A/N: ... Right. Honestly, this started off as a character study on Sam from a different perspective, but just... mutated into this. I... don't even have an excuse. Serious weirdness abounds in this one.
Warnings: SPOILERS for Season 5 up till 5.10: Abandon All Hope. And people, this fic is dark. Actually, it's a deathfic. Yeah, I warned you, 'kay? Also, some swearing, references to blood, gore and violence, metaphor-abuse, and, uh, weirdness.
Not keeping with the holiday mood, I know, but do bear with me.
Do let me know what you think!
Disclaimer: I do not own Supernatural or any of its characters.
Fade to grey
Dean was dead.
The first thing one notices is the colour.
The sheer variety of it, rather – the light bouncing off sharp planes, sliding across and caressing others, presenting everything in a multitude of gently varying shades, each so subtly, so fractionally discernable from the other that no artist's palette can or ever will be diverse enough to capture it faithfully.
From the harshness of my captivity – all-encompassing darkness, absolute, interspersed by blinding flashes of fire that burned ice-cold, a hell within hell that was a hypercompacted ball of ice – the soft beauty of this vista, the aesthetic brilliance of it all, is enough to overwhelm the senses. The human eye is pathetically inadequate to truly appreciate its undeserving privilege, but even this slice of Earth is enough to instil a deep, almost spiritual awe in the Divine Brilliance.
It is a pity, then, that such brilliance is subsequently populated by a species so vile that it moves beyond just lack of appreciation and gratitude to blatantly disregarding the truth of its Creation; to claim to look for answers to lofty questions, while destroying this beauty through its petty needs and wants and fragile egos.
It is more than a pity; it is an abomination.
An abomination that must be purged.
The human body I occupy now has had its senses considerably dulled by my long association – there is a constant glaze over my vision, the eye-lenses on the verge of going completely opaque; most of the hair has fallen out and the skin still peels, and while there was once the angry red of burned tissue underneath, there is now only the stinking blue-black of decaying flesh. My host has almost run its course; its inadequacy is to be endured no more.
No more, for my true vessel stands before me, about to invite me in.
"Well, hello, Sam," I say, and my tongue smacks against decaying gums and yellow teeth. "It's wonderful to see you again in person."
Dean was dead.
Dead, dead, dead.
The thought burned through his head, searing along the curves of his skull, rounding back upon itself until it was an out-of-control blaze, a forest fire, an inferno.
To Sam, the very concept of death was unstable, possessed a volatility that made it difficult for him to consider it with the same kind of terminal seriousness as before. After all, he and Dean had died before, more than once – indeed, some supernatural beings had inclined to make a game out of it – and yet, here they were, having defied the norm so often that he and his brother could qualify as one among the unnatural beings that they hunted. Death was not absolute – and the hope that that knowledge provided was more curse than blessing; it left them unable to move on and heal, the loss presenting gaping, seeping wounds that were subsequently infected by evil, by the beings looking to manipulate them.
A Winchester death was more than a mere event; it was a catalyst in the beginning of the end of the world.
Right then, as the devil approached him, stepping over Dean's corpse, Sam could only wish that the black oblivion that death was supposed to promise was true.
Lucifer paused, and smiled. "You do not look glad to see me."
Sam supposed he should respond. He knew Dean would. He knew Dean would smirk and fling a sharp riposte back in his face, even if it was the devil incarnate. Even if destruction surrounded them, civilisation reduced to rubble that was painted in blood both visible and invisible. Even if Sam was hanging on desperately to his last fraying thread of sanity.
Dean wouldn't lie there, eyes staring unseeingly at the sky, spread-eagled and bloodied. He wouldn't leave Sam alone to face his darkest destiny (expect he already had, so many times).
He wouldn't –
Lucifer was close enough now that Sam wanted to gag on the waves of decay emanating from his dying human host. Black infected ooze dripped from open wounds onto Dean's outstretched, immobile arm.
