Prologue

"The Art of Deception"

The explosion of glass around him was deafening, so deafening that Dean Winchester was only faintly aware that he was suspended in midair, his entire body immobilized. Even his lungs seemed to be constricted, the flow of air squeezed as if never inflatable.

Though it was the least of his worries and at any other given time, he was certain he would have found his mind preoccupied with all the pointless bullshit that generally sifted through his brain during any hour of the day when he actually found a solitary moment to rest…like that six pack of beer and the latest issue of Busty Asian Beauties that had somehow mysteriously disappeared when he left Sam alone in their motel room for an hour and a half a week prior.

'Sammy!' he mentally cried out, and through his fading vision, he attempted to search the parameter of his surroundings, but as before, his head would not move an inch, his only view still of the lackluster cracked and chipping paint of the ceiling; not a comforting visual.

Then in the split instant between two seconds, Dean became distinctly aware of the stale air rushing past his aching body, the whooshing sound of the air opening the blocks in his ears and awakening his previously numb senses. The impact on the concrete flooring of the warehouse wasn't nearly as painful as he'd originally anticipated; enduring bodily harm from your average demon or mythological creature or being thrown into your good share of walls on a daily basis allowed one to develop a resistance to the pain, Dean supposed.

But he gasped nonetheless and instinctually rolled onto his side until he managed to curl into a protective fetal position, his movements feeble at best.

"Sammy…" His voice was foreign to his ears, a mere guttural whisper.

"You really are pathetic, Dean Winchester…"

The sneering snarly caught his attention like an icy whip against the skin of his face, forcing him to resume the position on his back with whatever little strength he could muster.

"I must admit that my disappointment is, well…surprising. You showcased such promising potential during your time spent in Hell, ripping countless souls apart after you stepped off the rack. Alastair was rather impressed with your talent once you so freely shed your humanity with the first slice of the knife by your own hand. I must admit at times I assumed the possibility that you could become a wonderful edition to my family. Perhaps one of my most prized possessions, next to you precious brother of course. That is until that angel saw it necessary to step where he didn't belong and interrupt business that wasn't his by pulling you back to the surface, topside once more. Then again, my brother has always had a habit of resisting the intelligence that our Father bestowed him. And look where that got him…destroyed by his own family, times over and for what reason? The sake of a weak mortal? A waste of creation if you ask me…"

'Cas would say different' Dean's garbled thoughts barely registered as he grimaced involuntarily towards the foul stench of sulfur and decaying flesh radiating from the beast hovering over him. Blinking, he narrowed his eyes. "How about you go screw yourself and grab a toothbrush for that nasty mouth of yours while you're at it."

The Fallen One cocked his head slightly to the side, the corners of his mouth barely curling into a visible smirk of humor. "Such a bite you have, Dean, but without much bite," he mustered before pulling back and pacing several feet away, hands poised clasped in front of him. "It's becoming apparent that you are incapable of learning different. Quite a shame."

"As long as you remain a thorn in my ass, you son of a bitch," Dean gritted, hastily spitting a clot of blood from his mouth.

"Such hostility, although I have to admit that your persistence at times is admirable. Still, breaks my heart." Lucifer's eyes glimmered for a brief moment, reflecting the flickering neon lights overhead and accentuating the decaying flesh of his meat suit's face. Festering soars oozed with a drying puss, ashen pallor reeking of death, yet it didn't appear to falter him in the least. "Why do you insist on fight, friend?"

Pausing abruptly from blindly moving his hand along the dirt crusted floor, Dean felt his blood run frigid through his veins, his stomach clenching with elevated nausea at the sight of the dagger he'd been searching for casting the lights from above off the silver of the blade raised in mid-air.

Clenching his teeth together, he sucked a strained breath into his burning lungs. "Because I plan on killing you once and for all," he finally hissed.

"I'm sure you really do believe that," Lucifer responded calmly, mockingly, as he bent at the waist and proceeded to drag the tip of the dagger along Dean's crimson bruised cheek. "But you should know by now that I can't be killed, Dean. Sam knows it. In fact, he's finally warmed up to the idea of receiving the honor of becoming my mighty vessel. A smart one, he is. You see, Sam realizes that resisting is only a waste of time fighting against a destiny that was set before his creation. It would do you good to realize it also."

There was a pause, chilling the silence. Movement shuffled alongside him.

