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A Lesson In Pain, Agony, and Suffering (WIP)

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Sammy, don’t do this. Lucifer’s voice is echoing and all-consuming, and Sam can barely hold himself together from the strain of it.

Sam shudders. This was it. The big moment. He feeds the warding to the spell, hands shaking, half-dead, half-blitzed out on whatever suffocating, burning feeling of the spell and Lucifer and all the screaming, he can’t stop screaming it never stops-

Lucifer cranes forward from his chains, all fire and claws and wings and teeth, not a lick of mercy in a quantum bone in his body and Sam can feel him stretching over his soul like a tumor, reaching out, suspended. Sam can almost feel himself drowning again, flayed alive in the burning, ecstatic tendrils of the archangel, the King of Lies. It almost devours everything else, but Sam holds true, keeps the tiny locked away part of his soul still beating.

Sam, I can be good. Let me fix this. Let me fix you.

Sam doesn’t stop, can’t stop, can feel the feeling of the Devil receding, can feel the hum in his bones and the ache in his skull and the burning in his veins, the feeling of too-fullness drawing back as the spell keeps working. He doesn’t listen to the words, he can barely comprehend them.

Sam don’t do this, don’t turn your back on me, don’t you DARE-

It works and keeps working and he could almost pass out from the sheer strain and disbelief.

SAM!

Sam pauses, meets the Devil’s eyes, and then the spell goes off and there’s light and it’s brighter and Brighter and BRIGHTER and then the cold recedes and

Silence.

“Sam?” Jack’s voice is tentative, a small echo on the other side of the door to the bunker.
Sam’s legs give out and he half-collapses, and then he’s crawling backwards on his hands and knees, mouth dry and mind still strung out in half-disbelief.

“I’m here. I’m okay.” Sam says, voice scratchy against his throat from screaming. His eyes never leave the Devil in his new cage, hoping this time it sticks, that it doesn’t get undone. Arms reach up until his hands clasp the doorknob. Sam drags himself back to his feet, the tendons still twitching, fingertips cold against the metal, but not too cold, not the same cold.

Sam opens the door, slams it shut, and then Jack is hugging him, gentle, half-crying, head cradled in his chest. Sam leans on Jack’s shoulder as they stumble down the hallway, victorious, their shoulder’s lighter from the fear not pressing down so much now.

“We’re free.” Sam breathes. They turn off the lights down the hall, and keep walking away.

They can feel the heat of the kitchen, of the fire, of their family crowding around them. Sam let’s himself be hopeful and almost believes it, hugging Dean and Cas and Mom and Claire and Bobby and Jo and Charlie and Rowena and everyone.

“We’re free.”

Sam tries to ignore the draft, and the cold sheen of ice frosting over the windowpane...

“Oh, Sam. So nice to see you still dream of me.” His voice, Nick’s voice, drifts through Sam’s ears like a twisting knife, and the cold pall of awareness swiftly blurs through, the hairs standing up on the back of Sam’s neck.

And at once Sam is downed in the cold ice bucket of awakening, and lurches upright, only to be held back by a heavier pressure that could almost be human, almost. And they are in the Bunker and in his bed and the Devil is curled around his torso, stubble prickling against his cheek. The cold chill ebbs slightly, although Lucifer's hands are still freezing, and Sam looks anywhere but next to him. The clock reads 2:03 am. He’s safe until daybreak hits, for the most part. Whatever perversion of safe you can be when constantly trapped with your worst nightmare.

Lucifer smiles at him, all faux-kindness, eyes flat and glittering with amusement. Sam doesn’t need to look at him, he can feel it in the sharp curl of the Devil’s smile as he kisses him, grip tightening around his wrists until it hurts and Sam is falling into the pit all over again, falling, falling-

"Let’s see if I can give you better dreams, hmm?”

Chapter Text

When Sam first woke from death, he almost thought he was hallucinating again. He wished it, considering it was better than the alternative. But no, this was real, all real, and he could feel the extra grace swirling around him like an icy shroud, smothering and omnipresent and singing against his skin. Lucifer must have drained so many angels dry, to be this full.

“Oh, you’re going? Here, it’s dark out there.” Lucifer speaks as if he’s commenting on the weather, but Sam is wary. This was too easy, too… spacious. Lucifer never started to make a deal with distance and the alarm bells are ringing along with the grace sloshing out of the Devil like a floodgate. Lucifer has even let his annoyance show through, so the fact has hasn’t pounced yet makes it worse. Sam knows the signs, and he has no intention of playing whatever game this is.

Lucifer starts to lay his cards on the table anyway.

Sam refuses the flashlight. He would refuse anything from Lucifer on principle, although he’s surprised Lucifer doesn’t force the contact. He shoulders the bag and hopes his fear isn’t bleeding through, although he knows it is. Lucifer can read him like an open book; has been able to for centuries. Sam hopes he can read him back, because for all of Lucifer's opaque masks, in one way, he has always been transparent, ill-disguised to hide the want glinting in red eyes. It's always there, always submerged under every false face when Lucifer pretends at distance, pretends at casual, as if he hasn't been trying to engineer Sam's every decision from before the very beginning.

Sam turns. And the answer to his unasked question is right there, slavering and growling, full of a death too close, but not far enough.

The blood caked on his neck begins to itch. Sam only half-registers the Devil's monologue as he resists the urge to run screaming into the vampires anyway.

“…until after we finished our convo.”

Suddenly all that is left besides fear is the blind, burning rage that Sam thought he had on lockdown for so long. And buried deeper, more fear. Anger wasn’t safe, but nowhere was safe anymore. Safety was an illusion he almost conned himself into believing.

“What do you WANT?” Sam demands. He thinks he knows. He would be right. Sam’s fear is well founded from years of overuse and he hates himself all the more for it.

Lucifer sees the catch in his throat, savors it. He knows he has Sam wriggling on the hook, and the dark, unknowable glint of what lies behind his eyes is all predator, all howling archangel ready to take what it sees as his.

“I want what you already have,” Lucifer says, comfortable, supremely confident in knowing he is going to get what he asks for in a way he hasn’t since before Sam threw them into captivity, “A relationship with my son.”

Our son. The grace rings in Sam’s ears, implications clear as day. Sam already knows what Lucifer believes, what remains unsaid. I already have a right to him. You may have him but I will have him, and you, and there will be no getting away. Never again.

And then the fear climbs deeper into Sam, crammed down his throat until he can’t breathe, worst fears all singing like a live wire again. Not Jack. Sam almost prays. Not this.

Too bad Lucifer would be the only one to hear it. Too much grace could do that, could drown out the rest of the angels.

“Ok, there was a time when I would just grab him,” Lucifer admits, picking up on the train of thought Sam is trying to keep from careening out of control, “but, I’ve grown.”

A hysterical laugh dies in Sam’s throat. He settles for sarcasm. “Yeah, sure you have.” Thanks his unlucky stars his voice didn’t break.

Lucifer’s smug face mocks him right back, almost laughing, but then the seriousness returns, and that is worse, so much worse.

“I want my son.” Lucifer threatens. And I want you, his grace whispers. “And you are gonna help me.”

Or else.

“How?” Sam forces the words out too quickly, sensing the shifting, dangerous territory he had just fallen into.

“Well, I don’t feel like he’ll give me a chance unless I come bearing gifts. Yep,” Lucifer says, and then he lunges and he’s touching Sam who only flinches at the sudden movement, “Boop, that’s you.”

Happy Birthday, Sam.

There are other threats floating to the surface now that the Devil isn't keeping the bubble of space around them, and every nerve in Sam's body is crowning with that pervasive, all-encompassing dread.

“Look, Sammy, I’m not asking you to like it,” And Lucifer reels closer, closer, too close, and cups his face, “to like me.”

One lie already, Sam catalogs, holding his breath, and then he meets the Devil’s eyes and the hand withdraws.

“All I’m asking is that you acknowledge the truth,” Only now two arms circle around, and two hands are pressing against Sam’s back, pushing him up against Lucifer in ways he wishes he wouldn’t. “That I was the one who brought you back to life. That I was the one who lifted you from the darkness,” Lucifer trills as his eyes narrow, “And into the light. Okay?”

Sam doesn’t answer, but the Devil never took silence as no since the beginning. Lucifer kisses him, and Sam wants to die all over again. Anything, anything would be better than reliving this. Sam looks away first. He wants to cry, and he doesn’t try to stop it. He knows his limits.

Gotcha.

The Devil pulls back and smiles, face only inches from his own, and Sam can feel the handprint from where the Devil raised him burn.

And then Lucifer keeps going, still talking, and Sam doesn’t want to hear it. It’s just a shitty rerun of his entire life, one bad thing leading to another all drawn back from the spidery fingers of the apocalypse come to swallow him whole.

But the Devil demands an audience, and before he can touch Sam again, Sam forces himself to listen to words that he hoped would never be true. “You need me.”

You need me. You always need me. Sam wants to parrot back. He doesn’t.

Sam can feel everything slipping away and he has nothing to hold on to except what he knows he can control. Himself, even though that’s fuzzy at the best of times. Everything else was the Devil’s playground. Sam’s still reeling from the unfairness of it all, taut with fear and loathing and shame. Of course this is where they end up. He can’t hide from the fear of what Lucifer will do to Jack, to Dean, to Cas, to Mom…

He knows Lucifer best, and does not want to leave them alone. Not with him. Even if the vampires looked like a better option.

Still.

“And what if I say no?” Sam is done. He’s caught, and Sam promised himself he’d never say yes to the Devil again.

Rage flares on Lucifer’s face, the same rage that leapt at Sam in the cage, calculating in a way that prepared new ways to get you when you thought you couldn’t take it anymore, that promised pain one way or another. Resigned and bitter and intimately familiar.

Lucifer lays out his threats, as usual. Sam lets the words wash over him. His heart constricts at Jack’s name, at the heavy promises in Lucifer’s words.

And Sam knows, knows that for whatever the Devil might say, he’s not leaving him on the floor in a cave of another dimension. Lucifer is dragging Sam after him one way or another, part from possessive vanity and part from the sheer need for control. And one part: Sammy, your ass was mine the moment you threw us in the cage. Your life was mine the moment you were made for me.

Sam thinks, and breathes, and Lucifer seems hopeful, as if thinking, maybe, this time will be different. Maybe this time, Sam will blink, will consider taking the easy way out, or the safest. Neither of them hold their breath.

Sam leaps into the sea of the vampire’s glistening, waiting, open mouths, was torn apart all over again. Pain like this was nothing. He know what the Devil had in store and he was not going to play nice.

He knew there wasn’t really a choice the moment Lucifer brought him back. There was never a choice.

Whatever you do, Sam, we will always end up here.

A snap! And Sam is back on the ground, torn apart limbs whole as if nothing happened.

“Hello again, Sammy. See, you aren’t really getting that this isn’t something you can just weasel out of. So. I can do this all day, and the more time you waste, well, the more chance that everyone, you, me, Jack, Dean, the whole Addams Family gets trapped in this sorry excuse for a dimension.”

Sam gives himself over to the anger, anything to not feel this endless fear anymore, and argues, “Which you would have caused, given the chance.”

Lucifer waves him off and sneers, “Unlikely." We would have done it better, done it right, "But that doesn’t matter now, Sam. Give me what I want… and I’ll make this, well, easy for you. How’s that sound?”

Sam dives into the vampires again.

It could have been hours, minutes, Sam doesn’t know how many lifetimes. Lucifer’s level of grace shows no sign of depleting, and Sam can feel it rooting around just fine. The last time Lucifer makes his offer, he’s closer again, and Sam wants to hide in the farthest of the universe where the Devil can’t find him (except he always can, because he can feel the remnant of his grace lighting him up from the inside out, leading a great burning trail back to the Devil’s waiting arms).

“You are wasting our time, Sammy." And the Devil grabs him by the roots of his hair, pushing him inches from the vampires, one hand perched on the waistband of Sam’s jeans. “And we can’t afford to waste it topside, now can we?”

Sam knows when he can’t lose a losing battle anymore, and decides to beat the Devil on a better day.

--

As the duo started to make their way out of the tunnel's dark and crowded walls, Sam wasn’t sure what counted as the beginning of his exhaustion, anymore.

Was it when Azazel made the deal with Mary and made Sam into an abomination?
Was it when he broke the last seal?
Was it when Lucifer got out of the cage again, wearing Castiel’s skin?
Was it when God told him he did not have to be afraid, then left him to pick up the pieces?

He wasn’t sure it mattered. Sam remembers half those moments like they were yesterday, and he would prefer not to.

Somewhere along the line, Sam thinks, he fell off whatever cosmic scale kept things real, and now he’s just living in a nightmare where he tricks himself things will be better.

Some nights, after talking with Jack, Sam couldn’t stop the guilt from welling back up, either. Kelly was just one person in a long line of persons targeted by Lucifer because it was convenient, because it tied him to Sam. She died because he had failed to keep the Devil in his Cage like he promised, and now everyone had to worry about him.

Sam tries not to think about it, but walking with the Devil at your back in a world where the Apocalypse happened when you didn’t exist anyway didn’t leave a lot of room for not ruminating about what went wrong. He had been holding it together for so long, and he’d need to hold it together when they caught up to Jack and Dean and Cas. This was the only time he had to break down, and it’s not like the Devil hadn’t seen it all before, although Sam knew was laughing about it.

At least Rowena was alive. That was something.

At the same time, as much as Sam hated it, it felt like the Devil was an evil keeping something worse out, if this is what Michael would do when he won. (If Sam let the traitorous thought grow, he supposed his victory meant something after all, but he was scared to acknowledge that along with everything else, because then… then, the Devil would pick him apart until clean, pick him apart until his pride wove them together and he couldn’t feel where he ended and the Devil began and Sam would not allow it, he wouldn’t!)

No, Sam would not focus on that, and he would not focus on the Devil staring at his back, ready to tear him apart if he so much as tried to run. He’d keep his eyes peeled, sure. But he couldn’t deal with failure so soon after dying, not right now.

It was too close to the Cage. Too close to endless resurrections with no reprieve.

Sam supposed the real problems first started after Lilith, if he really thinks about it. In his dreams, Sam knew something was wrong with Jess. He just didn’t want to pay attention to it. There had been too much going on, too much to fear… And then the Devil would crawl into his head, into his dreams, every night when he was lost and lonely and used, the only person who didn’t care that he might be a monster.

Sam had let him in and let him out, yes. But he would not let him win.

You keep telling yourself that, Sam.

Sam stops out of habit, a deer in headlights, and the Devil winks at him before pushing him forward again.

Sam knew he’d regret loving the Devil for the rest of his life, even if he couldn’t keep the fear and hate down, too. They were long past all that, and Lucifer had made his bed long ago.

Sam wouldn’t settle for this. And he wouldn’t let Lucifer hurt Jack, either.

And before end of the tunnel slowly rose into view, Sam let himself drift a moment before he had to fight this fight all over again.

--

Two Days After The Devil Raised Sam from His Grave, Roughly 8 years and even more hours Since Sam's Escape

One of the problems with the Devil is that he is so good at lying that he thinks he’s telling you the truth. Sam knows this, knows the difference between sympathy and intimidation, but Lucifer has this way of twisting it around until you don’t know up from down. It doesn’t help that he almost believes himself behind the façade, because the Devil will do whatever he needs to reel you in. Lucifer needs to wind you up and see you go, like a badly made toy formed out of half-assumptions. He lives off it like a human breathes.

If Sam hadn’t won the first time, with all its consequences thereafter, he thinks he would have fallen for it, hook, line, and sinker. Not because he wanted to, but because sometimes, it seemed, he had no other choice. The devil may not outright trick you, but he knows how to throw you off balance, and it’s enough.

Hell, Sam might already be infected with the lies, even though he knows better, now.

If only Sam knew just what he was up against…

But in the time before, Sam was one step behind the whole time. He couldn’t have known what would happen, because he was not designed to. There were too many chess games designed to keep him out of the loop.

Sam isn’t going to make the same mistake twice.

Before the light hits and stillness settles, Sam falters, then re-assesses, ready to deploy any weapon in the arsenal of his mind. He might not want to, but desperate times are only getting more desperate, and at the end of the line, something’s has to give.

Or it will break apart anyway, one piece at a time.

This time, Sam doesn’t hold back as he lets himself think about the time before.

Whatever it takes, Sam will use. Sam only hopes the Devil won’t use it better, like he always seems to.

--

End of Season 4

After the last seal was broken, Ruby stabbed, and Lucifer freed, Sam remembers being numb with the unfeeling shock, then afraid. Then doused by the crushing realization that everything he tried to prevent came to pass because he had tried to stop it. Wasn’t that a kick in the gut, a reminder of the fate trying to drag him down like a hellhound stalks its prey?

But Sam could also feel the storm brewing, could feel the prickling certainty edging closer and closer, like a knife gleaming on a dark night, or a creeping, sucking fungus rotting out an abandoned building.

He could feel the cold fire burning, far away. The tendrils of Lucifer’s grace reaching out to find him. (Sam was always burning to compensate, could never fully erase the chill from his bones).

But it did not stop there, no. He knew this feeling even though it had never been this strong before. Sam had felt this familiarity long ago, and not so long ago. He did not want to feel it then, and he did not want to feel it now.

Sam didn’t know if it would drive him mad, but he was grateful for Cas finding a way to shield them. Even if it was clear that it obviously did not work. Because the Devil was right there, in his mind, smiling as if he had been given the world on a platter. (In a way, it had.)

That was not when everything started going wrong, though. It had started long before.

--

Lucifer and Sam, 5 Years Before The Cage

When Sam first met Jess, he didn’t even think to hope that anything would come of it. But Jess was bright and alive and so genuinely moved by Sam that it almost felt like it was meant to happen, that Jess found parts of himself and kept them safe. Which was ironic, considering how it all fell apart so quickly afterwards, how half of everything they had was half a lie.

But Jess made him laugh and helped with the distance, the ache of the rejection from your family. Almost seemed to understand it without saying a word. Jess encouraged him, saw him for what he was before the transition, saw him fully in ways Sam never thought he’d be seen. And Jess never looked down on what he wanted to do, never pressed too hard on whatever shadows Sam had hidden inside his past.

Now, Lucifer, trapped in the Cage as he was, could not escape. But as the years went by, and Hell cracked slowly apart, there were flaws, (because for all its infallibility God’s creation was not perfect, especially so far from home, and Lucifer took that imperfection and unleashed it wherever he could). Not enough for anything substantial, only ways to sneak ideas and feelings out, wisps of half-formed impressions. Lucifer may be cut off from the outside, but he could speak to some of his children.

And he could always feel Sam. Lucifer did not know where he was exactly, of course, but he felt him all the same. Could feel the trajectory so carefully orchestrated pulling them together, as it was always meant to.

Little did Sam know, that young Jess had demons of her own, from long before she met him. Yellow eyes just set his schedule on a timer, to cook at the most convenient time for Lucifer’s rise. It was all planned, all choreographed, setting Sam on the trail that would lead him to his destiny.

And by the time Sam met Jess, something else was peering out into the world and had three-quarters taken her place. It was not possession, not exactly, too crude of an instrument, too detached, but Lucifer could feel, and glutted with that feeling, he fed Jess’s thoughts and emotions and commands, and Jess obeyed, automatic, three-quarters dispossessed and drifting.

Lucifer looked out of Jess’s eyes, felt Sam with her hands, kissed him with her teeth. It wasn’t ideal, wasn’t perfect by any means, but they were happy enough. Lucifer could give his vessel that, those moments, those carefree times, that feeling of belonging before he would be housed inside that feeling forever.

They were together in almost all the ways that mattered, and they had their rituals. Sam always insisted on watching one of his strange movies. Lucifer could almost appreciate Star Wars and its lessons, even if it was a half-baked a human creation, solely for what happiness it brought his one true vessel. And there was some merit in the act of watching, if Sam could find something of value in it.

After all, they were meant to be. And Sam would need the reprieve, after all, with what they’d put him through before the end.
Lucifer could shield him from the worst of it, maybe. He wanted to, wanted to honor the one thing his Father had left for him, in some capacity. But it was more than that.

The human race was a contemptible, repugnant slug sliding on the wheels of creation.

But Sam was perfect, because he was his. And when the end days came, and Michael fell, and the world quaked and was cleansed of the abscess that needed to be drained, Lucifer and Sam would stand triumphant, together, inseparable and crowned in the glory of their own creation.

And Lucifer wanted Sam to know. Even if one day, he would need that anger, that pain… and Sam already had so much of it simmering beneath the surface. All it needed was a powderkeg, a pump to draw the long well of pushed down anger and exhaustion and fear into action, into power, and the levee would break apart to mold the world anew.

Yes, he could give Sam these moments. He would make him happy now, and happy in the end. It was all a matter of time.

But once Dean stumbled forth, all crass and blustering and foolish, Lucifer knew their time grew short. Lucifer did not mourn the loss of the pseudo-vessel or the boring distance of everyday life, but he would miss Sam, would miss being near him anyway he could.

But the Devil knew that the loss was only temporary. After all, he’d see Sam very soon.

Chapter Text

Even when small, Sam always knew he was different. Always felt too hot under the collar, like he could never get enough air. Incomplete.

Not because he wasn’t a girl, no. That had nothing to do with it, even though that was true, too.

And Sam would spit fire, would rear up and punch if need called for it. Liked solving things with words, with kindness, with understanding, but when words don’t work, then you go to bat for what is right. That wasn’t tied to anything except who Sam was.

But deep down, Sam could feel the difference inside him. Could feel the difference setting him apart beyond just everyday abnormalities.

Sam wanted to take things, to take everything, to try and make up for the wanting, for the itch not yet scratched sitting, unsettling, always squirming beneath his skin. Sam gave things back too, maybe thinking that might help, in some roundabout fashion. And because giving things made others happy, because it was kind, was something Sam could achieve...

Nothing helped.

And Sam knew, there was always something bigger and stronger waiting to be let out, something built up beneath his bones and marrow even if he didn’t know the words for those yet.

Something that would tower above everything and help Sam see beyond it all. Something that had answers and actions and didn’t flinch from what needed to be done.

Burning.

Starving.

Waiting.

Something like the feeling in the dreams he can’t quite remember.

Like a puzzle piece Sam couldn’t quite fit those parts of himself anywhere.

Not yet.

Sam remembers wings, and blood, and light.

Feels a tundra, full of so much ice, ready to suck all the humidity and fire from setting Sam’s soul aflame.

In the dream, the ice wants freedom.

Sam wants freedom, too.

--

In Ilchester, Azazel makes his offering.

“I’m here, my son.” Lucifer whispers through the dead nun’s mouth, a doorway of blood and flesh and death both a harbinger of his coming and a trail he’d leave in his wake.

“It’s so good to hear your voice, Padre. I have been searching for you for so long. You have no idea.” Azazel starts. Kneeling, his proper place.

You have no idea what I know, my child.

“The others have lost faith. Dickless heathens. But not me.”

Always one for praise, that Azazel.

Whatever brings Lucifer what he needs, he will take. Besides, he has been loyal. Useful.

“You’ve done well.” Lucifer speaks. The nun's body never stops twitching, the fingertips never still.

“So, uh, how do I bust you out?” Azazel is not one to be left without direction.

“Lilith.” Lucifer hisses, adamant.

“Lilith?” Azazel finds trepidation comes easily when it stems from the right source. “Father, she’s trapped neck-deep in the pit. It won’t be easy.”

“Lilith.” Lucifer repeats. The Archangel does not like having to repeat itself. “Lilith can break the seals.”

Are you implying my faith in you is misplaced? When I made you to serve, to be the instrument I know you to be?

Azazel holds up a hand.

“Yeah, okay.” Azazel accepts the commands given, and keeps wringing his bloody hands. “But what do I do?”

“You must find me a child. A very special child.” Lucifer answers, because this was the main event, the crux of the matter all hinging on the one the Devil had been waiting for.

It has been too long already.

“What do you mean?” Azazel’s eyes flash yellow. “What child?”

“Sam Winchester.” Lucifer hisses. “Sam is mine.”

And when you find him, make him ready for me. Otherwise, he is to be kept safe, because he’s mine. All mine. But in the meantime…

Lucifer explains what must be done. The preparations that must take place.

Can’t have Michael following the trail to his True Vessel too early. They’ll need decoys.

And more than that…

“Find me a willing, disposable host. I will take care of it from there.”

“How?” Azazel asks, breathless, because Lucifer is still locked up, will be until the allotted moment.

“Do you doubt me?”

“Never, Father.” Azazel is penitent for a demon.

As you should.

“Mix Sam's blood with another who will be pledged to me. Bound in blood and soul and contract, they will be a fitting puppet to house me. Find me a body that will let me in. Make them meet my True Vessel in a way that their blood mixes. Convince them to say 'yes.' Then enact the spell.”

Azazel can’t help but be curious about this, now. He’s been waiting for Lucifer to guide him again for ages, millennia, so many eons and eons of waiting.

“How will you control her-”

“While unable to steer a vessel? While I am still bound in my chains?” Lucifer indulges his willing servant. “You know the human soul is a powerful tool, my child. It can be remade, reshaped. And it can be burned through. Perfect fuel.”

As long as burns, the spell keeps going. And this door won’t close between their eyes and mine. You've already propped it open wide enough.

“I will not fail you.” Azazel promises.

“I know.”

Lucifer fades out, prison call ended. The nun stops twitching in her young, dead bones.

Azazel carries out the tasks demanded of him.

--

Summer. August 1989. 7:04 pm. No breeze. Few clouds.

One small figure is a smudge on the tarmac against the horizon-line.

Sam Winchester runs.

John had started day-drinking early. Sam can still hear him, yelling for Sam to come back. Only Sam knows not to listen.

And Dean wasn't fast enough to catch Sam sneaking out, like Sam wasn’t supposed to.

So Sam kept running, shoelaces untied, six and a quarter years old, and too small, but fast.

Only to run. Smack! Into a blonde girl, both of them two tottering blurs.

They both trip, their heads colliding, and tumble to the ground. Sam feels a burn from the momentum, finds that both of their knees got skinned.

“Sorry!” Sam gasps. He tastes blood dripping from his nose.

The girl, maybe a year younger than Sam, shook her head. “S’fine.”

A Band-Aid had been stuck unevenly over her cheek, bright in the sun. Her blonde hair, shoulder-length, was ratty and tangled and she had a bruise on a face the color of a rotted plum.

She really didn’t look good.

Then Sam heard yelling that wasn’t John, because it was female and coming from the other direction. It sounded angry, maybe more angry than John (John usually mellowed after he drank enough, but he hadn’t gotten that far yet).

The girl pales.

“Come on.” Sam decides, then grabs her hand and runs to his original destination, towing her along. “I know a place to hide.”

They meet Brady in the abandoned building Sam and Brady made a meeting place.

 Sam knew Dean and John would be leaving town soon and taking Sam with them, and needed a place to hide letters and means of staying in touch. Then Brady came up with this place. Perfect for hiding and for pen pals and for staying unnoticed.

That, and no one could see them or look for them in here.

The girl doesn’t say anything or introduce herself.

 “Who is she?”

Sam looks at her.

“I’m dangerous.” The girl answers and juts out her chin.

Sam adds, “She’s like us. She’s a friend.”

Brady knows what that means.

In silent collective agreement, they all affirm that they are safe, that they are united, hiding in the dark shadows and the wood rafters in this half-a-shack off the side of the road.

They play some games.

Eventually, Brady has the idea to put their mark on this place. Brings out a pocket knife.

Sam agrees. Dean and Sam did as much with the Impala. And writing something down makes it real.

Means your friendship isn’t erased.

They shake on it first, each cutting their hands.

“It’s a blood pact.” Brady adds seriously. “Bonds of friendship you can’t break.”

“We should write something with it.” Sam says, eyes wide.

The girl blinks owlishly. “Like a signpost this is our place?”

“Exactly.”

She furrows her brow in thought.

“I know!”

Brady hands her the pocket-knife.

The girl carves out shaky, capital letters.

BIG 3 OF NEVERLAND.

“Adults can’t find us in Neverland.” She clarifies, matter-of-fact.

Brady nods.

Sam thinks this is what it must be like to have friends who keep each other’s secrets.

They wait out the rain that rolls in after nightfall. Brady and Sam have stored chips and snacks in the crevices of the mismatched tables and floors. There’s three sleeping bags Brady dragged in.

They hide in them together.

Then they all leave after three days long after the rain breaks.

Sam doesn’t know what happens to the blonde girl. She says she can handle herself.

Brady sneaks back to his place. Sam keeps his slip of paper with his address in his pocket.

Dean finds Sam halfway down the road on his way back, ten years old and crying.

Sam hugs him and walks back. Says he got lost.

It’s 12 in the morning when they are in the house again.

John is scared to death.

Sam doesn’t get out much after that for a while.

--

Jess hides in her room, listening.

“I want to destroy them.” She says to the figure, the man in the shadows who said it worked for an angel. “So they can never hurt me.”

Jess had been praying for an angel for a long time.

Angels protected you from all the bad things. She knows so.

And so far, everything the yellow-eyed man said had been true. She had found a friend on the road today. Two friends. Jess hasn’t had friends before, she hasn’t been outside much until the man helped her out the window.

“And my angel will give you that power, girl,” Azazel croons. “You already have the power you need. All that’s left is for us to keep you safe when you let it out.”

Jess picks up the knife offered to her. It is heavy and large in her hands.

“So what do you say? Do you want them to help you? Do you want to let the angel in?”

Jess nods. Answers.

“Yes.”

--

It’s not possession, not yet.

Lucifer can feel and see through her eyes, just a passenger. He’s not anything more than a whisper in the back of her head, healing her if skin is broken, filling her with slight curiosity and encouragement. Gives her physical strength as Jess finds her targets.

She hacks away.

The line hums between them, keeping the hairline fissure to the Cage open, Jess’s soul lit and burning as it keeps the door cracked, stops it from slamming.

Lucifer tests his boundaries and tries to see if he can move anything.

Jess licks a drop of blood from her lips.

The body is small, but it fits well.

--

The next morning, there’s three bloody bodies with multiple stab wounds found in the bathroom and the kitchen and one bedroom of their suburban ranch.

A regular dime a dozen family. Older brother, mother, father.

Only turns out, on further investigation, that they are anything but innocent. The news lights up with scandals and whispered words Sam doesn’t understand but knows means bad things adults don’t talk about happened. That kids got hurt.

The youngest daughter is listed as missing.

Sam sees the girl’s face pasted all over the news. Knows her face.

The house burns down a week later.

Brady sends Sam a message in the meantime.

Says she’s safe. That she got away from the bad things. That whoever killed them wasn’t coming for her.

Sam is grateful.

--

Jess hops from place to place. Hitchhikes.

Azazel finds her a new family.

Jess still controls her own body. Doesn’t mind that she sold her soul. Can’t feel it drifting yet. It’s like a slight itch, barely there.

Her favorite princess is Aurora, who, from her childish retellings, Lucifer learns is cursed to fall into a deep sleep at 16. This is not much different, in Jess’s mind.

She always expected to die young, even as a child. Never had a life to look forward to.

Lucifer gave her that life. Let's her assume she’d go to Heaven when she did burn out.

And Lucifer compliments her for giving him this body.

When she asks why an angel needs it, he tells her the truth.

“I am trying to protect someone. You know them. They were your first friend.”

“Like a guardian angel?” Jess asks.

“More than that.” Lucifer assures, grace keening with promise.

Jess smiles, burden lifted.

Lucifer watches as she goes through grade school. Midway through, Jess starts to realize she’s not always there. She hops from home to home every once in a while, unexplained tragedies befalling her caretakers. Freak accidents. Unanswerable situations.

By middle school, Lucifer feels Jess start to drift further and his own being gaining purchase. He can taste now, can smell, when before he can only see and hear and feel.

All through middle school, Jess joins the swim team. By now, she’s started to realize the gravity of the situation, but she can’t do anything about it. Vacillates between accepting her fate and how she’s special, and researching ways to try and see what has been done to her.

She doesn’t find any answers. Lucifer tries to be reassuring.

Jess likes power. Hurts people she thinks deserve it. Doesn’t really know the meaning of overkill, since she can just leave and find a new home with Azazel’s help.

Lucifer doesn’t curb that. He is more eager than her, and always happy to give tips and some extra punch if she needs it.

There’s a lot of unexplained disappearances across a string of disconnected states and schools. Ghost stories told in the woods of the playground.

More often than not, Jess doesn’t want things to change, because she and the angel have an agreement, and the angel has done nothing to hurt her. It’s more that Jess wants to find a way to vacate her body so Lucifer can use hers, and she can have another. She gets very invested in cloning research.

Lucifer sometimes adds extra commentary.

By high school, she’s valedictorian and interested in ecology and politics and biology. Jess isn't sure how much of that is her own interest or Lucifer's. That tends to blur together.

She still swims on the varsity team. Swimming clears her head. Makes her feel less like she’s burning up.

Lucifer’s presence sometimes freezes the water temperature so that people have to vacate the pool.

By sophomore year, she’s mostly gone. Can still see behind Lucifer’s eyes, like Lucifer used to do through hers. Most of the time she’s catatonic, sleeping, soul numbed into unawareness.

By senior year, Lucifer has taken over entirely. Jess’s soul, burnt halfway through as it keeps floating outside her body. The spell keeps her anchored even as the parricide stops her soul from settling inside her skin again, now that’s it’s been kicked out properly.

It floats, almost like a ghost does, but still tethered and tamped down, stretched like a path back to the Cage.

A month before graduation, Lucifer is the only one walking around inside her skin, Jess’s presence thick as saran wrap in comparison to the fraction of the burning icy star that is Lucifer’s being.

He takes everything in. Jess’s body is almost a vessel, still a puppet, but obedient.

He doesn’t leave town, yet. Sam’s been sighted nearby.

--

Sam finds them again by accident. He passes their high school on another case while in town.

Lucifer has been waiting so long just to catch a glimpse. He can’t stop staring.

Someone has bruised Sam’s face.

And Sam needs help, so Lucifer patches Sam up. Offer him to get some food.

“Who are you?” Sam asks, taken in as he takes the proffered sandwich. “You seem familiar.”

Lucifer can feel his soul singing out for him even from here.

Lucifer winks. “I’m the Devil.” Then blows Sam a kiss.

Sam laughs. Adds, “No, but really. I know I know you-”

“I’m dangerous,” Lucifer smiles as he whispers, “And Neverland isn’t exactly a crowded place.”

Recognition dawns. They spend the rest of day together catching up.

Midway through, Lucifer takes Sam back to Jess’s place. They watch a movie.

Then they move to the back porch.

By the end of the night, Lucifer and Sam have kissed each other, not sure who started in first. They get to a bit more than kissing, not expecting this to last.

Sam is softer than expected. Lucifer wonders what it will be like Lucifer gives Sam the body Sam prays for.

Too soon, John and Dean have caught up, have found Sam’s vicinity, and Sam has to make his retreat.

In all the excitement, Sam never catches a name.

--

In the meantime, Brady helps them pass messages between them while Sam moves around.

They give each other their first names, not their last. Although, Lucifer convinces them to use nicknames they pick for each other in their letters, like a code.

Lucifer gets Venus. He finds it fitting Sam already knows him so well already, both iterations quite apt.

Sam gets Kiddo, courtesy of Kill Bill, because that’s the movie they watched.

--

When Sam runs, tries to make a break for Stanford, Lucifer finds him en route. Hitchhiking.

Cleans up the battered parts of Sam’s body, because the world has never been much of a safe place, for some more than others.

Being also bound for Stanford, Lucifer helps Sam settle in to his apartment, then the dorms.

Brady reconnects with them there. Finally gives them proper, official introductions, full names, not cut off ones, in college.

Sam and Jess don’t date at first. They want to take things slow, not ruin what they have already. And Jess is just his best friend, quizzing him on who he likes and what they should do today and what food they should eat. They play pool. Watch movies. Dance. Go to the beach.

Sam dates a few people. Dates Brady.  They break up by mutual agreement. Jess doesn’t show any signs of jealousy. But all the way through, Sam can’t ignore the way Jess makes him feel.

Sam asks her out a month into freshman year. Jess starts kissing him senseless immediately.

By Halloween, Jess inherits a fortune from a distant deceased relative. (Azazel helps Lucifer set it up.)

Lucifer helps Sam find the best means to transition. Sam doesn’t care now that it’s a spell and surgery and witch that’s involved. He’s out of the life. And he can’t believe someone would do this for him.

He’s himself. He’s free. His body is everything he has needed it to be for forever.

And he has Jess.

They move in together a week after.

Sam’s the happiest he’s been in his entire life.

Lucifer is, too. Although he knows there are even better things to look forward to.

--

Before Jess burns on the ceiling, before Sam leaves, she manages to wake up. Breaks through for a second.

By now, she knows the thing tethered to her isn’t all it pretends to be.

She tries to warn Sam, tries to hop inside her skin one last time-

“Be careful, Sam. Don't trust me.” Jess manages to cry as she wakes Sam up in the middle of the night. Her expression fearful and wide and so different from what Sam is used to.

And then she is silenced. Lucifer is surprised she even managed to muster the strength before she fades out back into unconscious drifting.

Sam tries to comfort her. Lucifer plays it off like a nightmare.

It is, really. He’s going to have to leave him soon. Waiting for Sam to set him free is going to be torture now that he knows what he’s missing.

Jess is burnt through, almost entirely shot by now. Lucifer is surprised her body has held him this long on its own, that it hasn't started falling apart when her souls now barely a sliver left. He got a year more out of it than expected.

When her soul burns out completely, Brady burns her on the ceiling.

Can’t have Michael finding out what’s been done. And Sam needs something to fight for, to bring Lucifer back to him, even if he doesn't know it.

Jess’s soul dissipates. Doesn’t go to Heaven or Hell.

Is scattered, molecule by molecule.

Like the burnt out remnants of a star.

Such are the ways of combustion. Matter and energy transformed.

No trace left for Michael or angels or anyone in case they catch on.

And Lucifer is once again trapped in solitary with no telephone line out. Always waiting in the Cage.

Chapter Text

Dean remembers when Sam was first brought home. He had such a big head for a baby.

But that's not what Dean remembered most. Not the way Sam squalled in John's arms, or how he always looked away from Mary around the room, or how hot Sam's forehead and tiny fingers ran when Dean ran his hands over his little brother's face. Sam couldn't speak for himself then, so he was a sister, then, although Dean learned triple-quick not to slip up.

Doesn't change what was said though, when Mary held Sam out in the hospital room, and John held Dean's small hand, and Mary had asked, so soft and warm, forehead still sweaty from conceiving, "Would like you see your sister?"

John had been so tall, even then, as he pulled Dean closer, but Dean was already walking close and wordlessly hopping on the hospital bed, Mary kissing his forehead and rocking Sam against her chest as Dean leaned closer.

Sam was babbling small, huffing noises, eyes watching out the window as the thunder rumbled and lightning flashed. One hand reached out into the open air, opening and closing, so tiny and fragile and puffy.

Sam was still quiet, for a newborn. Aside from the mild screams of Mary giving birth (which wasn't as painful, thanks to the epidural), and the loud cries of Sam coming into the world, there hadn't been much noise.

When it happened, John had smiled, tears in his eyes, and Dean memorized the crinkle of his mouth and the protective look in his eyes, the same one he sometimes gave Dean when he hugged him. Even if he was distant in a kind of fatherly, abstract way Dean would never properly categorize back then, it had been good, and while not soft... It had been kind.

And looking at Sammy, staring up at him with big, wide eyes...

Dean was sure he was giving a look of wonder at the little tiny thing that was alive, so small.

It was odd to think that Dean hadn't liked having the idea of a sibling, at first.

But one look at Sam...

And he felt sure that he would never let anything happen to the tiny ball of joy looking back at him, so quiet and curious and young.

Sam had such vivid eyes that just stared at you, even if he never really looked at anyone head on. His forehead crinkled and mouth was wide open as Dean's hands cradled the blanket, dimples so much like ones Dean saw in his own face in the mirror. Dean had freckles when Sam didn't though. Dean noticed that at once.

He remembers readjusting as Mary let him sit in her lap, arms around his, and the creasing of the ultra-soft blanket, cotton and ever-slightly too warm, as it swaddled around Sam's head and the curve of it over Sam's tiny body as Dean supported Sam's neck.

He remembers cradling Sam, keeping him close to his chest as Mary whispered, "Make sure you support his head- like this. That's it." She encourages, helping Dean's four year old hands keep Sam steady while he sat in Mary's lap.

"Hiya Sammy." Dean had breathed, and Sam blinked up at him and smiled, so wide and toothless, pink gums and pink tongue so bright against rosy cheeks and green-hazel eyes.

"Sam feels calm with you already." Mary added.

John had put a hand on his shoulder and commented, "Looks like you're her new favorite person."

Sam had yawned and his eyelids had fluttered shut and he had so lightly snored, dozing in Dean's arms.

Dean held him all night with Mary, scared that moving him would wake him up.

He had fallen asleep with Sam in his arms, Mary's arms keeping his steady with John right there, ready to catch them both if Mary fell asleep, too.

It had been peaceful.

And when John slept on the chair next to Mary as she stayed overnight to make sure there were no afterbirth complications and too much residual bleeding, even he didn't see the worry lines on Mary's face as she stared at her family, wondering if it would be broken when Samantha...

Only then her face hardened.

She would not let anything come for her child.

She would find a way to protect Sam, and her family.

She had to.

--

The next night, the storm hadn't let up, and when Mary and John came in from the storm outside, shielding Sam with his coat, all swaddled up, and Dean guarded from the rain by Mary's rainjacket, they kicked off their wet boots and all sat on the sofa.

John made dinner- chicken, because Mary had asked. Then Mary fed Sam, and Dean watched cartoons, although he still looked at Sam, like he was amazed something else alive, so little, was there, and filling up the house with warmth.

They worried Sam was feverish, and the doctors had told them to keep an eye on her, but it looked like Sam just ran hot.

Dean camped out in Sam's room that first week, had snuck from his room and camped out in a sleeping bag on the floor until Mary caught him. Sometimes she moved the crib to Dean's room, and checked on both of them.

Sam was only quiet for a few days, though.

After that, all the colicky crying and gurgling shrieks keep Mary and John up all night, both taking shifts off each others hands, and Dean retreated to the quiet of his own room.

--

When Sam is quiet, though, Dean sometimes sneaks back in and sleeps next to the crib. Sometimes it feels like a cold breeze floats through the room, making the mobile move of it's own accord, and when that happens, Dean adds an extra blanket around Sam's tiny, fidgeting baby legs and the red onesie that keeps them safe and snug.

Once in a while, Dean wakes up in a cold sweat, feeling like something's watching him...

But when he wakes, and his heart slows, and he turns on the flashlight, nothing is there.

Even if the flashlight flickers...

John always told Dean monsters weren't real, and Dean, loyal and trusting with absolute faith in the man, believed him. His dad could scare anything away, and Dean held on to that, even if his Dad left a lot and had the kind of mythic surety of a figure who isn't always there, but when they are, they always are so certain and so striking Dean couldn't doubt him for a second.

And if Dad didn't fight the monsters and punch them silly, Dean was sure Mom would. She could scare anything when she got protective. There's a reason Dean doesn't avoid listening to the Dean Henry Winchester in that voice she'd get when Dean was doing something he shouldn't...

Dean goes back to sleep and listens to Sam's huffy breathing, Sam smiling from his crib when Dean goes to check on their younger charge with a solemnity so intent it could wake the dead.

When Dean goes back to sleep, he doesn't see yellow eyes peering through the window.

Neither does Mary, when she retrieves Dean from the floor to take him back to his room in the early hours of the morning.

--

By five months, Sam as started crawling early, always getting into trouble and Dean having to fish Sam's tiny, cowlicked self out of whatever hiding spot Sam found.

Sam likes being near the fridge, and pokes Dean's face when he brings him back to the living room.

"Eee." Sam would laugh, and Dean would smile. Who could be annoyed by anything looking at you like that?

Still, Sam is an escape artist. Not even baby-restricting seats meant to keep babies in one spot keep Sam still.

Sam just finds a way out.

When they read books that imitate animals, Sam's favorite animal to imitate is a snake, and when Mary puts on nature documentaries when she feeds Sam and burps them and rocks them, Sam stays occupied for hours.

Dean falls asleep or throws a ball in the yard, waiting for John to come home.

But Mary always makes it up to him by baking pie or making ham sandwiches with the crusts cut off after Sam has settled. Sometimes she even sneaks some bacon in between, a secret for just her and her eldest son.

--

When Mary burns, it's the scream that wakes Dean up. The smell doesn't reach him in his room, not like it did John, because by then, all they smell is charcoal and the artificial too-sharp smell of plastic and siding and shag carpet burning their noses.

The first thing Dean does is run to Sam's room, choking on the smoke, which sears Dean's eyelids, but by then John is already there and tucking Sam in Dean's arms, yelling at them to get out, for Dean to take care of Sam, to keep her safe-

And Dean runs as fast as his tiny arms will carry him, Sam tucked tightly in his arms.

The reality that Mary is gone, just like that, hits like a freight truck, pinning his chest too close and his breathing too heavy, but it doesn't hit him until the fireman guide him out of there.

He's four and a half, and his mom is gone.

John checks to make sure Dean is in one piece, and lets Dean keep hold of Sam, and guides them to the car, and tears are streaming down his face, so gaunt and grave in the dying conflagration of their home...

When he cries himself to sleep, John tells him he has to be strong, and pats his shoulder in the car as they drive down the freeway, to somewhere Dean doesn't recognize, away from everything he knows.

--

At two years old, Sam can speak a few words, and his favorite activity is tottering around the house with Dean chasing after him, Sam's shrieking giggles giving his location away. That, and Sam loves piggybacks on Dean's back, so Dean usually carries them around the yard while Sam points at all the flowers.

They don't get to go outside much, though, unless Bobby or Pastor Jim or their various babysitters find a way around it.

John likes to keep them inside locked doors, safe as he can make them.

Only he doesn't quite know how to keep demons out yet, and the demons know this, and capitalize on the lack of knowledge fairly easily.

--

By the time Sam is three, Meg sits in as a babysitter, once or twice, thanks to taking the place of a hunter midway through a hunt John's left for. She makes sure Dean is occupied when Brady first makes friends with Sam as he crawls through the hedges, dirt caked on their faces and jumpers, but Dean finds Sam fairly quickly, Brady having crawled off long before.

When he finds Sam, Sam is chasing a small lizard around the side of the house, curls of hair bobbing around Sam's head with every bound.

And if Sam levitates some cookies when Dean isn't looking, Meg might just dote a little bit more on Sam's sheepish figure with an extra cookie, and holds a finger to her lips.

Sam gives the cookie to Dean, and after that, Dean isn't even bitter their babysitter won't let them watch Scooby Doo, because Meg makes sure they feast on as much spaghetti and homemade enchiladas as Dean wants. She's a fairly good cook compared to John, who defaults to microwave meals, more often than not.

Meg would make Dean go hungry if she could help it, but there's a chance he might prove useful, and Sam worships the ground he walks on...

So she plays it safe, for now. Doesn't stop her from letting Dean get too close to an old well, but Dean climbs out.

Nor does that stop her from murdering the neighbors, and soon John is ferrying his children out of there, frantic and more paranoid than ever once he gets back, right as Meg vacates her vessel and breaks her neck.

After that, John soon learns how to protect against demonic intrusions, and it's around then John starts having Dean watch out for Sam more, and doesn't leave them with hunters unless he knows there's layers of security in place.

The security measures don't work as well as he would like, although he's not around to notice, more often than not.

--

When Sam is five, he's a terror to be a in car with. He pokes Dean's head from the back and kicks the seat and asks to change the music. Dean is more tired of the fighting, though, seeing as Sam doesn't listen to John, and otherwise, he and John don't get along at all, and at age 9, Dean is tired of Sam not listening to him, either.

But he does take Sam's side when he can, helping Sam rip up the skirts John got secondhand (Sam hates them, and says so, insisting on who he is, with John telling Sam he's being silly and then getting angrier and angrier as Sam refuses to listen), and Dean helps Sam learn to sew them into pants, or adjusts his own jeans he doesn't need, on the excuse that if they want to save money, it makes more sense to let Sam have his stuff secondhand.

It's just a good enough excuse that John goes for it, and Sam is beyond grateful.

John can guess Dean's other motivations, though. When he catches Dean kissing a boy (his name had been Leon, and he had been blonde and bubbly and liked kickball) outside of elementary school, he beats Dean with the belt and tells him never to do that again, calling people like all of that all sorts of names, and telling Dean that there's no good end for people like that, like him, and that if he didn't want to end up like the things they hunt, he better damn well be normal.

Dean cried himself to sleep that night and got barred from dinner, but Sam snuck him waffles he'd hidden in the back of the freezer in the middle of the night after John had passed out in an alcohol induced stupor.

Locked doors really didn't keep Sam out.

--

When Sam is six, he's twiggy and small and his hair curls around his head like a bowlcut, lopsided and uneven where Sam took the scissors to them.

He kisses Brady the way kindergartners do, and they hold hands behind the slide, and no one sees.

Sam remembers it real well, because he crawled off to chase a frog afterwards and Brady had tried to trap it in a sandbox until Sam suggested that would hurt the frog by drying it out, so obviously the only solution was to run into the woods and find some place wet to make the frog's home. Somewhere between here and there, both Brady and Sam fell in rainpuddles and got soaked enough to be sent home.

Dean had laughed at all the dirt coating Sam's face and the rips in Sam's socks and the mud caked over the skirt Sam had been forced to wear. Sam had stuck out his tongue and made a face, but took Dean's handmedowns with a pointed determination (and some grateful pining, seeing as this meant he could have jeans).

That night, Sam got his knees banged up when Dean had fallen asleep, after Sam thought he'd dozed, and in his haste to recover Sam's hands got caught in the stuck metal of the broken windowpane Sam had doctored with a wrench and force from his mind and not his hands, all when John saw him trying to sneak out to catch the last of the fireflies in the night before they all dwindled with the season.

Ten-year old Dean got him ice, and John was so stunned by Sam's audacity he was almost apologetic, but it didn't change how much it hurt when John had dragged Sam from the sill, even if it had been accidental, John not knowing his own strength when compared to Sam's pipsqueak frame. Sam had struggled, too.

Getting caught always meant being cooped up.

Dean let Sam snuggle up next to him that night, half to keep track of Sam, and half to make up for John's eventual yelling and the scratches on Sam's hands, both of them in ill-fitting pajamas, and Dean cradled Sam's hands while Sam stayed up, unable to sleep, while Dean slowly went back to snoring.

--

When Sam is seven, he begs Dean to buzz his head. Sam likes long hair, so long as he can wear Dean's baggy clothes.

But if this is the only control he'll get over his appearance more often than not, he doesn't want to feel like a girl, and he'll take the haircut. And John can't make Dean give Sam pigtails if there's no hair to prop up.

If Dean's a little too enthusiastic in helping Sam out, Sam doesn't mind.

It feels good to have a little control, when all you are is ferried everywhere you father and brother dictate.

When John comes home and sees what's been done, Dean gets grounded for stealing the razor.

Sam gets glared at. The calm anger scares him more than the yelling for once, because that means Sam won't have as many chances to hide when John gets bad again.

--

Dean, for what it's worth, runs his hands through Sam's hair before shaving it off. He's never had much of a choice- John had chosen the military cut for him once he started hunting and knew what was out there, because God forbid something snagged your hair on a job.

It doesn't feel like loss, for Dean, though.

Sam's ear to ear smile in the mirror makes it worth it.

And when Sam thanks him, Dean only pulls the chord out of the wall and says, "What kind of older brother would I be if I didn't mess with my little brother's hair?"

And Sam smiles even wider and hugs Dean close.

Dean closes his eyes and thinks it's worth it, no matter what happens later with John and all the comments he might make.

--

Sam dresses up as Batman for Halloween. Dean helps him duct-tape the costume together.

Dean is superman and pretends he can fly. They've been allowed to trick or treat only because John isn't around, and their last babysitter lost track of them.

The paint of the show is white, and it glows in a ghostly pallor into the night. 

Sam leaps off the shed, the ground spinning below him, because he's batman, and bats rule, and they can fly, and they have echolocation-

Only Sam has none of these things, and breaks his arm, and Dean is hyperventilating, yelling and frantic-

Sam cries, red faced and sniffling, but holds it together pretty well. It's a sharp fracture. Not deep enough to see bone, but enough that everything is askew-

And then Dean's peddling as fast as his legs will allow, the red paint of his bike dark against the streetlamps as his training wheels squeak against the asphalt.

Dean still avoids other houses, though.

He knows Sam will get taken away from him if he gets caught, because that was rule one: Don't let anyone take you away from this family.

It's not safe, and then Dean would be without Sam, and Sam without him-

And Dean won't let that happen.

--

At eight years old, moving has become more than commonplace. It's like a religion.

Sam hates being trapped in the Impala longer than three hours. Like clockwork, Sam will beg to switch seats with Dean and take shotgun to keep the carsickness at bay.

It's not easy being eight and having no say in where you go, only getting hauled one state to the next with little warning.

Sam would call the Impala home, seeing how they live out of it longer than anything else, but fact is, sometimes staring at the back of a leather seats and freeway gets old after a while.

That, and when you move from motel to motel....

Sam misses playing in the neighbor's yard. Envies Brady for the pictures he sends over of his house in Baltimore, green lawn and picket fence and all.

--

When Sam is nine, he breaks into John's things to get answers for questions no one has ever answered, and Sam learns monsters are real, and he cries.

And nothing Dean can say will make it better, because then the things Sam sees in his sleep are more likely to be real.

The only comfort is the same dream.

The dream where Sam isn't alone and it's so cold and nothing can touch him, because he's so full, so alive...

Sam writes stories of monster hunters and mails them to Brady, who by now, is more than three states away.

Brady tells Sam about sailing and summer camp and normal things, things that don't reek of the things lurking in the dark that Sam, on some level, can feel watching him, and Dean, and John.

They have to be, if John is hunting them. Sam can only hope John sees them first.

--

It's the two of them against the world, really. Sam knows that.

He can see how Dean looks after him, in all the things he thinks he's hidden from Sam, all the trials and errors John corrects too harshly because Dean's the oldest, the brother, and Sam's so damn so small and young in comparison, and Sam isn't an unobservant kid. Quite the opposite.

But Sam does what he can to cover for Dean, too, seeing as he knows Dean act with all the girls he hangs with after John's explosions about Sam's presentation and Dean's choices of friends.

If Sam has to be the troublemaker, he can take the heat off Dean, when he has to.

Sometimes it backfires, and Dean takes the rap, but that's what happens when you have to predict John's mood.

It's a gamble.

Sam and Dean learn to pick their battles and their poker faces, although, as times wears on, Dean takes John's side on most things if it means the fighting will stop.

"Just listen to him for once, Sammy, come on," Dean would groan, flicking Sam's shoulder, and Sam would bare his teeth and turn up his nose with a resounding, "No. He's wrong."

Despite the betrayal, the upholding of the status quo, or even hauling Sam off when he tries to stay put, Dean doesn't compromise on the things Sam cares about most.

He always stays quiet or sticks up for Sam whenever he says he's not a girl and when Sam needs an out, Dean gives it.

He knows picking his battles is key-

And Dean thinks it's not really betrayal, all those other fights.

All he's trying to do is keep everyone together and to stop the yelling, one way or another.

And you can't really fight your Dad. He's your Dad. He's bigger and stronger and supposed to be smarter than you, and Dean reckons he is, with things like safety, and practical know-how.

He might be wrong about a lot of other things-

But Dean doesn't feel like paying the price for arguing.

Chapter Text

"Sully, I had the dream again." Sam says quietly as he starts cleaning up the mess he's made of the stove. "What do you think it means?"

The room smells like soot and burnt food and cork-board from where Sam burned the macaroni and the wood paneling of the walls. Normally, he's much more careful, but he's been extra distracted lately.

John would kill him if he found out he accidentally started a fire. They might be isolated in a cabin in the woods, but fire...

Fire was not something people talked about easily in this house.

"I don't know, Sam. Maybe it means we'll get snow?" Sully answers, helping Sam scrub out the pot. Being a Zanna has upsides. Being tall enough to reach things kids can't. Protective magic. Heightened senses to make sure kids aren't drowning in pools or ponds. Teleportation.

Preventing housefires.

You know, that sort of thing.

Not much you can do about a malfunctioning smoke alarm, though. The batteries are up to date and everything. Both Sully and Sam checked, Sam tottering on the ladder and unscrewing it himself before Sully tried to stop him, and Sam maintained he could do it himself.

The clock stops. Sam doesn't notice. He does notice the lights flicker, though.

When they've finished,  Sam lies on the bed and looks up at the sun through the window. He wishes the doors and windows weren’t locked.

But Dean’s gone with Dad on a hunt. So they locked him in.

Safety first, right?

Not much safety if the small room burns down, but they do have escape routes for that. John wouldn't leave Sam alone without an escape route.

Sam doesn't use it without cause, though. Last time he did...

Last time he did the consequences weren't worth it.

And if he was gonna run, he'd have to hide for weeks somewhere and never come back.

Sam doesn't have enough food to hide for weeks. And the sleeping bag's been taken in the Impala.

So sitting pretty with some books, old cereal, a TV with an in-and-out signal,  and hourly calls from Dean making sure Sam's alive and safe, codewords and all, is the name of the game.

Sam rips up another skirt John found at a dollar store and tries to resew it into something else.

While he does, Sam wishes he was anywhere but here.

Even in the icy tundra of his dream, where the lights darted across the sky and where something whispered that he was destined to do something important. Something beautiful.

Sully can tell when Sam gets distant.

He doesn’t know why, exactly. Sam’s a quiet kid, and not even used to his company.

Lonely. Older than his usual charges.

But Sully can try to make things right for him. One day at a time.

And one day, maybe Sam will find a way out of this life.

“You know, maybe one day I could be a scientist. Maybe that’s what the dream means. That I find something really important out hidden in the artic. Like a new element. Or a meteor with traces of megafauna from another planet. Ice is supposed to keep things preserved really well, like marshes. Anaerobic environments. I read about it the other day.” Sam rambles.

That’s the other thing. With so much time on his hands, and he’d stolen a lot of books from libraries when he got a chance, either when he snuck off next to a food joint or when Dean helped him with the excuse being research. Normally, Sully wouldn’t encourage stealing. But Sam didn’t really get a chance to entertain himself otherwise. There isn’t much in the house.

And it’s not like they live in one place long enough to return the books.

--

When Sam gets bored enough, he levitates some books with his mind. The trick doesn't always work.

But he likes the book Matilda. So he'll pretend one day he and Dean will go and find someone nice who won't make them move so much.

Sam knows Dean would like that.

But that gets boring fast, too, even if Sam knows he can't practice when Dean or John are around.

They'd flip out. Think he's a witch or something.

In the past, Dean's only ever seen him use it in low light, at night, when he's half asleep, so he usually writes it off as a dream.

John's never seen stuff move, though. Just seen abnormally fast reflexes, or light tricks, or the way Sam sometimes sees strangers following them when no one else notices.

John tends to rush them away and lock the doors a lot, when that happens.

When Sam first slipped up, before he knew about hunting, when he was five and Dean went to pump gas and John made Sam go into the gas station with him...

John locked Sam up for a week.

Sam doesn't know what he was like before the age of four, really. John's seen a lot.

He learns to take denial and shift it into paranoid anger pretty quickly.

It's harder to be angry at kids when they're too little to understand much or are blindly led into situations.

Less so once they get older and stop listening as much.

Sam learned that the hard way, too.

"Sully... Can you get me out of this house?" Sam asks.

Sully considers. "Where do you want to go?"

"I dunno. Swimming in a pond, or rafting, or something. I know you won't let anything happen. And we can take care of ourselves. It's just..."

It's so quiet here. Not even Sully can come up with ideas to stave off boredom.

Sam's too old for some of the usual fare, and they've done most of the things they usually do to try and stay busy already.

The lights flicker again.

Sully looks... nervous, but then his expression turns to one of resolve.

"Sure, Sam. You have a fishing pole and a bathing suit?"

Sam pouts. Loathing isn't a strong enough word for what he feels for the bathing suit Dad made sure Sam got one year after Sam adamantly reminded him he wasn't a girl. Again. It's some dumb orange and green pattern. At least it isn't pink.

But he can wear it under the blue and grey plaid boxers Dean nicked for him from that dollar store when Dad wasn't looking.

So he'll use those.

--

The day is hot and bright and windy and Sam whoops, alone on the water save for Sully, some grilled cheese, a couple flopping bass he managed to hook, and four eyes watching him from the underbrush on the shore.

Yellow eyes smile beneath the foliage.

The back of Sully's neck prickles, and he keeps an eye out.

He knows they've been being watched for days.

Comes with the territory.

Why stuff singles Sam out, he doesn't know.

But he doesn't like it.

--

Brady, of all people, happens to be in town. He finds Sam while hiking in the same patch of woods.

Sully doesn't want to discourage Sam from socializing with kids he knows...

Even if he's not sure how Brady finds him when Sam moves around so much.

"How did you get here?" Sam asks, laughing as he splashes Brady with the still pond water. After he's hugged him, of course. He hasn't seen Brady in person for over a year.

Brady shrugs and touches the back of his neck.

"You won't believe it. But after I heard you were moving to Vermont for a few weeks, I entered a contest. And I got a tour of Ben and Jerry's! How crazy is that?"

There's nothing necessarily different about Brady from other kids.

But Sully just...

He feels off and makes his scales prickle beneath his human exterior.

All Zanna have colorful scales and large eyes. They are a subset of shapeshifting spirit, after all, and the scales don't tell you wrong.

But it's not right to judge a kid just 'cause they seem off.

Or look around with a smirk like they can see right through you.

It makes Sully feel... cold.

Like he's an insect under a microscope. Which is stupid. It's not like the kid is ripping wings off of dragonflies or mutilating small animals.

He's swimming and playing dice games and helping Sam fry some fish and making s'mores and exchanging more pen-pal letters to their little circle of distant strangers Sam calls friends.

Why his scales itch so much, Sully doesn't know.

Heavens to Betsy, he kid can't even see him, even if Sam mentions that a friend snuck them the marshmellows packed in his backpack.

It's probably the weather. Or maybe it's a different kind of warning.

Like they should head home soon, before the battery on the cell radio dies and Dean thinks Sam died.

...Or maybe it's a warning that something else is watching.

--

Eventually, Sam does find a way to introduce Sully to Brady. It's a fact kids are more easily able to see Zanna, considering their purpose, and even if Sully isn't Brady's imaginary friend, some wards Sully helped Sam find when Sam begged him to join in.

Brady gives a fake bow and a sharp grin.

"Pleasure, Mr. Sully." He greets, all with an affected accent.

Sully waves and smiles nervously and makes them pizza while trying to be as upbeat as possible.

It doesn't change the fact that being around Brady still makes him feel like he's breaking out in a cold sweat.

Sam and Brady roughhouse and make schematics for their ultimate fort they've been planning on making in Nevada.

Brady promises one day he'll get Sam to join him on vacation for a week where they can make their base for real, and check out some observatory Sam's wanted to visit for a while.

When Brady takes the pizza Sully offers, he rips it apart with his teeth, each bite like a shark.

But when he looks at Sam, all the violence ebbs to rapt kindness and respect.

--

Sam has Brady camp with him in the shack for a few days before Dean and John get back.

Not like Brady's folks will miss him, and the uncle Brady stays with pretty much let's Brady go wherever he wants.

It makes Sam a bit jealous.

The demon inside Brady feels warmer from the feeling.

Sam telegraphs everything, even when he tries not to.

And Sam needs to nurse that resentment.

Outwardly, Brady adjusts the reading glasses on the bridge of his nose and keeps reading segments of 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea in a silly voice until Sam cracks up.

They read Lord of the Flies next and act out parts with sticks.

--

Inverse to their loud laughter and yelling earlier, Brady is as silent as a mouse when Dean calls in. He knows Sam's not supposed to have company.

That, and if this abduction plan of Azazel's works, he doesn't want them knowing he's around.

He gives a thumbs up out the window when Sully's distracted by Sam and an accidentally exploding dishwasher with the wrong soap inside it.

Brady made sure he overfilled the lid.

He apologizes, extra contrite when they realize his mistake, scuffing some of the hidden warding lines he's broken through in the meantime.

Sam snorts, and promises it isn't a big deal. They mop up the mess.

Outside, the salt lines hidden in the walls start to eat away.

Salt usually is a good deterrent. But if you have enough time...

Erosion is a beautiful thing.

--

Sully buries his misgivings under the sentiment that maybe Brady feels off because of what his folks are like. Sam's told him son things, about how Brady got taken away by the courts.

That's all it is, probably. He's rough around the edges. Seen some crazy things kids shouldn't see.

Nothing to worry about.

There's a thunderstorm lighting up the sky by the time seven rolls around. It breaks the satellite on the roof, which means they can't keep watching movies in the living room.

Brady tells ghost stories instead, and then they camp out on Sam's bed.

That's when Sam huffs in a breath and looks at Brady very intently, flashlight clutched in one hand.

"Brady. Do you believe monsters are real?"

"You really gonna ask me that, Sam? You know-"

"I don't mean monsters like your folks. I mean, like... Not human monsters?"

Brady gets quiet, then his voice is a bit too sure.

"Yeah, Sam. I do. Why?"

Sam shivers.

"Well... If I tell you a secret, you promise you won't tell anyone else?" He pleads.

Brady holds his hand.

"Sam. We're blood brothers. Your secrets are my secrets. You know that."

Chapter Text

Sam knows he probably isn't supposed to run away. The thing is, he doesn't care. He's sick of this life. Sick of his family. Sick of the car, of hunting, of being dragged place to place-

And in his letters, Brady always makes everything sound so damn easy. Like Sam can just walk out. Like Sam should've walked out, back when he thought Sully was real, even though who knows what would've happened, with Sam running off alone and things he sees out of the corner of his eye following him- like they think he doesn't notice.

But Sam can trust Brady with this. He always been reliable, even when notoriously unreliable, in the way Brady always has been.

He never takes anything too seriously, and always knows how to make things seem less life or death than they are.

Like Sam can take a break and breathe, even if he's going to have to go back eventually.

But he can cherish the freedom he has right now.

He doesn't know when he's gonna get it, again.

Besides, in Flagstaff, Sam has a dog.

And Bones is a hell of a good dog. Practically the poster child for golden retrievers everywhere.

Chapter Text

Sam has heard a lot of horrible things from his father's mouth. He has grown used to ignoring his opinion, anyway, and he's more scared of violence that never fully lands except for the rare times it does, or the many mutable threats, or of being trapped in a room for days without any recourse or way out. That's why he started running away, one more reason among many, and packed a bag early, and hid the fact he was leaving until the very last minute.

Sam doesn't even know why he bothered to tell him he was going to Stanford.

Maybe, some part of him held out to hope that the part of John that did love him would trump the part of him stuck in his ways, unable to see Sam as anything else other than what he thought he should be. But he's usually wrong, and falling down from the bitter hope, well, Sam's grown far too used to that to keep hoping.

It's more a defense mechanism while he's stuck there, trying to pretend he could smooth things over and things could be good if he didn't look close enough at what has always shattered him, over and over.

But that, on top of everything else, just hastened what was to the end.

And if John said, "You walk out that door, you don't come back," it wasn't a goddamn order that Sam was following.

That door had closed long before, had long since locked Sam out because they didn't want Sam, they wanted someone else to be what they wanted and not what they got.

No. Sam was never coming back, no matter how much he might miss what was familiar, even if he's not sure he'll make it out all alone, because all going back would do would keep him in a cage, keep him trapped in a life he would not settle for or forgive, and that would be worse.

If Sam didn't dig his way out with his own two hands, he wouldn't know who he is anymore.

This time, Sam is keeping the door shut for himself.

Even if he doesn't know how Dean is going to take the one decision Sam can't compromise on anymore.

--

Dean had shut the door in Sam's face after John went upstairs.

Sam had stared at it for two seconds. Breathless. Heedless of the wetness of his eyes and the tightness of his throat that burns with rage and hurt and loss because of all the things he expected-

He thought Dean wouldn't do this to him, at least.

He'd thought Dean wouldn't see this as abandonment. That he was just going out to live his life.

But he did.

And that was that.

The air is cold on his face, and crickets keep chirping under the dilapidated floorboards of the porch.

Sam shoulders his bag (the one he'd been planning for for weeks, in case they found out, in case this went bad-) and stumbles down the steps and walks down the road and keeps walking. It winds around corners, and Sam follows the tarmac, hugs his chest as the cold air seeps in.

Somewhere, between walking, something else had sparked within him.

He is free, now, one way or another.

It hurts like a bitch, and his head is still spinning, but beneath it all was something bubbling up, new and unknown and like something he'd been grasping for but hadn't known, not properly-

Something tastes like truth under his tongue, and Sam finds it is the taste of freedom, something he can hold on to, just freedom and himself, as he walks and finds a car.

He doesn't want to steal.

But it seems like a small price to pay, in this little town with no public transport, and the whole empty world yawning out before Sam's two feet. 

Normally Sam would be able to contact Brady, or Bobby, but Brady's last number got smudged so Sam hasn't been able to reach him except by snail mail, and even if he could, Brady's out at sea for some research project, has been for two months, while Bobby's been off the grid every time Sam has tried to call him, although at this point, Sam's starting to wonder if John sabotaged his contact list again. John and Bobby hadn't ended on good terms- not to mention Dean's still got the phone charger, and there's no signal for miles out here. Sam doesn't know when it'll come back, and isn't sure if his phone will be dead before he reaches actual civilization.

Best to forge a path for himself- and no need to worry Bobby, if he can figure out why the line is dead.

Sam can do this.

Sam needs to prove this to himself, really. That he can keep going without anyone leading the way.

Freedom still tastes like fire, and Sam clings to it like a lifeboat, awash in the new, lonely trappings of the woods and the roads and nothing else.

