Sam/Dean. R. ~3800 words. S4.
“For what other reason are you here, if not to save him?”
At the end of the road is nothing.
Asphalt gives gradual way to spotty patches of withered grass, beaten down by brutal summer. There are darker patches of bare brown dirt, a scattering of weather-beaten craggy rocks in the distance. Most of the trees are old and dead, twisted, grey as ash.
The car creaks as Dean leans against the hood and wishes for coffee. So much of his life is spent in the dark that even the watery morning sun is harsh on his eyes.
Sam stands at the very end of the blacktop, clinging to it like the brink of a cliff.
“It was here,” Sam says. “I know it was here.”
Dean’s gaze sweeps over the empty field before returning to meet Sam’s. “Nothing here now.”
“I know it was here,” Sam insists.
The map spread out on the hood behind Dean shows the nearest town is forty miles back the way they came.
“We lived a lot of places, Sammy. Could be you just got turned around.”
Sam’s mouth thins to a tight, white line. “Do you really believe that?”
They’d rolled into Stephenville, Minnesota, the summer of ’95. Something in the woods, a lot of frightened, quiet people. Not much else sticks out in Dean’s memory. Two dead bodies and three weeks later, they were gone.
This place doesn’t look like Stephenville. It doesn’t look like anything anymore.
Silently, Sam gets back in the car. A breeze kicks up, flutters the edges of the brand new map he’d insisted on buying.
Stephenville isn’t on this one, either.
She says, “Nobody’s on our side, Sam. Nobody.”
The demon wearing her soft face says, “‘Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them’,” then moans, licking her blood-speckled lips.
Sam rips it from her body, thick smoke roiling as it screams its stolen voice raw. The white kitchen tile cracks when she goes down, a perfect circle of blackened soot gouging deep into the floor. It heaves vicious, filthy curses out of her mouth and leaves dead white eyes in its wake.
Blood streaks Sam’s sweaty face, trickling from the corners of his eyes, his nose, over his lip. His breathing is quick, shallow, like the first night back on the hunt after Stanford.
“Stronger than she looked,” he rasps.
Dean catches him before he hits the floor, bearing most of his weight as they go to their knees. Little bits of lint stick to his face from the crumpled tissue Dean uses to wipe off the blood. He’s shaking like he’s freezing to death.
“Sorry,” Sam grits out, “I’m sorry, I know I promised, but-”
“S’alright.” Abandoning the tissue, Dean scrubs Sam’s face clean with the hem of his shirt. “Probably would’ve done the same, if I were you.”
After all, he’d promised to kill his little brother then sold his soul instead.
Dean glances over his shoulder before shaking off and zipping up. “Y’know, I didn’t peg you for that kinda guy.”
In the few weeks since the last time they saw him, he’s gained a jagged cut across his jaw and a few more rips in the flapping hem of his trench. His eyes are dimmer than before.
Castiel steps forward. The naked fluorescent bulb above the sink pops like a firecracker.
Dean says, “Better if you stay over there.”
Castiel watches the fizzling light. Ugly, gyrating shadows mar the smooth lines of his face. “Sam must not tread this path.”
At his sides, Dean’s hands curl into white-knuckled fists. “I’ve heard this punchline before.”
“They watch you,” Castiel says. “Every minute of every day, the Host watches.”
Dean’s stomach gives a hot, sick lurch. The dented metal door swings open, Sam’s hand on the knob, a flash in his eyes from the fluorescent’s flare as it dies on an electric snap.
The rainy night seeps in, settles weirdly about Castiel’s shoulders. The dark can’t quite touch him.
“Tank’s full,” Sam says.
As Dean moves for the door, Castiel touches his arm. “For what other reason are you here, if not to save him?”
Not turning his head, Dean asks, “You believe that?”
The angel’s hand slips away.
Dean says, “Thought so,” and follows Sam to the car.
It was all new, once. Fresh and vibrant. The children that come here now are only looking for somewhere else to be.
Sam is by the shattered drinking fountain talking to a high school kid. Good cop/bad cop from a distance. Dean keeps both hands in his pockets, the fake badge clipped to his belt in full view.
He sees the kid’s scared eyes and doesn’t hope for much.
“Such a shame.”
An old woman, wrinkled and stooped, peers up at him from beneath the heavy line of her brow. Her hair, curling underneath the neat felt cap she wears, is more silver than grey.
“Excuse me?” Dean asks.
“It all comes to this, sooner or later.” She nods to herself. “And still such a shame.”