"Dean, I know you and I have started off on a rough patch, but I tell you what. I'm willing to look past it, look past your short comings, and give you the benefit of the doubt per say. Wipe the slate clean. Perhaps make a deal of reconciliation with you-"

"Not a chance in Hell, you slimy bastard," Dean interrupted him with a sharp spat, the pain surging ceaselessly when the blade smoothly sliced across his cheek bone, promptly and precisely leaving a thin line of crimson.

Never one to openly express his emotions, especially not the fear he'd spent years perfecting a way to keep such details hidden, Dean could no longer deny that his nerves hard soared straight past rational and dove head first into desperate. How the situation had turned so upside down in a matter of moments, Dean couldn't make sense of. He couldn't even think straight with the piercing throbbing just beneath the surface of his temples, let alone compile an efficient way out of the predicament he had landed himself in.

"You're wrong about Sam! He's-"

Lucifer abruptly rose to his feet, discarding the dagger off to the side of the expansive room with an effortless flick of his wrist.

"Look around you, Dean!" he suddenly yelled, the walls shaking at the sheer velocity of his quaking vibrato. Outside, the crumbling walls of the warehouse, the erupting of thunder seemed to taunt the authority of the Fallen One's command. "You're alone and it's always going to be that way! It's time you stop fooling yourself into believing such empty hopes that you can actually do something about this, that giving into my brothers what they want by saying yes to Michael is going to solve all your problems! You're a pawn in a sick game, Dean, not a hero! Because if you were, you wouldn't be alone right now! They wouldn't have abandoned you, Michael's vessel, when you needed them most! You are nothing but a disappointment, a failure, a disgusting worthless mortal who I could easily eliminate!"

Releasing a strained chuckle, Dean forced himself onto his hands and knees, barely allowing himself the chance to grab a strong hold on the breath that struggled to enter his burning lungs before he staggered to his feet.

"At least I have my humanity back and can concern the lies of a sick sadistic bastard such as yourself," he gasped, his hand tenderly moving to his aching abdomen where the warm secretion of sticky blood had already saturated the light material of his t-shirt. His eyes lifted, meeting the cold vacant ones staring back at him. "And just for the record, you can kiss my ass."

"You've got me all wrong," Lucifer's voice lowered in volume as his decrepit facial features sunk in disregard to the man's sarcastic remarks and he drew closer. "Cooperation would be such an easier feat on your behalf if only you could try to understand my point of view."

"You'll have to kill me first before I ever consider that idea," Dean grunted.

"I'm afraid that won't do, Dean," Lucifer answered in a monotonous string of words that slithered past his lips like a forked tongue. "You see, I've reserved that honor for your dear brother. After all, he did lead you here tonight. It's only proper that he reap the reward of seeing you squirm in agony as he drains the life from your broken body."

"Go to Hell you spineless dick," Dean wheezed, offering a pathetic attempt at delivering a weak swing towards the Fallen One's head. It took but a moment before he heard the distinct cracking of bones shattering beneath the pressure of his arm and wrist twisting and bending past the point of its natural flexibility. Skin split as another bone split, jutting outward. A howl from the white hot searing pain burst from his throat as he sunk in a critical fashion to his knees, the tears naturally springing to his eyes.

"On second thought…" Lucifer murmured, his lips curling into a pleased snarl that bared his teeth. "I believe I will enjoy finishing you myself."

A silent gasp flew from his mouth, his eyes nearly bulging from their sockets at the crushing force of the bones in his arm shattering completely. Dean couldn't even find it in himself to release a sputtering of sound as he fell backwards, slamming against the concrete that knocked what little air was left in his lungs.

'So this is how it's going to end…' he pondered, his back arching at the sensation of an invisible hand clutching around his heart and squeezing until he was certain it would flatten into a useless piece of bloody tissue. 'A failure, Dean. Never one to disappoint in that department and now look what you've managed to do. You've let yourself down. You've let Bobby down. You've let your parents down. Hell, God couldn't seem to give a shit less, but you're sure you've let him down. And Sam… Damnit, Sammy! How could you- After all the- Sammy!'

"I'll be sure to arrange a welcome back celebration for you in Hell," Lucifer growled.

The opposite wall rushed at him, crippling Dean as he crumpled to the ground with an inaudible groan. Allowing his eyes to slip shut against the acidic coppery taste of blood bubbling up the back of his throat, it was all he could do to curl in on himself, relenting to the realization that he was, to put it plainly, screwed in all sense of the word. And for once he didn't have a damn thing to say about it.

