"That's cute, Sam," Lucifer said. Sam managed not to jump and took a deep breath through his nose instead. He's not there, he reminded himself. He's not there. Lucifer just looked at him, eyes heavy with disdain.
"It's like you think," Lucifer said, lips turning up at the corners, "If you deny hard enough it'll all go away and you'll be fine and dandy."
"Sam," Lucifer said, so fucking kind. "I'm here to tell you. It won't. It never will." And he smiled.
"Hey," Dean said, verbally sidling around to the subject in a way that was anything but subtle. "How's the…" He made an oblique little gesture around his own head.
"Crazy?" Sam supplied, and took no satisfaction from Dean's slight wince. "It's fine. I'm dealing." Sam was almost embarrassed by the naked relief in Dean's momentary glance his way.
"Well, that's something going right." Sam could almost see the weight lift a little bit. One less thing for Dean to take on. Just one. That was something.
"When are you going to stop lying, Sam?" Lucifer sat next to him on the bed, fingers combing idly through Sam's hair. He could feel the tug against his scalp. Resolutely, he did not twitch. "'You're okay. You're not guilty. You're dealing.' Is this what dealing looks like?"
Sam closed his eyes and took one, two, three, four deep breaths. He rubbed his thumb over his left palm and the healed scar. Don't respond, he told himself. He's – it's just a fragment, just your mind manifesting what it knows. Keep it together, Sam. Lucifer pulled his hand away and sighed, full of resignation.
(Sam you don't understand how much I cared for you why did you have to turn that against me I would have taken such good care of you forever why Sam-)
"Pretending I'm not here won't make me go away, Sam. Did that ever work before?"
I'm not in Hell, Sam thought, managing at the last minute not to say it aloud. He's not here.
"I've been inside you, Sam. Why would I ever leave?" As always, Lucifer just sounded…disappointed. "And you can't fool me. I know everything about you."
Don't answer. Don't.
"I'm sorry, Sam," Lucifer said, terribly sincere. "But you're not okay. You won't be. Ever."
Sam closed his eyes and breathed.
"You look like shit," Dean said, the next morning. Sam shrugged.
"Didn't sleep well." Dean tensed.
"No," said Sam, quickly. "No, not…yeah. Just couldn't get comfortable. You know." Again, the relief that both eased something and made Sam's heart clench. Reminded him why all of this had to be done.
"Yeah," Dean said. "It was a pretty shitty motel."
Lucifer chuckled right next to his ear. Sam managed to hide his start by swinging his bag onto his shoulder. "Well? We getting going?"
"It's adorable," Lucifer said. "It really is. The way you think this pretense makes any difference at all. You see the way he looks at you. He's just waiting, Sam. Waiting for you to lose it." Sam ignored the flashes of something at the edges of his vision that made his stomach want to turn inside out. "Everyone knows you can't do this forever, Sam. Everyone but you." Lucifer's breath was cold on his neck. "Eventually you won't be able to hold on. And then what? What do you think happens then?"
Sam squeezed his eyes shut. When he opened them, Dean was staring at him narrowly. "Headache," he said quickly. Lucifer laughed again. Quietly. Almost gently.
"Oh Sam," he said. "I know you're scared. It's okay to be scared. You should be."
In the car Dean turned to look at him with holes where his eyes should have been. "It's okay, Sammy," he said, blood bubbling out of his mouth. "I've got this." Sam swallowed hard and forced his eyes forward. I know what's real. I know what's real and what isn't doesn't matter. I know where I am and I'm not in Hell. I'm okay.
"You keep saying that," Lucifer said from the backseat, where he was going through Dean's tapes. "But you're wrong, you know? You know what's real, you say, but you're forgetting that it is real. Memories. Creeping and closing in on you." Lucifer tilted his head to the side, birdlike. "Whether you left or not – and we're still not sure about that, are we? – doesn't make what you're seeing less real. Just less current."
Sam hated that smile. So fucking gentle. "Once you go to Hell," Lucifer said, "You never really leave it behind. You know that. Dean knows that. It's still here in you. Trying to get out. That's what you're seeing. That's all."