Most of Dean’s attention is on the red-faced kid spilling his guts to Sam. Politely, he says, “Someone’ll come along to clean it up. Community project.”
“Sometimes,” she says, turning carefully to totter back to her tiny back of groceries on the bench behind them. “Sometimes, you can’t save it after.”
Sam glances up, a question in the tilt of his head.
“It has been a while,” it says. It seats itself at Bobby’s worktable. Stacks of open books surround it. “Though, Bobby does know what you’ve been up to. He doesn’t approve.”
The knife strapped to Dean’s hip flares hotly. It pulses in rapid time with his heartbeat.
“Freedom to or freedom from choice,” it says, touching Bobby’s blackened, grease-stained fingertips to the spine of a closed Bible. “Which kingdom offers truth, Samuel?”
Dean waits for Sam’s hand to rise.
It curves Bobby’s mouth into a smile. It spills easily from parted lips, lolling purple-black about dusty boots before sinking between the floorboards. Sam’s arm is still by his side.
“One of Hell’s Earls,” Sam says as they walk to the car, Bobby’s gaze heavy on their backs. “Destroyer of cities and man’s dignity.”
Dean starts the car and rests his hands on the wheel. It vibrates dully beneath his palms.
“Invoker of love,” Sam finishes, fiddling with the radio.
Watching Bobby’s door close, Dean says, “Demons don’t love.”
“Don’t think this means I like you,” Dean grunts. The stain on his tee keeps growing. Pain drives his heartbeat on, his blood pumping freely from the wound.
“Keep moving,” she snaps.
An exposed root snags his toe. Ruby is quick to catch him. His breath hisses out between his teeth.
“I should be back there,” she says.
“So who’s stopping you.”
Cloudy moonlight breaks through the boughs. Her eyes are human now but they gleam as black.
One step, another, his left side shot through with searing, stabbing agony. Adrenaline is spreading whatever poison had been on that thing’s claws quickly through his veins.
He’s the one who should be back there with Sam. It went down but he’s not sure it’s dead yet. Sam’s not immune to his belly sliced open.
She slaps him in the face, the force behind it snapping his head to the side. The broken edges of his vision smooth out.
“Keep moving,” she repeats.
Half a mile to the roadside. There’s holy water in the trunk, a poultice Sam and Ruby made before they struck out, some herbs.
She says, “Sam’s all I care about. He’s the only reason I’d die to keep you safe.”
Dean desperately wants to throw holy water in her face.
I Love Lucy isn’t much better. The bluish-grey light is just easier to take.
“I don’t trust it,” Dean says, picking up the thread of a conversation dropped before they crossed the state line. He shoves the scarred coffee table a few more feet to the left to make room for Sam’s set of knives on the floor with him.
Since he’s been back, Dean takes care of all their weapons. Sam is sprawled out half asleep on the couch behind him, one leg up on the cushions, the other propped up against Dean’s arm.
Sharpening takes longer with his off-hand. The alternative is pushing Sam away.
Dean thumbs the silver knife Sam used to slice the throat of a black dog fifty miles south of Twin Falls, Idaho. “Is she so gung-ho about teaching you because she wants you to use them or because everybody upstairs doesn’t?”
Sam’s fingertips drift across the nape of Dean’s neck, settle and squeeze gently.
The rasp of metal on stone is drowned out by Lucy’s laugh.
“Guess you already thought of that, huh,” Dean says.
“You haven’t got it in you,” it says, twisting the girl’s wide mouth into a slick grin. “Why don’t you just let your boy off the leash? I’ll play nice.”
Dean snaps, “He’s not going anywhere near you.”
Its coal black gaze zeros in on him. “I wasn’t talking to you.”
Sam is hunched over another crate, two books and a handful of apothecary bottles spread out on the rough wood. “Just don’t talk to her, okay?”
Their voices echo weirdly in so much empty space. Dean paces in front of the Trap and lowers his voice. “How long did you say this was going to take?”
“Yes, Sammy,” it coos, “how long is this going to take? I’ve got people to be, places to do.”
Sam says, “Quiet.”
The demon’s mouth clicks shut.
Dropping the pestle with an irritated huff, Sam finally looks up. The bottom of the mortar is filled with fine greyish powder–bone ashes, a baby’s tooth, salt. One of the dark amber bottles beside it is filled with yellowish arsenic.
The thing they took the baby’s tooth from is buried in a shallow grave with three iron stakes through its gut. In two nights, they’ll burn it.
“This isn’t going to work if you distract me,” Sam tells him.