Sam clenched his fists, black fury beginning to kindle in the numbness of his mind.
"Tell me, Sam," Lucifer said. "What now?"
Sam told him.
"You do realise that this is a bad idea, right?"
"It's still an idea, Dean, which is more than anything we've managed these six months."
"We have to do something, Dean. This can't go on. We can't just... we can't."
"I know, but I'm not going to let you do this to yourself. Not again."
"I don't think we really have a choice, here –"
"We do. This plan, Castiel's plan, will work. You don't have to –"
"—do anything? Is that it? You think I'll be a liability there? Dean, I thought we'd gotten past this."
"I didn't mean that, Sam, and you know it. We go ahead with this, think about failure and success and contingencies later."
"Later? Is that the 'later' that Ellen and Jo and Bobby didn't have? Is that what you're talking about?"
"I... I'm sorry, Dean." A sigh, and a creaking of bedsprings. "You're right. We should give this a shot before going desperate."
"... Hopefully we needn't have to go desperate at all."
"Uh huh. And hey, does playing Coldplay one last time in the Impala come under 'desperate'?"
"You bet it does."
A snort. "Jerk."
Fond laughter. "Bitch."
Sam looks tired.
Beyond tired: almost ill with an exhaustion that seems to transcend the mere physical. Covered in his brother's blood and his own, swaying from myriad injuries, he should not be able to even stand. The only things keeping him upright are his rage and his stubbornness: a will of forged steel further melted and strengthened by the heat of his anger.
I can feel his fury, and I revel in it.
"If I say yes to you now," he says, "what will happen to Dean?"
I tilt my head, unable to comprehend his meaning. "Dean's life?" Is he asking for resurrection? Has he not learnt his lesson?
He shakes his head, fists clenching tighter. "No," he forces through clenched teeth. "No. After. After all this – does Dean – where –"
"Will Dean go to Hell?" I spread my hands. "That is not up to me, Sam. Your brother has made his choice; he will face the consequences as he is meant to." I smile. "Unless you do something to change it."
Sam's jaw works as he considers this. "But – but what can I do?"
"I don't know." He looks up at me, startled, and my smile widens. "You are more powerful than you or I know, Sam – you have been cultivated, you understand? You are the final survivor in a unique species, having endured and triumphed in more trials than one could ask of a normal being... you have been chosen, Sam, to be my eyes and ears and the source of my power in my final, greatest act." I step closer; he doesn't move. "Even I have yet to discover what you can truly do."
"No," he says numbly, denial slipping smoothly off his tongue, as it has all these years. "No."
"Do you want your brother to join your father, to escape the constant recycling of his soul through different planes of torture? Do you want to end this war... right now? Do you want to overpower me? Do you want to implement the destiny you'd always imagined for this world?" I raise my hand and rest it on his shoulder. A shudder ripples through his frame, but he still makes no move to get away. "You have the power, Sam, to do it all, and then some more. I can help you discover that power – don't deny it to yourself."
Sam snorts, a bitter sound. "Yeah, well, the last time I allowed somebody's help in 'discovering my true potential' and saving Dean's soul, I brought about the Apocalypse." He shrugs out of my grip, and turns away. "I'm not going to make the same mistake again."
I laugh. "Admirable, Sam, but Ruby had no idea of what you are truly capable of." His fire increases in intensity at the mention of her name, and it is pleasing. "Because, really, demon blood? A mere crutch – more hindrance than actual aid. It was merely a tool in her manipulation. I, however, have never lied to you. Nor have I looked to manipulate you, like the other angels have. I only present to you the truth of your power, and the choice to use it."
I sweep an arm at the carnage around us. "Take a look at what your indecision has cost this world, Sam. Has cost the ones you claimed to protect." I pause for effect. "Look at what it's cost your brother."
