I own nothing of Supernatural. Go figure.
Death liked to fool people into thinking that, as one of the Horsemen of the Apocalypse, he was bound to the event itself. Not so. Death roamed freely no matter if the world were embroiled in Armageddon or perfectly peaceful. Life was, after all, a fatal condition in and of itself. Death was the father of all Reapers, and he had to set a good example for his children by getting all of his own work taken care of. Or, at least, some of it. He had things to do, yes, but he could let his children take up most of the slack. He was busy enough as it was. As the human population of the Earth grew, so too did the number of deaths, and Death was swamped for the work pileup.
Death's job was boring. Find a soul, send it on its way. He'd been doing the same thing over and over for trillions of years (that little pesky thing called a "Big Crunch" – a reversed Big Bang – made it so that universes were created and destroyed, expanding and collapsing like a cosmic set of lungs that never ceased, producing culture after culture that always required Death's services) and the whole gig had gotten old a very long time ago.
So when something interesting popped up, Death often grabbed a bowl of popcorn (figuratively, of course – the actual human invention was repulsive to him with the sheer amount of butter they poured over it) and revelled in it.
"Something interesting" of course meaning the ridiculous shenanigans the Winchester boys had managed to stir up.
It had been the year 2006 by human reckoning and he had had some work to do. He'd had no idea what he was getting himself into at the time, so the pleasant surprise was still in store for him.
Cold Oak. What an utterly desolate place. Ghost towns had no-one living in them and so logically had no deaths. Reapers weren't around these parts too often. Two girls and a boy had to be ushered on into the next world. One of the girls, Ava, was most assuredly going to end up in one of the un-fun corners of Hell. Pity. From the looks of things, her soul had been very clean and beautiful before it had been corrupted. Those three were the easy, boring, completely unimportant parts of his trip out into the middle of Bumfuck.
The last item on his shopping list was Sam Winchester.
He found the boy, staring down at his own corpse, which was being cradled in his sobbing brother's arms. He was clad in white and pale, swallowing painfully as he looked on. When Death laid a hand on the boy's shoulder, he jerked back, revealing the tears streaming down his face.
The first thing Death noticed about the boy was his soul. Now, it is important to know that all souls glow slightly in the eyes of such creatures as Death. For normal folk, the soul generally resembles (in size and in brightness) a single Christmas light. Tiny, but ever-so-slightly radiant. The more pure a soul is, the larger and brighter it becomes. The boy's soul resembled not so much a Christmas light as a bloody lighthouse.
Not that it mattered. The kid was dead one way or another.
"It is time for you to move on," Death said, repeating the same old boring lines. "Your time on Earth is over."
"You… you're Death?" he asked softly.
It was rare for someone to recognise him, but it happened. He nodded.
The boy swallowed again, looking nervous. What was there to be nervous about? What was Death going to do, kill him again? A bit difficult to have a double of that particular experience without having experienced Life in-between. The boy gestured to his brother, who had devolved into quiet, shaking sobs. "Dean. My brother. Do you know how long he has?"
Death wasn't sure whether he should answer that question or not, but he was bored and Cold Oak was rather devoid of any other entertainment. "I do."
"Does he have long?"
"At the moment? …Yes."
The boy's tight face melted into something more relaxed, though the tears were still there. "He'll be okay without me, then. Thank God." He suddenly coloured, as though realising he'd been caught in a misstep. "Oh, I'm so sorry. I don't mean to waste your time. I don't mean to give you a hard time, I swear. You must get so much crap from the shmucks who manage to get themselves killed – I should know what sort of bull the dead can get themselves into." He let out something that resembled an ironic laugh, but was quite a bit wetter.
"Not a problem." Who the hell apologised to Death for being a bother? Bloody well nobody. The kid was getting… well… interesting. At least, Death thought that might be the case. It had been so long since he'd been anything but bored, and he wasn't sure he recognised the alternate emotion.
"So… how does this work?" the kid asked.
"Will yourself to move on, and I will assist in the journey," Death said.
The boy then did something that was probably really stupid and really brave and really interesting.
He hugged Death.
Death had no idea what he was supposed to do. He had never been hugged before. In the trillions of years he'd been doing this crap, no-one had ever hugged him. Was he supposed to hug back? Would that be weird? What possessed this child to do such a thing? Was he brain-damaged or something?
When the boy pulled back, he was completely red in the face like he suspected brain-damage himself. "I – er, um, thank you. For leaving my brother alone for a while yet. And for telling me. I mean, uh, I know your job has to be the most thankless job in the universe and I just… okay. Yeah. Sorry. Feel free to pretend that never happened." More of that nervous what-the-hell-did-I-just-do laughter.
Death simply nodded. The kid was an odd duck to say the least. The boy closed his eyes, letting a breath he didn't need go. He began glowing brighter. He was honestly going to blind somebody if he didn't dim himself a little. Death put his hand on the boy's shoulder again, guiding him along. Another Heaven-bound soul, gone on his way.
Except not just another Heaven-bound soul.
The night was dark again, but Death's mind was buzzing with all sorts of strangeness. He looked in his book again, confirming.
Sam Winchester. That was a name to keep floating around his head. He circled it a few times in pen, smiling softly to himself.
What an interesting little thing Sam was.
And all that happened before Death knew half of how interesting the boy really was.
Sam Winchester was plucked out of Heaven and forced to roam the Earth again, his memories of Death and Heaven accordingly erased. Oh, well. More fun this way, really.