He's used to being alone.

He just wishes he didn't feel so insignificant out here, where anything could happen between getting out and getting on the road.

Sam still feels the fire burning in his chest.

That's something that can't be taken from him, even if grief and hurt are still making his head ache.

He can survive this.

He's survived worse.

And Dean-

Something pangs in Sam's ribs, then, but he pushes it down.

Just because his brother can't see the truth doesn't mean he's done anything wrong.

He doesn't need to justify this.

This is his life.

He can say no. He has a right to say no, and make his own choices, and build a life for himself, without anyone's blessings.

And Sam vows he is out of the life, starting now.

And with every step- no matter how faltering or tired he gets trying to find the nearest house, with all the marshland and empty ponds and grass for miles around- the truth remains.

Nothing is going to rip his freedom from him, no matter how hard the world might try.

Sam is going to college. Going to start something new, going to build something for himself.

This is just one more hurdle to get to the finish line.

Chapter Text

Sam staggers down the road, injured from the last scrape, the last hitchhiking attempt gone wrong. Sam's car got stolen after he left, after John kicked him out, leaving Sam without many options, only because he almost got caught hotwiring a car at the rest stop and had to flee, and now he's too far away from everything to grab something else.

Headlights blind Sam for a moment as one red 2001 Dodge Ram drives off the shoulder of the highway, only to slow down and park right next to him. Sam doesn't have the energy to hide, doesn't know if this will end bad again, but Sam can take this, he can-

"Sam?" A voice that Sam knows, that Sam missed, that fills Sam with relief, calls out as Jess exits her car. She helps Sam up and grabs him off the side of the road, Sam beaten and bloody, "Sam, I've got you, you're okay, you're safe now-"

"Jess-" Sam gasps as Jess helps him up from the asphalt, Sam's bloody and torn shirt staining Jessica's yellow sundress as she cradles Sam against her chest and helps him into her car.

"Do you need to go to the hospital?" Jess asks as Sam leans into her, Jess taller and leaner and all muscle, and Sam shakes his head.

"No, no hospital, I'll be fine-" Sam manages to gasp as Jess sits them both in the back seat of her car. Sam laughs choking laughter. "You should see the other guy."

Jess washes and bandages Sam's various small cuts and buries and more serious injuries with her first aid kit. Sam rests his head on her shoulder, too much blood loss keeping Sam dizzy and out of it.

Jessica's manicured fingers stroke Sam's hair as Sam tries not to pass out.

Her hands are always cold, but it feels nice against Sam's skin.

After enough time, Jess raises a bottled water to Sam's lips, helping him chug it down slowly at Sam's request.

"Are you sure you're okay?" Jess asks softly when he stops, head still leaning on her shoulder. Sam smells apples and ice and citrus and ozone and smoke.

"I've had worse. Really. Thank you, Jess. Thank you." And Sam's eyes fill with tears as he hugs her, and she holds him closer, warm and inviting and careful. Her long, wavy hair is soft and sticky against's Sam's damp cheekbones.

"What are you even doing out here, Sam?" Jess asks, the concern bleeding through like a wildfire. "I haven't heard from you in weeks."

Sam shakes his head as his trembling voice answers, "I was trying to get to Stanford. I got in. Full ride. Was stuck too far out in the country to catch a bus, and my car got stolen halfway through, and then I got jumped. I got away, and gave them a run for their money, I can defend myself, but there were just so many of them, and I should've expected it, I look like a girl wandering out there alone, and I got targeted more than once..."

"What were you doing out here alone? How long have you been out there?" Jess asks, quieter but with an intensity that made Sam want to nestle closer. Jess always welcomed Sam closer. She never made the first move, just let Sam set the pace. He wishes he could kiss her again, but he's not sure she's still as drawn to Sam as Sam is to her. Sam's too scared to ask, too tired, and Jess is likely too good for him, anyway.

"A few days now, I think?" Sam slurs, a little too delirious from blood loss not to hide the truth, and blurts out despite himself, "My Dad kicked me out, and Dean... Dean... It doesn't matter. I left. I got out. I can live my life now." And then Sam's voice cuts out and he starts crying again despite himself.

Jess holds him tighter.

"Shh, shh. Don't cry, Sam. You don't need them. I've got you. I'll keep you safe. You don't have to be afraid. They can't hurt you." Jess says quietly, and Sam lets her comfort him, lets her words wash over him, measured and calm as she keeps hold of Sam, not letting go, every part of her soft and gentle and soothing. "It's a good thing I found you. And you know what? You have an angel looking out for you. I know it. Because guess what," Jess adds, voice growing warmer and more excited. "You won't believe it, but I'm going there, too. I got in, same as you. So we can go together. I can take you up there before the semester starts."

"What are the odds?" Sam wheezes, "Although this is you we're talking about, Venus, the one who brings all who see her to their knees, so I'm not surprised." Sam jokes as he tries to regain his composure, limbs still trembling as Jess keeps rubbing Sam's shoulders. Sam been walking on the roadside for days. "But really that's... That's great, Jess. You have no idea how happy I am to see you."

Jess kisses Sam's forehead, and then pulls back. Sam still feels the echo of them, soft and smooth and tacky with lip balm.

"I do, Sam. I really do. And I'm so glad I found you, kiddo. It's been too long." Jess adds as she hugs Sam again.

Sam hugs back, breathing still shaky.

"Do you want shotgun, or to lay back here?" Jess finally asks when Sam finally pulls away. Brown eyes stare into green as cold breaths puff out between them.

"Shotgun." Sam answers, and Jess helps Sam walk to the other door and sit inside.

"You mind if we head to my apartment?" Jess asks after Sam settles in and buckles, Jess still leaning down with one hand on Sam's shoulder and her lips puckered in concern.

"Not at all... I... I have nowhere else to go." Sam manages to say, very quietly, as he doesn't meet her gaze. "I'm sorry, I don't mean-"

"Sam, I really don't mind. You can stay with me as long as you want, Sam. I mean it. Take however much time you need." Jess answers, then shuts the door and walks back around to the other side of the car, settling back into the driver's seat as she finishes, "What are friends for?

Sam is overcome with a feeling in his chest, bright and sharp and wanting as grateful love and pure pangs of friendship keep him from feeling the loss of everything else he's known.

"Sorry about your dress." Sam manages to add shyly as he looks back over sees the full extent of Jess's ruined outfit, then looks down at his own bloody jeans and jacket with a tired, shameful acceptance. Getting new clothes would be a hassle.

Jess waves Sam off and winks. "Nothing I can't wash off. Besides, I've had worse, believe me."

"I have a hard time believing that," Sam counters as he leans his head against the seat-belt, eyes closing as Jess starts up her car.

"Trust me, you don't even want to know." Jess laughs. "Which reminds me, if you need a change of clothes, I have some in the back, although I don't know if they're your size-"

"It's alright, I can wait." Sam assures, not wanting to be a burden.

They keep talking, Sam lets her ask questions and listens to her talk about her life and asks questions of his own before Sam is lulled by the sound and the forward motion of the car and falls asleep, out cold.

--

Lucifer smiles at Sam's peaceful dozing face and hums as he keeps on driving on.

Jessica's thumbs slide over the steering wheel with an easygoing surety.

Chapter Text

Sam isn't sure why he even tries to hide the stripping he's doing on the side, not at first. He doesn't want Jess to think badly of him, even though they don't have any real secrets between them, just things they choose not to talk about by mutual silence. Like family. Jess doesn't take about her past, or her brothers, although Sam knows she's had some after she found her new folks.

And when Jess finds out the second time Sam goes out, she's not judgmental. Sam knows she can guess his reasoning, his need to earn for hormones and everything else. It's almost a relief that he doesn't have to hide it anymore. She just watches him in the lights of the club, eyes only for Sam, encouraging, kind, attraction and appreciation in her eyes also clear as day when she sees Sam move and keeps her eyes glued on him. Sam can't really feel scared for the consequences of her finding out right then, not when she's smiling at him, watching, the one thing keeping him grounded in the present when he would otherwise let his mind wander from the crowd.

What he isn't expecting is for her to ask to join him afterwards on the stage when Sam gets out. She meets him in the dressing room, hugging Sam close, breathing him in after he's gotten his baggier, less feminine clothes back on.

Sam still shifts uneasily as he answers her, "Jess, just because I'm doing this, it doesn't mean... You don't have to-"

She just stares at him with that same patient, waiting resolve.

"I don't want you to have to do this for my sake." Sam finally settles on, eyes downcast and one arms crossed, the other hand rubbing his elbow absent in a frantic effort to self-soothe. He can't stop her, but she shouldn't have to make more sacrifices for him-

Jess lifts Sam's chin slightly so he has to meet her gaze, her expression adamant, and her tone gentle but unyielding and sure, all the same.

"But I want to, Sam. I want to support you, and you shouldn't have to go through this alone. Besides, we can save up more if we both rake in the fast cash. And the faster we do that," Jess says as a smile breaks over her face, and she bops him on the nose and then snuggles her head closer, "The faster you get to be who you are and to feel comfortable in your own body. And I want you to be happy, Sam. I've always wanted that for you. And it's my choice."

Then Jess kisses him, and Sam wonders how he lucked out to get such an angel in his life.

--

Lucifer nabs Brady outside in the side-alley when Sam is finishing up getting ready.

"Fix this." The Archangel hisses, clarifying. He'd sacrifice everything for Sam, dignity, poise, you name it. And if he had to threaten or bribe the nearest witch doing humanitarian work, he'd do that, too.

But he'd be damned all over again if he let Sam continue to be appreciated by anyone else under his watch, or for Sam to have to rent out his body, the body that was both his and Lucifer's, just because Sam had to struggle by in this human world the human way to get by. He didn't have to resort to those measures any more, not with Lucifer taking care of him.

And it was high time Sam got his prayers answers.

Brady listens and handles it.

--

When they get to the club the next night, Jess is directed to watch Sam as a sort of way of gauging the crowd, and while 'Jess' isn't complaining at the view, she exudes this aura around her that discourages anyone from getting too close. All her eyes are on Sam.

Then Jess is allowed to work with Sam, Sam doesn't know how she convinced the manager, but she did, and they tag team the dance, working together. Sam tries not to get distracted by Jess herself.

That, and stripping with Jess is altogether different from stripping alone. If he's being honest, Sam's never been fully comfortable with it. Sam just pretends his body isn't his, drifts when it all gets too real, although he does get absorbed in the dancing, the movement, keeping busy. With Jess right there...

He's not alone. He's got someone else to focus on, someone else who sees him for who he is, who isn't out to hurt him, to use him, to only appreciate Sam as an object.

She's looking out for him. There for him.

Sam doesn't know what he did to deserve her, but he dances better with her.

Although sometimes, he does get a bit distracted by her ass and her body and her dancing, but Jess manages to catch him before he stumbles, like she sees it coming. They don't over-correct, and keep working in perfect unison.

--

Outside the club, Jess is as eager to make Sam feel good about himself again, just like she always is.

"Someone could see us." Sam almost protests, but not really convincingly, because if he minded that much he'd just say no.

Jess presses Sam down against the blanket she's laid down, the fabric clean and smelling like too much detergent, completely at odds from the graffiti and grit-covered walls.

"Brady is watching the alley for us. And it's after 3 am, the end of the night. No one's around." Jess assures, eyes bright. "I'll be quick, I promise. But someone has to appreciate you properly. And you can pay me back at the apartment. Now, lay back, Sam. Let me make you feel good, make you feel clean... Do you want me to, Sam?"

"Yes, Jess, I want you, I need you," Sam answers and falls and lets Jess catch him, lets her lower him down, still sweaty and hair still matted from the dancing earlier, Sam only half-dressed before Jess started dragging him outside with a wink.

Then Jess is kissing Sam senseless and stripping off Sam's clothes, unhooking Sam's bra and folding it nicely next to the rest before she starts kissing every digit and Sam's eyelids and Sam's lips and Sam's neck and Sam's chest, and Sam lets her slide the pillow under his ass and fuck his unwanted body in the empty alley, in the dark with only shade-covered windows leeching out dim light and half-lit streetlamps off on the sidestreet illuminating her face, skin and body so soft and her expression burning like Sam is the only one in the world. Her fingers are less gentle, not hurting, but purposeful, and her mouth...

Jess.

Sam moans and makes some squeaking noises he otherwise wouldn't, but Jessica's tongue is something else when she goes down on him, when she licks Sam clean of anything that ever made Sam feel ugly inside, and she's not quite gentle when she touches him, or when she whispers in his ear, like a prayer, "Sam, Sam. Nothing is more beautiful than you. Nothing. Even in this imperfect body that isn't yours, you're perfect, Sam. You'll always be perfect. Now, you want to tell me what you are?"

"Beautiful." Sam gasps, just like she always directs him. Sex with Jess was always different, because Jess knew what made small lose himself, made him disconnect, and she only ever made sure Sam felt good, felt comforted, almost felt like he wasn't inhabiting this body but one that made Sam feel right, one that didn't feel like he was trapped inside his own skin...

And she always sees Sam for exactly who he is. Always makes Sam feel good, feel seen, feel wanted, no matter what else happens. Sam isn't used to feeling grounded in sex, isn't used to not feeling like his body feels too small, too vulnerable, too easily invaded- before her, he'd rather not be touched at all: but with Jess, things felt safe in a way they never otherwise did. The physical sensations didn't feel like a betrayal, or that this was what the sex was about at all. The point was just that just made Sam feel good, feeling seen, feeling close, feeling together and not alone, larger than himself, because Jess wanted to take care of him, wanted to be as close as possible in every way, so Sam could feel her naked love uncurling from her heart and finding its way inside, in every single pointed movement as she carefully invades every part Sam allows her to.

Jess smiles and kisses him and touches him, knows every little thing that makes Sam forget to be ashamed or feel the need to hide.

"That's right, Sam. Because you are beautiful. Inside and out. And I love you. Now let yourself feel it."

She goes down on Sam again, falling on top of him, until she raises her head and whispers, "You're mine, all mine, I can do whatever I want, and you'll let me, won't you?"

"Yes." Sam chokes, tears falling, face flushed, as Jess keeps touching him, hands everywhere, Sam's back arching as it all builds, as Jess makes Sam forget everything but the two of them and what she's doing, the electricity and heat lacing through every nerve as Sam shivers, Jessica's hands always cold, always a relief, for the fever Sam falls into.

"That's it. You want it, want me, I know you do, that's it. Let go, Sam. Let me in." 

Then Jess is kissing Sam's neck, Sam's breasts, Sam's stomach, Sam's clit, all over again, her fingers resting on Sam's wrists finally to keep him from bucking too much for her to give him what he needs.

Then she finishes Sam off and helps him up, and Sam helps throw on his clothes, and Brady joins them and gets to ride in the back of Jessica's car, buzzed but not wasted, eating cotton-candy he found somewhere earlier that night. Brady says his goodbyes when they see him off to their apartment, starting to get wasted as nabbed another beer on the way back to the dorm.

Sam takes the lead when he dips her over the counter, treating Jess with the same careful, reckless joy she does him, and they make their way up to their shared room, losing clothes along the way.

Jess lifts Sam up and carries him up the stairs, still taller despite the hormones Sam's finally been able to start taking, his legs wrapped around her, Jessica's laughter ringing in his ears, and Sam wouldn't trade any of this for the world.

They shower first, though. Even with protection and supplies and the blanket, there's no telling what was out there.

Jessica lathers Sam's hair. Sam kisses her neck, reaching on tip-toes, and she washes Sam's legs clean, hands wandering a few other places before Sam pushes her against the wall of the shower and kisses her and fingers her until she is gasping out Sam's name.

"More, I need you. Give me everything. Sam, I love you," And then she gasps and sighs and moans as Sam goes down on her, touches her every small place Sam knows she loves, "Sammy, Sam, please, like that, oh-"

Sam doesn't stop until Jess slides against the wall and taps his shoulder, their signal, and then they are both on the floor of the shower and Jess is on top of Sam again, grinding against him, feeling him up, kissing Sam senseless...

After they both clean themselves off properly and end that, they get out, dry off, and tumble into bed, Sam taking the lead and crawling over Jess with the same single-minded abandon she showed him earlier.

They stop at 6 am, no care for sleep, then get ready for class. Jess makes eggs over easy and they make sandwiches together, Jess throwing in as much roast beef and lettuce in between the sourdough she can manage without over-stuffing the sandwich, then adding extra cucumber to Sam's when he goes to the sink to wash his hands.

Jess presses Sam into the counter for another kiss before they both part for separate classes, (organic chemistry and legal ethics, respectively). She ruffles his hair as she leaves, and blows him a kiss goodbye. Her heels clatter on the steps on the way out, familiar.

Sam's tired but not really, not with all the lightness that floats in his chest that day.

--

Two weeks later, Jess lands a fortune thanks to some distant Great Aunt Matilda's passing. She immediately tells Sam, who mourns her loss, but Jess shrugs it off and says she was kind but barely knew her, and then Jess applies the money all to one thing, and one thing only.

"We're going to get you everything, Sam. Trust me. I know someone." Jess vows, brown eyes so sure. "You even know them, too."

Sam doesn't know what that means, but come right before Halloween, he finds out just what Jess has been keeping under wraps. He didn't know they could do this so fast.

Sam can honestly say that Halloween sophomore year was the best one, all things considered.

He was leery about how Jess found a witch at first when she first mentioned it, how he had to undergo surgery and magical change. More than just leery: but right up against that was the fact Jessica had never done anything to hurt him, and how desperate Sam remains: he doesn't want his body like this. He just wants all those parts of himself he hates to disappear, and even with magic, Sam isn't sure how anything will ever be enough to fix it, because some things you can't remove, and Sam will replace the parts of himself that leave him vulnerable, if it means he can be freed from the battleground that is his body. Sam wants to be taller and stronger and not riddled with a body that doesn't reflect who he is: but he doesn't know how he'll ever get over the feeling of not having anything be enough.

It helps that Jess talked him through every step and took him to the location and promised she had a way of making sure this went right, and begged Sam to trust her, because she never did him wrong, and she would never hurt him, and she knew Selene, and knew she wouldn't screw Sam over. Day by day, Sam slowly gets convinced, mostly because Jess can see he wants to resort to any measure at all, but also doesn't want to be seen as weak, for wanting to cave so easily, and that makes Sam dig his heels in the beginning, aside from the fact Sam isn't sure how he'll respond to still having organs that solve some of his fears, but don't erase the remainder of what he wishes he could change about himself. But after a few weeks, Sam had checked everything out, and he knew Selene from one of his ethics classes, too, even if he didn't know this was her other extracurricular activity. She was a kind person, a good person, a friend and a light witch who only used her spells to help people, heal them, ran a small clinic outside in town. And she was part of the community, had a girlfriend of her own, Tamika, that she promised went through the same procedure, although her's was the other way around. Sam knew Tamika, too, they ran the same circles on campus, and had to admit the work was flawless after he saw the before and after change earlier that year. They do some charity work together after that, and every once in a while they'll join Sam and Jess and Brady and their other friends, Ryan and Kit and Carrie and some others that are less close.

Some witches weren't out to screw people, it seemed. The only reason the whole deal costs so much is because of spell ingredients, surgical equipment, to get access to hormones to give people, and security to keep their operation under wraps, otherwise they would do it for free for anyone who needs it. Even with that, Selene did her best to put them at ease, clapped Sam on the back and a warm hello before she got him ready in a nice cot with clean sheets, surrounded by symbols he didn't know but almost recognized. The whole place was spotless, seeing as Selene was a neat freak and ridiculously clean and organized. It was colorful, too, even if the main room was a light green. Tamika had painted the outside walls purple and put up her photography work outside the operating room.

More than that, Sam did trust Jess. He did, more than anything. More than himself.

"I'll see you on the other side." Jess whispers as she kisses Sam, her yellow shirt sticking to her skin, one strap falling to the side as she leans over him. Spell ingredients hiss inside some bowl, and it smells like lavender. Selene chanted her litany of spells, Tamika the anesthesiology (she worked in a lab for it, and both of them were pre-med).

Sam finally goes under from the anesthesia, Jess holding his hand the whole time.

As he drifts, he thinks he almost hears a whisper in a voice he knows, but doesn't, not quite.

Soon, Sam. Everything will be at your feet. I promise you that, because I love you. I love you.

--

When Sam wakes up, he's looking in the mirror, seeing just how his small feminine body isn't anymore, how it's all toned muscle and the first unconscious thought to filter through in his brain is that he can go shirtless in public now, even if there's the slight, subtle scarring he let remain, because he won't let that stop him, and he can't feel the fear anymore, and he doesn't have to feel like he's burning up more than he already has been all the time. He doesn't have to worry that the transformation is instantaneous, either. Selene's spellwork makes everyone think the transition happened gradually, and they sometimes wards off aggressive thoughts or attention from bigots Sam would otherwise have to avoid.

Jess compliments him, kisses him, hands him clothes they picked out earlier for when this day would come. Sam gets dressed and stretches and keeps looking at himself in wonder and joy and finally feels peace.

They both revel in Sam's new body for the whole night, not bothering to go out for Halloween because Sam just wants to get used to the closest thing to a body he's been praying for since he was a child. It's his chest that affects him the most: not having that reminder of everything he wasn't just makes Sam stand tall. Makes him exhale, like there's finally something not dragging him down every day. He feels cleaner: more present, more himself. And while the other surgery he's undergone does help with lessening the feeling like he could be trapped and held down, made to hold life he doesn't want to hold, it's still something he has to get used to, and it still makes Sam feel vulnerable, because that part of himself he doesn't entirely want is still there, even though knowing Jess won't use him, can make Sam forget what hurts him so he only feels good, lessens the fear. Maybe he can get rid of that discomfort, too, eventually. With Jess, Sam thinks maybe he can learn to get used to it. Maybe all the new changes are just hard to swallow at once, and will heal with time. After all, Sam never thought he'd have a relationship where sex didn't feel off, but then Jess proved him wrong. Maybe this would be like that. Maybe Sam could reclaim himself in a way he never expected, and Sam never thought he'd ever get this far... So maybe it was just part of getting used to things, and growing into who he wants to be. Maybe it's one more step along the way. And the change isn't entirely alienating: Sam knows what he likes emotionally when he's with Jess, and being able to be inside her, being able to feel her, maybe that will make this feel right.

Which is why Sam is open to trying things out, seeing as Jess always knows how to make him feel more comfortable. They only have to wait an hour to make sure nothing is wrong, Tamika and Selene triple-checking his vitals and his reflexes and advising that Sam can do most things since most of the magic and anesthesia is out of his system, although not to do heavy-lifting or other more strenuous activities until he's waited another hour.

Jess and Sam wait outside on the patio, watching the few stars they can see thanks to light pollution, and Jess leans against Sam's shoulder and Sam hugs her close as she flicks a lighter open and closed, always needing to keep moving. Sam smells her shampoo and her usual scent along with honeysuckle and roses and lilies from the gardens on the roof of Tamika and Selene's apartment, watching the water under the bridge twinkle and keep running on and on, boats bobbing on the water, and they just watch the cars white and red lights whiz over the bridge and the overpass in silence, just happy to be together and content to sit like this.

Sam feels more free than he's ever felt before. The wind is cold on his face, and it curls through his hair like cold fingertips brushing it out of the way. 

When it's been long enough, Sam stands and does some jumping jacks just to see how it feels, and then Jess pokes at Sam's bicep until he's flexing both arms and she's laughing at him and then they hold each other's hands and wander down the road back home.

When they head back, they see Brady passing on the sidewalk, dressed like a circus ringmaster, top-hat and cane and whip and all. He high-fives Sam, and says, "I knew you'd look smokin' hot with a new bod. Sorry, Jess, that outta line? No? Good, because you got yourself one helluva catch. You are gonna have to guard Sam like a... I don't know, a rabid swan or something."

"Thanks, I think?" Sam looks at Jess and her upturned eyebrows and hands on her hips.

"Eyes off my man, you degenerate." Jess jokes and becomes all movement as she whacks the cigarette out of Brady's mouth, catching it and wagging it in his face. "And careful. Too many of those and you'll burn up. Gotta look out for my people."

"Already been to Hell and back, so I think I'm just fine." Brady jokes, but Jess has stopped listening and is just looking Sam up and down before she's leaping into his arms, hugging him, and Jess kisses Sam slowly with a lot of tongue. Sam can't help but reciprocate with just as much fervor. Usually, Sam would tone down the PDA, but Brady's seen them all in worse states, and he doesn't mind third-wheeling. Probably likes it, since he's always been more open to hooking up with strangers and watching others than Sam ever would be in his entire life.

"I think I've already staked quite a claim." Jess boasts as she pulls away. 

Sam laughs and spins her around. "Yeah, half the campus won't come near you for fear of your forked, silver tongue lashing them to pieces. All fear Venus and her holy wrath."

"Hey. If you got it, flaunt it." Jess sings back, wiggling her hips, then licks her lips as Sam lets her down. They start making out against their apartment door, and Jess barely struggles with the key as she unlocks it backwards with one hand, both of them half-falling and righting themselves as the door caves inwards.

Brady laughs and whoops and jokes back at them before the door clicks, "You two lovebirds don't stay up too late. We've got a party to hit tomorrow."

Jess and Sam both decide jointly that they'd pass in the second they take to close the door again, except Brady has been a bit crazier than usual and might need babysitting. Sam has been starting to worry Brady has an actual alcohol problem, although he'd always liked parties. He'd been going for them more, though, and Sam wonders if pre-med was getting to him or if something happened with his folks.

Sam puts that on back-burner though, too preoccupied to worry about that now.

He's too into Jess and the feel of Jessica's soft, wavy hair as Sam cradles the back of her head, or the flutter of her eyelashes against his face and they breath each other in, Jess still always smelling like apples and smoke and ice, Sam smelling like the plants he's been watering in their apartment and sweat and books. Sam can only register how soft her lips feel pressing into his own, or how her tongue is pressed inside his mouth, or the cold chill of her hands on Sam's chest, and how Sam's fingers hold tightly on to her wider hips because Jess wants Sam to take her with wild abandon and not hold back, wants to feel Sam holding her like he'll never let go.

Sam's heart fills to the brim, and he can feel his own heart hammering in his chest, one of Jessica's hands splayed under his shirt and over his ribcage to feel it beating.

When they take a breath to stop kissing, Jess half drags Sam upstairs by the belt loops of his jeans, which get discarded real fast the moment they reach the door to their room. They were prepared for this, too, lube and condoms and Jessica's strap-on already out on the bedside table. Sex was thankfully considered safe even after the surgery, and Sam would admit, he and Jess were not exactly shy about going for it so early, seeing as they've been fucking for over a year now and know everything the other likes- and Sam wants to feel comfortable, to feel safe, to feel like things will get better and that this is enough, that this will be what sets him free, because he's closer to what he wants even if it all doesn't feel like enough for him. Maybe this will make those fears go away, or maybe Jess will just keep Sam at her mercy and make everything else fade, so all Sam can think of is her and him and both of them trying their hardest to keep the other one close, to keep them happy and loved, and maybe enough of that will make something shift for him, so that nothing else that will ever make him feel broken. Sam is willing to try, because Jess always fixed things he thought were unfixable; and Sam trusts Jess, and even if this doesn't make him feel complete yet- he wants to make her happy, to give her everything she can have from him, and Sam can make that sacrifice if it means he'll be able to feel just how much she loves him and needs him and won't ever let him go.

They tear each other's clothes off so fast it's probably a record, and they already agreed to this before they even left Selene's, so there wasn't much to wonder about.

Sam almost feels as beautiful and handsome and perfect as Jess always says he is, and Jess doesn't hesitate to remind him as they prep each other.

"Sam, you're perfect, you know that?" Jess whispers in his ear, arms wrapped around him as she straddles his lap.

Sam nods, speechless.

He's not sure why he's so shy, all of a sudden.

Jess notes how quiet Sam's gotten and gives him an assessing glance.

"You okay, Baby?" She asks. Sam just holds her.

"I... You mean so much to me, Jess. And I just... I'm a little overwhelmed. And to finally have things actually be different... It's..."

"New." Jess answers.

Sam smiles at her and rubs the nape of his neck. "Yeah." Then Sam looks back up at her. "And I mean... We did it!" Sam laughs, so giddy he might just fall on his back on the bed and sigh, but he doesn't.

Jess kisses him, holding him tighter. Sees the things Sam is afraid to ask.

"You don't have to worried about anything changing between us, Sam. You're mine. I'm not going anywhere. I know you've been waiting for this for so long... And we can take this however slow you need. All I want is you, Sam. Just you."

Sam swallows, overcome with relief as he just stares into Jessica's eyes, not sure of how he got here or what might happening but knowing, beyond all doubt, that he isn't afraid, because she loves him, and he loves her, and that would conquer anything in their way.

Sam finally swallows and finds his voice, and he murmurs, "I'm not sure I want to go slow."

It might be jarring, might be new, but Jess has always made something Sam was scared of so beyond anything he's ever felt, all the fear just got replaced by feeling her, and feeling full, and nothing else. And he wants to give this to her. Wants to give her everything.

And Jessica's smile lights up wide and sharp, and she runs a thumb over Sam's lips before it slides down his chin to his navel, nipping as she leans in to kiss the edge of Sam's lip.

"I can work with that." Jess says softly, the words curling close to Sam's mouth, like he'd swallow them. Then she leans back, hands settling back around Sam's waist. "And you don't have to be shy. I'm happy for you, Sam, and now the whole world can see you in all your glory. And," Jess adds, eyes twinkling. "We're gonna make this good for the both of us. I promise."

And then Sam can't think straight anymore, because they dive right in, and Jess is kissing every inch of him and Sam is feeling her up where she likes it most on her chest and her back and on her arms and on her waist, then his hands dip down to feel inside her until Jess gasps and Sam's fingers are slick and they kiss with more teeth until Sam is being peppered with hickies down his chest. "I couldn't have done this without you, I love you, Jess, I'm so blessed to have you in my life, so grateful, I don't know what I ever did to deserve you-"

And Sam can't say anything else because he gasps as Jessica's hands slide over him, twisting and stroking and fondling newer parts of him until Sam can't quite think about anything but her, and she whispers, "Oh, shush." Her lips ghosting over his but not quite touching.

Then she's pushing Sam down against the bed, both hands wrenching Sam's legs apart slightly so his knees are bent, keeping hold of his ankles to hold Sam still enough so she can stay on target. One thumb shifts over the the sole of Sam's foot softly as she ducks her head down in-between Sam's legs. She licks and kisses and sucks, enough for Sam to get a taste but to still be left more than wanting, and Sam shudders, shifting and panting, getting used to all the ways this feels different, but not necessarily uncomfortable, and just like Jess did with him before, he doesn't feel the need to let his mind drift, for his body to feel disconnected from himself. Jess makes everything feel okay, because she's looking out for him, and makes Sam feel so much it overwhelms everything else, every tiny bit of fear and unfamiliarity melting into the raw intensity of everything Jess wants to drown him with, so all he feels is the spark up his spine and the air choking in his throat and the aching, aching bliss surging through every part of him.

"I love you, Sammy." Jessica says as she climbs back over him. She licks her lips clean of come, her head rising back to eye-level as she starts drawing circles over Sam's chest and ribs and navel. "I love you so much, more than anything. And I'm the one who doesn't deserve you, you're so good, too good for me... Except I do, because we deserve each other. Now, the real question is," And Jessica's voice turns into a growl, and her expression turns wicked as her hands dart lower to massage Sam's inner thighs, "Do you want me to take care of you? Or you wanna be all up inside me, taking control?"

"How about both?" Sam mouths against her throat, then he kisses her, lifts her up on top of him so she's straddling him properly. She helps him with the condom, knees pressing into Sam's side. He wants to give back everything she's ever given him. He wants to feel her and give her all the tender closeness she craves, all the ways she can consume him, to latch on to all the needy hunger that lights them from the inside and to banish all the things that never makes them feel complete.

Jess purrs. "Mmm. You first, then, Sammy. Let's see that endurance of yours."

Then Sam rolls them both over so he's on top of her, figuring out their balance as they go with all the new dimensions between them, but they find out how they fit against each quick enough. Sam feels Jess up, asks her what she wants most, lets her direct him as he goes, all of it feeling new and good and right as Sam fucks Jess into the bed, because he's giving her what she begs him for, what makes the love sing past her lips, and Sam is not gentle or holding back because Jess wants to feel him as deep as he can go, even if it's only a few inches, but she doesn't care, all she wants is to envelope him and take him inside her so he is consumed by all the ferocity she is. Sam meets her level of intensity, giving as much as she can take. Sam's nails press into her shoulder-blades as Sam kisses her senseless and they are both gasping for breath from the friction and skin and movement, Jess kissing Sam wherever she can and sucking and biting lightly at his skin until Sam kisses her on the mouth again and again and her back arches and she is gasping for air and humming Sam's name along with incoherent noise through muffled lips.

Jess gets off first, Sam not yet fully satisfied, and then Jess has Sam roll them both over and this time, she sets the pace as Sam slides up into her and is once again inside Jess as she rises and falls and rolls with every thrust of Sam's hips. Her hips push against his pelvis so Sam has to chase her movements, to buck harder and deeper so she doesn't tease him and make him beg for more contact, only for her to push down harder until Sam can't take it, because she just keeps pulling him into her movements, rougher, stretching taut around him until Sam can hardly fall back, and she slides up against the edges of him where it's too sensitive, edges rubbing up against the underside of the head of his cock every time he tries to arch back, and Sam can't help but moan each time she pulls him closer, her nails lightly raking down his chest before hooking under Sam's arms so she can make him follow the violence of her movements higher, each thrust keeping Sam angled as she rocks him into her. Both of them are a bit too good at what they do and can't really talk as they go this time around, too blissed out and too focused on their own pure need to keep going as the want shivers through them. Then Jess whimpers, chokes Sam's name, then takes a few ragged breaths and climbs off him, and Jess slides the condom off and tosses in the trash before Sam hugs her close, then slides his own head down to give Jess a quick blowjob.

Jess pushes his head down, gasping and moaning and choking Sam's name, then Sam eases off when she the contact of her fingers leaves his head, and both of them roll on their sides and start making out again. Then Jess turns Sam around so she's the big spoon again, her hands wrapped over Sam's curled fingers as she guides Sam to feel himself and slide, and Sam eyes close and he whines, teeth presses together before he's huffing too short gasps, and Jess whispering other things now as he regains her breath and grinds against his back.

"You like that, don't you, Sammy. You want me to show you the way." Jessica laughs. She doesn't let him finish, though. Jess kisses Sam's neck and stomach and sucks his fingertips as Sam forces himself to stay still at Jessica's urging, and then helps Sam shift so his knees and palms are flat on the mattress, centers him, straps on her strap on, and whispers a few dirty things that make Sam too hot all over again.

"You open those long legs of yours up for me, that's right, let me in, just like that, Sammy." She coos, short breaths cold against Sam's neck. "You want me all up inside you, making everything feel so good."

Then she fucks him into the bed, keeping hold of his cock but doing nothing else yet, just holding him as Jess sets a slower, more languid pace, at least before she picks it up and Sam is crying and moaning and making noises Jess likes to hear.

"Jess," Sam gasps, eyes once again closed tight, and Jess gasps with him.

"Tell me what you want, Sam. I'll give you anything you need." She breathes, and then she's stroking him with abandon with jerking movement, and Sam feels like he's on fire as he feels the heat rush inside every part of him, and he didn't think could feel so much, and Jess uses every sensation she can just to undo him, so all that exists is this, them joined together. She keeps pushing inside and Sam whimpers and screams, face red and tears not stopping before he's finished, before he's too overcome to stay upright. His face presses into the mattress, sticking to the fabric, and Jess pulls out and unhooks herself, just as breathless, before laying down over the skin of his back, the both of them more than satisfied.

When Jess tugs Sam's arm, Sam rolls over, and Jess curls up and cuddles up in his arms, Sam the big spoon now. And after they catch their breath, she turns around, and after five minutes of Jess stroking Sam's face and lips and hair and kissing him as Sam just holds her close, until they rise and crumple up the covers and she leads him to the shower where they clean their sticky bodies off.

Sam gives Jess another blowjob in the shower, though. He might be done, but she never is, always wants more, and she prays Sam's name like it's the only word she ever wants to know, hands tangled in his hair.

Then they refit their sheets and climb into bed to sleep, both wrapped up in each other and their twisted up blankets, melting inside each other's embrace, with only room for each other.

--

Sam falls asleep real fast, within three minutes. Lucifer wore him out, and if Lucifer were human, he'd be in a similar state.

Lucifer watches the rise and fall of his chest, the easy breathing, the dip of his pulse.

Looks at his eyelids and peaceful face, and memorizes every second.

I love you, Sam. I never want to give you up. I never will.

Then Lucifer's muted grace sends over the feeling of the time they hiked two weeks back, hoping some of the memory of the woods bleeds through into Sam's dreams, since Lucifer can't reach him there quite yet. He wishes he could. He hopes the joy at least is there, able to hum across the thin line that hasn't yet burst open between them.

Lucifer does almost touch Sam as he traces his face, but stops short, then curls up against him and closes his eyes as he pretends to dream and sleep, just in case Sam jolts awake.

His head rests against Sam's chest, and he listens to heartbeat to keep himself calm.

It's almost like meditation, or prayer, for Lucifer.

It mostly fills the Devil with both hunger and relief.

--

Outside on the steps, Brady swigs his tenth martini he nicked from the last party he crashed and downs it until it's gone, then lights another cigarette on his way to whatever mayhem he's decided to involve himself in, having heard Sam and Jess laughing and rejoicing loudly and whispering almost audible words from their upstairs window they forget to close.

He then leaves to go to kill a epidemiologist Lucifer wants neutralized for reasons unknown. Easy job. Shouldn't take more than thirty minutes.

Then he goes to make a call with Azazel, and see how the war preparations are going. Seeing if Heaven's made any visible moves yet. Lucifer could find out that later, preoccupied as the archangel and Sam are for the night.

Brady will admit, being their wingman is real fun. They make a cute couple, even if Sam doesn't know how deep the rabbit hole goes. He's still hopelessly in love, though, and Brady can't wait for the day Lucifer and Sam are together forever, running Hell and the rest of Creation like they've been meant to since God made the Devil who he is.

When Brady heads back to his own apartment, Lucifer and Sam are much louder, although not loud enough. You can only hear them if you get too close to the window, and since Brady is three doors down from the outside of their place, it's close enough.

The noise tapers off two hours later, long after Brady has left again to make a run for some fries and a milkshake and enough time for him to shell out some cash to fuck a prostitute in an ally before he compels her to go to another building where he stabs her a bit and slits her throat and keeps fucking her corpse before the poor bitch is torched and her body disposed of without a trace.

If they can have their fun, he can have his. Waiting is such a bitch, though. He wants this show to get on the road, even if Sam is a good friend, if demons can really have those.

--

Weeks pass. Sam lives like he's walking on air, every breath and step lighter every time his lungs suck in or he corrects the set of his shoulders or he catches a look at himself in a mirror or a window or a car door. Life is wonderful. Sam even tells Dean, even though they aren't talking as much. Dean's over the moon for him, and that improves Sam's mood, although he doesn't miss anything from his old life except his brother. He wishes he would get out and live his life for himself, but he can only make that decision for himself, and he won't.

Nonetheless, not even that can even put a dent in Sam's newfound joy. Having a new body is heaven in more way than one. Sam finally feels all there, feels like himself, feels invincible, feels free...

It also gives Jess and Sam more opportunities to experiment and show each other how much they want to be near each other, for Jess to truly make Sam feel good and for Sam to feel like he's fully himself. Jess doesn't hesitate to take a lot of pictures, usually catching Sam when he isn't expecting it out of the shower, and Sam poses for her, at first taking it seriously and going for whatever mood Jess sets, although both of them are laughing by the end of it at the silly faces Sam makes.

Sam gets taller than Jess in a few months. That takes some adjusting to, and Sam sometimes forgets to duck when he should remember, but those times are rare. And Jess loves being picked up, loves wrapping herself around Sam, loves Sam being inside her. And Sam doesn't mind her being inside him, not at all. 

He can feel it all differently now, but it's better, more Sam's speed. That, and thanks to certain additions courtesy of the magical aspects of the surgery, the sex is mind-blowing, better than any guy Sam's been with mostly because Sam isn't working with a body that isn't his anymore. That, and it's Jess, and Jess knows how to make Sam feel alive and tended to and on fire. And above all, Sam isn't scared, not like he used to be. Not with the threat of what he didn't want to have or what he didn't want inside him gone forever, even if he would be happy having nothing there at all. But it is still good enough, because for the most part, his body fits, only a few things Sam can't change, and even if Sam's not sure the feeling of not entirely fitting right inside his own skin will ever go away, it's a vast improvement.

It still sets him free. Makes him feel like he's not looking over his shoulder, waiting for a nameless shoe to drop.

 

Otherwise, the rest is all because being with Jess is makes Sam feel like all starlight, like he could choke on every kiss and word she says, and he's melting from every emotion in her eyes and the way she holds him too tight and the electricity and Jessica's always too-chilly body.

"Bad circulation,' She'd always joke, "from packing too much heat because I'm wanted and on the lam."

"No one would ever dare lock you away, you'd bring them to their knees." Sam jokes back.

Jess smiles at him, a sadder smile with history, then kisses his lips softly. "I don't know what I'd do without you." She almost laments, and Sam holds her tight, kisses her the places she likes, and Jess holds on to him until she's pinching his ass, and then Sam picks her up, sits her on the counter, and makes Jess sing. And day in and day out, Sam doesn't shy away from every look she gives him, from every moment they shared, latching on to everything familiar and safe about this.

When she's with him, Sam feels understood. And everything feels like home.

They have the best relationship in the world, and Sam doesn't know how it ever fell into his lap so neatly.

Jess is whispered warmth and kindness and gentle hands and rough need that they both crave so much. Jess is always tactile, partially because she just likes touching Sam, and otherwise, keeps touching the world like it grounds her, always reaching out, wanting more. It's mostly because she just can't get enough of Sam, though, and Sam lets her, because he wants her just as bad. More, even, he'd almost argue, even if it's not her body he wants but just closeness, just to be near her, to hold her, to make her smile. Jess was like a drug he would never come down from because she loves Sam, and Sam feels all of it, feels how she needs him just as bad as he needs her, and every emotion they share only leads to how well they fit together.

They catch on to the little things. Opening windows when someone has sweat on their brow. Writing small notes to hide around the apartment for the other to find while one of them is out for classes or errands or events. Packing each other's lunches. Setting up the small alcove by the window with the books the other is reading and some pillows for the other to sit there before the other person comes back from a grocery run. When Sam gets a fever or grows sick with chills, Jess tends to him, but Sam recovers quickly. Jess doesn't get sick, but she does sometimes not want to leave the bed, and Sam makes her tea or coffee or soup or whatever she needs those days, although most of the time she just asks Sam to stay with her and lie there and talk about anything. Sometimes she asks Sam to cover their room in plants, and he does.

They see the love they have in each other's eyes when they make cocoa when Sam has a nightmare or when Jess starts shaking and looking at something Sam knows isn't in the present, something from her past she doesn't talk about that makes her flinch and bite her lip.

Sometimes Sam takes her to the bathtub and sits them both inside cold water, the gesture enough to calm Jess down from whatever it is she is remembering, and Sam holds her until she stops shaking and cursing and saying words Sam doesn't recognize. She always asks Sam to rub her back, to feel her shoulder blades as if the feeling stops her from feeling something hurting there. But Sam doesn't press. Jess has told him enough, told him she doesn't like heights and that her brothers and her father did horrible things.

Sam knows about not being able to talk about it.

He doesn't talk about Dean much. He doesn't talk about John at all now, and has only mentioned him three times in passing. Jess has long since filled in the blanks, though. Sam can tell.

But Jess loves Sam for who he is, and she would never leave him, not permanently. She'd always be there, in his heart, if not there physically. When they were together, she was glued to his side, but they still had time to themselves. She always tells Sam that when Sam is in a mood, vulnerable and aching and feeling like he's missing something. Jess always promises to be a a shoulder to cry on, right there, a friend for when Sam needs her, a body for Sam to hold. (That happens more and more whenever Dean's calls come through, and those have been growing less and less until the 2 year mark hits and they aren't talking at all, because Dean crossed a line and Sam is never going back).

Sam does the same for Jess, when she gets quiet and angry and this look in her eye like she's so damn lost and angry and alone except for Sam. When Sam isn't around, sometimes she breaks plates and tries to hide it, but Sam finds them in the trash and always tracks her down to their bed, bandaging her cut fingers, or goes to the shower whose base is so cold and slick Sam swears there's ice coating the floor. Jess always feels better whenever Sam cheers her up after that, or just holds her, hugging her close, or cuddling, and just says, "I know how family is. I know. But I'm your family. I'm yours. I love you. You have me."

Sam's moments are less and less, although sometimes, Jess seems to have more moments the more sophomore year draws on, although they are still rare. Sam isn't sure why, but he's there for her, anyway. He wonders if maybe something with her aunt brought it back up.

The only other worrying thing is Dean's growing distance, which Sam can deal with, and Brady's growing alcoholism and drug habits and partying. He has been getting worse over time, and Sam worries.

Other than that...

These days, Sam has never been more confident or happier in his life. And Jess becomes less withdrawn and more expressive the longer they stay together, although sometimes she looks at Sam and says, "I can't believe I'm this close to you. That you are right here, close enough to touch." She whispers as she strokes his face. "I can't believe I got so lucky to be yours."

Aside from that, things are the same. Good. So damn good Sam can hardly believe this is his reality, that he made it.

Jessica still turns off the lights when Sam falls asleep reading textbooks and drapes blankets over him, wrapping him in her arms so that Sam is the little spoon despite the fact Sam isn't shorter anymore.

Sam still makes Jessica's favorite food every other Friday, orange chicken and vegetarian lasagna, and they make so much every time that they end up eating half of it, and storing the rest for the week. Jess helps because she can't quite sit still when Sam's in the kitchen, usually sauteing mixed vegetables on the stove or mincing vegetables or grinding raw meat for anything they might make, be it various casseroles, salads, various toasted sandwiches, or barbecue wings drenched in hot sauce that they always make once a month, according to 'Jessica's family recipe,' which is just shorthand for Jess using as much hot sauce as possible and using it as an excuse to drag Sam up to the shower later that night to 'cool off.'

Jess makes Sam's favorite types of omelettes with extra bell peppers and spinach and American cheese every week, a different day each time. She's really intent on the whole healthy eating kick, too, only going for what will keep Sam and herself in perfect conditions. They don't count calories, just make sure they get a lot of colorful foods in their diet, and they tend towards the vegetarian side, although Jess always takes her steaks rare to the point it's almost bloody.

Sam likes the regimented normalcy of it, how there are surprises, but not scary surprises. It's domestic. It's safe.

And it's fun and spontaneous and Jess makes everything so damn easy and good and full of excitement, even if she's a terror around company.

Sam doesn't understand how she's so gentle and tender and kind and funny and patient with him, while still being completely sassy, sarcastic, and taking no shit from anyone else. She's fairly aggressive and pointed in all her other interactions that aren't couched in distant disinterest, all except for a few people she tolerates, and even those are a battlefield, like Jess is in a war Sam isn't privy to. She's good when she's with Sam and they go out for dinners, lunches, functions, parties, and galas with their friends and peers, but get her into a debate or on a topic of overpopulation, animal extinction, pollution, the ocean, or anything to do with disease control, law, chemistry, and biology and she's ready to chew someone's ear out.

It seems like Sam is the only one to catches her in her quiet moments, when she's reading, or just thinking, or observing a spider by the sink, or a flower outside the windowsill, or the rain on the window, or lighting when they sit out on their covered porch and watch the storm roll by. Or when Sam catches her when she doesn't expect it, looking at Sam like he's breakable and beautiful and so much soft, fond love it's like she might cry from the feeling.

It's funny how Jess treats others so differently than Sam... But that's how Sam can tell how much she loves him. It feels like Sam is special in a way that's actually good, when she looks at him, when she treats him gentle and soft and warm when everyone else is kept out in the cold or at a distance. Sam tries to thaw her rough edges a bit when she's a bit too cold, but that's why they work so well, and Sam doesn't want to change Jess for the world.

Sam's surprised she hasn't pissed some of the professors or administration off, although something tells him blackmail and Jessica's own eloquent way of avoiding trouble and pointed wording of things is involved. Jess is smart enough to be ahead of the game, though, and Sam can't find himself feeling bad for them. Whoever pissed Jess off probably deserved it. 

Sam doesn't care, though, about the rest of it, not really.

Jess looks at him like he's just Sam, perfect because he's just Sam, and Sam wouldn't trade that for anything in the world.

And Sam loves her for everything she is, flaws and all. If she asked him to bury a body, he'd do it in a heartbeat.

--

(Lucifer doesn't. He has other people far more suited to that task, and Sam's better off being happy and enjoying life above it all, like he's supposed to, living the normal life he's asked for even though he doesn't quite know exactly what he needs and doesn't have yet).

Chapter Text

Jess gives Sam a wicked grin and leans over the backseat, cradling the back of Sam's neck.

"It wouldn't be much of a vacation if we didn't go off the grid."

--

Sam finds building a small bonfire both comforting busywork and oddly jarring.

He was too used to burning bodies and the smell of rot, too used to watching the flames leap up, lighter in hand-

But it's different, with only pine smoke clogging your lungs if you grabbed too damp or too green kindling (Brady's fault, usually, when he decided to join them and pretend at helping with a false incompetence Sam swears he commits to on purpose, as a joke he'll never quite get), and it's different, when you're pitching an orange tent while Jess laughs at some dumb pun, or when you're both roasting marshmellows and clinking together two or three beers before the stars come out.

Then all Sam can smell is woodsmoke, and watch the sparks crackle upwards while he leans his head on Jessica's shoulder or she lays her head on his.

Something, there, makes the tightness in Sam's chest uncoil, and it's those moments, that, for all the intense missed-step feeling of not-quite sense memory, of feeling like Dean could be there, if he gave a damn, if he had chosen his own life...

In some ways, it helps Sam let go of something he hadn't realized was coiled so tight, was keeping him choked down with the mildew-grime taste of all the hunts and fears he'd left long behind him.

That, and the Redwood forests they sometimes visited didn't really feel like anywhere else.

It made Sam feel small, but not in a bad way. Like he's just one among billions.

Like he's normal. Like he can take a step back and just look around and not worry about what might be walking in his footsteps behind him.

--

The things that made Jess great wasn't just the closeness, or the kindness, or the kind of physical intimacy that came not from attraction alone, but from a fondness and a quick glinting smile that Sam could feel down in his bones whenever Jess looked at him.

It was that she trusted him, and Sam trusted her, and it felt like walking on air. Like nothing was impossible. That they were safe and happy and supporting each other, in this together, sharing each others hopes and fears and dreams and imagining what could be... All the things Sam had been too scared to dream of, once, because those things were not for him, not really-

But they could be, now.

As long as they kept believing, and catching each other when they fell, and building each other back up...

That all they had to do was share space and sit back in their lawn chairs at four thirty five to watch the sun rise, to watch the rays make tiny rainbow prisms as it filtered through the triangular keychain on Jessica's dashboard, or that they could just quietly read together in peace, or they could lounge on the back of the cargo bed and just lay with the blanket tenting between the space where their hands join, thumbs gliding over the other where they connected, cold and warm intermingling, while the the lit single-burner camping stove kept on baking potatoes or corn cobs or griddle cakes down on the makeshift table over the flatbed as they watched the birds fly by, binoculars in hand.

Herons. Gulls. Ospreys. Pipers.

Watching the grass sway in the wind, or the trees bend and give ever so slightly, or the way the water sparkled as the thin current bubbled away.

It's the little moments, the peaceful breaths in between every new venue, be it the crazy schemes Jess latches on to and whisks Sam off with her, or the wild outings and the long hikes to steep rock outcroppings, and the omnipresent studying, or the dizzying, too-crowded parties Brady still somehow drags them both to, or the beaches where they go and spend their time in the sun... It all makes everything seem bearable.

It's like Sam hadn't known how to take a breath his whole life, like he didn't know how to breathe fully, and now he could take in more than he ever thought, and felt like he actually could taste the oxygen without the metallic taste of fear and foreboding and having his back up all the time hanging over him like a cloud.

Jess wasn't just safe.

She sucked in everything around her and made Sam feel like he had someone to share with: all the small, beautiful things that got lost between the cracks.

That they held on to each other, and built something new, and watched the world go by together.

That everything was going to be okay, because they loved each other, and were teaching each other how to love themselves, and maybe, just maybe, that was the key to it all.

Chapter Text

It’s the weekend, two weeks before Halloween and the big surprise he’s got for Sam this year.

Lucifer smells the blood before he sees it. He leans through the door, Jessica’s hand grasping the doorframe with a bit of force, enough that her manicured hands shake, ever so slightly, reeling from uselessness the Devil remains unaccustomed to.

Sam isn’t wounded. Externally, at least. Internally, Sam is cursing every outside part of his body he hates, every sensation, everything he’s ever rejected about himself-

Lucifer knows this routine. Sam gets like this once a month when the testosterone still hasn’t been enough to end what Sam hates, menstruation reminding him of all the unwanted parts that remain inside and outside of him, uterus and otherwise. It's not just about his body not fitting what he wants it to be- not at the core, although it's certainly a major factor. It's not even that Sam hates himself, necessarily, because he doesn't hate himself for who he is or what he's working towards. No, it's all the subconscious other things Sam leaves unexamined inside his head, all the undercurrents of what he doesn't like to process that manifest through all the physical feelings he can't shake. Sam hates feeling like he sticks out like a sore thumb, or feeling ostracized, and above all, he hates feeling trapped, but more than all of that combined, he hates being reminded of everything outside of his control, aside from all the hormones and physical pain that already bring attention to the parts of himself he can otherwise deal with most days. It's the dichotomy of how, on top of everything else, Sam knows much happier he'll become once he achieves his goals and doesn't feel like he's got to be constantly looking over his shoulder for anything out to get him, like something's going to come barging in and break up everything he's worked so hard to maintain, and it's about the fact that he just isn't where he wants to be yet, when he's been trying to get there for so long...

Most of all, it always reminds Sam of what was barred for him for so long throughout his life. All the unpredictability and inconsistency of everything Sam's lived and grappled with since forever: from road trips he couldn't never got a say in, from all the times he had to sneak out to libraries to keep his grades up to even hope for a chance at scholarship in-between hunts, since that was never the other Winchesters' priority. It's all buried every town he's been dragged to, to every room he's had to share without any space being his alone, embedded in how much time he was allowed spend where he wants, to where he travels, dredging up every minute detail of all the times his family dumped him somewhere without a way to leave, with Sam having to navigate everything on his own, without any supervision or safety. And the fallout always reminds Sam of Dean, and how Dean used to be the only one there for him at times like this, even if that wasn't consistent, seeing as Dean's ditched him plenty of times. But nowadays, it's about how now he isn't there at all, not unless Sam leaves the dream he's made for himself, and caves into a life he wouldn't jump back into for anything. It's about Sam being able to make his own decisions, and having those decisions feel like they matter, like they stick. It's about the things Sam didn't want to give up in his life that were closed doors to him now, because of other people's choices, other people telling him he was not wanted anymore, because he's not useful, because he's not falling into line, all because he's not a implement to be used, but a person with dreams and hopes of his own. It's about Sam not wanting to be alone, and how he hates feeling vulnerable and lonely, even when he's been far too used to being on his own, more often than not. It's about how Sam wants to hold on to what he has, and how he's afraid that if he does, it will just be taken from him, like so many other things he's tried to hold on to in his life. And maybe the crux of that is on Lucifer, on some level, for everything Azazel did to upend Sam's family, and for everything he has yet to do. But right now, all that matters is that Lucifer can be there for him, can make it up to him right now, and that, when all of this is over, Sam will have the ability to mold the world with him, however he wants to, when they bring about the end of the one war that has only ever truly mattered. And Lucifer hopes that's reparation enough for now, even if it falls short; even if Sam hasn't yet faced the worst of all he'd have to live through. Not yet.

But Lucifer is sure of one thing: he can make sure that, before he's ripped from Sam, and before Sam is forced to face the life he's tried to escape day after day, that Sam gets the body that reflects who he is, who he wants to be, even if all his other decisions won't stick thanks to destiny having its way.

Sam's body isn't a battleground: Sam owns all that he is, unapologetic and uncompromising. But Sam's body does happen to be something other people try to control, making it the nexus of all these interlocking forces, a receptacle for all of these pathetic human lies so foolishly trying to tell Sam who he is, trying to mold his mind and his perception of self. It doesn't change that, for all of Sam's independent decisions, humanity has tried to take his choices away, the worst of which they've done by trying to make him unsafe and unworthy- to steal his comfort of being himself from him, after everything else. That won't go unpunished, of course: Sam only belongs to Lucifer, after all, and he's the only one allowed to persuade Sam of anything at all. And when the times comes, Lucifer is going to let Sam take his time with all those human leeches, to let him have all the vengeance Sam deserves after all he's lived through. 

When you consider everything, it's clear how Sam's corporeal human limits are not just about the physicality of Sam's situation, but it doesn't change the fact that they do happen to be a component as to why the physical feelings Sam can't keep out sets him off in the first place. All those base chemicals and animal instincts and pheromones and sloughed off blood is just one more thing piled on top of Sam's other stressors. Just one more thing reminding him of all the struggles he's gone through that he hasn't quite come to terms with or seen the other side of, because he's still fighting the war.

Yes, Lucifer hears every word of Sam’s supplications, loud and clear. The Archangel is tired of Sam waiting, of his own long stints of being patient, of watching off to the side when he can't take what belongs to him, and most of all, he's tired of seeing Sam so full of that despair he’s not meant to feel, not like this, not when it’s the universe treating him so unfairly, just as it’s treated them both, when it's Lucifer who is supposed to make everything right for Sam forever…

Sam keeps praying. The words turn sharp and violent and agonized, but mostly all they are is pain.

Lucifer vows to answer all of them, one by one, to counter every attack and every prison that came for him and Sam alike.

He is an Archangel, after all. And he can answer all God will not.

And in the case of Sam’s body, the same body made for Lucifer, to hold him, to keep Sam close, the one that would house them both forever, the one God had shown Lucifer long ago, the one he'd long since anticipated and had molded destiny so it can make Sam free, even though he should have never had to live anything otherwise...

Lucifer was tired of the same insecurities eating Sam alive, holding Sam hostage to keep him distant and out of reach. Sam deserves only happiness when he was near him, nothing less, having done nothing to earn any pain that was anything other than necessary. Only that which would make sure Lucifer would be there for him forever, only pain which would ensure he wouldn’t let anything else touch him, or hurt him, or make him cry out like this ever again.

Lucifer promised himself he’d fix this. He would free Sam, just like Sam was destined to free him.

It had been too long already.

--

“Sam, you need anything?” Jess asks, head peeking through the door.

Sam remains huddled under the shower facet on the floor, shivering.

“I hate this.” Sam rasps, staring at nothing. One hand flexes open and closed as Sam holds his wrist, thumb pressing into any pressure point that might take his mind off of what’s happening. 

At the blank, wide ceiling and too-pale Plexiglas of the shower where it met the molding. The continual hum of the fan in the other room keeps buzzing in his ears.

Sam’s arms are crossed over his chest, unbound only because it hurt too much not to, and he’s holding back uncontrolled tears as he lies on his back. His binder is on the floor, discarded next to him, even though Sam wishes he could keep it on.

Blood seeps between Sam’s legs and down the drain.

Every month was the same old struggle that got reopened, a blistering, fetid wound Sam doesn’t like thinking about. Sometimes Jess got his mind off it, through jokes or distractions or her own bedside manner. She was good at that. More than good- supernaturally adept, really, particularly at reading Sam like an open book and anticipating things Sam wasn't even aware of needing. If Sam didn’t know better he’d say she had a gift, or was psychic, or... Something.

Jess was a fucking angel who only ever held on tighter when Sam pulled back, because sometimes this was so good he was too scared to think this was real. And sometimes, Sam felt so small in comparison, and in those lifeless, quiet moments of vulnerable loneliness, despite Jess, despite everything, Sam only felt weak, and empty, and exhausted, and didn’t want to see the weakness and the betrayal plastered all over his own face as he stared at himself in the mirror.

Sam was tired of feeling broken. Of needing reassurance. Of not being able to hold it together. That was the worst part.

Sam wishes he didn't feel wrong in this body. It just didn't change the fact that it wasn't him, and while he knows who he is despite it all...

He wants to feel like it isn't a struggle to be comfortable in his own skin.

Jess pads quietly into the room and crouches down next to him.

“Sammy-“ She breathes as she kneels down on the tile.

 One cold hand strokes Sam’s cheekbones.

Sam screws his eyes shut and leans into her touch. He feels Jessica’s other hand reaching out over his face, a crossing-over shadow that soon makes contact and combs through Sam’s hair like Jess does so often, a sensation altogether familiar and welcome and soothing.

He’s too afraid to look at her. She loves him too damn much and Sam is sometimes unable to do anything but hate her a little for that, and doesn’t want to, but he hates himself so much sometimes it feels impossible for anyone to love him at all, and especially like that…

Like Sam is just Sam, but somehow she keeps saying he’s perfect and more valuable to her than anything in the entire world. Like Sam isn't something easily thrown out like trash, like he doesn't deserve to be blamed for being himself.

But then again, Jess understood it all too well. She could say she almost mirrored the same feelings every blue moon, really, because when Sam looked at her, Sam knew he saw the same feeling in her eyes. Only instead of hate it’s fear, and instead of betrayal its wonder and jealousy and want. She doesn’t know how anyone could love her so fully, so completely, could love her right back and not have that love ripped away, and somewhere, when Jess falls into her trances, deep and broken and mourning, Sam can feel the emotions coiled in her chest like they are his own. She feels like she was denied love and a family for so long that now she’s owed it, because they were both owed something, both searching for answers they don’t have an answer to, both latching on to love promised and given freely and not daring to let go.

Sam only knows that when she looks at him, a weight falls off her shoulders. She looks at Sam and smiles and sees something there that makes her radiant and carefree and bold, like Sam feels with her. Sam has seen it in the slope of her shoulders. Felt it when she touched him. Breathed it in when she kissed him.

Sam was like an answer to a question she didn’t know she was asking, much like Jess was an answer to all of Sam’s mirrored fears, one constant staving off Sam's feelings of abandonment.

Sam pulls himself together as much as he can and takes a breath. He looks up in brown eyes, so concerned, so determined, so full of everything Sam can’t feel for himself for just this moment.

Sam can remember how to love himself later. Jess can field this for the both of them, for now.

“I’m okay.” Sam’s voice whooshes through his mouth, all shallow noise, and he adds on with a thin wheeze, “I promise I’m fine. Really. I’m just…”

Sam trails off. Sam thinks of Dean despite himself, and the shame and loss constricts in his chest. When Sam would get like this, he’d usually be unable to move and when not abandoned at home, or trapped on a hunt, Dean used to get him heating pad and find the baggiest, formless clothes he could find, and he’d sneak Sam whatever painkillers he’d lifted from Dad’s stash or the drugstore or from people Sam didn’t know, and even saved up and bought Sam the first liner he’d had to keep the blood in, silky and shaped like boxers, and not pads, with the excuse that bleeding on a hunt was a fucking liability.

Sam’s throat feels scrubbed raw.

“I know, baby.” Jess whispers. “I know.”

She leans down and kisses him on the lips, blonde waves of hair obscuring Sam’s vision enough that he can focus on her and not this, this horrible fucking curse of the blood and biology that God forced on him, this body that makes him feel like he’s going to be trapped inside it forever.

Jessica’s lips are soft and stick to Sam’s chapped lips, wet but also slick from her lip balm, plain and waxy, and when she presses her mouth closer, tongue a light pressure but not pushing in, she cradles the back of Sam’s head with her arm, and holds Sam closer to her chest.

“I love you. Sam. And we’re gonna fix this. I promise. You’ll see. We’re gonna make this right, you and me. I got you. I’m here.” Jess whispers, nuzzling the crook of his neck when she pulls back because Sam’s nose is still stuffy and he can still taste the salt, damp against his jaw. Sam leans into her shoulder as her fingers rub circles over his back.

Sam clutches her hair and holds on to the back of her head like it’s a lifeline and doesn’t let go, and it’s only after he takes in frantic, shuddering gasps for air that he turns his head up and kisses her, honing in deeper and rougher and with need to feel her and not himself, not anything of his own damn body...

“Why would God do this to me?” Sam asks, voice wavering and raw. “I pray. I pray all the time and I don’t know why-“

Sam’s so out of it, Lucifer’s not sure he meant to say that out loud.

“Sammy-“ Jess interrupts, but Lucifer is distracted by all the names Sam is calling himself, all the things he’s got coiled up inside his brainstem…

Trapped. Disgusting. Unclean. Freak. Unworthy. Wrong.

It’s worse, this time more than the others. Sam has been homesick for the familiar the past few weeks despite himself, and he’s been swamped and overwhelmed by keeping himself afloat in class with bills and his nightly activities that he thinks he’s kept on the down-low, and Sam fought with Dean over the phone, and they haven’t talked for a week and a half now. Whatever words got exchanged Sam’s calling himself worthless and selfish and a screw-up and poison and he doesn’t want to believe it but he’s not in a good place, not by a longshot, and Lucifer has been trying to take the edge off… But when Sam’s spiraling, he spirals hard.

Not unlike himself, really.

It doesn’t help that Sam doesn’t feel good enough for Jess when he gets like this. That’s why it’s such an ordeal. Lucifer could make this better, could ease the pain, but Sam’s so sure he’s going to ruin this and that he doesn’t deserve any of the love that Lucifer wants to give that he fights and collapses in on himself until the one he loves builds him back up again. Lucifer isn’t angry at him for it.

On some level, Sam feels different. Everyone picks up on it, can feel the blood inside him, can feel just who he was made for. And Sam was kicked down for it, on top of everything else he was ever made to feel wrong with- other people telling him their unwanted opinions about his identity and his body, being scholarly in a house of hunters, wanting his own life, being kind and gentle and forgiving in a world that so often rewards the opposite. And Lucifer will kill the human disease slow for that, one day at a time, for making Sam feel like this for even a single second.

“I don’t feel clean.” Sam murmurs, half-hysterical, “Why would he make me if I’m like this, if all I’m gonna be is a giant fr-“

Jessica’s hands tighten around Sam until it almost hurts, enough to almost snap him out of it.

“Sam, listen to me. There is nothing wrong with you. Nothing.” Jessica’s voice turns cold as Lucifer answers, “You just got screwed at birth. But you will come into your own one day. And I promise you, God’s done a lot he’s gonna answer for. If I ever get the chance, he’ll get a piece of my mind…”

Sam hiccups a laugh at that, still far-gone despite his best efforts, and Jess smiles, encouraging. Her voice softens as Lucifer adds, “But that doesn’t matter. Samuel, you’ve got me. And I’ll make this right. Baby, let me help you. Please. Baby, please.” Jessica’s mouth pleads as she pulls back.

Sam hugs her tighter and ignores how that makes it harder to distract himself from this body as it aches and curves against hers, because all he wants to do is breathe her in, smell the scent of her shampoo, feel only Jess and her skin and her love and her exacting, gentle way of doing the things Sam always seems to need at exactly the moment he prays for them...

They kiss until Sam has to breathe again and resurfaces, Jess so still, so calm, and Sam finally nods even though the words choke in his throat.

Okay.

“Talk to me. Tell me what you need.” Jess instructs, lips pursing together in rapt attention. She stares Sam down.

“I…I just… I want to not feel like I’m…” Sam hiccups again, and Jess wipes his tears as he grits out, “Not this.” Sam finally says. Like I’m not broken, like I’m not wrong, like I’m not trapped- “And I…I… I don’t know how to do that right now.” Sam’s voice shakes and dies and he swallows down another sob.

“Okay. Okay, Sammy.” Jess answers, rubbing her hands over his shoulders and spine, "Let's get you out of here, okay?"

"Okay." Sam rasps, still trying to regain control of his breathing. Then Sam nods, hair falling in his eyes. Jessica's fingers tucks a stray strand behind his ear, wipes off the blood off his thighs with a towel, and lifts Sam up in her arms. Lucifer carries him out of the room, back to the bed, and tucks him in, not completely, but enough so that Sam isn't a witness to something he'd rather not have to see.

Then Jess retrieves his binder from the bathroom to put on his nightstand, leans down, plugs in a heating pad, lays it over Sam's stomach, and slumps down on the bed next to him.

Jess cradles Sam's arms and hugs him, not too tight, then tips her head down so Sam's face is perfectly aligned with her.

Jess kisses him, plunging in deep and breathless.

Sam kisses her back, leaning closer.

Lucifer takes the assent for what it is.

I know. I’ll give you exactly what you need, Sam. Nothing will touch you except for everything good I will give you by the time I’m finished.

“I can get your mind off all of this. I can. I'll chat your ear off until you laugh so hard you can't breathe. I’ll make you feel good. Then I’m going to kiss you and worship you until you feel loved. Until you can only feel the body you deserve settling in your skin, until it feels like the temple it is. Like it’s yours again. Sound good?”

“Yes. Jess, I need-” And Sam chokes off and just nods, all tight movement, his desperation and trust clear as day.

Lucifer snuggles Sam closer and kisses Sam's forehead.

Then Jessica's voice is telling jokes and recounting stories and describing the lake they visited a few weeks back, all the things Lucifer noticed about Sam as they hiked and waded in the water, about the mosquitoes how they never stopped eating Brady alive, about old stories of bridges and new beginnings.

Lucifer's pets Sam's head and leans into the crook of his neck and huddles so Jess is close, but not touching anything too sensitive, and Sam settles in her arms and lets Jessica's voice help him drift away.

