So many apologies for the massive delay in this chapter. I think I am back in the swing now.
Thank you so much for those who are still reading!
Sam Winchester dared a glance at his older brother. Jaw clenched, tense shoulders; simultaneously on the attack and defence before anything even appeared in front of them. This could be of great assistance, this could bring about some real results but it could also lead them both straight to disaster if not handled properly. Sam had no idea which destination seemed more likely.
'Hi guys!' And here he was, the devil himself in all his wonderful human glory. 'Sammy, you brought your brother in to join us. How very thoughtful of you. I love a party.'
Before either could muster an answer, day turned to night, creepy, rotting and thick trees appeared in haphazard positions throughout the now grassy field and black, lit lanterns hung from the bent and unattractive branches. 'Nice ambience, don't you think?'
'What is this?' Dean snarled, only taking a split second to absorb his new surroundings. 'How are you even here?'
Sam peered at the devil, intrigued at his answer. All this time he never once thought to ask that particular question.
'What? You think only parts of Sammy came out of the pit?' He snorted. 'That's pretty Winchester-absorbed if I do say so myself Dean.'
'I'm saying,' He interrupted with smug impatience, 'You don't need all of me here to have me here – If you get my meaning.'
'No, not really.'
Sam understood. The devil didn't require a soul to function, didn't even require a body. He was his own entity capable of much, much more than any mere mortal. He stood here because he could. He held the power to manifest brutal alternate realities and plonk you right bang in the center of them with just a flick of his otherworldly hand. And once in them, the possibility to ever escape became minimal.
'Don't worry your pretty little head about it.' Lucifer waved, 'It's party time and I'm eager for you to see the kind of games your Sammy and I like to play.' He clapped his hands together and smiled. 'Your choice Sam. You want a) Slice and dice; b) Choose your own hellfire adventure; c) Meet the parents, d) Scratch and–'
'Okay, enough!' Dean's snarl reverberated right through Sam's head causing him to flinch a little. It didn't seem to have the same effect on the devil.
'A?' Lucifer questioned Sam, 'You know that's my own personal favorite. Slashing flesh into pretty little ribbons? It just gives me chills all over.'
Dean spoke without thinking, 'Screw you and your sadistic little games. You're not getting him.'
Lucifer let out a sigh. Dean Winchester had such a mouth on him, such an attitude even when he didn't have a card left to play. The younger brother, with all that delicious wall-crumbling damage, he knew, he learnt. You simply cannot beat the devil.
'A it is!'
'You son of a bitch! You leave him alone!'
Suspended from the lowest branch of the highest tree suddenly dangled a familiar, scorching cage sized large enough to hold a solo, crouching human. Sam swallowed his sheer panic. For Dean's sake he forced himself to stand strong and silent.
'You know what?' Lucifer sneered. 'I will NEVER leave him alone. You know why? Because he is all mine. But you know something? I've had my fun with him in that cage many-a-pleasurable time. And you know what I want now? To torture him through torturing you.'
Sam lurched forward, understanding all too quickly but all too late. Terrified for his now vanished brother, he halted dead in his tracks, looked up higher than his arms could reach and watched as a grimacing Dean hopped from one foot to the other. Lucifer pounced to shackle his ankles and wrists before Dean unwillingly let out a spine-tingling scream.
'No!' Sam yelled knowing how pitiful and powerless that one word was in this world. It meant nothing to this beast even though it meant everything to him.
'Now the real fun begins.' Lucifer cackled, claws snapping free and arms rising.
Sam clamped his eyes shut and rolled up his sleeves. He was sorry, sorry and devastated Dean was present to witness this. He wanted to fight, but how could he fight when the only weapons available were fake branches out of reach? How could he fight when his opposition was the devil himself? How could he fight when he was nothing more than a piece of nothingness; death being too good for him?
Dean's screams affirmed his intentions. To get him out of this pure torture was of vital importance and nothing else mattered. Dean being hacked into strips, blood splattering and dripping all over Sam's shoulders and chest made Sam's rough scratches not even register in the realm of minor inconvenience.
'Sam! No, don't!' Dean managed to growl through gritted teeth.
'I have to.'
'Sammy, come on.' Lucifer chimed in, causing Sam to dig deeper. 'Don't ruin the fun. I have a whole millennia set aside for this.'
These damn blunt nails. White scratches accomplished nothing. He needed more. Eyes darting, thoughts swirling, he raced to the trunk of the tree and rubbed his forearms mercilessly, drawing surface blood almost immediately.
'You know, this isn't going how I wanted it to go. You are spoiling everything Sam.' He frowned and pondered for a second, delighting in his new idea. 'How about C?'
John Winchester appeared from behind the largest of trees. Sam winced and closed his eyes but continued, continued until the devil deleted the tree and the cage fell to the ground, no longer hot, Dean no longer slashed or shackled.
With his sore shoulder burning deeper than any fire, Dean grasped the bars and shook like a madman.
Lucifer smiled at the older Winchester and held a finger to his lips. 'Sh, shh, shh. This is very entertaining Dean. It's classic drama. You like angst? Personally I am an angst fan.'
'Sam, this isn't real. Nothing here is real.' Dean breathed determined to recover rapidly from his agonizing ordeal and get his mind straight to help his struggling brother. 'Just remember that.'
John stood still summing up his two sons. Sam waited, glancing from his father to his brother. He wanted Dean out of that Godforsaken cage and wanted to block his ears from John.