His iron-clad resolution wavers slightly; pleased, I continue. "Between the will of the angels and the will of your brother, it was no contest. Dean refused to host Michael until the very end. He even brought the Antichrist into play, and the angels were driven away, his life sacrificed in a final blaze of glory." His eyes flick toward Dean's form, moisture forming. "But all for what, Sam? He believed he fought on the side of good, of God, but you should know by now that God doesn't take sides. He never has." I smirk. "All in all, Dean's is the most miserable case of misplaced and utterly inconsequential martyrdom that I've ever had the opportunity to witness."
"Shut up," Sam growls, turning around to face me again. "Just... shut up." His whole body is shaking now, tears rolling down his face, and his grief further feeds the anger within him. "You have no idea –"
"Perhaps I don't." I sigh. "I'm sorry, Sam, that you face such a terrible choice – and I wasn't lying when I said how I wished there was some other way – but I'm presenting you with the power to make that choice. This is not an ultimatum. This is not a scheme. You can either allow this impasse to go on until it has consumed all of humanity, thereby rendering Dean's sacrifice as meaningless, or –" I wave a hand toward him, "—you can do something meaningful. End this, bring about better things, greater things."
Sam finds it in him to give me a weak smirk. "And that's not an ultimatum?"
"No, it isn't." I smile again. "You and I were fated to meet, Sam. I said that it was inevitable that you would say yes to me possessing you, but right here? I recognise your true potential. And I give you the tools to make your own decision. To control your own destiny.
"After all, isn't that what you've always wanted?"
Sam was sick of this.
His non-choices in a non-battle, determined by beings that were only meant to exist in the fabric of human lore and imagination... he was sick of it all. Just what the hell did his family have to do everything, anyway? Why did the fate of billions hang on the word of two war-scarred, world-weary young men? Why did some giant cosmic drama stretching across the length and width of existence itself have to draw parallels with them? Why did the world have to end with them?
Questions, gnawing away at the back of his head for what seemed like centuries with no definitive answers forthcoming, until he was sick of the questions, too.
He just wanted it to end.
At that moment, he thought he could understand the angels' motives. Why continue with an existence spent in grappling difficult, sometimes impossible choices? It was so easy to stop wrangling with yourself and let go, to use what you have to do what you want.
... Except he had already done exactly that, and it turned out to be the biggest mistake of his life.
Lucifer seemed to be waiting for him to answer, an infuriatingly smug smile gracing wasted lips.
He could answer no – after all, that was what he and Dean had been doing all these months, even as Lucifer haunted his dreams, and the widespread destruction from the four Horsemen, his every waking moment. He could throw the devil's arguments back in his face, just as Dean had done. He could draw the line between evil and good, dark and light, and refuse to cross it. He could refuse to be used for his powers yet again.
And yet –
What had come of Dean's stubbornness, his insistence on doing the right thing? Of Castiel, his quest to find a middle path, to find God?
Inaction, and further destruction.
And now – Castiel killed, banished; Dean... dead.
What would happen if he said yes? Would things be any different? Perhaps the world would end sooner; perhaps it wouldn't end at all. He had no way of knowing for sure, other than actually agreeing to host Lucifer.
Either way, it would mean the end of civilisation as they knew it. The end of the world was already happening; all that Sam needed to decide now was how soon the process would be completed.
For a moment, Sam let himself sink into quiet, black despair, floundering for answers.
All his life, Sam had encountered choices at every level: most of his childhood had been spent in a continuous war between his supposed responsibilities and his own dreams and desires. He had been convinced that he was simply not born for the lifestyle of a hunter – not in the way his brother was, anyway – and the more he discovered about the world outside of darkness and monsters, and just how good he was in that world, the more he chafed, the more he longed for escape. Escape from a lifestyle where he was never found good enough, from the constant migration and fights, from feeling like he was a stranger both within and without his family. Dean had been the pillar he had clung to through those tumultuous times, but even he had not been enough.
