No matter that you did it all for him-- he'll hate you for it, and that's the hardest consequence of them all.
"I'm...Dean, Christ, I'm so sorry. There was nothing else--"
"What the hell, Sam?"
"You don't want to wait much longer," Anna says. You glance at her, and something in her expression makes you think that she has a particular reason for saying so.
Dean's hands are on your shoulders. His eyes are as panicked as you've ever seen them. "You said you didn't make a deal, Sam."
You almost smile. No one knows you better. "With demons. I said I didn't make a deal with demons."
"You said Cas healed you!"
Deep breath. You were strong enough to make this deal, you're strong enough to end it. You hug Dean, tight, like a farewell. You know he feels it-- his breath hitches like he's about to cry. "Just this once, I could save you. Don't...try not to hate me for it."
And there, in his arms, you whisper the word the old man gave you: hermano.
The pain is instant, like a lightning bolt, like an earthquake, like a monster inside your leg struggling to tear it apart. You scream before you can stop yourself. You collapse, but his arms are there, and his voice saying "Sammy!" and there's light and you wonder for a moment if this is heaven or hell before you slip away entirely.
You are twenty five, and you've just loosed the Devil himself upon the world. There's a dead demon in your arms, and you're torn between tears and a hunger fiercer than any you've ever known. Dean sits with you, stunned and almost motionless.
"So, now what?" Dean asks, finally, when you find the energy to push Ruby's cruelty-free body from your lap. Looking at her, you could weep for a year. You could take the knife and stab her a hundred times more.
"Has the world ended yet?"
Dean looks around. "Not in Maryland, anyway."
"It's a start."
You look at each other, as honest an exchange as any you've had since he came back from hell. You think, he came back. I left him in that hotel room on a bed of broken glass, but he came back.
"I'm sorry," you both say, in such perfect unison that you have to laugh.
"I think I'm more sorry," you say.
"Yeah, probably, Sammy." His smile is ironic-- too wearied for anger. "Well, if we're not going to die, I think we should get out of here."
Dean levers himself up; he reaches down. You grip his arm and you stand.
You think, Somehow, I'll make this up to you.
Sometime later, you wake up. You know it's a hospital, because you can hear the steady hiss of air from the cannula in your nostrils and the beep of hospital monitors. You can't feel much of anything, let alone your leg, which is both a relief and a potential source of concern. It's dark outside, which means at least a day has passed, but you know it's probably been longer than that. Dean is beside you, sleeping on a gurney, with one arm twisted beneath him and the other on your shoulder. You'd be worried, except he's still wearing his street clothes.
The anesthesia is starting to wear off. You can feel the prickle along your fingertips and toes that means it's all coming back to life. If you wait a bit, you'll probably be able to get up on your elbows. Look down. See...well, see how many of the old man's predictions came true.
But for now, it's okay not to know. Okay to be in this twilit place where Dean is safe and you're oddly content and you don't have to think about angels and demons and hell and deals. Just you and your brother; just the love between you, and the dance: a sacrifice for a sacrifice for a sacrifice until you both die, until you both can rest.
Further Author's Note: I'm feeling a bit discouraged about writing anything that anyone in this fandom actually enjoys, so if you did like this, I'd love a comment!