There's a bench on the border of the little park across from Dean and Lisa's. Dean has a clear view of it out the dining room window when he's sitting at the table and the recliner in the living room is angled so he can see it from there too. His eyes are drawn to it no matter where he is. It's the first thing he looks at when he gets up in the morning and the last thing he checks before he turns in at night. He doesn't know why, there's rarely anyone on it, but for some reason he always expects there to be and there's an space in his chest as empty as the bench every time there's no one there.
It's dinner time and the table has become, for what seems like the millionth night in a row, a battleground between Ben and Lisa. Ben's at the age when everything triggers anger- homework, curfew, friends, Dean, and as he and his mother go another round, Dean wants to scream from the familiarity of it all. Time after time, he'd thrown himself in the middle of arguments just like this one, taken the heat, gotten the fighters to separate corners, but Ben's not Sam and Lisa's sure as hell not Dad. Dean doesn't know how to defuse this situation, doesn't know them, so he sits and stares into his drink, silent, until Ben runs from the table and Lisa follows.
The fighting doesn't stop, just continues from Ben's bedroom, and the raised voices hammer Dean's alcohol infused brain like railroad spikes as he stares out the window into darkness. He can't see the bench, but he knows it's there, it's calling to him. He takes a deep breath, lets it out slowly and gets up, leaving his glass on the table. He detours to the liquor cabinet, grabs a bottle of whiskey, then snags his leather jacket from the closet and heads for the door. He pauses when he reaches it. He can't just leave- well, he can, but he promised he wouldn't. He leaves Lisa a note telling her he's gone for a walk and he heads for the door, intent on drinking himself into oblivion.
Sometimes the streetlight's flickering or out completely, but tonight it's shining like a beacon. Dean sits beneath it and takes a long pull from his bottle. The quiet of the night is broken by a rattling sound approaching and Dean knows he's exposed, sitting in the light unable to see what's coming out of the dark, but he doesn't care. Doesn't reach for a weapon. Isn't that man any more. The rattling sound is accompanied by clinking glass and a bundled up figure pushes a shopping cart full of bottles into the circle of light.
It's a middle aged black woman, heavyset, wearing more layers then he and Sam used to wear together. Two hats are pulled down over her head and her coats fall over at least three different skirts covering a pair of tattered pants. The woman stops when she sees Dean, startled, and takes in the bottle.
"Boy, you crazy?"
Dean considers this for a moment. "Maybe. Why do you ask?"
"Don't you know where you are?"
Dean looks around. "I'm in the park?"
"You're in the park. He's in the park, he says. Sweet Jesus, save us all. Boy, you're on the bench. Drinking. Sweet Jesus."
"It's a free country. I can drink where I want."
"That's true enough, baby, but that there's the Devil's bench. Don't want to be drinking whiskey on the Devil's bench. Want your wits about you when you're sitting there."
Dean's shiver has nothing to do with the cold. "The Devil's bench? Why would this be the Devil's bench?"
The woman looks at him like he's got two heads. " 'Cause that's where he sits when he comes here."
Dean's throat is dry, constricted, but he manages to grate his words out. "The Devil comes here?"
"You need to put that bottle down, if you ain't understanding what I'm saying. Some nights I come through here, the Devil's sittin' right where you are."
"You've seen him?" Dean tries to make his tone skeptical , but the words shake as they come out of his mouth.
"Big as life."
"Pitchfork, horns, the whole nine yards?"
"Don't you mock me, boy. The Devil ain't like that. Devil looks just like anybody else, how could he tempt folks if he looked evil."
"If he looks just like everybody else, how do you know he's the Devil?" Dean takes a long swig from his bottle, tries to look disinterested.
The woman shivers, pulls her coat closer around her. She makes the sign of the cross and Dean looks away. "My momma always said "Maddie, you keep your eye out, girl. You'll know the Devil when you see him and when you do, you pray to the Lord and just keep on walkin'." And that's what I did. Near froze my bones when I walked past him, but the Lord kept me safe."
"The Lord kept you safe."
"You mocking the Lord, now boy? Yes, the Lord kept me safe. I went home and came back the next day, in the light, and carved scripture all over that bench. Don't seem to keep him away, but he ain't hurt nobody that I ever heard. Ain't never seen him get up either. Just sits there and looks in the windows of that house you been starin' at."
My house. The Devil sits here and stares at my house. He's not going to ask. He's not because it's impossible, it can't be. It can't. "What..what's the Devil look like?"
The woman stares at him with an unfocused gaze for so long that Dean thinks she isn't going to answer, then she shudders and looks at him with clearer eyes. There's pity there too, and Dean can't figure out why a crazy person would be pitying him. "Most people just walk on by like he ain't even there. Boy, you another one that's gonna know the Devil when you see him. Already seen him more than once ain't you? I can always tell. You wanna see him again, you keep sittin' on his bench." She shakes her head and turns away, cart clattering as she pushes it down the path. "Sweet Jesus, save us all."
"Jesus isn't going to save you," Dean yells after her, angry at her faith in something that let him down so badly. "Heaven doesn't give a damn about you. Sam saved you. My brother saved you all." He drains another inch from the bottle and as he lowers it he thinks that maybe calling out one of the Devil's names isn't such a great idea when you're sitting on his bench. Then he snorts and takes another drink. Yeah, the Devil sits on this bench at night and watches your house and you believe it because a crazy lady told you so. She knows he's the Devil because he looks just like everyone else. You're a moron.