Sam dug his fingernails into his palm. Dean snickered. "You're so batshit it's not even funny anymore," he said, and Sam bit the inside of his cheek and remembered that Dean was just worried (it was always Dean, a thousand different lives).
It's not real, he told himself again, and Lucifer said, "Sure, but it feels more real than anything else sometimes, doesn't it?"
"So," Dean said. "Sam."
"Sam," Lucifer echoed, pausing a moment in peeling the skin off Sam's ribs one strip at a time. (Not real. Sam kept his face still. It didn't even really hurt that much. After a while, it didn't. Fuck. No.)
"Yeah?" Sam said, staring up at the ceiling and ignoring the feeling of blood tickling down his sides.
"You meant it, right? When you said you were…doing okay. You weren't just saying that to spare me or whatever."
"Tell the truth, Sam," Lucifer said, encouragingly, in much the same way he'd said I'm going to remove your lungs, now, Sam, don't scream, or tell me how it hurts, Sam. He hummed softly. The room flickered, wavering.
"Yeah," Sam said, not looking at Lucifer, just at the ceiling (beige blood beige flesh beige). "I meant it. I mean – I've got a handle on it."
Lucifer sighed. "You have to stop eventually, Sam," he said, faintly mournfully. "Nothing's fixed. Nothing's changed. You're just a better liar."
Dean was quiet for a few moments, and finally said, "Oh, good," and rolled over and away. Lucifer's eyes sharpened.
"Should I keep going?"
None of this is real.
"But it was," Lucifer said, fingers resting lightly on one gleaming bone. "It was real, for such a long time. And you'll never forget, and you'll never move on, and I'll never leave you. I promise."
Lucifer spent an entire day as Dean once. "Two Deans is better than one," he said with a broad grin, and Sam tried to focus.
"I'll take the records office," one Dean said, and the other one, "You take the records, Sammy." And he was pretty sure he had the right one up until Dean grabbed his arm and said, "Where are you going? Didn't I just say…"
What Sam really wanted was to curl up for a little while and just scream, but that wasn't really very feasible.
One of the Dean's went with him and Sam spent the afternoon trying to ignore him, because he was pretty sure that one wasn't real and therefore responding would look suspicious. There was also the fact that he was saying things like "you were always a little bit of a failure, Sam" and "maybe I shouldn't let you take this job, you might screw it up."
Which sounded right, but somewhere in the back of his head Sam knew that was just because he'd spent far longer with Lucifer's Dean than the real one.
"If I did this every day how fast would you break," Lucifer whispered in his ear at the end of the day, as Dean curled up on the other bed and Lucifer-Dean curled his body around Sam's, "You know it'd be better. You wouldn't be a problem for anyone anymore. Even a mental institution would be better than this."
"Stop," Sam said before he could keep it in. "Please."
Dean lifted his head from where he'd been starting to drift off. "Sam?" Worriedly, with an edge on his voice he probably wasn't even aware of. Sam tried to look like he'd just been sleeping.
Dean hesitated, then shook his head. Duty done. "Nothing," he said. "I guess you were…dreaming."
"Of me?" Lucifer said, and Sam swallowed hard and breathed in through his nose.
"I don't remember," he said easily. Dean's real. That's all that matters.
"Is it?" Lucifer asked. "Are you really okay with it being like this, forever? For the rest of your life. Maybe even after that. Is this what you want?"
What are you offering me? Sam thought, then hated himself a little for responding to his hallucination.
"Nothing," Lucifer said innocently. "I just don't think you should lie about it. You're crazy, Sam. You can't hide it forever."
Lucifer spent the day playing with Dean's hair in the car from the backseat, running his fingers through it. Sam ground his teeth to keep from reaching out and swatting away a hand that wasn't there. You're messing with me, he thought, leave him alone, which didn't really say anything good about his sanity.
"Hey Sam," Dean said suddenly. Lucifer's hand stilled.
"Oh, oh," he said.