Sam ends up falling asleep, and when he wakes, it's around 10 am, and everything feels fuzzy, Jessica still holding Sam close. Sam drifts again when Jess starts mumbling about starfish and penguins and how their observed force propulsion when dealing with depth and water density actually should have applications in more engineering operations.

It's banal and only halfway makes sense to Sam's tired brain, but it's aggressively normal and every word is soft, and Sam doesn't want to lose track of Jessica's voice as it soothes every bone in his body, washing over him, making everything light and insubstantial...

--

The next day, Lucifer helps Sam get dressed and makes breakfast in bed (bagels and lox and eggs), then puts on Jurassic Park when Brady pops in and they all watch, humor and exaggerated surprise over a movie they've all seen a thousand times growing increasingly irreverent, and after Brady leaves, Lucifer helps Sam memorize everything he can about tortes and property law for his next class. Eventually, Lucifer ends up reading to Sam about octopi and cognition, but by then, it's late, and Sam falls asleep with Jessica's voice droning on about the solitary lifestyles of octopi despite their capability for cooperation and problem solving.

Jess has been on an aquatic kick lately. Sam's not sure why. Something about cells and energy and the fact the coral reefs are receding making her more oceanic interests come into focus.

--

When Sam wakes up, lurching upright in a cold sweat and blind panic as he aches, feeling scraped raw inside and out, Jess is still there, holding on, although she's long abandoned her dress and is sleeping topless, and she whispers in his ear, voice measured and warm. "It's okay, Sammy. Breathe."

It's cold, but not uncomfortable, the heating pad long since having been unplugged and discarded on the floor.

Sam starts to settle in, immediately relaxing out of habit as Jessica’s voice turns softer, breathier, as she keeps going, “Just take a deep breath- that’s right, just like that.” Jess inhales with Sam, and exhales with him, adding, “Now, lay back down.”

And Jess guides Sam’s head down with her palms, carefully keeping his neck supported and head from hitting the headboard, instead having him lean against her bare chest as they lie on their sides, positioned where he can hear every one of her heartbeats, so much slower than his, “Keep on listening to my voice. That’s it. In. Out. You’re doing so good.” She coos, “Now, close your eyes.” Jessica’s voice trails off as she straddles Sam’s left leg, lace underwear tickling his thigh. Lucifer leans in close, but not enough stick to Sam’s sweaty skin. Sam doesn't like too much contact in some ways, particularly when he's already feeling claustrophobic.

“I want you to picture something with me, Sammy.” Jessica’s voice breathes in his ear, fingers tracing his face. “I want you to picture every detail I’m giving you. I want you not just to see it, but to feel it, breathe it, live it… Because this is you, Sam. This is who you are. Think you can do that, Baby?”

Sam mouths yes, and he knows Jess knows because she feels the movement, and Jessica’s fingers trace the edges of his lips before gliding down his neck. He knows this. Jess has done it before, and they've got their own code to deal with these moments when Jess wants to ease Sam back to calm when he still doesn't quite feel centered in his own body.

“Good. See, right here- I can feel the bob of your throat, your Adam’s apple, right here, dense and lumpy, and I can feel it dip under my hands like you do when you get all flustered and nervous, just like those cheeks of your blush, so warm,” And Jess glides her face over his, cooling his forehead with her own, eyelashes flitting over his jawline as she leans down, holding his hand as she adds, “I see you, feel you, Samuel, all flat chested and built like a freight train. And you’re all tense for me right now, Samuel, because you had a nightmare, and that will fade when you feel me right here with you. I want you to breathe in, again- like that, good." Jess praises, continuing, "Feel your ribs expand with your lungs, and all the oxygen in your throat. The rise and fall of your chest is just that. Just you. Exactly like I said it.” As she speaks, her fingers knead gently over Sam’s sides, circling over his back to massage tender, swollen skin, flickering over them with precise weight against pressure points to make the pain fade, and Sam takes in a shaky breath, warmth shooting through his navel and pooling between his legs despite the cold contact of her fingertips making everything sharper and more real. Her hands slide back to feel up Sam’s arms and shoulders, squeezing and massaging until every knotted chord of muscle is undone, moving over to the small of Sam's back and then to his hips…

And Jess licks up his neck, kissing him as she reaches his chin and ear and mouth, her lips huffing out air as she whispers, “I taste you, all musky and salty and sweet. And I smell you, books and leaves from sweeping all those leaves off our porch and oranges thanks to that shampoo you like.”

And Jess feels up every inch of Sam's back, mouthing against Sam's collarbone as she kisses his clavicle and sucks at the underside of Sam's chin where his pulse jumps, and she sucks her fingers and keeps praising every detail Sam can picture in his mind, almost like it’s being implanted there, and Sam almost feels the ghost of himself possessing this shell he otherwise would dissociate from, can feel Jess so close and heavy and heaving against him, fingers sliding lower and lower on Sam's spine until…

“You’re beautiful and handsome and perfect, Sammy, and that ass of yours is tight and snug and perfect, too,” Jess says, and then she gives him a look, asking without words, and Sam is begging, "Please, Jess, please-"

And Lucifer cradles his ass, because that's one point contact Sam can deal with at times like these, seeing as that part of him hasn't betrayed him like other parts have.

Lucifer arches Sam’s position so he’s closer, and Sam nestles and curves with the movement, head pillowed on Jessica's arm.

Jessica's tongue glides over Sam's own when she kisses him again, and then she's got her arms on his hipbones, spreading his thighs as she adds... “And right here, your hips, they thin and sharp and feel heavy, only because you’re spreading yourself wide, because they fit so good against mine, like this…” And Jess grinds against his thigh, adding as she starts to finger his ass with more force, “And right here, what I see, what I feel, is all muscle, all tight and bulky and warm. Because you just want to stay still and breathe in and ease into this feeling. Lie still, feel how heavy your limbs are, Sammy, let me really feel you…” And Jess caresses his legs and the insides of his knee and up his thigh, her cold toes curling as they glide against Sam’s ankles and Sam shudders, ticklish.  Lucifer praises, “Perfect, Baby, you exhale now. Feel your legs, all long and wiry and built like a tree, and spread open them wider for me, that’s it, wider…”

And Jess massage Sam’s ass until it aches and Jess reaches inside of him, fingers crooked and twisting and rhythmic enough to make Sam shudder and for his head to roll back, and Jess remains heedless of the blood that drips on her hand, the same blood that made Sam curl in on himself in the first place, and Sam can’t even think of that for all the dirty things Jess says, and more besides.

“And you’re all slick for me, baby, all warm, and all that wet heat- that’s all heading down between your legs because you want me, want me so bad, because I’m all up inside you, and you are slick and wanting. I know you feel it, I know you're holding back, because you want me to feel you, Sammy, feel how how much you want for me to take you, to have me touch you and lick you clean…”

Sam loses time, blinded by the feeling and the hormones and the whiplash in his system from all the conditioned responses Jess has long since used to bliss him out. When Sam catches his breath, whining because it’s not enough…

A few more minutes and Sam can hardly think, everything going blank as bright light and blissful warmth and the cold, cold bite of Jessica's hands feels like frostbite against Sam's skin where she cups his ass, hands withdrawn after Sam bucked against her, head arched away from her arm.

“Sammy, you with me?” Jess asks, hypnotic hum of her words less ethereal and far away now.

Sam nods again but keeps his eyes shut, leaning back down on Jessica's shoulder.

“You need me to ease off?” Jessica clarifies.

Sam shakes his head no.

“No, no. Please, Jess, I need you-“ He whispers.

“Okay, kiddo. I gotcha.” Jess mouths into his ear.

Sam, more than anything, just wants to be loved and wanted and safe, and Lucifer will make his skin and marrow every part of him the refuge Lucifer knows it to be.

Because Sam wants to feel like himself, and Lucifer knows what kind of sex Sam can stomach, can crave, when all he feels is adrift, and Lucifer would bring him back to himself-

Sam doesn't move a muscle when Jess grabs the strap-on from the nearby cabinet, straps on, and slides inside him, “Because more than anything, you want me inside you, to take me in, and that’s all that warmth, that blood, is, Sam, it’s just you after I’ve ridden you until you can’t take any more. That’s all you, gorgeous.”

And then she rides Sam into the mattress, gentle enough that he won’t bruise but deep and quick enough to make Sam whimper and huff in tiny, shallow breathes as he tries to pull her closer. He would scream, but all the air is knocked out of him from just how good this feels, cramps and sore limbs forgotten as Jess keeps thrusting, languid and focused, until Sam shivers from exertion and she can see the tiny tremors in his jaw and she kisses him, open mouthed-

“I see you. Just like you see me for all that I am, Samuel. And I’m all yours, Sammy, forever, and everything is going to be okay so long as we’re in this together, so long as we keep holding on to each other...” Lucifer says as Sam closes his eyes, unable to feel anything but this, the things Lucifer does to make the world disappear-

Sam can feel everything he is, feels weightless and light and clean-

And Lucifer sends every vision of Sam over, every repeat of his dream where he found Sam and was freed and Sam had the body he wanted and felt so right, so close, nested inside the Devil’s own grace, because all Sam ever wanted was to feel beyond human, beyond bodily limits, just like the angel he was made for, without these human weaknesses, not these feelings of being one thing or another but all of them at once. To feel only an existence beyond everything he's known, and Lucifer wants that for him, too, wants them to be joined in all the ways they are the same, in all the ways they are eternal and beyond humanity, in all the ways the angels lived, folded through time and space with all the glory singing out to light the world on fire, and Lucifer only mirrors Sam's human limits because it brings them closer before he finally gets what they both need. No, Lucifer can't wait for the day when Sam would say yes, for all the ways Sam would rise up to meet him and be almost angelic enough for Lucifer to feel like humanity was worth it, just for Sam to exist, just for him to grow beyond all the flaws God gave humanity and to become Lucifer's, to be beyond all human comprehension in all the ways that mattered. And the Archangel hopes it is enough, that the blood inside Sam hums between them enough for the vision to make its way on through-

The only benefit to Sam’s false body is the fact Lucifer can make him sing for him, over and over, until he weeps and forgets everything except the one he loves right in front of him.

Jess pulls out and unstraps, but keeps petting his hair and lays back down, side by side, next to him, parallel to one another.

Then she hugs herself closer so Sam's head is still crooked against her neck. “Better, Sammy?”

Sam nods and buries his chin deeper in her arms.

“Thank you-“ Sam whispers, glancing back up into her eyes. The pale ray of moonlight from the window glints off the whites of her eyes in the darkness, and the outline of her is all sharp, all immediate, because she hasn't once let go.

Lucifer doesn't have to worry about seeing Sam properly. Even trapped in Jess, Lucifer can see Sam and every chord of his soul just fine.

“Shh. I love you." Jess whispers, lips glancing over his. "And I’m protecting you, baby, from everything I can. Giving you what you need.” Lucifer answers. “Because what you need, I need. We're in this together, for the long haul.”

Sam gives a wordless hum and nestles closer, all the pain and self-hate and worst fears exorcised for the time being.

“But next time,” Lucifer promises, “You’ll inside me for real. This time, you were so sleepy, I didn’t want you hurting yourself.” Then Jess glides a finger over Sam’s arm, adding, more somberly.  “And soon, Sam… You won't be trapped anymore. I promise.”

Sam lets Jessica’s voice wash over him and numb the war inside himself, lets her gentle, kind assurances keep him grounded before he drifts back to sleep again.

Lucifer keeps watch over him, not once glancing out the window up at the stars.

--

The sheets look like a crime scene when the sunlight filters in next morning.

Sam doesn't open his eyes for a while, even when he wakes, and Lucifer doesn't care.

Neither of them move from their spot that weekend, at least until the damp discomfort is too itchy and annoying to ignore and Sam asks Jess to help him wash up.

Jess does, and they strip the bed in silence, although Jess does stop to comb her hands through Sam's hair before they enter the shower together.

When they get out, Sam's not as sore, and he pulls his binder back on with a smile.

--

This week in particular, Sam's period lightens faster this time around, with Sam counting down the days when he isn't outright trying to ignore it, and he's doing a lot better by the time he gets the next shot of testosterone that they've been saving for. His period isn't as long as it would be otherwise, and his access to testosterone is getting more consistent as the semester stretches on. Before Stanford, Sam had to scrounge and even lift what he could find, which was dangerous, even if Brady tried to help smuggle some on a semi-regular basis in his packages. Sam knows it's not good to be inconsistent, but the hunting life and limited money and lack of access to healthcare didn't exactly lend itself to transitioning. Sam wishes he could still feel like a man like some other friends do, like Evan, who feels more uncomfortable but doesn't hate himself, but Sam was so used to feeling wrong, feeling off, feeling trapped, not just in his body but having the feelings of shame and needing to claw himself out of his skin all exacerbated by what little control he's had over things other than his body, over his choices, and he deals with dysphoria as best he can.

Sam is himself. And with every self-administered haircut and carefully chosen shirt and every pair of bulky, washed out Levi's he still kept, still smuggled, from Dean's old hand-me-downs before he left...

He will one day feel like he is everything he knows he is. No mirror will obscure his identity, even if the dysphoria comes and goes in waves.

--

When Jess gets her period a few days later, she strips off her dress to reveal nothing underneath and kindly requests Sam fuck her against the wall and rail her until she can't think.

Sam doesn't even hesitate. Blood that isn't his own doesn't faze him at all, and neither he nor Jess mind messy sex, and they've changed the sheets so many times this week they were bound for another visit to the laundromat either way. That, and Sam is pretty sure Jess has a slight blood fetish that he, under no circumstances, would ever admit aloud.

 Sam straps on and rides Jess in the shower, at least until Jess requests he fuck her into the floor, which Sam does, at least until Jess rolls him over and slides atop him, setting the pace and grinding Sam into the shower tile until each breath heaves sharply in their lungs and they're both making obscene noises and gasping, Lucifer clutching Sam tighter, both of them whispering each other's names like a holy prayer.

After a few minutes, Lucifer helps Sam up off the floor, and turns the shower colder, and washes them off. Sam looks good covered in blood, and Lucifer would be lying if it didn’t feel a bit like a tease of all the blood that would be shed before this was over. But for now…

Lucifer straps in again after cleaning the strap on and fucks Sam against the wall, riding his ass until Sam’s knees go weak and it's only Jess holding him up, and then Jessica’s supple arms scoops up Sam’s shorter figure, Sam's legs wrapped around Jessica's waist as she carries him over to the bed, where Lucifer immediately fucks him again until he pulls out and goes down on him, Sam’s legs half-bent over Jessica’s shoulder for both.

Sam eventually has enough and takes Jess when she asks, eating her out over and over until Jess is shuddering underneath him, kissing every inch of him as they hold each other close again.

When they’re officially done, Sam collapses in the arms of the one he loves, who he relies on, who he believes in, and trusts more than he trusts himself and cuddles close, silent and grateful, feeling like he's given her something she needs just as much as he does. His breathing is finally less labored, and he looks more alive, more free...

The cramps come and go, not really bothering Lucifer much, but Lucifer opts for Sam's body heat, although he doesn't opt out of the heated blanket Sam offers as he keeps Jessica's arms wrapped around Sam, never letting go.

Chapter Text

"Sammy, you're transcendent." Jessica's voice ghosts over Sam's throat when he remains spread out under her, still basking in the afterglow of an experience that took too much and not enough, and since neither of them has managed to doze off yet, they both know a losing battle before it starts. Then Sam is being kissed and held so gently he almost floats away, until Jess breaks it off and curls up, her head tucked over Sam's chest, and keeps listening to his beating heart as she traces the veins of Sam's arm. "Sometimes, I want to curl up inside your skin and taste your soul, so I can keep you close forever." Jess deadpans, and Sam laughs, loud enough to break the stillness in the air, and far too used to Jessica's over-the-top exaggerations by now.

"And they say I'm the one with morbid interests." He jokes back, and kisses the top of her head. It's funny, how knowing someone so well changes things. Anyone else saying weird shit, Sam would be running for the hills. But he's known Jess for years now, and she always had a wry, frankly bizarre sense of humor that's grown on Sam despite everything.

Jess trails a hand down Sam's thigh, then rolls on her stomach, pressing up on her elbows to to face him with an expression that Sam can only categorize as a rapt fondness. It sends sparks rippling up his spine, and Jess smiles like she knows exactly what she's doing, and presses a kiss to Sam's forehead.

"Mm. Well, I've never claimed to be anything other than a sinner." Then Jess pauses, and cups Sam's face, her own smile something sad and her expression something fierce, the laughter dancing in her eyes making way for something else. "I mean it, though. You, Sam- your kindness, your happiness- make all the rest of the ugliness in the world melt away."

Then something in Jess's face falls, gets closed off, and Sam would do anything to bring back that look she had earlier- pure joy, pure calm- and replace whatever brittle, melancholy weight has made the light of her eyes go dim.

But it doesn't change the fact he knows she's hiding something.

Sam sits up and holds Jess close to his chest, making sure that he doesn't throw her off balance as she settles in his lap.

"Jess, I love you, and you are the light of my life. But weird pillowtalk aside... What brought all this on?" Sam questions. Jess hadn't exactly been chatty today. Quite the opposite, and it's not like her.

Jess gives him a look with darting eyes and bites her lip, hunched body language like a cat flailing in midair who doesn't quite know how to stick the landing.

"I can't just appreciate you?" She challenges, and rolls her eyes with a toss of her head like that will make all her discomfort roll right off of her, but Sam isn't fooled. He might never be able to evade her habit of knowing exactly what's gotten him off balance, but the casual familiarity goes both ways, and Jess has been quieter and less bold and brassy than usual, clinging to Sam and holding him close without paying much mind to anything else, and that always sets the alarm bells ringing, because usually, Jess is the one dragging Sam along somewhere and throwing everything else into chaos and at the mercy of the wolves of whatever new scheme she's got planned for the week to stave off boredom.

Sam raises his eyebrows and waits. He knows something else is eating her, and if he waits, he knows she'll cave.

Then Jess sighs. "Don't be mad, okay?"

That, more than anything, gives Sam an idea of what she might be avoiding. He can read Jessica's moods as well as his own, and when Jess turns evasive... It usually means something hasn't ended well.

Sometimes, talking to Jess at 3 am is like talking to a alien under the bed that's decided to stick around for some reason. Sam usually likes those conversations, the ones that happen late at night that aren't the two of them drowning, ones that are more along the lines of Jess talking about things like art, or nature, or insect classifications, or the one where they both ranted about gender and Jess had whined, "Gender is always such a... human construct. I've always felt more I'm genderless ball of light and fury, fluid and untethered by the frail conceptions of human limitsand sometimes I feel like I am stuck in the wrong skin. But I think it's different for me, Sam. You feel trapped in a body that isn't your own, but I feel like I'm just waiting for mine to fit me. Anyway, human social constructs aside, I know all this matters a lot to you, Sam. And I want you to know: you don't have to hold back, not with me. You never have to be afraid of me not seeing you for exactly who you are. And anyone tries to tell you otherwise, I'll break their jaw.

Sam then had to talk her down from that, and despite it all still appreciates how much weight feels lifted from his shoulders, not feeling like he has to look over his shoulder waiting for the other shoe to drop, even though some part of him knows that her evasion usually signals one thing Sam has been trying not to feel vulnerable with, seeing as he fled from violence and doesn't want to flee towards more. And despite that, Sam had never really thought Jess was a monster, even if she had a tendency to think more with her fists than her words sometimes, although she'd never gotten violent with him (it's the opposite, usually, Jess seeing the whole world as her enemy except for Sam, saving all her kindness for him, and in some ways it scares Sam how much he wants to feel protected, feel like someone is finally on his side without reservations or care for the consequences, even if Sam knows that's not something that's probably healthy). The fact is, Jess has got amazing upper-arm strength, and sometimes she's wild and exacting in her criticisms of other people, much like she thrives on being the center of attention or stirring up drama like a shark out for blood, but that's more human than anything else. Jess is so damn perfect with almost everything else, and yet so ruthless, and sometimes she reads Sam so easily that can't help but doubt.

That being said, Sam has done covert tests back in the beginning, just to be safe, because he hadn't wanted to lay salt lines everywhere, and Jess was sometimes too good to be true and some habits are so ingrained you never quite let them go, and it's easier thinking she might just be a monster than a human that loves him so much Sam isn't sure what he's done to make her latch on so tightly. (And it's not like silver jewelry is going to hurt anything, quite the opposite, and Jessica still wears the plain silver ring he got her, quick to show it off for all to see. But silver and everything else have done nothing, so Sam's only running theory is that Jess is either psychic or scary intuitive, and Sam doesn't much find that he minds much either way.)

But psychic or not, it doesn't change the fact that sometimes, Jess really doesn't seem to attach consequences to her actions, and Sam knows when she's acting cagey enough that she's worried he'll hear about it somewhere down the line.

"Is it about last night?" Sam starts in, poking Jess with the tips of his toes as he sprawls out again, but he keeps leaning into her shoulder.

Jess glances at him and finally lets out a loud exhale.

"Yeah... about that."

Then Jess is regaling a story from the bar Brady invited them to, and unpacking some of her decidedly not-okay decisions while she took a fight outside, and Sam was still playing pool with a friend from class, completely out of the loop.

"What can I say?" Jess says, and she keeps playing with Sam's hair even as she wraps an arm around Sam's waist, fingers drawing circles on the barest hint of exposed skin where Sam's shirt rides up by his stomach, and adds, "Bitch said I look at you like you're a piece of meat. I had to defend myself from baseless accusations."

Sam gives Jess a sharp look that's all raised eyebrows and mild disbelief, and puts a hand over hers. "So you broke her teeth?"

"She had it coming." Jessica's voice remains thin, but then she looks down from Sam's level gaze that hasn't once looked away, and sighs, "I will concede she's right, though. You're a fucking saint, compared to me."

"I'm not saying that was okay. But... I know you, Jess. And that can't be all that she said, if you're throwing punches." Sam says, and while it's not a question, it's close enough, because he wants to give her the benefit of the doubt.

Although you should pay for the medical bills, and I have no idea how you keep getting out of these situations, or a lawsuit. Sam thinks, but puts that off. He can bring that up later, once Jess has opened up whatever can of worms has been making her act strangely. It's not like her, being this mercurial and emotional and violent in ways Sam doesn't fully recognize. Sure, Jess might be vicious, but she was condescending and cutting more than anything, and when it came to legal hurdles, she prided herself on holding grudges and spite to get back at injustices without being hotheaded or losing perspective. Letting people get under her skin, rushing into things, and acting on violent impulses... Jess doesn't wear her emotions on her sleeve, not easily, so this more than anything makes Sam worry about her first, with all the other consequences taking backburner. Jess is his best friend, and if she's self-destructing...

Sam has to make it better, somehow.

Jess says nothing.

 

Then...

"She said I didn't deserve you." Jessica murmurs, staring at her hands. "And I just... It wasn't even about me, Sam. She was looking at you, but not seeing you, not really, and I just... snapped."

Sam keeps going despite the slight tremor in Jessica's hands, and says, so quietly, "Jess, this is the third time you've attacked someone this week. This isn't you, and you can't keep doing this. You're going to get in trouble."

"Nothing I haven't seen before." Jess grumbles, but she still won't look at him, and that more than anything makes Sam wonder how they are going to deal with this, because ever since Brady (and even just thinking of home, and all the broken things there, with Dean), made Sam feel like he couldn't quite find his footing.

Sam knows he tends to try and fix up his friends bad habits. He doesn't really mean to, but it makes him feel like he can't be replaced, that he's being useful, that he's protecting them, and sometimes it's a hard habit to break. Brady had noted it often enough. That's half the reason they broke up, even, although the whole thing was more on Sam's end than his, although sometimes Sam wonders if Brady turned on him just to make it easier for Sam to cut it all off because he wanted Sam to be angry for once. Brady had said a lot, actually. Said it was a control thing, that instead of focusing on himself that Sam keeps ignoring the writing on the wall, and just wants to help so much that he doesn't see when people don't want to be helped, and that Sam was too scared to be honest because it still doesn't feel safe...

The words hurt, but more than anything it was Brady's reckless habits that drove them apart, and the fact that both of them knew that Sam wasn't feeling the same way, and the proverbial nail in the coffin had been that Sam had almost loved Brady, but Brady didn't want love and had a habit of trying to tempt Sam into things he didn't want, and liked seeing Sam lose it in a way Jess didn't, in a way that made Sam feel like less of himself, and somehow Brady had turned it all on him and said that Sam was too scared to let people in and to live his life that he was just living by everyone else's rules, and while Brady had wanted him to have fun, to relax, he knows Sam doesn't look at his lifestyle the same way. That, and he knows how hard Sam worked hard to get here, and Brady doesn't want to drag Sam down with him because he knows how hard it was for Sam to get here- except when he does, and Sam kept holding on even when they knew it was over. Then Brady had tried to push Sam into something he didn't want, turned into a real drunk son of a bitch that Sam hadn't wanted to see his friend turn into, and that had ended the whole thing after they'd been on and off for years.

Brady had apologized afterwards, and had meant it, even if Sam still hadn't gotten over it. Said he wanted to make it easier for Sam to actually go out and find what he really wants, that he wasn't going to be the one to hold Sam back, and Sam appreciates that, he does, he just wishes Brady hadn't been almost a scummy friend for the month he'd been trying to push Sam into making a move and trying to push Sam away by indulging his worst habits and not apologizing for any of it.

But that doesn't mean you have to fix me, Sam. We don't want the same things, and that's alright. Brady had said, like one simple conversation would undo all the damage Sam pretended wasn't done. Sam trusted Brady for years, and having him lose himself, having him become harder, more prone to unpredictable bouts of violence while he keeps digging holes Sam doesn't know how to dig him out of... Brady was becoming more of a stranger, even when he's not, but what hurt more was seeing Brady check out when Sam doesn't know why he's turned into someone else sometimes.

That being said, Sam knows by now how to best approach the subject of Jessica's wildly possessive bouts of incidental violence that occur so rarely that it's always a kick in the teeth when it rears it's ugly head again. Jess is better than that, and Sam finds he can't quite keep his eyes off half-eaten box of  fried rice that he has left partially untouched, because looking into Jessica's eyes hurts a bit too much, and Sam knows by now that taking a gentler tact might get Jess to admit maybe she needs to lay off and admit she might have a fucking problem.

Jess sees his look and goes wide-eyed and hugs him closer. Unlike Brady, Jess is patient, and Jess is holding on, and not letting go, just as much as Sam is, and that, more than anything, makes them work through this.

"It doesn't matter what she said, Sam. What matters is that I let her get under my skin. It's not worth it. None of them are worth it." Something is a bit bitter and cold in Jessica's voice, and Sam doesn't like how robotic she sounds. But then her tone softens, becomes warmer. "I mean it. I hear you, Sammy. And I know what I did... I won't let something like this happen again. I'll talk to someone, or something. I just... I need you to trust me, and I want what's best for you, and I know I'm a mess-"

"Jess, what is going on? Talk to me. Please." Sam begs, hugging just as tight. "You don't have to keep me in the dark. I know you, and I know this isn't about anything out there, and I'm here for you, same as you always go to bat for me."

Jess keeps tracing the ridges of Sam's back as she answers.

"I'm not used to being loved like you love me." She whispers. "I thought I'd never feel so good, and it scares me. I've kept myself safe by being angry, by being cold. And you make all of that go away, and I don't want to lose you."

And then Jess turns to look at him, upturned mouth huffing breaths over Sam's lips, both of them forehead to forehead. "And I want to give you everything you give me, Sam. I'm just worried I'm going to screw it up, like everyone says I always do, and that you won't look at me the same way. I don't like feeling vulnerable, and weak, and limited... And I look at you, and everything is just laid out so clearly, and when people say it's all going to fall apart, I just... I'm so angry, Sam, all the time. But when I look at you, I'm not angry anymore, and I can't let anything take that away..."

Sam hugs Jess tighter.

"I'm not letting go, Jess. And we'll get through this. We will. And you can fight this, you can control it. I know you can conquer this like you do everything else, and I'm here. I'll be here, every step of the way." And then his hands are tangled in her curls and Jess is breathing Sam in and both of them fall back on the bed, and Sam manages to say, "And if you need anyone to talk to, I can help you find someone, and I'll listen, too. I'm here."

"I know, Sam." Jess answers. "I'll work on it. I promise. The last thing I want is to make you feel like I'm not trying."

"I know you're trying, Jess." Sam assures. "I'm just worried."

"I know." Jess keeps going, more sure. "And I won't let this hold me back from my future or stop me from living up to my full potential. I want to be the best version of myself. I know I'm better than this. And I'm going to be good enough for you-"

"Jess. You don't need to be good enough for anyone. That's why I'm worried. If that's what's messing you up... You deserve to live for yourself, same as all the rest of us."

Jess kisses Sam, fingers twined into his as she pushes him down against the bed, and she answers, "You should afford yourself the same kindness."

And then Lucifer makes sure Sam almost forgets the fears he's got in the back of his head, the worry for the thing he has always belonged to, enough so that by the time Sam has dozed off, he's placated and the buzz of worry has instead turned to warmth and safety and trust and reassurance as Lucifer cradles the back of his head.

--

The Archangel appreciates the concern, and the love, and the kindness.

But it's not fitting to let Sam feel like he's done something wrong, that he's in over his head, like he's felt ever since the sting of familial abandonment. That defeats the whole purpose of being close to him, answering his prayers, and if Lucifer has to be a little more in control, well, it's something he'll suffer through, if it means Sam feels carefree and safe and loved.

He'll just have to be more careful, and keep his own frustrations from getting under his skin. It's not like it should be too difficult. He can deal with other uppity humans in more indirect ways, through latching on to their inferior insecurities and penchants for bad decisions, and Brady and Azazel and the other demons can surely help pave the road to Hell to punish those foolish enough to make his time with Sam less than perfect.

And Lucifer will be honest with himself, his impatience is getting the better of him (and he sees himself more like his vessel these days, not a genderless angel but a mirror to the body that belongs to him, to the soul that calls his name, and Lucifer feels that it is right, somehow, balancing his vessels needs this way). He hasn't tasted freedom yet- not fully- but this is the closest it's ever been in so long, and Sam was sweet and thoughtful and made it all so very, very worth it, even if Lucifer would be lying if he wasn't trying to bust Hell open faster and faster in the meantime.

But he will be the flawless entity he must be, for Sam's sake.

He has to treasure every single second he has with his true vessel, with the one who belongs to him, before war makes everything complicated. Even though Lucifer knows Sam will choose him, will be his in every way that matters...

He isn't going to lie to himself, and pretend that this will be easy for Sam. He cares too much, loves too deeply, and that, more than anything, is what Lucifer has to protect him from. The world isn't good enough for Sam Winchester, and one day he would see it, too.

Chapter Text

Jess puts down Walden by Thoreau down on the bench they both share on their balcony, eyes narrow as she crinkles her nose and crosses her legs.

"Man, Sammy, I don't see why this is considered a bastion of environmental policy. Even if you run off into the woods, you're still leaving a carbon footprint, and logistically speaking, human overpopulation would necessitate that this actually eats up more resources than if you actualized square footage of housing and recycling to minimize environmental degradation and deforestation. Not that that will really fix anything, but it seems like a glaring oversight for some poncy old dude supposedly enamored with nature..." She looks up as Sam sucks in a breath, a million miles away. "Sam. You online and functional or do you need another cup of coffee?" Jessica's voice lowers with concern, and she tilts her head, rubbing Sam's shoulder gently to get him back down to earth.

"What?" Sam asks, startled, and then he immediately relaxes into her touch, "Sorry, Jess. I spaced out for a second. Um. You'd probably like Upton Sinclair's 'The Jungle' more, deals with a lot of workers rights and conditions, although it might upset you more about the meat packing industry back then. Not that things are much better. But that's what legislation is for, so if things work out..." Sam pinches the bridge of his nose and trails off, inhaling sharply as he looks down.

Jess huddles closer and puts an arm around his back.

"Sam. You sure you're okay?" She asks, staring him down as she rubs his opposite arm.

Sam hugs himself and brushes the hair out of his face, sighing again.

"Yeah, I'm just... Not sleeping very well." Sam admits. Then he swallows and looks at his hands, bites his lip, and Jess waits, knowing there's more unsaid, and then he finally says, "Dean called again."

That's not the only thing, though.

Sam keeps seeing her burn in his sleep. And she's woken up to him shivering, crying, holding on and not letting go, half-incoherent because he can taste the flames and he would rather burn every night that have it be Jess.

The dreams are killing him slowly.

Sam looks out at the skyline. The air is crisp and only a few clouds shunt over the blue of the sky. By the bridge and the water, cars honk and whir in traffic.

He doesn't really register any of it.

Jess looks out with him, rubbing his back, then leans her head on Sam's shoulder.

"You wanna talk about it?" She whispers, and then she turns to face him on her knees, climbing in his lap. One hand plays with Sam's hair, twirling it, grounding him, as the other strokes his shoulder-blade, her face inches from his.

Sam looks at her, considering. He's not sure, yet.

He's not sure he has the words.

But, despite it all, he's brought back to the present, nails combing through his hair and down his back ever so slightly.

Jess thought personal space was stupid, and Sam was perversely grateful for it.

She was always close and always made sure Sam never felt as abandoned and alone as he otherwise would.

Sam nods his head in the negative. "Not right now." He says, finally, voice faint. "Later."

Sam looks away from her gaze, cutting and altogether too knowing, like she can see what's written in every pore of his face. It's not shame, not exactly.

He's just vulnerable. And he's scared to tell her about the nightmares. Talking about them would make them too real.

And Jess has her nightmares, too. Ones she doesn't talk about. They have this unspoken blanket policy where they usually just hold on each other for dear life, twined together and staying close, and not asking too many questions they're scared or too angry to answer.

Because Jessica's nightmares, unlike Sam's, made her furious. Her grip became tight enough to bruise when she'd say nothing, and it's only when Sam pulled at her fingertips that she realized and eased off, apologetic and immediately drowning Sam in kindness and softness and kisses that made Sam feel safe again.

Jess was always there, never asked for anything except love and understanding and sometimes Sam just feels so hollowed out because he's not... He's not used to that, even after two years of bliss. Having no obligations. Just being wanted and loved and not expected to be anything other than himself or expected to sacrifice anything or...

He's not used to feeling like other people see him, and make him feel complete, like they want him whole.

It still scares him, because he's scared to lose it.

He's never been able to hold on to it, before. His whole life he'd been moving around, expected to give up what he wants for what other people think is best.

It's hard, getting used to this, in some ways.

Jess only nods and curls herself in his lap. She knows Sam isn't telling her everything. But he will. When he's ready. Because he always does.

He sees that on her face, plain as day.

"Have I ever told you about my brothers?" She asks, and Sam curls his arms around her and shakes his head.

"Not really." He answers. Jess is strangely subdued in a way she otherwise never is. Vulnerable in a way she only ever is with Sam.

And he's good at being comforting. It helps distract from his own inability to fix his own unsolved issues.

(It's not like Dean's one for holding back. Never was.)

Something aches in Sam's chest, but Jessica's head leans on his ribcage, and suddenly, he just feels safer, less split open, because, out of everyone, she doesn't judge.

She just accepts Sam for everything he is, and even if she's like Dean insofar that she's vocal about her emotions, she doesn't couch them in evasions.

Jess is direct and patient and might be a bit pushy, but she always lays out everything up front.

Sam hasn't realized how much he relies on that, after getting out. With Dean and John, there were always secrets and hidden expectations and goalposts moving so Sam never quite hit the target, because there was always a new expectation to meet.

Sam never had that with Jess.

"Well, I'm the second oldest. My elder brother, he... We haven't talked in forever, not after he helped Dad kick me out. And it killed me, because before that, well, I was always looking for his approval." Jessica's voice gets breathier, and Sam huddles closer, both of them leaning into each other like the physical proximity is a lifeline for feeling disowned and otherwise adrift.

Jess doesn't talk for a bit after that, perhaps struggling as much as Sam did.

Sam clears his throat. "What happened?" He asked, and he's not sure about the scope of the question. Why she got kicked out. Why she left. When. 

Jess looks at him, and there's something sharp and cold in her eyes and the higher whisper of her voice. "He didn't deserve it." She says, and then shrugs and she lowers her gaze to Sam's throat, to his palm that she traces, holding her hand in his own. "So I made my own way. My big brother promised he'd kill me if I ever came back."

Sam isn't fazed by that. Jess had hinted at details like that before, like her family was the mob or something. Not like Sam could judge. He's killed a lot of monsters.

Jess keeps going, "My younger brother sided with him. And the youngest- well, he disappeared after I left. No clue what happened to him. So I haven't talked to any of them since."

There's another pause, sharper this time.

Jess continues after she exhales and resettles in Sam's lap, and the moment feels less like something monstrous and violent in its silence. Jess keeps looking at the sky and at Sam's face, gaze darting to the flowers on their windowsill and back to Sam again.

"I worry about him. My youngest brother. I mean, it hurt, when he didn't defend me. When he just sat by and said nothing. Not like it hurt when my other little brother sided with my father and Mike, but... Gabe and I were closer, in some ways. And he's the directionless sort, you know? A drifter." She gives Sam a small, empty smile. "I'd wonder where he's ended up, but I'm little scared to find out, knowing him."

"Maybe we could ask around?" Sam suggests.

Jess shakes her head. "If he wanted to see me, he knew where to find me before this. He didn't. Besides, it won't help anyone. It's safer... Better, this way. Besides," And then she looks at Sam head on again, like Sam is the sun, like Sam is beautiful, and something warm and bright and fuzzy blooms in Sam's chest and his face turns pink as she leans in close, brown eyes staring into his. "I've got you. And that's enough."

Sam's not one to argue.

He'd always thought he'd feel adrift and worthless and alone after he left, even if the freedom had been worth it.

But Jess had filled most of the hole that was left, staunched every wound she could. It didn't erase Dean, or what Sam missed from his family. Neither of them could patch that up for the other.

Still. They had each other. They had hope. And they could still feel loved, and safe, and happy. And that's all Sam really wants to pursue.

If only the nightmares would stop, Sam would be on top of the world, and would heal so much faster from the things Dean had demanded of him earlier.

He wasn't going back.

He had a future, and he was going to hold on to it, without having one foot mired in the past.

Chapter Text

Halloween creeps up on the two with a vengeance.

"Sam! Get a move on, would ya?" Jessica starts in as she enters the room, readjusting her earring. She's all decked out in the white nurse outfit she handpicked, chosen because white and red were some of her favorite colors, and because Sam has a thing for medical uniforms. "We were supposed to be there like 15 minutes ago."

"This coming from you?" Sam teases from the other room she just left. "Ms. I'm-Fashionably-Late because I have to make an entrance?"

"Sam. You coming, or what?" Jessica answers, smiling as Sam follows, ducking his head out from the doorway in her wake.

"Do I have to?" Sam half-pleads, looking at Jess like she's the sun. Technically, they didn't have to go to the party. Ryan and Carrie were babysitting Brady so he didn't get too shitfaced even with Kit there, so Sam and Jess could just stay in and have some time to themselves if they really wanted.

Jess gives Sam a pointed look, eyes gleaming and bright. "Yes." She says with relish. "It'll be fun."

Besides, Sam deserved some normalcy before things went south. It was coming up on them quickly, now. Lucifer could tell.

"And where's your costume?" Jess asks, walking towards Sam just as he's wandering out to meet to her, drawn in like he always in to the constant humming pull he feels.

Sam looks down and gives her a sheepish smile, shaking his head before he looks back at her. "You know how I feel about Halloween." Sam answers.

Least favorite holiday before Sophomore year, and after that, his favorite, all because of her. And he's not going as anything other than himself in the body he has thanks to his own efforts and Jessica's help.

Besides, it's not like Jess minds.

She draws Sam in for a long, lingering kiss, biting softly. Then her hands are tangled in Sam's hair and Sam holds her closer as she draws Sam's head down again, and this time, the kiss is even gentler as she pulls back with the softest grazing of lips she can manage.

"I do." She says, and her smile is infectious as she ushers Sam out the door. "Come on, kiddo. I gotta brag about you and your big day to everyone we tolerate."

"That's a short list!" Sam calls after her, picking up and pulling on his coat as he rushes out the door to meet her. Sam can still smell apples and ice and smoke on her, the night air stale and muggy.

"True. But less people to see means we can say hi, nab a few drinks, then bail and have some alone time like you wanted." Jess teases, hand in hand with Sam as her heels rap on the pavement before they get to her red truck.

Sam hops in the passenger side as she sits down. The car doors slam, and Jess wriggles in her seat slightly. The keys jingle as they turn in the ignition.

Then they're off to the party, singing to the radio with their car windows down. Sam doesn't want to keep Jess there too long, though. She's been having more incidents, falling down and tripping and getting more bruises and lost time, lately. He'd do what she wanted, but he didn't want her overextending herself, so he'd just have to keep an eye out.

By the time they get there, Jessica's wavy hair has gone haywire from all the humidity, since it's been weirdly hot for October for days now, and Sam helps Jess smooth down her hair before they enter the bar.

Neon lights flicker and laughter and a mishmash of voices all bleed together from outside the door.

"I love you." Sam can't help but say.

Jess stares at him and hugs him close. "I know. I love you, too."

When they get inside, Kit, Ryan, Carrie, and Brady are already there. They dance and chat about Carrie's new cat and Brady's latest exploits and Ryan's plans for his own library and Kit goes into talking about her latest biochem research.  Tamika, Selene, and Melinda stop by for a few minutes before they get absorbed into the crowd, and then the rest of them keep talking and dancing and finally grab a quieter table and sit with new rounds of drinks an hour in.

Eventually, Brady heads to get more drinks for the table and himself midway through the conversation, and gives Sam a pat on the back for his achievements. Kit follows him up to the bar, arm in arm.

"So here's to Sam and his awesome LSAT victory." Jess cheers, holding up her drink in a toast.

"All right, all right, it's not that big a deal." Sam counters, still not liking the attention but humoring Jess because pointing out Sam's accomplishments gave her some kind of vindictive joy-by-proxy. That, and she said Sam's self-esteem always could use some touch-ups, so Sam let her.

"He acts all humble, but he scored a 174." Jess coos, practically preening. Her eyes never leave Sam's.

"Is that good?" Ryan asks, half-choking on the alcohol before putting his drink down on the table.

Sam downs his own drink as Jess answers. Her eyebrows raise and her voice lowers, almost condescending, but she covers it with a small laugh hidden behind her shot-glass, "Scary good."

Then she downs her own drink as Ryan puts a hand on Sam's shoulder.

He circles around, then sits on Sam's other side. "So there you go. You're a first round draft pick. You can go to any school you want."

Sam looks at the table and then back up to Jess like he can't keep his eyes off her. His face is smiling even when he isn't trying to.

"Actually, I got an interview here Monday." Sam manages to say. The truth a strange thing. He's made it this far. So far, now. It's like his old life was almost a dream and reality finally made things sweeter. Sam looks back to Ryan as he adds, "If it goes okay, I think I got a shot at a full ride next year."

Jess leans in closer, and her foot pokes Sam's own as she plays footsie under the table. Her face is strangely serious as she says, "Hey. It's gonna go great."

"It better." Then he can't help but look both elated and lovestruck and a little concerned as he refocuses on the bags under Jessica's eyes. Sam needs to stay close for Jess. Anything else wasn't an option. And Jess is on board completely and knows his concerns, but there isn't anything to be done for her condition as it worsened. Jess and Sam had checked every avenue available, and Jess seemed to know more about it than she let on. She doesn't think its terminal, though, so Sam let himself feel relief at that. Sam keeps pretending he doen't see how sleepless she is at night, but unless Jess talks to him about it...

She doesn't want to, though. She just wants to cherish all the time she has with Sam.

"How does it feel to be the golden boy in your family?" Ryan interrupts the moment they share. Sam and Jess consider bailing early, both on the same page.

Sam goes quieter, and Jess goes very still.

"Ah, they don't know." Sam admits, scrunching up his nose. It's not as hard hitting as it would be, once upon a time.

Jess gives Sam a look that is silent, pure love and understanding concern and might also be a less-peaceful offer to force Ryan off the subject, but Sam shakes his head discreetly.

"Oh, no. I would be gloating. Why not?" Ryan asks loudly, heedless and a bit tipsy.

Sam turns back to him, voice clipped. "'Cause we're not exactly the Bradys." He forces a smile and throws some M&M's from the table at him.

Ryan holds out both arms, face disbelieving. "I'm not exactly the Huxtables." He jokes back, throwing some M&Ms back, before asking, "More shots?" Seeing as Brady, Kit, and Carrie have yet to return. Sam knows they aren't gonna catch either Kit and Brady for the rest of the night unless it's some small miracle. They know how this goes by now.

"No." Sam and Jess repeatedly protest in unison, adamant, but Ryan goes and gets more shots, anyway, which gives them their perfect out to bail and head back home.

Jess inhales and changes the subject before they go. Sam turns back to her, a moth to a candleflame.

"Seriously. I'm proud of you." Jess affirms, staring at Sam with promise in her wide eyes. "And you're gonna knock them dead on Monday. You're gonna get that full ride. I know it." Internally, Lucifer hopes it doesn't count as a lie. Jess might last a bit longer. She was wearing thin, but he might get another few days out of her. He hopes so. So if Sam has his chance, he'd most certainly get those things. It's all a question of when Lucifer will be towed back to prison, and Lucifer isn't exactly sure of the time-frame there.

"What would I do without you?" Sam asks, eyes only for Jess. The rest of the world has blurred away.

Jess gives a small scoff and playfully rolls her eyes as she responds, "Crash and burn." Then she smiles and strokes Sam's face, tender and just as hyper-focused on him as he is her.

Just like I will without you, Sammy, Lucifer thinks, although he tries not to. Waiting in Hell was going to suck worse than being thrown down the first time, now that he was losing Sam.

Sam leans in for a kiss, as does Lucifer inside Jessica's skin. They both hold on to the moment, Lucifer half-apprehensive but certain about things Sam doesn't know, while Sam is completely untethered by a weight that's been chaining him down his entire life.

Sam has himself, he has Jess, he has his future...

Then Sam cups Jessica's face and keeps kissing her and they stay another three minutes longer at the party, not wanting to let go.

Lucifer forgets everything but Sam in that moment, and let's Sam make him forget, because he wants this to last, and he can't let the fear of temporary jail-time ruin Sam's night or the time he has left. Sam doesn't know the temporary goodbye would be soon, and Lucifer wants to keep it that way. Both for Sam's happiness and for his own sake. And Lucifer would make Sam happy again, he knows it. He just doesn't want to say goodbye yet. He never will.

They head home with Zoe as the designated driver of Jessica's car, since she's headed to the complex next to them anyway. They say their goodbyes as quickly as possible and then Lucifer gets Sam alone in their shower and their bed and they hold each other close and press their heads together and breathe each other in, Lucifer praising Sam from inside Jess so that he would maybe believe it once Lucifer was gone.

--

Sam is extra gentle with Jess when they make love that night, although once Jess asks him not to be, Sam complies. He doesn't want to hurt her with how fragile she's been lately, how sickly she's looked, but he wants her to feel loved and happy and safe and satisfied and he does that, by any and all means necessary.

Jess never wants Sam to hold back, though, so he doesn't. He kisses her and holds her tight and gives her everything, and she rasps, "Please, Sammy, please, I need all of you," and eventually he stops entering inside her one way and starts giving her oral that is so perfect it almost makes the Devil forget exactly who they are.

Then Jess wants to give back and make Sam feel everything. So she does, and Sam lets her take care of him. He loves it when she takes care of him, as much as he loves taking care of her. His mind turns to numb tingling electricity and surrender. Lucifer memorizes the look on his face when the feeling drags him under.

Jess gives Sam everything she can that night until Sam shakes and gasps and wails as he worships every contour of her body and every breath she takes and every heartbeat inside her ribcage and every brush of their lips and flutter of her eyelashes and every caress and every sigh and every promise she makes.

For every prayer Sam makes and every grateful incoherent thought he feels hammering inside his chest, Lucifer's whole being sings out in glory and gratitude and possessive need in Sam's name. For the Devil is certain that for every tremor, rasp, and tremulous prayer Sam offers up, the fallen angel will pay it back a hundredfold, because Sam need not want for anything as long as Lucifer was there to give it. Always his other half, Sam's personal God and guardian and whore and supplicating angel, the Devil himself laid low by one human placed high above all the rest.

Sam cherishes every word dripping from Jessica's mouth as she whispers, "You're mine. We're made to fit together perfectly. And I love you, never forget that, Sammy, I'll always love you, beyond time and space and long after the sun has burned out."

Sam answers, "I love you. I will only ever love you. I promise." 

And Lucifer holds Sam to it, because the Archangel cannot love anyone else, either. There is only room for Sam and himself and the life they would create together.

Lucifer kisses Sam's brow, then his eyelids, then his lips and chest and thighs and other places, and the Devil uses what he can to thrust and bury inside Sam as much as possible, guiding Sam's fingers as well as Jessica's own, a puppet-master guiding all strings, and a tongue licks outside and inside and around Sam so he screams and lurches and arches and moans.

Then Jess pulls away and starts to prepare Sam and herself, and Sam lays on his back, catching his breath, before Jessica climbs back over him.

"You know that it had to be you." Lucifer says softly. Jessica's throat is tight and scratchy when he says it. "It could never be anyone else. Understand?"

"Yes." Sam rasps.

I love you.

The Devil thrusts inside Sam as best as Jess can manage, all so his true vessel won't feel empty before he fills him to completion. 

"Sammy. It always had to be you." Lucifer rasps, wet and sticky. Jessica's hands brush Sam's hair out of his eyes. He leans into her touch.

Lucifer kisses him, and Sam closes his eyes and starts gasping for air as the Devil fucks Sam like the world is ending. Sam makes such beautiful noises in the meantime, before that future rises to meet them.

After however long, Jess disengages and unstraps and begs Sam to be inside her again.

Sam obliges, and they buck against the mattress and take in everything of the other until they can't take it anymore. Then they clean off the bed and each other and put on pajamas and kiss each other senseless and cuddle close, all warm and sticky except for Jessica's omnipresent cold, until Sam's eyelids droop and Jessica's head leans against Sam's collarbone.

As Sam falls asleep, Lucifer strokes his abdomen and holds him tightly and then even closer, but midway through the night Sam shifts, and Lucifer turns away with Jessica's back to him so Sam doesn't see that Jess isn't sleeping like he's been catching lately. That, and Lucifer wants to think, and doesn't want to freeze Sam too much or wake him from the tremors that rack Jessica's body more often than not these days.

Lucifer can feel the metaphysical fire not yet ignited, but still slowly smoking out from Jess and unhinging himself from her body on the inside, like a wrench working on a rusted, stripped nail.

He waits and prays and tries to keep Sam from feeling the feelings Lucifer can't quite keep from bleeding into Jessica's body language, and hopes Sam doesn't hear the grace of the Devil singing out it's scared, brooding impatience.

 --

Dean breaks in. Lucifer hears it first. But he's not worried.

Azazel sent him a line saying he was on his way, and with Brady being a lookout, well...

This was going to happen eventually.

Sam tries to get up as quickly and as undetected as possible, not quite sure if his past had caught up with him. Lucifer appreciates the attempts to let him sleep, if he slept. Sammy, always so considerate.

He keeps an eye on him as he gets up, though. No telling what damage big brother might do.

So what if Lucifer has trust issues when it comes to brothers. Knowing who Dean is... What he is... Who he belongs to...

Bitterness churns in Jessica's heart, thanks to Lucifer's half-life presence. Pain and anger and the belief that if Michael just... If Michael cared...

Lucifer shoves that down.

Michael left him. Michael planned to kill him slowly and painfully.

Michael wanted him dead. So he'll kill him first, and then Sam will be safe and happy with him, forever.

Just the two of them, safe inside all of Creation.

Still. Lucifer doesn't want Sam to go, even if he has to.

--

There's a door left open and a gust from the window.

Sam's not letting anything from his past catch up to him. No monster or demon or errant thief is going to ruin this life he made.

It's his life. And he won't let anyone take that away.

He won't lose Jess to something, either... Even though Jess could likely take care of herself, when she wasn't falling over and having fainting spells.

Sam punches and tackles the intruder, who gives as good as he gets. Almost familiar.

Then it hits him. Literally and otherwise, the punches thrown quite recognizable.

This is Dean.

Dean broke into his apartment after two years radio silence.

What the fuck is this?

Dean gets Sam on his back, on the ground.

"Easy, Tiger." Dean says.

"Dean?" The first thing Dean does when he shows up is beat Sam up and tackle him to the floor, and Sam only pretends to have forgotten him because that truth is not something he wants to focus on... Even if he does. "You scared the crap out of me."

Not a lie. What if it was something else, what if Jessica hurt him not knowing who he was (she wouldn't hesitate to hit him with a baseball bat, all things considered).

"That's 'cause your outta practice." Dean answers, and Sam doesn't bother to correct him verbally.

Sam gasps and gets Dean on the ground below him, Sam's own legs a good a weapon as ever.

Sam doesn't want to be in practice.

He sees Jess out of the peripheral of his vision behind Dean in the doorway, keeping an eye out, baseball bat in hand. Shit. They woke her up.

She puts the bat down behind the doorframe when she sees Sam is handling his brother.

"Or not," Dean chuckles. "Man, you shot up real tall."

Sam pats his shoulder.

"Get off me," Dean orders, and Sam ignores that it's an order, and helps him to his feet, because he's his brother and he's not cruel or blind. Not like the rest of his family.

"Dean. What the Hell are you doing here?" Sam asks, half-curious and one-fourth wistful, because maybe Dean's going to stop trying to drag him back in, and one-quarter still angry, for the way this ended last time.

"Well, I was looking for a beer." Dean gives as a non-answer. Sam can tell there's an agenda behind this. Especially when Dean taps Sam's chest.

Sam lets the anger to the surface, all flat and level and assertive.

"What. The Hell. Are you doing here?" Sam asks again, voice low.

You don't get to pretend everything is fine. You don't get to lie to me.

"Okay, alright, we gotta talk," Dean rambles, voice still too light, but it's a lightness that hides years of violence and stress and Sam can tell something is wrong.

"Uh, the phone." Sam reminds, not giving ground.

"If I'd have called, would you have picked up?" Dean asks.

That's too much for Lucifer. He can feel Sam's frozen feelings all unexamined, all right there, as Dean puts the radio silence on Sam, like Sam was wrong for cutting him off after the way Dean blew up at him the last time.

"Sam?" Jess turns on the light and makes herself known.

My hero.

Sam is grateful Jess is awake, even if he doesn't want her to have to deal with whatever Dean is trying to pull. He appreciates the support.

Dean looks over, same as Sam.

"Jess..." Sam trails off, inhales, "Hey." And there's a silent, Thank you for coming to the rescue, before Sam says, "Dean, this is my girlfriend, Jessica."

"Wait, your brother, Dean?" Jess asks, pointing, and giving a smile, but it's one Sam recognizes as the fake kind. The wary one. The one where Jess assesses and makes her judgements.

 Lucifer tilts Jessica's head and observes Dean as Jess leans against the doorframe. First time she's ever gotten a look up close.

He carries himself like Michael. All stiff. All... soldier.

"I love the smurfs." Dean smoozes, all up in Sam's space and then Jessica's like he's done with every other girlfriend of Sam's he's considered hot, and Sam hates him again for that, too. (Even if he was over Rachel.) No one ever deserves that treatment, especially from Dean.

Jess raises her eyebrows and keeps a cool, fake smile on retainer.

Classy, Lucifer's sarcasm almost doesn't get reigned in. Dean's cavalier lewd mannerisms are almost fitting, considering how brutish Michael would be. Not as rule-abiding, though.

"I gotta say, you are completely out of my brother's league."

Jessica's face remains a mask.

Not at all. How dare you, how dare you insinuate Sam is unworthy of me, how dare you belittle him- Lucifer's grace hisses, then collects itself. Not like your opinion matters. Lucifer collects his thoughts. He's my league. All mine.

Then: I'll enjoy watching you die, and Michael die with you.

"Just let me put something on." Jess says, as icy as possible without making Sam worry she was going to tear Dean's face off. Face still a flat mask, all icebergs and churning water below the surface.

Sam can still tell she's reigning in her gut reaction, though, and Jess eyes Sam over Dean's shoulder.

I see why you left. Plain as day on her face.

"Oh, no. I wouldn't dream of it." Dean answers. Like Jessica's opinion is nothing. 

Lucifer re-evaluates its assessment.

Can he just steal Sam away now and not let him go back with this sad excuse for an ape, please?

The blood of the covenant is thicker than the water of the womb, indeed.

"Seriously." Dean adds, and doesn't hide how he's checking her out.

 Jess keeps eyeing Sam, and rolls her eyes when Dean turns, silently asking, Can I punch him now?

Sam looks pained and even angrier again.

Dean looks over his shoulder back at Jess even as he gets closer to Sam.

"Anyway, I gotta borrow your boyfriend here. Gotta talk about some private family business. But, uh, nice meeting you." Dean adds with emphasis, pointing again. Like Sam is just along for the ride without a say, too.

Oh, really?

Shut the fuck up and get your fucking eyes off her. What is this, the middle ages? Lucifer picks up on, and inside, he's glowing. Beautiful Sam, always so above the crass nature of his species. And who the fuck do you think you are, walking in here, like it's nothing, like...

Sam side-eyes Dean, and walks back to Jessica.

"No." Sam answers, and then he's got an arm around her. Both of them a unit, two-as-one, together.

Lucifer cuddles closer to the contact, as muffled as it is, still.

"No." Sam repeats. "Whatever you want to say, you can say it in front of her."

No real secrets between them, after all. Just things they don't say.

Lucifer gives Dean a harder look, one all harsh flats of his eyes as his head tilts in challenge, in support of Sam.

"Okay." Dean answers, voice flat, head bobbing slightly, and he plants his feet like he's gearing for a fight. "Um. Dad hasn't been home in a few days."

Sam inhales and shoots back, "So he's working overtime on a Miller Time shift. He'll stumble back in sooner or later."

Lucifer keeps Jessica's eyes on Sam, seeing every syllable of how he'll shoot his brother down. It's gratifying.

Dean ducks his head down, voice growing more stilted and heated, "Dad's on a hunting trip. And he hasn't been home in a few days."

 Sam goes still.

“Jess, excuse us. We have to go outside.” Sam grits out. But he gives her a look, one she knows. One where Sam will come back. He just doesn't want her to see this.

--

Sam starts in on Dean as they get outside the door. “I mean, come on. You can't just break in, middle of the night, and expect me to hit the road with you...”

“You're not hearing me, Sammy. Dad's missing. I need you to help me find him.” Dean argues.

Sam sighs, then turns argumentative as he keeps trying to talk him down.

By the end, Sam's half-successfully hoovered, and worried that he won't be able to go home, at this rate. If Dean keeps insisting on this, on Sam giving up everything he's tried to build.

“You know, in almost two years I've never bothered you, never asked you for a thing.” Dean begs.

Sam knows that voice. His brother might be half a stranger now, but there's a promise, there. If Sam goes, this will be the last one.

And Dean said it himself. He could go alone.

He doesn't want to.

Despite everything, Sam does miss his brother. It's the kind of thing you miss and then hate when you are stuck with them again.

Sam's read about it. Enmeshed in the situation. Conditioning. The normalization of abuse.

Dean needed to get out, but he wouldn't. Sam can't save Dean from himself...

But he can do this one thing, and get out.

Sam makes up his mind.

“Wait here.” Sam answers.

“Sam-” Dean cuts in.

“I want to talk to Jess first.” Sam says, adamant, and he doesn't wait for Dean to try and say anything else before he heads back inside.

--

“Jess. Are you going to be okay here?” Sam asks, pacing, then he stops to look at her before holding the bag of clothes, suspended and unsure.

“Yeah, but Sam… Are you taking off?” Jess asks, biting her lip.

 “Yeah. You know, just a little family drama.” Sam replies, a bit too casual.

“Is this about your Dad? Your brother said he was on some kind of hunting trip.” Jess presses. There's weight there, too. She knows Sam's Dad never comes up in conversation.

Lucifer knows why. Jess just guesses for him without being too specific.

“Oh, yeah, he's just deer hunting up at the cabin, he's probably got Jim, Jack, and José along with him." Sam answers, and rolls his eyes, although his voice is tight. "I'm just going to go bring him back.”

 “Sam, I mean, please." Jess stands and hugs him close, looking up as she strokes his face. "Just stop for a second. You sure you're okay?”

Sam laughs and hides his face.

“I'm fine.” Sam says.

He never is, when he says that.

“It's just...you won't even talk about your family." Lucifer stutters, trying to find the best way in. Now that Sam has to leave... He doesn't want him to. He deserves to be happy before Lucifer is gone. Who says he has to leave before Lucifer burns up? They can alter the scenario. Sam can be sucked in without having to leave... Jessica's voice turns a bit more frantic. "And now you're taking off in the middle of the night to spend a weekend with them?" The Lucifer forces her voice to be calm, so Sam doesn't feel guilted. "...And with Monday coming up, which is kind of a huge deal.”

“Hey. Everything's going to be okay. I will be back in time, I promise.” Sam assures, holding her shoulders. He means it.

“Sam… You don’t have to lie to me.” Jess sits down on the bed, holding Sam’s hand, and Sam follows her down, startled. Jess keeps her voice soft. “You don’t have to say what it’s about, but…”

“Jess. I don’t know how-“ Sam starts.

I don't know how to talk about this-

“You’re a hunter, right?” She asks, and Sam freezes. She said it with that intonation. The one with Meaning.

She shrugs at him. “You think I didn’t see how you reacted to Selene, at first?”

Sam winces and looks down.

“I… I’m leaving it behind, Jess.” Sam promises.

“Sam. All I want is for you to be happy. If you want this… I won’t stop you. But I don’t like how Dean is pushing you around. So if you’re going… I’m going with you.” Jess asserts, ironclad in will and focus. 

If Jess knows about hunting, then Sam’s sure she can hold her own. That’s not the issue.

“Jess, what if you collapse," Sam chokes, "What if something happens-“

“Then it happens to us. Together. Sam. Please. Trust me.” Jess wheedles.

Sam could never say no to her. Not where it mattered.

--

“All right. I'll go." Sam says as he exits his apartment. "I'll help you find him. But I have to get back first thing Monday.” He tells Dean, non-negotiable.

“What's first thing Monday?” Dean asks, interest piqued.

“I have this...I have an interview.” Sam considers not saying it, but goes for it anyway. He doesn't care about Dean's opinion on this, it's his life...

“What, a job interview? Skip it.” Dean scoffs.

“It's a law school interview, and it's my whole future on a plate.” Sam enunciates every word.

“Law school?” Dean asks, knowing how Sam's been focused on that forever. His mouth still quirks, a bit wryly, like he still can't believe it

“Yeah.” Jess answers, all changed and heading out the door. “And if Sam’s coming with, I’m coming, too.”

“Sam-" Dean isn't about this at all, and his voice lowers.

“I only go if she goes. So we got a deal or not?” Sam grits out, staring Dean down.

--

To say the car ride is tense is an understatement.

Jess doesn't give Dean much consideration. She's only got her eye out for Sam, nothing more or less.

--

Azazel and Brady aren't happy with the plan. Lucifer doesn't care that they're unhappy he followed Sam.

They exist to serve him. They will obey.

Before he burns them out in the end, they will serve their purpose.

--

Constance's ghost moans, "I can never go home."

"You're scared to go home." Sam snarls.

Constance flickers, and then she's in shotgun, pushing him back-

"Hold me. I'm so cold."

Not cold enough.

And Sam finds his voice is stronger than an avalanche.

"You can't kill me. I'm not unfaithful. I've never been!" He answers.

Truer words have never been spoken.

"You will be. Just hold me." Constance corrects, and leans in.

Sam reaches for the keys.

Jessica stabs Constance with an ironcrowbar, and she flickers and screams. When she reappears, Dean shoots out the window and hitting her with rocksalt.

When she's back in the car, too close to Jess, Sam floors it, yelling, "I'm taking you home."

Constance is destroyed by her drowned children.

But Sam is distracted, helping Jess out from the back of the Impala.

Jess is okay, but she stumbles and collapses five steps out from exiting the car.

Uninjured, but the normal spells she's been having more and more lately.

When Sam checks, her forehead burns hotter than usual.

"Jess, Jess are you okay?" Sam asks, cradling her.

"I'm fine. I'm fine, Sam, don't worry about me, this is just what happens."

"I should have had Brady look after you, or something, you shouldn't have exerted yourself like this-"

"Sam, Brady. Really? C'mon. And it's fine. I'm okay." Jess hugs him. "I promise. I don't lie, remember. Everything is going to be okay."

--

"Not bad, Jessica. Nice save." Back in the car, on the road back, Dean starts in, "And you found her weak spot. Nice work, Sammy."

"Yeah, I wish I could say the same for you. What were you thinking shooting Casper in the face, you freak?" Sam answers.

"Hey. Saved your ass." Dean answers with a wistfulness that Sam tries not to feel. Lucifer notes it, and tries not to think of his brothers before his Fall. Dean adds, "Same with your girlfriend. You two might be good to join the team, you know?"

Sam shakes his head, and Jess laughs.

If only you knew.

Then Dean's voice turns, "But, Sam I'll tell you another thing. If you screwed up my car?" And his tone turns dead serious, "I'll kill you."

Sam laughs. Jess doesn't, but she does smile slightly.

Not if I kill you first.

Highway to Hell starts playing on the radio.

Jess gets really quiet after that.

--

Jess is passed out in the back. (Lucifer pretends to sleep, oh-so-careful).

Sam pinpoints Dad's location.

And Dean tries to reel him back in, now that Jess is down for the count.

"Hey, if we shag ass we could make it by morning." He tries.

"Dean, I, um..." Sam says, but he doesn't fall prey to his carefully deployed disappointment.

"You're not going." Dean says.

"The interview's in like, ten hours. I gotta be there." Sam answers. "And Jess needs me."

Dean doesn't look back at Jess.

"Yeah. Yeah. Whatever. I'll take you home." Dean answers. Sam can hear the bitter defeat in Dean's voice when he says the last word.

Sam glances back at Jess and out the window, the gleam from the streetlights flickering over his face.

It's true, though.

Being with Jess is home, now, more than the Impala has ever been.

--

Jess leaves the Impala first to take a shower. 

Sam follows a few minutes after, but not before Dean tries one last time to ask Sam if this is what he really wants.

"Call me if you find him?" Sam asks a question as his answer, then adds, "And maybe I can meet up with you later, huh?"

"Alright." Dean answers. There's four years silence and eighteen years of shared life together choked and hidden in the quiet of his voice, too proud to let on but too scared to set Sam free...

Sam taps on the car door twice and turns to go.

Dean hesitates, then leans over, "Sam?"

Sam turns back to look at him.

"You know, we made a hell of a team back there..."

"Yeah." Sam answers.

It's goodbye. Again.

Dean drives away.

Sam watches him go.

--

"Jess?" Sam calls as he enters the dark apartment. Jess left the oven overhead light on for Sam to make it to the stairway safely. "You make it upstairs okay?" But then he hears the shower running, sees the shotglass on the counter that meant Brady had waited up for them to make sure they got back okay, so she must've made it up there, and Sam must've just missed Brady.

There's cookies on the table from before she left. There's a note that says, "Love you!" on them, in Jessica's usual looping handwriting, half scrawl and half-elegant, all geometric, almost. Sam takes one and bites into it. It tastes like home. Like weekends and laughter and safety.

He shouldn't have dragged Jess into this. But she was okay. It worked out...

Jess had been there for him, even if her and Dean... tolerated each other.

"Jess?" Sam calls when he gets to their room, in case she wants company. The bathroom light is on, and Jess is silent. Really tired, then. Sam will wait for her here.

Sam falls over the bed with closed eyes as he sprawls out and sighs. Happy to be home, and safe, with the one he loves.... Where he belongs.

Except something drips on his forehead. It's wet and tacky and warm.

He looks up.

Jess is pinned on the ceiling, abdomen ripped open. Dripping blood.

Sam gasps in wordless terror.

NO NO JESS NO-

"NO!" Sam yells.

She bursts into flame.

"Jess!" Sam screams, shielding himself from the flames but unable to move, unable to look away-

"Sam!" Dean yells, "We have to get out-"

And he carries him out from the building, dragging him because Sam doesn't want to leave her, he can't leave her-

"JESS!" Sam keeps screaming. "JESS! NO!"

--

They make it outside.

The whole apartment goes up in flames.

Everything Sam made, everything Sam shared, the one Sam loved-

Gone.

--

Except he doesn't know Lucifer is coming back for him. He's just made the first move.

All Sam's moves now, against the other pawns on the board, nudging him one step closer and closer across, until the Ebony King has crossed the chessboard to be reunited with the White Queen or King, whichever vessel Lucifer gets before Sam says yes and sets him free.

Inside the Cage, Lucifer sings, so bright and beautiful every part of his being hurts.

He misses Sam so much, and Sam is hurting already, because of the tasteless tactics of his demons, of how close they let him get...

Except he had to see. If he didn't see the way Jessica's body burned...

He wouldn't know it was Azazel. It needed to be done.

Still.

It won't be easy, this road.

But it will make their reunion all the sweeter.

Lucifer will make sure Sam is rewarded, in the end.

That's one of the few things he holds on to.

He hates this isolation.

And he can still hear Sam praying, so he sings his own prayers and love back in answer. All the glories of Heaven redirected to his perfect Host.

--

Sam knows this is his fault.

If Jess hadn't overexerted herself, if she hadn't been made a target, if Sam wasn't seen back in the game...

One way or another, Jess died because the of whatever had been hunting their family.

And it found her because of Sam.

Chapter Text

Sam misses Jessica's funeral.

It's less of a miss than coming late, because facing everyone would be too much, and Sam...

