Author's Note: This plot bunny immediately following the events of 6.22 just wouldn't leave me alone. This is far from a fix-it and will undoubtedly go AU the moment season 7 starts, but inspiration demands what it will. Story title comes from the Mumford & Sons song "Timshel," as excerpted below. Comments and criticisms are, as always, craved.
Disclaimer: I own nothing you recognize.
And you have your choices
And these are what make man great
His ladder to the stars
But you are not alone in this
And you are not alone in this
As brothers we will stand and we'll hold your hand
Hold your hand
- Mumford & Sons, "Timshel"
"I'm your new God. A better one. And you will bow down and profess your love unto me, your Lord, or I shall destroy you."
All the air left Dean's lungs at those words, mind going completely blank. Sam's eye caught his and reflected the fear and helplessness Dean was feeling. The words were completely ridiculous but…But he'd seen what Cas had just done to Raphael, splattering him with a snap like he was freaking Lucifer on steroids and Raphael had been an insect. He could feel the air practically humming around Cas. He was clearly drunk on the power, overwhelmed by the monster-fueled nukes within him. But Cas also had the mojo to back up his talk.
Oh, we are so screwed.
Cas looked between the three men. "So, what will it be?"
Bobby looked shell-shocked at Cas' words and was at a complete loss as to what to do when Dean glanced in his direction. Dean turned back to Sam and blinked in surprise at his brother's look.
No, it said.
No. After everything we've been through?
It went against every fiber of Dean's being to even consider bowing, but he was willing to shove his pride away for the sake of his brother and surrogate father.
Exasperation crept into Sam's look at that. Dean.
Dean might have laughed at the bitch-eye if things weren't so screwed up. He glanced over at Bobby, who'd watched the silent exchange, and shook his head minutely. Bobby gave a curt nod, ready to back them up as always.
The exchange had been brief and Cas stood, waiting for their answer with what he clearly thought was benevolent patience.
Dean turned his full attention to the angel and swallowed before speaking. "No."
Cas titled his head at that. "No?"
"No," Sam echoed. He was clearly trying to be firm in his tone but his voice shook from his body's trembling. Even then, Sam's voice was music to Dean's ears; only a few hours earlier he hadn't known if he'd ever hear it again.
"No," Bobby agreed.
There was fear underlying his gruff voice, but Bobby had made his choice throwing his cards in with the Winchesters and would stick with it, come what may. A brief burst of affection for the older man rushed through Dean before he looked back at Cas.
He half expected the angel—god, whatever he was now—to raise a hand a hand and explode all three of them on the spot like he had Raphael, but he didn't. Instead, he watched them curiously, like an owner wondering what his pet was thinking.
"I am…sorry to hear that," Cas said at long last.
Somehow Dean doubted that but he thought better of voicing that. "So now what, Cas? Kill us?"
Cas frowned as though the question had taken him by surprise. "Kill you? But there would be no point in that."
"Y'said you'd destroy us," Bobby pointed out.
Cas' patient smile returned. "There is more than one way to destroy a human soul. Isn't that right, Sam?"
Sam flinched but didn't say anything and Dean's stomach clenched. He didn't like where this was going.
"No, I would not kill you. You three have proven most useful," Cas said. "And I have never wanted your sacrifices to be in vain. But you will serve me." It was a statement of fact as far as the angel was concerned.
"We said no, Cas. Free will, remember?" Dean growled, mind briefly going back to motel room where he and Sam had drunk to their beleaguered team while Castiel lay unconscious on a bed.
That angel, their friend, was nowhere to be found. This Castiel shook his head, that alien smile never leaving his face. "Then you will just have to learn what happens when you disobey."
"Do whatever you're gonna do, but the answer'll stay the same," Dean replied. They weren't going to play into Cas' delusions no matter what. They needed a way out, but this wasn't it.
"You know who else didn't obey?" Cas asked, inclining his head in Sam's direction. "Lucifer."
Sam went completely still, his breath catching in his throat and eyes going wide, all traces of his determination from moments before gone. Dean felt his blood run cold.
"You remember Hell, Dean. But you can't imagine the Cage. Can he, Sam?"
Sam lost the little color he had left, looking paler than any ghost they had ever wasted. "No. No," he muttered brokenly, wrapping his arms around himself protectively. Or maybe against the cold of Lucifer's memory, Dean thought as he was rooted to the spot, helplessly watching his brother struggle against the brutal, horrific memories.
"You will bow or you will learn what God does to those who disobey Him."