The demon laughs, head thrown back so far that the light glints off the girl’s filed teeth. Shiny wet blood decorates the tips.
Sam rubs at his temples. “She’s probably right.”
Leaving Ruby’s plan unfinished on the crate, Sam comes to stand beside him. The demon watches, tiny smile curling once-pretty lips.
Sam slides Ruby’s knife into Dean’s grasp. “If you need it.”
Sweat trickles like ice water down Dean’s back. “Sammy?”
“She knows where the seal is.” Sam’s mouth is thin, his eyes hard. He doesn’t meet Dean’s gaze. “Do you want to preserve it or not?”
The knot in Dean’s stomach winds tight. He turns to face the demon watching them with wary, hellish eyes.
Nothing happens until the girl’s face is wiped clean of all expression.
The girl’s body lurches forward belching black smoke. Sam tugs it out of her bit by slow, torturous bit. The noise drives Dean back and Sam’s hand snaps out. Fingers claw into Dean’s arm above his elbow.
Long before the horrible choking stops, the body hits the floor with a muffled thud.
Sam opens his eyes. The smoke boils up and out, surges against the chalk lines that blur and burn blue-white.
He says, “Stop.”
The smoke shudders and rolls back in on itself.
“You know what I want. If you touch my brother, I’ll destroy you.”
The smoke pulses angrily.
Beneath Sam’s hand, Dean’s arm is throbbing. He imagines the pop of blood vessels and the surge of broken cells up through his skin. A bruise in the shape of Sam’s touch.
“Just trust me,” Sam says. “Stay outside the circle.”
Then, he walks into the demon.
“Lie down before you fall down,” Dean says.
The nest of blankets smells of exhaust but saves their backs from the bare wooden floors. Sam settles into the corner they’ve claimed, his back propped against the wall.
Sam takes a long pull of the rye whiskey Dean offers. “It isn’t that I miss her,” he says. He looks at the bottle’s label like he’s not sure what he’s drinking. “They just don’t care.”
“Neither did she, really. Not like we’d think.”
Sam curves a small, sad smile. “No. Guess not.”
He falls asleep with the empty bottle clasped in his hands and his head pillowed on Dean’s shoulder. His breath is soft and warm through Dean’s thin cotton tee.
He sleeps through to dawn while Dean keeps watch.
Castiel arrives alone during the old claymation Christmas special marathon on PBS. He says, “This is not why you are here.”
The dregs in Dean’s beer bottle are lukewarm. It’s been over twenty minutes since Sam went for a fresh case.
“If you’re going to tell me the meaning of life, hang on a sec,” Dean says. “Lemme get a pen.”
“Uriel’s threat was not made in idleness. Though I lifted you free of Hell he will not hesitate to cast you back down.”
“Oh, that’s how it works.” The knife is with Sam. Against angels it’s useless but Dean’s hand aches for it anyway. “Don’t know where I got the idea that going to Hell was a choice people got to make.”
“You did choose Hell.”
Dean taps his ring against the bottle’s empty mouth. Twenty-five minutes. His cell is silent on the coffee table. “Hell is a choice. But for you, making a choice is Hell.” Standing up, he puts the bottle on the table. “Sam’ll be back soon.”
“One damned soul cannot save another,” Castiel says. “They will kill him if you refuse to save him.”
Dean’s phone rings. The icy worry sharp in his gut thaws. “Not tonight.”
Its light twists the horror stark on Castiel’s face into something worse. “What have you done?” he rasps.
Dean says, “An eye for an eye,” as Sam’s hand slowly closes into a fist.
“You know there is no truth in that,” Castiel insists.
Wisps of Uriel’s grace cling to the man convulsing on the ground. Most has already sunk into Hell. Sam’s face glistens with sweat but there’s no blood.
“This is not enough to kill him.”
“No.” Dean watches the last of the light fade. “But it’ll hurt like hell.”
Sam’s mouth quirks. His eyes stay flat. “Give me time.”
Dean scrubs blood from his hands with generic wetnaps stashed in the glovebox while Sam drives. The radio is on, turned down low. Sam’s hand is curled lightly on the back of his neck.
“You and me,” Sam says. “You and me.”
Dean closes his eyes and breathes.
Castiel is surrounded by bodies of the faithful and the ashes of demons tricked here to die. With real sorrow in his voice, he says, “This was not meant to happen.”
“They can’t hear you anymore,” Sam says.
“Look at what you have done.”
The earth is churned and blood-soaked. The angels’ hosts are reduced to nothing more than piles of raw meat held together by cotton threads. Some were shredded by the demons. Most were torn apart from the inside as the angels tried to flee.