Sam can only face her alone.

He can't look anyone in the eye, can't bear condolences, can't bear to face the few college friends who showed up, or Brady, or Jessica's sort-of adopted aunt who sometimes had paid a visit.

Sam wishes Jess hung around, if it gave her peace, because Jess would never suffer laying down quietly, would want to handle this herself.

And he knows he's being selfish.

But when most of your life you see ghosts at every corner, well...

He wishes he could still hold her hand.

The sun is too bright. It doesn't deserve to be, not today.

And the laughter in Sam's throat is toxic, tastes like every monster's fresh kill, and it feels like a lead weight in his chest. The words burst out before Sam can help it.

"You always said roses were..." Sam swallows, stutters, finds his breath again, "Were lame..."

And he can still hear the payback of her teasing back from Spring Break, and from Valentine's day, from every instance of the long-running joke they played on each other every few months when there was a holiday, or when they picked out what to fill their garden with...

From that one time in the morning when she'd cornered him during his morning routine with one in her mouth, before she pressed it to his lips, other arm anchored around Sam's shoulders.

"Not lame. Corny, Sam. That's why I like them. Call me old fashioned, but there's nothing more romantic, more alive, than something simple. You pluck the life out of the earth with a promise binding you together thanks to the sacrifice, a beautiful one that can prick you enough to draw blood-" 

"Real traditional." Sam had managed, trying to finish shaving the uneven stubble he'd managed to grow in thanks to months of hormone therapy, and to ignore the hands wandering to unclip his belt.

"And symbolic." Jessica had said, and she smiled with sharp, all corners as she rubbed a line of shaving cream off of Sam's face, then pecked him on the cheek. "Point being, when I bite the dust-"

And Sam's smile had faltered, just a second, as he saw her burning above his head-

Except then there was a hand sliding under Sam's boxers, and that was more than enough to snap Sam out of whatever pall had fallen over him, if Jess even noticed in her flurries of constant, fidgeting motion and energy that animated her every time she got absorbed in whatever she was thinking about. "-Disregarding the ageless, flawless immortal that I am-"

And Sam had smiled with her again, memorizing every blink of her eyelids even as she kept on talking, familiar and unbothered and purposefully mundane even as she shrugged Sam's unbuttoned shirt from his shoulders and pressed him up against the wall. And Jess had leaned into Sam's neck, and kissed again, and yeah, she had noticed Sam's flinch and was doing everything in her power to get him focused only on her, lapping up the attention and eyeing the way Sam's throat bobbed as she watched him. 

"-You better deck me out in anything other than that. Something pink, maybe, to match my wings." And she'd flexed her shoulders, eyebrows raised, and Sam couldn't stop from laughing as he ran a hand through her hair, not once pushing her away.

"Horns, more like." He said, breath hitching, and then tossed the razor by the sink, giving up on shaving entirely to hold her in his arms. Jess had wiped off his face with the towel before kissing the underside of his chin. The rose stem was still balled up in her other hand, flowers slowly falling on the floor, while her bright, dancing eyes laughed at Sam, too, for all the ways he couldn't quite hide how mesmerized he really was and how breathless she made him. 

"Both, Sammy," Jess corrected, sinking to her knees. "It's a package deal."

Sam had kept making fun of her for it until Jess had driven them both off track, having decided for the both of them to have them spend the day studying inside and walking along the pier instead of going out with their friends.

Now, the memories only hurt. Jess had been proud and focused and relentless in everything she put her mind to, and sometimes she was crude, and sometimes she was sarcastic, or possessive, or jealous, but more than that she loved with an intensity that made Sam forget the fear of everything he thought he was. And when she was here, she was always present, always touching and laughing and pushing the envelope, and she loved Sam, so much that Sam could feel every echo of every promise she had made, and it only made him feel more alone now, the enormity and finality of it all and how much time they never really had only now really sinking in.

And then the tears fall, and he's choking out, "So I brought you, uh... Jess... Oh, God..."

Sam kneels.

"I should have protected you. I should have told you the truth."

Because despite of all the ways Jess has sleuthed out most of the truth anyway, the big secrets they never talked about, but there was one truth Sam had never said aloud: that he was cursed, he was never going to get away, and trying to pretend otherwise had only stopped Jessica's future before it had even started.

It's not bad luck. There's always been something marking Sam, making him feel unclean, like there's something scratching it's way out from under his skin and claiming him from a life he's run from.

With Jess, he'd thought they'd have a chance. But he was wrong, like he always is-

Sam bends down, the pink and white flowers shaking in his grip.

A hand pushes from the dirt, and grabs his wrist. Too tight, burning cold, claiming him with all the hunger Jess always did.

You know the truth, Sammy. You've always known. I'll be back for you. I always will come back for you.

And then it's bright, bright inside Sam's closed eyes, and inside the makeshift home of leather seats smelling of alcohol and old cigarettes, Sam jolts awake. He tastes blood and fire and roses on his tongue, and pretends the cold sweat on his back isn't making him shiver.

He's tired of visions and nightmares and remembering, except he isn't, because every time he falls asleep it's like she's out there waiting for him, and Sam still feels like Jess is still lingering, even now, even though he knows better, because if she was, she'd have made herself known. The pain inside his chest is a dull, roaring vacuum threatening to swallow him whole, and Sam's head pounds.

Even Dean is tiptoeing around him, noticing how often he's dozing and jerking awake and the dark circles under his eyes.

He even offers up a chance at the wheel like he has never done before. Hell, Sam had only ever learned the basics of how to drive with Bobby, and then more with Brady on long empty stretches of desert road, long after running away so many times before all the other times, and the creeping loneliness threatens to swallow Sam whole all over again.

Now, all he has is Dean, and the road, and an old life calling him back into the shadow of everything he's been running from.

There's only smoke in his lungs, burnt up rage so potent, all that's left is a the need to kill the thing that put Jessica in the ground.

And the sooner they find Dad, the sooner he can make amends for a battle Sam knows he's already long since lost.

--

At the real gravesite, at the real goodbye long before Sam had driven away and fallen asleep miles and miles down the road, Brady had kept watch until he showed. Dear ol' Azazel was still stirring up some trouble to keep Winchester senior on the prowl, and while his orders had explicitly forbid any interaction, Brady, for once, feels like this isn't pushing the envelope. Any other day, Brady wouldn't have tried otherwise, not willing to jeopardize their main event.

But Sam's finally on his way to the playoffs now that Hell has finally kicked it's main plan into gear, and he can't help but see his handiwork up close.

Sam can't keep too many friends on call, after all, so Brady chances saying goodbye while Dean is occupied and Sam is alone.

He knows Sam won't even try to latch on, for fear of whatever killed Jess targeting anyone else Sam loves, and Sam doesn't know Brady can handle himself just fine, that's he's one hand out of a multitude praying for their King to set them free.

"Hey, Sam. Glad you made it." Brady says, shrugs as he exits the treeline. Consecrated ground is a bitch, but he's get enough tools for a workaround.

Sam freezes. "Brady-"

"Knew you would." Brady puts his hands in his pockets and lights a candle on the headstone. Virgin De Guadalupe, courtesy of one of Sam's human college buddies who actually gave a damn. The irony almost makes Brady grin.

"Figured I'd camp out and eventually you'd show your face. You look like shit, by the way, which, I get it, but..." Then Brady sucks in his teeth and gives Sam a once-over. "You sure you're up for a road trip with your brother? Same brother who, you know, you still won't spill the beans about-"

"It's fine, Brady." Sam's voice wavers, and he looks down at Jessica's photo. Brady scuffs his feet over the dirt, toes burning a little, still not being expunged from the earth. He narrows his eyes, even though Sam still won't meet them.

"Sure it is."

"I'm..." Sam doesn't say fine. He and Brady might have ended their fling with distance, with Sam smitten with their true messiah, and while it's not like Brady would begrudge him that, Sam has never stopped feeling guilty, even when Brady knew he'd driven the nail in the coffin on purpose long before Sam even had a clue.

"Look, Sam. You do whatever you have to. But you need anything... My offer still stands."

"I know." Sam exhales. And then he does take the chance to lie, "It's fine, Brady, really. I'm good." 

And Brady doesn't call him out for it, nor does he pat Sam on the back. They'd been babying Sam far too long, after all, and upper management thought he did his job a bit too well. Lucifer is still pissed, enough for Brady to be reassigned and Azazel's favorites to get on the case. But watching Sam cut his friends out all on his own, well...

Brady still feels pride. Sam was like this because of a job well done, so much so that he's fighting half the battle for them already.

"You need to get out of dodge, you call me, okay? Like old times. I know I'm not the most reliable, but we both know I'm a creature of the night, so-" Brady insists, pressing his new phone number into Sam's hand. Sam had barely kept updating in the group chat, either, deflecting everyone's attempts to get close, because that's Sam for you-

"I hear you." Sam had answered, shoulders taut.

There was nothing anyone could do, though.

All Sam could do is get as far away as possible. After all, who knows, anyone close to him could be next, and Dean's the only one who might stand a chance-

And Brady could see he'd achieved a job well done, and figured this was the only closure they'd get before the Devil rose again.

Brady gives him an out before Sam felt the need to flee, and pretends to go bum a smoke as Sam retreats back to his new-old home on wheels. Brady can't chance big brother seeing his face, just in case. And now that he's off his favorite case, well, there was other grunt work to attend to, now that Sam is back on track.

They all need to be ready for the road ahead.

Brady does laugh when he makes it to his next assignment, though. While Sam thinks they're flagging their sorry Dad down, when really Brady has got eyes on him right now. They're heading in the opposite direction. But they'll get there, when they need to.

Chapter Text

Dean is still collapsed on the ground, not quite stable but not beyond saving. Sam needs to get him out of there as soon as he knows John's condition.

And John is alive. Possessed, sucking in one huge breath, and the first words out of his damn mouth are all focused on the job, on finishing this, because Azazel is still kicking around.

"He's still alive. It's inside me, I can feel it." John inhales, wincing as he gasps, "You shoot me. You shoot me, you shoot me in the heart-"

His words repeat, over and over, and he calls Sam daughter like it will make the shot go down easier.

"Do it!" John orders.

Sam cocks the gun, muscle memory of that same violence in his tone making altogether too easy.

It's not that Sam can't kill John, much as he doesn't want to be the one to kill him or see him die. And if it's between getting Azazel, ending this, and John falling with him, well...

He knows what John wants. He wants Sam to put a bullet through his ribs or between his eyes, whatever works, so long as there are no questions asked.

Hell, he's begging him to do it. He's been waiting to bury himself deep in the earth and join Mary so long as the yellow eyed demon goes down with him.

"Sammy," John begs, every word a wheeze.

Sam knows he could do it, staring down the barrel of everything that's ever held him hostage, held his family hostage, even as he keeps hesitating.

"Sam, don't you do it, don't you do it-" Dean rasps, voice thin and high as it breaks, and he's lost too much blood already-

"Sam, you gotta hurry, I can't hold him much longer, we can end this, here and now-"

Dean's voice begins to slur as the blood loss worsens, and he mumbles, "Sammy, don't-"

And the air whistles between Sam's teeth as John yells again, "You shoot me, Sam!"

Once, Sam would choose himself, would choose Jess, would choose to let this die and to take back what he could salvage of his life, and he would walk away and live knowing that he wasn't coming back.

"Sam, no," Dean whispers.

"Sammy! You do this!" John yells, noting slight tremor of the gun. "Sammy!"

And he sees the look in Sam's eyes.

The thing is- Dean isn't who he used to be, either.

And Sam doesn't want to lose him. Sam wants his brother and he wants his family and he can't move forward like this, knowing that he failed him, knowing that after everything they've done that it ends with losing the only other family Dean thinks he has left.

Sam can't do this to him. Sam won't to break his heart.

This time, Sam chooses Dean.

Somewhere, deep down, he wants to hold on, too.

"Sam..." John's voice is frail, a quaking, broken thing, because he can see the battle is already lost.

Sam doesn't take the shot, and the gun lowers in his too-steady hands.

John shudders with a broken expression, chest heaving as he sobs, before Azazel issues from his mouth and vanishes again.

There is grief in the way John falls back to the ground, but Sam is more concerned with getting Dean and him both out of there, the blood trickling down Dean's front and wet, rasping noises he makes a bit too shallow to ignore.

--

At least there's a hospital nearby, three miles to go, two now-

That's what Sam keeps repeating inside his head, but it doesn't stop his eyes from flickering to the backseat where Dean is uncharacteristically quiet, his head lolling a few times.

And it's here, in this home on the road, the one constant in their life as Baby speeds down the highway- that's when John's white-hot rage blooms again, dug out of a grief he's never healed from, the same grief he's always inflicted when he finds his sons have failed him.

Sam lets the words wash over and through, not letting them gain purchase.

But it's John's, "I thought we saw eye to eye on this. Killing this demon comes first, before me, before everything-"

And Sam won't stay quiet anymore, knowing, that this is the difference between them, that this is yet another reason is he will never turn into his father.

"No, sir." Sam answers, voice raw as he eyes Dean in the front-view mirror. "Not before everything."

Then Sam lays out their battle strategy, and the all the ways they can salvage this.

How they can take Azazel down, drive this thing into the ground, without giving up what they were fighting for in the first place-

Glass shatters.

And when the truck hits, plows straight throw them, all Sam can smell is sulfur.

All he sees is bright, bright light, hot and searing pain and red behind his closed eyelids as they get driven off the road.

Darkness swims across Sam's eyes, coming to claim what's left.

Chapter Text

The more the seals break, the more Lucifer feels it.

The Archangel tries its best to send Sam its support, its endless love, as best it's able. Tries to reach through and find the link he can't quite get to but knows is there.

And he knows Sam is hurting.

Can feel it all the way in the deepest pit of Hell where he waits, so close to freedom, yet so far.

We're so close now, Sam. So very close to being together again. And I will make up for every ounce of pain you ever felt the moment I get out of here. I promise you. You'll see.

--

The door closes behind Sam and he realizes that this isn't going to end well.

The fan over the Devil's trap in the ceiling spins in circles, with its hum.

There's a squeak as Dean opens the eye-only window to the room. Sam turns on his heels.

"Okay. Let me out. This is not funny." Sam starts in, trying to keep calm.

"Damn straight." Dean answers.

"Dean." Sam says, more insistent as he walks closer, right to the window, "Come on. This is crazy."

"No. Not until you dry out." Dean answers from the shadows.

Sam opens his mouth to say something, reconsiders, then decides to say what he needs to say anyway. "Look, I'm sorry. I shouldn't have lied to you. Just... Open the door."

Dean's voice is a bit too flippant. "You don't have to apologize. It's not your fault. It's not your fault that you lied to me over and over again. I get it now. You couldn't help it."

No. Sam had to. He had no choice. Dean would just shut it down and make Sam follow his lead like he always does instead of fixing the problem and everyone would blame Sam, like always.

Sam could help it. But it wasn't the right move.

"I'm not some junkie!" Sam protests.

"Really?" Dean asks, disbelieving. Then his tone turns more caustic. "I guess I've just imagined how strung out you've been lately."

Sam lets out a false laugh, breathy and choked.

Sam's voice becomes louder as he brushes the hair out of his face and the sweat from his forehead. "You're actually trying to twist this into some kind of ridiculous drug intervention?"

Sam's hands leave his head, suspended out around him, palms open and up, arms reaching from his sides.

"If it smells like a duck." Dean growls.

"Dean, I'm not drinking demon blood for kicks!" Sam answers, trying to keep his voice from rising higher, to keep it even as he stops pacing and re-approaches the door. "I'm getting strong enough to kill Lilith!"

"Strong?"

"Yeah!"

"It's about as far away from strong as you can get." Dean answers, and Sam throws his head, a muscle twinging by his mouth. "Try weak. Try desperate. Pathetic."

Just because Sam is doing what he has to doesn't mean Dean gets to make that call.

Sam's voice lowers and deepens as his eyes meet Dean's again. "Killing Lilith is what matters. Or are you so busy being self-righteous you forgot about her." Sam blinks too much, every word emphasized, teeth bared in the red light.

Dean's face gets bathed in shadow as his head lowers, his eyes like empty sockets staring out from a skull.

Dean looks back up. "Oh, Lilith's gonna die." Dean answers, assured. "Bobby and I will kill her. But not with you."

"You're not serious." Sam denies with a shake of his head.

"Congrats, Sammy." Dean's voice is breathy, rasping. "You just bought yourself a benchwarmer seat to the Apocalypse."

No. No, no, no.

"Dean, no. Wait." Sam's voice is soft until the window closes with another rusty squeak of hinges. "Come back here!"

Sam punches the door, voice a throaty yell. "Dean, let me out of here!"

Sam, Sam, I hate being alone in here, please, I miss you so bad...

Sam ignores the echoes of an old nightmare and keeps trying to pretend he can punch through the door, like any continued fight matters or will change the way this has gone.

He was right not to tell Dean, though. If this is Dean's reaction, if this is how this goes...

He should have handled this himself.

Sam tries not to think of his nightmares. Of Jess. Of what this failure means for the world and himself and everything.

Sam keeps yelling and begging despite it all.

"LET ME OUT! DEAN!"

He pounds on the door until his fists bruise and his hands start to shake and the sweat keeps making him too hot, too feverish, and his teeth ache.

His breath still fogs up as the light flickers, though.

Then Alastair is there, and Sam knows he's in for it.

Just because you know it's a hallucination doesn't mean it feels less real.

And Sam's tied and trussed up and locked down and tortured for however long.

Just because it's a hallucination doesn't mean Sam won't scream or fight or plead.

"No, no, don't. Don't."

And then he's being split open and can only gasp and scream.

"Don't! Stop!"

Every nerve feels like it's being ripped to pieces as the poison boils under Sam's skin, and Sam wonders if his brain will melt and he'll fry down here, all alone, with only hallucinations for company.

And then Sam's on the bed and free after however long, except for the still-boiling blood in his veins and stabbing pain in his stomach, nauseous and sour, the ache in his throat and the pounding in his skull and the shakes and the dizzy vertigo making him feel like his head will split right open.

Sam tries to catch his breath and can't help but pat himself down to see if he's whole.

"The answer's yes." Sam turns around at the voice, at himself, at 14. Still a girl's body, still in too-big flannels Sam begged Dean to pass down to him and baggy pants that need a belt to stay on, still the short hair cropped around his ears, still so small. "You're hallucinating. That's right. It's me. Or, I mean, it's you."

Sam exhales. "I'm losing my mind." He says to himself.

"Definitely." Sam's fourteen year old doppelganger answers with two sharp nods and starts pacing. Sam keeps sitting on the cot.

"What do you want?" Sam asks himself.

"An explanation." Young Sam's voice turns vicious, arms out like he's gearing for a fight. "How could you do this to me?"

Sam flinches and looks down.

"I thought we were gonna be normal." Young Sam adds.

Sam looks back at himself and his voice shakes. "I tried. I did. It didn't pan out that way." Sam wishes his younger self would get it, that he would do anything to go back. Anything. "Sorry, kid."

Young Sam turns on Sam, snarling, head bowed, voice like a whip. "'Sorry, kid?' That's what you have to say? It's all we ever wanted."

And Sam looks down again as Young Sam's voice turns pleading, stutters, "We were so close! You got away from Dad. You quit hunting. You were gonna become a lawyer and get married."

Jess. Sam misses her so much he could sob and choke right now, and he won't think of her, of her smile, of her sobs in his nightmares, of her, burning on the ceiling, so hot that Sam wants to burn right along with her. His teeth bare in grief as his lip trembles.

Young Sam is demanding, is relentless, out for blood. "Why did you blow it?"

"Look," Sam grits out, not trusting his own voice, tears teeming in his ears, the grief for Jess and his future and himself so close it could knock him flat. Sam inhales and soldiers on. "They killed Jessica."

"Yeah, and if you hadn't run off with Dean, if you'd been there to protect her," Young Sam gets in Sam's face, condemning, "She'd still be alive."

I know.

Sam blinks and looks up at the fan. Swallows. Bites his lip and chokes on his own words, raw and barely pronounced. "I know."

"You think Jess would want you to turn into this?" Young Sam scoffs, lip curling as he looks down at his future.

Don't worry, Sammy, you're always perfect to me. Sam remembers. And nothing will ever keep me from loving you. Nothing.

Young Sam doesn't hold back. "She loved you."

I love you, Sam. I love you, so, so, so much. More than the universe and everything beyond it.

Sam inhales and fidgets and looks at his own crossed legs, cannot face himself or anything.

Jess had given him everything and now she's gone forever, and Sam will never be okay, he loved her too much, they were going to heal and live their lives together...

"You think she would be happy, you using her as an excuse?" Young Sam asks.

It's not an excuse, he should be dead, with her, he just wants Jess back, doesn't he understand, he would do anything and he can't go back and this is the only thing because once it's over Sam can die in peace.

Sam looks back up at himself, frantic and pointed and adamant and his voice a dull rumble. "I'm sorry. I am." His eyes don't leave himself once as he keeps going, "But life doesn't turn out the way you thought it would when you were 14 years old."

We can't run like we thought we could. We can't keep what we thought we had.

There's no getting out now.

"We were never going to be normal." Sam rages, all quiet, all fire, each breath physically paining him. "We were never gonna get away. Grow up." Sam commands, eyebrows raised and each word a sharp stab to the heart, although Sam's heart is already tatters.

Then Sam loses his nerve and looks away again, overwhelmed by the need to end this, to not be here, for rest...

Sam's throat has a lump he can't shake and his chest burns and his stomach wants to spew bile and all Sam wants to do is bleed and never wake up, but he has to finish this, has to get Lilith, first, he has to...

"Maybe you're right." Young Sam finally breaks the silence, enough to make Sam start upright. "Maybe there is... no escape." Young Sam decides on, taking time on each word. "After all, how can you run..."

So hungry so hot so wanting never enough....

"...For what's inside you?" Young Sam asks, eyes bleeding yellow.

Sam feels everything he's tried to keep down coming to skin him alive. He's never been able to escape his body- not fully, and it's always been outside Sam's control, compromised at birth and then six months after. And he's burning, always burning, he needs the cold, needs the dream where he's housed with the brightest thing in Creation, so many eyes and wings, dripping blood, speaking with Jessica's voice and cupping Sam's forehead like it will make all the pain freeze off him. Sam thinks maybe it's Jess, in Heaven. Bright and cold and royal and every bit the true angel he always knew she was, except better, because real angels are nothing like her, nothing at all.

And Sam feels the demon blood shuddering in his veins, twisting, singing some infernal melody, it's own poison, coursing through, like it's always been there and will never come out because it has and it will always be there and Sam damned Jess right from the start.

It's like it's searching, reaching out, for something that isn't quite there.

--

Bobby isn't sure how to bring this up, after the seal and angel discussion, but he has to.

His eyes dart around before he inhales, finding his courage. "I'm just wondering," Bobby starts in, rubbing his face, throat bobbing...

Dean asks in the silence, "What?"

Bobby walks closer, hands in his pockets, eyes looking out the window. "With the Apocalypse being nigh and all, is now really the right time to be having this little domestic drama of ours?"

"What do you mean?" Dean demands, blinking, face stone.

Bobby meets Dean's gaze, voice not giving ground, although it's soft, too soft for Bobby's rough ease he usually remains comfortably housed in. "Well, I don't like this any more than you do, but... Sam can kill demons. He's got a shot at stopping Armageddon."

Bobby still believes in him. And he's knows what's been driving Sam this whole time, even if Dean doesn't want to be privy to it.

"So, what, sacrifice Sam's life, his soul, for the greater good? Is that what you are saying?" Dean's long-suffering fear of losing his brother and need to be the one to protect him and be in control to stop this from careening even further beyond his control bleeds through. "Time ares bad, so let's use Sam as a nuclear warhead?" Dean's voice becomes cold and deadly and exhausted because he can't let Sam be used like this.

Bobby doesn't say what he knows Sam would want him to. That this is Sam's choice. Sam's sacrifice. And Sam had been waiting for this. Wanted to choose something, after his choices felt so constrained and he felt like a puppet on a string. Losing Jess broke something inside him. Bobby knows that, just like losing his wife broke him.

Bobby would only hope to be there for him when it's over, but he knows what its like to lose someone, knows how deeply Sam feels about things, his own life...

Tears blink in Dean's eyes, pain scrunching his face, and Bobby doesn't say any of that.

"Look," Bobby finds his voice. "I know you hate me for suggesting it. I hate me for suggesting it."

Because he does. He doesn't want Sam going down this path. He doesn't want to keep Sam a prisoner. But he doesn't want to lose Sam, either.

Bobby's voice turns gentle again, turns to grief. "I love that boy like a son."

And Dean looks down and swallows because he knows it, too.

"All I'm saying is, maybe he's here right now, instead of on the battlefield, 'cause we love him too much."

Because we're too scared to let him go like he wants us to.

--

Sam pants, dizzy, on the floor, cross-legged and wishing he was free.

The fan and it's light and shadow make his head hurt more.

He's so thirsty.

The room swims with a shudder, and Sam tries to stop himself from falling over and screws his eyes shut, clutching the cot to try and rise to his feet.

Mary's voice whispers in his ear, and Sam gasps, eyes opening.

"Mom." Sam finds his footing, Mary's ghost, bloody and present, in the room with him. He's not sure if she's real or just another hallucination.

He doesn't care.

"Sam. You look just awful." Mary's voice is a bit sharp.

Sam looks at his own sweaty mess of a body and feels the vertigo again.

"Let's hear it. Go ahead." Sam invites.

"What do you mean?" Mary asks, not moving.

Sam closes his eyes and his head turns as he speaks, too scared to look at her. "You're disappointed."

You died because of me and I failed everyone.

And Sam opens blinking eyes and his eyebrows raised and his jaw goes tight. He tries to smile at Mary and fails. "You never thought I'd," Sam inhales sharply, "Turn out this way." Sam says as he stumbles closer. "I'm a pisspoor excuse for a son." 

Sam's mouth twitches and his nostrils flare in self-hatred he can't dispel, and he chances a look at his mother, then looks away and sits down on the cot. "Your heart is broken." Sam sighs, staring at nothing. His eyebrows rise and fall with his eyes scrunching, "Am I close?"

Mary doesn't move and keeps staring him down. "Not at all." She gives him the smallest of smiles. "You're doing the right thing, Sam." Mary adds, walking closer. "What you're doing is brave." She continues, adamant, and Sam looks back at her, not daring to hope but feeling it anyway. "You're not being crazy. You're being practical." Mary's voice is like a sea washing the rot away, and she keeps one eyebrow raised as she looks at her son.

Then she gives a fuller smile to Sam. "Sam, I am so proud of you."

Sam swallows and inhales. "But... But Dean..."

Mary shakes her head, eyes blinking, "Your brother doesn't understand. I was raised a hunter, from a long line." Mary says as she sits next to Sam. "We understand that there are gonna be hard choices. And we do what we have to to get the job done." Then Mary looks down. "Yes, our family is cursed. But you..." And then Mary is stroking Sam's hair away from his brow, eyes full of belief. "You have the power to turn it into a gift. You can use it against them."

Sam stares past her, teeth glued together. He still feels like he's burning up beyond belief.

Sam looks back up at her, breath a hiss. "For revenge?" Sam asks, conscious of his sweaty palms and heartbeat pounding in his skull.

Mary meets his gaze and gives her answer, not compromising. "No. For justice."

Justice. Like Jess would always talk about. Would demand.

Sam, me and you, we'll bring the world to justice, one day at a time. You'll see.

Sam can't stop the tears now and looks down at his hands.

Sam wants to reach out and burn it all down with her, take everything that ever hurt him and send them crumbling down to Hell.

"I know how scared you are." Mary adds.

Sam's lip quivers as he looks up. "What's... In me," Sam finally says, mouth grimacing, every word painful, like something stabbing him below the gumline. "Mom? It's..."

"Evil." Mary supplies, and Sam inhales, keeps the sob back. "And you know it."

And Sam just wants to reach out and pull, bring Jessica back and have her freeze every bad feeling away like she used to. To tell him he's perfect, that nothing vile has ever lived inside him, that he'll be washed clean of this.

Sam looks back down at himself. "What if it's stronger than me? Look at me. What if Dean's right?"

And Sam looks back at Mary, who brushes his hair with her hand again. "Dean can never know how strong you are." She answers, then sighs, hand settling on Sam's back. "Because Dean is weak." Mary finishes.

Sam blinks at her, thrown. 

Mary adds, "Look at what he's done to you. Locking you in here? He's terrified. He's in over his head."

Sam doesn't want to agree, but he does. This is killing him. This is taking away his one chance to fix everything. And Sam isn't in over his head, because he's been submerged ever since Jess burned, and he was going to take every bad thing down with him, every scheme of every demon who had a hand in this going to burn, and Lilith most of all.

I will never let him hurt you, Sam. I will never let anyone hurt you again.

Sam listens to Mary's words, too quiet.

"You have to go on without him." She says, so sure. "You have what it takes."

Sam knows that. He's always had to go on without him, in the end. That's why Sam had to leave the first time. The first time... For his freedom, for his life, for his happiness.

The second time is just to let go. To be free in a whole new way.

"You have to kill Lilith." Mary continues, so quiet.

Sam cuts her off, nodding. "Even if it kills me."

Sam was going to die happy, knowing he won this, in the end.

Sam sighs and looks at his mother and wonders if he'll see her and Jess soon. If she'll be as happy to see him in Heaven as he knows his hallucination is, now.

"Make my death mean something. I'm counting on you, Sam." She finishes, and kisses his cheek, and Sam lets the imprint of her hold him close before the end of it all. "Don't let anyone or anything get in your way. Not even Dean."

Sam can almost feel that she isn't real, but doesn't want to.

Dean always said she'd sing, "Hey, Jude." Over the cradle.

She sings it now, and then she's gone.

--

Castiel's voice is gravelly and exhausted. "The only question for us is whether you're willing to accept it. Stand up and accept your role."

Castiel keeps staring Dean down in that intense way he does, pleading and inextricable and angelic in a way that defies comprehension but demands action. There is belief, there, too. "You are the one who will stop it." Castiel says.

Dean inhales, and all the fear and pain he's been trying to hide leeches out despite it all.

"If I do this..." Dean asks, staring into Castiel's eyes, speaking almost like a prayer. "Sammy doesn't have to?"

That's all Dean wants. Is for Sam to be safe.

Castiel stares back at Dean, with Jimmy's eyes, so blue, and Dean can see the blue fire over the coals of his real eyes underneath.

Castiel is like a wall, not giving any emotion, only surety. "If it gives you comfort to see it that way."

Castiel does not want to cause Dean more pain. He just knows what must be done, because Heaven decreed it, and Dean is their instrument to wipe the slate clean, to stop the end.

Dean scoffs and has to look away from him, because he can see how something inside Cas is broken, even now. "God, you're a dick these days." Dean answers.

Cas stares out, trying not to feel the things he feels. Tries to be more angelic, more a product made and mass produced, than an individual person, one in a part of a whole.

Dean accepts the role.

He doesn't fall for the weaselly wording Castiel has been instructed to say.

Once, Cas would rejoice for that...

Now...

"Say it." Castiel says, and Dean turns back to face him.

"I give myself over wholly to serve God and you guys." Dean's eyebrows raise at the end of his answer, words too raw as he walks back over. Now, he's face to face with the angel who brought him from Hell and delivered him back to earth.

Castiel asks, trying to keep the pain from his eyes and not quite succeeding, but he carries out his task, "And you swear to follow his will and his word as swiftly and obediently as you did your own father's?"

Dean stares him down, face set, mouth drawn, a muscle twitching on his face. "Yes. I swear."

Anything, to save Sam.

Castiel looks at him and wishes he understood the love he saw there. Nods slightly, eyes never blinking.

"Now what?" Dean asks.

Castiel's voice is low. "Now you wait. And we call on you when it's time."

The two keep staring each other down.

Dean blinks first, and Cas is gone.

--

Bobby doesn't get a chance to grill Dean too much about his decision. Sam is too quiet, and they have to somehow help him while he's seizing on the floor.

Bobby puts his belt between Sam's teeth so he doesn't bite his own tongue off.

They tie Sam down because they don't know what else to do for him.

--

Sam wakes handcuffed to the cot. Dean standing there over him.

Sam sits up and pulls on the restraints.

"We had to." Dean says. "The demon blood was flinging you all over the room. Tell me something, Sam. Why did you do this to yourself?"

"You know why." Sam answers, determined.

"Right. Kill Lilith. The big excuse. But why?" Sam looks away as Dean keeps going. "What, revenge? Right?"

"Of course." Sam answers.

"For sending me to Hell? Did you happen to notice I'm back? Alive and kicking?" Dean's gruff voice gets louder. "So what's the point?"

And Sam won't argue with that, except not everything is about Dean. Not everything revolves around him.

This is about so much more.

Sam doesn't look at him until he does.

"The point?" Sam answers, and then he's gritting his teeth and pulling at the restraints in exhausted disbelief and exasperation.

They took everything I loved away from me. They played with my life before I was even born. And now they are going to do it to everyone else.

"How about stop the damn Apocalypse?" Sam answers, inconsolable.

(He can't tell hallucinations from the real, doesn't know he's just picking up on all the interference his fried mind can't quite make sense of, his own fears coming out to play and eat him alive).

"My gig!" Dean yells. "Not yours. The angels said so, remember? God picked me, man."

Sam doesn't care, but swallows.

"So have you got any other fantastic excuses? Hmm?" Dean demands.

Jess. Not revenge. Sam just wanted this to end.

He just wants to be free again.

That's it.

But he can't tell Dean that.

--

"Bobby, you saw what was happening to him down there." Dean defends, "The demon blood is killing him."

Bobby can't take this, because he knows the detox is killing Sam and he can't kill him. He can't.

"No, it isn't." Bobby corrects Dean. "We are."

"What?" Dean's face is shocked and his eyes wide.

"I'm sorry. I can't bite my tongue any longer." Bobby answers and shakes his head. He repeats, more adamant this time, "We're killing him. Keeping him locked up down there. This cold turkey thing isn't working. If... If he doesn't get what he needs... Soon," Bobby says, and swallows, eyes not leaving Dean's face, "Sam's not gonna last much longer."

Dean swallows and looks down.

A muscle ticks under Bobby's eye when he sees his stricken expression, sees what's coming.

"No." Dean rasps, eyes watering.

Bobby's eyes narrow as he stares Dean down.

"I'm not giving him demon blood. I won't do it." Dean says.

Bobby has to hold back tears, now. "And if he dies?"

Dean's voice breaks and becomes a loud, choked sob, "Then at least he dies human!"

Bobby can't be a part of this. He can't. He doesn't care what Dean says.

He's not letting his boy die. He's not letting either of them die, whatever must happen.

But he listens, because he can't do anything right now. Not without Dean trying to take him out of the game.

"I would die for him in a second." Dean says, and his voice chokes into a whisper. "But I won't let him do this to himself. I can't. I guess I found my line," Dean adds on, chest heaving as his throat bobs and he stops the tears from falling for this second and this second only. "I won't let my brother turn into a monster."

Little does he know, Cain made the same choice in his own deal with the Devil, oh so very long ago.

Dean thinks he can own Sam's choices. They are not his to make.

Bobby stares Dean down, and won't let Dean take away Sam's freedom to live.

Bobby can't let Sam go free, can't let him take on this suicidal mission he knows Sam is on.

But he can't let Sam die.

--

"I know why you really drink the blood, Sam." Dean says, pacing around the cot.

"Just leave me alone." Sam begs.

Dean doesn't stop. "Makes you feel strong. Invincible. A big bad wolf in a world of little pigs."

Not just that. Mostly, it just makes Sam not feel the pain. It makes him feel like he's so full, so ready to take everything in, that he can take the whole world apart and it can't hurt him because he can't feel all the things trying to pull him back under. Just anger. Just resolve. Just need. Like an echo filling up whatever keeps Sam feeling so empty all the time.

"No, you're wrong, Dean." Sam protests, breathing heavily.

"It's more than that, isn't it?" Dean growls over him. "It's because your whole life, you felt different. Am I right?"

And Sam doesn't know how not to feel the depths of pure betrayal, because he told Dean that in confidence. It's not about the blood, or the need, or Azazel.

It's about how he's always felt wrong and in the wrong body and Sam prayed so hard and then Jess helped make it right and Sam was as free as he was going to get, and how dare Dean use that against him.

"Stop." Sam's voice is a ironclad gasp, brooking no argument. He'll fight Dean for this. He will.

"Oh, I hit a little close to home, huh?" Dean says and stops pacing, his head bobbing with too much self-righteous knowing.

Sam inhales and bites his lip and looks back at his handcuffs and pulls as hard as he can with the body that is his.

"Not different because you were some lonely kid. Or because of your weirdo family..." Dean starts in, voice lower, more pointed, and Sam tries not to cry.

Because you're a freak, because you're not my brother, the one you chose to be. You're just Samantha Winchester, not Samuel Winchester. You're just the little kid I had to take care of and lose my childhood for, just a thing formed by other things who didn't listen to what Dad and I said for all those years. Sammy, you fell into the wrong crowd. You let them change you. That's how they got their hold over you, because you thought it was just your body that was the enemy. But it was your heart, Sam, your blood... That's why you were never happy, Sam, why you never felt whole. Because there's something intrinsically wrong with you.

Dean doesn't say it, but Sam hears it anyway.

"Stop it." Sam's voice is stronger now. Every bit full of every thing he's ever done to make it that voice. His voice. All his. With his throat and his lungs and his depth and his testosterone and his everything.

Dean stares down at him like he sees Sam clearly for the first time, then leans over, one hand by Sam's head. Sam closes his eyes and can't look at him.

"Because your a monster." Dean says.

"Shut up!" Sam yells.

"You were always a monster." Dean adds.

Sam yells over him, "JUST SHUT THE HELL UP!"

"And you only feel right when you're sucking down more poison." Dean growls, voice a guttural snarl, condemning and promising hurt.

Sam tries to pull away again, in his body, with his wrists...

"And more evil!" Dean finishes with a yell, and Sam looks back at him, as heartbroken as the day he had to leave.

When John said, "You walk out that door, don't ever come back!"

And Sam didn't mourn him but he mourned his brother for not standing up for him, for looking like he was the one betrayed, like Sam was the one who wasn't allowed to go.

Sam pulls on both restraints with both hands and prays.

Jess. Jessica, by all that is holy and not, I miss you, I'm coming back, I'm going to be safe in your arms again.

Sam sobs inside his head and thinks of every kind word she ever said to him, when all Sam wanted to do was curl up and hide from the world, and she held him close, and kissed his forehead and his lips and hair and neck and eyelids and promised Sam everything was going to be okay, because she was here, and she loved him, and she was his best friend, and she would never let him go, and Sam was safe.

I love you and no one can ever take that love away. And you have to love yourself, Sam, more than I love you. You have to because you are perfect and there is nothing wrong with you and you are the best thing and the kindest, strongest man, strongest human, in the entire world. You have to love yourself as much as I love you, because you're mine.

Sam hears, and Sam sobs and pretends he can't hear Dean talking, saying, "Monster, Sam, you're a monster," because all he hears is her voice, Jessica's voice and the undertone of the voice in his dreams as a child, and hears his own shallow breathing as tears fall down his face and he tastes the salt from his eyes, so different from the blood in his veins.

"Dean, no." Sam finally meets his eyes.

"I tried so hard to pretend we were brothers. That you weren't one of the filthy things we hunt."

Sam whines and keeps trying to pull out of the restraints, lips drawn back, teeth gleaming, noise humming in his throat and eyelids screwed tight so he doesn't have to see Dean's face, that expression, in his eyes.

"But we're not even the same species. You're nothing to me." Dean keeps going.

"Don't say that to me!" Sam answers, begging and angry and in pain and done, "Don't you say that to me."

"You're a freak, Samantha. Just another bitch to gank."

And Sam turns his face away and cries because he can't stop it. And he retreats back into Jess, into every memory of every bit of love she ever gave him.

When Sam turns back, Dean is gone.

And Sam prays it was just a hallucination. Knows it is, because Dean never called him Samantha. Not after Sam was three and told him he's just Sam, just Sammy, and he better remember it.

Sam lets out a sigh and lets all the stress and pain he's been trying to keep himself above wash over him.

He just wants out.

He just wants Jess back.

He just wants Lilith to die screaming and then he can rest.

And then Jess is there, standing over him, looking so lost. "Sam. Sammy." She says, and then she is on the cot, huddling up against him, kissing his face, cradling his cheek, eyelashes against Sam's face, icy cold breaths huffing against his lips.

My Sam. Oh, what have they done to you. I promised not to let anything happen and I failed you...

"It's not your fault, Jess. It's mine. I shouldn't have left you." Sam sobs. Jess holds him tighter, massages Sam's sore wrists. "I should never have left and you would be safe and alive and we'd be together and happy."

Don't blame yourself, Sam. This is and will never be your fault. I promise you. I promise.

"Don't cry, Sam. Don't. You'll be safe, with me, soon. I'll take care of you. I love you. Don't let anyone tell you you deserve this. You deserve to be happy, Sam."

Remember, it always had to be you. Because you're mine, and I will make you happy and safe, and I love you, and I want no one else. It had to be you, Sam, to set us free.

There are starbursts and wings and cold and ice behind Jess, burning so bright around her golden hair that it's like she's crowned with light, pure light, behind her eyelids.

Sam never wants to her to let go.

He holds on to her, and she stays with him until the light from the fan above dies and it's dark and cold and blue.

"You aren't a monster, Sam. You're beautiful and perfect and mine and nothing will hurt you ever again when this is over." Jess whispers. "I won't let them."

Sam lies there until it gets dark, and colder, but still not cold enough.

Sammy. I'll never really say goodbye. We're together forever.

Jess.

Jess kisses Sam on the lips and brushes the hair from his face and stares into his eyes. Sam thinks he sees red behind the brown, but isn't sure.

"I'll see you soon, Sam." Jess promises, eyes so bright and lips so cold.

Sam hears a ringing. Angels.

And Jess is gone.

Sam's wrists and legs are freed.

The door opens with a creak.

Sam calls out as he walks out. No one answers.

And Sam goes to prepare for Lilith and meet his death, so he can finally be reunited with the one person who never asked for Sam to change or be something he's not.

He leaves the Hell, the prison, Dean made for him, the fan and its humming and it's shadows behind.

--

Cas lets Sam out.

He knows what must be done. Has his orders.

Can some echo of something between Sam and Hell. Knows that is ordained, too, because he knows who and what Sam is.

His role.

Then Cas goes to retrieve Anna.

Castiel doesn't want the emotions Dean makes him feel. Doesn't want the emotions from Sam, either.

Heaven tried to tear it out of him. Heaven reprogrammed him.

Now they would reprogram Anna.

Because that was the will of the Lord.

"You really shouldn't have come." Cas says.

Anna is taken away with the holy light of Heaven.

No mercy. Only relentless, inextricable purpose.

Cas looks out on the pier, at the world and waters God created when he separated Sea from Sky, like he's separated Heaven from Hell, and wishes Heaven were merciful like Sam once prayed it was.

--

Sam goes to take a car.

Bobby cocks a shotgun behind him.

Sam turns around.

"Uh-uh, Sam." Bobby's voice is low, but gentle, and scared. He inhales. "The only place you're going is back inside with me."

Sam sees something in his face, despite the gun. Sees the unsaid: I won't lock you up again. But I can't let you do this. I can't let you leave and go die like this.

Sam shivers and looks down, his face a wreck, almost looking bruised from the poison in his veins and the bags under his eyes.

"No." Sam breathes out with finality.

His answer is no. This is his choice. He needs to do this.

He looks back into Bobby's eyes.

"Damn it, boy." Bobby's eyes water and his voice shakes.

Sam keeps staring back at him, breathing too tightly, eyes watery, too.

This is goodbye.

Sam gives a small shake of his head and looks back down at the gun. "You won't shoot me, Bobby."

Sam walks closer.

"Don't test me." Bobby answers, but it's a strangled noise and betrays everything and they both know it.

Sam lets the weight of their memories together surface. Bobby, holding Sam on his shoulders. Bobby, feeding Sam extra food and making him cocoa when Dean was asleep or John and Dean were gone on a hunt. Bobby, buying Sam clothes that fit him from the boys section of the store. Giving Sam some of his old jackets. Bobby, watching Sam watch TV and read and sing while Bobby read the paper and drank a beer, but not like John did, not in a way that made Sam scared.

Bobby telling Sam he'd always be welcome in his home. Bobby reaching out to Pastors and helping Pastor Jim help Sam apply for college.

Bobby, telling Sam he still loved him and hoped his life in college was good and that he's happy he's made a life for himself. Bobby, talking to Sam when he said he was going to propose to Jess.

Bobby has always been like a real father to Sam. He supported him. Never questioned what Sam wanted to be called or his gender, even as a child, or what he wanted in life or Sam's taste in romantic partners. Helped Sam through it when Sam realized he was bi in his teens, since Bobby had been with Rufus after Karen and wasn't something to let Sam be all alone with that stuff, since Dean was still in the closet and wouldn't know safety if it bit him in the ass, not until Sam made him talk to Bobby, too.

Bobby let him be a second son, and asked for only Sam to be himself in return.

"You won't do it." Sam says again, staring at Bobby with all the love in the world.

Bobby stares back at him with all the love a parent has for their child who doesn't want to see them die before them. Doesn't want to send them off to war to die.

Sam steps closer like he'll hug him.

Bobby tries to stop from sobbing and sees all the intent in Sam's eyes. All the pain. All the loss. Sees his own loss mirrored in Sam's eyes.

Sam steps into the barrel of the gun.

"You can't do it." Sam adds, voice a raw, trembling mess.

Because you love me.

Bobby looks down at Sam's heart and back up again and his grip on the gun is so shaky it might just fall out of his hands.

"We're trying to help you, Sam." Bobby says, tone unsteady, every unvoiced sob and cry and unshed tear hidden inside it.

Sam looks at his face, memorizes it, a grimace of pain shooting through his jaw, then looks down at the barrel of the gun.

Sam doesn't want to die a freak. A monster.

Sam doesn't want to die.

He just wants to bring Jess back and kill the sons of bitches who put her in the ground.

But he can't.

All he can do is go to Jess and die avenging her.

Sam pulls the gun to his heart, white knuckles the metal with his fists, every breath a heaving shake.

"Then shoot." Sam demands, looking at the bare patch of ground past Bobby's head where no grass grows.

The wind is silent.

Bobby doesn't move.

Sam's lip quivers, and tears fall from his face and Bobby's as Sam chokes out breathy sobs, staring back into Bobby's eyes.

Sam sees Bobby tremble, sees that he can't let Sam go, won't kill him but won't let him die.

Sam grabs the gun and hits Bobby with the barrel of it, knocks him out cold.

This is Sam's choice.

And he's taking it.

Sam's chest heaves and he throws the gun to the ground and he wishes he got to say goodbye but that's all he was going to have.

He looks at Bobby and hopes his heart doesn't break more, like Sam's has.

He can't mend both their hearts, though.

Sam's is already in two, and he wants to stop it from beating.

Only after he tears Lilith apart, though. Only after this is over.

Sam makes sure Bobby is in a safe position, that he's not vulnerable or has a concussion before he leaves, then Sam hotwires the car and flees to the end of it all.

Endings are always waiting.

--

When Bobby comes to, he doesn't tell Dean Sam escaped. He waits until they go to check on him, lets the empty room speak for itself.

If Sam wants to fight his fight...

Bobby can't take anything else away from him.

The least he can give him is time.

He still doesn't know how he got out. But he won't stop Dean from going after Ruby.

Ruby wasn't Jess, and Bobby knows he can't stop Dean, anyway. And he doesn't want Sam to be anywhere near her, wants Ruby gone so Sam has to sit this one out.

And Bobby wants Sam home safe, damn it all.

He can't let him throw his life away, even if Sam wants to make him.

So Bobby does tell Dean when he's car has been switched.

And Dean makes his play when realizes the neon sign is Sam's way of trying to hold him off.

And Bobby waits to see what will happen, now that Dean is on a hunt to get his brother back.

He can't betray either of his boys. He can only hope they can fight this fight together and not crumble to pieces.

But Bobby was hoping Dean wouldn't catch on to what Sam did, on some level.

He still knows why Sam is doing this.

And when Dean calls him to figure out what Lilith is up to, Bobby reminds Dean that they just want to get Sam back.

Not push him away, like John did.

Like Dean might.

Bobby ends it with, "I know you're mad, Dean, I understand. You got a right to be. But I'm just saying... Be good to him anyway. You got to get through to him."

Dean hangs up the phone.

Bobby prays.

Lucifer hears him, of all people, hears every word issuing from his mouth. Every begging, pleading prayer that Sam makes it out of this alive.

And Lucifer promises nothing less, and knows his deliverance is so soon at hand, and he keeps counting down every hour that ticks by in Hell.

The Devil prays with him.

--

"Honeymoon suite. I'm flattered." Ruby says as Sam lets her in.

"Did you bust me out of that room?" Sam demands.

Ruby isn't amused, only impatient.

"How could I, Sam? The whole thing's engineered to bite me in the ass." Ruby scoffs and shifts her bag from one shoulder to the other.

"Then how did I get out of there?" Sam asks.

Ruby shrugs. "I don't know. I don't want to know. You're out, that's all that matters."

Very results oriented, Ruby. Eyes on the prize, no beating round the bush.

Ruby eyes Sam, expression softening. "I'm glad you're here."

Sam isn't so charitable, lets the anger out because he can't be a wreck and needs the anger to function, to see this through the end. "Yeah? Where the Hell have you been?"

"I got here as quick as I could." Ruby's voice turns to acid, her lip curling.

"I mean the past three weeks! I've been calling you!" Sam answers, voice raised.

Ruby heads towards the bed.

"I've been pretty deep in it, trying to dig out Lilith." She replies, arms out, expression unforgiving. "Sometimes I can't sit around and check my voicemail."

Then Sam wavers. Jess was always reliable, even if she was always unpredictable and never on time, and he can't think about her right now, but he's so hungry and so tired and in so much pain and Dean turned on him and he might collapse right now.

Ruby's bag falls to the floor, and when she looks back at Sam her expression gives way to understanding.

"I'm sorry you're hurting. Really." Ruby's tone goes lower, loses the edge. "I had no idea that Dean would do that to you."

Sam believes her. Has no reason not to.

(Ruby isn't lying about that last bit. She doesn't want Sam incapacitated. She's on a tight schedule).

Sam stares at her, not seeing her, face twitching as he inhales. "You and me both."

Ruby looks down at the intensity of his gaze.

"You didn't book this joint just to impress me, did you?" Ruby asks, and Sam ignores how she sounds put out about it.

As if. Sam doesn't love her, not properly, and can't afford to care like that. His heart belongs to Jess and only Jess, and Sam's never been able to move on. And Sam might be considerate, but he knows what Ruby is, knows that for their partnership they were both using each other, to some degree. Sure, they were allies, and Sam wouldn't let her die, but Ruby was still a manipulative bitch, and got off on Sam being dependent, and Sam let her because he needs her and needs her blood to end this and doesn't have much left to lose.

Sam walks closer, on a mission, all coiled up purpose. "Dean's gonna come after me. And he knows my habits, my aliases, everything. He knows exactly which motel I'd pick." Sam is inches from Ruby's face now, his face a drawn mask of certainty.

"Hence the room." Ruby muses. Waiting.

Sam nods at her and looks down, tries to ignore the hunger screaming inside him, the chills racking his body from being too hot, too empty, too powerless. "Whatever it takes to shake him."

"Well, it won't be easy. I mean... He knows you better than anyone."

Anyone alive, that is. Sam thinks. Ruby can afford to be wrong, though.

It doesn't matter.

Soon he'll be with Jess and will have stopped the end of the world and maybe Dean would be the one to kill him for what he turned into but Sam doesn't care.

"Not as well as he thinks." Sam says, exhales, tilting his head as he refrains from going in for the hit he needs. Thinks of Stanford, of all the things Dean doesn't know about Sam, all the things Sam has shared with other people, when he was truly free and happy.

"You know, it's sad." Ruby says, head nodding, arms crossed.

"What?" Sam asks, eyes not leaving her face.

Ruby doesn't meet his gaze and looks beyond his shoulder.

"That things have gotten this bad between you two." Ruby answers, hand stroking through Sam's hair like Jess used to, barely an imitative parody.

Sam misses the real thing. And he wants her hands off of him, because he didn't give permission for it.

He grips her wrist and pushes her down on the bed, taking control because otherwise Ruby was driving against Sam's will (wanting intimacy Sam allowed but doesn't want to give because that was their arrangement. Her the dealer, Sam the client, her the pimp, and Sam the whore, but that's the price you pay to get Lilith and end this and it's a price Sam will pay as long as he must, to get an end to this), and Sam is on a mission for the blood and blood only.

He still gives her the illusion of romance. Ruby was a bit more giving when he played along like that.

Sam doesn't kiss her, though. He never initiates those. Ruby just stole them when they didn't belong to her.

Sam tries to restrain himself from going for her knife immediately and goes down slow, to keep up the facade.

Sam takes the knife from her boot and his breathing becomes choppy and it takes all his willpower not to slice her up. He opens one veins and sucks like his life depends on it (only it's his death that does, his absolution, his justice) and pretends he doesn't see Ruby's self-assured, smug expression at how dependent Sam is on her. She may have saved Sam's life after Dean, gave it purpose in derailing the end and getting the ones jerking Sam's leash around back, but it is still an overdue date Sam has to meet sooner rather than later.

Sam will pay that price for what needs to be done, and after all, he knows she is still a demon. They both have a bigger enemy to wipe off the board.

When it's over, Ruby observes Sam like a science experiment. Sam thinks about everything else and her voice jolts him from his thoughts.

"Your appetites gotten much bigger." Ruby says.

Sam recoils from her a little and rises to sitting position. "What's that supposed to mean?"

He doesn't like her expression.

Means your well on your way getting ready for other things to fill you, Ruby thinks to herself, but doesn't let on.

"Sam. Relax. It's okay. It's good." Ruby answers.

Sam tries to settle back down. Tries to believe her. Doesn't want to think it makes her hold on him stronger.

"It just means you're getting stronger. That's all." Ruby explains. "It means you're getting strong enough to kill Lilith."

And that makes Sam's heart stop racing, because that meant they were still on the same page.

"Just in time, too, because the final seals are breaking." Ruby tacks on.

Sam sighs. "How many are left?"

"Three? Two?" Ruby asks.

Sam jolts into almost fear. "What!" He asks, voice too loud and sharp. "Well, where are the angels?"

"Screwing the pooch, wherever they are." Ruby answers, not amused either, but Sam isn't looking at her anymore. "The point is, it's looking more like we're getting down to the final seal." Ruby tries to look as concerned as possible, adding her hook, "And I found out something big."

That makes Sam look at her again.

Sam's voice is soft. "What?"

Ruby shifts on the bed, both arms under her, head rising to meet Sam's height. "Seal 66? It can't be broken by just any demon. Apparently, only Lucifer's first can do it."

Not a lie. Ruby thinks to herself. Boss couldn't be angry about that.

Sam doesn't know what that means. "Lucifer's first?"

Ruby's eyes dart down and back up, a wry half smile on her lips. "Demon Sunday-School story. God prefers humans to angels. Lucifer gets jealous. And then he gets creative."

And Sam isn't looking at her again, can't help but feel ice down his spine, the echo of something like a dream, saying, Not jealously. Intent. Proving a point. Waiting for the future. For the one destined for me.

(Then Sam thinks of himself, laughing with Jess, asking how she could be jealous of anyone. "Not jealous, Sam. Just proving a point.")

Sam gets derailed from his thoughts. Doesn't know why that even came to him.

Ruby keeps talking, and Sam stops spacing, keeps absorbing her words, "And he twists and tempts a human soul into the very first demon as a screw you to God. It's what got him locked up in the first place."

("I got locked up for being right," Jess had joked. "Too hot to handle the truth." Brady had laughed with her, as did Sam, because Jess got out of jail time from a protest somehow, wouldn't tell anyone, and got everyone with her out on bail, too.)

Sam needs to stop thinking of the past and thinking of how he's going to fix this.

But God, he misses it. He misses his life.

He never even said a proper goodbye to Brady, either.

Too late now.

Sam refocuses. "That was Lilith?"

She certainly didn't act particularly mature or like she'd once been human. Just another super-evil, violent nuisance Sam needed to end.

Still. She'd been human once. Weird to think about. Sam wonders how Lucifer got her to change. If her age would be an issue with destroying her.

"She's way older than she looks." Ruby says with a shake of her head.

Clarity breaks over Sam like a lightning strike and he rises to sit. "Wait, so, if Lilith is the only one who can break the final seal, if I get to her in time..." And Sam looks at Ruby with certainty, with almost-joy.

Ruby finishes his sentence. "Then Lucifer never busts out of his Cage. Exactly."

And then Sam can rest.

"Great! You figure out where she is?"

Ruby rolls her eyes. "That bitch can hide. But I finally have a lead."

And then Sam is listening to the inside information, wondering what Lilith needs  a personal chef for. They make their plan.

Then Ruby is telling Sam the hard truths. That he'd need to take in more blood.

Sam tries not to think about it.

But if it's needed...

"I wish he'd trusted me, you know?" Sam laments about Dean.

Like I trusted him.

Ruby apologizes, and Sam doesn't know where the words come from, but keeps talking. "I just hope when this is over... I hope we can fix things." And Sam knows there's no going back, but he hopes, before he dies...

He hopes Dean isn't the one to kill him.

That he can die feeling like he still has a brother.

No more loose ends.

--

Dean catches Sam leaving the suite.

Goes after who and what matters.

Ruby. Killing her.

Stopping her from poisoning Sam more.

Ruby holds him off but doesn't attack.

Sam stops Dean and grabs the knife from him.

"No! Let her go!" Sam demands, intercepting, grabbing the knife from Dean's hand and flinging Dean to the bed. "Just take it easy." Sam asks, tone softening, hands out, placating.

"Wow, that must have been some party you two had going on, considering how hard you tried to keep me from crashing it!" Dean answers. Sam looks down, doesn't want to see the rage and hate in Dean's eyes for Ruby, the anger at Sam. "Well, solid try, but here I am."

Sam looks up, tone gentle. "Dean, I'm glad you're here. Look, let's just talk about this."

Dean isn't budging, tone clicking to the roof of his mouth. "Soon as she's dead, we can talk all you want."

Sam swallows. He might not like Ruby, but he does need her.

They have the same enemy.

"Ruby, get out of here." Sam directs, only half-looking back.

"No, she's not going anywhere-" Dean gets in Sam's face, tone adamant.

Ruby flees. Sam stops Dean from following after her, a body in the way.

The door closes loudly behind her.

"She's poison, Sam!" Dean yells.

"It's not what you think, Dean." Sam tries, because it isn't.

Dean is not biting. "Look what she did to you!" He rages, one hand darting out, and Sam tries not to flinch. Dean reigns it in a little but still gesticulates, face muscles bulging and tone still loud and unforgiving. "Well, she up and vanishes, weeks at a time, leaves you cracking out for another hit!"

Sam doesn't like how close to the surface that hits, and counters, "She was looking for Lilith!"

Sam knows what he is. What he's doing. How he's compromised himself. Doesn't change the end goal. 

Dean lets out a huffing breath and tries to calm himself and fails, "That is french for manipulating your ass 10 ways from Sunday!"

Sam cricks his neck and replies, "You're wrong, Dean."

Dean looks at Sam, pain and fear and more pain in his eyes. "Sam, you're lying to yourself." Dean rasps, and steps closer, like he wants to hug Sam but he's too overcome with rage and exhaustion and the need to stab something.

No, Sam knows Ruby isn't trustworthy. Knows she's manipulative, wants Sam singing her tune. But she's not lying about wanting Lilith dead.

Sam can feel it.

Dean stares into Sam's eyes and says with all the honesty in the world, "I just... want you to be okay."

Only Sam is never going to be okay. Hasn't been okay, for so long...

Not since Jess.

Still. Sam feels the love there. Thinks maybe he can get Dean to see his side of things, until Dean says the next thing, "You would do the same thing for me. You know you would."

But Sam wouldn't. Sam wouldn't lock his brother up and do what Dean did. And that crosses a line.

Sam's voice is a whispering rasp as he looks away and back at his brother. "Just listen."

Sam dumps Ruby's knife on the bed.

"Just listen, for a second." Sam pleads, hands out. "We got a lead on a demon close to Lilith. Come with us, Dean. We'll do this together."

Sam doesn't want to do this without his brother.

Wants to say goodbye.

Wants to find a way for Dean to save him, maybe. To maybe think he has a shot at life after this.

Doesn't want to see that heartbreak and condemnation in his brother's eyes.

Dean isn't compromising. "That sounds great. As long as it's you and me. Demon bitch is a dealbreaker. You kiss her goodbye, we can go right now."

Sam licks his lips and looks away again, this time getting angry. This isn't Dean's call.

Sam shakes his head. "I can't. Dean, I need her to help me kill Lilith."

Sam wouldn't be doing this if it wasn't for that. He needs Dean to understand...

Sam needs to make this right. Needs to stop the forces that made him into what he is, turn their own weapons against them...

Dean turns away, hand over his mouth, and Sam can see how little he's holding it together, but tries to explain, so gently, "I know you can't wrap your head around it. But maybe, one day, you'll understand."

Dean's hand slides off his face, and Sam sees the sharp rise and fall of his shoulders.

Sam sighs and shakes his head, throat bobbing. It's not a good sign, when Dean won't look at him. "I'm the only one who can do this, Dean." Sam states.

Dean turns around, expression tense and on edge, and looks at his brother, sees every single birthday and every single thing that brought them here and he can't lose him. He can't lose his brother and if he has to stop him...

"No, you're not the one who's gonna do this." Dean whispers. I am, I have to, I have to protect you, Sam...

Sam's tone loses it's patience. "Right, that's right. I forgot. The angels think it's you."

Because Sam's not allowed to save anyone. Because he's not worthy enough to them.

Dean blinks, and his jaw tightens.

"You don't think I can?" Dean asks. It's one thing to feel like he can't protect Sam, but for Sam to think he'd fail him...

"No." Sam answers, certain, "You can't. You're not strong enough."

Sam may be cursed, but he can use it. Dean doesn't have that. Dean has one knife and nothing else.

"And who the Hell are you?" Dean demands, trailing off from pure rage, from helplessness, from Sam trying to take this road. From the echoes of Sam saying that Dean was holding him back, that he was stronger without him, when under the Siren's spell.

"I'm being practical here. I'm doing what needs to be done." Sam assures, trying to be logical and level about this. Sam's voice shakes, though, because he doesn't want to have to be the one to do this but he's gone this far and he has to see this through to the end and he needs rest and he needs Jess and this is the only way.

Except in Dean's humble opinion, Sam doesn't know anything.

"Yeah?" Dean's voice grows cold and sharp and painful. "You're not gonna do a single damn thing."

Sam finally loses it. "Stop bossing me around, Dean!"

Sam can make his own choices. Sam doesn't have to listen to him, or John, or anyone... Then Sam inhales, cuts off his own rage, tries to hold it in and half succeeds. "Look, my whole life, you take the wheel. You call the shots." Sam appeals, staring at his brother and his throat bobbing and his clenching and unclenching fists. Sam can't quite find himself breathing evenly now, can't hold back all the feelings, "And I trust you, because you are my brother." And Sam's voice breaks.

Dean looks down and nods, eyes narrow.

"Now, I am asking you, for once," Sam breathes, tone sure, begging, hopeful, "Trust me."

Every expression on his face pleads for understanding.

Sam exhales and breathes too heavily and Dean swallows again, staring at him.

Only Dean can't do what Sam asks, because if he does, he might lose Sam, and he can't lose Sam...

Dean blinks back tears and his throat is too tight and he shakes his head.

"No." Dean answers. "You don't know what you're doing, Sam."

Sam rolls his head back and answers, adamant, exhausted, drained, "Yes, I do."

Stop treating me like a child and treat me like an equal.

"Then that's worse!" Dean bellows.

Sam looks at him, stricken. He breathes, "Why? Look, I'm telling you-"

"Because it's not something that you're doing! It's what you are!" Dean yells.

And all of Sam's worst fears come true.

Sam flinches, mouth twitching, blinks, doesn't want to believe it.

"It means..." Dean chokes off, eyes not leaving Sam's.

"What?" Sam asks, head tilting, eyes watering. His nostrils twitch and his throat bobs and his throat closes and he can't hold anything back, says through gritted teeth and pure denial, "No."

Dean doesn't look at him.

Sam stares him down, mouth a snarl, his voice too soft but with so much intensity, "Say it."

Dean looks back up at him, and his voice is a guttural, raw sound. "It means you're a monster."

You're a monster, Sam. That's what you've chosen to be. A freak.

Sam blinks and tears fall and nods his head once, turns to the side, lips pursed. Sees Dean crying out of the corner of his eye, like he hadn't said the one damn word hanging over Sam's head for a lifetime.

Sam punches Dean in the face with all the pain and betrayal he's ever felt from his brother. Every single moment of it. For every unsolicited punch or jibe or violence or thing Dean considered necessary, for all he's done to shut Sam up and pretend it's for his own good when it never was, not really-

Dean falls past the bed to the floor.

Sam hyperventilates, stands where he stands, tries not to smile in anger and fear and abandonment. Everything feels like a tingling haze falling over him, only his heart pounding, all empty sound echoing in his head.

Dean rises to his feet. His expression is flat and unforgiving. Promises pain, like the other times he beat Sam into the dirt or hit him unprovoked, and Sam isn't going to stand for this any more. Not for another second.

Sam has his life, short as it may be. Sam has his pride. Has his value.

And if Jess was the only one who saw it, saw Sam for who he was, who loved him unselfishly, who would let Sam live it, even if Bobby tried to give Sam the same consideration...

Then Sam would join her, Dean be damned.

Sam's mouth bares into a snarl and his nostrils flare and his muscles twitch from the blood inside him, from the need to fight back, from the never-ending emptiness that just wants to be filled.

Dean stares Sam down and punches Sam head-on. He hits twice until Sam hits him back and then he's kneeing Sam, throwing him back before closing in, but Sam intercepts his next hit with a yell and a groan and hits Dean as good as he gives, and then Dean is punched in the jaw, once, twice, three times and is thrown back into the mirror, which shatters.

Dean falls face first into it, then stumbles around. Sam stops, inhales, waiting, then Dean goes in for another punch, and Sam dodges, throws Dean into the latticework of the room and breaks the wood with Dean's body as Dean is thrown to the floor and crashes into the glass table, which also shatters.

Dean is down for the count, glass digging into his back.

He groans and coughs, winded and bloodied. Blood starts to seep from his nose.

Sam stands over him, takes in as much air as he can, and then the blood is coursing through him and he needs to hurt Dean, hurt Dean like Dean hurt him...

And then his hands are around Dean's throat and Dean's trying to hold him off and Sam can barely think straight, he's just so angry and broken and lost and Dean called him a monster-

And then Sam stops. He's proven his point.

Sam exhales, panting, shows Dean he isn't out of control. He knows what he is doing.

Dean keeps coughing in air.

Sam says from above him, "You don't know me."

And Dean still won't look at him.

"You never did." Sam rasps, chest still heaving. "And you never will."

Sam walks away.

What Dean wants to say is: Stay. Please don't leave me again. Please. I'm sorry.

He doesn't.

"You walk out that door," Dean gasps, staring after him, at Sam's receding back, "Don't you ever come back."

Sam pauses and swallows and looks back at his elder brother, no more pain to mourn because he's already been cast out.

Sam exhales and doesn't give that a response.

He left once already. Made his life. Fixed his body.

Found Jess.

And he is going to do so again.

Sam opens the door.

It slams shut behind him.

--

It's okay, Sam. It's okay. Sam hears in his dreams that night, Jess whispering in his ear, holding him close as she burns, but feels so cold Sam's breaths fog. I've got you. I'm here. You're running right back to me. 

Chapter Text

A Few Hours Before Lucifer Is Released From the Cage The First Time, And Then A Timeskip

When Sam hears Cindy screaming in the trunk of his car, the sound never ceasing even as Lilith's demonic lackey still lurks somewhere inside her veins, something ugly rears up inside him. Casts doubt on this whole damn enterprise with Ruby even as she goads and eggs him on.

Because that screaming is human. That screaming, that loss of self, of purchase, feels far too similar to how off-balance he's been lately.

Feels too similar to his own mind when he sought out the blood to keep himself from feeling powerless, to keep the tide of Hell back, to destroy the very thing threatening his life and the lives of everyone on earth.

Reminds him too much of being locked up himself as Dean tried forcing him off the demon blood.

Reminds him too much of, “You’re a monster.”

Reminds him too much of, "Don't come back."

But most of all, it reminds him of all the times demons and angels and brothers alike started calling him names like Sam's some infection. The Boy with the Demon Blood. An abomination.

How Yellow Eyes seems so certain his path would be a legacy steeped in ruin and decay.

Holds up the truth like a beacon: How they don't know him, not at all.

But then, all that did was remind him of her.

Then there were the nightmares. There were always the nightmares.

He always feels them surging around in his brain, scrabbling for purchase where a great void was waiting to swallow him up. The blood helps sometimes, keeps pushing the feeling down, but then it all surges back anyway.

The ones where Jess burned on the ceiling. The ones where she clutches him, crying, yelling, before she grows too calm.

Says: I don’t want to be locked up, Sam.

It’s so dark and lonely in here.

The ones where he wakes in the middle of the night, expecting to find her nestled up against to him.

And then... How she isn't.

(Sam doesn't tell Ruby about the nightmares. Doesn't tell her that she was just an imitation of someone he missed, either. He thinks she could guess anyway, whenever he screamed himself awake.)

--

Lilith running scared is such a poor consolation prize.

He wants her dead. He needs her, the first demon, dead, because then this new nightmare (too old, too familiar) would be over.