'God, Sammy…why?' his hazy mind mumbled with regret, his lips parting to release a steady stream of blood down his chin before his battered body was once again lifted into the air, pinned against the cold plaster of the wall.

"Fool!" Lucifer scorned, stepping up to Dean's rigid form and reaching out to roughly grasp the man's jaw in his hand in order to assure his attention was tightly sealed. "Open your eyes, you imbecile, and stare death in the face as it claims you!"

"DEAN!"

Barely feeling the ground cushion his fall a final time, Dean welcomed the thick darkness that began to creep over him, ignoring the way the comforting voice continued to echo, calling out to him mercilessly and mocking the familiar ache in his heart.

'I was wrong all along, Sammy…' he thought, unaware that the air had begun to thin significantly, despite the fact that a storm unlike any other raged on the outside. 'I'm sorry…'

"Dean!"

The voice drew closer and within seconds he felt warm hands gripping the chilled skin of his arms.

"Damnit, Dean! C'mon! You're not going to do this! Not right now! Look at me!"

"Sammy…" Dean mumbled hoarsely, scarcely considering that perhaps he had already died and God was showing mercy on him after all. Deciding against his better judgment, he forced a single eye part way open, his bloodied vision playing on the shadows cast by the lightning and the neon overhead lights that were steadily fizzing out.

Figures in his dying moment he would be tormented in such a way, a way he'd earned without a doubt as a result of his foolishness and ignorance. He blinked once, twice, fighting against the suffocating darkness to indeed make out the smooth contours of his brother's chiseled jaw line. "Well, son of a bitch…"

Sam ignored him, his voice oddly uneven. "What the Hell were you thinking?"

"I was trying to save you, asshole," Dean grunted, but feeling the blinding pain resonate throughout his entire body, he arched away from Sam's prying hands, crying out as a single tear slipped from the corner of his eye. Sloppily he reached up to latch a numb hand onto his brother's bicep, his stomach clenching at the sight of blood coating his skin. "S-Sammy, I-"

"Calm down," Sam attempted to sooth him, though his comforting half smile was anything but and he knew it too, especially at the way a faded realization passed over Dean's eyes. "Dean-"

"It's bad, isn't it?" Dean choked, a wet gurgling sound replacing the breath he tried to claim. "I'm sorry, Sammy. I tried. I didn't mean for- I failed…"

"Don't talk like that," Sam reprimanded him, his eyes narrowing.

"I was supposed to protect you. I tried my best, but I let you down."

"You're talking nonsense," Sam reasoned while he shrugged the thin jacket from his broad shoulders and worked to diligently apply pressure to the gaping wound that spread too far across his brother's abdomen. His worst suspicions slowly confirmed, he quickly looked to find a telling confused glaze spread across Dean's eyes. "Listen to me, Dean. It's not as bad as it looks, ok? You've been hurt worse before. A little flesh wound like this is not going to bring you down, do you hear me? Not when you've been to Hell and back. There's work to be done and I can't do it without you-"

"D-Don't you lie to me, Sammy," Dean stammered. "I'm not an idiot. Lucifer did-"

"Lucifer isn't here, Dean!"

"W-Was-"

"Stop talking," Sam instructed. His stomach churned with even more blood that seemed to ooze from every possible exit of his brother's body. It wasn't right, Sam knew that much. The blood loss alone was already far great than he could have fathomed, reaffirming his feeble attempts to slow the flow were only delaying the inevitable he never wanted to face again. He bit roughly upon his bottom lip, willing the sudden tears to remain at bay. "I'm going to get you out of here. We'll get you some help, patch you up, and then get ahold of Bobby…figure out what were supposed to do."

"You said yes…"

"I don't understand?"

"You stupid bastard," Dean whispered, allowing the tears of both emotional and physical pain to slip down his cheeks. "You said yes to that sick son of a bitch and I couldn't stop you like I was supposed to. I'm sorry I couldn't protect you…"

"Dean, I didn't-" Sam reeled backwards, his brows curling in towards the center of his forehead, though his frame soon became rigid at the silence that ensued a loud cracking of thunder.

His breath left his lungs in short panting gasps as he waiting for any sign of response, but as the seconds passed, Dean's body lay as still as ever, his eyes offering a vacant stare to the degrading ceiling above.

"Answer me, Dean," Sam muttered, gripping his brother's blood soaked hand in desperation. "Please… DEAN!"