He runs his fingers along the carvings in the bench. They could be scripture, they're old and weathered and it's too dark to tell. There are a couple of newer carvings further along and Dean slides down to take a look. Of the two, one's definitely older, but it's much newer than the faded could-be scriptures. It's a pattern of locking bars and circles and Dean runs a finger over it, entranced by the design. The other is practically brand new, an outline of a house with windows and a door like a child would draw. Dean runs his fingers over that and pulls back with a curse, wood sticking out from under his fingernails. He pulls the splinters out and hisses as he grudgingly pours a little whiskey over his wounds. When he looks up, Sam is sitting beside him.
You're drunk. Dean closes his eyes. This wouldn't be the first time he'd hallucinated after working his way through a bottle. The Devil doesn't really come here. He can't. They fell, you saw them fall and they're not getting out. When he opens his eyes again Sam's still there and it's not the Devil looking at him with Sam's face, he'd know the difference.
"Dean," Sam says and his voice is hoarse, rusty like it hasn't been used in a while. He says it again and Dean doesn't care if it's real, he reaches out and pulls his brother into a kiss. And it's not Sam, can't be. Sam was always warm, skin like fire beneath Dean's hands, his lips. This Sam is cold, flesh dry and frozen, not warmed at all by Dean's own. Dean doesn't stop though, just creates a Sam in his mind so he doesn't have to let go. Mind Sam is happy- all wide eyes and carefree smile. Dean holds one Sam in his head and the other in his hands and pretends until the Sam on the bench gives a startled gasp, seems to fall backwards and is gone.
Dean sobs out his brother's name and feels tears begin to form. He squeezes his eyes shut to keep the tears from falling and reaches for the bottle. You idiot. Drunk. It wasn't Sam, of course it wasn't…he almost jumps out of his skin when his thoughts are answered.
"Might have been. Hard to tell these days, Sam's not always himself. Sometimes though, sometimes he's one hundred percent pure Sam."
Dean recognizes the voice, growls as he opens his eyes to stare at the man sitting at the other end of the bench. Sam's gone and now Dean's staring at himself. Like with Sam there's no doubt about who's looking at him out of his own face. "You can't be here," Dean whispers. "Neither of you can really be here. That wasn't Sam"
"It was, though. Why do you doubt?"
"He was cold. Sam is never cold."
"Well, you get cold when you're dead, Dean. Sam was pretty chilly in Cold Oak too, wasn't he? Don't you remember?"
Dean does. "Fuck you. You can't be here."
"Well…that's what I thought." Lucifer runs his fingers over the ring and bars design and smiles a smile that any number of creatures that Dean has run into over the years would recognize. "This though, this little carving here? It represents our cage, makes a link to it. Somehow. And it lets us come. Only as far as the bench. And not every day. Not often enough really, but it lets us come."
"You put it there?"
"If I were going to make myself a portal back to this world, you think I'd use it to spy on you?"
"Then who…no. No way. Sam?"
The Devil's terrifying smile resurfaces. "He won't admit it. And believe me I've been very persuasive, but who else?"
Dean's had a lot of practice at thinking while being drunk, but his foggy brain is having big problems processing this. "How? Jesus, when?"
"That's a very good question, Dean. There was no time after you got the ring from that bastard Death. It had to have been before. How long do you think he knew, Dean? How long do you think he kept another big, big secret from you. And why? Afraid you'd screw it up like you do everything else, probably. He's been coming here for a while, then I figured it out and now we come together. "
"Fuck you, " Dean whispers, but it lacks conviction. The Devil's story is too likely to be true.
"At first he'd just watch, but tonight he wanted to be here with you. He wouldn't leave me alone until we carved this." Lucifer traces the outline of the house and Dean shudders.
"What does that have to do with me?"
"Come on, Dean. I know you're not the brains of the Winchester operation, but really. What's this?" Lucifer traces the rings and bars again.
"It's your cage."
Lucifer sighs. "This is a cage?"
"Fuck you." Dean's getting angry now. "It's the symbol for your cage."
"Very good." Lucifer's fingers outline the carved house. "And what's this?"
"It's a symbol, dumbass. For a house."
"Oh, so close Dean." Lucifer points back and forth between the circles and bars and the house. "Our cage, your cage, our cage, your cage. Do you see, Dean?"
"No. No fucking way." Dean's not even a little bit drunk any more. "I'm not in any fucking cage."
"You think not? How did you get here? Did you walk across the street?"
Yes, you fucker. How do you think I got here? That's the answer Dean wants to give, but suddenly, he's not sure. He remembers getting ready to open the door, and then he's on the bench and anything that happened in between is just nothing.
"Stone walls do not a prison make, Dean," Lucifer whispers and nods his head towards the house across the street. Dean's eyes follow and his breath catches in his throat. It's dark in the upstairs bedrooms- Ben and Lisa have gone to their separate corners for the night. The light's still on in the dining room however, and Dean can see himself, still sitting at the table, still nursing his glass of bourbon.
"I'm dreaming," he mutters to himself, repeating it over and over, until Lucifer's hand falls on his. Dean stops with a gasp, fingers frozen to the bone.
"Are you? You know, that brother of yours would have missed his calling if he really had become a lawyer. He should have been an architect, a builder. That boy can put together a cage that's absolutely escape proof. I'm in mine…well, Sam and I are in ours. And you're in yours. And none of us are ever getting out. "