Sam wants the Apocalypse, the Seals, the whole Armageddon outbreak to veer off course like a runaway train. As if he can't feel the clock ticking down, down, down, down, down.

Feels time slipping through his hands like sand, and wonders if his life is slipping through with it.

The blood pounds in his veins.

Angry. Intent. Full of purpose.

I am not the monster you made me, Sam thinks, I am not a monster at all. And I have been waiting for this for a very long time.

Goes in for the kill... 

For his sake. For Jessica's sake.

Until Sam hears Dean calling him through the haze.

Pauses. Doubts. Wonders if Dean realized he's not what he thinks he is, he's not, that he's fixing this, he is.

Then he pushes, and Lilith falls. The seal breaks.

And Ruby is laughing in his face, until she isn't anymore.

It was you, and your choices, Sam.

The road to Hell is paved with good intentions.

It always had to be you.

--

And when the Cage starts cracking open wide, Sam feels Jess back with him again.

Knows, the truth is far worse than imagined.

Can hear the whisper of, Sam. My Sam.

Feels the ice start closing in, instead of flames on the ceiling.

And the shape of her, the feel of her wrapped around him, is not such a comfort like before.

"Dean." Sam breathes.

As if anything will shield him from the Archangel coming out to play, or it's whispering.

Sam, did you miss me? I called out to you every night.

And Sam knows, he knows, "He's coming."

--

Even as he lets Dean start to drag him out of the chapel, even as he's beamed to safety, he still hears her voice.

I'll wash you all clean, Sammy. None of them will ever touch you again. I promise.

Still sees her behind his eyelids. Still tastes her in his sleep.

I knew you would come for me, Sam. I knew.

And cold lips keep him sedated, keep him tossing and turning long in the night.

I'll keep you safe, I promise, Sam.

No phantom limbs to wake up to.

Until there are, again.

Chapter Text

Sam’s heart leaps in his throat, and it keeps pounding in his head, drowning everything out.

It's time this ended.

“I've been waiting for this..." Sam pauses, and tilts his head ever so slightly, and when he does, all Lilith sees is the vengeance of an archangel staring out of his eyes, eyes that have never been his alone, even though he hasn't let Lucifer out yet, because today was the fucking day, and Sam inhales, so certain, "For a very long time.”

Not as long as he's been waiting for you, you young, foolish thing. Lilith thinks. She knows there's no running. The game is up for her, and any chance she would have taken to not be a part of this, well...

She tried running once.

She can't run any more. And this is what she was made for.

This is why Lucifer chose her.

The first human he ever handpicked to showcase God's imperfect creations. Secondborn of all her forebears, like the Archangel himself.

Her job was to die, to die for something older and more brilliant than she would ever be-

Lucifer had always looked at her askance, like she was flawed and imperfect and crude, but she was, and she was allowed to be exactly as she was in all her imperfections-

He had set her true nature free, and she had been his the moment he changed the script and tore God's plan out from her ribs and her heart and her soul.

When she first saw Lucifer, she had wept tears of reverence.

She had never knelt for anyone save the Devil, much like Lucifer had never bowed to anything he'd considered lower than himself, all except for God and Sam, with Sam too blind to see the gift offered up to him-

But that would all be remedied now.

Now, the part of her that used to be human, the part of her he had long since torn out-

It wants to rest, and let Sam end it.

She would die, and her death would usher in a replacement for shoes Lilith had never filled, no matter how much she had wished to.

The demon part of her might be holding on, might be getting no shortage of twisted satisfaction, knowing Sam Winchester has been brought low as her only to be raised up by Lucifer instead of torn down-

But the part of her that's older, that was there when the first human looked at the world, with Adam eyed her like she was an object, and she prayed for a different path than the one God had given her-

Lucifer had answered them, and fulfilled a prayer of his own.

And now she would see his design to it's completion.

“Then give me your best shot.” Lilith grits out, curls falling around her head, every pore of her human skin sticky and sallow with sweat.

Sam blinks once, nostrils flaring, then holds out his right arm, hand open, palm out, in a gesture Lilith has seen so often, so long ago, before the Devil had been imprisoned-

Sam pulls.

Dying, as much it as is perfect agony, feels more like love, like a gift long time coming, and it rings true inside her as Sam finds every stitch of the so-called corruption Lucifer let loose, leeched on inside her, and now every stitch was being popped and annihilated and ground into ashes, every particle burning with no hope of being reborn-

She could see just where Sam began and where the Devil would invariably find his way in. Because the Devil had already made a home with Sam Winchester once, inside his heart, inside his soul and bones and blood and skin, inside everything Sam had ever accepted from the moment he laid eyes on Lucifer's borrowed skin, made a home in a way Lucifer had never made with her. And Lucifer had let Sam in, had done so in a way he'd never done, not since he helped cast everyone far from their homes, as the Devil had once been cast from his own-

It felt good, bringing Sam Winchester down to her level.

Better, even.

It felt like the cycle had finally been broken to make way for something new.

And he would fall to his knees and meet the Archangel that would own him, just as she had. She would make him kneel for her, through this murder, in death having become worthy of the legacy she'd been working so hard to uphold.

Lilith gasps and chokes and wails as her insides are charred and ripped to shreds, as her eyesockets smoke and are undone from beneath her eyelids as the whites of her eyes roll, decaying inside her human skull, this borrowed body that burns in tandem with her oil-slick, rotten corpse of a soul with the unholy fire that sings there. It's incomplete, it's smiting but the infernal kind, incomplete as it waits for the sheer cold to light Sam's blood up and make its hymnals known, the same grace that will erase the twisted, incomplete humanity from Sam Winchester's veins and replace it with the lifeblood of an Archangel-

It's almost funny.

Lilith is bringing something to life, making Sam a conduit for everything she's ever forsaken, breaking the one vow she told herself she'd never trespass against, the one rule that made her Lilith, and no one else, from the very beginning of it all.

New life, the same life Lilith wanted to cut short and had never wanted to host inside her womb, the same life she had refused Adam and God and had never wanted to be a container, to be a slave to something inside her, able to give life that was forced under her skin-

Except Lilith was still made a slave to Lucifer, made to birth his grand design, to watch Sam crawl from a womb of his own making, a womb he thought he'd clawed himself free of except that it had always been on loan, gifted to the one he had given his heart and soul long since over to, and Sam would be perfect in all the ways she was not, a slave as Lilith was set free and given the freedom she had long since prayed for.

Still.

She had been freed by Lucifer, once, in the beginning. Had her eyes opened, even if that came at a new price, one she had not foreseen.

But jealously has no place in death. Particularly jealously of a human, of a vessel, of yet another body Lucifer would use and undoubtedly grow bored with, as he had grown bored of the first human he'd ever found interesting enough to grace with his presence.

And Sam had hunted her down, fair and square, because the only reason he got close is because Lilith sent Ruby, and Ruby drew Sam in, because Lilith had gifted her chosen to him and set him down this path, just as Lucifer had ordered, just as they had all prepared-

So really, her death is her design, by her own hand, in the end.

She chose this.

She made this all happen.

Lucifer may have twisted up his promises, but she had been faithful.

She had always been faithful of breaking free, just as he did, ready to tear God's designs for the both of them to shreds.

She would accept her death, and all it's consequences, no matter how much part of her held on-

It was time to let go, and let it all burn, and let Sam be the one to tear the whole place down with Lucifer as his only anchor.

Sam snarls, pulling harder, more hunter than the man he's always wanted to be-

And Lilith smiles and screams and glows white from the sheer exertion as Sam unravels her from the inside out.

There's something itching, eating at the edge of her awareness, even as her skin crinkles and blackens from the inside, muscle and sinew atrophying and imploding against bones and tendons and bright, bright frequencies of Sam, all set on sending Lilith to her grave.

There is pounding and scrabbling from outside the chapel. An unwanted visitor Ruby had locked out and Lilith hopes will come in once the seal is broken and God, would she pay to see the look on Dean's pathetic face, because Alastair had twisted him up so beautifully only for the angels to steal him away, when her contract had made him hers, really, to do with whatever she pleased, and because he would fail, the older brother having always failed the younger, like the angels for which they were made, but if this goes as planned, she won't get to see, but Lilith can only imagine, in her death throes, the thought her only reprieve from the agony gone supernova against the vessels and waves of her mutilated soul-

“Sam!” Dean’s voice echoes, muffled from behind the door. “SAM!”

It's too late, Lilith thinks. It's already over. He's just as broken and flawed as the rest of us. He's lost to the thing he's given himself over to. And you lost. Humanity is reaping what it has earned from the moment we first took breath-

Except Sam looks back, for a second, just one. Lilith ceases to burn, and with it, Sam sends all her careful poise tumbling down, all her expectations, her surety-

The sight makes Lilith ignite with a poisonous flame licking at every particle of her that's left, every atom more venom than knowing acceptance, now.

He isn't better than her.

He can't come this far, can't break this, can't fight the destiny she's been crawling towards, that she's engineered with the one he belongs to, one day at a time, but still, Sam Winchester, the worm he is, stops, and fucking HESITATES-

If he wasn't Lucifer's, and wasn't going to drag him up from the deep, from solitary, this very minute-

She'd tear him apart, limb from limb, for that hesitation.

“Dean?” Sam calls out, thrown, confused, still half out of it from the pounding in his head and the sulfur on his tongue and the thrum of his heart, threads pulling him closer and closer, latching on to something he can’t quite get ahold of-

He just wants to do good. Wants to fix everything that's broken.

But he's been broken for a long time now, can't he see? They were broken the moment God made them. Lilith can't let this mistake go unchallenged, because Sam took too long.

It's all one second, long enough to think, long enough that he might just snap out of it-

“What are you waiting for?! Now! Sam, now!” Ruby’s voice barely makes a dent, also sounding too far away. Sam doesn’t see the frantic look on her face, doesn’t register the edge of desperate, violent panic that makes her sharper, more defined-

All Sam can feel is the blood, and the burning in his skin, and the ice he can feel creeping in every time he rips Lilith from the flesh she’s chosen as her final resting place.

It feels like justice. Like with every wave Sam can feel Jess back with him, again, can atone for everything he's ever lost because Jess was taken because of his failure, his blindness, his inability to see what's right in front of his face-

It's not only about her, really. Jess stood for more than that.

Jess was part of Sam's new life. His freedom.

And that freedom was stolen from him the moment she burned.

Lilith laughs, half desperate and half hysterical as Sam pulls back and hears, and her looks at her, thrown by the noise, the cacophony he's barely able to feel above the sound of his own heartbeat and the whispers, so close yet so far, because Lucifer can find his way in, can feel Sam's every lungful of air, because right now, his blood has been claimed, everything he took in binding him to the very depths he's pulling Lucifer out of-

He can see her clearly now. Every detail of what she is, legs splayed wide out in front of her, and the crook of her elbows and upturned arms still pinned as if she's been nailed to the side of the alter, the places her twisted soul sags and seeps from outside her throat and eyelids, inconstant, every particle and fiber of immaterial being calling out to him, every echo of her true self resonating with light so close to what Sam's insides are roiling with, inside, from every sip of sulfur and tar and hellfire and Archangel poison, straight from the well he had dug for the humans of his choosing, found in every person Sam drank from so very deeply, the taste of the blood still rich and coagulated and warm on his tongue.

It's a phantom limb, now, calling out, burning Sam up so brightly he feels like he'll never be clean, never know what is it like not to burn up, never feel the cold against his skin, and his brain burns, and his lungs screams, and his heart aches, every nerve on fire, like he's a sacrifice, a condemned man hogtied to a pyre where there is only one way forward, just the one-

Lilith keeps laughing.

“You turned yourself into a freak." Lilith says, mouth curling, eyes full of hate, because she means every word. Sam Winchester is the freak he's always feared he'll be, because she needs him to be. Because it should be her, taking the world by storm, and not this unworthy mewling thing that needs to be guided every step of the way-

"A monster." Lilith adds with relish, jaw ticking, eyebrows raised, and her tone pitches higher, doused in all the mirth she can muster, weakened as she is, "And now you're not gonna bite?” Lilith’s laughter trails off and her tone scalds the very air she doesn't breath, so sure. Her teeth gleam, white as snow. If she could, she'd bite off Sam's tongue with them and bring him to his knees for not taking initiative, for not ending this when he should've, for taking that one second to pause-

Doesn't he see they are answering all his prayers, too?

Why should he escape? He had been given visions, dreams, his body even though he had been a frail and pathetic woman, just as she had been, once, only made to be useful-

But it was Sam who would be granted the Paradise Lucifer had promised when no one else had been deemed worthy. And Sam had had him, had kept Lucifer as Jess, had held her false form in his dreams as he slept, praying for her salvation, for her to come back, and now he would have exactly what he asked for, except he was deviating from the plan.

Like every weak particle that made Sam human and not like her, he was holding back from taking everything that was his, that was promised, that he was made for-

All for a brother who had only ever held him back and dragged him into a life he had only ever prayed to escape?

What made him special?

What did Lucifer see in this sad, suicidal excuse for a man, and what made Sam more special than her when every prayer Lucifer ever answered for her led them here?

Why was he so enamored of what had been promised to him, when all God had done was abandon the Devil to solitude with only his creations for company?

She had bled for him.

She would die for him.

But Sam had been chosen in her stead.

Because Sam is the one. Not her. Never her.

And he would not ruin this for her, for the one task she'd promise Lucifer she'd accomplish. He would get what he wanted, and she would get to rest, after all these long years of being his right hand.

There is no other option.

She's barely holding on by a thread, but Sam needs to be the one to end this.

Only then is she vindicated, having erased any panicked doubt Sam had sent rushing her way seconds before.

Lilith's expression turns murderous, and she growls as she laughs, staring down Sam's soul like it is a personal affront to her existence.

“I'm sorry, but that is honestly adorable.” Lilith snarls, tilting her head as she gasps, words slurring despite herself.

Lilith sees the jump of Sam's throat, the tremble of his hands as they rise up, fingers clenching, and the glare of his eyes, so bright, so wide, as they blacken, flooded with every bit of poison Sam swallowed-

Sam’s heartbeat leaps back into his throat, all rage and assurance.

He's caught, mission saved. And Lilith can see just how Sam thinks he will fix this, how he feels he has to, but he doesn't know just what wrongs he's undoing by taking the fucking bait-

And Sam lets go. The blood boils in his veins and his eyesight goes fuzzy but all he tastes, all he sees, is light, pure light, as Lilith is wretched apart, thrown back into the altar, wailing until she doesn't have the air or the strength, every wave a gasping, a choking, wet noise, every shallow inhale and frantic rise and fall of her chest a victory, and with each push Sam is thrown into the deep end and his very essence is married to the creature he would unbind and be bound to forever, the one he thinks he's sealing in Hell for all eternity, when all he's doing is letting it out to come and claim him-

Lilith's true face is hideous and mangled. Sam can see it so clearly now, can see every gash and mark she had put there herself, and ones he thinks Lucifer must have carved into her soul for punishment. Sam doesn’t know if her innate nature made it so, or if she was made into that monster, one day at a time.

Lilith convulses and pants, glowing brighter and brighter-

Then she freezes.

Stops moving, slumps, a limp corpse on the floor. Head sliding sideways against the tile, imprisoned body taken by force set free just as she was burnt out like a candle doused in gasoline.

And then it is dark, and silent, and Sam’s heartbeat isn’t choking him out, isn’t strangled as it tries to hold on to something, as the sulfur twisting inside his every heartbeat clamors for this new feeling, heavy and suffocating like too much ozone around him.

Sam can feel a new cold chill settling over him, keeping the fever at bay…

SamSammy.

Sam’s heartbeat calms and slows. An echo of Jess hums in the back of his mind, her voice but more, all whispering and insistent, full of praise and elation and understanding and love, grateful, purer than anything, and Sam thinks he must be dying from the blood now, must be losing it, because the poison inside him must be sending him on, must be killing him slow, if she sounds so close-

Sam breathes deeply and takes in as much air he can fill his lungs, still unsteady from the exertion even as he stands, tall and unbowed. He inhales again.

It's finished, now. It's over.

Sam can finally rest, one way or another.

Except, quick as a struck match, the fear leaps back in his throat, because Lilith’s blood crawls as if alive and siphons over the floor into a pattern, one that makes Sam's eyes swim and the air stutter in his throat so that the very oxygen burns his mouth, tasting like metal and blood and dirt and ice all gone sour, like radiation and decay on the tip of Sam's tongue.

It's Enochian. It's a blood binding. Ancient. Sublime.

More cold seeps in, rising up from the coils the ritual has come to completion. A cycle at it's apex, undoing it's own coils to reach totality.

Ruby has waited so long for this day.

“What the hell?” Sam asks, stepping closer even though he wants to draw back and run as far away as he can.

He glances at Ruby, who is gazing down as if hypnotized, solemn and calm and footsteps not making noise against the grit of the tile. Then he stares back at the blood as it keeps on it's path. The hair on the back of his neck rises as the cold chill rising up higher and higher-

He's not sure why the panic hasn't set in. It's hazy and undefined and feels like goosebumps on his skin, prickling up his neck, his teeth aching in his jaw. Only the echo of Jess, of the feeling of something latching on, thawing him out, coming closer and closer and closer-

 He thinks he's seen this marking in a dream, once upon a time long forgotten.

Had seen it carved into the snow by mouths and hands and the fluttering of red, red eyes that hold Sam's gaze as wings hold Sam close and hands caress his face and pull him deeper, make him float into this feeling, this ecstasy of release, of safety, of rest, like Jess had always been-

The fear Sam feels but can't quite articulate is so vast, so beyond him, nothing feels real. Everything feels inconstant, like smoke, so far away...

“I can’t believe it.” Ruby says, elated, breathing the words like the air is forgotten in her lungs.

“Ruby, what’s going on?” Sam demands his answers, voice muffled from the burnt out taste of his own bile and spit and blood hacking up from his lungs. Muffled by fear, too, and the nagging feeling of what Sam doesn't want to accept ripples over his skin. It's not just that something isn’t right here (except it is right, Sam can feel whatever is on it’s way, and it feels so close, and yet so far, and it feels perfect, it feels content, it feels like it's finally done waiting-), and things are wrong, so wrong, every note of every particle in the air trembles from the ancient silence that come to swallow them whole-

“You did it. I mean, it was a little touch-and-go there for a while, but... you did it.” Ruby adds, stronger now, more certain as she celebrates. When Sam looks at her head on, he sees what she is, still, sees the echoes of her demon face thanks to the blood, and every muscle and hiss of smoke sings, untouchable and sure and pleased.

Sam knows she isn’t talking about killing Lilith anymore.

Whatever her endgame is…

“What?" Sam asks, syllables still faint, his mouth curling as his brow furrows. "What… What did I do?” Sam stutters out, not wanting the truth but knowing it all the same.

Ruby's face twists into something both mocking and kind and elated, all twisted up by assurance and the stone cold reality that she'd shepherded her little lamb right where he needed to go.

Realization lights Sam's face up, prickling over the twitch of his cheek, the widening of his eyes.

“You opened the door.” Ruby whispers. Then she laughs. “And now he's free at last. He's free at last!”

“No, no, no." Sam denies, hand shaking with every punctuated gesture as he points, trying to ignore the whispers and the cold chill that wants to freeze him out, not willing to feel whatever this is, not willing to see just how bad he's been played. "No, he… Lilith… I stopped her." Sam's teeth flash, white and pained as his expression turns feral. "I killed her!”

Ruby stares Sam down, still as the grown, spine straight and every muscle motionless except for the curve of her borrowed mouth.

“And it is written that the first demon shall be the last seal." She breathes, and then she smiles as Sam turns away from her and blinks and inhales too tightly, her voice low as her smile widens and Sam can hear it, ripping her mouth wide, "And you bust her open.”

Ruby tilts her head down, eyeing the last seal and keeping Sam in her line of vision, brow crinkling as her eyebrows rise, but her smile never wavers.

Sam holds his head in his hands and paces, every breath not deep enough to hold off the fear that's taken hold. And behind that, the realization of what's coming for him, the phantom limbs he can feel reaching out from beyond the door, burned and malformed for trying to reach out beyond the cracks before they've been opened wide, but Sam feels it, all the same.

“Now guess who's coming to dinner.” Ruby savors every word.

“Oh, my God.” Sam breathes, arms lowering as he hugs himself.

The circle of blood completes, and starts squirming inward.

“Guess again.” Ruby sings, staring down at the floor as if she can't look away.

There’s still pounding on the other side of the door.

Dean's struggles on the other side of the door still echo, half forgotten as everything keeps Sam riveted to Ruby's orbit.

“You don't even know how hard this was!” Ruby adds, looking up at him, eyes narrowing, voice gaining a hysterical and pointed edge, “All the demons out for my head. No one knew."

Sam looks down, can't look at her, tries to keep the tears of panic and overwhelming exhaustion and betrayal down, tries to keep the bile in his throat, tries to keep himself from falling over even though all he wants to do is wring her neck-

"I was the best of those sons of bitches! The most loyal!" Ruby yells, triumphant, "Not even Alastair knew! Only Lilith!"

With the name, Sam looks back at her, and she keeps talking, faster, true face twisting into something earnest as she adds, "Yeah, I'm sure you're a little angry right now, but, I mean, come on, Sam! Even you have to admit… I'm… I'm awesome!” She shouts, fervent and released from a silence she's wanted to break from day one.

“You bitch." Sam spits and shakes his head. "You lying bitch!” Sam shouts, snarling as he advances. He throws out both his hands, but the effort is enough to make his knees buckle and he sinks down on his back, having almost keeled over. His heart feels like it’s being cut open, weak and stuttering as it bleeds out inside his chest. Sam screws his eyes shut and tries to ignore all the singing around him, the hum in his bones and the burning under his skin.

Ruby's expression turns tired and she stands there, unmoved. Sam struggles to sit up, and then her expression breaks into something that's almost concerned, a mockery of friendship.

“Don't hurt yourself, Sammy. It's useless. You shot your payload on the boss.” Ruby croons, lip almost twitching into a smile for a millisecond before her expression morphs back into fake concern. 

The feeling and the singing and the whispers swell so loud in Sam's heart, and in his head, and Sam feels something tight in his throat, feels a phantom hand in his, a phantom head against his forehead, the shape of Jess and the bright halo of light illuminating her from the inside out searing Sam's vision as he stares at the blood, still creeping along the floor.

Sam. Baby, I'm here I'm coming I can almost taste you, we're almost there-

“The blood..." Sam gasp, blinking, trying to ignore the swell of ice trying to hold him still, radiating upwards. He sniffs, accuses, "You poisoned me.”

You did this.

“No. It wasn't the blood." Ruby says as she shakes her head, then steps closer and closer until she's standing over him. 

"It was you... and your choices. I just gave you the options, and you chose the right path every time." Ruby hums with glee, voice gasping from elation now, sounding nasal from sheer overwhelming knowing that the Devil was so close, and she'd done her part, and everything was almost at her feet, the new day she'd been preparing so long for finally laid out before her. "You didn't need the feather to fly, you had it in you the whole time, Dumbo!" She adds, genuine in a way she's never actual been, and the look of raw betrayal Sam gives her is like a shot of pure caffeine to her system, a drug that never gets old for the dealer now given the grand jackpot. He may have not trusted her, may not have loved her, but he had thought they were working for the same thing, on the same side, and can't he see they still are? He'll still get everything he's wanted. Ruby heard him, crying out for Jess, for the one he loves, for the reason they set him on this path in the first place. And now he'd have that love back, and Hell would have it's heyday, and everything would be put right-

They aren't enemies. Sam just has to wait, just a few moments longer, and Lucifer will be there to fix this-

Ruby turns on the charm, on the persuasive edge all demons need to foster for otherwise they cannot be the instruments to their master, and gives an honest opinion, an offer of friendship she knows Sam probably won't believe, but he's at his lowest, and can't hurt her, because she's fucking untouchable, on top of the world-

Sam shudders and can't stop, every breath rattling in his throat.

Ruby kneels directly in front of him.

"I know it's hard to see it now... but this is a miracle." Ruby whispers, patting the edge of Sam's jacket, then his face, because once he said yes Ruby would never be able to admire her handiwork, and Sam tries to wrench away, but there's nowhere to go, and he's reeling, and fragile, and barely holding it together, his breaths shallow and his forehead glistening with sweat as his teeth just keep on chattering. Ruby adds, so smooth, so even, "So long coming. Everything Azazel did, and Lilith did. Just to get you here." Ruby pauses, and she inhales, eyes wide and fervent, an extremist so close to seeing their messiah raised from below, "And you were the only one who could do it.”

“Why? Why me?” Sam stammers, frozen, unable to raise his hand or move his head no matter how much he wants Ruby's hand to burn up and disintegrate where it makes contact with his face.

“Because...” And then Ruby pauses and gives Sam a solemn look, every word dripping with emphasis. “Because it had to be you, Sammy. It always had to be you.”

Sam freezes. Inhales, and his heart clenches. All the words Jess used to say, and the cold chill Sam can feel seeping in closer, and closer, and closer, and the denial almost breaks Sam then and there, because he knows, now, knows all too well what must be coming for him, what's been nesting inside Sam's dreams long before Jess even burned on the ceiling, why things haven't been adding up-

Except now they have.

Sam, Sam, Sam-

Sam hears, and it feels like completion, but it's like a ghost of a feeling, like a kiss on his neck, a hint of lips brushing the edges of his frantic pulse again, freezing Sam's blood in his veins-

He’d been digging up Jessica’s grave, only turns out Jess’s grave was a prison, and that Jess isn't who he thinks-

Except... The Devil always tempts you with what you love, what you want most.

How could I be so blind?

And Sam prays to God and hopes he's listening, because Sam doesn't know what else to pray to, and God's the only one who ever kept Lucifer contained in Hell by any margin, and because that's the only being reaching for him, for Sam now, it feels so pure, and bright, and cold-

So cold, Sam just wants to get closer to where the blood is pooling. So right, so comfortable, making Sam's heart pound with something other than fear, not calm, but not terrified.

It's ephemeral, and eternal and right and holy-

And who else can Sam pray to, for the Devil himself to stay away?

Sam nearly falls over, head listing, and Ruby's hands settle on his shoulders, keeping him from falling into unconsciousness, from not seeing Lucifer rising up in all his glory, hand still stroking Sam's face, his eyes screwed up so tight and every breath labored and burning in his chest-

Ruby keeps going, heedless to Sam’s newest joint combo of conjoined panic and his own personal Mt. Everest of denial, pure as snow, smothering him in shock and pure stasis, every syllable basking in the glow of the future she's envisioning, “You saved us. You set him free. And he's gonna be grateful. He's gonna repay you in ways that you can't even imagine.”

Sam hears what's unsaid. 

He's gonna reward me, for this. I'm going to take my rightful place and it's all thanks to you and your pitiful heart.

Dean breaks down the door, eyes burning and stance ready to tear this place apart and drag his brother out from the rubble.

Dean turns Ruby’s own knife on her.

Ruby releases Sam from her grip and turns, rising to her feet, and Sam's hands scrape along the floor as he tries to regain his balance, reeling from the loss of purchase, because he still can't look Dean in the eye, still can't erase the feeling of the blood on his tongue-

Ruby looks Dean in the eye and stands tall, every bit on top of the world as she feels.

“You're too late.” Ruby gloats.

Dean’s voice is a low growl when he answers, “I don't care.”

Dean advances and keeps marching closer with murder carved into every inch of his body. And Sam finally finds the strength to stand, and grabs Ruby from behind, holding her close, holding her still, as Dean shoves the knife through her abdomen, as it snicks through flesh and blood and twisted, vile, decomposed soul-

She burns bright and falls. Dean's face sneers as his eyes turn hard and his jaw clenches. He twists the knife as she chokes her last incoherent words and sinks to the ground.

There, Ruby's eyes don't dance with mirth any longer.

They are empty and dead. Like the glazed over look Lilith had, when every part of her had been excommunicated from the land of the living.

Sam's shoulders rise and fall and he finally meets Dean's gaze. It's condemning, and afraid, and full of the need to drag Sam from here, and angry, so angry-

“I'm sorry.” Sam gasps. His voice is broken, and every nerve in his wrists and ankles and throat keeps trembling.

Except sorry doesn’t undo the fact that the Apocalypse is coming for them all, that Lucifer-

That Sam-

Dean's expression turns more afraid from the reeling loss and terror and barely there look in his brother's eyes. He came in here expecting to have to face his brother as a monster, and all he sees is a broken man barely hanging on to consciousness, calling out for help without knowing how-

The seal pops open, and even Dean feels the cold, and the burning, and the boiling air, and Sam hears laughter, bright and ringing and pure-

Dean swallows and looks at the seal, the last one, broken like he broke the first-

The earth quakes, and…

It’s so bright.

Dean wants to run the moment he sees it, every part of his body screaming danger, screaming to get out, but he's frozen in fear, and Sam's immobile where he stands, so heavy.

Sam wants to get closer. His feet almost move without him realizing it.

Every aching part of him feels far away, feels pulled closer into the orbit of the bright, bright grace filling Sam's head with so much love, so many promises, and it's like the fear is banished, gone, switched off like a light-

And it's so cold, so perfect, so gentle and constant and makes Sam feel the right amount of warm, and Sam can feels wings, so many, and just wants to fall forward, wants to rest-

It would be so easy.

And as the essence of the Archangel's full being breaks free, as Lucifer's grace washes over him, filling the room with the vast expanse of everything-

Sam just wants to step forward and let it take him where he can't feel anything except this.

“Sammy, let's go.” Dean urges, fumbling for Sam's arm.

But Sam clutches Dean’s shirt, barely heaving in a breath, and Dean holds Sam up by his jacket, seeing how Sam can barely stand upright, and his knees tremble, and Dean sees just how Sam's eyes are riveted to the sight, somehow arrested yet at ease, a moth flying towards the sun, closer and closer...

Dean doesn't know why Sam is like that but he needs to get him out-

“Dean... he's coming.” Sam rasps, Dean looks over too, despite himself, feet frozen, and there’s this look in Sam's eye when he glances back at his brother, all awe and hypnotized disregard, as if all the fear just suddenly melted off him. Like Dean might have to drag him out of here, except Sam is so heavy, and Dean's not sure if he has the strength, Sam's dead weight dragging him down...

The light grows brighter and brighter.

Sammy, it's been so long...

Chapter Text

Sam finally finds it in him to move, and he runs with Dean to the door. He lets Dean drag him because otherwise his knees would go weak and he'd fall into the arms of the newly freed jailbird he knows and yet will not acknowledge. The trill of grace burns so bright in the room, loud and insistent.

Sam. Wherever do you think you're going? I'm right here.

The whine of angelic grace turns sharper, sings out with all the freedom Lucifer can muster.

Sam is so close, so very, very close, Lucifer can stretch himself and wrap around and finally touch him again-

Dean scratches at the door, trying to rip it down. Sam tries to help but can barely muster the energy, holding himself up with desperate fingernails against wood.

It's so cold. So beautifully, perfectly cold-

Something bright and warm and wanting blooms under Sam's tongue, loosens every limb, and makes ecstatic starbursts spark over Sam's vision.

And Sam finds he only wants to close his eyes and lean back and fall into the arms and wings and hands he can feel, the humming lips on the back of his neck-

Sam wrenches away and leans against the door, not knowing what to do.

He doesn't know how to run from this.

He doesn't want to.

He'd been hurting and praying and been bruised and beaten down and so hollow inside for so long, and now he's light, and weightless, and there's something stroking and touching and gentle and soft-

His heart knows the truth and missed the one calling out to him and it takes every stretch of willpower to stop himself from letting go-

Lucifer can't keep his grip or hold on enough, still half-formed and half-out, grace and True Form changing states to move into physical form, all liquid and insubstantial waves not quite there, like a ghost still drawing the rest of himself out like water from a well...

His staccato whine of grace thrums, louder and with more force, enough to send a shockwave rippling through the room...

And Lucifer unfurls, taller now, waves of his being seeping through with enough force to rip holes in the door and nearly shred the surrounding building to pieces. He holds the church up as best he's able like this, half in Hell and half not, like Atlas holding up the world on his shoulders so Sam isn't smushed beneath the plaster and stone like a bug.

Dean yells and falls to his knees, hands clapped over his ears from the noise. He screws his eyes shut, the light too bright, so violent it might tear him limb from limb...

Sam imitates the gesture for other reasons. To try and drown the lapping whispers and rolling waves of promises calling out to him...

His eyes are open, though. Open and unable to stop looking.

Help. He prays, not to anything or anyone. Just one blanket word to any entity that could combat something he can't fight on his own-

I'm here, Sam. Right here. Made to answer your every prayer. Let me help you, Sam. You, of all people, are not one who need fear me.

Sam closes his eyes and huffs in a breath and regrets it, because all he breathes in is ozone and want and whispers flushed against his chin, words dripping closer, teeth gliding up his neck and wings holding him close and an inhuman face with inhuman lips finding his own, not an apparition but so bright there is no way human eyes can see-

Sam sees Lucifer, though.

Sees his wings unfurl as he keeps on rising up and up and out.

Sees everything he is. Every alien component, every jagged, inhuman angle, every fissure of folded space and light and plasma beyond the limits of earthly dimensions, the same creature and imprint of light he'd seen night after night walking over a cold tundra, blood dripping in the snow, holding Sam's face, cradling Sam in his arms, and wrapping him in his wings.

And beyond that, Sam sees a silhouette of Jessica's body lit up from the inside, overlaid with Lucifer's true form, bound to this false human flesh like a candle illuminates a paper lantern, a lightning storm contained by flesh and light and burning want, and that same form shimmers, not solid but all movement, all twitching hands and grasping claws and skull-light pits where eyes are staring, and the jawline of a large, bright face unlike anything Sam could name. Sees every facet of this angel and the True Face of the one he loved, the one he'd been praying for, the one he'd been trying to avenge, with what he'd lived with long before, only having ever a glancing a sidelong glimpse of light and bright fire looking out in the corner of his eye when he caught sight of Jessica's eyes in the dark. He sees beyond that, now. Sees a star and fire and ice and wings almost the color of blood, like sunrise, like the birth of daylight from the very Beginning.

The cold, running egg yolk of seeping feeling, of knowledge Sam didn't know he knew, cracks down his spine, all of that he knows dragging Sam down.

Lucifer pulls himself up just as Sam's soul accidentally falls to meet him, legs gone to water, mind shot with static and love and weeping, desperate awe Sam doesn't want to recognize.

Lucifer feels how they fit together. How Sam's soul calls out, just as exhilarated and full of worship, as much as Lucifer's grace sings to him.

Sam feels it, too.

With a sinking feeling of collapse, Sam finds he knows just what he is. 

Sam. My Sam. You rescued me. You brought me back. Thank you, Sammy. Thank you.

Lucifer's grace praises, weeping with joy even as it remains hungry and wanting and close.

And just as Sam stumbles upon exactly what this Devil wants with him, feels it with every heartbeat almost tearing his heart out of his chest, he denies it just as quick.

No. No. No, you can't, you aren't-

I am. Sammy. You're safe now. I'm home. I promised I'd never leave you. Let me have you. I love you. I love you. 

Lucifer's song sings out, bright and victorious and ringing out, so cold and deep and thrumming the whole world shudders from the sound.

Out of the corner of Sam's eye, Dean remains huddled on the floor, hunching tighter, all instinct screaming that immolation and immediate disintegration would blast him to bits just from proximity-

Sam, in comparison, is barely holding himself together. Lucifer gathers him close, and it feels like every nerve is alight with the slightest feeling of contact, of grazing movement so perfect settling beneath Sam's skin...

Lucifer lays him out over the floor, arms and legs open, Sam's mouth gaping despite himself because he can't breathe, all he can taste is grace and starlight and Lucifer, with every limb shaking and so relaxed he can't quite move, and his eyes stare upwards, unable to tear themselves away.

I missed you. I heard you. I prayed to you, prayed right back. Sam, I promise. You don't have to feel more fear, or more pain. I'll protect you. I'm here. I'm not leaving again.

Millions of red eyes blink at him, teeth smiling down at him, as hands and claws and wings lay him out over the floor, unwrapping him, pinning him gently to the ground with all the feeling in their gaze and the same song humming in Sam's limbs.

Take me back. Come with me. Let me keep you. Say yes. Sam. Sam, say yes and we'll never have to be apart ever again.

Sam can't move his mouth. Can't swallow.

Can't quite move at all.

Can't taste, can't answer. All he sees is the light burning above him, all he can feel is the want, the surrender, the feeling of every empty, barren ache inside him almost chased away by mere proximity, by the thing closing in on him, by the angel kissing his lips and chest and eyelids and neck and mouth and stomach and thighs and everywhere all at once.

Sam couldn't speak even if he wanted to, even if his throat wasn't closing up from all the feelings that tow him under, yanking out the exhaustion and replacing it with a frenzied electric, burning ache over his tongue and on his eyelids and in every tiny tremble of his fingertips. He's struck dumb all because Lucifer can't stop itself from being all over him. It's all too much, a surge choking his brain so all he feels is a tingling, constant joy that's so good, so perfect, it feels like agony he can't ever let end.

Artic calm, an endless, singing want that isn't tranquil, is all rough need and desperation slides against him, glides beneath every pore of Sam's body, and radiates outwards, numbing all other feeling except love, except need, leeching inside him, scooping out his insides to settle beneath Sam's ribs...

And then it's gone.

Yanked away so it's only a dull throb in the dip of his throat and a tremor in his spine, the feeling made distant and remote as Sam and Dean are wrenched from that church and back in time by a few minutes, thrown on a plane slated to go down the moment Lucifer rises. Sam feels like he's on fire. Sam feels like he'll never be whole. Sam feels like all his skin was flayed off and that his heart was ripped out and left in that church with the monster that came back to claim him now that Lucifer was ripped away so suddenly.

The fact he wants to weep and cry out and worship the Devil every way Lucifer had been going to worship him, the way he feels this pull, a constant tug to go back, only scares Sam more. Sam can't think about this. Won't.

Sam. Come back. Please. Sam. We waited so long for this-

Sam remains mute and dumb and lets Dean frantically try to collect their bearings while he resists the urge to heave. The white noise of the plane's TV washes through one ear and out the other, unheeded, the Devil on the screen chuckling, "I can use a guy like you."

You need me. I need you. Sam, please-

--

Chuck exhales shakily, his meatsuit feeling the strain despite itself.

That was too close.

--

Sam. Do not be afraid. I'll find you. We were so close. You don't need to run. You need fear nothing from me.

Sam doesn't answer, only hugs himself, nauseous and empty and wanting from the withdrawal he feels scabbing over his insides, from a want he is scared to name, because once he tasted demon blood he realized just what the echoes were calling out for...

He curls over himself on the steps and tries to keep himself from shaking. Dean's in the bathroom, still puking his guts out from the aftermath of the exposure, all shaky as his limbs stay numb and feel like they've been frostbitten for days.

After the plane went down, they had found themselves on the street-corner of a hotel and hid inside, their limbs still twitching and barely functional from being exposed to that much grace, that much power-

Or in Sam's case, for other reasons.

I love you. I love you. Sammy. Please. Let me fix everything that went wrong. You belong with me.

Sam ignores the constant noise he recognizes but can't tune out. He scratches the back of his neck and tries to ignore the frantic itch under his skin, the throbbing, endless hum of every part of him that felt alive, felt wet and wanting, ached with every hollow, scraped feeling of being unsatisfied, not filled up, not full with all that power that tried to kiss its way down his throat-

Blood pools in limbs that ache, a rush between Sam's thighs, heavy and uncomfortable with unfulfilled need from an unconscious responsiveness to a creature Sam knew too well and didn't want to comprehend. The feeling of cracked open emptiness, of promise completion undelivered, of sticky, sweat-soaked desire, rips Sam in half, and makes everything shaky and insubstantial, Sam only wanting for more, for Lucifer to be close, to push him open and shove against him and kiss everything up inside of him, numbing every flayed nerve into gentle, careful touches that made all the pain end...

Sam he ignores that, too.

If he ignores it, he won't say anything. Won't feel the need to ask where he's supposed to go, with every atom in his body screaming for him to go back.

Sammy, I know this is a lot to process. And I won't apologize for not containing myself- getting back to you took so long... But I can be patient, if you need it. I've waited this long. You just let everything sink in. Make sure you handle the aftershocks. Take care of yourself. Warm up, find some blankets. I'll get freshened up in the meantime. And then we'll find each other. We always do. It's going to be okay, Sam. I promise. You just rest.

The only thing keeping Sam from crying is the empty pit in his stomach, the raw, curdled self-hatred, gnawing, all burning pain in his gut, self-blame like ash in his mouth, all from the knowledge that he just kicked off the end of the world.

Because Sam saw everything.

Every violent, infinite promise the Devil had promised to unleash as he rose, higher and higher, grace keening its relentless song. If it wasn't for the joy, the floating, ruthless feeling of blood boiling too tightly in Sam's constricted veins, thudding heartbeat lighting up places they shouldn't and tangible in the back of his throat, Sam would feel like he couldn't move at all.

As it is, he can only shake, every nerve ending beyond capacity, everything synapse begging for relief no earthly distraction would comfort.

Sam swallows and almost tastes nothing. Only holy light and lips and his own blood and the echo of something frozen yet liquid enough to drip down his throat and settle deep inside him.

Only promises made by something larger and endless and greater than him, every word so far from empty Sam feels like the whispers will fill him to the brim.

They felt like home.

Sam couldn't let them. So Sam keeps running.

He's good at that. Running from the homes he's never truly been able to escape.

Sam tastes sandpaper and follows Dean back into the car. The metal of the car door feels too hot against his fingertips.

Sam feels like he'll just float through the leather seats and into the ground, everything limb too heavy, yet weightless. Insubstantial. A phantom feeling.

Like Sam left something behind.

Chapter Text

“Oh, God.” Chuck says. “Is that a molar?” He stammers more while covered in viscera, Castiel’s, well, Jimmy’s tooth, technically, hard and bloodstained in his hand. “Do I have a molar in my hair?”

The part of God in residence does think he sells the panic very, very well. It’s not entirely disingenuous.

After all, Lucifer is free now. And Chuck has Sam in his company, beamed him up from what would have otherwise been an unmitigated disaster.

Sam would have been eaten alive right out the gate, taken in and thrown off by every bit of love Lucifer’s been nursing for him inside the Cage God carefully exiled him into, right from the start. Not Sam’s fault, considering the day he had, and the past between them, and the overwhelming love and fury of an unhoused Archangel when faced with its other complementary half.

Still. Sam is here now. In Chuck’s house. And that… isn’t something Chuck wants Lucifer to find out, if he can help it. Because then Lucifer will show up to take Sam, and Lucifer might actually notice Chuck isn’t just Chuck, considering his observational skills when compared to his brothers. God’s second-born had gone so long without seeing the full glory of Elohim, of the Lord in all its multifaceted parts, compared to them. So he would be more likely to pick something up, because Chuck knew, even in this form, that Lucifer not only held grudges, but had an excellent memory for things he considered important.

And dealing with God is his third priority, with the Apocalypse coming in as a second contender.

Sam came in first, miles before the rest.

God, well, Chuck, admits that he is limited like this. He doesn’t let himself see everything coming. Defeats the purpose of his self-imposed witness protection and indefinite vacation.

But he knew enough about Sam, about Lucifer, to know that leaving Sam there wasn’t the best call. Not like this.

Chuck sobs. “This has been a really stressful day.”

As if he hadn’t watched one of his many children be ripped apart by his elder children, as if it had been him, not Castiel, and not the residents of Ilchester, or the hurricane victims, or anyone else, who had been ripped from their lives in a worse way that day.

After all, it was just business as usual for Chuck. Minus Lucifer being free.

That was reason to panic, for the time being, since Sam couldn’t be asked to step up to the plate yet.

And then, Zachariah interrupts, like the smarmy bastard God allows him to be, colossal disappointment as he is. Although, most of God’s children are, in Chuck’s humble opinion.

“Lucifer is powerful in ways that defy description. We need to strike now. Hard and fast.” Zachariah pauses. “Before he finds his vessel.”

“His vessel?” Sam’s voice is a bit too steady.

And Chuck will be honest with himself. He has no clue how Lucifer managed to sneak on through and “possess” Jessica Moore through the Cage, limited as it was. He knows Azazel did something, but the details are fuzzy. Chuck generally doesn’t sweat the small stuff. Not his job to micromanage anymore.

But that was a detail he hadn’t really been banking on, because that meant Lucifer knew things about earth. Has gained know-how and street smarts and resources.

Knows things about Sam, not from a game of telephone with his twisted creations, but directly. Intimately.

Which meant Lucifer would hit the ground running, with very little to halt him in his path.

Plus, it gave him a distinct advantage over Michael, who has been neglecting Earth for thousands and thousands of years.

And Chuck… hadn’t planned on that.

Still. What did he care, really?

He could always start again.

At least, that’s what Chuck tells himself.

He tries not to feel too guilty.

“Lucifer needs a meat suit?” Sam asks, clarifying. Chuck lets himself be distracted in a human way, for the sake of authenticity.

Then… How? How is he… How is Jess…? What the Hell?

Chuck can feel Sam’s thoughts screaming out, as easy as any Archangel. Sam’s mind is a hard one to crack for most. Not for Lucifer, though. And not for God, or even a fragment of him.

“He is an angel.” Zachariah sneers, looking back at his lower-on-the-totem-pole angelic security detail like he’s in on some bad inside joke. This would be one time he’s able to appear more in the know than Sam. “Them’s the rules.”

Sam takes that in, mind whirring.

Zachariah keeps talking. “And when he touches down, we’re talking four horsemen, red oceans, fiery skies, the greatest hits.”

Chuck feels as Sam decides to go with complete blanket denial again. Like he doesn’t know there’s a very obvious omission in there that Sam definitely knows he should be panicking about.

Chuck doesn’t blame him.

And then there’s words exchanged. Blood dripping, sigils activated.

Angels, banished.

Then the Winchesters leave, finally. Out of all angelic crosshairs for the moment, and out of Chuck’s hair.

The show goes on.

There is no man behind the curtain.

Secret kept safe.

Chuck pretends he can’t feel Lucifer rooting around, trying to find a vessel both strong enough to take him and fitting enough to make the right impression on Sam.

Icy grace makes a beeline for Delaware.

Chuck promises himself he won’t go anywhere near that state. Not worth it. Maybe he’ll take a trip to another continent for a while…

The question is, what plane tickets? Michael and Lucifer would be wreaking havoc left and right, and that is not something Chuck can juggle easily in this form…

Maybe not. The Winchesters might suspect something, and Chuck didn’t need that headache, either.

Best talk to Becky, who is human and flawed as any average human can be.

It was better than other alternatives.

Besides, then he wouldn’t need to worry about visitors. Becky could pass the messages on for him, no direct contact necessary.

Chuck pat himself on the back.

He may be hands off, but he’s helping. Not throwing the entire world to ruin yet.

--

“It’s you, Nick. You’re chosen.”

Nick starts, breathing heavily.

Sarah’s face looks back at him. Bloody. Focused on him in a way that didn’t feel quite right.

Nick covers his face.

When he looks back, Sarah is gone.

Lucifer lets himself be a little overdramatic. Humans tend to buy into dreams when they’re more than life usually throws at them, and he needs this to work fast.

After all, he has a hot date to catch.

--

Sam is still reeling when Bobby joins the fray.

Tries to distract himself any way he can.

Michael does not look anything like Cate Blanchett, Dean. You aren’t even trying.

It doesn’t really help.

Ever since Lucifer got out he’s been feeling like a shorted out maze of electric wires all crisscrossed.

Like a flower waiting to bloom, except there’s ice rushing in, numbing everything from afar.

He can still taste Jess… Not Jess… after the Seal-

No.

And then there’s the massively crushing guilt, almost as much as the heady feeling that’s been building and building and building despite the hex bags keeping them off the grid.

And these are not feelings Sam considers normal at all.

Sam refocuses when Bobby explains Michael’s Sword can be used to take down the Devil.

Maybe when Sam comes face to face, it will stop Lucifer in his tracks enough to keep him from immediately jumping into whatever designs he has for him.

Because Sam knows, on some level, there’s some connection there.

Doesn’t think past that, because past that is the darkest depths of the ocean. Not a road Sam wants to even touch with a ten-foot-pole.

Maybe Michael’s sword will even let them kick Lucifer’s ass long enough to give Sam answers before they throw him back to stop the end of the world.

Oh, God, who is Sam kidding?

The wave of crushing, lung-shattering guilt and exhaustion and knowing that Sam has been heading towards this and walked right into it finally breaks him.

Denial and shock are temporary stopgaps for that sort of thing.

“Kid, you alright?” Bobby’s gruff voice washes over Sam, and with a heave of his shoulders, Sam forces himself to talk, because not talking about this was worse, so much worse-

“No, actually.” Sam breathes. His eyes dart, watering. “Bobby, this is all my fault. I’m sorry.”

“Sam-” Dean’s annoyed, exhausted voice tries to stop him, but Sam needs to get at least one thing on his mind out of the way.

“Lilith did not break the final seal. Lilith was the final seal.” Sam admits, shaking his head, unable to stay still.

“Sam, stop it-” Dean commands through gritted teeth, promising hurt.

Sam keeps going.

“I killed her, and I set Lucifer free.” Sam says, and saying it is what matters, because if he doesn’t everything else he’s trying to ignore will tear him to pieces.

“You what?” Bobby exclaims, eyes narrowing.

“You guys warned me about Ruby, the demon blood, but I didn’t listen. I brought this on.” Sam adds. He needs to confess to someone. Owes Bobby the truth, whatever may come after.

Dean looks down, fuming, silent, then glances to Bobby.

Bobby doesn’t take the news well at all.

And Sam thought he could handle it after everything else today, but turns out he can’t, because the look Bobby is giving him is a look like Sam is nothing, like he’s been disowned, like he’s not family-

Sam can feel his own breaths, too shallow.

“You’re damn right you didn’t listen.” Bobby starts in, voice shaking. “You were reckless and selfish and arrogant.”

Sam’s can feel all the taut muscles in his face as he tries not to break down. He needed to say it, because even if he didn’t there would still be all this hanging over him, would still be the electricity and ice and whispers in the back of his mind, would still be the echo of the family he made for himself risen not from the grave but from Hell, ghosting over his lips and every heartbeat, and Sam needs to counter that somehow, he doesn’t know what else to do-

“I’m sorry.” Sam’s voice breaks.

“Oh, yeah?” Bobby whispers as he steps closer. Sam thinks he might actually shake him and tries not to flinch, because Bobby wasn’t like John, never has been, this was not a “You walk out that door, you don’t come back” scenario-

And Bobby’s voice grows louder, rougher. “You’re sorry you started Armageddon?”

Sam looks down, nods and swallows. Keeps himself upright because it’s all he has. All he can do.

“This kind of thing don’t get forgiven, boy.” Bobby chokes out.

Sam’s heart breaks all over again.

I know, I know, I know that I messed up beyond any possible mess up, that I’m unclean and a freak and not what you want me to be-

Sam, that’s not true. You’re better than them. You’re proving that right now. You don’t need them. You don’t need to follow orders, to fall in line, to earn love. Their love is poison.

Sam ignores the icy whispers shooting through his nerves. The same whispers he’s been ignoring ever since the Seal broke, the same ones in his dreams even earlier than that. It’s not as easy as he would like.

“If by some miracle we pull this off…” Bobby’s voice softens, and Sam looks up, hopeful, maybe, and then looks down because what if that ruins it, like Sam ruins everything-

Oh, Sam. What have they done to you, while I was gone? You couldn’t ruin anything if you tried.

“I want you to lose my number.” Bobby’s voice sounds far away. “You understand me?”

And another part of Sam breaks again. Has always been broken, waiting for the other shoe to drop, and here it is.

You have me, Sam. You will always have me. I’m all you ever needed. And I’ll take care of you. Love you like you were meant to be loved, just like I always have. Don’t waste your heart on them. They don’t deserve you.

There’s a sharp pain in Sam’s throat.

All he can do is nod once. Then he can’t stop nodding.

Dean won’t look at him.

Sam tries to keep it together. He is. Really.

His lip twitches, face still too tight, every ounce of held in abandonment and tension and fear and exhaustion and rejection and pain, the pain Sam can’t get away from-

“There’s an old church nearby.” Sam manages to say, not looking at anyone, looking almost at them but not head on. He licks his lips, face twitching, raises his eyebrows to keep his eyes from screwing too tight, from letting the tears manifest. And Sam doesn’t think about the fact that he’s running to the closest building closest to where he’s been last, closer to the whispers, even if it’s not the same place, “Maybe I’ll go read some of the lore books there.”

“Yeah. You do that.” Bobby’s voice brooks no argument.

Sam flees with as much broken composure as he is able.

The whispers follow.

Sam can almost feel fingers sliding through his hair, like a gust of wind. Can feel lips pressing against the nape of his neck.

Oh, Sammy. I’ll hold you close, more than soon, I promise. Don’t mourn them. They don’t deserve your tears. You’ll be home, safe, and wanted. I’ll find my way back to you.

And the Sam hears commotion from upstairs. Smells demon blood humming close by.

Goes back, faster, frantic-

I’ll admit, I did not see that coming. They found you faster than anticipated. Morale must be at an all-time high if they’re being this expedient. Brings out the best in even the lowest of the low. Still, on the bright side, I have a higher opinion of your father-figure now, so when you take me home to meet the family, I’m sure we’ll get along as best we can.

Then Sam gets greeted with a phone to the face, courtesy of Meg. There’s a huffy sigh in the back of Sam’s head even his ears keep ringing.

Oh, come on. I told them you’re off limits. But does anyone listen to me like this? Noooo. Guess I’ll have to make sure the lesson sticks in the future. But don’t worry. Once I get a body again, I’ll make sure they feel every second of the pain I have in store for them. Preferably after I pay you a visit, if you aren’t still playing hide and seek.

--

After Meg’s fuck-up, Lucifer ups the ante. Best to get a body back as soon as possible, if his unruly and imperfect children can’t even get rule one right.

Blood and infants always stir up emotions in apes. Should work well.

Now if Lucifer can just get this to go faster.

--

All of Sam’s hopes that the Michael sword might be a solution vanish the moment Zachariah strips the wool from their eyes.

You know, if you have questions, I'm only a prayer away. I’d be happy to answer. I’ll even pay you a visit!

Sam keeps ignoring the whispers as best he can.

Files away the information that Dean is Michael’s vessel with increasing layers of dread and even more denial for what that might mean for him. Is finally distracted by Dean’s quip.

“Yeah, life as an angel condom. That’s real fun.”

Sam swallows and shifts. Pretends he doesn’t feel the level of disgust radiating from the whispers brushes against him, thankfully still far away and mangled, like a bad radio signal.

That is the worst possible analogy, thank you very much. I’m almost offended on Michael’s behalf. Almost. Still, I’ll give your brother that one. Way to stick it to the man.

Then Zachariah breaks Sam’s leg.

I’ll kill him.

Sam can feel the blood boiling from the viciousness of the statement even as a disembodied whisper. It almost distracts from the pain.

Tell me where you are, Sam. Let me make them pay for daring to come near you. Please.

Dean and Zachariah argue.

Sam only pays attention to the relevant facts as Zachariah explains Lucifer’s body count compared to Michael’s.

Okay, that is complete and total slander. Don’t believe that liar. I’m not roasting anything. I’m keeping this planet pristine. If anything, I’m pest control. Keeping the vermin population from making this place a barren husk. Weeding and pruning back the overgrowth. Besides, I know you don’t believe them. You know those used car salesmen for what they are. And you know me, Sam. Besides, look how they are threatening you. Look what they’re doing to Dean. I know you aren’t buying it. Now. Tell me where you are, Sam, before they hurt you again.

Sam loses his lungs. Focuses on that and the whispers because there isn’t much else he can do.

Sam, Sammy, no. Stay with me. Sam. If you die I am going to collect you myself, and when we’re done, I’m killing anyone who so much as looks at you wrong. If I wasn’t destroying anything that could be a hazard to your health anyway, I would have to wrap you up and hide you somewhere so all the bad things out there can’t find you. Sam. Please. Give me an address.

Sam prays to God and God only.

--

The guilt eventually bites Chuck in the ass.

He remakes Castiel.

Partially out of necessity, partially because he feels bad, and partially because he really does feel like Sam Winchester and his brother have had enough of a bad day thanks to his children.

Lucifer, especially. He hasn’t wasted any time.

--

Castiel comes to the rescue, all shiny and new.

Remind me to send him a postcard for saving your ass. I swear, Sam, your stubbornness is going to be the end of you.

Sam is grateful at least one thing worked out today. Although, he can’t fight the lingering, bitter questions that dregs up, that if God is listening, why are the whispers still coming for him? Why did Jess have him, why are the angels acting as they are? Why did Sam have to be the one to break the last Seal-

Then Sam’s ribs are carved, and the whispers aren’t so charitable.

That sneaky little… Oh, well. Just means I have to work a little harder. Isn’t foolproof, not when it comes to how close we are already, Sam. Good news, though. I found someone I think you’ll really take a shine to. So here’s to hoping we catch up, hopefully sooner rather than later.

--

Bobby’s injury and the fear and everything eats at everyone, just one more thing personally tearing them to pieces on top of the steaming pile of Apocalypse that’s been tossed on their plate.

Sam doesn’t know what Bobby is going to do after this, how best he can help him, but he can be there for him, knows at least how to be there for people. It’s not other things, not Michael, not angels, not the End of the World, not Other Things Sam won’t think about.

And Sam is grateful for Dean’s pep talk, that “Give ‘em Hell attitude,” as he so nicely put it.

Helps him feel like he can actually do something.

Doesn’t help with the things lurking beyond denial, though.

That’s Sam’s burden to bear.

Sam tries to be all there for Bobby. Being there for other people is always easier than focusing on himself.

And when Bobby tells him it’s the demon talking, says, “I ain’t cutting you out, boy, not ever,” it’s the best feeling of safety Sam has felt in a long, long time.

--

The feeling ebbs when the smokescreen falls, and all of Dean’s fears come crashing over him.

Sam keeps the denial in place.

Someone has to, between the two of them.

And then Sam asks the question he’s been meaning to ask for a while.

Dean answers what Sam feared he would, that he’s pretending things between them are alright.

Says, “Because it’s not. And it’s never going to be. You chose a demon over your own brother, and look what happened.”

Once, Sam would have told Dean he was wrong. That his heart was in the right place and even though he fell off the bandwagon and messed up, there was still good to be found there.

Not now. Not anymore.

Because the truth is worse. Sam chose something else over his broken, battered family, over his absent father who never saw Sam as he truly is, who used violence and intimidation and rules to keep Sam in line, over his brother who took that same bottom line and internalized it even if he did see Sam for what Sam is in the ways that mattered most more often than not…

Sam could never really choose that over what he had chosen, never again. Once you get out, once you really escape, you don’t really want to come back, because freedom is something you cherish once you have it.

And Sam chose Jess, and Jess was back now, only not Jess-

Sam doesn’t know what he’s going to do. Sam hasn’t felt free in a long, long time.

“I would give anything, anything, to take it all back,” Sam argues. And he would. He would never have met Ruby, would have never taken on Lilith, would run back to Jess in a heartbeat and swear off the life and never do any of this so Sam can be good and safe and free, if it was possible, if there was a way to go back…

“I know you would.” Dean answers. Sam knows he has no idea what he truly means. “And I know how sorry you are. I do.”

That, at least, was accurate.

“But man, you were the one that I depended on the most.” Dean says, and Sam fights his gut reaction. The feeling: I am not someone for you to use. I am my own person, with my own life, I didn’t owe you anything beyond what I can give, you’re my brother, you should know this, I had a right to make my own choices, to make my own way, even if I was wrong, and God I wish the price wasn’t so high-

It’s not worth it, Sam. He doesn’t understand you like I do.

Dean keeps going. “And you let me down in ways that I can’t even… I’m just. I’m having a hard time forgiving and forgetting here. You know?”

And Sam wants to be trusted. Wants to be believed in. But not at this price.

But that won’t solve anything. Not with Sam being a mess now.

Not with all the things Sam can’t even handle, now that the Devil has come out to play.

And Sam needs anything, anything that can fix this. And Dean is just about the only other person he’s got who is on board to fix this mess, too, aside from Castiel, but who even knows, with Castiel, since he’s an angel and Sam doesn’t know him, not like he knows Dean.

“What can I do?” Sam asks, too quiet.

Dean laughs a pale imitation of a laugh. “Honestly? Nothing.”

And that solved absolutely nothing at all, and Sam’s mind starts going into overdrive, because it’s all too much, all at once, all over again-

“I just don’t… I don’t think that we can ever be what we were. You know?”

Some things don’t change. And Sam should have seen this, knew it was coming, one way or another-

Sam. You ran for a reason. You know why already. That’s why you’ll come back to me. I know you will.

And then Dean goes for the thing that hits Sam hardest. “I just don’t think I can trust you.”

Everything hits Sam then. It all hurts.

Sam wishes he could say the same, because how dare Dean say that, how dare he, and because Sam knows that’s still true, that he’s right, but those words won’t solve anything, and Sam needs to trust someone, anyone that’s not himself, no matter how much he wishes otherwise.

But what can Sam do, in the face of all this?

Sam, you’re only human. You don’t need to take this on alone. I’m here now. I’m here.

That night, Sam hides somewhere, alone, where he hopes nothing can find him.

Hides under the covers like he’s a child.

Because it doesn’t matter, nothing will help anyway, so what’s the harm?

Alone, but not really, Sam chokes on all the emotions he won’t let himself show.

--

Lucifer talks the talk. He’ll admit, it’s good practice, even if it is a little melodramatic. But that’s what humans must expect from angels, Lucifer can’t seem too acclimated. It’s not as direct as he would be with Sam, since Lucifer doesn’t feel like wasting time, and he’ll say whatever he needs to get Nick to say the magic words. Doesn’t care about lying, especially to someone he’s going to burn out in a heartbeat.

Besides, burning him out will be a mercy. Nick doesn’t even want to be alive. Not really. He’s lost everything. And Lucifer isn’t going to bring them back, there’s enough apes crawling around already.

Lucifer can almost sympathize with the emotion if he pretends it’s like Sam. That is, if he cared, and wasn’t already on a tight schedule. Every minute he wastes some stupid two-bit demon or angel could be hunting Sam down, and Lucifer has had enough of people touching the one human he’s already laid claim to.

Still. The best sales tactics incorporate real emotion. So real emotion it is.

“You people misunderstand me.” Lucifer starts, “You call me Satan and Devil, but do you know my crime? I loved God too much. And for that, he betrayed me. Punished me.”

Lucifer will admit, if he were more human, the admission would almost be a bit cathartic, after being alone and unable to talk about it for so long.

Good thing he isn’t human in the slightest, and has better, loftier priorities to focus on.

Lucifer moves on from himself to Nick, knows he needs to build rapport, “Just as he’s punished you. After all, how could God stand idly by while that man broke into your home and butchered your family in your beds? There are only two rational answers, Nick,” Lucifer makes Sarah sound more desperate, maybe because he is growing a bit desperate, and he can’t really let out the anger of being made to wait, “Either he’s sadistic… Or he simply doesn’t care.”

Lucifer knows the answer to that one: it’s both of the above.

Nick isn’t exactly buying it, but in all honesty, dreams are easier to write off than reality. Humans take more risks then, so it serves his purpose just fine.

“You’re angry. You have every right to be angry.” And Lucifer pretends he isn’t using the same gig to calm himself, knows the value of using this, squeezing out every drop of pathos he can, “I am angry, too. That’s why I want to find him, hold him accountable for his actions.”

Lucifer doesn’t even need to lie anymore. The script writes itself.

“Just because he created us doesn’t mean he can toy with us like playthings.” Sarah’s voice is righteous and holy with the wrath of all the Archangel God made Lucifer to be.

That finally gets a response.

“If I help you… Can you bring back my family?” Nick’s trembling voice asks. He starts crying.

Lucifer smothers the need to crush Nick’s skull and roll his eyes. He does still need a yes, when all is said and done.

Lucifer uses the rage and channels it into an approximation of extreme regret. He is sorry, after all. Sorry Nick is being so damn slow on the uptake.

“I’m sorry. I can’t.” Which is true. Lucifer can’t be bothered. “But I can give you the next best thing.”

Lucifer stops himself from laughing. This would be more than funny, if it wasn’t so time consuming and frustrating.

Time for the final curtain call, the final sales pitch.

“God did this to you, Nick. And I can give you justice. Peace.”

My special brand, the secret homemade recipe I coughed up, just for humanity. The justice and peace all humans deserve. Except for Sam. Never Sam. Sam is mine.

“How do I know you are telling the truth?” Nick asks, voice gruff from too much desperate, resigned hope borne out of too many years of wounded suffering with no reprieve.

“Because,” Lucifer leans in close, voice ringing and clear as churchbells. “Contrary to popular belief, I don’t lie. I don’t need to.”

Lucifer knows how to spin the truth so it serves his purpose just as well.

“What I need,” Lucifer adds, finishing, his voice a desperate plea, every bit of Sarah he can infuse begging and plaintive as its brought to the surface, “Is you. Nick, I need you to say yes.”

Eventually, too long for Lucifer’s taste, Nick bites. Says that formal little word Lucifer has been gunning for since he got there.

There are wings and light and bright and cold.

And then Lucifer is back in rotation, Nick burned out like a bug in a bug zapper.

The first thing he does is worm his way into Sam’s dreams properly again, full force of his grace and self intact, hex bags and engraved Enochian be damned (to the lowest circles of Hell, preferably, since then Lucifer can keep them as far from Sam as possible).

“Hi, Sam.” Jess’s voice whispers. "I'm back."

The Archangel cradles Sam using her arms, kisses him, as Sam stares, bewildered and afraid and wanting and too knowing, despite his own denial.

Sam wakes up in a cold sweat, Jess’s voice still humming in his ears.

Chapter Text

Sam can’t sleep, feels a muscle crick in his neck, and when he tosses himself upright Jess is there, right next to him. He shouldn’t be surprised but he always is, because she’s been next to him every night for weeks and weeks and weeks, so close but not nearly close enough and Sam finds he can’t quite care what that means. He can’t let this be taken from him, not again.

 A smile lights up her face, the sight a lightning strike seared into Sam’s eyelids.

 “Hey Baby.” Jessica’s voice is all sugar, all airy, and her face is exactly as it was, untouched by pain or fire or death.

Sam is speechless, as always. He swallows and forgets how to breathe.

Oh, Sam. 

“I missed you.” Jess continues, gaze moving from Sam’s mouth to his eyes.

Sam regards her with a frantic unmade suspension of disbelief with a faint trickle of how-are-you-here-what-does-it-mean? that soon morphs into pure heart-stricken love so bright and wide and endless it rises in his throat, chokes him out like paralytic venom coursing through his veins. His heart thrums, too fast but not enough, because Jess is here. Here, with him.

(Sam ignores the knowledge that he knows is folded over in his brain, that Jess is different, that Jess is Jess but not-Jess because he raised her up, that Jess is a caged animal made free, because he can’t bear anything else right now, because he just wants her back. That Jess has a different name, an older name that has been haunting Sam’s steps for eternity, a name Sam and Jess won’t say in case it breaks the fragile peace they pretend lies between then).

I missed you, too. I missed you more than I could bear. How..?

You know, Sam. And it will take more than a little warding to keep me from the best parts of you, believe me. Although I see you keep adding more. What a masochist you’ve turned out to be, seeing how much you want me here. What would you do if they somehow worked? Welcome me in your front door?

Sam lets the mildly frightening intensity go. Doesn’t let panic choke him because he doesn’t have any energy or want left to endorse being afraid right this second. The fears snuffed out like a burned out candle, smoke on the wind, nothing in the face of all of the feeling rushing out to meet him.

Do not be afraid, Sam. You have nothing to fear from me. I love you. I’ve always loved you.

I love you, too.

 “Jessica… I’m dreaming.” Sam answers his own question. He’s not hunting. He’s asleep. He always forgets that, because she just feels so real and solid and alive-

 And dear God and all the angels and demons in Heaven and Earth and Hell, he misses the love of his life more than the world right now. And it’s not like he can get Jess out of his head, not like this, not after all the other dreams he had before he drove Lilith to ground.

 Sam can afford to be weak in his sleep.

 He is, after all, only human.

"Or you’re not,” Jess answers, contrary for the sake of it. “What’s the difference? I’m here.”

 Isn’t that enough? It’s been too long, Sam. And you ran so far away. But I don’t blame you.

There’s a pressure around Sam, warm and protective and cold and all he wants to do is lean into it, to accept whatever feeling it is humming between them again. To take whatever this is and melt right into it because he misses Jess, misses this, too much.

 “I miss you.” Sam admits aloud, because if he doesn’t he’ll do whatever ‘Jess’ wants. “So much.”

 And Sam knows all that feeling makes him an open book, easily read. Sam can feel that knowledge, that assurance. That same ache singing all around him, mirrored in his every heartbeat.

 “I know.” Jess assures him. She lowers her gaze and reaches out, hand clasped in Sam’s. “I miss you, too.”

 And Jess… Jess feels so real. Smells like vanilla and ozone and apples and the absence of smell, of icicles and water, like chipped ice splintering over the ocean. Her touch softer than velvet against his skin. And Sam wants to kiss her senseless, wants to hold Jess tight and never let go.

 There’s another feeling, then. A quiet probing, ageless and wanting and cold. So cold it burns.

 “What are you doing, Sam?” Jess asks, and she doesn’t mean just that question but a billion more, and her gaze dances over Sam’s face like she’s memorizing him, like Jess can find the answers and can pluck them out of his head because she can, but would rather kiss and fuck them out of Sam, easy.

 You don’t have to hide anything from me, you know.