Some idiocy happened with the brother and that whole one-year-to-live nonsense. Honestly, if the 'Dean' kid had just left things well enough alone, Death had seen at least another 50 years or so on him. But no. Then Dean died and then Dean was alive again (some angel twit had decided to dabble or whatever) and, well, one thing lead to another and the Apocalypse happened. Oh, Sam, you beautifully demented creature. What the hell have you done now?
While the Apocalypse did not determine whether or not Death roamed free, it very much restricted his abilities, especially his innate ability to remain unseen. Lucifer was the biggest twit of an angel who had ever existed (although Death personally wasn't so fond of Michael, as the Master Smiter often made Death's workload that much more exhausting), and the longer Death had to follow the little shit's orders, the longer he just wanted to put his cane-sword through something. Or go spy on Sam Winchester.
But that was no longer an option, either, because the Apocalypse made it so that Death had no choice but to be visible. He couldn't spy on Sam like he normally did without them seeing him and flipping a shit. Ugh. The sooner all this was over, the sooner Death could go back to being a proper stalker.
Then Death realised that Sam was even more special than he had ever known. Sam could end Lucifer's hold over Death and release him from his leash. What a profoundly beautiful child. What serendipity had it been that Death had been the one to collect him back in Cold Oak, that he had known Sam all this time only to find that his one hope was Sam himself?
He had spoken with Dean. He had really wanted to speak with Sam, but he understood that in order to be free, Dean had to be convinced to go along with Sam's plan. A necessary evil, really. The pizza wasn't that bad, either, and Death had had the best cuisine the universe had ever provided in trillions of years, so that was saying something.
If there was one thing Death had learned, it was that impermanence was the eternal law of the universe. He knew all things would come to an end. So why did he miss Sam so much when he was sucked down into the lowest pit of Hell?
It took Death a year and a half of human time to realise just how much he missed the peculiar little ball of demon-blood-sucking sunshine. He had seen the boy's body rise from the grave, courtesy of that twit of an angel who had raised Dean earlier. Naturally, he'd botched it completely, and Sam's light that was his soul was missing, still trapped down in the Cage with Heaven's two greatest Douchebags who were fighting for the championship title.
Death decided eventually that this was not an okay situation. Time to go irritate Dean again.
He'd made his deal with the other Winchester, then began making his way into Hell to rescue his favourite little idiot. He couldn't possibly do it for free after all - he had a reputation to maintain.
He couldn't say that he was entirely prepared for what he saw.
Sam's soul still took Sam's shape somewhat, still remembered what it had been in life. But it was scarred. Horribly, horribly scarred. Burns and stab wounds and deep furrows where nails and fingers and knives had dug into him. Limbs twisted the wrong way. Patches where the flesh had been stripped away completely. None of it could be seen, exactly, but upon touching Sam's soul, Death felt it. He felt every bit of it. He did not like what he could feel.
Death didn't know what he was doing until he had already done it. He sat beside Sam's tortured, mutilated soul and cradled the boy in his arms, rubbing gently at his shoulders and back. He spoke softly to the boy, although his words were as no-nonsense as they could get – things like, "get up. I have work to do and I really don't have time to waste on you, you know" – but he was certain that Sam wouldn't be able to comprehend them regardless. Death spent the rest of his 24 hour period trying to piece back together as much of Sam's soul as he could. There wasn't much that was salvageable.
Well. He might not be able to heal the boy, but Death could undo the passage of time that caused the damage. As long as Sam didn't mess around with the time reversal, the proverbial cart shouldn't roll downhill to crash into the ocean to shatter and drown. Death would construct a low Wall of sorts to keep that cart from rolling downhill. As long as Sam didn't mess with it, he should be fine. Well, not fine, exactly. Reversal meant that Sam would lose all memories of the past year and a half. He would forget meeting Death again. It surprised Death, as something always seemed to when the Winchesters were involved, that that thought would pain him so much.
He carried Sam's soul with him in his pocket on the journey back up (Lucifer and Michael did not dare complain after Death made it clear just what he thought of their treatment of Sam with the ass-kicking of an angel's lifetime), gently stroking his long fingers over the mass of light as one would a particularly fluffy kitten.
Death had to admit that somewhere along the line he'd started thinking of Sam as a beloved pet. Or maybe something even more dear than that. He had no desire to investigate his own motivations further.
But then he had to let Sam go. Again. Back into his body, hearing the scream that erupted from his unscarred flesh as the torn soul was forced back in.
All Death could hope for was that Sam would be all right. That he was strong enough to get through it all. That Death had done enough to ensure that such a thing was possible. He could only sum up that sentiment with a single uttered warning.
"Don't scratch the walls."
(A/N): I've always wondered at Death's motivations for handing over his ring and most especially, heading into Hell to retrieve Sam's soul. What was really in it for him? By all rights, it would seem he had no motivation to do the latter, and what motivation he expressed for our sake was trivial at best. It felt like an excuse, to be honest. Most of Death's interactions in the show are with Dean, and he usually mocks the living crap out of Dean whenever they have any kind of exchange. And yet, he does some pretty freaking nice things for Sammy. He never (or almost never) makes fun of Sam, he respects the kid's life decisions, and it would seem he has genuine regard for him. Enough to think he's worth fishing out of Hell and piecing back together. Why would Death want to undo his own work? I felt that his motivations were sadly underexplored in the fandom, so I decided to remedy that a bit. I have this weird thing where I like thinking that Death and Sam have an almost father-son kind of relationship. I love Death. He's a crotchety middle-aged man who's more than had it with everybody's shit, but he still goes through a fair bit of it… for Sam's sake? Tell me that doesn't arouse any interest at all. I speculate. I mull. I write. That's pretty much how these oneshot fic things work for me. Dunno.