“You were meant to save him,” Castiel says. “I believed you were meant to lift him from this path and help him walk the other.”
Too many bodies separate Dean from his brother. Sam is on his knees in the dirt, his hair lank with sweat and his eyes glassy. Ruby’s knife is jammed into ground before him.
“I was wrong,” Castiel says. He steps closer, over the outflung arm of a young woman. “I’m sorry, Dean. I was wrong.”
Sam curls his fingers in the reddish mud and struggles to stand. “Leave him alone.”
Castiel’s hand spreads out over Dean’s shoulder, fingers slotting into place over the ugly, mottled scar like pieces of a puzzle. The light of his grace blazes bright, a white supernova that dwarfs the bloated moon. Through it, Dean hears Sam’s cry of pain.
“Stop,” Dean says. Sam cries out again at the sound of Castiel’s true voice spilling from his lips. “Stop!”
Sam’s shriek nearly drowns out the violent rush of denial that courses through his veins.
“Follow your rightful path.” Castiel’s voice rings sharp, surrounds him, pushes inside him. It burns icy cold through his veins. The pieces of Sam in him rip free, leave him sick and pure, blank as slate.
In his head, Castiel’s endless whisper tells him what must be done.
A weight is torn from Dean’s back and with it comes the scream lodged in his throat. The world shakes; Sam cowers from him. The rush of wind is in his ears. All around him now is the rapid flutter of his own wings, glossy smooth feathers lost in the light of grace that’s become his own.
Sam’s past stretches out behind him in a wide, wandering path. It runs beneath his feet and splits there. One fork goes on for years. At times, it loops in on itself, intersects with another. Another path follows it, sometimes veering sharply away, always returning. As Dean watches, both of those paths fade.
The other fork ends where Sam crouches in the dirt.
Dean whispers, “Sammy,” and Sam’s anguish rips into him. The sorrow and terror that cut into his brother slice through him in turn. He touches the blood tears that streak Sam’s face.
Sam flinches, gasps, “S’okay. Dean, s’okay.” His breathing becomes shallow, rasping thick in his lungs.
Dean pushes Sam’s hair back. With every touch, Sam’s heartbeat slows. “Sammy, I-”
I’m sorry, Dean wants to say, but the words have no meaning on his tongue anymore. God’s Will leaves no room for regret. Bit by slow bit, he’s killing his brother.
The thing inside him says it’s the right thing to do and he believes it.
Sam’s eyes close. “Said it’s okay.”
Blindly, Dean reaches over his shoulder and fists a hand in the soft feathers he finds there. The ache of a memory clogs his throat, staunching his scream as he viciously tears a handful free.
For the first time, real agony sears into him. He welcomes it, uses it to rip out the next handful free, then the next, and the next after that.
Crushed, bloody feathers heap on the ruined earth. Both of his hands run slick wet red past the wrist. The copper stench of it is thick in Dean’s nose. His fingers slip as he tugs at the knife stuck in the dirt.
“Not going to hell alone, Sammy,” he says.
He buries the knife to its hilt in his gut.
Raum uses Bobby’s mouth to smile, say, “It has been a while.”
Dean touches his stomach. His shirt is clean except for the grease from the tire they had to switch out for the spare about a hundred miles back.
“What is this?” Sam asks.
“Freedom to or freedom from,” Raum shrugs. “I’m unsure. It’s not of my doing.”
Dean’s hands are shaking. “Then what the hell are you doing here?” he snaps.
He killed Sam.
“Learning,” the demon says.
He killed his brother.
Bile stings the back of Dean’s throat. The edges of his vision are eaten away by blackness. He sways on his feet, his legs crumple.
Sam catches him under the armpits. His chin knocks against Sam’s shoulder, banging his teeth together and taking a tiny chunk out of his tongue.
“S’okay. Dean, s’okay,” Sam says. “I got you.”
“Stephenville still isn’t on the map,” Dean says.
“Uriel wiped out the town in spring, we’re not back that far.” Sam frowns at the horizon. “It said it didn’t have anything to do with this.”
“Demons lie,” Dean says. He sticks the map under the seat and rolls down the window. The wind smells of rich, clean earth.
“He wasn’t wrong.” Dean stares hard out the windshield. “He isn’t wrong, Sammy.”
Silent miles pass them by. Before they hit the highway, Sam pulls off onto the small, grassy shoulder. The engine ticks quietly as it cools.
The leather seat creaks as Sam leans across it to kiss him.