 A coldness, too bright and wonderful, makes Sam pause. And he reigns in his own want, as much as he doesn’t want to. Sam lets caution peek through, because he hasn’t lost all sense of self-preservation yet.

 I just want to be with you, to be near you again. Oh, Sam.

 “What do you mean?” Sam forces the words out.

 “Running away?” Jess answers, and she chases down Sam, freezes the caution in its tracks. “Haven’t we been down this road before?”

You tried running from your past and your family before. And you ran straight to me, keep running into my arms again and again. Why keep running?

Sam feels the memories well up from the past, from skinned knees and a black eye and Jess ushering him into her apartment off the tarmac, safe and concerned and kind, followed by all the history they shared thereafter.

 “No, it’s different now.” Sam counters, lets the distance steal across his face and scrunch up his forehead, just for a minute. Ignores the hum in his bones and his desperate need to say “Yes, yes, take me back, please, I miss you, I would do anything-” because he has to, because as divorced from his fear and revulsion and pain and self-hate as he is, right now, in this moment, Sam still has his pride and standards and lines he will not cross.

 Jess nods her head and lets some of her own caustic rejection bleed into her disbelief.

“Really?” She says, both eyebrows raised.

Lying, Sam?

I’m not, but not for the reasons you think.

Let’s hear it, then.

Sam still cannot quite meet her eyes, but tries anyway.

“Last time I wanted to be normal.” Sam grits out, the admission a bit too full of irony, of abandoned goalposts long left to rot, before he adds, “This time, I know I’m a freak.” And Sam’s nostrils flair and the bitter smile twists Sam’s face, turns it ugly because the truth is worse.

This time I broke the world.

You were never a freak, Sam. Just meant for greater things. If you don’t believe anything I’ve ever said, believe that. And the world isn’t broken. I’m just here, finally right here, like we’re meant to be.

Sam can feel wingtips softly press around him, tracing the outline of his cheekbones. A quick kiss brushes his lips, attached to something almost invisible, but not quite.

“Which is all a big ball of semantics.” Jess decides to answer, playful disregard and too-knowing gaze staples in her demeanor, a familiarity so close it almost rips Sam’s heart in two all over again. “You know that.” She smiles at him again, one hand squeezing Sam’s briefly. A human reassurance Sam wishes he didn’t need.

“No.” Sam’s response is too-quick because if it isn’t, he would roll over right now.

“Even at Stanford, you knew.” Jess illuminates, gives voice to the truths Sam is still too-scared to fully accept. And when Sam doesn’t bite, her voice grows sharper, colder, still probing too deeply because if she does maybe Sam will stop fighting her off and just let go, would give them both what they need right now, would at least just give them this, right now. “You knew there was something dark inside of you.”

Dark and wound up and heavy so I can set you free, so I can rest in your shade to bring you into my light and take every burden off your shoulders. Let me give you this, Sam. Let me help you. Let me love you. Let me in.

And Sam’s soul leaks molten pus from all the places it’s fractured, from the places he needs that cold to desperately fill and patch up.

Some things can’t be fixed. And I didn’t, I didn’t know that all this… I…

Sam, Sammy, you’re making yourself sick. Let me ease this fever, this pain. Let me bring you back to life.

And the thing taking the face of Jessica hugs him close, too gentle and electric and needy (because it's not enough, not yet). But Sam still isn’t caving, bites his lip inside his dream as he pretends to mull this over.

Sam, I know you feel this between us. What are you so afraid of? Why does the truth hurt you?

It doesn’t-

Don’t lie.

The other voice picks words out carefully, too precise and too wary to be human anymore.

 “Deep down, maybe. You knew. Maybe that’s what got me killed.” And that is the Devil talking, pure and ringing and clear.

 You knew but you didn’t want to accept what it meant. What it means. That denial breaks things, Sam, not you. Never you.

And that is too much for Sam right now, with the tangle of arms and limbs and wings and mouths between them, still holding Sam up as he forgets just how to move.

No, don’t say that, no-

Sam, I did not say that to hurt you. I am not blaming you. I’m trying to help you. Please.

And Sam looks up at Jess’s face, throat too tight and expression too pleading.

“No.” Sam’s rote denial burns.

I would never hurt you like this-

I know.

“I was dead from the moment we said hello.” Jess keeps going, insistent, but still not blaming Sam, not really.

You had no way to fight it, Sam. No way of knowing. This is the only way I could come back to you.

Sam’s voice chokes off too-high, his eyes watering as a muscle starts ticking in his jaw. “No.”

“Don’t you get it? You can’t run from yourself.” And Jess’s voice is still cold but in a crying, mournful, why-would-you-hurt-yourself-like-this-Sam?-way, endless and wanting and gathering Sam up like she can keep him from feeling all the hurt in the world, “Why are you running now?”

And that breaks Sam out of whatever illusion of sleep all this pretends to be, sends the exhaustion and fear hurtling back at breakneck speed.

“Why are you here, Jess?” Sam begs, and his throat bobs as he looks back at Jess, arrested and burning from all the light and love and agony pooling around him, rising level with his neck as he almost starts to drown.

What do you want-

I want you, Sam, you-

“Would you believe I’m actually trying to protect you?”

“From what?”

“You.” And Jess is matter-of-fact, the words music on her tongue.

Sam flinches.

I always have, Sam. Will you ever believe me again? You know I love you. Why are you pretending that I don’t?

That’s not-

Isn’t it?

Sam doesn’t argue. His lip trembles. ‘Jess’ takes his silent “no” for what it is, and the pressure and so-cold-it-is-almost-warm eases off slightly.

You don’t have to be afraid of me, Sam. You don’t have to be afraid of yourself. Please, Sam, please.

“Sooner or later the past is going to catch up to you like it always does,” Jess adds, “And you know what happens then?”

Soon I will have caught you. And you can’t keep yourself going like this forever. Sam, there are so many monsters out there want to hurt you. The least I can do is keep you safe. Keep you from hurting. But if nothing else, Sam, please don’t hurt yourself because you are scared of what we have. Of me. I can’t bear it. And I know you can’t, either. Please.

Sam looks down, his teeth grinding together in a nervous tic he thought he’d fought off.

This is not about me-

Yes, it is.

I can’t let it be about me-

You can. Please, Sam. You have to.

“People die. Baby, the people closest to you die.” The Devil takes no prisoners.

But I won’t leave you, Sam. I won’t.

 Sam’s eyebrows raise because he finds he can’t quite move anything else.

“Well, don’t worry, because I won’t make that mistake again.” And Sam’s voice is too raw, the raw nerve too flayed and beaten.

Are… are you threatening me? Because I won’t let your people hurt anyone else, I won’t-

You know I’m not. You want to protect everyone, Sam, but you can’t. It’s not possible. You are setting yourself up for failure. Why are you so addicted to pain?

“Same song, different verse.” Jess’s voice is all ice.

I just want, I need, this isn’t-

And Sam is frozen, every muscle in his body wanting to just let go or run or hide or give in right then and there.

Give yourself a break.

“Sam, things are never going to change with you.” Jess’s voice is jarring, two frequencies singing the same tune.

I know you know it. I know it. You don’t have to fight a battle you can’t win.

And Jess’s face grimaces in pain and fear. “Ever.”

Let me save you like I always do, Sam. Please. I love you too much to let you hurt yourself like this. It’s too much.

And Sam doesn’t answer. Nods his head and chokes the pain sharp against his throat and looks down like everything isn’t shattering into a billion panes of glass.

But Jess doesn’t leave.

Oh, Sam.

She just gathers Sam in her arms, hugs him close, all human and real and with a cold warmth so soft it always feels like Sam has finally found his way home.

I love you. Let that be enough, right now.

And Sam can’t hold on to anything else anymore. He gives himself over to the Devil (and the Devil gives itself up to Sam) until daybreak drags them out of each other’s tangled embrace.

Sam doesn’t try to win the arguments.

There was no winning.

Only love too bright and beautiful and violent, too full of a promise Sam isn’t ready to believe but that Sam feels with all his heart, anyway.

Chapter Text

“Come on, you know you want it, Sam. Just reach out and take it.” Tim steps closer.

And then Sam is fighting Reggie and Tim off, but it’s not a fair fight, and he smells hellfire and blood and sulfur as the cap opens.

The demon blood gets forced down Sam’s throat.

They leap back and Sam rises, and then he spits it most of it back in their faces.

But with the small amount that went down, well…

Every particle of Sam sings with it.

And something else sings back in answer, a bright line stretching out from Sam's soul that only Sam can see.

There’s a blond haired, blue eyed man in a green shirt entering the bar now, hands in his pockets of his jeans. Reggie and Tim stand frozen in place, as does Lindsay.

Sam. You are a sight for sore eyes. Although, I wish it was under better circumstances. Still, the real thing always beats seeing you behind prison glass.

Sam stumbles backwards, his breath frosting over. The line keens between them, bright and tangible and so cold it's burning. Sam almost collapses from the feeling right then and there, wants to throw himself in the arms of the stranger who is not quite a stranger, not really.

All of Sam's willpower focuses on not moving an inch, because any moment he might make is suspect at this point. He can heart every one of his heartbeats pounding in his ears.

“You really have a thing for blondes, you know. Jess, Brady, Amy, Will, Rachel, oh, that tall one, Eli from middle school, this one,” The new voice cuts in, pointing at Lindsay, and his voice is the only thing that feels tangible and is thrown into sharp relief. 

And me, if you don't mind me saying. I know your type.

Sam's thought swim so hard he can't quite string them together.

The being behind the blue eyes of this man that keeps haunting Sam's dreams gives the room a cursory glance and a small, disingenuous smile to the bartender. “Lindsey, right?”

"Don't hurt them." Sam's voice is too tight once he finds it. It sounds miles off, his mouth a disconnected part of him.

Blue eyes look at him, like Sam is a sunset a blind man can see for the first time.

The hairs on the nape of Sam's neck rise.

"You don't have to be afraid, Sam. I just popped in to make sure you are holding up okay. And what do I find? These two, roughing you up and threatening damsels in distress." His tongue clicks, disproving. "Silver lining, though, I found you. So it all works out, in the end."

Sam knows this feeling is more than fear and love and terror, but still somehow notes the convenient evasion where he didn't actually say he wouldn't hurt anyone.

"Who are you?" Lindsay asks shakily. The stranger Sam remains steadfastly in denial about tilts his head.

"You can call me Nick. How's that sound?" And then he winks at Sam. "Sam here knows me by other names, but we can keep that between us. Old friends, and all that."

"You should leave." Sam's voice is shaky. He can feel himself shivering, the goose-flesh prickling over him. The smell of ozone and apples and ice wafts by.

"Oh, but Sam, I'm trying to be a good Samaritan here, and I promised I'd keep you safe."

And I'm not one for what I should be doing, if you get me?

He points to Lindsay. "Besides, this one shouldn't walk home alone in the dark. Nor should you, in your condition." A few fingers rest and tap lazily over 'Nick's' chin as he adds, "There so many things waiting out there to take advantage. What do you think, Lindsay? You want a safe ride home? Don't worry, you don't have to answer, I can hear your prayers to get out of here clear as day."

Then "Nick" waves, and Lindsay is gone.

She's safe at home and unharmed, Sam. Don't need to worry your pretty little head.

Tim and Reggie are still frozen.

Sam takes the chance and lunges, then grabs the knife from the table as if it will do anything at all.

"Stay back."

'Nick' stops short, arms crossed.

"Sam. What exactly do you think I'm going to do?"

I don't know. That's what scares me.

Relax, Sam, I would never lie to you. I'm here to protect you. And I told you who I was from the beginning, remember? Not that you took it seriously. But all that's ancient history. No need to become all suspicious on me now.

Every nerve of Sam's keeps singing, chords slowly building to a crescendo, drawing out the feeling so Sam can't help but pray never ends.

"How did you find me?"

'Nick' gestures between them. "Do you really have to ask?"

And Sam licks his lips, almost falls to his knees as the line hums and keens and chimes between them, strumming at the attention, filling Sam with a feeling he'd only ever felt around Jess, only more, so much more...

All of Sam aches with ice and heat and blood and something so animal it makes his teeth ring, shuddering with adrenaline and ecstasy and something so bright and frozen his eyes and mouth and body almost can't take it in. Feels something soft hug around him, light and airy, barely glancing over his skin.

Sam's composure rebuilds itself too slowly.

At Sam's newly accusatory expression, 'Nick' sighs, his hands falling to settle at his waist. "As you wish. The blood ties us together, Sam. And now that I'm out, well, every time you take a drink, we grow closer. Think of it like..." And 'Nick' waves, all motion, always moving, except when he isn't, "Instant GPS."

Sam's voice goes off-line as his brain shuts off again. Another wave nearly sends him sprawling, his heart pumping the blood faster and faster. Sam can almost feel invasion spreading like a virus, infecting each cell one beat at a time.

"Anyway. You could use some TLC. So, I'm going to handle these two, and then walk you home. Sound like a plan?"

"Don't kill them." Sam's scratchy voice grates out. The posture of his spine wavers.

Something old and beautiful and terrible stares back at him from those bright blue eyes.

Sam keeps shivering as he tries to plant his feet.

'Nick's' voice is still melodious, but Sam hears an undercurrent he's never used with Sam before, more than reproving, promising bloodshed. "Sam. They attacked you. They hurt you. And after everyone keeps ignoring my wishes to the contrary, there needs to be some consequences. This is just me, being... proactive. Otherwise, how else will anyone take my orders seriously?"

Unnecessary oversights have put you in jeopardy, Sam. It's gone on long enough already.

Then he twists a hand. Reggie and Tim cough up their guts and fall to the floor, eyes blank.

Dead.

Oh, God.

Not quite. Deep breaths, Sam. It's not like they didn't have it coming. And I have a right to judge them. It's practically my job description.

That's not-

Isn't it? Search your feelings, Sammy. You know it to be true. 'Nick' quotes as he steps closer.

Sam starts drowning, can't quite hold himself upright without the table he's stumbled into.

"I'm not going anywhere with you." Sam's voice is more raw and less composed than he wants. The table shudders and breaks apart from Sam's strength, from the shaking.

The line is the only thing keeping Sam upright now.

"Well, I hate to be a downer, but you're currently under the influence, so you can't really make that call right now. Let me be your designated driver for the night, baby."

I'm all you have on retainer, Sammy. You've been avoiding everyone else.

And Sam keeps shaking even more, dizzy with need as the full force of the blood and the light crashes over him like a tidal wave. It all hits harder than usual, after Sam's gone so long without.

'Nick' is suddenly standing right in front of him, arms holding Sam upright, and Sam's quite not sure when he got there. Blue eyes look Sam up and down. Can see just every feeling Sam's trying his hardest not to feel.

"Don't worry, though. I won't try anything. I would never do that to you, Sam. I'm not Ruby, and quite frankly, that's the last thing you need right now, after what those two did to you."

And then the knife is being gently pulled out of Sam's hand, and there's another hand walking him out the door, and Sam's feet are following, following, Sam isn't sure if he can quite move his legs on his own...

"I'd fly you home to your motel, Sam. But I need to name to match the destination. You mind if I take you somewhere else? Somewhere fancy while you recoup?"

Sam's mind whirs, miles away.

His mouth speaks the name of his motel on autopilot, not wanting to be taken anywhere out of his element.

And then they're there.

Lucifer guides Sam down on the bed and tucks him under the covers, fully clothed. Although, he does clean off the blood.

"You sit tight, Sam. You want some water?" A hand rustles through Sam's hair.

"Why are you doing this?" Sam manages to ask, still overwhelmed.

I'll take that as a maybe.

"Because I love you, Sam. And I want to take care of you. Now, rest up. I'll be right here if you need anything."

Sam passes out as the feeling gets him and becomes more than anything he's ever felt before-

This time, no one visits him in his dreams.

--

When Sam wakes, he can smell something cooking from the small outcropping that was almost a kitchen.

He dozes, comfortable, and then everything floods back and he's jerking back the covers only to get more tangled when leaping up and-

'Nick' is right there.

There's omelet on a skillet in one hand, and a glass of water in the other.

"Sleep well?"

Sam crawls backwards over the bed.

"You're real."

"Yes."

"This isn't a dream."

"Not at all."

Sam's brain shuts off again as he huddles under the sheets.

'Nick' sighs. "Sam, you are being deliberately cruel to yourself again. Stop it."

Sam, you've been lonely and alone and starving for any physical contact or kindness for MONTHS. Let us have this. I promise I'll only stay as long as you need me. I'll play by your rules. Won't do anything you don't want. Deal?

And then 'Nick' sits down next to him.

Sam doesn't say anything. His mouth, his tongue, won't move quite right.

And that chiming, blissful feeling of Sam, Sam, Sam, still shorts him out from sheer proximity, just like it had felt when Sam stood arrested and motionless as the last seal broke and-

No. Not thinking about it.

The omelette is on a plate now and being shoved into Sam's hand, a fork clinking as it shifts across the ceramic.

"It's your favorite recipe. The way you always like it." 'Nick' encourages.

Sam takes it and puts it on the side table, same as the glass of water.

"It's not poisoned."

"I know." Sam whispers. Sam inhales the smell of fire and smoke and ice and dirt and ozone, and Sam's not sure if that's him or 'Nick,' as Sam keeps trying to center himself.

You're really real?

Absolutely 100% here, Sam.

There's a hand rubbing Sam's back. Solid. Real. As human as anything Sam could crave, even while Sam feels more than that.

"I should go." Sam manages to say.

'Nick' looks at him and withdraws his hand as Sam attempts to get up, expression unreadable. "If that's what you really want... But you should still rest, Sam. I can mute some of the effects, but the withdrawal will take a lot out of you. Best to wait 'til it's all out of your system."

Sam stumbles, and 'Nick' catches him. Helps him back down to the bed.

Sam tries to remember why he should be fighting.

I... I can't do this, you killed them, your disasters and demons are still killing people, and it's all my fault-

No, Sam, no. The other side has just as much blood on its hands. Besides, Sam, I can make a few calls. Grant my children a few vacation days, if that's what it takes to get you to calm down. I'll do it right now, if you like. And stop mourning those who don't deserve your consideration, Sam. Those two hunters, who, may I remind you, accosted you and a relatively innocent woman (by your standards), got what they deserved.

Sam tries not to pitch forwards into 'Nick's' chest. Can barely stay upright.

"What are you even doing here?" Sam finally lets out all the emotions he's been trying to reign in. "What do you want?"

'Nick' doesn't touch him except to hold Sam steady, although one thumb does brush across Sam's hand.

"Like I said. I'm trying to protect you, Sam. And right now, I'm just trying to keep you company. I miss us. And you need me. Think of it this way: all the time I spend with you, I'm not getting down and dirty with the End of Days everyone's been so focused on. That put things into perspective for you?"

Sam nods.

He can do this. He can.

'Nick' wordlessly fluffs the pillows and readjusts the sheets as Sam settles back down.

There's a hand guiding Sam's head upright as it keeps him from slamming back into the headboard.

Sam pretends this entire concept is more unpleasant and as awful as he wishes it really felt like.

But it all feels like Jess.

Like home.

'Nick' smiles like the sunrise reflecting over a still pond, bright and endless and clear.

"Okay." Sam starts, gathers his too scratchy voice as he sits upright, still trembling.

His hand shakes as he picks up the fork and plate.

Two hands clasp together as blue eyes watch Sam scarf down the eggs. Then an arm reaches out, and Sam chugs the water like he's downing shots.

Can you not watch me so...

Intently? Sorry. I'll try to reign it in. I just missed you so much, Sam. You have no idea.

I sort of do. You remind me all the time.

Okay, fair. Can't help it. Sue me.

I might take you up on that.

You can still take the bar exam, you know. Probably won't be too useful, when all is said and done-

Hard pass. Sam feels something bitter filter through before its gone. Then there's a gentle feeling of something else, something melancholy, that floats in to replace it.

If you didn't go back into the family business, I wouldn't be able to see you again, Sammy. Is that what you would have really wanted?

And then reality settles fully over Sam, and he mourns for what he wishes this was. What he pretends this could be.

He pushes those thoughts aside. They aren't helping.

"So." Sam says once he finishes, willing to do anything to change the subject. 

What now?

'Nick' shrugs, just as eager to move on. "You're going to feel it hit you harder again in another 20 minutes. I can tone it down through proximity, but it's not foolproof... unless..." 'Nick' trails off, for once looking less than certain.

"What." Sam doesn't like where this is going.

'Nick' hunches over himself.

"I can give you my blood."

Sore subject, I know.

Sam freezes, mouth dry.

"It won't hurt you. Will cancel all those nasty aftereffects out. But I don't think you are in a place to be on board with it-"

"You thought right." Sam's voice is more than derisive.

I've already been down that road. No thanks.

It's not the same, Sam. But you'll come 'round when you need it. No need to rush things along.

That's not ominous or threatening at all.

It's really not meant to be, Sam. Time... the concept, the way I see things, it's a tricky thing for us to be on the same wavelength. Cut me some slack. I'm trying my best.

I think you forgot some things while you were gone.

You can re-teach me.

I doubt that. You were never on time even when we set alarms.

Fair.

They sit in silence, whatever this is humming between them.

"Am I just sitting in this motel room while you just... stay here?" Sam asks, shifting. It was easy just to get lost in... whatever the whispers and singing around him is. Easy as floating away.

'Nick' shrugs again, face still unreadable.

"I can leave, but then the hallucinations are going to hit you with a vengeance."

"Let's test that."

'Nick' flies off to prove his point.

Sam goes under immediately after, but it passes a second later when 'Nick' flies back, impatient, not willing to draw this out longer than necessary.

The whiplash between agony and ecstasy makes every part of Sam ache.

"You okay, Sam?" 'Nick's' voice is too soft. Intonations too much like Jess.

What do you think?

And then there's a hand rubbing his shoulder. Sam's feels the fingertips glance over his neck slightly, and tries not to lean into it.

"Dealing." Sam voice still drips with suspicion.

'Nick' gives him a crestfallen look.

I told you I would never lie to you, Sam.

I heard you the first time.

It would be nice if you actually believed me.

Once bitten, twice shy.

"That wasn't me, Sam." 'Nick' says quietly. "I'm not the one who hurt you."

And Sam lets some of his frustration out.

"Not directly. But you hurt other people. That hurts me. And your lackeys. They worked for you. They hurt me."

Everything they did was on your orders.

"I don't know if you noticed, but demons don't listen very well."

"Then you should have been more specific-"

"Sam-"

Don't make excuses.

I'm not.

You set this up. Set me up.

I ache for the pain inflicted on you, Sam. But I don't regret anything that brought me back to you. Don't you understand? There was no way for Jess to last forever, I couldn't stay there with you no matter how hard I tried, she would have burned and I would have been trapped forever. Knowing that, wouldn't you do the same, in my position?

Then Sam's lurching away again, still tangled in the sheets.

Anytime he loves someone, it's always too good to be true, whenever he lets people in. And Sam can't keep doing this, he can't keep feeling this only to have the wool ripped from his eyes again.

"No! What do you really want? Why are you doing this to me?"

Sam feels the tears well up and starts collapsing in on himself despite everything, the physical strain of the past few months and the isolation and yesterday hitting him like a riptide. There is too much exhaustion, too much guilt, too much anger and need and loneliness weighing him down, crushing him...

Because I love you, Sam, more than anything. More than the world.

'Nick' hugs him close.

Sam feels the softest of wings curl around him. He nestles closer.

Deep down, he wishes for it to never stop.

"I never meant to hurt you, Sam. I'm just doing everything I need to win. That's all. Once we win, we'll be together. That's what I've always wanted."

Sam doesn't pull away.

No matter what it does to everyone else, right? Like the person you are possessing right now? No price too high to pay to get what you want?

Sam, there's no one in this body but me. I gave the previous tenant peace. They just wanted to be with their family, in Heaven. I just answered their prayer.

Sam can't quite keeping fighting the feelings off now, and he kisses him like the weak, starving failure he knows he is.

Fuck.

'Nick' doesn't kiss back.

You're not all there yet, Sam. I promised I wouldn't take advantage, no matter how much I want this, too. Please don't feel bad. We have time. 

Sam isn't sure there is enough alcohol in the world stronger than the force of his own denial.

And damn it all to Hell, Sam wasn't supposed to feel this, he told himself he wouldn't let this happen again, but here he is-

Stop it, Sam. You can't control your heart, anymore than I can control mine.

Sam pulls away.

"Sorry."

"Don't. You needed this. I'm here. I'm told you. I'm able and willing to give you anything you need."

"Except not end the world." Sam accuses. 'Nick' brushes the hair out of his eyes.

"...Sam, you know why that can't happen. I can't protect you, can't save you, if I don't win."

Sam looks away.

Hey, maybe when the shakes wear off, I can take you out, just like we used to. What do you think? Should be over with in 6 hours. Or maybe we can take it easy. Go slow. Whatever you need, Sam.

"Can I have more water, please?"

'Nick' obliges, and Sam drinks.

Let's say I take you up on the offer. What did you have in mind?

Dinner and a movie? I just like being near you again, Sam. We can do whatever you want. We could watch Princess Bride, again. I liked that one.

It's official. Sam's life has completely gone all the way off the rails.

Still, anything to put the Apocalypse on hold... At least, that's what Sam keeps telling himself.

The irrational thought to call Bobby, to pray to Cas, to talk to Dean and say, "Hey, my almost fiancee isn't human and is really behind everything and right now they're putting off the end of the world because they miss me," crosses Sam's brain, hysterical and intrusive.

Sam doesn't know where his phone went.

He doesn't really care, right now.

He just needs someone near him again. Someone who doesn't look at him like he's a monster or a bomb about to go off or like a speck of dirt.

Like he's just Sam.

Like Sam is good enough.

Just like Jess and Nick, and the consciousness inside them, always does.

--

Six or so hours later, Sam leans into 'Nick's' embrace, the glow of the television flickering over them.

'Nick's' arm wraps under him, arms keeping Sam as close as possible, their heads brushing together.

Nick's hair is soft, his stubble almost clean-shaven when Sam feels it flit over the back of his head.

The green hoodie feels soft and warm, despite the cold.

Sam wonders if its so cold that the warmth is an illusion.

--

'Nick' ends up staying for a week.

Sam sobers up by day two.

And Sam doesn't let himself feel guilty for taking this, for every touch and kiss and moment.

Besides, there have been no infernal omens on the news, nothing except for what 'Nick' says are not him, not his people, and he will prove it any way he must.

Sam believes him. Checks Revelations. Knows the signs that crop up are all Heaven.

Wishes he wasn't grateful, knows he's praying to something he probably shouldn't.

--

Messages light up Sam's unanswered phone as it buzzes on the bedside table.

'Nick' keeps fucking Sam into the mattress without regrets.

He isn't entirely gentle, not like he had been their first time like this on the third night, and he hasn't been holding back ever since.

Sam melts into the fervent need and furious pace without restraint. He feels no shame for begging, for asking for it, for initiating to begin with.

Doesn't scream any names. (That would break his carefully crafted denial, would bring all of Sam's safety nets tumbling down.)

Just cries out, "More. I need you, please," Until he's inarticulate.

And then Sam undoes 'Nick' himself.

Sam doesn't know when he'll ever have this again. But doesn't want to give it up.

'Nick' is all too happy to oblige, because he missed Sam. Missed their physicality outside of dreams.

(Unbeknownst to Sam, the inhuman thing he loves wants to be even closer, but this is the closest it'll get for now, so it takes what it can get. And it did like having Sam like this, seeing Sam from the outside in. His body, their body, was a work of art, was gorgeous, and Sam's expressions and human weakness awoke something else in the Archangel, something he would almost miss, even if he'd never admit it.)

Sam pretends he allows this for unselfish reasons. That every night he gives up is another piece of the Apocalypse driven off-track. 

It's nothing like Ruby and not the same as anyone else, never has been, because 'Nick' is more than that, and he knows Sam inside and out.

And he doesn't ask for anything Sam can't give. Not like this. (Not yet, anyway.)

It's almost like Jess, the same feeling of rightness, but otherwise entirely different.

But it is always bright, and cold, and good.

Their closeness fills Sam up like nothing else. He wonders if love, too bright, too alive, can be considered worse than addiction.

'Nick' doesn't let Sam dwell on the concept.

--

Sam flips open his phone with fumbling hands when he sees the caller ID light up again a few hours later.

'Nick' still nestled against him, arms and legs tangled around Sam's, as quiet as the grave.

Doesn't make a move to stop him. Hasn't every time the phone rang.

"Hey, Sam."

It's Dean.

"Hi." Sam;s voice breaks, too quiet. He tries not to let all the abandonment, how much he misses him, out. Tries to keep a lid on the still-festering despondence that Dean still didn't trust him, the doubt that Sam's heart is in the right place, but he doesn't entirely succeed, because Sam still doesn't trust himself, although he knows he has the best of intentions.

And 'Nick' can only assuage so much loneliness, because Sam won't let him be everything, won't let him take too much, because that was too dangerous, too close to falling off the cliff Sam's been trying to claw his way back from this entire time, ever since Ruby broke something Sam pretends isn't broken. And it's not the same kind of loneliness, there's more than one eating Sam alive. And the bonds of family are one of them.

Sam misses home, misses Bobby's, hell, even misses Castiel sometimes, standoffish as he is. But he'd be lying if he didn't admit he misses his life with Jess more.

"You doing okay?"

"Yeah. Better than usual." Sam admits. It's not a lie.

"That's... that's good." Dean's voice is grainy and far away. "You hear the news?"

"No. I've been off the grid for a week, Dean. Researching the lore to try and see what will come next, lying low, that sort of thing." Sam's voice remains steady even when there's a kiss being pressed into his neck, long and soft suction that Sam's body trembles with from head to toe. "But I've been avoiding the TV, papers, everything. I just... It felt like the right thing to do." Sam settles on.

"Well, that's probably for the best. Because, uh, word on the street is, the Devil's been keeping a lid on things. Hasn't been raising Hellfire and Judgement down. The angels have been freaking out about it so much Cas has been getting headaches, and demons won't say anything, although the few we've been able to summon say they've been allowed a break, whatever that means. So you're probably better off hiding from him until we figure out what he's up to."

'Nick' keeps playing with Sam's hair, fingers stroking down Sam's torso, rubbing circles into Sam's back and legs and chest and-

Sam intakes too much air.

"Sounds like a plan."

"Oh, before I forget. We found Raphael. Got him to talk. He thinks God is dead. Not trying to be the bearer of bad news. But we trapped him in Holy Fire. So that's... something. Figured you should know."

Ooooh, I'd love to be a fly on the wall for that one.  And ha! God. Dead. As if. Raphael never had much imagination. Always needed instructions down to the letter. The truth is worse, Sam. Much worse. But if you don't mind, I'd rather not think about that, while we're like this. Just an idea.

I didn't say anything, did I? That was all you.

True. My lips are sealed. Well, except for what they're going to be doing to you, Sammy.

"That's... that's something, I guess. Thanks for telling me." Sam's not sure when his tone became so stilted. "I'll see if I can find anything that might keep him off your trail, something that might help us see how long he'll be trapped..."

I take it I'm your resource, Sam?

Don't.

I'm only playing around. But you're right. Let's not spoil the mood.

"Well, good luck with that. Man, he gave me the creeps. Don't tell anyone I said that." Dean's voice keeps going as 'Nick' bites Sam, lightly, then resettles, his head resting in the crook of Sam's neck. Hands wandering other places, much lower.

No one has done anything so bad that they can't be forgiven, Sam hears Lindsay's words echo inside his head.

Sam had started to believe it, just a little. But now, not sure that applies to everyone, when all is said and done.

"Um, Dean, I have to go. Stay safe."

"Sam... you sure you're okay?"

"Yeah. I promise." Sam's voice is stronger, this time.

"...Okay." Dean definitely doesn't believe him.

"It's just... I'm not alone, at the moment. Can't be researching all the time." Sam tries to break the news as discreetly as possible. "But I didn't want to ignore your call."

"Oh. Oh! Well, I'll leave you to it. Have fun. Um. You check that they aren't-"

"They are not a demon, Dean. Or a monster. Farthest thing from it." Still not a lie, if Sam's technical about it. He doesn't feel guilty, because saying otherwise would be a lie, would hurt the being lying next to him. But he does feel a bit more unclean for leading Dean to his own conclusions.

"Okay, okay. Just checking. Don't want another recap of Ruby, am I right?" Dean's joke doesn't hide the real fear and bitterness well. Never has. Dean's not one to hold back.

Any feelings of impurity or doubt Sam has disappear abruptly at the words.

"You and me both." Sam's voice is a bit sharper than intended.

"Well... You take care of yourself, Sam."

Dean hangs up.

'Nick' doesn't hold in the laughter and draws Sam in close again.

--

After the week, 'Nick' doesn't apologize for what he's going to do. He never does.

But he does say other things, make other promises, tells Sam any pain he might feel is something he wishes was avoidable, but that he'll make it up to Sam by the end.

Says he has to win this, for them, that he can't hold this off any longer.

Excuses it all on the basis that he can't jeopardize even the possibility of losing Sam.

There are other reasons, less unselfish ones that they both don't talk about. Sam can guess them well enough.

And Sam vows he'll stop him. Whatever it takes.

I know you'll try your best, Sam. But I won't lose you, Sam. I won't.

'Nick' kisses him goodbye.

They both know the parting is temporary.

Next time, Sam, please don't think less of me. I meant every word I said.

--

Jess and Nick never stop visiting Sam in his sleep, even after Sam meets up with Dean again.

Sam knows he can't hide much longer.

Can feel the future closing in on him, rumbling closer, just like Jess predicted.

Chapter Text

When Sam hears Jess’s voice and she is back with him, he doesn’t want to let her go. He just feels the burning of her presence, the cold but distinct weight of her next to him, the softness with which she carries herself with, all regal and solid and not like a dream at all.

But when Sam hears her speak, he can feel a line of steel running through it all, and he knows that this time it’s different, that this time there’s no hiding from what’s out there, from what’s next to him, from what’s been dogging his steps this whole time, Sam's whole life.

No hiding now, not after those nights they shared, when Sam wasn't with Jess or Nick but still pretended otherwise.

And 'Jess' had kept visiting him for weeks still, as had Nick, maybe trying to ease into this slowly, maybe as reluctant to give up what they had as much as Sam. Neither of them have ever wanted Sam to run, have always believed in him, and still confide in him, but Sam doesn’t want to acknowledge the rest.

But both of them know that this time is not the same.

Sam still pretends. He doesn’t know what he knows. He doesn’t want to.

Not quite yet.

Not if it means he actually has to fight someone he's loved for too long, despite the reality of the situation.

Sam would give that love up, if push came to shove, because there were no other real options, and no other way to protect everyone else because Sam already knew that what he had sprung from captivity was out for blood.

But not yet. Not if he could do something to fix this.

“Sam, this is your life now?” Jess starts, eyes not leaving his. Sam almost thinks there’s sadness there, but there’s a note of triumph, too, and Sam doesn’t know which is worse. But he agrees. He did not see his life ending up like this, either.

Jess strokes his face with familiarity, with ease, and Sam leans into it. He wants this back more than anything in the world.

“Do you think you can just live forever with your head buried in the sand?” Jess whispers, one finger glancing off Sam's collarbone. She won’t let him forget, won’t let him hide, and the feeling between them just grows stronger and stronger.

He leans down and kisses her, and she kisses back feather-light, then harder.

Sam pulls back and sighs. He swallows, and then the guilt and fear starts to rebuild itself up again. It’s still held back, though, because Sam knows what he needs to do. Jess pulls away, mindful of his discomfort. Reassuring, but waiting, all the same.

He can believe enough for the both of them, can’t he?

And Sam, he knows one thing for sure.

“I love you, Jess.”

And Jess knows it, savors it, looks at Sam like he is something above everything else, like he’s just Sam, as if being just Sam is enough, is worthy of that love.

Sam turns, can’t look at her anymore, can’t say what he needs to say when that love is nakedly staring back at him. She rises with him, following, always following.

“God knows how much I miss you, too.” He continues, unable to shake the feeling that whatever was coming next, he had to let the dream go. Jess was gone except she wasn’t and he knew that something was going to go wrong, just like it always did. Maybe it was the latent precognition, maybe just Sam giving himself the right to let go, but he could feel a room as well as anyone else. He can feel her kneeling right beside him, eyes at his back, waiting.

Sam takes a breath and gathers his thoughts anyway. “But you’re wrong.” He feels Jess stiffen and it almost tears his heart apart, but he keeps going, “People can change.”

I can change. And everything changed so much already. How do I know you haven’t changed, too? He doesn’t say. How do I know this change will be any good?

The rest of his words are resolute, but still wooden.

“There is reason for hope.” If only Sam really believed that, could really endorse what he was selling. But he had to. He had to believe. He had to make himself believe or all of this was going to be so much harder. He hopes it is enough.

But somewhere, his soul knows Jess and Nick and the being they truly are, and Sam isn't too sure of his own convictions anymore. He buries those feelings down deeper, too.

Jess’s fingers card through his hair, and Sam re-centers, is more than glad she isn’t angry, grateful there is still something comforting despite the ice he can feel heading toward him.

“No, Sam.” Jess’s voice is precise, and her hand is heavy on his shoulder, possessive, yet deceptively light. “There isn’t.”

And just like that, the ice settles. No running from the truth anymore.

Sam still isn’t ready, despite everything he knows. Despite the sunbursts singing around him, Sam, Sam, Sam, the heady feeling suffocating him with feeling too alive.

“How can you be so sure?” He hears himself answer.

And Jess’s voice changes, because “Jess” isn’t Jess at all.

“Because you freed me.” Lucifer breaks the news gently, as if the moment wasn’t sudden enough, hand pressing tighter around his shoulder, one small intended comfort still gone horribly awry.

With pretense of “Jess” gone, the blanket of denial leaves Sam fast as a lightning strike. It's not that he's Nick, either, Sam knew that already, and Hell, Sam would pretend for "Nick," too, if that would help.

It's the fact there is no more hiding from the truth. That now, Sam has to face reality head on.

Sam turns and freezes, hyperventilating as his body keels off-balance, subconsciously not ready to reconcile the three-that-were-one the whole damn time. All the familiar things are familiar but not quite the same; not enough to quell the fear that been threatening to drag him under since this whole doomsday plot began.

He backs away slowly, as far as he can.

“That’s right. You know who I am.” Lucifer says. He doesn’t pull punches, doesn’t let the pretense stand.

Sam. You’ve always known. The grace purrs, and Sam almost caves, but he can’t bear something so close to betrayal, not now.

“Lucifer.” Sam answers. The Devil’s true name sits heavy on his tongue, full with the fear of a lifetime, too alien to the name he was wearing not-so-long before. The name of the thing that loved him for so long only to be lost and then found in the worst way Sam could imagine.

Lucifer doesn’t let him fall into shock, not when they have so much to discuss.

“You’re a hard one to find, Sam,” The Devil sounds proud of the fact, as if this was expected. Jokes, as if he didn't already know where Sam had been a few weeks prior. “Harder than most humans.” He adds, as if Sam wasn’t, in fact, one of them.

Sam doesn’t say anything. It’s all too much to process, now that it’s all real. Lucifer picks up on it, infusing his next words with more quiet.

“I don’t suppose you’d tell me where you are?” And the hopeful playfulness is back, still infused with some irony Sam can't ignore, an unintended mockery of what Jess once was, once upon a time.

Want to grant me another night?

The similarity of both jolts the silence from Sam and mute shock gives way.

“What do you want with me?” Sam asks too quickly, and ignores the proposition. He doubts he’ll like what he hears, all things considered, and Sam doubts that's all Lucifer is after. 

The Devil takes his time, although the his answer still bites.

“Thanks to you, I walk the earth.” He says evenly. His eyes rake over Sam, as if drinking in every inch of him.

Isn’t that not reason enough?

Looks at Sam as if he hasn't truly seen him before. Although he has, so many times.

What changed? Sam's prayer is immediate. Why now?

We couldn't avoid discussing the obvious forever, Sam. And you deserve proper answers for once, don't you think? There are plans set in motion, plans you are a part of no matter how much you try to hide.

Sam swallows, and the Devil doesn’t move his eyes from his face, still unflinching, uncowed by the change in whatever this was. Maybe he thought things hadn’t really changed, for them, despite this.

Try again, Sam thinks. Lucifer takes the hint.

“I want to give you a gift.” Lucifer continues, tender, half-begging, as if he knows he’s what Sam fears most and he’s trying his best not to scare him away, “I want to give you everything.”

I want to give you more than I've ever given you, Sammy.

The feeling like static and ozone and the deep cold of the sea, of a billion fingertips and fronds and the unwinding of the cosmos, an unseeing energy like the colors dancing below one’s eyelids, swells and fills the room, not accustomed to resistance.

Sam had grown used to the ghosts of it, of the grace he pretended was anything else. The feel of it had never felt so strong as it did now, except when Lucifer held him and never asked for anything but Sam's love.

As if Sam will accept that. Accept this "gift," and all its consequences. As if he would make the rest of this easy.

Sam is not going to help Lucifer win this war, and he knows Lucifer doesn't really believe him. Sam has guessed enough despite the denial he's let grow inside him. And now he lets the smaller rages, the other betrayals, out to play, now that his only way of coping has been torn down.

“I don’t want anything from you.” Sam spits. He lets the righteous, bitter, fervent rage in all over again, because every time he thinks he’s found someone who loves him, there is always a price-tag attached. Hunting, demon blood, and all the rest – Jess was supposed to be different. No, you were different, Sam prays, because the haziness of the delineation was slowly eating him alive.

You really are human, Sam. You take to lying like breathing. I haven't lied, Sam. I love you. But you can't stay on the sidelines anymore, no matter what you think.

Otherwise, the Devil doesn’t take the bait, and looks back at him skeptically. The look is all Jess, all patience and acerbic stubbornness. It stops Sam in his tracks, and his heart skips a beat. Then another, and another.

Sam doesn’t know how to fight that. He gears up for a fight, anyway.

“I’m sorry, Sam. I really am. But,” Lucifer cuts in, motioning to himself, “Nick here is just an improvisation. Plan B. Can barely contain me without spontaneously combusting.”

Lucifer talks as if it’s a minor inconvenience. Sam’s fight gives way, just a little, to make room for confusion.

“What are you talking about?” Sam asks.

The Devil rises to his feet. Sam starts to back away.

“Why do you think you were in that Chapel?” Lucifer asks him, unhappy with the distance and no longer willing to play along. The distance was a formality, a way of easing the news gently, but now that it was broken, there wasn’t much holding him back.

The Devil steps closer and closer, deliberately slow, as if cornering an already frightened animal, which wasn’t too far off the mark. He puts his hands together as if in afterthought, as if praying, as if that makes this any less terrifying. As if this hasn’t been what Sam has been running from his entire life, subconsciously or no.

“You’re the one, Sam.” Lucifer breathes, unquestioning, certain, halfway worshipful.

You’re mine. All mine. Sam flinches, but the words keep swirling anyway. Sam can’t shake the possessive, familiar voice of Jess combined with Nick combined with Lucifer, a more-than-tritone reverb of a fallen archangel in all its keening glory, each part caressing every inch of him like invisible folds of wings. Content and hungry and teething with emotions Sam can scarcely describe. The whispers and essence of the Devil tempt him through their own want for home, for him, for every inch of his being.

“You’re my vessel.” Lucifer clarifies, stalks forward, then pauses in his advance. “My true vessel.”

“No.” Sam answers. Immediate. Unyielding.

The Devil raises his eyebrows. The cacophony of his presence peals even louder.

“Yes.” Lucifer’s voice brooks no room for argument.

Sam keeps fighting all the projected feelings as they keep washing over him.

You can take your war and your conditional love and shove it-

My love is not conditional, Sam. Never has been. This is just the next step in our relationship. Us, joining together, in a way far beyond flesh and blood. And I promise, it will feel better than anything else we've shared before.

Sam shakes his head. He can’t get enough air anymore, can’t bear any of this, and there is nowhere else to go when trapped inside your own head.

Lucifer’s presence withdraws, taken aback, as if only now realizing its mistake, eagerness scaring Sam more than if Lucifer had just left it alone.

I am not a body for you to just take control of-

It's not control if you're willing and along for the ride, Sam. And it won't be like you're thinking. Lucifer's grace pauses, trying to find the best equivalency. This is a union of everything I am, and everything you are. Like a intertwining of souls. Together, like we've always been, as close as we were made to be.

“No. No, that’ll never happen!” Sam repeats, vehement. He can’t seem to look away.

“I’m sorry but it will.” Lucifer replies. He strides forward, and the feeling of cold and bright and omnipresent curls out further around the two of them, as the Devil gives himself permission to invade Sam’s space, to breach the small breadth of emptiness between them all over again.

“I will find you. And when I do… You will let me in.” Lucifer shoots Sam a knowing look, “I’m sure of it.”

There’s no need to fight me, Sam. I know you’re not ready, not yet.

Lucifer places his hands on Sam’s shoulders, but Sam shakes him off and circles back around. They keep orbiting each other, the bed a silent observer at the dance they’ve begun, and Sam knows it’s not just his body on the line.

You can’t fight this, Sam. You won’t even want to, when the time comes. We can be together, like we’re meant to. It will be good, and right, and everything you’ve ever needed. Trust me.

Sam stops the sound ringing in his ears dead in its tracks.

“You need my consent.” He interrupts, voice breaking.

The noise and icy fire become discordant, chime echoing away in surprise. Clarity fills Sam with a sense of relief, for one small victory, and he allows himself to crack a small smile despite himself. The demands wouldn’t hold, and this dance wasn’t so different from the others after all. He could still win this.

The Devil crosses his arms, nonplussed, gentleness yielding to an edge before it smooths over. “Of course. I am an angel.” And the wry amusement was back.

You know that already, Sam. I know you don't need that reminder, not after everything we've shared. Why deny me now? Can’t you feel how we’re already drawn together? After all, we've always been close. And I won’t force you, Sam. You will come to me. Like you always do.

Sam takes a deep breath, not daring to guess his luck. He can still fix this. He can. The Devil can think whatever he damn well wants.

Lucifer waits, and knowing Sam, he’d still encounter some resistance, but Lucifer does not allow himself to grow impatient. He has waited this long. He can wait a bit longer.

“I will kill myself before letting you in.” Sam challenges. It’s not an empty threat. His heart might be breaking, but he didn't have to be what everyone expected, an abomination complicit in the end of the world.

The thought sets Lucifer on edge, makes his blood curdle at the ways Sam has internalized his shame. He reels his disapproval in, but it’s a near thing.

“And I’ll just bring you back.” Lucifer scoffs, as if it were nothing, as if it were an unfortunate, predictable roadblock that would be overcome with a snap of his fingers.

Nice try, Sam. No dice. Sam still feels the unvoiced displeasure, the disgust at the idea that Sam would ever hurt himself, would deny himself the best thing he’d ever be. Would even want to deny the wholeness their union would bring, or compromise their gift of long-earned peace, justice, and absolution.

There was no need to be offended, but Lucifer was still offended, on Sam’s behalf, of course. The Devil knew Sam would come into the fold one way or another. Sam just wasn’t taking the news as expected, wasn’t willing to swallow the destiny he could see webbing out before him. Denial was a human thing, and Sam, for all his virtues, was still frail with his own humanity. He hadn’t had a chance to have it scoured and sanded and freed by the rest of him yet. Time would disabuse him of his pathetic need to punish himself for sins that were never his, for the blame foisted on him by imperfect apes not worthy to kneel at his feet, and then he would welcome Lucifer home, as was always meant to be.

Sam could feel himself careening, the rug pulled out from under him, and his heart shatters all over again. I don’t need to fight you, we don’t need to do thisHe thinks, he prays, internally. Don’t ask me to provide you with what I can never give.

I have no wish to fight you, Sam. You will come to me all on your own. Besides, why would you want to keep us apart? We've always had a good thing, Sammy. We can be good again.

Sam looks like he’s going to collapse, and his forehead gleams with sweat.

“Sam,” The Devil sighs, and looks down almost as if he was regretting all this, for pushing, “My heart breaks for you.” He meets his eyes again, and continues, “The weight on your shoulders.”

Sam could taste the absence of a lie, but it did not stop the metallic taste of existential, animal fear from advancing any further.

“What you’ve done, what you still have to do.” Lucifer keeps going, as if his heart was breaking, too. And perhaps part of it already had, with the Devil prepared to slaughter his fellow angels. “It is more than anyone could bear…”

And isn’t that the truth. Aiding in the genocide of an entire people you belonged to was not something Sam had consciously signed up for, and the feeling of betrayal was still raw and new. Yet Lucifer had resigned himself to the inevitable long before, had eons and eons in confinement to make his peace with the concept. To feel it’s justified.

“If there was some other way… But there isn’t.” The Devil whispers. His certainty chills Sam down to the bone.

The cold, hard truth of the matter is, our love is still part of this war. And we can't have our victory, not really, unless we fight to win.

Lucifer steps forward.

“I will never lie to you.” He says, unyielding. “I will never trick you.” Lucifer stops, overcome by the weight of that promise, of selling the deal he wants to seal, the complete dominion and suffusion with the entity had been craving for so long. “But you will say yes to me.”

Sam’s voice breaks. “You’re wrong.”

“I’m not,” The Devil growls, “I think I know you better than you know yourself.” He adds, clinical, dry, no more attempts to sugarcoat it.

You missed me. You said so. Let me have you. Let me keep you safe.

The despair threatens to yank Sam under. All the energy drains out of him like a sieve as he slumps, overcome with a burden he never wanted to endure.

“Why me?”

“Because it had to be you, Sam.” And Lucifer worms back in Sam's space again, his hands settling on Sam’s shoulders, as if he knows this is just going as expected. He finishes, voice softer now, “It always had to be you.”

The cold hard facts of the matter are a hard pill to swallow. Only, Sam still does not accept. Will never accept.

“Get off me.” Sam says though gritted teeth, shaking off Lucifer’s grip. The Devil lets him.

“You have no right!” Sam yells, turning. Not able to look at him anymore. No right to my body, no right to me, he thinks, screaming it in his own thoughts, even as he wants Jess back, wants to let the Devil in as badly as could be.

He doesn’t want the Apocalypse, doesn’t want the war Lucifer is waging, doesn’t want the hangman’s noose of his destiny tightening around his neck. But he did not want to lose what he knows was there, that love, that endless feeling of completeness. What the Devil appears to now make conditional. Has always made somewhat conditional, with Sam just too blind to see.

Sam, you can’t be angry. You knew, I know you knew. The Devil’s being hisses at him, nips softly in his brain. As if it can soothe the barb-wire hurt, the nauseous tang of loss, away. And I know you're not angry at me.

“Sam-”

And Sam can’t stop the tears, now. Can’t stop the world from spinning out from under him any longer, even if he knew this was coming. It's too much, he knows he needs to stop this, but he doesn't quite know how.

“No. No! Who do you think you even are?” Sam yells, and then his legs give out, and then he’s fighting the Devil who was trying to cradle him, to calm him, off with tooth and nail.

“I’ve already told you, Sam. I’m the one who’s going to give you everything.” Lucifer glares at him, as if that wasn’t obvious, as if he could feel Sam’s hurt and rejection and pain, as if it’s not Sam being threatened with the destruction of everything he’s ever believed.

The Devil's grace whispers, If only you would let me.

No, no, I can't-

You've let me in before.

THIS IS NOT THE SAME-

No, it isn't. But our love is, Sam. Never doubt that. I meant it, every word. Same as you.

But the stakes are too high for Sam, now. He can't sacrifice the world for something Sam probably doesn't deserve, if he really thinks about it. There is too much blood on his hands, too much Sam can never wash clean.

No, Sammy. You deserve love. You deserve to be safe. You deserve everything I can give you, everything in the world.

Not at the price of everyone else. I won't do it.

Lucifer knows he’s lost something this time, but he’s always been an opportunist, always been ready to slither in when someone’s desperate. And Sam’s as desperate and alone as they come, save for his brother who would turn on him, easy. It was all inevitable. All known. All part of God’s design, when he wanted the Devil and threw him in the pit.

I love you, Sam. Let us have this. Or at least let us keep you with all you're willing to give.

Sam goes limp. He lets the Devil pick up the pieces, lets him kiss him. Lets him carry him back to bed.

But when he wakes from the dream, Sam knows he'll kill himself first chance he gets, even if it's just to throw this pain back in the Devil’s face.

He swears he will not yield as long as he lives. Whatever it takes.

--
The next day, Lucifer brings him back.

The Devil doesn’t say anything. Just watches him in the motel room, silent, one part fascinated, one part resigned, and one half horrifically afraid. His grace murmurs around him, Sam, there’s no running from me, don’t do this to us, don’t do this. All you’ve ever needed was me.

I am not you. Sam whispers to the Devil. You are not entitled to any part of me. And I will not let you take anything. You hear me?

Lucifer, predictably, doesn’t take Sam’s words to heart. After all, Sam will come round. He has to, because Sam still loves him, has always loved him maybe just as much as he hates himself.

As each night falls, Lucifer doesn't visit Sam in person anymore unless Sam slips. But Sam avoids the blood anyway, because he's clean now, he's going to stay that way, and anything else gave Lucifer a road-map right to him. The only other chances Lucifer gets to be with Sam in person is when Sam offs himself, and then Lucifer brings him back, following his soul back to his body so he can convince Sam to stop doing this.

Sam does stop trying after a while. There's only so much failure he can take, and Lucifer always uses the time after his resurrections to win Sam over, does so when Sam is too drained to fight him, too overwhelmed by the love he wants to let in so badly, and Sam can't give the Devil that advantage, either. And he can't quite do it, not once he's back with Dean and Cas. They need him, and he doesn't want them to see that, and Sam doesn't want Lucifer to find them, either.

Otherwise, Lucifer visits Sam's dreams like clockwork every night, in the weary, dozing exhaustion once Sam can’t keep himself awake, and that is almost worse. Sam doesn’t tell anyone, doesn’t keep them in the endless loop of his nightmares gently couched in the cure for loneliness and self-hatred, doesn’t tell Dean or Cas or Bobby of yet another thing he should be ashamed. Sam might feel pure from the angel but he was tainted to the core. The Devil disagrees, but doesn’t hold it against him, not really.

And Sam… deep down, he can feel that love he's always held for Lucifer, if you could love something celestial and cold and alien as an archangel, could love something that wanted to slip into your skin and keep you complacent with need, could compromise the deepest parts of yourself that only want something to care, just a little, for what Sam wished he could be. Someone that could drown out the screaming and addiction and solitude and the fear and pain as it cloaked you in its light and wrath and certainty.

If you could love something convinced you’ve only ever belonged to it, a kind of love for something that loves you right back, even if it wasn't human love at all.

Sam has never needed much, yet the toll for a scrap of something always yields a high price to pay. Why would these stolen moments be any different?

If Sam didn’t know better, he’d say the Devil reveres him as much as God, without the disappointment trailing behind him for the betrayal still fresh from Heaven, from his brothers and his father and the other angels. Sam doesn’t let that hit too close to home, even though he understands. But the Devil wants to take all his anger and unleash it on every human and any resisting angel the world. Sam can feel for the Devil, yes, but will not be complicit in his flawed methodology, in his entitlement to destroy everything Sam works to preserve and create.

No, Sam won't let him. He will not be a slave to something ageless and endless and just as broken as him, will not surrender his heart and mind further to what still was another enemy who wanted to raze and unmake and destroy, a monster he loves and loathes and craves and can’t wring out from beneath his skin.

Sam will defeat that, too. He promises himself he will, before the end.

--

On good nights, Sam tries to reason with the Devil, hoping maybe he can change this, can get Lucifer to want to break the script, for Sam’s sake, for his own. But most nights, Lucifer is too far gone, too broken up and absorbed in his own sense of vulnerability, too certain he is right and that Sam will follow his lead eventually.

Sam knows whatever this is, it isn’t going to last. There is only one way this ends.

And the Devil is not one to gracefully lose.

Jess hadn't been, either.

--

For Sam, some things change after Carthage, but even then, the Devil only keeps watching, waiting for Sam to fold like he’s knows he will. Sam only feels more disgust for himself, but Lucifer promises, promises him everything.

I'll bring them back for you, Sammy. When this is all over, you can have your family back, those you’ve lost. But you won’t want them, won’t need them anymore. You’ll see. I know you’ll see.

Sam doesn’t believe him, because he’s knows a trap when he sees it. Knows you can’t reason with something too broken, too angry.

But it is never a choice, for Sam. Never has been. He is not a prize to be won, a piece to be used.

Lucifer almost admires it, that stubborn denial, even if it ends up being a liability. For Lucifer, this war was always a waiting game, and soon, everything wrong will be won, everything properly scoured clean.

Sam will not assist Lucifer in the deaths of hundreds of people. He will not be the abomination others swore he would always be. Sam is a human who believes, and prays, and hopes his humanity, his love, will be enough to save him.

Sam will only give up himself if it meant keeping everyone else safe.

And Sam will always find a way to be free. Even if it means he loses a part of himself, even if he is so far gone from being afraid. A choice is a choice, and that saves the rest of him, keeps his soul beating, because even if he doesn’t want this, doesn’t want to say yes to the Devil, he will do what he had to do to re-seal the evil he’d helped unleash.

---
Sam did, in the end.

Lucifer always thought Sam would get better with time. With hindsight, it was clear he wouldn’t, but it’s hard to accurately predict the future when you are supposed to have it crushed in the palm of your hand. The knowledge fate was nothing did not comfort the Devil, not at all. It left him listless and broken and uncertain and he hated it, hated it more than anything, because why could everything else grow while he remained broken and angry and caged?

After Sam threw them both down into the depths in the Cage, all bets were off. The Devil’s last expectations turned to ash before his eyes, an accumulation of too many broken promises and violence and hatred trailing in his wake.

It didn’t matter that Sam never really belonged to him. Lucifer did not accept it, would not, because that meant the one person who was made for him, who loved him, who was destined to say yes to him, had betrayed the Devil, too. The world left him with nothing except Sam.

So Lucifer took everything, every piece and scream and moment, because every piece of Sam belonged to him now. It was only fair. Sam died and rose and died and rose again, at the mercy of Lucifer’s every single whim.

Sam knew that no company, no prevention of abandonment, would ever redeem himself in Lucifer’s eyes. His fate was a one way ticket, binding him to the being who God let him be made for, and the only path to forgiveness, to love, was Lucifer never letting him be free again.

Lucifer could not handle any rejection again.

It was not Sam’s responsibility, but what did that matter? Sam was still trapped with the Devil as long as he breathed, and even if he trapped him again, once he died, he’d be towed right back down to where the Devil would be waiting, because Lucifer would not allow anything else.

Chapter Text

The first time Sam kills himself, he uses a gun, nice and simple.

By the third, his wrists aren't looking too good, at least until Lucifer heals them while Sam tries to yank out of his grip.

The tenth time he slits his throat.

Three minutes later, Sam rises with Lucifer kneeling next to him, fingertips brushing his face, giving him more time to come back to himself.

Sam still doesn't call anyone.

He doesn't even pray to Cas, to God, to anyone, all save one.

Let me go.

I know you don't really want this, Sam. But even if it worked... Do you think it's over? Do you think, in all the ways your soul persists, that the afterlife would keep me from you? I could keep you with me, you know. I don't want to. I want you to be happy, Sam-

Stop saying that, JUST STOP-

I'm not lying, Sammy. Stop hurting yourself. Stop acting like-

Like what, Lucifer? Like you haven't been manipulating everything from the start-

Sam. This was going to happen no matter what. Let me help you. And if you can't do that... Just accept yourself. No matter how much you try to take yourself out of the game... It's not going to stop me, Sam. I'm fighting for you. I'm fighting because I love you. And I need you to see that-

This isn't love.

The sixteenth time, Sam finally gets Lucifer to let him go, so long as he promises to stop and calls Dean once he manages to steady himself inside a vintage Volvo he's carjacked, because whatever rental car Lucifer left for him certainly can't be trusted. (There was no sulfur to be found, but that mean's jack shit, with all the ways Sam's been pushed and pulled ever since the universe decided this was what he was made to be.)

Lucifer even has the gall to sound put-out about Sam avoiding his gifts.

I'm not trying to bribe you. Just wanted to give you a five-star safety rating, until Lucifer's grace turns ice-cold and shrill, -Seeing as you're just as likely to wrap yourself around a tree. You know you deserve better-

Sam knows better than to respond. Breathes in. Breathes out.

He's halfway down the highway and Lucifer has finally decided to give his brain some rest by the time he even can hold the phone without his hands shaking.

Chapter Text

"Go away." Sam grumbles, hiding his head under the pillow. He knows it's useless to try and roll out of the damn bed in the dream. Lucifer always just sticks around anyway, and he's been insufferable about trying to coddle Sam and clean him up after Sam's tried to eat lead the past three days, seeing as even in his dreams the feeling sticks.

It hasn't stopped Sam yet, though, even when he's retching on his own spit and his head pounds like a hundred tons of steel have collapsed his skull.

What's one more try, right?

Nothing does anything to scrape away the feeling of empty, scabbed out loss and the taste of blood, and nothing Sam does makes Lucifer go away.

Quite the opposite.

And none of it makes Lucifer any easier to deal with.

"Sammy, I just want to talk." Lucifer whispers, "Please."

"What's there to talk about?" Sam growls as he turns, throwing the pillow in Lucifer's too-concerned face. Lucifer catches it, but Sam rolls over and hides his face. Even in his dream, his scalp is sticky with blood. Lucifer can't scrub off Sam's subconscious, although it hasn't stopped him from trying.

The grace feels cool against Sam's brow, but Sam ignores the featherlight touch and soldiers on.

"All you want is to end the world," Sam argues, "And to use my body to do it."

Lucifer tries to lean over and clean Sam off, to ease the pounding of Sam's head, to heal every wound or wet reminder of Sam's own self-destruction, even the split lip Sam is sporting from his own body not being in control of it's own reactions to trying to end it. Apparently those instincts don't turn off even when you're trying you're best to ignore the Devil who has too many ways of snuggling closer, anyway.

"Sam, that's not what I really want, and you know it. All I want-"

"If you wanted me to be happy, you would leave." Sam mumbles, curling up smaller under the blankets. He regrets it almost immediately- they're too heavy over his body, over his head, and it reminds me all too much of all the drowning he's been trying to pretend isn't happening.

All he wants is to let go and float away and let Lucifer make things like they were, and he can't do that.

They are never going to get this back, no matter how much Sam prays-

I hear you. I hear you, Sam, loud and clear.

"You don't want me to leave, Sam." Lucifer says softly. There's a hand in his hair again, even when Sam flinches, but Lucifer only pauses, then keeps smoothing out the knots as his grace washes out the flood of red and sticky pieces of brain matter Sam keeps pretending aren't there.

Sam cleans up nicely and hates the Devil all the more for it.

"Just like you don't want to die." Lucifer announces, drying Sam's clothes and wringing out the blood with a touch, brushing up against Sam's mind like a small flame that's so cold it feels warm. Lucifer doesn't even pretend to breathe as he adds, nose scrunching, "You're just taking this too personally."

"Oh, am I?" Sam growls, and then he does sit up and turn to glare, like Lucifer knew he would. Engaging against his better judgement. What else is new?

I thought we'd gotten past this, Sam. If I knew you'd react this way...

You'd what, Lucifer? Because from where I'm standing, there was only ever going to be one way this ends, and-

There's a hand on Sam's own, intertwining fingers with his, and Sam starts back as if burned and looks down again.

His eyes sting.

His throat still feels too tacky and warm and his stomach swoops, uneasy and weightless. Must be from the blood choking down his lungs and being hacked up again. Has to be.

Sam can't let the feeling mean anything else.

And it ends with us, Sam. That's why you've been so damn terrified. You can't hide it from me, Sam. I know you. I know you better than anyone.

"And you know me. You know I'm not lying when I promise you the world." Lucifer says, always persistent.

Jess always got that way too, when Sam couldn't calm down.

Sam ignores the memories of every nightmare, of every patient look-

"I don't want the world." Sam hisses, the admission like gargling tacks and a fever he pretends isn't real. He keeps glaring back into two eyes and a solemn face that has no right to be looking so hurt and so unaffected and so inexorably patient all at the same damn time.

"I know." Lucifer answers, so certain. Then there's two hands around Sam and wings pulling Sam closer and Sam slumps as if he's dead weight all over again, forehead against Lucifer's own. Lucifer continues, and keeps staring into Sam's eyes, "That's why you won't forgive yourself. That's why I'm here. Be as angry with me as you want. But stop hating yourself. This was always going to end with us, Sam, and I wouldn't change us for anything. We already have what we need-"

"Then come home." Sam interrupts, straightening as he clutches Lucifer's shoulders, and begs, "Stop fighting."

Shock stops Lucifer in his tracks for once. 

Sam clutches Lucifer's hand and tries to ignore how he shouldn't be getting any closer. How he should still hate him.

The problem is, he doesn't. Not enough.

He's looked down at his own pistol too many times this week, and the only thing he can even muster for a feeling is exhaustion and disgust and loathing at himself, for being this weak, for just wanting what he had back-

He hates it, because every time Lucifer shows up, he keeps craving something that died the moment their home burned, the moment Sam was slated to be his and everything around him caught fire-

"Sam. This is all that's left for me." Lucifer pleads. "You're the only thing I won't give up, and I have to fight, I have to-"

"Then if that's how it's gonna go," Sam grits his teeth and places Lucifer palm over his heart and manages to half-stop the sob in his throat, "Just let me end it."

Don't act like you didn't plan this from the start.

"I didn't plan this part, Sammy." Lucifer starts bargaining, starts weaseling his way back in, and Sam tries not hear the earnest thread of desperate truth woven into his carefully picked battles. "I thought..." Lucifer runs a hand throw his own hair, looking flustered, slight sweat on his brow, eyes blinking as if he's tired and his posture slumps, too. "I thought you'd take the news differently."

Laughter bubbles up in Sam's throat, low and desperate.

It dies quickly.

"I thought..." Lucifer trails off and hesitates, "I thought you could learn to be kind to yourself, Sam. You were doing so well, before..."

"Before Azazel?" Sam slings back, a muscle ticking in his jaw. "Before you died?"

Lucifer blinks, but his expression turns more blank and alien in a way that felt like home, too. Sam's used to that expression.

Jess wore it when she was being honest or feeling particular emotional, or both.

"I thought you loved me enough to see that what I want is what's best for everyone." Lucifer's voice is like a ghost, echoing and cold, and his free hand runs over his jaw for a second. A false self-soothing gesture that Sam recognizes, because he can tell the Devil is trying to remember how to feel grounded. How to explain things in a way he could without turning to an unintelligible language full of the barest emotion and half-inarticulate promises Sam remembers from when Jess was at her lowest, and he was the only one left to dig her out of the dark place she found herself in.

"Oh, this what's best for everyone, funny, I can't seem to find the damn memo-" Sam shouts, but Lucifer cuts him off, still calm and relentless.

"Every human on this planet is meant to die except you, Sam." Lucifer's voice is unforgiving. "Anyone I spare is thanks to you alone, because I'm doing what God intended when he made me. And if he doesn't want me cleaning up his mess and doesn't see it the same way, that doesn't mean I'm forsaking my love and devotion I've kept for him, even after all this time. You should be proud, Samuel. You were made to be the one to make the final call. God made you to uphold his vision, and for all his mistakes, still, God made us to be together, and it feels right, you know it does, because it always has been-"

"Screw God." Sam hisses. "Screw destiny."

And screw whatever excuses you're making for us, for this, when we already had everything-

We can still have that, Sam. You know we can. You know we will. You will choose this of your own free will. That's what destiny is. Choosing the right path, the path that would always be chosen because it's written in your heart, in your decisions.

"Sammy. If nothing else..." Lucifer's foot bounces on the bed as he sighs, "I thought you loved me enough to see how much you meant to me. That-"

"Of course I meant something to you." Sam challenges, finally letting one sharp tendril of betrayal flare, more personal than the rest of the world quaking and catching fire, both literally and figuratively.

Lucifer's expression turns into bristling reproach, the glint of his eyes hard and blinding, but Sam keeps talking anyway.

"You want to wear me." Sam insists, glaring Lucifer down until he can't look at him any more.

My body is just a tool for you.

No, it's not. It never was and never will be, Sam. Your body and your soul were made to coexist with mine, and I know you know it.

Lucifer's posture deflates at Sam's displeasure, but he doesn't give ground or let go.

There's a thumb tracing Sam's jawbone. It slides down his throat and settles on his waist.

"Sam. You aren't an accessory. You're mine. You're everything." Lucifer's tone is cold and clipped, and there's light now, flaring all over Sam's vision, a burning light from all sides, practically annihilating the dream and the false facsimile of a hotel room except for them. "You're the only human worth saving. And I'm going to save you," Lucifer whispers, all promise with grasping, shaking hands, and his tone turns sharp even as it pitches lower and lower, "Whether you like it or not."

The words die in Sam's throat.

He should be protesting. He should say... Something. Anything.

But what is there to say?

He's tried to float off and not exist and looked down the barrel of a gun at least five times the past two days.

He keeps coming back with Lucifer hovering over him, trying to undo the damage, trying to smooth something over when all Sam wants to do is sit in a corner and not move for forever if it means everything around him will just come to a standstill.

Sam hates looking at him.

Hates seeing the resignation and hurt and anger and fear, and the love, always there, trying to smother him.

"Sammy. You've... It's been a long night. But we'll talk more tomorrow." Lucifer assures him, as tired spots start digging into Sam's eyelids and he starts to sway. "You just rest."

Everything will work out, baby. I promise. 

Chapter Text

A few weeks after Lucifer officially revealed Sam's status as a true vessel, Sam takes a chance and eventually caves enough to tell Castiel about the grace being sent over inside Sam's head. Just that, though. Nothing else. He prays and gets the angel to join him, alone, when Dean is asleep, and they both walk outside in the dark where hopefully no unwanted eavesdroppers can hear them.