It took reserves of fortitude deep within him, reserves he was constantly surprised even existed; he fought and he trained and he learned, and found a place in both worlds. Dean had sacrificed a normal life, practically his entire childhood for their father's quest; Sam had learnt to straddle between normality and the supernatural, the demarcation between the two existing only within himself. Sam's self was all he could really trust – Dean came close, but not quite.
He had never been one for meekly submitting to fate (or John Winchester, for that matter). If something was to be done, he would trust himselfto do it, not merely wait for things to come about. Be it working for a merit scholarship to a prestigious college, or avenging his girlfriend's death. It was this strong independent streak, this obsessive need for self-sufficiency, that was both his biggest strength, and his greatest weakness.
His trust in himself had been shaken greatly, though, in the recent past – his demon blood addiction, being manipulated by Ruby, freeing Lucifer unwittingly, allowing his own pride and arrogance to carry him away – and he had faded to the background, for a while. But now?
His self was all he had.
Will his self, all that he was, all that made him Sam Winchester, measure up to this being, a being older than time itself?
There was only one way to find out.
Sam stepped forward, blinking the tears out of his eyes, meeting the murky gaze of the devil one last time.
"This is dangerous."
"Well, yeah, tell me something new."
"Okay, this is more than dangerous: it's fucking suicidal."
"Come on, Sammy, the kid's the most powerful being on earth right now. Who better to have on our side?"
"We're using him."
"It's his choice, Sam, remember? If anybody could kill the devil and drive away Zach and his Holy Douchebags, it's Jesse."
"He's still a kid, Dean. And, sure, Castiel's brought him to our side, but he's tried to kill Jesse before, remember? What if this backfires? What if we've –"
"Sam. I—we'll be there." A click. "With the Colt, at the ready."
".... but will we be enough?"
"We have to be."
The word rolls like the benediction it is off his lips.
I take my time to savour the moment of triumph – inevitable as it was, the pleasure of one's plans coming to fruition is like none other – and study Sam one last time. He looks tired, but calm, with the kind of strength that only a complete loss of hope can provide. The rage is now reduced to an icy core – all the more lingering, all the more satisfactory.
I allow my host to take one last, deep breath, then... push.
There is a sense of giddy liberation as I rise out of my cage of flesh and bones of the better part of the last year... a sense profound enough for me to lose my orientation, if momentarily. Taking over a human body is as extraordinarily arduous as it is limiting – moulding oneself to adjust to the human physique, taking one's amorphous essence and pouring it into a fragile and limited vessel. There is then the mind to consider – thought, both conscious and subconscious, always so restless, that must be painstakingly quietened, and replaced with one's own. The human personality is a multifaceted thing of complex beauty – capable of such wonder, sometimes so close to divinity – yet blinkered, tragically flawed, restrained by issues so petty, needs so trivial.
It is therefore not an easy task to remove myself from the mind I had made my own these past months. The mind is left scarred by the presence of greater beings such as I – much like the burn-flare from gazing directly into the sun – and it is not something every human can bear lightly.
And the humans that do choose to bear... do not usually survive to remember what anything but the sun looked like.
Leaving my long-suffering host to its final death throes, I revel in the moment of freedom – an instant, no more, frozen and sweet – before I seek out my compliant vessel...
... which lies on the ground, empty and lifeless.
For an infinite instant, I am astonished – Sam could not have dropped dead, and hasn't the boy already realised the futility of trying to kill himself? – before a sudden presence... knocks into me in a way that is startlingly physical and I am forced into a nearby copse of trees, which immediately catch on fire. The flames are quick to spread as I emerge again to face a formless cloud of energy – though painfully inadequate, the word seems to fit, in its simplicity – hovering above Sam's body. It shifts, pulsing light as though kindling a protostar within its nebulous depths, and comes for me again. I realise, now, that my battle with the Winchesters is not over.
It has merely moved on to a different plane.
I am ready for its approach this time; I swerve out of the way and allow the cloud to go careening past me, and into the flames. It rebounds, unscathed, for a second attack, finally beginning to take form.