Sam let out a whimper—a fucking whimper—and something snapped inside Dean. For a brief moment, he saw red in his fury and what the angel had done to his brother, what he had subjected him to for the sake of a goddamn distraction.
"Screw you, Cas," he hissed, his protective instincts raging within against the threat to Sam.
"If that's your answer…" Cas said, the briefest hint of regret crossing his face only to disappear faster than it had appeared. He raised his hand. Dean locked eyes with his brother and the snap echoed through his ears.
And then they weren't in the warehouse any longer. Dean blinked and looked around with a frown. Bobby and Cas were gone and he and Sam were standing in a cavernous room with crimson tapestries lining the walls.
"Where the—" Dean trailed off when he saw Sam looking around in wide-eyed terror. "Sam?"
"No, no, no," his brother moaned, hands flexing violently at his sides. "No, no."
Sam slowly turned to look at Dean. "He can make it look however he wants," he whispered. "It's his domain."
Dean was pretty sure he knew what his brother was talking about but had to be sure. He had to know if Cas had gone as far as he suspected. "Who, Sammy?" he whispered, suddenly not sure he could bear to hear the answer.
"What do we have here?" a familiar voice filled the room and a wave of nausea washed over Dean. Footsteps echoed harshly through his ears as a dark figure approached.
Dean's mouth went dry the closer the figure came. Just as he thought he might be able to make out the figure's face, Sam let out of muffled yelp. Dean whirled to see Sam strapped down to that godforsaken rack. His brother's eyes were wild in fear, memories coming to life.
Dean made to step toward Sam only to be slammed violently against the far wall. His vision blurred as the breath left his lungs. He blinked a few times and coughed painfully. When his vision cleared, his eyes widened and he inhaled sharply. His father's younger form stood next to him, watching him curiously.
"Michael," Dean managed to rasp out.
"Hello, Dean," the archangel greeted. Terror flooded through Dean's veins and he tried to push away from the wall only to find himself immobilized. He couldn't find room in that fear to be angry at the form the angel had taken. Michael gave him a rueful smile. "Can't have you interfering."
Dean's eyes narrowed at that. "With what?"
Michael simply inclined his head and Dean looked over to see Sam thrashing against the straps holding him down. Oh god, Sammy…
The room suddenly went cold and Sam stopped struggling, his entire posture deflating in defeat. Dean opened his mouth, but shut it when he saw him standing at his brother's side, using the same form he'd worn before taking over Sam in Detroit.
"Well, well. The prodigal son returns," Lucifer said, running a finger down the side of Sam's face, leaving what looked like a bloody trail in its wake. Sam jerked away weakly. "And he brought company."
The Devil looked up, something indefinable moving behind his eyes that gave Dean the chills. "Hello Dean."
"Lucifer," Dean gritted out. "Leave him alone."
"And why would I do that?" Lucifer asked with a cold smile. "Your brother and I, we'd gotten so very close over the years before he was taken away from us." He looked down at Sam and put a hand on his shoulder in a sick mockery of support. Sam flinched.
"And now here you are again, Sam. Fate won't keep us apart for long. MFEO, remember?"
"It's not fate," Dean retorted. Fate was a bitch but she wasn't this cruel. "It was—" He shut his mouth as he realized what he was saying.
Lucifer looked up, a smile playing at his lips. "What, Dean?"
Dean looked away quickly. "Nothing."
"Whatever it was, it brought us back together," Lucifer said, looking back down at Sam with what Dean, if he hadn't known better, would have called fondness. "We've missed you, Sam. It's been so boring since you were taken from us."
Sam was trembling again under the Devil's eye; Dean could hear the leather of the straps creaking against his brother's quaking. Lucifer rested the palm of his hand on Sam's cheek. Sam cried out and when Lucifer removed his hand, Dean hissed; Sam's cheek looked bloody and raw.
"Full-blooded Winchesters are clearly made of more than a half Winchester," Lucifer commented idly, taking his other hand from Sam's shoulder. There was a bloody patch seeping through Sam's shirt and Dean ground his teeth.
Sam stilled at those words, ignoring his wounds like Dean could not. "Where's Adam?" he demanded, making eye contact with Lucifer for the first time.
"Indisposed," Michael replied in a bored tone.
That didn't sound good. Guilt suddenly bit at Dean's insides at the thought of his young half-brother, pulled from Heaven only to be tricked into becoming Michael's vessel when Dean himself refused and was pulled into the lowest pit of Hell for the crime of having Winchester blood. Dean had been so concerned about Sam's soul being left in the Pit that he'd barely spared a thought for Adam, especially after Death had made him choose between his brothers' souls.