Lucifer tries to dissuade Sam from the endeavor, which is almost half the reason Sam does it. But Sam is also so tired of secrets, of jumping at shadows, at wondering at all the things that might come back to bite him, considering how badly his choices have gone before. He still can't tell Dean, though. That would be practically suicide. Although, he doesn't know why Dean hasn't been wondering about it, if it's been happening to him, too... Unless he's been keeping it under wraps as well, and doesn't want to admit it. Or maybe it hasn't happened to him at all?

Castiel isn't surprised, although Sam's reaction to Castiel's reaction undoubtedly is.

"Really? I wasn't-"

"You expected I would force you not to be a part of the team and maybe quarantine you in an isolated location?" Castiel asks in his typical, gravelly, matter-of-fact way.

"Well... yes." Sam admits, one hand rubbing the back of his neck.

"Sam. You are Lucifer's true vessel. It makes sense he would have a direct line to contact you. More importantly, hiding you in one place only makes Lucifer's job easier. It is more likely he would find you then, and that would be highly irresponsible of me. And it doesn't matter if he can overhear us more often than not, since he's already spying on us anyway. In addition, you are a valuable part of the team."

"I am?" Sam asks, caught off guard.

Castiel stares at Sam like he has two heads.

"Yes, Sam." Castiel assures, expression stony. Blue eyes remain unblinking as Castiel continues to carry himself with quiet and resolute stillness.

"I'm not a liability?" Sam's voice is soft as he keeps going. He can't quite help himself at this point.

"Sam. You are not a liability. You are a good person, and while I have no idea if that will help in the end, I believe you are worth more and able to do more good when set free, much more than if you were kept apart to sit on the sidelines."

Sam exhales a heaviness he didn't know he was carrying.

"Thanks, Cas. Um... Is there any way to stop it? Maybe break off the signal?" Sam asks, although he's fairly certain he already knows the answer.

No, Sam, there isn't. You can stop hoping, now. I thought we had handled this already.

"No." Castiel admits. "Vessel and angel interactions are not based on neural or psychic links, although your body does process them on some level like that while awake. It's a direct line between soul and the angel itself."

Well. So much for that idea.

Sam, I'm wounded. I thought you liked talking to me?

Only sometimes.

I see. Anything I can do to remedy that?

Give me some time alone to think once in a while?

Duly noted.

Castiel keeps going even as Sam works out some boundaries he knows Lucifer won't entirely respect right out the gate.

"And based on what you described... If anything, you are helping this way."

That startles Sam out of his reverie, too.

"I am?"

Castiel nods, decisive.

"If anything, Lucifer's obsession with you and continued need to engage in conversation distracts him."

I can multitask.

"So if I talk to him he might make mistakes?" Sam clarifies, latching on to the idea with a vengeance.

Sam, I'm most certainly not against you engaging more in any capacity, but your reasoning does hurt my feelings.

Tough. Next time consider mine when you decide to invade my mind and send unavoidable psychic IMs.

Lucifer is both amused and almost contrite at that.

You drive a hard bargain, but I will buy at the sticker price.

"Precisely." Castiel's voice brings Sam back from his other discussion.  "Although, I have to ask. Has he been visiting you in your sleep?"

Sam looks down and scuffs some gravel at his feet. "Yeah."

"I thought so. I'll see if there is anything to help. But if nothing has worked, not even the sigils..."

"Yeah, Cas, I get the picture." Sam murmurs. Castiel flies off, leaving Sam alone in the motel parking lot.

You certainly jumped at the chance to trust that one, Sam. What gives?

Are you kidding me? Does I look like I have any other options?

Lucifer doesn't have anything to say to that, only sends over some self-assured acquiescence that Sam is right about that.

This is your fault.

All is fair in love and war, Sammy. I'm a pro at both, if I do say so myself.

--

“Like Thanskgiving dinner full,” Dean just keeps going with the description Sam really doesn’t need until he finally wraps it up. “Talk about co-dependent.”

“Well,” Sam starts as he sits with a sigh, placing his coffee on the table, “I mean, we got our feelers out. Not much more we can do tonight.” Sam hopes he isn’t too obvious, but keeps talking anyway, anything to stop the unwanted commentary still going in his brain, “All right. I’m just gonna go through some files. You can go ahead and get going.”

Dean looks at Sam at that. Sam keeps his eyes on the screen.

“Sorry?” Dean asks, lost.

“Go ahead,” Sam adds, bobbing his head as the sarcasm comes easy, “Unleash the Kraken. See you tomorrow morning.”

Dean still doesn’t move from his spot, head tilting as he blinks. “Where am I going?”

Sam speaks too quickly, his tone obvious in a how-are-you-not-following sense. “Dean. It’s Valentine’s Day. Your favorite holiday, remember? I mean, what do you always call it? Uh, unattached drifter Christmas?” Sam doesn’t bother to sound amused at that.

“Oh, yeah.” Dean scoffs as he rises from his seat, beer in hand.  “Well, be that as it may, I don’t know.”

Dean twists the cap off the beer, stares Sam down with a cavalier look as he tosses the cap behind him into the sink. “Guess I’m not feeling it this year.” Dean finishes, voice deepening.

Sam eyes Dean with concern.

“So you’re not into bars full of lonely women?” Sam clarifies, skeptical.

“Nah, I guess not.” Dean makes a face and drinks.

Sam doesn’t stop staring at Dean, brow furrowed in his telltale analytical expression.

“Ah… what?” Dean grunts when he catches the look aimed at him.

“It’s when a dog doesn’t eat.” Sam answers, nodding. Still deadpan, “That’s when you know something’s really wrong.”

Dean doesn’t find it as funny as Sam does. His eyebrows raise.

“Remarkably patronizing concern duly noted.” He answers, raising the glass as if he’s giving a toast before Dean’s voice grows gruff. “Nothing’s wrong. We gonna work or what?”

Dean sits back down, a bit too blustering in his movements.

Sam nervously brings a hand to his face.

No such luck getting us some alone time, huh, Sammy? Think big brother suspects something?

Sam ignores Lucifer’s laughter inside his head.

--

The next place they hit, Sam can feel the demon walking past him and almost bites.

Dean notices the look, even though he doesn’t know what it means.

“You okay?”

“I’m fine.” Sam grits out. He reels all the hunger in and sends his own prayer over the link because it’s almost the only thing stopping him from jumping the demon right here and now.

You did something, didn’t you? You’re behind whatever it is we’re looking at?

I thought we agreed not to mix work and pleasure, Sammy?

Cut the bullshit.

Look, Sam. I have an Apocalypse to run. I’m not going to give you hints on how to stop it unless I have extra decent incentives. So unless you want to invite me over right now, you just keep at your little detective work. I know you’ll figure it out.

Sometimes, I really hate you.

But Sam, it’s Valentine’s Day. You can’t hate me today.

Wanna bet?

Sexual frustration really isn’t something you handle well, is it?

Not a big fan of stalking or sleep deprivation, either. Or murder. Particularly the premeditated murder of every human on the planet.

Almost every human, Sam. Don’t go counting yourself or anyone I might deign to spare on your behalf. And we all have our vices.

Why, Sam thinks to himself, did I have to get stuck with Satan?

I heard that, and I take offense, Sam. I’m the best thing that ever happened to you.

You wish. Not even close.

Lying again? Good thing you’ve got a long-standing appointment with the Devil, Sammy. I know just how to take care of you.

Sam still can’t help looking back down the hallway one more time. Wonders, if he bit down, if Lucifer would just swoop in and abduct him right then and there.

--

After the coroner leaves and they get to work, Dean sends over the heart, with the quip, “Hey, be my Valentine?”

Sam is disgusted (and Lucifer too appreciative at the handiwork for Sam’s liking).

But then Sam catches the markings on the two hearts and freezes. “Whoa, whoa, whoa, whoa, whoa. Wait a second. These hearts both have identical marks… Check this out.” Sam trails off.

You see something you like, kiddo?

“It looks like some kind of letter… Oh, no.” Sam growls as realization hits him like a brick to the face.

Please tell me you didn’t do this personally.

Ew, no. What do you take me for? Those humans are not worth my time. Probably are carriers for something. And I have so many more fun things I could be doing. Like you, for one.

“What?” Dean prompts, bringing Sam back to the present. Sam pushes the magnifying glass away with as much tense energy as he is able, because otherwise he might just break something.

“I think its Enochian.” Sam says, looking back at Dean.

Okay, I can give you this one. It definitely is. You get a sticker.

Stop being a dick.

I mean, are you sure, Sam? You certainly enjoyed it enough when I was inside-

Don’t you dare finish that sentence.

Taking control, Sam. I almost feel wanted.

Sam doesn’t know when the whispers became normal by now. It wasn't at first, that's for sure. But he's had time to get used to them, to get acclimated. He thinks the humor and the ease of it might be part of coping with the impossible nature of the situation, although Lucifer is quick to go down the whole made-to-be route before Sam can blink. Sam is still surprised Castiel went along with hiding it from Dean, though. He hadn't been banking on that.

“You mean like angel scratches?” Dean asks.

Mm, not quite. Then again, how would he know? He doesn’t know what I’ve done to you-

What did I say about talking?

You’ll have to kiss me to shut me up. Serves you right for not getting big brother to bounce. Could’ve put this on hold for the day. Had some alone time, me and you.

You’re the one who made our plans fall though, considering you’re the one behind all this-

Wouldn't need to be nearly as ostentatious about it if you would just get with the program, Sammy.

“So you think it’s like the tagging on our ribs?” Dean’s voice cuts off Sam’s train of thought.

“Dean, I don’t know,” Sam tries to play it casual, although he does know for certain. Answering the affirmative would bring up too many questions.

“Ah, hell.” Dean decides, and picks up the phone to call Cas.

Sam keeps poking at the hearts to try and distract himself from Lucifer’s increasingly vivid descriptions of all the things he’ll be doing to Sam the moment he gets his hands on him. Sam focuses on anything that will serve as a distraction. Dissected body parts kill the mood pretty well.

Cas arrives while Dean is still on the phone, and the sight is almost hilarious enough to drown Satan out and derail both Sam and Lucifer from whatever standoff this counts as.

“I’m there now.” Cas says, two inches from Dean’s face, phone still held to his ear.

“Yeah, I get that.” Dean answers, also still holding the phone.

“I’m gonna hang up now.” Cas clarifies. The phones echo.

“Right.” Dean answers.

The two of them should just kiss already. It’s not like they are going to have a lot of chances. Besides, then they'll be distracted and I can get you alone.

Lucifer-

Would you prefer I went back to earlier subjects?

No.

Then suffer.

“You are right, Sam. These are angelic marks.” Cas confirms, and Sam tries to look like he isn’t unfazed with the realization. Cas keeps going, instructive, “I imagine you’ll find similar marks on the other couples’ hearts as well.”

What, do you have something against other couples because I’m not saying yes fast enough or giving up my location?

Colder than the Artic. Guess again!

“So what are they? I mean, what do they mean?” Sam asks as he does everything he can to ignore Lucifer’s nonstop commentary.

Cas explains the marks as a tool for showing unions by cupids. Sam still finds the concepts unsettling, particularly the knowledge that cupids are real and apparently 3rd class cherubs.

We don’t have that, right?

Definitely not. Cupids are small fry, like krill, Sam, although if you prefer specificity they look more like a mix between a comet, a falcon, and a pig, and that’s me being more than charitable.

And you’re what, a blue whale?

If we’re going with that analogy, yes. Certainly big and blue enough with how much of a tease you are...

You're the worst and that was beyond unnecessary.

You walked right into it. More importantly, what we have couldn’t be contained by something as shallow, pathetic, and insignificant as that.

I thought you were into brands and that sort of thing- Sam can’t help needle. He doesn’t bother bringing up the fact cupids are technically Lucifer’s siblings, because sibling murder is something that doesn’t faze Lucifer in the slightest and he doesn't like most of them.

Lucifer’s tone becomes pure ice.

I don’t joke about what matters most, Sam. And a cupid’s marks are an insult to everything we have.

Sam backs off. Still serves Lucifer right, though, and it got him to shut up. Temporarily, but Sam would take the win for what it was.

Castiel and Dean keep talking about cupids, and Sam has to refocus, asks, “Okay, anyway. So what you’re saying is-”

“What I’m saying is a cupid has gone rogue.” Castiel’s voice gets heated, his hand punctuating his statements. “And we have to stop him before he kills again.”

“Naturally,” Sam scoffs, nose scrunching. Because this is his life now, on top of everything else.

Okay, I’m officially lost. What do you get out of this, particularly if you hate cupids so much?

Maybe I want you to kill them all. Saves me the trouble.

Ha, ha. Very funny.

In the interim, Sam sees how Dean says, “Of course we do.”

How he doesn’t stop looking at Cas.

Talk about getting a room.

--

It all gets worse at the damn restaurant they have to stake out.

I blame you for this.

Sam prays. Sees how Cas stutters as he talks about pollinating, as if he doesn’t know if he wants the hamburger or to look at Dean but can’t.

And I am never forgiving you.

Strange hill to die on, Lucifer answers, deadpan, considering everything else.

Sam would strangle him if he showed up anywhere near him at this moment.

Then Dean pushes the plate of hamburger away.

“Wait a minute,” Sam notes, “You’re not hungry.”

“No.” Dean answers.

Sam shoots him a skeptical look, wondering if Dean’s caught feelings and can’t hide them now, too. He hates third-wheeling.

“What? I’m not hungry.”

Skepticism turns into very real concern.

Please tell me you didn’t do something to my brother-

I didn’t do anything, remember? And what did I say, Sam? You’ll figure it out. You’re a smart cookie.

Stop giving me half answers-

I don’t kiss and tell. But tell you what, Sam, if things haven’t gone the way I think they will by the end of the night, I promise I’ll make it up to you.

What does that mean, Lucifer? Sam’s prayers are deadly.

Lucifer stops answering.

Sam wants to punch something.

Then Cas, of all people, jumps in. “Then you’re not going to finish that?” He asks, very quickly, very eager, as he points to the hamburger. Doesn’t wait for an answer as he takes the plate and picks up the burger.

Sam is more than close to panic now.

Before Cas can take a bite, he pauses. “He’s here.”

Sam might just settle for punching out the cupid before he gets his answers. Would make his day a whole lot better.

--

Dean's the one who ends up punching cupid, when all is said and done. Sam's more distracted by what they learned from it. Aside from that, he’s also grateful the cupid in question took one look at Sam’s face and decided not to hug him. Sam has enough on his plate right now, and he’s pretty sure if he did, Lucifer would have killed the cupid as soon as he got the chance.

Plus, the cupid was almost pitiable, in a sort of pathetic sense. Made Sam slightly less inclined to punch him, when all was said and done, particularly since the cupid was clearly traumatized by whatever Lucifer has his people doing. Sam finds that sentiment relatable, if nothing else. Besides, Sam didn’t feel like breaking his hand like Dean did, although he doesn’t argue that the cupid probably deserves it, even if more information might have helped.

I still think you should have stabbed him when he got close. Pity.

Shut up, Lucifer. What did he mean Heaven set our parents up?

Someone feeling a bit more generous now that he knows I wasn’t pulling most of the strings?

Sam resists the urge to ram his head into a wall. The cupid’s words about, “certain bloodlines, certain destinies,” still rang bitterly in his ears. He’s had enough with angels talking his ear off about those. That and the whole “meant to be,” spiel. Sam’s pity for the cupid only extends so far, and wanes easily the more he thinks about it.

Sam also ignores how the cupid told them their parents couldn’t stand each other at first, even if that’s almost the reverse of Sam’s situation with Jess, with Nick, with Lucifer, even if Sam’s still putting up a fight.

But knowing Heaven just decided to play with their minds and their lives and their choices…

That wasn’t… Sam didn’t want to think about that, with everything that happened to Mary and to John afterwards...

With what is happening to him and Dean now.

Okay, fine. I’ll be nice. Any specific questions you had in mind?

Why would they want me to be born? Dean, I understand. But why would they want-

Me to have a proper vessel when they want to beat me back into the dirt all over again? Simple, Sam. Arrogance. They need someone to contain me properly because they think Michael is destined to murder me. They need to make Michael seem infallible, and if I don’t have a proper vessel when he does attempt to strike me down, it would interfere with that image. With the narrative they are trying to push. Heaven’s PR team is a slimy bunch, don’t get me started. Not that it matters, in the end. You are made for me, Sam, properly and without any tricks, no matter what Heaven thinks they had a hand in. God showed me. God made us for each other. So you don’t need to feel like your birth was manipulated by those hacks. You are more special and important and of value than they’ll ever be.

Sam digests this with a healthy dose of exhaustion.

Decides to refocus on Dean, who doesn’t want to talk about whatever his damage is, still.

Sam’s tired of getting nowhere with everyone. It’s like repeatedly crashing a car on repeat, only to start all over again.

--

So Sam goes off alone and does what he does best: Keeps working the case, because someone has to, and he needs to figure this out fast.

The next body is plain nasty, in more ways than one.

I really feel like this mystery is showcasing the worst side of humanity, Sam. I mean, Twinkies, really. Tacky and horrible taste all in one.

It’s not a cupid’s handiwork, though. Sam is back to square one.

Don’t sweat the small stuff, Sam. You’ll get there. I know it. Things are only going to get more interesting from here on out.

Say something like that again, and you won’t be getting anything from me the rest of Valentine’s Day.

Oh, fine. Have it your way.

Lucifer doesn’t make any more smartass comments about the deaths he’s indirectly responsible for after that.

Sam doesn’t think he can take any more of it, not after Dean reads the death count since Wednesday.

And then Sam catches the demon leaving the building, and gives chase.

Did you send him?

Not directly, and not after you.

Too bad.

Sam, you’re not you when you’re hungry.

“I know what you are, dammit. I could smell you.” Sam growls as he corners the demon in the alley. And boy, does it feel good to let some of the rage out, until Sam wants the blood, wants even more, knows the danger of falling off the bandwagon-

Sam draws back, and the demon takes his opportunity to escape.

Sam has its briefcase, though. One small victory of the day.

Oh, Sam. Just one a sip, and then we could’ve caught up, gone on a date night, maybe grabbed some margaritas. But you’ve got your little clue now. Won’t help with all the other things you could use some relief with, but maybe self-inflicted asceticism will make you appreciate all I’m going to do for you when you finally take me up on my offer.

Sam wipes the blood off his knife, doesn’t take any chances.

The pressure of the grace he can feel singing from miles off still seems too muted, not close enough-

Sam’s craving for blood pales in comparison to what he wants from Lucifer. It’s the difference between a torrential lightning storm and static electricity.

Today definitely wasn’t on the top of Sam’s list. Not by a longshot.

--

“What the Hell does a demon got to do with this, anyway?” Dean asks.

“Believe me, I have no idea.” Sam sighs, irritation visible. That’s not even a lie.

He just stares at the suitcase like it might yield answers. He hopes it does, because Lucifer sure isn’t.

You’re getting so close now, Sam. Don’t worry. It won’t bite.

“You okay?” Dean asks.

No. Not at all.

“Yeah. Yeah, I’ll be alright.” Sam assures.

Dean doesn’t believe it. Hell, Sam doesn’t even believe it. He doesn’t even try.

I could fix that, if you’d let me.

“Let’s crack her open.” Dean starts in as he takes the situation for what it is. Doing things are the only things that will help anything now. “What’s the worst that can happen?”

Yeah, Sam. What’s the worst that can happen? What do you take me for?

Do you want an itemized list of why you won't like my answers?

They click open the locks on the case, which snaps open with a whoosh!

Blinding, bright, bright light glows back at them.

It feels… warm. Kind of like an overheated lightbulb.

“What the hell was that?” Dean exclaims. Sam is numb with the fact that this didn’t answer anything at all.

Really, Sam? No educated guesses?

“It’s a human soul.” Castiel provides as he comes back with more hamburgers. “It’s starting to make sense.” He bites into a hamburger with reckless abandon, blue eyes intent.

The little engine that could to the rescue. Looks like you’ll get your theory, Sam.

“Now, what about that makes sense?” Sam asks, deliberately ignoring the voice nestled smugly in the back of his awareness.

“And when did you start eating?” Dean adds on, oblivious.

“Exactly,” Cas says as he points with the half-eaten hamburger. “My hunger, it’s a clue, actually.”

“For what?” Dean and Sam ask in unison.

“This town is not suffering from some love-gone-wrong effect. It’s suffering from hunger. Starvation, to be exact. Specifically, Famine.”

Oh, no. No, no, no, no.

What, you don’t like my Valentine ’s Day gift, Sam? I’d have thought you’d be grateful. Gives you a chance to derail this whole affair. Prove yourself, and all that. And if not, well… You have such an appetite. I would hate for it to go to waste.

“Famine? As in the horseman?” Sam asks, even though he doesn’t need to. Every denial he makes is one stacked against the Devil.

Besides, I have so much planned for us.

You-

Look, I promised I wouldn’t take advantage. And I’m not, you won’t get any tricks from me, even if you end up feeling even just a fraction of what I’m feeling. But don’t go kidding yourself, Sam. The Horsemen have to be released periodically. Did you think I would waste time? The longer I draw this out, the longer it takes me to get back to you permanently.

“Great.” Dean groans, and keeps stuttering, “That’s freaking great.”

“I thought famine meant starvation, like as in, you know,” Sam pauses, pointing to the burger. “Food.”

Not all the other cravings and temptations you steer yourself away from? Oh, Sam, why wouldn’t I use something that brings out the worst in your species? It’s only fair they crucify themselves with their own nails and hands. And you, well… I’m sure we both know what you want most. Don’t you agree?

“Yes, absolutely. But not just food. I mean, everyone seems to be starving for something.” Cas says, as he munches away. “Sex, attention, drugs, love…”

He meets Sam’s eyes. Sam looks down.

He’s got your number, Sammy. Remember, I’m only a sip and a prayer away.

“Well, that explains the puppy-lovers that cupid shot up.” Dean concedes.

Sam’s mind is static, lips numb, and his teeth feel on edge, like there’s a shockwave he can’t quite hear ringing through his jaw and skull. He can feel the phantom touches of lips, of wings and claws, and of tongues and teeth.

“Right. The cherub made them crave love, and then famine came, and made them rabid for it.” Cas turns his attentions to Dean and takes another bite of burger.

Know what I’m rabid for, Sam? Because I know what you’re always after.

“Okay, but what about you? I mean, since when do angels secretly hunger for White Castle?” Dean asks, walking closer.

Cas stares at the burger in his hand like it holds all the answers.

“It’s my vessel, Jimmy. His, uh, appetite for red meat has been touched by famine’s effect.” Castiel turns to the side as he admits it. Then he takes another bite.

“So, famine just rolls into town and everybody goes crazy?” Dean posits.

Sam watches, arrested, but only because his mind and soul is more than a minefield. By now, it’s turned into a full on massacre.

You going boy-crazy yet, Sammy? I know how touch-starved you get.

Sam swallows. Then he forces himself to listen to Cas and Dean, to stop rewarding the Devil’s frantic compulsion to take up Sam’s attention and time.

“And then will come famine riding on a black steed. He will ride into the land of plenty, and great will be the Horseman’s hunger… For he is hunger.” Castiel recites the verses, but Sam still isn’t fully listening, he can’t help it.

You egotistical, manipulative-

Wait until you see what people do to themselves, Sam, when they let all their weaknesses and inhibitions go. It’s a sight, let me tell you. Famine brings out the animals hidden inside humanity so easily. Sure, he’s a little infantile and ugly, but it’s just so rewarding, being proven right. But enough about that. You should listen to Castiel’s PowerPoint presentation. I’m sure you’ll find it very enlightening.

“He must devour the souls of his victims,” Castiel keeps going. Sam’s head swims.

What do you think happens when he eats them? I’ve been trying to figure that out myself.

“So that’s what was in the briefcase?” Dean asks, his voice muffled and far away, “The Twinkie dude’s soul?”

Castiel pauses, then admits another zinger Sam has already seen coming. “Lucifer has sent his demons to care for Famine. To feed him, make certain he’ll be ready.”

Eh, half right about that one. Mostly did it to shut him up and keep him out of my hair. Doesn’t matter. I told you that little speck of brimstone wasn’t meant for you. Glad you crossed paths, though. Made my day so much more interesting.

“Ready for what?” Sam cuts in, although he has his suspicions.

“To march across the land.” Castiel intones, grave as always.

You son of a bitch. If you think I’m going to go along with this, that I’m going to let you-

I’m not doing anything, Sam. I just set the cavalry loose. Watch them go on their merry way. And I’ll let you in on a little secret. Except for one of them, well, I don’t care what happens afterwards. You can kill them, maim them… Do whatever your heart desires. I might even give you tips. At the end of the day, I’m just going through the motions, because that’s just how this goes. Part of the process, the ritual aspect of it. No use tempting fate, am I right? And quite frankly, doing so brings us closer, Sam. You tend to withdraw when I’m not setting off any fireworks. And I quite like keeping your attention on what matters most. Namely us.

Rage chokes Sam out so much so words can’t quite cut the Devil down to size.

And you say I don’t have impulse control-

On the contrary. I take what I need, Sam. And I don’t pretend to be something I’m not. But we can talk shop later. I’m sure I’ll see you before the night ends.

Even Lucifer feels Sam’s warring desires, wordless and horrified and still wanting.

What? Did you think we didn’t have a raincheck in place? Dean might have derailed our initial plans, but I know your schedule. Mainly because you have to arrange it around me.

Sam is definitely going to punch the Devil the next time he pays him a visit.

It doesn’t cancel out all the sensations Lucifer sends over, the Devil’s own feelings Sam can’t ignore even if he wants to. Nor can he erase his own, however damnable they are.

Sam can feel the waves pulling him under, the sensations that have been building all day getting worse and worse.

Sam walks stiffly into the bathroom. Runs a cold compressed towel over his too hot and sweaty limbs as he tries to calm his hammering heartbeat, to soothe his too-dry throat and shaking hands… To quell all the other feelings in other places Sam will not let himself think about. He doesn’t have time for a cold shower. He has an apocalypse to avert.

“Famine.” Dean’s voice sounds like he’s in a tunnel from here.

“Yes.” Castiel answers as he chews.

“So, what, this whole town is going to eat, drink, and screw itself to death?” Sam yells from the bathroom, desperate to talk to anyone else, to do anything, than focus on this. His hand digs into the tile of the bathroom to try and feel pain, to feel anything that isn’t this-

Mm, not all of it, Sammy.

Fuck you.

Oh, I know how much you want to, Sam. I can feel it all the way over here.

“We should stop it.” Castiel suggests, still eating.

Dean and Cas mutter some hurried words about the game plan. Then it devolves into Castiel’s own weak protests he can stop eating hamburgers anytime he likes.

But Sam can’t focus anymore. Every nerve is screaming, skin too blistering hot. Sam starts feeling the tremors and shakes hit him, worse than any withdrawal, like Sam’s soul is a parched husk, like an alcoholic forced to keep dry in a desert without any water or moisture to speak of.

He needs cold. He needs skin. He needs that feeling of completeness wrapped around him, melting inside him-

Starting to hit you real hard now, Sammy?

You did this-

I promise I’ll kiss it all better. I’ll do even more, if you ask nicely. After I snap you out of it, that is. Don’t want you to feel coerced into anything. Still. Now you know how it feels, being kept apart from you for so long. It’s the worst torture, baby. It made those last few years in captivity so hard compared to all the rest, when I already had so much to look forward to.

“Sam, let’s roll.” Dean calls from the other room.

Sam can’t stop breathing too heavily.

“Dean,” Sam’s voice is a desperate croak. “I, um. I can’t.”

That’s right, Sam. You get them out of here. Then we’ll catch up. Just as planned. Had to get you alone somehow, and since you weren’t taking the lead-

I’m not going to be a part of this, I don’t want anything, especially you-

Don’t bother lying, Sam. It’s not worth it, the empty posturing. It's just us, here. Besides, I can give you what you neeeeed. And I think by the time I get there, you might even be willing to kill for it.

Sam stumbles out of the bathroom. If it wasn’t for both his arms pressing against the doorframe, he’d have collapsed to his knees already.

“I can’t go.” Sam reiterates.

“What do you mean?” Dean demands.

“I think it got to me, Dean.” Sam whispers, eyes darting up to meet his, then back again. “I think I’m hungry for it.”

“Hungry for what?” Dean asks, blinking.

 “You know.” Sam coughs, eyebrows raised and lips trembling. His tongue is too dry and his bones are too heavy and his skin is too rough and every nerve is electric and singing and Sam’s blood is on fire-

Castiel gives Sam a look he’d rather not be scrutinized with.

“Demon blood?” Dean affirms.

Sam looks down and doesn’t say anything. Let’s Dean draw his own conclusions.

Demon blood is barely even a craving next to all the love and lust you have bottled up for me. Right, kiddo?

Stop. Just stop. Please.

Alright. I’ll zip it, with one last caveat. I haven’t quite pinned down your location yet, but I’ll get there. Eventually. You enjoy your long-suffering solitude. Will make it all the sweeter when we’re finally reunited again. Until then…

That’s the Devil for you. Always has to get the last word in.

“You got to be kidding me.” Dean growls, and turns to Cas. “You got to get him out of here. You got to beam him to, like, Montana. Anywhere but here.”

Sam’s head starts leaning into the doorframe as extra insurance. It feels too rough against his forehead. Nothing like a bed, or wings, or hands, or tongues, or stubble brushing his face-

“It won’t work. He’s already infected.” Cas answers, and Sam’s eyelids flutter, lips pressing together as he bites down to try and quell all of it, still failing. Castiel adds, “The hunger is just gonna travel with him.”

Sam stops his head from lolling and snaps himself out of tuning in to the singing, the keening, the heartbeats and breathing he can feel strumming between him and Lucifer, wordless and echoing and bright.

“Well, than what do we do?” Dean yells.

“You go cut that bastard’s finger off.” Sam grits out. His voice is breathy, uneven. Sam inhales too quickly.

Dean’s eyes dart to back to him, expression more than concerned. Dean swallows.

“You heard him.” Dean answers.

Sam’s fist tightens around the damp cloth he’s been holding too tight this entire time, the muscles and veins in his arms too noticeable, too tense.

“But Dean…” Sam says, this time meeting his gaze head-on as he shakes the rag in front of him. “Before you go, you better…” Sam exhales, then keeps going, “You better lock me down.”

Sam bites his tongue, then licks his lips. “But good.”

Sam almost smiles, but it’s not a happy one. Almost a snarl. It’s everything he can’t hold back, everything he can’t keep in, can’t keep from crashing over him.

Or Lucifer is going to find me sooner rather than later, and I might just make it easy for him.

Sam doesn’t say.

Dean nods.

Then Sam’s being handcuffed to the pipes under the sink, cramped and tucked in over himself.

“All right. Well, just hang in there.” Dean starts in on his goodbyes. “We’ll be back as soon as we can.”

“Be careful.” Sam answers, then his voice breaks. “And… hurry.”

Dean taps Sam on the shoulder and leaves.

The door closes with a decisive click! Then Sam hears something being pushed in front of the door as a barricade.

Good call.

Lucifer is silent, as promised.

Sam leans his head into the sink to try and steady himself.

It doesn’t work. He can’t stop fidgeting.

Any other time, and Sam would have been grateful for the solitude and peace, the lull of the buzzing in his brain. But now the silence and the loss of that feeling between them is almost enough to drive him crazy, enough to make him tug at the restraints, twitching and dizzy and hot and wanting.

A muscle jumps in Sam’s neck. Sam can feel his heart beating out of his chest.

And Sam is hungry, so hungry…

Now it’s just a waiting game.

--

Five minutes in, Sam is practically trying to saw himself out the restraints to try and summon a demon to drink and call Lucifer to him.

Lucifer keeps their connection closed on his end, a blank wall Sam can’t penetrate. It’s unfair it works for him but not the other way around.

Time stops feeling real after that. It could have been ten minutes. It could have been a whole day. There’s no windows in the bathroom. No way to keep track, and Sam’s so out of it he wouldn’t have the will to care.

Sam keeps trying to break the pipe he’s connected to. Tries to move it with his mind, but has no juice for it. Keeps trying and hacking away manually, his wrists blistering as they chafe. Sam doesn’t even feel it, not really.

He’ll do anything, anything, to get out. To slake the thirst, to taste and take in all the soft-bright-cold Sam’s craving.

Sam roars from frustration and strain. He’s like a shark in a feeding frenzy with no way to swallow any of it down.

Sam hears a door open. Pauses, head slammed back into the tile.

“Guys?” Sam yells. His lip trembles, and his heart beats too loud in his ears.

Wood scrapes against the floor as whatever barricade is removed from the doorway.

“Guys, what happened?” Sam gasps, inhales, sniffing, as if it will make any of the need fade, “I don’t think it worked."

Then another wave hits Sam, cramping and painful and white-hot, and Sam screws up his eyes and pants. “I think I’m still-”

The door opens, doorknob clicking.

It’s not Cas, or Dean, or Lucifer.

It’s two demons.

A muscle jumps in Sam’s jaw as Sam’s heart jumps in his throat. It’s all too tight, too much, all of it, and Sam is so close-

His voice is barely there. “-Still hungry,” He trails off. Sam stills, a predator transfixed by its prey.

“Look at this.” The female demon with long black hair says in a too-high voice. “Someone trussed you up for us. Boss says we can’t kill you… But I bet we can break off a few pieces.”

The other demon nods and steps closer.

The handcuffs rattle, Sam grasping for something he can’t quite reach.

Okay, I know I promised I’d keep quiet, Sam, but for the record, I did not send these two louses. This one’s not on me. If it was, I’d have gift-wrapped them nicely, made them easy to access for you to drain. Lesson learned. I really need to send out a company-wide missive. Have some extensive employee training. Because I keep telling everyone no one is to fucking touch you, to lay a single fucking finger on you, and they keep experiencing selective hearing. I am so, so tired of lesser demons, Sam. We’re going to slay so many together by the time we’re done.

The ringing of grace in the reopened floodgate is like a drop of water against the sand.

Sam keeps breathing heavily, closes his eyes, and inhales. The craving for the blood is practically nothing, it’s drowned out by all the other need Sam feels, but they're his ticket to his own personal Promised Land, a yellow brick road to the one Sam needs-

Still. I know you can handle yourself. Wish I could see it firsthand, it would be a magnificent sight to see. Those two don’t know what they’re in for.

Sam lunges the moment the second demon snaps the handcuffs in two. He slams the first demon into the air, sends him flying into the bathtub, the shower rod and curtain falling over him.

Sam tackles the first one into the glass table.

It shatters. Sam stabs her neck with a shard of nearby glass, shaking hands ripping it just as fast out so he can get enough purchase to lick and suck out a vein-

“Get him off-” The demon screams. “Get him off.”

Sam’s shirt rips, but he throws an arm out and sends the other demon flying.

“Wait your turn.” Sam snarls, just as he gets one gulp down, lips licking at blood slathered all around his mouth-

And Sam ducks down, drinks deeply, finally.

Sam is on top of the world, can feel the bond between him and Lucifer keening louder than the ocean, than a hurricane, ringing like a bell, humming louder and clearer than anything-

“Knew you’d get there eventually.” Lucifer says. Sam cranes his neck, sees Lucifer behind him, his fingers looped over his belt.

Sam totters to his feet and throws himself at the Devil. The Devil catches him halfway, and doesn’t shy from his frantic embrace. Lucifer still doesn’t kiss Sam back, though, and with an icy surge stops Sam from ripping and clawing off his clothes ineffectively.

“Not like this, Sammy.” He whispers, and Sam trembles, feels the wings and grace and everything pressing into him, still not close enough-

You want blood, Sam?

I want you, please, please-

“Have to get you clean first. Remember, I don’t want to take advantage. But first, you drink deep, Sam. Gotta get you all ready for me. You think you can do that?”

Sam nods.

Lucifer guides Sam back down to the floor. He kneels down with him, one hand splayed over the back of Sam’s hand. His other arm cradles Sam’s hunched form as Sam sucks both demons dry, right down to the bone. Lucifer helping speed up the process, moves the bodies over without having to vacate his position, half-force feeding Sam the drops he can’t quite get easily.

When the blood is gone, Sam stares up at him, wild and dazed. Lucifer turns him over, straddles Sam’s abdomen, Sam’s lower back and pelvis pressed into the floor. Sam’s lets himself be guided but still grips Lucifer tight, white knuckled and pleading.

“You want to get sober again, Sam, so I can fuck you with proper permission?” Lucifer purrs, and Sam agrees, begs, and tries to pull him closer.

Lucifer bites his thumb open and presses the blood to Sam’s lips, other hand cradling Sam’s head so his throat is at a high enough angle to swallow.

Sam licks it clean. And it’s like Lucifer is inside Sam, then, and he feels cleaner, purer and lighter and brighter than anything-

Even with that small amount, Sam’s head starts to clear, and he starts floating-

Then Lucifer bites his lip open and kisses Sam, and Sam kisses back, rougher, sucking the blood down as long as he can, rocking into Lucifer as he rubs against him, the waves of cold still seeping through despite the friction and fabric, both of them hard as a rock.

Sooner rather than later, Sam’s head clears as if the demon blood never touched him. As if Famine’s virus hasn’t been pulsing through his veins.

Sam’s body still shakes, though. Can’t stop trembling from the suddenness of it all, from the remainder of all the things Sam would feel anyway, never mind Famine or the demon blood or anything.

Sam looks up at Lucifer, wide eyed and dazzled. Still not close enough. Sam can’t even feel anything concerning the other blood, the new blood that’s better than the old stuff, purer, because his eyes are dilated and Lucifer is all he can take in right now-

Lucifer beams. An oasis in a desert, ready to drown Sam in his own want.

“Now that I’ve got you all sober and free of any outside influences, Sammy, you ready to spend some proper quality time together? I know you’ve been patiently waiting all day. So have I.”

And I have eyes on Cas and your brother. The moment they even get close to harm, I’ll zap you over to come to the rescue. Famine can’t touch you, not when you have me in your corner, and maybe, if you pray enough, I’ll even kill him for you. Does that make up for some of the rough treatment you’ve had today?

He rises to his feet, extends an arm to help Sam up.

Sam takes it, wordless. Mind blank except for the feeling of Lucifer so close and cold against Sam’s body, still too feverish, too hot-

And then Sam’s throwing himself at the Devil, and kisses him, open-mouthed, and Lucifer responds in kind as Sam tries to tear his clothes off all over again.

Lucifer flies them somewhere else, Sam doesn’t know or care, even as he pulls Sam’s shirt over his head off, unzips Sam’s jeans and pulls them down with Sam’s boxers because Lucifer likes the struggle, likes the feeling of it, and Sam wants that roughness, wants to fight for this, kicks off his own shoes-

And then Sam melts because Lucifer is stroking Sam all over, sucking and biting and dragging his nails down Sam’s back as he drapes him over the couch. Lucifer never stops kissing Sam, again and again, keeps them both breathless and slick and lubed up in the bathtub as he fingers and fucks Sam against the tile, and the floor, and the bed-

Sam takes what he wants from Lucifer as he lets the Devil have his way with him, every particle and neuron and wave making up his being screaming for this, settling for nothing less even though it’s still not enough-

If Lucifer asked Sam to say yes, in that second, he would have. But Lucifer doesn’t, and even if he did, he wouldn’t take Sam up on his offer. Defeats the purpose.

I know it was a little touch-and-go there for a while, but what do you say? Was the foreplay worth it, in the end? Lucifer teases.

Sam turns around and shuts him up with his own fervent need and calculated movements. He feels Lucifer up, kisses him up and down, sucks him off, and then jerks him off, and Lucifer just keeps going, can bring them both back to the point before they are both overcome, and then they do it all over again.

Lucifer gets him back afterwards, his tongue doing things to Sam longer than he’s ever done before. Lucifer then turns him around and fucks him for whatever round they are up to, and then Sam goes down on the Devil, and the Devil doubles down on Sam, and they keep taking each other apart because it’s still not enough for either of them.

Sam gets rougher and needier as time goes on, and Lucifer responds in kind. Eventually, Lucifer just turns him around and keeps fucking him, hands wrapped around Sam’s own, stroking him even as he drives the pace, rocks Sam into the mattress slowly and then less so, until Sam cries and wails Lucifer’s name so much he loses his voice.

And then, midway through another round, Lucifer stops. Cocks his head and listens.

Sam trembles underneath him, gasping. Every limb feels elastic, like half-melted rubber. Lucifer finishes Sam off so he isn’t left wanting, at least physically.

Then he snaps! And their bodies are both cleaned off. Another snap! And Sam is clothed, immaculate except for the bloodstains and rips Lucifer left there, exactly the same as Lucifer found him. Like he hadn’t been within three feet of Lucifer. Like Lucifer hadn’t fucked him senseless.

 “Time to rescue the other two musketeers.” Lucifer says. He summons some demon as he puts on his own jeans manually.

One hand waves, and the demon is cut up, dead. The Devil smears the blood over Sam’s mouth for authenticity, and sucks the remainder off his hands.

Lucifer pulls over his hoodie right before he zaps Sam right outside Famine’s location.

“Happy Valentine’s Day, Sammy. I hope it makes up for all the others.” Lucifer winks, and kisses Sam’s mouth and neck, both of them still hidden in the shadow of the building.

Famine is in the middle of his anti-pep talk with Dean when Sam strides in.

“-Inside, you’re already dead.” Famine hisses.

Not if I have anything to say about it.

“Let him go.” Sam commands.

Famine turns his electric wheelchair around like some cardboard cutout movie villain.

Sam is more than ready to grind the second Horseman into dust, shining with a mere slice of the purpose and power he’s been promised. His brother needs him, and he would be there. And he would stop this, one way or another.

“Sam,” The Horseman wheezes.

Sam stares him down.

“Sammy, no.” Dean projects, his own voice rough. The demons start to walk toward him, but Famine stops them.

“Stop! No one lays a finger on this sweet little boy.” He orders.

Sam cricks his neck, silent.

Oh, you are going to suffer slowly, just for that.

“Sam, I see you got the snack I sent you.”

“You sent?” Sam inquires, a model actor. He knows it wasn’t Lucifer, but he has an image to keep up, and doesn’t want Famine catching on.

“Don’t worry. You’re not like everyone else. You’ll never die from drinking too much.” Famine reassures him. “You’re the exception that proves the rule. Just the way Satan wanted you to be.”

Oh, you have no idea what Lucifer has planned for me, none at all.

Defending my honor, Samuel. I’m touched.

Still haven’t forgiven you.

I’ll live.

Sam refocuses as Famine’s arms open wide, his reedy voice grating, “So, cut their throats. Have at them!”

 “Sammy, no!” Dean yells.

“Please, be my guest!” Famine bellows over him.

Sam trembles, but not for the reason Dean thinks.

Famine can feel that Sam is starving, never sated, yes. But Sam has had his fill of demon blood, craves something else, something more, now.

And Sam wants to smite, wants to purge, wants to rip out all the filth he can feel seeping over this place like a rotting out backwash, wants to make Famine scream for what he did to Dean, to Cas, to this town, for what he thinks he holds over Sam-

Sam inhales and throws up an arm. Can feel Lucifer’s chiming grace laughing and melding with his own heartbeats as Sam’s hand splays.

And the demons are choking up smoke, choking up their being, as they get sent back to Hell, where they belong.

Sam closes his eyes and relishes the sound with a smile.

He opens his eyes when he finishes and everything goes silent, breathing heavily.

“No.” Sam answers. That would always be his answer, when push came to shove. When it really mattered. To Famine, to demons, to anyone. Even to Lucifer himself.

“Well. Fine.” Famine huffs, “If you don’t want them, then I’ll have them.”

Famine inhales all the demons inside himself as the demon’s essences’ come back, shrieking as they are consumed.

Sam walks forward and puts his arm out again, ready to end the pathetic display. His teeth grimace in a snarl as he pulls-

“I’m a horseman, Sam. Your power doesn’t work on me.” Famine sneers.

Sam isn’t aiming for him.

“You’re right.” Sam answers. “But it will work on them.”

Sam’s hand closes into a fist.

And then every single soul Famine consumed is sent to Heaven or Hell or in-between, wherever it is bound to go. Sam sets them free.

Sam holds him there, weakens him, drains Famine down to nothing. And Dean cuts the ring from his finger, and Famine is gone, but Dean and Cas stare at Sam and don’t stop staring, not once.

Sam breathes heavily, shoulders heaving deep shudders, his hands trembling and nerves still shorted out like blown fuse.

Sam still can taste Lucifer’s lips and tongue and saliva and blood and grace and every other fluid inside him. Can feel the power rampaging through his system, pumping through his bloodstream. Can feel the memory of the overlay of the Devil’s heads and mouths and wings and teeth and fingers and everything almost inside him, but not entirely.

Famine had nothing on him, had nothing he could offer, because Lucifer is the only one who can give Sam what he needs.

--

Cas and Dean lock Sam back in confinement to ride out the aftershocks of the withdrawal from the demon blood.

Lucifer flies in after they leave. He covers Sam's mouth and presses him into a wall.

Sam freezes, his hands still trembling.

Let’s blow this joint, Sammy. Go on a proper date for once, like old times. I promise I’ll keep a hold on the Apocalypse if you really, really want me to.

How did you find me? How are you here? I’m clean, I'm not even going through withdrawal because of whatever your blood did to me-

I can find you any time I want when you drink my blood, Sam. You took me in. Still have some of me inside you.

And then Sam is flown away, some paltry imitation or illusion the Devil made screaming in his place inside the panic room. The same spell will magically drag Sam back the moment the locked door opens.

But in the meantime...

“I have you all to myself for the night, Sam.” Lucifer whispers, hugging Sam close. “How should we spend the rest of it? I’m sure you are full of ideas.”

Chapter Text

After Valentine's Day, things alternate between better and worse on all fronts.

Sam still can't stand to look at himself in the mirror for caving so easily, for wanting Lucifer, for missing him, for still being in love with him when Satan still wants to wear his skin and while Sam keeps hearing the body count rise day after day.

Lucifer hasn't been idle, even if he does put things on hold whenever he visits, which is the only reason Sam lets him get away with it. Although Sam knows Lucifer won't outright abduct him indefinitely and will happily fuck or cuddle with Sam when he does find him all alone, with Sam not knowing what else to do except acquiesce, since he's not asking for a yes those nights, only for company, only for Sam, but a preoccupied Devil is better than a Devil on the loose, and that is the only way Sam can ever justify it. Sam tries not to slip, but sometimes he does, anyway. Or Lucifer just shows up where Sam sleeps at Bobby's and steals him away, and Sam allows it only with extensive discussions of what is and isn't allowed with this arrangement.

Sam still can't quite live with himself for giving in, though.

It's enough to send Sam seesawing back and forth between exhausted acceptance of what this is, snarky responses courtesy of pain and denial and Lucifer wearing Sam out, and persistent, malignant self-hatred Sam can't stop himself from directing at himself like a cocked gun propped against his head that he doesn't quite let go off.

Tonight is one of the worse nights.

"Sam, look." Lucifer sighs and rubs his face. "You aren't holding up well."

"Whose fault is that, I wonder?" Sam grates out.

"Please, Sam. I know this isn't easy, but... Let me make this right, Sam. Let me help."

Sam's anger sparks to life, faster than a lit cigarette takes to gasoline. "I already told you, I don't want-"

"Anything from me. I heard you the first time and all those times after."

"Then maybe you should listen, for once." Sam hisses, then turns away.

Lucifer tilts his head at him and smooths down the sheets, voice too gentle. "Sam, just because I'm not doing what you want doesn't mean I'm not listening."

After fidgeting, Lucifer finally makes his move and sits down on the bed.

Sam just hugs his chest and scoots farther to the side.

"Sam. Please?"

"What do you hope to get out of this?" Sam sighs, finally, still not looking at him, head still turned away.

Lucifer's gaze darts around, then he slowly slides to touch Sam's hand.

Sam doesn't pull away and looks back at him.

"I just want what we still have, Sam. And I know I've been very..."

"Migraine-inducing. Evil. Unreasonable. Immune to criticism." Sam pointedly snipes.

"I was going to say persistent to the point of insensitivity, but I suppose that's fair. Evil, though, really?"

Sam snorts. "Murder tends to go under that umbrella, yeah. That and you broke my heart and keep manipulating me into trusting you when I know it's a bad idea. And to add insult to injury, you won't let me die to fix my mistakes and not have any part of this whole business."

"Letting me out wasn't a mistake, Sam. I know you don't really believe that... As for you dying..." Lucifer's voice breaks, and he does not have the right to look like he's about to cry here. He doesn't. "Sam. You dying won't stop this. You are just another player on the board, not the one driving it forward. It's Heaven's fault. And you don't deserve to die for anything."

"Well, I disagree."

"That's your stubborn denial talking. Besides, I can't leave you in Hell, unless... Look, I know you don't want that." Lucifer sees Sam shutting him out, and then changes tact, "But who made you think that you deserved to die, Sammy? Who? Because I will end them, here and now."

Sam hisses a guttural growl, "I don't want you to hurt anyone. Why do you think I'm fighting you so damn hard, Lucifer?"

"Because you want there to be a kinder solution to this situation. And there isn't." Lucifer insists, lips pursed.

Sam huffs out, "What do I have to do to make you understand that this isn't something I want?"

"I don't want to have to do this, either. But I'm not going to let Michael kill you-" Lucifer starts in on a familiar topic as he gestures and his hand twitches, the fervent extremism starting to ice over in his gaze.

Sam finally breaks down, head bowed and voice shaking. "That doesn't mean you have to keep going. If you still love me-"

"I will always love you and will never stop-" Lucifer assures, body instantly going still and tone too soft.

"Then let it go." Sam answers, cutting Lucifer off. 

Call this all off and just let us figure this out on our own, no Apocalypse necessary.

"I can't. I can't, Sammy. I have to keep you safe and we have to win this for both our sake's-" Lucifer's wings close in on himself as he argues.

Sam shoots up and shoves Lucifer down on the bed, Sam straddling him. "YOU KEEP SAYING THAT! STOP IT! STOP ACTING LIKE YOU DON'T HAVE A CHOICE HERE."

Lucifer lets him and just looks up at him, pleading.

"But I don't." Lucifer answers. As if it is simple as that.

All at once, all the rage just leaves Sam's frame, replaced with frazzled, candle-burnt-at-both-ends exhaustion and shaking need and loss and pain.

"Do you really think that, Lucifer? Is that what being locked up did to you?" Sam asks, and then he slumps down next to the Devil and doesn't move. "I thought you were all about rebelling and thinking for yourself?"

Lucifer doesn't budge, either.

This is the closest proximity Sam has allowed in weeks.

"I know I don't have a choice." Lucifer repeats, too shaky. He keeps staring at the ceiling in Sam's dream, empty.

"Yes, you do."

"Not if I want you alive and with me, Sam. Not if I am going to keep you safe. I would change this, if I could. But the other angels don't change, Sam, and it's their actions that necessitate mine."

Sam damns himself and rolls over to look at the Devil.

"Look, do you want to talk about it? Would that... Would it do anything?" Sam asks, very tentative and stumbling, but honest and trying to help.

Lucifer looks back at him, for once not cajoling or smug or imploring.

He's just broken.

"I don't know." Lucifer answers, lost and aimless.

He reaches for Sam, then stops short, looking at Sam like he's going to cry.

It's just like Jess would get in their apartment.

Sam closes the distance, giving permission for the contact.

Everything Lucifer hasn't been dealing with washes over them both as Lucifer holds on to him for dear life, muffled voice still audible enough for Sam to hear against his chest.

"I never wanted to hurt you. I just can't move on and I can't win without you and I won't give you up and I know you're scared and I hate it, Sam, but I don't know what else to do." Lucifer's words all run together. "What else am I supposed to do?"

"You could stop." Sam says quietly. "I'd welcome you back. We could... just travel around. Live our lives."

Lucifer's looking back up at him, blue eyes all desperation and fury to the point Sam can see the red lurking behind them.

"I can't just let it all go, Sam. I can't. And even if I tried... Then you die, Sam. Then Michael finds us and he tracks us down and he kills me and kills you and we die."

Lucifer hugs Sam's chest again, voice going back to being hysterical.

"I'm not letting my brother kill me or your brother kill you or-"

"Dean isn't going to-" Sam interjects.

Lucifer's words are all vicious and deep, voice raw, "You don't know that. You can't, Sam. You haven't seen it all go bad like I have. You don't see how alike they are, because he's your brother, and you love him. It... It was like that for me, too. You just... You haven't lived it, Sam."

"I'm not going to."

"I'm not going to let you!" Lucifer's voice grows louder, and then he regains his composure, however briefly, before it devolves again, "I believed in Michael just as much as you believed in Dean. You need to believe me, I'm not trying to hurt you-"

And Lucifer is too far gone and inconsolable again.

"Lucifer... This is going nowhere. I believe you think it's the same. It isn't." Sam's voice is a husk as he keeps going. "So what else. What else do you want me to say?"

"Say you won't kill yourself." Lucifer demands.

I don't even care if it's a lie, I can't take it, Sam, I can't...

"Fine. I won't." Sam concedes. It hasn't been worth it, not for a while.

"Thank you." Lucifer holds Sam closer, listens to his chest rise and fall inside the shared dream like he used to.

Sam lets him.

They stay quiet for a long time.

Lucifer's voice is almost inaudible when he looks back into Sam's eyes.

"What can I do to make you love me again?" He whispers against Sam's lips, close but not touching.

"I still love you." Sam admits. His eyelids flutter. "I never stopped."

Sam kisses Lucifer, and Lucifer kisses back, for once hesitant and scared and not anything except something stuck in a Cage for too long, convinced he'd been imprisoned for all the wrong reasons.

Lucifer licks his lips as they pull back, and then stutters, "But... But you are hurting, Sam." Then his voice steadies, grows stronger, as Lucifer reaches for Sam again, pulling him closer, "And you won't let me help, and I want to, I need to-"

You keep asking me to give you things I can't.

But what about the things I can give you, Sam? Why won't you let me in that way, if nothing else?

Sam holds him off, trying to keep his tone level, but not willing to hide the exhaustion from all of this. Lucifer can't pretend he hasn't been doing what he's been doing, to Sam and everyone. "Kind of hard for you to help when you are half the engine that's running everything currently causing me pain. And you won't back down because you don't see any other options."

Lucifer doesn't look at Sam and shivers, something alien and warped and winged held in Sam's arms as fragile as glass that's been shattered and not quite glued together right.

"Then I'll... I'll stop pushing, I'll leave you alone as long as I can-" Lucifer chokes.

"Lucifer-" Sam says as he presses his head into Lucifer's shoulder, their heads touching.

"I can't promise anything else." Lucifer sobs, and then he's burying himself against Sam's chest again. "I can't, Sam, I won't lie, not to you, never to you-"

Sam holds him close until he's composed again, let's Lucifer huddle against him, just repeating brokenly that he "loves him, he does, really," while Sam rubs his back near his wings.

Lucifer might not admit he's wrong, but he does admit he's more compromised by this than he lets on. That's also what makes him dangerous.

Sam sighs again. It was almost easier to forgive him, to forget exactly what Lucifer is, on nights like these. To forget exactly what he was capable of because he was just too much Jess, too much Sam's other half, too human despite the fact he is anything but, and Sam needs to remember that.

"Damn it, Lucifer." Sam finally concedes. "If you need to bother me all the damn time to keep yourself from going off the rails, fine. I can live with that. But just... let's just not talk about it right now, okay? I'm tired. Just... just stay here and let me sleep."

Lucifer takes the offer for what it is and stays curled up in Sam's arms, until Sam shifts, and Lucifer is holding Sam instead, and they both can't stop wondering how they could love each other so much and understand each other and still have everything go so wrong.

It's the most they've met in the middle now for a while, and a first for Sam feeling like he's finally made headway meeting the Devil halfway to maybe find a way out of this.

It doesn't last.

Sam knows it won't.

Still. Sometimes, he knows Lucifer wants to run away as much as Sam does.

--

The next time Lucifer comes to Sam's dreams, he's shy, but not a wreck. He doesn't say much, and Sam stays... relatively composed, and they pointedly avoid anything that might set the other off. Lucifer just holds Sam close, breathes him in, tangles his hands in Sam's hair, and then they hold each other and then Lucifer begs Sam for anything he will let him have.

Sam lets Lucifer fuck him the whole night and doesn't hate himself for it.

He's too tired to feel anything except exhaustion and the small amounts of frantic, conjoined relief Lucifer can give him.

--

Things are almost peaceful for a while.

The mood dips again a week and a half later when something else happens, because there is always more waiting, always more plans and deaths and rituals.

Things take another turn when Lucifer puts back on the false confidence and rough bravado, and Sam wonders if Lucifer learned that trick from him or if they both are too similar to begin with.

He doesn't try to convince Sam of anything, though.

Doesn't ask for a yes.

He just asks to take care of Sam, hums and whispers, eyes too bright, as he reaches for the only human he's ever considered worthy.

--

Sam decides that three weeks is long enough to wait for Lucifer to calm down and get himself back to his normal levels of insufferable, but he isn't going to let all of it go. Not one bit.

That's when Sam broaches the subject again, mostly for his own sanity and because if Lucifer is going to needle all of Sam's weak points, he can't afford not to strike back if he wants to survive. That, and he's worried. And he feels for the Devil still, even though that helps nothing.

"Look. We... We need to talk. About you and about... About the Cage. Will you let me talk to you about it?" Sam starts, tone inquiring but not condemning.

Lucifer paces aimless about the room, not sure how to settle, hands shaking a little, as he grinds his teeth and then veers off and stops.

"If that's what you want-" Lucifer answers, inhaling too sharply, rubbing his neck to soothe himself, wings hunched, as he stares at Sam's feet.

"Look, just ignore that for a second. This isn't about me right now. Lucifer, do you even... Want to talk about it? I mean, you always clam up and..."

"What's there to talk about?" Lucifer laughs some shallow noise, but his face is all pale and sharp edges as he looks back into Sam's eyes. "My family locked me up and you saved me. Now I'm free and they are going to pay for it and everything is going to be fine. The end."

Lucifer finally makes up his mind and sits cross-legged on the floor, arms crossed, pointedly not looking at Sam.

The writing on the wall is clear. No talking about the Cage, not tonight.

Sam walks on over and sits next to him, hand rubbing the Devil's back. Lucifer starts and looks at Sam like he's surprised he's initiated, but then turns into grateful reverence as he leans into Sam's touch.

Sam forces his voice to remain level and gentle and not to betray the emotions he's been treading water with. "What happens afterwards?"

Sam shouldn't encourage this, but he needs to know.

Lucifer tilts his head and looks at Sam, eyes not comprehending.

"What do you mean?" Lucifer asks too softly. His eyes are too bright, too hopeful.

"Let's say I say yes, and we win, and everything happens like you say it does." Sam clarifies, voice so very careful. "What happens then?"

Lucifer looks... hesitant and dumbstruck but then it's like pure calm and ease smooths away all his rough edges.

He smiles a little, then cups Sam's face.

"Then it's just you and me... And whoever else we tolerate and... The whole world and everything will be safe, and we'll be free, and have the whole universe at our feet to do whatever we want with." Lucifer says unevenly. He keeps looking at Sam's face, but he's not seeing him, not really.

"Won't we get bored? Or lonely?" Sam tries.

Lucifer looks back at Sam, completely serious. "I'm used to eons of solitude and limited company with only three brothers and Dad. And I promise, I have never been bored or lonely when I'm with you, Sam."

He means it wholeheartedly. Sam can read it in his face.

"But what would we even do?" Sam leads, trying not to flinch from all the things he doesn't want to think about happening.

Lucifer shrugs, and his expression goes into some kind of alien blankness Sam recognizes as all Archangel. "That's the point. We could do anything."

Then Lucifer looks back at Sam likes he's everything and whispers, "And we won't ever have to be afraid again."

Sometimes, Lucifer makes Sam's heart race in fear for reasons other than he's the Devil.

This is one of those times.

And with a sinking feeling, Sam realizes Lucifer really doesn't have a plan for afterwards, only this time the feeling isn't fuzzy, it's pure concrete. He's been too lost and holding on to the few things he's been able to hold on to, and Sam's not sure even his companionship will be enough when the smoke clears.

If Lucifer had a plan, Sam could work to dismantle it and talk it down.

But it's not about any ideology, not at the core.

It's just feelings and pain and fear that won't get fixed and hasn't been fixed any time soon.

So. New tactics.

File that away and pretend that doesn't scare the ever-loving shit out of yourself and hope grounding the Devil is enough to make him see your side. Because that works so well.

Still... He doesn't want to cause Sam pain. Problem is, he feels like either way he causes Sam pain, and that his solution is the only way to stop it.

Sam pushes those thoughts away, too. They are only useless right now. Only lead to one-way streets Sam doesn't want to walk down right now.

Sam stands and holds out a hand to help Lucifer to his feet, even if he doesn't need it.

Lucifer takes it because he will take anything Sam offers, because he missed being close, missed being hand in hand-

"You could let me visit you in person-" Lucifer tries, but Sam shakes his head.

"Not tonight." Sam is certain.

Lucifer's face falls, but it isn't in rejection, more just puzzled. He can feel Sam's emotions buzzing on over, feel the line swell with his love and exhaustion and wish to help and feelings of uselessness, but there is resolve and purpose there, too.

Sam's voice quavers, then steadies itself. "If Michael and his forces were neutralized and no longer a threat, Lucifer... Would it be so awful to let it all go?"

Lucifer freezes at that.

"Would you even be able to?" Sam is surprised at his own daring, but the words keep coming out.

The silence Lucifer doesn't want to give but can't break is all the confirmation Sam needs to hear.

Sam still crumples, despite his best efforts not to. "I'm not going to convince you, am I?" He chokes, eyes looking Lucifer up and down before he has to look anywhere else.

Lucifer hugs him and buries his face in Sam's neck. 

"We can pretend we don't have to convince each other tonight. We could do that." Lucifer suggests.

Someone else isn't so good at avoiding denial, themselves, it seems.

Sam still caves, though. He's just as worn down.

--

Two weeks later, and it's Sam's turn to break. "Why am I not good enough for you on my own?"

Lucifer is genuinely thrown and tries to smooth things over, caressing Sam, kissing him, "But you are good enough, Sam, I told you-"

Sam chokes and pulls away and turns to face the Devil at his side, "No, I'm not. Why do you need to take away everything else? If I am enough, if this is enough... Why can't you just let it go, let everyone live, let the world be, if I am good enough? Why do you need revenge or bloodshed or anything? I don't... I want..."

I just want you and you want me, why do you have to fight, why do you need to prove this-

You know why, Sam.

And then Sam is crying and Lucifer consoling him and hugging him into his chest as he whispers, oh-so-softly, "Sam, Sam, it's all going to be okay."

"No, it isn't! It hasn't been okay! It hasn't been okay since I let you out and all those people died and everyone keeps dying and since you died and burned up and since you got locked up and everything is all wrong." Sam sobs. "It's all wrong all the time."

Lucifer kisses him, kisses the tears as they fall from Sam's eyes, replying, "I know. Sam. I know. But it will be okay. You'll see. I promise you. I'll make sure we are. I'll take care of us."

"Maybe I don't want you to." Sam argues, looking down.

Lucifer tilts Sam's head back up to meet him. His answer rumbles in his chest, "I know. But you'll change your mind."

"Why can't you change yours?" Sam accuses, and stares him down. Lucifer's wings wrap around him, the echo of mouths and teeth and lips lighting over Sam's soul.

"I am trying, Sam. I am. I just haven't gotten there."

Then I'll just keep praying. But I will stop you. I have to.

I know you think so. Still. Our resolve is the same, Sam. One day you will see that.

No. You said it yourself, I'm stubborn. And I promise you, Lucifer. I will outlast you.

Lucifer only kisses Sam full on the lips again in answer. Sam kisses back despite his better judgement.

Then Sam lets Lucifer fuck him again, because neither of them have anything else to say to that. Not tonight.

Chapter Text

Sam tests the gun on Crowley, to see if it has any bullets. Also because he doesn't trust Crowley as far as he can throw him. Farther, actually.

Crowley looks after his own skin, although he does give them the damn ammunition.

The Colt feels odd in Sam's hand, despite everything. He doesn't know if he'd be able to pull the trigger on Lucifer, when they get there.

Knows he can't.

That's why Dean's doing the honors.

It's not going to work, Sam. I know your little ploy. I'll pull through, I promise. Not one to get waylaid by the likes of that one. But you can think I'm lying all you like. Still. Trying to kill me, Sam? What would you do, if it worked? Jump off a bridge yourself?

Lucifer goes quiet after that, has been quiet for days otherwise.

Sam isn't sure what that means, but can't quite tell anyone except Cas in confidence that he doesn't think this is going to work.

Cas says they have to try anyway. They don't have anything else.

It isn't reassuring at all.

Explains why drinking copious amounts of alcohol seems the way to go, after that.

"It's got to be a trap, right?" That's the only way Sam can warn Dean, because he knows this is a trap for sure. Lucifer wouldn't be humming through the link, otherwise.

Dean laughs. "Sam Winchester, having trust issues with a demon. Well, better late than never."

That stings. What stings more is the knowledge Sam trusts the Devil more, and while he is an angel, the point still stands.

"Yeah, and thank you again for your continued support." Sam almost laughs hysterically. Clinks their beers together and drinks, because there's nothing else for it. Lucifer is gunning for Sam, and gunning for the rest of the world, one way, or another. This would just be the next attempt to halt something Sam doesn't even know has breaks.

"You know, trap or no trap, if we've got a snowball's chance... We gotta take it?" Dean adds.

Sam shakes his head, tone too light. "Yeah. I suppose."

That's the only way he's been dealing with it. Take the Devil down, whatever it takes, even though nothing seems to be working.

Sam can't even keep him out of his head, or his dreams, or anything.

"Besides, I'm not sure it is a trap." Dean continues, rifling through the papers. "Check it out. Carthage is lit up like a Christmas tree with Revelation omens. And look at this: there's been six missing persons reported in town since Sunday."

Sam keeps his eyes down.

It's still a trap.

"I think the Devil's there." Dean finishes, and takes another swig.

"Okay." Sam assents. He knows he is. He can't really confirm it without freaking Dean out, because there was no way this was ending well any way the chips fall.

Sam doesn't know what will happen if he is waiting to meet Sam in person, or what will happen once he is face to face with a body he's been avoiding out of sheer self-preservation, because Lucifer knew how to play him too well.

Maybe, if it all goes south, he can plead for all their lives. For Lucifer to exercise mercy.

He doubts Lucifer will go for it.

If they make stupid decisions, Sam, that's on your human pals. I can always bring them back after I tear Michael apart. Besides, leaving the party early is a nicer way to go. Trust me, being caught in the cross-hairs of a smiting is far less fun than a quick, clean death.

Scratch that: He knows he won't. Not unless Sam can find something to sweeten the deal.

Just come alone, Sam. You know where to find me.

Sam doesn't answer.

"Look, if you think about it, you can't come with." Dean interrupts.

That isn't an option. Not if Sam has any chance of convincing the Devil not to kill them, as slim as that chance is.

Sam's voice rumbles, "Dean..."

Dean, I have to. There isn't another choice, even if I wish otherwise.

"Look, I go against Satan and screw the pooch... Okay." Dean argues. "We've lost a game piece. That, we can take. But if you're there..." Dean points. "Then we are handing the Devil's vessel right over to him. That's not smart."

Sam cuts him off and lets the raw anger bleed through. "Since when have ever done anything smart?"

"I'm serious, Sam."

Such little regard for himself. And you. What a charmer.

Back off, Lucifer.

I get it, protecting big brother. I was in your shoes, once. But big brothers aren't always bigger or smarter, Sam. And he doesn't know you like I do.

It takes all of Sam's willpower not to slam the table, as he focuses on Dean, only Dean, not the Devil whispering in his skull. "So am I. Haven't we learned a damn thing? If we're going to do this, we're gonna do it together." Sam promises. It's not a negotiation.

That's the only way anything works. And Sam can't go it alone, not against Lucifer. Neither can the others, if they don't want to be mincemeat right out the gate.

Sam stares Dean down, afraid and sure and unwavering.

Dean blinks, almost takes another swing, but first capitulates. "Okay." Has to get his last jab in, "That's a stupid friggin' idea."

Then he's eyeing Jo, and Sam can't help but let the sass out. "Boy. Talk about stupid ideas."

Only Sam's had worse, if he's being honest.

And then Dean leaves to go and try his luck, although Sam knows Jo is out of his league.

After that, Sam tries to ignore Lucifer trying to tempt him with other offers, offers where Sam goes in without backup, and no one has to get hurt.

Sam just has to trade his freedom of movement for the company of the Devil.

He gets distracted by the picture Bobby takes, and Cas, who is good at that.

"Bobby's right. Tomorrow we hunt the Devil." Cas starts in, and then he tacks on, too serious. "This is our last night on earth."

Sam twitches.

Not if I have anything to say about it.

Truer words have never been spoken, Sammy. But the little one is right. No pain, no gain. I am curious how far you'll get before you take me up on my offer, though. I have my priorities, but you are still the first.

The camera flashes.

Sam can see the imprint of wings even though he'd rather not.

Still. Busy day tomorrow. You should get your beauty rest. Unless you want my company?

--

Ellen and Jo and Castiel make it to Missouri first.

It doesn't help their chances.

--

Following reapers isn't the best plan. Neither is going it alone.

But the little angel that could would learn his lesson now, one way or another.

"Lucifer." Castiel breathes. The archangel is cold, colder than anything, and Cas can see his true form towering him over him, radiating outward but poised, contained, so vast beyond the flames.

"So I take it you're here with the Winchesters?" Lucifer asks, head tilted and vessel's hands clasped behind his back. Red eyes blink at Cas, lazy, not concerned, only hungry, only patient and waiting and sure.

How's Sammy holding up?