'If that was you in that cage,' John spoke evenly, 'And Dean was standing out here, he would have freed you by now.'
My God, how true. Somehow, even against insurmountable odds, Dean would have indeed found a way.
'Sam, I can't even free myself. Don't listen to this. It is just the devil playing you.'
'Dean,' John smiled sympathetically at his eldest son's tight face. 'You always did deserve a better brother.'
'I'm happy with the one I got thanks.' Dean fought himself not to make eye contact with the illusion but by God if it didn't look as real as his own hand in front of him.
'Look at yourself.' Turning his full attention back to Sam, John shook his head, 'This is who you turned out to be? We both taught you better than this.'
'Sam,' Dean swallowed at the sight of his brother inhaling deeper breaths. 'Dad wouldn't say these things.'
'I always say these things Dean. At least to him I do. You forget. We never got along. He was always rebelling, always choosing the other way, never supporting us, not like we supported him.' He took a breath. 'He was always a bitter disappointment.' John stepped over to Dean. 'Not like you. You and me; we wanted the same things, had the same goals, wore the same clothes, drove the same car, listened to the same music. We were in sync. The only times we ever fought was when we fought about him. If he wasn't here-'
'If he wasn't here…' Within a split second Mary materialized by her husband's side and spoke directly to Dean, 'I would be.'
Sam glanced over to the devil sadly. Lucifer gazed back. 'Second favorite game.' He stated with a light shrug.
Dean Winchester concentrated. If he could push all this pain aside and lock it in a box storing it in the back of his mind he just might find a way to think. Burying all this suffering might not be the healthiest of processes, but if he could get through to Sam and stop him from sinking further into dangerous misery, he would deal with it later.
'Sammy, look at me and look at me only, okay?' Dean's spoke gently and it brought about compliance from his brother. 'That's not mom, this isn't dad.' He reassured. 'You remember how obsessed dad was about keeping you safe? Remember how hard he used to come down on me if I even left you for a second?'
'That was before I knew what he was.' John scorned while Mary nodded in agreement and Lucifer leant back against a tree crossing one foot over the other.
'And you know as well as I do our real mother would do exactly what she did over again to save you.'
Sam nodded, unconvinced. He flashed a small smile at his brother who was trying; who always tried, who never gave up on helping him. John…Fake-John was right. Dean really did deserve a better brother.
'Die Dean. She died for him.' Fake-John corrected. 'You can say it. God knows you think it enough.'
'I do not.' Dean frowned while Sam nodded again, this time fully convinced. 'Don't listen to this Sam,' He glared over at an amused Lucifer. 'This is just him messing with your mind.'
Or was it?
Intense thoughts and feelings crashed through Dean's mind like a twelve car pileup on a backed up highway. If even one was correct, they had a chance. If Sam could believe the mere suggestion and embrace the idea, freedom was possible.
'You know what Sam? You know what I'm thinking all of this is?'
'Hell?' Sam replied.
Sam nodded fully aware this was his hell. That eternal suffering which he feared the most now held the very real prospect of dragging Dean down with him. Nothing could be worse.
'No mine, not dad's, not mom's, not even Lucifer's. Yours.'
'What are you saying?'
'I'm saying these are your worst fears playing out, right?'
'So,' Dean offered a smile. 'What if you don't indulge them anymore? What if we think of all the positives instead?'
Sam scoffed, as did John and Lucifer.
'Name one.' Lucifer chimed with a smirk.
'All the people he has saved.'
Dean glared at Sam's devil, the devil that was nothing more than a creation in Sam's mind of that he was now sure and took a breath. 'Okay let's play a game.' He suggested right to his face. 'Your choice. A) The story of how Sam stopped the apocalypse, b) Why Sam is a hero or c) How Sam overtook the devil and sent his ass right back to hell?' Dean smirked. 'C is my own personal favorite.'
'That wasn't just me Dean.' Sam stepped in before Lucifer could string his brother back up and continue his cruelty for pure revenge.
'You took most of the hit Sam.' Dean shook his head. 'Go with me on this okay? Stop fighting it. Look at mom and dad and know the real ones would both die again to protect you, look at that son of a bitch and know you took control of him once and you can do it again, look at yourself and know you have strength in you Sam, you always had. You just have to bring it out again.'
He almost had him.
'Look at me and know all I want is for you to be okay.'
Sam bit the side of his left cheek.
'What do you prefer? Living like this? Hurting yourself?' Dean noticed the bars on his cage flickering. 'Or being strong again? Capable of taking control of your own mind?'
'You think this is…?'
'I think none of it is real and it's all the bad crap in your head. I think it's the wall but I think we can beat it.'
'The same as how you've beat everything else.' The solution had to come from deep within Sam not handed to him by Dean.
'So, I'm intrigued Sam.' Lucifer mocked. 'What's it going to be? You think you can beat me again?'
'Yeah.' Sam concurred. 'I actually really do.'
Punching the devil over and over again invoked feelings of power, strength and utter satisfaction. It was all he had in a weapon-less world but it was enough because he chose for it to be enough. He could be a God here if he wished...and he wished.
He refused to stop until Dean was free of that cage and evil John and Mary disappeared. Until night returned to day, until the only tree he could see was the tree he smashed into in Bobby's truck. Until he could see Bobby's truck.
Until he woke up in the driver's seat, his brother by his side.
(To be continued….)