Dean's big brother failures were just stacking up, one after another, all over again.
"You son of a bitch," Sam hissed, jerking violently against his bonds, anger overtaking his fear. "We had a deal. We had a deal!"
"That deal was broken the moment you left, Sammy," Lucifer replied. Sam looked as though he'd been struck. "You wanted to act as a shield for your half-brother. You can't do that when you're not present, now can you? It's all in the fine print."
Sam slumped back against the rack at Lucifer's words, features drawn and his mouth silently forming the word "No" over and over. His chin drooped and his hair fell across his face.
"Shh," Lucifer cooed, brushing Sam's bangs away from his eyes. Sam moaned and screwed his eyes shut, turning away from the contact. "It'll all be alright, Sam. Now that you're back."
The pained sounds his brother was making at even Lucifer's slightest touch raced through Dean's entire body like electric currents, sharp and painful.
When Lucifer pulled his hand back, the remainder of Sam's face was covered in blood and flayed skin.
"Do you know what your brother's soul felt like when I touched it? Like it had been skinned alive, Dean."
Cas' words from those months before suddenly hit Dean with the force of a baseball bat to the gut. Realization washed over him with another wave of sickness that left him short of breath.
"So you figured it out, then," Michael said.
Dean looked up and saw that the archangel was watching him. "That…that was the state of Sam's soul when Death pulled it from the Cage," he guessed and nearly gagged at the thought of his brother in that much agony for so damn long.
"And now he's…" Now that he remembers Hell and since Cas freaking sent us there, his soul's…
"I believe your term is regressing," Michael finished, crossing his arms.
"Tell me, Sam," Lucifer was saying, "how should we welcome you back?"
Sam pressed his lips into a thin line, his face tight with pain, but didn't say anything.
"Sam, Sam, Sam," Lucifer tsked. "You know I hate it when you're quiet. I've always cared about what you think." The Devil squeezed Sam's leg and Sam cried out. Blood spread across Sam's pant leg and Dean had the sinking feeling that his brother's skin under his clothes was starting to look like his bloody, lashed face. Lucifer smiled. "That's more like it."
Sam was panting harshly, eyes tracking as Lucifer circled him. "It seems time topside did you good, Sam." Sam's eyes briefly flicked toward Dean before going back to following the Devil. Lucifer saw the look and he stopped moving, also glancing in Dean's direction. He smiled knowingly and Dean momentarily wanted to just vanish into the wall behind him.
"Ah, I see. The brotherly bond. So very touching, boys." There was bitterness in his voice and Michael shifted next to Dean, as if the comment had ruffled his invisible wings.
And then Sam screamed as Lucifer plunged his hand into his midsection. Dean's shocked cry was strangled in his throat as he listened to his brother's screams trail off weakly. He'd never heard his brother sound so shattered before, even at the worst points in his detox, and it was haunting.
"You know I love seeing what makes you tick, Sam. The only human worth any interest, made for me, made perfect for me," Lucifer said silkily, his arm sliding further into Sam as blood seeped into Sam's shirt and started pooling beneath the rack at an impossible rate. "So much time apart, Sam. You'll have to forgive my curiosity."
Sam's screams had died into pained, broken whimpers; blood dripped down his chin and mixing with the already bloody, flayed skin. And Sam was disturbingly pliant and submissive under Lucifer's hand.
Seeing his brother's abject terror and the shape he'd been in for all that time he'd lived that damn apple pie life, watching his brother systematically destroyed on the rack after everything he'd tried to do to protect him from those horrors, hearing his brother's broken, defeated screams…
It was too much for Dean.
His earlier fury from Cas flowed like molten lava into his current pool of anger toward the archangels who had broken his proud, strong, brave, stubborn brother in the first place.
"You son of a bitch," Dean raged at Lucifer, "haven't you done enough to him already?"
Satan just ignored him, continuing to focus on Sam, whose moans and occasional screams stabbed into Dean like blades.
"Leave him alone! Take me instead, just please…leave him alone!"
Dean jerked when he felt a hand on his shoulder. He looked over at Michael, who wore a strange look on John's young face. "There would be no point in that, Dean."
"What're you talking about?"
"Don't you get it?" Michael said, spreading his arms. "This is Hell, Dean."
"Yeah, I've noticed," Dean retorted with as much snark as he could muster.