A human form.
Sam Winchester is full of surprises, as ever.
Once again, I dodge, and really, this is all getting a little juvenile. How long can you keep this up, Sam, I ask, and though it might sound like ear-splitting static to a normal human, I can tell he understands very well. You are now merely a soul that's left the safety of its body – a clever party trick, I must say – but I am in my true form, and there is not a being on earth that can match up to it.
He stops, and is fully formed, now – a glowing, translucent Sam Winchester glares at me from where he is suspended mid-air. I'm much more than you know, he spits, and rushes toward me again.
This time, however, I do not move.
He collides with my form, his essence, the very core of what makes him what he is, intermingling with my own.
It is futile, this effort of his – Sam is still intrinsically human, even if enriched with demon blood. Two components of two palpably inferior species set in an already fragile, unstable mind... looking to overcome me? Without time, without careful cultivation of power? It is more than ridiculous; it is enraging. I decide, then, it is time to finish this farce... now. I reach to envelope Sam, crush his will...
... except he is not there.
He is everywhere.
Suddenly it is not just Sam, but a force much larger, much more potent, and it –
consumes, brings about memories of light, sweet and pure, but no no no –
the rage, the betrayal, pain and the descent –
. . . Descent . . .
Sam knew that he had probably made a mistake.
The out-of-body projection was something he had been practising on-and-off over the months since Bobby's death, since he had discovered that his demon-given powers didn't need blood as a stimulant. That they had never needed the demon-blood as a stimulant. He wasn't sure when exactly he had realised that – it wasn't a split-second instant of wondrous realisation, but rather an incremental awareness in his consciousness through days and nights of witnessing further and further destruction due to their continued inaction, so when he had first felt the crackle of power at his fingertips and the black fire behind his eyes, he had neither been surprised, nor repulsed.
Only quietly ready.
Dean had been a curious mixture of apprehension, disgust and relief when Sam had told him of this – together, no more secrets they had said, no more secrets – and he had made Sam promise that he would even think of using those powers only as a last-ditch attempt, if it at all came to that. Personally, Sam felt that everything that they did now was last-ditch (thousands already dead and millions in grief and the world is ending, dying) but they both knew how much promises, how much setting store by them, mattered these days.
So, Dean. Would your death at the hands of the devil count as last-ditch? Forgive the pun, but, uh, dying to know, here.
And so when the devil rose, and Dean died, and the world ended, and Sam said yes, he released his true self.
Lucifer, bringer of light, glowed bright, brighter than any angel could've, he felt, illumining the immediate night into day.
Sam fought the awe down, and threw everything he had at the devil –
-- who merely flicked his efforts aside, and everything Sam was suddenly was nowhere near matching such evil.
It was then that Sam had realised that he had made a mistake.
For all that he had turned to his self, for all that he focussed inward, he was to realise that the core of his strength came not from within, but from all around him.
The demon-blood required Sam to reach within himself, for reserves of power that he now knew could only access fully by separating himself from everything else; this he had achieved with ridiculous ease in the aftermath of Dean's death, when all he had to focus upon was how much he hurt and how much he wanted to kill Lillith. He saw, then, in that bell-clear moment of clarity, that at that time he could've been frighteningly powerful – Ruby's insistence on demon-blood had been more of a psychological ploy at keeping him under check than a way to build his abilities.
Dean's death, even upon his subsequent resurrection, proved to be the proverbial wound that would never heal – merely scabbed over, ready to break and bleed at the slightest injury. Sam had justified his continued pursuit of his demon powers and Lillith in protecting a Hell-scarred Dean, in ending their desperate fight once and for all, but he now knew that that wasn't entirely true. And in that, he realised why he had fallen in the way he had.
In a time where he could've been thinking of everything else, of Dean, he was too busy thinking of himself.
And right here, right now, he was allowing himself to commit the same mistake.