"Yeah?" Sam folded his hands over each other and dug his fingers into the scar on his palm. It didn't work particularly well.
"Do you think I'm stupid?"
"Yes," said Lucifer, and Sam said, "What?"
Dean's hands worked on the steering wheel. Flattened out and then clenched again. "You're not actually any better, are you?"
Sam tensed. "I know what's real and what isn't," he said, not quite defensively. Lucifer snorted, and added, "Most of the time." Sam didn't flinch. And tried his hardest not to glance in Lucifer's direction.
"That's not the," Dean started to say, and Sam went right over him, "I'm fine, Dean. It's not that bad."
"That almost sounds like a challenge," Lucifer murmured. Something flickered at the edge of his vision and Sam looked away from it. He didn't want to…know.
"Sam," Dean said, rough-edged with frustration, and Lucifer echoed it, "Sam," and started murmuring, low and rapid, "He's going to leave you, I can tell, I can see it in his eyes, so can you," and Sam just-
"Would both of you just please," and realized too late that he'd spoken in the plural.
"Sam?" Dean said, and he wanted to grab for the door and tumble out into the road and run as far as he needed to so that he could get away from that tone of voice, but he couldn't…couldn't.
"Just stop it," he said desperately. "Just stop it. I'm fine. It's just…I'm fine."
Dean was staring at him with eyes like holes. "He knows, now," Lucifer murmured, and dug his fingers into Sam's shoulder. "He knows. What are you going to do? He'll leave you. Everyone always does. But not me. Not me."
Sam shuddered and lowered his face into his hands. "Drive," he said, "Go, just drive," and after a few minutes the car picked up speed again. Silence, even Lucifer. Sam could feel him, though, fingers light on the back of his neck.
You're supposed to be better, Dean's eyes accused, and Sam didn't look at them too long, knowing it wasn't the message Dean meant to send. The one already standing by the door said, "I don't know, Sam, I can't believe you're still the same lying little shit as always, Dad always said," and Sam tried to shut him out, because he was relatively certain that one wasn't real.
"What can I do?" Dean asked, too low, and his shoulders were bowed again. Too tired. Carrying too much.
"You can't do anything," Sam said honestly.
"You always liked it when I cuddled you," Lucifer said, and Sam managed not to twitch. Mostly. Dean looked at him in something like abject despair and Sam looked down and away.
"You just can't," he repeated. "You can't fix my head, Dean. It's..it'll take time."
"It'll take forever," Lucifer said. "The rest of your life, just to sort it all out. I'm not even sure that'll be enough. We had a long time, baby."
"It's okay," Sam said. "I can handle it."
"Can you? Sam, you can't lie to me about this shit," Dean said, and there was the anger, right where it belonged, and then he said, "I should've killed you while I had the chance," except that was the other Dean. The not real one.
"I can handle it," Sam said again.
"You can't, Sam," Lucifer said. "Not forever."
It doesn't have to be forever, he thought. Just long enough. Dean was silent. He looked pissed. Unsurprising.
"What was he saying to you?" Dean said finally. "In the car?"
"Nuthouse's too good for you, son of a bitch," the other Dean added. Sam kept his eyes on the real one. (The one he was pretty sure was real. Wouldn't that be funny, if it'd been the other one all along.)
"Nothing," he said, "Nothing important." Dean's mouth twisted.
"Yeah," he said. "Sure. I'm going to take a walk. Don't go anywhere."
He stalked out the door. The other Dean stayed behind and checked the ammunition in his gun. "Enough for both of us," he said. Sam bit the inside of his cheek as hard as he could.
"And this is what you left me for, Sam," Lucifer sighed regretfully, and sat down on one of the beds. Sam went over and sat down next to him.
"Fuck off," Sam murmured. Aloud. It felt good to say, aloud.
"I'm sorry, Sam," Lucifer said softly. "But I can't do that. Someone has to look out for you." He reached out and touched Sam's hair lightly, and here, where he was alone, Sam leaned into it. Just a little.
Just a little.