Michael shook his head with a smirk that Dean sorely wished he could wipe off his face. Sam cried out again, sounding completely beaten. "That is Sam's Hell," Michael said, inclining his head toward Lucifer and Sam. "But this? Listening to your brother scream without being able to do anything? This is your Hell, Dean."
Dean felt himself deflate as the truth of Michael's words washed over him. Oh god. The archangel was right, too. No pain he'd endured on the rack for all those years hurt as acutely as hearing Sam tortured and knowing he couldn't do anything about it. At least then, he'd been able to hold onto knowing that Sam was still alive, still fighting in the world of the living. But that assurance was gone now.
Dean squeezed his eyes shut. "For being Heaven's great champion, you're pretty well-versed in this Hell stuff," he muttered, wincing as Sam moaned.
Michael snorted. "Being locked in here? Lucifer was right; it's boring."
Especially without Sam to use as a human kickball, Dean thought with a pang, opening his eyes once more.
"So you had to get creative. To entertain yourselves," he spat.
"I knew you, of all people, would understand that, Dean."
That hurt. And made Dean strangely dizzy. He blinked as the crimson-trimmed room started spinning around him, losing all shape and direction, and he wondered if Michael had decided to get more creative after all…
Only to hear the archangel yelling out something unintelligible—but his tone was unmistakably furious.
And then he was pitching forward, his knees cracking painfully against the ground, instinctively bracing himself on his hands. He blinked away the dizziness only to realize he was looking at the cold cement floor of the warehouse.
He gasped sharply and looked up to see Cas standing over him with that smile he hated so much.
"Holy shit," he breathed.
And then he saw Sam across from him, lying face down on the ground and unmoving. One arm was sprawled in front of him, the other curled in at an odd angel at his side.
"And," Cas said, "that is what happens when you disobey." Dean shuddered despite himself, the sounds of Sam's broken screams still ringing in his ears. "Keep that in mind in the future."
And then Cas was gone, no fluttering of wings to announce his departure. Guess he's not an angel anymore, Dean considered off-handedly before jolting into motion.
"Sammy," he called, stumbling to his brother's side. "Sammy, hey."
Dean slowly rolled Sam onto his back and breathed in a huge sigh of relief to see his skin unmarred. But Sam's eyes were shut and his features lax, just as he'd been hours earlier in the panic room. Dean felt hurriedly for a pulse and found a slow but steady one and took a deep breath. He had a pretty good idea of what that meant and it scared the shit out of him.
"Dean, what happened?"
Dean started as Bobby knelt down on Sam's other side, looking between them with a bewildered look on his face. Dean put a hand on Sam's forehead and found his brother's skin clammy. No surprise there.
"How long were we gone?" he asked instead of answering.
"Gone?" Bobby asked with a frown. "Cas snapped his fingers and the two of you just fell forward. You caught yourself but Sam just dropped." The older hunter wiped his face under the bill of his cap with his forearm. "Why? What'd he do?"
Dean pursed his lips, looking for the right words. That was only seconds topside, he thought with a sick feeling. "Cas, uh, he—"
"Tell me, son," Bobby said with more patience than he must be feeling, which Dean appreciated more than he probably should with Sam in the shape he was in.
"He sent us to the Cage," Dean blurted, words falling over themselves to get out of his mouth before he could think about them. "Well, sent our souls I guess. Spent a little quality time with Lucifer and Michael."
Bobby inhaled sharply and cursed. He looked back down at Sam with newfound worry in his eyes. It was no wonder Sam wasn't conscious; he'd already been fighting tooth and nail just to stay in control of those memories to get to Kansas and help with Cas before the road trip to Hell. To have his worst memories come to life once more so soon after getting them back without any time to work through them…That was just too much.
But Michael was right; Dean's Hell was watching his brother suffer without being to help and, yet again, he didn't know what he could do for his brother.
"I thought the Cage was nigh unreachable," Bobby said after a moment. "How could he send both of you there and get you out when he couldn't even get all of Sam out the first time?"
"Cas' juiced up on all those Purgatory souls now. I'm guessing he can do just about whatever the hell he wants at this point. Literally," he added with a wince at his word choice.
Bobby swallowed and nodded. "And your brother?"
Dean shrugged and opened his mouth but shut it when he heard his phone ringing in his pocket. He frowned and accepted the call without checking the caller ID, eyes never leaving his brother's face.
"Dean Winchester," a familiar voice said before Dean answered, "I can feel your brother's psychic pains from here, so why don't you get yourselves over here so I can help." A beat. "And tell Bobby Singer he's welcome, too."
Dean's eyebrows shot up in recognition. "Missouri?"