-- merely a soul that's left its body, he could hear suddenly, and through all the buzzing he could register this voice as belonging to Lucifer's. But I am in my true form, and there is not a being on earth that can match up to it.
And there, right there, was the answer he was looking for.
There was no one being that could match up to Lucifer. However, stretching beyond the mortal confines of just Sam Winchester...
... he found an amalgam of tightly woven emotions and events, pulsing and shifting all around him, that somehow connected to him in some way or the other, just as he was to them.
Sam Winchester was the world, or the world was Sam Winchester; it didn't matter. It wasn't just him standing between the devil and all of humanity.
I'm much more than you think I am, Dean snarled through him.
Lucifer did not move – waiting, once again, for Sam Winchester to come to him. Instead, this time, it was John Winchester's desperate run to save his sons from the fire that forever changed their lives that propelled him. When he did crash into the devil, it was with all the force of Dean hacking through Sam's demons – both real and personal.
Lucifer swirled with desire and pride and hate – with a sense of betrayal running through an as inexorably powerful undercurrent. It called for Sam to pour all his hate, all the rage he felt at the unfairness of the world, all the power and security he longed to have, but would never get... and transform them into fuel for the ultimate form of revenge, prestige and power. The urge was painfully overwhelming... but once again, there was no Sam Winchester for it to call out to.
Every image of Jessica dying, burning, was countered by the soft touch of her unconditional love, the happy glow of the times they had spent together suffusing through black tragedy –
Every instant of John being disappointed in him, of the claims of notenough and was met with lingering memories of his father's unmitigated pride at his research skills; the softness in his eyes as he declared that they were indeed stronger as a family; the warmth of his embrace, his quiet, proud acceptance as they met for the first time after he'd left for Stanford –
Dean dying over and over and over again (because of you, because of what was done to you), but Dean, Dean –
-- It's called being a good son, Sam with I'm proud of you –
-- I might have to kill you, Sammy and unflinching support, I'd rather die –
-- slippery slope, brother, getting darker and darker but he was only doing it to protect, to avenge, and I'm sorry –
-- I'm sorry, Dean, if I could take it all back, I would – I don't trust you anymore, Sam –
but in the end, tentative forgiveness, reforged bonds –
-- renewed strength.
We keep each other human.
Every blow of hurt, of lost hope and seemingly irreparable betrayal, was countered with affection, love and the ultimate effort to break all barriers and seek genuine understanding of the other side.
Lucifer began to crumble under the onslaught; something ancient was giving way...
... And Sam, in his last moment of lucidity, observed their battlefield again, and wondered at a sudden memory, an image, that had crept into his consciousness....
... it was him, and it was Lucifer inside of him, in the same place, and Dean stood there, roiling with despair and anger and wild hope; thunder sounded overhead, and a soft rain was falling...
... Lucifer promising that they would meet again...
Sweet irony, then, Dean chuckled through him. Then it was rain, now it is fire. Appropriate.
And Sam and Lucifer fell into the flames, together.
"I... he... he's gone. Dean – Castiel and Jesse... they're gone!"
"How can I – Dean, that was our last chance, and the devil is still there –"
"It was not our last chance."
"We've the Colt and the knife and the oil, and, well, you."
"What are you talking about?"
"I'm giving this one last shot, Sam, our way. And if that doesn't work..."
"No. Dean, no. We need to – we need to fall back, we need more help, we need –"
"We've got all the help we could get, Sam. And now we're finally here. I think this is it."
"If what I'm about to do doesn't work... I'm sorry, Sam. I'm sorry that I left you alone, I'm sorry that I might have to do the same now, and –"
" – what are you being apologetic about, it's not going to –"
"Yes, Sam, it's going to. And I'm –"
"Okay. No chick-flick moments, right?"
A grin. "Right."
"So... I'm totally not going to say 'I love you' and stuff like that, yeah?"
"I totally don't love you either, Sammy."
"Me too, Dean. Me too."
Sam was dead.