And there's more there, pure want, too many smiling mouths looking back into Castiel's many black-as-pitch ones inside all his skulls, too many wings and mouths to eye from beyond the flesh Cas can see for Cas to keep track of, and every single one bleeds with love and need and hunger that Cas can hear like a heartbeat singing at him. He feels small, smaller than small. Less than an echo, less than a single strand or note sound and light, against the quiet eye of the storm, the fury that hasn't been reserved for Cas, not really, but for almost everything else in the world, all save Lucifer's true vessel.

Cas lets the silence settle before he answers, lies, "I came alone."

It's Sam, and you are unworthy to speak his name. Castiel's grace hisses, his own tiny true form an insect, a fly caught by a towering mantis or spider, one that does not know its own peril, or knows, but doesn't care anyway.

Lucifer towers higher, mouths open wide, tongues out, teeth gnashing together from inside his borrowed skin, wings so bright it's blinding, but the flesh hides it to human eyes.

As an angel, Castiel's teeth are like a human's, almost if not quite. Enamel shaped like molars and canines and incisors, but mostly incisors and molars with few sharp ones peeking through.

Every single on of Lucifer's are all canines, all long and jagged, not like a vampire, more like a shark or a piranha, descending from the gum-line beneath all too-human mouths and lips, only not quite human enough, the skull too elongated, too deer-like, the every eye too bright.

I have every right. He's mine, and I think we both agree on how magnificent and spectacular of a specimen he truly is.

Lucifer stops walking and answers, tone a bit too pointed. "Loyalty. Hmph. Such a nice quality, in this day and age. Castiel, right?"

Cas nods faintly, almost quailed by the force of the grace singing at him, except he isn't, because he will not back down. Sam is his friend, and he will protect him, not let Lucifer befoul Sam's name with his twisted mouth.

Lucifer points and starts walking around the circle again. "Castiel, I'm told you came here in an automobile?" Lucifer pauses and clasps his hands in front of him before he warms them via the ring of fire Castiel can't break out of. It's too close to human for comfort, with how alien Lucifer otherwise holds his true self.

"Yes?" Cas asks, slightly thrown at the non-sequitur and retreating grace. His feathers ruffle, and he tries not to let the cold seep through. Cas is like a miniature ball of lightning, crackling in over himself.

"What was that like?" Lucifer scrunches up his face, but internally, he's laughing, messing with the seraph because he's been in a car, his own truck, many times before, still recalls ferrying Sam around fondly like it was yesterday. Still, he's curious as to how Castiel will answer. It says a lot, when angels reveal what they think of human things, and Lucifer can see if he's... malleable, or less so. See what he's made of. His true form remains still, hides the joke.

Cas looks to the side, voice unsure but still measure. "Um... Slow." Cas settles, brow furrowing as his eyebrows raise. He tacks on, "Confining."

Then he looks down, too overwhelmed with the grace and power and assurance the Devil carries himself with, everything bright and brilliant and cold.

So the little angel is direct and brave and takes everything a bit literally. There's a restraint there, a fierceness he hasn't fully released, Lucifer can tell. Time to see if he can tease more of it out...

Lucifer shakes his head at him, Nick's expression bemused but still giving nothing away. He speaks, too casual, "What a peculiar thing you are."

Cas raises his gaze to meet Lucifer's, feeling the judgement and weighing there as his own character and presence is evaluated, until he sees Nick's expression shift to amusement and decides he's most certainly being played with. That, and Lucifer's true form laughs, and laughs loudly.

"What's wrong with your vessel?" Cas snipes, not one to be cowed or one to quail, and Lucifer's expression sobers, turns almost abashed but not quite.

"Yes, um, Nick is wearing a bit thin, I'm afraid." Then Lucifer's expression turns a bit too smug and knowing and Cas can see the want and the intent and the primordial mission in Lucifer's eyes. Lucifer's head bobs a bit as he half-smiles, rueful, "Can't contain me forever, so..."

"You." Cas growls as he lurches forward, stopping short only because of the flames. Cas can see the unvoiced designs for Sam, the threat, and becomes all song and fury in response, even if the circle fire suppresses his ability to act.

I will end you, you will not have him, Sam is better than you will ever be- Cas vows.

Lucifer inhales and privately enjoys the display, even if he also appreciates just how powerless Cas is at the moment.

Lucifer eyes Castiel up and down, and his grace sings, Oh, he is. And you can't stop me. He's already mine in all the ways that count, even if I don't have him yet. But just look at you. Some protector. Led astray so easily.

Castiel's voice becomes a rumbling growl, almost revealing his true voice if he could. Lucifer can feel the tension thrumming there.

"You are not taking Sam Winchester." Cas vows as Lucifer stares him down, for once the Devil's expression honest, angry and possessive and unconvinced of Castiel's claim, as Cas adds, "I won't let you."

What can you do, against what we have, Castiel? Why fight a battle you won't win? Sam will not even want you to fight this for him, not when I'm finally with him as God intended. Remember what you are, what I am. And I want what's best for Sam, Castiel. I do. I promise you that. No need to fear for Sam's welfare.

"Castiel," Lucifer tone darkens in warning, then modulates itself, and Lucifer turns and walks again, trying to reconnect, "I don't understand why you are fighting me. Of all the angels."

"You really have to ask?"

My priorities are evident. And I do not believe you. It doesn't matter if you think Sam is yours. Sam is his own person, a good person, with a kind heart. He's my friend, and he deserves his freedom and to not have any part of the pain and suffering and violence you will inflict on the world. 

Sam deserves peace and safety, Castiel. Only by cultivating the world together can we achieve it. I'm doing this because it's best for him.

Lucifer's voice raises, his eyes not blinking or leaving Castiel's once. "I rebelled. I was cast out." Then Lucifer tries for a different emotion, equivalent emotions, as he gestures between them. "You rebelled, you were cast out."

Both of us fell for love and because of causes we believe in. We aren't that different, you and I. That's why you are so invested in protecting those two. Trust me, I understand more than you know.

Lucifer continues, "Almost all of Heaven wants to see me dead. And if they succeed," Which they won't, although I'm sure you would prefer otherwise, "Guess what? You're their new public enemy number one."

Next up on the chopping block, and how would you protect yourself or the Winchesters then? And I like you, Cas. I do. You have gumption and vision and bonds with someone I care about. You've served Sam well, and been a good friend. I won't say that I am not grateful, even if you've made my objectives more of a hassle by a slight margin. You've been protecting Sam from harm, and that makes us allies.

"We're on the same side, like it or not, so..." And Lucifer turns his eyes to the side and frowns, "Why not just serve your own best interests, which in this case just happen to be mine?" Lucifer taps his mouth, considering.

And  Sam doesn't want Dean to say yes, and neither do you, neither do I. We are working towards the same thing, and want Sam to be safe.

Sam will never be safe with you.

We both know the lie in that statement, Castiel. I will give Sam everything. Everything.

Lucifer's wings fan out, not a threat, just declarative.

This is what I am, I am holy, I am worthy, I will bring Heaven to his knees, and if you stand against that tide, well... What do you expect to be? How do you expect to withstand me? Particularly when you don't need to. Sam is your friend. And Sam will always be mine. Always.

Cas stares off into the distance before he faces Lucifer head-on again, Jimmy's blue eyes burning, Castiel's coal-black ones brighter, burning with blue fire of his own.

"I'll die first." Cas swears. He unfurls his wings in threat, every bit angel Lucifer is, dwarfed but just as certain, just as stubborn.

I won't betray Sam's trust. He is my friend, and I would not align myself with you and let you claim him. I am not afraid to die for their sake, and I will not forsake the people of this world, either. They deserve life.

Lucifer's wings fold behind him, and the Archangel's true form recedes into some kind of posture Castiel can only describe as withdrawn and disinterested.

Such a shame. Perhaps I'll bring you back after this all ends, if Sam misses you by then. He's lucky to have you, even though you'll fail him, even if you are fighting a war you won't win. I do respect your resolve, Castiel. You do yourself credit, even if you are more idealistic and noble than victorious. We all have our hills to die on.

Lucifer stares back at Cas, raises his chin in challenge, but Cas just stares, unmoved.

"I suppose you will." Lucifer murmurs and leaves Cas to his fate.

Now, if you'll excuse me. I have pressing engagements to attend to and have an appointment with Sam to keep. I hope you find the accommodations to your liking in the meantime. They might be the last you see. Or perhaps not. That's all up to you and your resolve, Cas. Let's see what it gets you.

--

It remains too quiet when they get to Carthage, Missouri, far too quiet for Sam's liking.

Lucifer doesn't send anything over now, nothing at all. It's worrying, seeing as Cas isn't with them, disappeared faster than you can blink.

No time for goodbyes.

He's not dead, Sam. I just wanted to chat.

Sam isn't sure he wants to know what that means, but doesn't have time to dwell on it.

"There you are." They all turn at Meg's voice, seeing as she's the greeting party, now.

Meg's eyebrow quirks, her expression to joyful. Sam holds the gun high.

"Meg!" He yells.

Don't try anything-

He wills over, hoping maybe Lucifer will pass on the message.

"You shouldn't have come here, boys." Meg answers, and Sam can tell Meg is laughing on the inside, hears her courtesy of Lucifer's connection with him, the line between them throbbing even though Sam isn't close enough and hasn't taken anything in for weeks.

No one except for you, Sam. He told you to come alone. You should have listened to him, if you love him so much.

Sam's mouth wants to snarl. He can feel something else coming. A catch. A caveat. He just isn't sure what.

Dean is more ready for a fight. "Yeah, well I could say the same thing for you." Dean starts in and cocks his gun.

"Didn't come here alone, Dean-o." Meg answers aloud. What remains unsaid is clear, even if she isn't broadcasting: You brought your backup. I brought mine.

The puddle at Meg's side splishes as a Hellhound growls at them. More than one.

Shit.

Should've listened, Sam. I told you. Work and play, different strokes for different folks. And I'm much less kind with work, Sam. You should know that by now. 

Sam knows Lucifer picked Hellhounds for a reason. He's just not sure if Dean's the reason, or if it was the most convenient option Sam wouldn't notice out the gate.

Not that, Sam. I just wanted them to make you fetch those closest to you. Bring you to where I'm waiting, since you've been so keen on avoiding me again.

"Hellhounds." Dean answers, teeth gritting, in case Jo and Ellen are blindsided.

Meg's voice is raucous. "Yeah, Dean. Your favorite." But then Meg's voice grows shrewd. "Come on, boys. My father wants to see you."

The offer is clear. And it's an offer for Sam.

Last chance for them to cut and run, and for you to take the kinder option, Sammy. I won't give chase. But I want you. So come on over, baby.

But Sam can't go alone. He can't. He'll fail, he knows he'll fail, Lucifer has too much of a hold on him alone, will just lock him up until he says yes, he knows he will.

"I think we'll pass." Sam answers loudly, the pain etched into his face, because he knows this isn't going to end without someone else paying the price. "Thanks."

Meg eyes him, but still gives him another out, because Sam's answer wasn't for all of them, just himself, and Lucifer's orders were very direct and thorough, seeing as other times, he's let too much slip through the cracks. "Your call. You can make this easy..." Meg shakes her head, then her tone turns dangerous, "Or you can make it really, really hard."

Lucifer, please, please-

You know what you have to do, Sam. You have the keys to the kingdom. But you are just going to let them call the shots, aren't you? Just like you always do. That's why humanity is going to fall, Sam. You give them too much faith and freedom, too much rope to hang themselves and damn them to their own self-destruction.

Sam would reconsider, he would, because he knows what that means. But it's not his call anymore. It's Dean's, and Jo's, and Ellen's.

And Dean looks back at Ellen.

She nods.

"When have you known us to make anything easy?" Dean asks.

Ain't that the truth.

Meg shakes her head.

Dean shoots a Hellhound.

They run.

Meg's laughter follows them.

Sam doesn't wait for anyone else, flees as fast as possible, because if he's caught, he knows just where he's going to be dragged to.

One Hellhound nabs Dean, and another mauls and claws Jo when she goes to save him.

Sam shoots one, Ellen another, and they get inside a building for cover, but the damage is done.

It's bad. Really bad.

And it's all Sam's fault.

Not yours, Sam, remember? They made their bed. Let them lie in it.

Lucifer-

They chose to come here, didn't they? You didn't make them. And I will let them go, Sam. But you have to come to me.

"Safe for now." Dean says.

"Safe or trapped like rats." Sam can't stop himself from answering. He should have known this was how it was going to be.

He knows Lucifer too well.

Maybe he should go, even though he knows it's hopeless. Maybe he can just say no as a prisoner. Maybe that will be enough.

"Hey, you heard Meg. Her father's here. This is our one shot, Sammy." Dean counters. "We got to take it no matter what."

Sam's not sure it's a shot at all. But he'll do what he has to.

For Ellen. For Jo.

Maybe they can get them out before this kills them.

Only then they are running interference from Bobby, and what he says stops Sam in his tracks. "Devil's in the details."

And then Dean is pressing for more information, asking what Ellen's guess of the reapers might mean, and Bobby answers, "It sounds like Death, son. I think Satan's in town to work a ritual."

However did he guess? Sam can taste Lucifer's smug sarcasm all the way from here. Am I that predictable?

Bobby keeps going, not in the know. "I think he's planning to unleash Death."

"You mean, as in this dude and taxes are the only sure thing?" Dean's voice quavers.

"As in Death, the Horseman, the pale rider in the flesh." Bobby clarifies.

That confuses Dean more. But Sam tunes that out, because he can't surrender now, not for anything. There is more going on here, worse things, things Sam can't avert if he walks right into Lucifer's arms to spare the people he loves.

He needs to remember Ellen and Jo would never forgive him, if he traded their lives for his freedom. And there's a whole world to think about. And Sam can take on a Horseman. He can.

He can't do it trapped with Lucifer, though.

"This is the angel of Death. Big Daddy Reaper. They keep this guy chained in a box 600 feet under. Last time they hauled him up, Noah was building a boat." Bobby pauses, and then continues, his voice washing over Sam as he goes numb from all of it. "That's why the place is crawling with reapers. They're waiting on the big boss to show."

You know, despite my distaste for humans, I like your father figure. He has a way of delivering news with such panache.

Is this what this is?

I'm sure you'll find out. I will say, I like digging, Sam. Physical labor is so underrated these days. It's nice, having a body. Feeling all the little things. Dirt under your nails. The handle of a shovel. Flesh. It's nice. Would be nicer to feel you, but... We'll see, won't we? Maybe I can have both death and the other death, the smaller one, after you show your beautiful face?

Then Bobby gives them their location. William Jaspers Farm.

See you later, if all goes well. Until you want to speed this up?

Sam ignores him, trying to think of any way to get out of this. Their odds do not look good.

--

Meg wanders in to join both angels, too smug.

Castiel wants to wipe the smile from her face by all means necessary. Can't, but he does want to.

"I got the Winchesters pinned down, for now, at least. What should I do with them?" She asks, both eyes on the Devil.

Castiel watches Lucifer too, hoping his true form has some tells.

His vessel is all movement, taps his marred face, but unbroken lips.

"Leave them alone."

And Cas sees Lucifer's true form beam at him, too satisfied, and there is a tell. He knows that Lucifer knows that Cas knows about what he's been doing to Sam, and Cas knows that Sam's been having front row seats to a kind of blackmail Cas wouldn't know how to even begin to help him with.

Lucifer has his vessel right where he wants him.

Let him stew, and let's see if he walks out to meet me. Doubt he'll go for it, but still. I can be generous. I do love him, after all.

Cas doesn't have anything to say to that.

Meg doesn't know this dance, not like Cas and Lucifer and Sam do.

"I'm sorry, but are you sure?" She questions. "Shouldn't we-"

Lucifer doesn't like doubt, which is ironic, seeing as criticism is what got him kicked out.

Lucifer cradles Meg's face. The vessel looks kind.

"Trust me, child." Lucifer assures, thumbs glancing over her face with energy, and energy that would promise violence if it could just be let out, before settling on her neck, a neck he'd snap so easily. "Everything happens for a reason."

Lucifer's eyes are flat and dead, inside and out, and his true form... His true form broadcasts emotions as clear as day, and he would burn her out the second it was convenient. Cas can see it in the way his pupils dilate, in the way his many heads tilt, considering. In the way his teeth clench together, but his mouth still salivates for inflicting all the holy fury of an Archangel too long denied his heart's desire.

It's funny, almost, Cas thinks. Meg twisting a knife she doesn't know she's even twisting. Like her, even if she is blind to it.

Still, that's not what they need to worry about.

Sam is trapped, just like Cas, and both need to find a way out. Sam needs Cas to fly him out of here.

He's the only chance Sam has.

"Well, Castiel. You have some time." Lucifer starts in, calm and measured. "Time to change your mind."

That does make Cas stare back, eye to eye with the behemoth before him.

I will not forsake Sam.

Such conviction. But Cas, he doesn't want you to throw your life out the window. Others are dying enough for his sake. And Sam is going to be mine, either way. I promise you that.

--

Lucifer has gone silent, now. Waiting for Sam to make his decision.

And Dean reconvenes with Sam to make a new plan, to track Lucifer down.

Then they try to plan to get Jo and Ellen out, to do anything, but Jo stops them.

She wants to go down fighting.

Dean denies it. But Jo doesn't let him talk her out of it, because she has a plan. And she knows their odds.

"Those are Hellhounds, and they got all our scents." She adds. "And they'll never stop coming after you."

Coming after all of us.

Sam doesn't want to accept it. But he can't stop it.

He can't ever stop it.

Who is he to defy the choices of people who have their priorities mapped out better than him?

It's not Jo or Ellen whose the weak link here.

It's him.

And he can't ask them to live with Lucifer breathing down their necks as a way to get to Sam, not when it won't save them. Not when Lucifer might drag them all to Hell and try another angle.

Sam knows what living with no options means, and he can't do that to them, too.

Let them think they've made a difference, because for all that Sam knows, he knows their sacrifice matters.

And it just might stop the Hellhounds from taking them, from taking Dean...

From dragging Sam down to the Devil, helpless and useless and alone.

"If I can get a shot on the Devil... Dean. We have to take it." Jo makes up her mind.

Sam won't take her freedom to die the way she chooses from her.

Better that than what Lucifer will do to them all, if Sam doesn't play the game he wants him to.

Ellen chooses her death, too. She's not leaving her daughter. Not for anything.

They say their goodbyes.

Sam didn't know he could feel more hollow, until everything explodes behind them.

Death is so often fire, in Sam's life.

He hopes Ellen and Jo went to Heaven quickly, as far from the Devil as they could possibly get.

They made their peace, Sam. They'll die with the only honor humanity can die with. They chose it the moment they ran and made that decision for you.

Sam thinks he might be able to pull the trigger now, when all is said and done.

He knows he can't.

But he wants to, so, so very badly.

--

Am I your dirty little secret, Sammy? Like a mistress you’re sneaking off to see on the side?

Crouched in the underbrush, Sam can feel Lucifer’s icy presence even as far away as they are. Knows Lucifer can feel him, too, but isn’t letting the rigged game appear so, partly out of confidence and partly out of their joint decision to not tell Dean all about their history.

He hasn't stopped talking. Keeps rubbing all of Sam's feelings in his face, even though the pain is too much, because Ellen and Jo are gone...

And Sam led them here, knowing what he knows. It's his fault.

Sam doesn’t want to keep more secrets, but the truth had been too much for even him, and he loved Jess, loved Nick, loved all of what Lucifer was before the full glory of the Archangel started truly focusing on his Apocalypse Now mission. And if it was too much for him, he knew Dean wouldn’t take it well at all.

Especially considering how easily lost that trust was, how easily misplaced with everything that happened with the blood, and with Ruby, and with Dean’s earlier agreement that they separate.

He’d reconsidered, but still. That stung, and Lucifer knew it stung, and Sam didn’t want Lucifer to have any more ammunition against him to keep Sam pitted and alone against the rest of the world, as he waited and waited and kept waiting for Sam to leap into his open arms.

And right now the grief of Ellen and Jo and everyone else was too near, almost ready to swallow him up and damn him to Hell right then and there. They had died, died broken and in pain, and Lucifer was still winning.

That would end tonight. It had to.

This was Sam’s chance to make it right. No matter how much he didn’t want to lose that feeling, that thing craved underneath his skin for Jess, for Lucifer, for the thing that made him feel complete.

This was bigger than him, and he’d sacrifice all he had to fix all of this. It was the least he could do.

He’d been the last thing standing between Lucifer and freedom, and he’d fallen.

He would not fall. Not this time.

Sam wished he believed it. Wished he didn’t feel the trap being sprung, singing inside his skin.

You killed them.

No, Sam. You all could have come to me willingly. But they chose to take the hard way out.

Lucifer-

Don't pretend their sacrifice was necessary. I warned you. I gave them a chance. They made their choice. And I'll bring them back for you, when this is all over, if you still want it, although I doubt you will-

It doesn't change what happened, doesn't erase all the pain you caused-

No, Sam. No, it doesn't. Nothing ever does. That's life. That's how God made humanity. Don't blame me for the faulty design.

“Last words?” Sam asks Dean, and he prays. Knows Lucifer hears that, too.

Knows Lucifer knows Sam’s gunning for him. Knows Lucifer knows he’ll fail.

“I think I’m good.” Dean admits, after a long, long look at his baby brother.

Sam wouldn’t let Dean down this time, either. He couldn’t.

The air smells like death and corpses and dirt, the too-close feeling of dew and pine needles ground into Sam’s shaking hands.

Sam doesn’t look at Dean. Only looks down, takes a breath.

“Yeah. Me, too.” Sam replies with a nod. He isn’t ready. He’s never ready.

But Lucifer is waiting.

Both brothers walk into the eye of the storm.

--

“Hey!” Sam yells, let’s all the muted grief escape. Cocks the gun even though he knows it’s a useless gesture. “You wanted to see me?”

Puts on a show, as if that might fix anything, might serve as a distraction even though there’s no distracting Lucifer, not really.

Lucifer stops digging, and turns back to look at him. Wipes the dirt off his hands, like the blood will wash off them, too.

I have to say, it’s so good to get a look at you in person again. It’s been far, far too long.

For once, he doesn’t look amused or like he knows how this is going to go down. No, Lucifer only looks concerned. But that concern is not reserved for his own welfare. No, he can feel Sam’s warring mind from a mile off.

And he should be, because Lucifer can feel the anguish and determination (misplaced as it was) filling Sam up like a drowning man chokes down air.

“Oh, Sam.” Lucifer starts in, apologetic and wary. “You don’t need that gun here.” He shoots Sam a reassuring smile, a bit too shallow to be genuine, and points, each telegraphed movement measured and unassuming.

Sam, you’re only hurting yourself like this. Why do you insist on making this so painful for yourself?

Sam ignores him, shifts in place as he feels Lucifer dig in deeper around his soul. But Sam’s mind a wall, and his purpose holds true, and he doesn’t keep his eyes off the Devil no matter how much he wants to blink away or scream.

“You know I’d never hurt you.” Lucifer adds, still gentle. And Sam wants to throw him back into captivity, wants to throw him down with both hands wrapped around his throat. Wants to kiss him until he’s consumed into submission just like he did to Sam again, and again, and again.

Too late. Sam thinks. You already have.

“Not really.” Lucifer tacks on, nudges Sam’s mind like a frozen minefield of icicles.

What we have is greater than them, Sam. And I will make all of it right again, rinse away all that misplaced anguish and pain. Everything is going to be okay. You’ll see.

Sam bites down on the inside of his mouth to stop from yelling in response. Hopes his mere presence is enough to keep Lucifer’s attention occupied. Because he knows Lucifer, knows Jess, knows this. And Lucifer’s every bright ray of light revolves around Sam’s soul like a comet trapped in his orbit.

Sam, if you think this is going down with me letting you destroy all my hard work, you’re wrong. What do you think you and Dean are going to accomplish, here, exactly?

And Sam can tell Dean is transparent to the Devil. That when Lucifer’s hidden smile drops as the Colt is held directly to his right temple it’s all for show.

Knows that Lucifer’s humoring Sam, keeping up the façade of concern and surprise all just to prove a point (just like Jess did that one time in Sidona, when other tourists pissed her off, Sam remembers, but doesn’t let the memory make a dent, because this is nothing like that, it isn’t).

Proving to Dean: That he’s not going to lose, that he’s coming for Sam one way or another.

And proving to Sam he’s not getting out of this easily. That the sooner Sam caves, the sooner they can play nice.

“Yeah? Well, I’d hurt you.” Dean answers, all vitriol, all protective. “So suck it.”

Lucifer’s guarded face is the opposite of everything he’s sending over to Sam.

You’re trying your best, Sam, I know. But your best isn’t going to cut it. You’re only human, after all, and our destiny is waiting, and adds, I’ll spare Dean, I promise. He’s trying so hard, too.

One shot rings out.

Lucifer crumples to the ground.

And Sam can’t celebrate, he can’t. Because he can feel Lucifer all around him, icy and engulfing like a miniature storm. Felt the pain of the shot like it had hurt him, too. Feels it fade and choke away as the Devil coalesces back together.

Told you, kiddo.

And Sam feels their last gasp of hope flicker and die as it slips away into nothing.

Looks at Dean anyway, because there is nothing else to do. His teeth still glint in the night, his chest still shivering into silent, racking sobs because there is nothing else, nothing, and if he screams, Dean, no it didn’t work, it didn’t take… then Dean would know, and those were some answers he could not say aloud. Could barely admit to himself.

Lucifer takes in a gasp of air for dramatic effect.

“Ow.” Lucifer starts, inhaling sharply, then rises to his feet like the bullet didn’t make a dent at all.

And Sam can’t look at Dean’s face. Can’t bear it.

The shame and fear and self-loathing is too much. So is the traitorous thought that he’s glad it didn’t work, and he can’t think that, he won’t, but he does and that hurts more.

Man, that little thing sure can pack a mean punch. The things we do for love, Sam, am I right?

“Where did you get that?” Lucifer demands from Dean, as if he’s not a caricature of angry, and Sam feels all of Lucifer’s couched superiority and glee, knows there is a tiny speck of anger because Dean is human and he knows Lucifer’s stance on humanity, even if Dean is Michael’s vessel and right now trying to protect Sam. Knows the Devil’s anger is all for show, deep down.

Can’t have big brother catching on, can we?

And Lucifer backhands Dean and sends him flying across the clearing into a tree.

It will barely even leave a bruise, Sam. He hurts me, I hurt him. Fair is fair. Besides, it won’t do for Dean to try and take on more than he can chew. If it was anyone else, well, he could have gotten seriously injured. I’m practically doing him a favor.

And now it’s Lucifer and Sam, left all alone.

And Lucifer drops the smokescreen now that Dean’s knocked out and down for the count.

“Now, where were we?” Lucifer asks, smug grin too tight.

And the panic is welling back in Sam now, and he can’t stop taking in too much oxygen…

You-

Sammy, you need to learn to let things go. Always holding on with both hands and praying it’s enough. Your pain is breaking my heart.

“Don’t feel too bad, Sam.” Lucifer continues, arms movements still deliberate and slow to try and keep Sam from flinching away, “There’s only five things in all of creation that that gun can’t kill,” And Lucifer shrugs, the farthest from apologetic, “And I just happen to be one of them.”

Sam doesn’t reply, looks back at Dean, lips trembling. All his being feels stretched too tight, especially with the Devil’s true form wheeling closer and closer. He won’t cry, he won’t, but he knows the Devil can feel his desperation, his loss, his budding realization that there are no other options, no way to run or fight this anymore.

And Sam knows just how far Lucifer will go to have him, knows it intimately.

Human denial is such a strange thing, wouldn’t you agree?

“But if you give me a minute, I’m almost done.” Lucifer finishes cheerfully, having made his point crystal clear.

Still, it’s long worn out its welcome, Sammy. Time to smell the roses. Besides, we have so much catching up to do after all those years apart, other rendezvous non-withstanding.

And Sam can’t stay still or away or anything anymore, drawn in to the Devil like he’s water sucked down a drain. He ignores it, checks on Dean to assuage the guilt that just won’t die.

He’s fine, Sam. I wouldn’t lie to you. He’s just out like a light. Now, come on over, sweetheart. We have a lot of things to work out.

“You know,” Lucifer clears his throat, stops digging, and Sam looks back up, a horrified moth drawn to a flame. “I don’t suppose you’d just say ‘yes’ right here and now? End this whole tiresome discussion?”

Lucifer shakes his head- false frown altogether too casual, as if he isn't asking for anything major- even though he already knows the answer. He extends his offer anyway, like he’s done night after night after night in Sam’s dreams.

It would save us so much time and pain, Sam. You know how this ends, how it’s all going to go down. Stop running from me.

Sam rises to his feet.

The Devil doesn’t stop talking.

“That’s crazy, right?” Lucifer suggests, and Sam can’t stay silent any longer. Tears start welling up but he crushes them, crushes them down with every other feeling he cannot bear to feel.

“It’s never going to happen!” Sam shouts, the sound throaty and raw with all the losses accrued today. All the people he’s failed. All the times he’s failed himself.

You have nothing to offer me. You lied.

Samuel, I did nothing of the sort. Your grief has blinded you, made you unnecessarily cruel.

Lucifer crosses his arms and resumes digging, as if that will calm Sam down. Or perhaps it’s just to calm himself, because Sam can feel the start of the anger and pain set in, the unwanted burnt-wire taste of rejection settling inside his throat, and all the while Lucifer makes a face, like Sam is the one over-reacting.

“Oh, I don’t know, Sam. I think it will.” Lucifer grounds out, a smidgen of frustration sharpening his tone as he digs in with a bit more force, and Sam flicks his head as if he could throw Lucifer’s words away, but Lucifer keeps going, “I think it’ll happen soon. Within six months.”

Wanna bet on it?

“And I think it will happen,” Lucifer isn’t having Sam’s resistance anymore, all his expectations shining through, blue eyes luminous even as the Archangel’s burning desire is trying to convey something beyond its limits over the insufficient the pale flesh of his face, “In Detroit.”

All Sam can see is Jess when she knows she’s won an argument. When she knows she’s going to have her way.

Sam doesn’t raise his voice this time, although his voice breaks all the same.

“You listen to me, you son of a bitch,” The words are bile in his throat.

But I’ve been listening, Sam, been listening and waiting so patiently.

Shut up.

“I’m going to kill you myself.” Sam hisses, eyes not leaving the Devil for a moment. He can see the hunched, bright, scarred and burning True Form of the Devil shining so brilliantly, awash in a light that made him feel cold and bathed in ecstatic joy as wings brushed over his skin, and Sam would not let Lucifer have this. “You understand me?”

Liar, liar. Pants on fire. Like when I burned on the ceiling, see? 

But Sam was not going to Lucifer win this. He had promised.

“I am going to rip your heart out!” Sam promises, and he lets all the heartbreak and pain and everything he’s held back since the Cage opened tear the Devil apart.

Let’s Lucifer feel every keening bit of non-mercy, every tidal wave of betrayal Sam had been treading water against from day one.

Like you ripped out mine.

Yet Lucifer is still too calm, too assured. Triumphant in a way he had no right to be.

Oh, Sam... My Sammy.

“That’s good, Sam.” Lucifer relishes, and Sam feels the whole span of the Archangel stretch and yawn open, wide with joy and stimulation, “You keep fanning that fire in your belly. All that pent up rage.” Lucifer turns back and winks, smile promising Sam the world in all of its worst ways. “I’m gonna need it.”

You can’t run for this or me, Sam. No more games. No more waiting.

And Sam is choked with the beginning of fear as the rage starts to fail him.

Feels a hundred mouths kissing every inch of him as he watches the sacrifices Lucifer has arranged. Helpless. Alone.

And Lucifer’s sudden rush of satisfaction and promised bloodshed and crowning fury fills Sam with something he thought he had kept buried deeper below everything else.

“What did you do?” Sam demands, inhales, it’s too much, and he knows there’s no going back now, the Devil’s not playing around, “What did you do to this town?”

 What are you going to do to them, what are you-

What they were made for, Sam. Just as God’s plan for them designed.

“Oh, I was very generous with this town.” Lucifer answers, voice falsely out of breath, as if that somehow makes this more conversational, “One demon for every able bodied man.”

“And the rest of them?” Sam thinks he knows where this is going and he prays, No, no.

Oh, yes.

Lucifer stops and takes in Sam’s expression, his own at odds with every emotion found there. Indulgent. Vengeful. Pleased.

“In there.” Lucifer gestures to the ground.

And Sam starts to break.

There’s no stopping this, Sammy. Nowhere else for you or them or anyone else to go.

“I know, it’s awful.” The Devil shrugs as if it’s nothing and keeps digging, always digging, like he’s ready to dig the grave of the whole entire world, “But these horsemen are so demanding. So it was women and children first.”

And Sam can’t take this, he can’t.

How dare you, you can't, you didn't-

But I did, Sammy, I did. And I would do it all again, if it means I get to have you. All these lives are God’s only reparations for the wrongs he has committed against me. It’s been a long time coming. Too long.

Sam swallows, too still. Lucifer sighs, shoots him another apologetic smile.

Whatever it takes, Sammy. I'm not letting us be kept apart again. I promised you, didn't I?

“I know what you must think of me, Sam.” Lucifer adds, finally a note of weight, of resolve, of almost-but-not-quite regret bleeding through his tone, “But I have to do this. I have to.”

And Sam can feel that certainty ringing like a bell around his heart.

“You of all people should understand.” Lucifer states.

And Sam does, can feel every single reason Lucifer has done exactly what he’s done.

It doesn’t make it right or any easier or mean he’s along for this ride, because he isn’t, he won’t be, he can’t-

But you will, Sam. You will be.

“And what’s that supposed to mean?” Sam demands, because that’s all he has left, are implied questions he already knows the answer to, are answers he doesn’t want to know.

And Lucifer’s seemingly endless patience finally starts to break. Lucifer throws the shovel down, his eyes not leaving Sam’s face.

No more denials, Sam. No more. You can’t keep pretending this isn’t what this is.

“I was a son.” Lucifer lets the hurt punctuate his words, let’s all the long, long years of captivity cascade into his words, “A brother, like you.”

And he’s walking closer now to Sam, always closer and closer. Stops short.

“A younger brother. And I had an older brother who I loved. Idolized, in fact.” Lucifer adds, Just like you, Sam. “And one day, I went to him and I begged him to stand with me. And Michael,” Lucifer pauses, and Sam wants to cry but he can’t, because he lives every moment of betrayal along with his own hurt and his own fears and his own pain just like Lucifer’s choking him and swallowing him up, feels the ice clutching his heart far too close to home…

And Lucifer doesn’t stop, still burning with frozen purpose too long and too ancient and too beyond what Sam can contain, “Michael turned on me. Called me a freak. A monster.”

Just like you, Sam. We’re the same. I know you see it. Why can’t you accept my protection?

No, no more. Just, stop this, please, you don't have to do this, there's always another way-

Listen to me, Sam. Listen.

“And then he beat me down, all because I was different. Because I had a mind of my own.” And Lucifer is all bitter and furious and empty of anything but merciless purpose, of glazed over clarity of all that needs to be done.

And Sam can feel all that history dousing him, feels claws and hands and fingertips and wings holding him there, until he’s inhaling it all, kept drowning under the floodgates – and Sam can’t breathe, cricks his neck because all the love and purpose and expectations and empathy the Devil is injecting into his soul, pure and distilled, caresses under Sam’s tongue and naval and diaphragm and under every nailbed– until he can feel only Lucifer pouring himself into Sam’s soul, can feel only the memory of betrayal and want and need and this togetherness he’s been trying to eradicate since day one and Sam can’t, he can’t, and both Lucifer and Sam know it.

“Tell me something, Sam.” Lucifer’s voice is too soft now, even more bitter, and the ancient hate and betrayal still scrunches up his imperfect human face, “Any of this sound familiar?”

Sam has never hated Lucifer more than this moment. And the hate chokes him, because Sam knows, just as Lucifer knows, there is nowhere that this ends except with Sam saying yes, because Lucifer is everything Sam’s soul has cried out for, ever wanted.

And Sam can never find an escape.

No more, Sam. You belong to me. Let us have what we need. No more running from me. No more hiding.

Lucifer looks at him. Cool, clear. Victorious.

And Sam knows he’s going to see that same not-a-smile-but-worse when he goes to sleep, because Lucifer is always there, always.

Let me take you home, Sam.

And then Lucifer, secure and assured in his dominion, in his purpose, in his war and conquest of not only the world but the one person he’s wanted since Sam was promised and made his, let’s all of that feeling drop and fade. Like he hadn’t torn Sam into pieces, carved out his place in Sam’s unwilling heart all over and over again.

“Anyway, you’ll have to excuse me,” Lucifer finishes, fingertips prickling and flexing in expectation, “I have a ritual to finish.”

Lucifer gives one last look at Sam, his eyes too inhuman and too full of want for Sam to process, because he knows Sam is his captive audience and that he doesn’t have anywhere else to go. Voices it, because he’s just that much of a smug, possessive bastard who likes making Sam see just how stranded he is.

“Don’t go anywhere.” Lucifer commands, then smiles and points, “Not that you would if you could.”

And Sam looks down, checks on Dean even though he knows his condition already, because he has no more fight left to give, has no more losses he can take. It’s almost the end of line, the balance of the world and his friends and his family all crumbling, it’s all only a matter of when

Dean comes to just as Lucifer’s finishing the words of the ritual, and Sam can’t peal his eyes away because the grace is swelling up around him, rustling through his hair like a crown, whispering, Soon, Sammy, soon

The hapless bodies of Lucifer’s victims’ crash to the ground, sacrifice complete.

And Lucifer smiles.

You’ll come to me.

Sam holds his gaze, arrested, because there’s another feeling there, too, one more violent than the rest.

“What?” Lucifer asks, nonchalant. “They’re just demons.”

Imperfect, flawed souls with nothing left to give. Nothing like you, Sam. Nothing like me.

You made them-

Are you implying you care, Sam? After everything these parasites have done to you?

And Sam can see all the broken parts of the Devil. All the untold destruction promised to be wreaked on the rest of the world, unfolding right before his very eyes, settling down between his shoulder-blades as the Devil’s grace kisses his cheek.

The ground begins to quake.

Castiel flies in, holds a finger to his lips.

Sam can feel Lucifer's unflustered notice, but the Devil does not interfere with their escape.

I already have you, Sam. You take however much time you need. It won't be long now.

Sam still feels the ghost of his smile even after he’s far, far away.

Hears, Time to welcome Death to the party.

And, See you soon, Sammy.

Chapter Text

Everything freezes as the Gabriel morphs into the familiar face of the Trickster, smug grin lighting up his face in a way that he can tell Dean does not appreciate.

"You guys are getting better!" He yells, self-indulgent, even if his eyes still keep that constant cynical edge that's never left him as Dean keeps him pressed into the wall.

"Get us the hell out of here." Dean growls. It's not exactly threatening, not in a way that will stick, but Gabriel can't help but picture Michael behind his eyes, and that makes him less inclined to joke again.

To cover the moment, Gabriel lets his vessel's eyes dart and raises his eyebrows, and then gifts Dean a mock look of concern for good measure.

"Or what?" He asks softly. Then he forcibly wrenches Dean's hands off the front of his throat, twisting Dean's arm painfully as he crushes his elbow. Proving a point.

Dean's face screws up in pain, breaking the illusion earlier, and he almost looks offended that Gabriel is just that strong.

"Don't see you have wooden stakes, big guy." He adds, laughter in his voice, patting Dean's shoulder like the force behind the action itself isn't a threat on its own.

Sam's eyes are slits as he glares from behind Dean, and his expression remains flat. Gabriel doesn't exactly appreciate that either, although he understands where he's coming from. Sam really is slow on the uptake, though. Lucifer's been sniffing around and making his claim known, intent on keeping everyone else far away, and Sam's still gunning for that picture perfect solution to things in play long before he was even born. Not like it will solve anything.

Gabriel knows it won't.

Lucifer always wants too much, and he takes whatever he pleases. Gabriel doesn't really begrudge Sam whatever reticence he has, though: being Lucifer's vessel must be exhausting. Then again, he did bring it on himself, for being so easily played. Not that he could control that, seeing as this song and dance was choreographed a long time ago.

Although, if Michael's few outbursts before Lucifer got cast out were anything to go by, Sam had done something unforgivable before he was even born. Gabriel isn't sure what. But whatever it was, the grudge had predated both him and Raphael, and Gabriel almost wants to blame Sam if it wasn't for the fact that when it comes down to it, all of this is on Mike and Luci and the two bozos' endless inability to get over anything.

That alone makes Gabriel want Sam to say yes. Poor sucker might be screwed either way, and his family might then rip each other apart, but that's been happening very slowly for a long time already, and then it will be over, one way or another, and Sam won't be alone, trying to navigate all of this without any chance of success.

Gabriel doesn't exactly support either Winchester, not by a longshot: the two are a bit too bull-headed and righteous and think they're in control when they're like stumbling babies in the dark. But Gabriel does have some slight respect for Sam. Not many people can get him to change his mind on things, and Sam had done it through dogged perseverance and an inability to quit.

Gabriel was still a bit out of sorts about it, truth be told. It shouldn't have been easy to sympathize with Sam's loyalty to his brother. But it had, and now Gabriel was stuck trying to knock sense into these two helpless knuckleheads. He wishes he could be young and dumb and naive enough to believe in a third option. But he's seen this whole debacle over and over again. There's no talking the sibs down. Never works.

"That was you on the police scanner, right? This is a trick." Sam's voice is a low rumble in his chest.

Gabriel gives Sam a thin-lipped, pinched look that soon morphs into a roll of his eyes and cavalier dismissal, but underneath, he can tell Luci's swimming around in Sam's head, demanding his location like some particularly clingy significant other struggling with a long distance relationship. It must suck so much, having Lucifer inside your head.

Then again, his own true vessel, Enkidu, had been more than okay with their whole deal, kinda into it. Didn't even mind the face-swap with Loki to stay under the radar- been a real chill guy these past six thousand years. Michael and Lucifer got the more modern true vessels, after all. The end of times, and all that. Raphael's was back in Babylon, although he'd ditched that one years ago, no real need to travel the Earth 'til now. Still possessed the descendants, while Gabe stuck with his for the long haul. Not like he treated those vessels right, but then again, Raphael had always been a bit more cruel than even Michael, given the right push. Nihilism tended to suppress any and all empathy, and he'd always been a bit more prone to judgement, being the middle child of the family. If Raff hadn't felt so betrayed by Lucifer, too, Gabe wonders if he would've sided with him and blamed the humans for their familial spats, too.

When it came to Luci, though, all things considered, maybe Sam's more into it than he lets on. True Vessel bonds are no joke, and Gabriel's heard rumors about Luci not being as trapped as anticipated before the Cage even popped its lid. Gabe didn't really do any digging: that's fucking suicide, seeing how much Luci's done to cover his tracks. But Sam's dreams still sing out grace when Lucifer enters them, and Gabriel's accidentally caught a few stray words here and there. Gabriel's not really one to judge, although he's not banking on Sam being chipper about it, not by a longshot. Lucifer can be really, really demanding even at the best of time. Needy. Likes attention. Like Gabriel does, too. That's half the reason they got along so well, at least before...

And thinking about that just makes Gabriel's mood go sour, so he stops. No use bemoaning what is just going to go bad again. His family is full of bad apples, the whole lot of them. No use expecting anything else.

When he replies, he draws out every syllable as his brow furrows and his mouth turns into an O, every movement exaggerated, like Sam's some dumb animal that hasn't quite gotten with the program yet, even though he has to be slick about this, not giving any nerves away. "Hello? Trickster." He motions to his face with a quick circle, expression turning amiable again as he exclaims, talking fast again, "Come on! I heard you two yahoos were in town. How could I resist?" Then he shrugs his shoulders, hands rising and falling with his arms, as if they've been buddies this whole time, even if his tone belies the edge they can feel brimming underneath.

"Where the hell are we?" Dean demands.

"Like it?" Gabriel trills, shifting from foot to foot. "It's all homemade. My own sets," He raps on the walls and waves a hand around in a big, sweeping gesture, always aware that presentation is everything, and adds, "My own actors..." Then he spins back around on his heels, leaning as the sole of one tennis shoes squeaks against the floor, and gestures to Brothers Grimm, Gabriel's own rising stars, even as he lets some self-indulgent mockery seep in again as he finishes, "Call it my own little idiot box."

And what an idiot box it is. Cut off from so many things on the outside, metaphysical and otherwise. You can't be in witness protection without some kind of housing plan when the going gets rough, after all. Not that it will really hold if Dean and Sam stick around too long. Only reason little Castiel is even aware of where they are is because he got sucked in tracking them down to the exact location, and that was enough of a headache on it's own without considering the bigger players.

Like big brother himself. Gabriel can feel Lucifer searching for Sam, and that alone had made this whole gamble almost not worth it. But the warding and juice he'd tossed in here should be enough to keep Sam's location from pinging big brother's radar for now. It's not easy, and not infallible, but Gabriel doesn't intend to keep them here forever.

They don't need to know that, though.

Not for the first time, Gabriel is grateful Michael is so sure of himself and the future that he doesn't mind when Dean goes completely AWOL. Sam doesn't have that luxury, though, and that's what worries Gabriel most.

If Luci does show up, maybe he can say it was all to get them to dance their tango, no outside coercion or foul play necessary, seeing as that's the name of the game. Gabriel doubts that will fly, if he's being honest, seeing as Lucifer will still see it as people touching what's his. And he hates sharing. Best to get them in and out and on the right track, so Gabriel doesn't have to worry about his family honing in and trying to suck him into drama he's sworn off years ago.

Sam might be unlucky getting dragged back into the fray, but Gabriel ain't gonna be one to follow in his footsteps.

"How do we get out?" Dean asks, his fear and impatience clear as day.

Gabriel points at him, tilting his head, but makes sure it's jerky enough that the movement doesn't get the gears turning in either brother's heads', either. Don't need them thinking he's anything beyond what they think they know. "That, my friend, is the sixty-four-dollar question."

"Whatever." Sam grunts, then his voice turns plaintive and higher pitched from whatever exhausted feelings have been keeping him awake at night.  "We just, we need to talk to you. We need your help." He adds, sounding as pathetically lost as he looks.

Yeah. Gabriel's sure Lucifer hasn't exactly been a peach now, if Jolly Green Giant here is asking him, of all people, for help.

But Gabriel isn't exactly in a charitable mood. He tried to warn him and was ignored. And then goes and Sam breaks the last lock on Luci's lockbox, even though, chances are, they could've put this Apocalypse business off for a few more years. Gabriel does begrudge him that, and buyers remorse isn't exactly something Gabriel gets behind, on principle. And he knows how dangerously good Sam is at making him empathetic, so he throws his own walls up and forces any kind of sympathy out of his system.

He gives Sam a look of fake seriousness, pouting his lips together, his eyebrows drawing close together before his expression turns all brusque business.

"Hm, let me guess." Gabriel sighs, sweeping a hand that's in a shape like he'll be making shadowpuppets of the devil on the wall, with pinky and index finger pointing at the two lone wolves like they're hapless children. "You two muttonheads broke the world, and you want me to sweep up your mess."

Sam gives him his best reasonably desperate look without trying to look too helpless.

"Please. Just five minutes. Hear us out." He asks, tone level.

Damn those eyes.

Gabriel shrugs, voice turning less sharp. "Sure," He answers, more of a mumble, really, before he keeps going, full steam ahead, perking up like this is the highlight of his day. His voice turns perky too, like they aren't in for another lesson that will leave them sore and maybe actually make them reflect on their actions and how they affect other people. Not that it's really their fault: fate and everything else have got them by the cojones, and Michael been masterminding this just as much as Lucifer, so Gabriel supposes he can't completely blame them.

Then again... Luci and Mike aren't here, and the two make damn good substitutes for Gabriel's anger, even if they don't know who they're standing in for.

"Tell you what." Gabriel proposes, all faux consideration. "Survive the next twenty-four hours, we'll talk."

If they die from sheer stubbornness... It's not ideal, but it'll still hasten the end of the world. Mike and Luci can't say he wasn't a good brother, either, because it's not like he didn't offer them both what they want on a silver platter. Can't say he's taking sides that way, too, although they'll insist he does. Then he'll have to find a way to hide out again, or he'll just get stuck in the nexus of the prize fight of the millenia.

Not like they won't get all pissy whether Gabe kills their true vessels or held back. His big brothers are already angry he left, or in Luci's case, didn't stand up for him. And it'll give up their locations and get them in position for the big endgame, and then they can move this farce along and Gabe won't have to watch what happens after. Maybe by that point, Raff will actually join him on the sidelines, since he's so convinced Michael can take Luci on his own.

Gabriel suddenly feels very bitter, which isn't something he's accustomed to. Or maybe it's not that. Maybe he just feels lonely.

Maybe he misses Dad.

Then he feels bitter for real. Serves him right, for ditching them, when he could've put a stop to all this.

It's the only thing Gabriel agreed with Raff on, after Lucifer was gone. Dad leaving meant they could do whatever they wanted. Not like he gave a damn.

"Survive what?" Dean asks, a beautiful look of confusion flushing his angry, angry face.

"The game!" Gabriel whoops, arms fluttering again as he licks his lips.

"What game?" Dean slings back immediately, all stoic.

"You're in it." Gabriel elucidates, bobbing his head with all the confidence in the world.

"How do we play?" Dean asks, glancing away and back. He looks thrown.

Sam remains very, very still. He knows exactly what kinds of games Gabriel goes for, and isn't looking forward to another round.

"You're playing it." Gabriel says easily, watching as Sam keeps his eyes on his brother, like Gabriel might try to shank him just for fun.

"What are the rules?" Dean asks, even more impatient, grasping at straws or trying to stall and failing so very miserably.

Gabriel waggles his eyebrows at him, half-a-smile not once leaving his face. Inside, he just feels empty.

Then he feels Castiel trying to kick down the wards with the equivalent of what's left of his grace, a feeling like half-imploded dynamite. He's really not doing too hot, but Gabriel can't let that kind of behavior slide.

He can tell Luci's already growing frantic from how still Sam has remained, and how much he isn't talking, or trying to reason his way out of this. Otherwise, Gabriel's pretty sure Sam would've tried to pin him by the throat, too, just for the principle of the thing.

Gabriel gives a wink and flies off without another word, hidden under the glitz and glamour of shaky TV static.

Just move this damn conga line along, and we can all get this over with. Gabriel thinks.

--

"Oh, son of a bitch." Dean groans after him as the set roars back to life.

Sam bites the inside of his mouth, trying to ignore the mounting pressure in his skull.

Reasoning with Lucifer isn't exactly something that is easily achieved on a good day, and right now, with Sam completely off the radar, Lucifer is practically having a miniature panic attack, which mostly just manifests as possessive promises and murderous intent for whoever so much as dared breathe on Sam wrong, or, in this case, abducted him.

I can't give you my location even if I wanted to. I have no clue where we even are.

Oh, I'll find you, Sammy. That's a promise.

Sam doesn't deign another response. The last thing he needs is Lucifer showing up, or trying to hunt down a potential ally, even if Sam doesn't trust the Trickster as far as he can throw them.

Not like he's being exactly helpful.

But if they can get through this...

There's gotta be a chance he can do something. That he doesn't want the end of the world.

He certainly seems to like human inventions enough, and is definitely the type to get easily bored, if this game is anything to go by.

Still had a sick sense of humor though. The kind only the joker finds funny, and not the audience.

 --

There's banging on the other side of the door of the gameshow room.

Cas, the slippery sucker he is, somehow has glibly sneaked on through Gabriel's warding and right past him. Had to have been something he'd done with the Enochian on the boys ribs. He'd been the one to carve them up, after all. Probably made them easier for him alone to find.

“Cas?” Dean asks, not daring to hope.

“Is this another trick?” Sam gasps, still winded. Gabriel doesn't really feel bad about his injuries, either. Not like Lucifer will be eager to get all handsy if Sam's still sore. He's doing him a favor, really.

That, and it is half Gabriel's revenge for Sam being really loud in his dreams. Grace sound carries, and Lucifer knows it. Big brother really is a dick. Good thing Gabriel's used to much more creative setups, or he'd have been permanently scarred for life. Might explain the stick up Raff's and Mikey's asses, though. Gabe wouldn't put it past them to add that to their ever-growing list of reasons why Lucifer needs to be purged from all of creation. Cohabiting with mortals and all that. Big no-no.

If only they knew what Gabe's been up to all these years, with Kali, and many others. They'd probably lump him right in with Lucifer's side without even missing a beat. Other Gods were looked down on even more than humans, seeing as they were made by Dad to be his instruments against the competition.

But back to business. Little Cassie can't be throwing a wrench in things, and if Lucifer realizes how close the seraph is to Sam, well... That messes with Gabriel's entire operation.

And Gabriel still doesn't have a death wish. More the opposite, really.

“It's me." Cas assures, surveying his surroundings for anything that might try to subdue him. "Uh, what are you doing here?” Cas asks, also thrown by the setting, seeing as he's been breaking through the equivalent of a maze full of Enochian symbols and enough warding to make the symbols holding the arc together Ark look tame, from way back in the days of the flood.

“Us? What are you doing here?” Dean counters, giving Cas a look. Do they look like they signed up for this?

“Looking for you. You've been missing for days.” Cas explains.

“So get us the hell out of here, then!” Sam interrupts, frantic. Between Lucifer trying to track him down and the damn Trickster's sadistic sense of humor, he's sure that abandoning this plan is the better option. A far, far better option.

Castiel appears to catch his drift, and holds out both his arms to grab hold and fly them out. 

“Let's go.” He says, but before he can grab them, he winks out of existence in another flare of TV static.

“Cas?” Dean asks, tone not quite betraying that he's terrified out of his mind.

What the TV host says about "pretty boy angels" gets Dean thinking, though.

There's not many creatures that have met anything like Cas...

And if the Trickster knows that much...

What else is he hiding?

--

"How long do we have to keep doing this?" Dean grits out under his breath.

The laugh tracks are really getting to him.

Sam's not doing much better. His migraine has only gotten worse.

Lucifer's quiet, though, thankfully, even if that makes Sam more afraid that he's getting close. It's not like he wants to be found in real life. But ever since Cas showed up, he's got the only lead he can go off of. Although Sam can tell from the muffled rage, that he hasn't pinned Cas down, either.

Sam hopes Cas is okay. 

"I don't know." Sam hisses through gritted teeth, faking a smile to keep the game from turning on them. "Maybe forever? We might die in here."

And Sam's not happy about that either. He can practically feel Lucifer breathing down his neck, waiting for Sam's location to be given up one way or another.

The next laugh track makes Dean lose it.

"How was that funny? Vultures." He shouts, looking for all intents and purposes like he's going to axe murder the invisible, nonexistent, forever-laughing audience. Then he turns back to Sam.

 A door opening interrupts them, and Cas strides back on to the scene, visibly injured, although not compared to other beatings he's taken. Still looks like he got in a fist-fight, though, with blood running down his face.

"You okay?" Dean asks, walking closer.

"I don't have much time." Cas explains, standing as if frozen, hands moving in the tight, terse way that means he doesn't feel safe inside Jimmy's skin.

"What happened?" Deanpresses.

"I got out." Castiel stresses, like that means something more than they understand.

"From where?" Dean asks.

"Listen to me. Something is not right. This thing is much more powerful than it should be." Castiel points out, because that's the crux of the matter. If this things more powerful than him, there's no way he's gonna be able to fly them out of here, no matter what he tries. Knowing what they're up against is all they can salvage of the situation.

"What thing—the Trickster?" Dean asks, all his words running together.

Cas nods, replying in earnest. "If it is a trickster."

"What do you mean?" Sam presses, and when Cas looks at him, it's with panic in his eyes.

Before Cas can answer, he's slammed back into the wall by an invisible force, and he cries out, clearly hurt on an angelic level, not just a surface wound.

That's not good.

Inside Sam's head, Lucifer tracks Sam's rising fear, and his own interest piques, grace arching inside him and crackling like he's found a new angle to fray apart and find his prey. He hasn't been able to feel anything except Sam's soul, whatever force scrambling his location and whatever's trapping him still holding fast, for now.

The trickster bounds in, bowing, bouncing on his feet like he's having the time of his life. "Hello! Thank you. Thank you, ladies." He adds, pointing, closing the door with enough force to make it sleep.

Castiel's mouth is duct-taped shut when he's next rising to his feet, his eyes not once leaving the trickster himself. Sam sees recognition there, and wonders...

So he knows Cassie?

Looks like.

And he likes juvenile, violent pranks?

You don't see me laughing.

...Devil-May-Care attitude? Horrible fashion sense? Prone to excessive dramatic displays and no care for taking responsibility or experiencing consequences for his actions?

Lucifer grows silent, after that. Feelers receding, like he knows something Sam doesn't.

Do you know who he is?

But Lucifer doesn't answer. Sam's suddenly hit with a lot of anger and loss all at once, but doesn't have much time to speculate as to why Lucifer's a powder keg all over again.

--

"Hi, Castiel!" Gabriel sings out, and the shock on the little seraph's face is only dwarfed by his sheer existential need to shield Sam and Dean from another Archangel.

Not that they can hear his grace screaming that at him. Or that he can get a line out to angel radio. Gabriel angel-proofed this place to hide his own signature completely: something as low on power as Castiel won't even make a sound, or a dent in the warding.

Cas looks at Sam like he can stare the answer into his eyes, and Sam notes his expression, suspicions growing...

Gabriel flicks a wave at Cas, and Castiel disappears in static again.

Even if Cas didn't give away the game, Gabriel can see Sam's micro-expressions. Lucifer suspects, then, even if he hasn't spilled the beans.

Means he's gotta get this show on the road, if he doesn't want to be tracked down.

Hey, this was a gamble. Gabriel likes those, even if his calculations for his odds tend to be on the overly-optimistic side.

Raff was the one who liked math, not him.

--

Sam's mind whirs a mile a minute.

There's not too many things Lucifer and Cas would get so emotional about on a personal level.

So that makes this one an angel.

Which doesn't bode well for them.

"You know him?" Sam asks, all the raw feelings clutched in his throat. Panic, now, real panic, because angels aren't exactly gunning to stop the apocalypse. Quite the opposite, in fact.

Sam is really starting to regret thinking they could ask for help.

"Where did you just send him?" Dean demands, all danger.

The "Trickster" waves them off, dismissive as ever.

"Relax, he'll live." He says, all easygoing, until he hunches his shoulders and rubs his hands together as he trills, "...Maybe."

The accompanying laugh track finally makes Dean lose it, and he stalks the angel down.

"All right, you know what?" Dean growls, walking around Sam, who just stands there, trying to demand answers or to get a clue, and not getting anything. Dean licks his lips and a muscle twitches in his jaw as he looms over the vessel of the Archangel. Not that it scares him one bit. Doesn't stop Dean from trying though, as he spits, "I am done with the monkey dance, okay? We get it."

"Yeah?" And then their captor gives a flick of his head, a tilt Sam would see for what it is. His voice isn't jovial or playing pretend now. It's all cynicism. All bitter, you-are-a-tiny-speck before me angelic sass, the same douchey calling card they've been dealing with for a while. This one just has attitude.

The question is, why the elaborate setup?

Why hide them from everyone, from both sides?

What angel would even have the juice to hide from Lucifer?

And... Oh.

Oh.

My brother has no sense of propriety.

Yeah, I can tell. Not exactly how I pictured him, from the way you talked about him.

He's changed. We all have. Falling in with Pagans, though. That's a new low, even for him.

Says you. The actual Devil.

Sam. Don't test my patience. I'm not in the most forgiving mood, and I could catch up to you, today, if all goes well. And I'm sure Gabriel wouldn't hesitate to hand you over, if I found you both in time. I'm surprised, though. Usually he's far smarter than this. Michael and I must've made him antsy. Explains why he's been so cagey, seeing as he's been hiding under a rock. 

Internally, Sam stands frozen. Here they are, thinking they are trying to find another way out, and turns out they just run right into the very thing that is smack dab in the middle of the mess they've been trying to dig themselves out of.

Sam could laugh.

This is his life.

That, and Sam remembers 'Jess' talking about her brothers, the very few times they ever did. And he thinks he might know which one this is.

But he doesn't want to spook another Archangel. Every other brother except for Cas has been a minefield, and he's not anxious for this to turn into Mystery Spot again, with Dean's guts spilled on the floor.

Not until they know they have a way out.

This is Gabriel? Sam repeats. Mostly on principle, seeing as this is definitely not like the lore.

The one and only. Looks like he's fallen off the bandwagon pretty hard since we last spoke.

And that was...?

Before I fell.

Lucifer falls silent again. Dangerously so.

Sam lets himself absorb all the history there. Tries to get a sense of what they're up against, since Lucifer isn't shielding much. There's a lot of memory bleed-through. It's slightly overwhelming.

"Get what, hotshot?" The angel goads, eyes still trained on Dean. Although his gaze flicks to Sam, like he can tell Lucifer and him are on to him, before turning his attention back to Dean.

"Playing our roles, right? That's your game?" Dean asks, head rolling side to side as he bares his teeth with as much condescension as he can muster. He's caught on to. Too many clues not to.

"That's half the game." Gabriel clarifies. Then he's eyeing Sam again, like he can find answers in his face, as stony and determined as his expression is.

"What's the other half?" Sam cuts in, voice low.

"Play your roles out there." Gabriel replies, fake saccharine ease plastered back in his every telegraphed movement. The message doesn't seem like it's just for them.

It seems like a concession. And Sam can tell he's nervous in how he's hunched over, a little, though. Not because of them. Not one bit.

But because he knows Lucifer's gunning for him now, directly, and this is exactly what he'd been trying to avoid. 

Behind Dean, Sam remains very still, still in shock at their luck. Gabriel is trying to play both sides, and it shows. Trying not to rock a boat that's already sinking underwater.

Just what they need. But that's what they get for trying to reason with Lucifer's crazy family. Oh, God, they were screwed. Sam hopes Gabriel doesn't hear it, and Lucifer muffles the prayer through their link, making sure it only chimes over to him.

Dad doesn't care, Sammy. Just me.

Sam ignores that too, still trying to think of the best way to break out of here before Lucifer finds them and this turns into a bloodbath. Or something worse. Sam's not sure what could be worse, but he knows there's always something else waiting in the wings.

"What's that supposed to mean?" Dean challenges, looking for all intents and purposes like he's gonna wring Gabriel's neck.

"Oh, you know." Gabriel whines, then his voice lowers an octave as he razzle-dazzles his hands in Dean's face, gesturing at Sam's stock-still form like he's the new hot celebrity in a show. All manufactured ease, to hide the raw fear and tired exhaustion underneath. "Sam starring as Lucifer. Dean starring as Michael. Your celebrity death match. Play your roles."

That detail throws Sam off, even though he'd been trying to figure out his angle and been trying to reconcile it with Mystery Spot, and the endless Tuesdays.

And Sam tamps the new panic down, because he can't take another chance at time loops again. And Gabriel would do it, provided he's got enough leverage and reason to do it.

He wants you and Michael to face off? 

That's news to me. Gabriel hated all the fighting. That's why he fucked off and left without a word to anyone. So consider me as baffled and insulted as you, seeing as he hasn't picked a side to bet on. Mighty suspicious, if you ask me.

But underneath all the light veneer of nonchalance, Sam can feel Lucifer's rage and pointed attempts to find him, all the raw purpose, coiling under his skin.

"You want us to say yes to those sons of bitches?" Sam demands, expression genuinely betrayed. The last thing he wanted to do, the one thing he needed an out for, and this son-of-a-bitch has the gall to throw it all in his face.

Excuse you.

Just because I love you doesn't change exactly what you are. And you are one mean, manipulative son-of-bitch when you want to be.

That's cold, Sammy. Colder than me.

Still true.

Okay, you got me.

Deep down, Sam knows why he's rambling to Satan in his head now.

The panic is getting a little too out of control to ignore. Lucifer feels it too, and tries to send over calm, but considering his own emotional state, it doesn't work very well.

"Hell's yeah. Let's light this candle!" Gabriel sings back, all vehement, and then he's smiling at Dean without it reaching his eyes, smiling with all teeth and every bit of held back violence he's ever felt plain as day on his face. It's the kind of rage Dean recognizes. The same kind of rage he feels from grief.

"We do that, the world will end." Sam tacks on, still thrown even as he enunciates each syllable. Gabriel did seem like one materialistic angel. More down to earth even if he's just as much of a dick as the majority of them. Maybe they can appeal to his more vain, selfish aspects. Maybe Sam can find a clue why he wants his two oldest brothers to fight to the death. And Lucifer is right there with him, for once, both of them united in trying to figure this out, albeit for entirely opposite reasons.

Lucifer wants answers as leverage to get Gabriel on his side, or at least an in to get to Sam.

Sam wants it to find a way to appeal to whatever better nature or selfish angle might get Gabriel to reconsider and try to throw the Apocalypse off track.

When Gabriel speaks, his eyes burn, and his voices whines, wavering, as he stares Sam down, unblinking.

"Yeah? And whose fault is that?" He answers, tilting his head again, eyes narrowed and the quirk of his lips all contempt, and half-thrown by Sam's sheer denial, like he isn't at the center of all this. Gabriel gives Sam a challenging, too joking look as he adds, tone as serious as his expression isn't, "Who popped Lucifer out of the box? Hm?" Gabriel quirks an eyebrow at Sam, taking note Sam's discomfort, the flare of his nostrils, and his exhausted face. The poor sucker has the gall to think he can get out of this when they've all been running off of borrowed time, and there's nowhere to run. Not anymore. But then Gabriel's voice deepens, losing the fake cheer, the cover for all the hurt he's felt, but he can't keep looking at Sam and the expression on his face, so he turns back to the brother that's easiest to rule and easiest to feel less guilt or sympathy for. Gabriel was always more of a sucker for Luci than Mike. Looks like he's more of a sucker for their vessels, too, and he's not sure whose fault that is, or if Sam's just that lost and scared that being unable to stomach his presumptuous need to fix things comes with the territory, seeing as that's the last kind of look Gabriel's ever seen on Lucifer's face. "Look, it's started. You started it. It can't be stopped. So let's get it over with!" Gabriel sings out, words running together. His voice breaks on the last sentence, and with a pang, Sam suspects exactly why he's doing this. He tosses his head uncomfortably and swallows, still staring Gabriel down, and still angry, and that's one expression Gabriel is very much accustomed to, and isn't looking forward to seeing on Lucifer's face when he gets Sam and lets all that anger out on the world, like he's entitled to it.

"Heaven or Hell, which side you on?" Dean demands, sizing Gabriel up. He's long intuited the program, even if Sam is too scared to tell him directly. There's been too many clues not to catch on.

"I'm not on either side." Gabriel gives him a look that intends to be amused, but beneath it all is just indifference.

"Yeah, right." Dean answers, giving him a mirthless smile, still looking at him out from the sides of his eyes. "You're grabbing ankle for Michael or Lucifer." Then Dean's face smooths over into all business, patience thrown out like trash as he asks, "Which one is it?"

Gabriel lets out a sigh, shifting on his feet. Looks at Dean like he's overstepped, because, in this case, they've long strayed from the path. Gabriel gets in close, crowding Dean's face, every word a promise. "You listen to me, you arrogant dick." Gabriel starts in, eyes not laughing now, and his voice is not the caricature of seriousness: no, it's all level, all honest, in a way he's never been before. "I don't work for either of those S.O.B.s." Gabriel's voice becomes a whisper as his nose scrunches, and the whites of his eyes are hard and cold. "Believe me."

Dean looks at him without a change in expression, then gives Gabriel a mocking scoff. "Oh, you're somebody's bitch."

Gabriel grabs Dean and slams him into the door, holding him by the throat, mirroring their earlier interaction, but with much more gusto. Dean winces as his air almost gets cut off, and Gabriel isn't playing around anymore.

The only thing staring out from his eyes is blanket annihilation, the same primordial look Dean's seen in other Archangel's wrathful eyes.

And this is why Sam was playing it cool. Because this could go south, so very, very fast, and he's scared of what might happen if the veneer Gabriel carries himself with doesn't hold fast. Because he's scared. Sam can see that much. Sam can see exactly why.

"Don't you ever, ever presume to know what I am." Gabriel growls, staring Dean down. Dean can't help but look back, arrested, still sleuthing out who this might be. He sees Sam almost make a move behind Gabriel, then reconsider, his own chest heaving, like he wants to rush in but knows it's useless. Dean goes back to staring back at the Trickster, at whoever this son-of-a-bitch is,  and he sniffs as Gabriel gives a love-tap to his chest, strong enough to bruise, then backs off, turning to Sam and only Sam. Pointing. Like he knows the gig is up, with Dean still playing catch-up.  "Now listen very closely. Here's what's gonna happen." And Gabriel gives Sam a conspiratorial look of fake camaraderie, laying out the law as he adds, "You're gonna suck it up, accept your responsibilities, and," Gabriel pauses and turns back to Dean, wheeling around with all the pent up energy he hasn't let out in so very long, and his voice morphs into a vehement snarl as Dean struggles for more air, and he adds, "Play the roles that destiny has chosen for you."

"And if we don't?" Sam challenges, still staring Gabriel down. Not moving, not once, but still feeling the grace humming under his skin. Still feeling like the world is spinning out from under him. But he's been saying no to Lucifer every night for months. He isn't going to cave just because little brother says so. Gabriel should know better, seeing how much Sam dislikes him. If he was willing to go to him for help... Well, that should've been a clue enough on it's own. Then again, their backup plan had been to stake him. So maybe he just thought their plan A was to kill him, just for being another monster in their way, one who wouldn't stay down.

Gabriel smiles at Dean, still keeping him pinned, and Dean gives Sam a look like maybe this isn't the best time.

Sam doesn't care. All his patience has been used up for a while, with Lucifer chatting inside his skull.

Gabriel turns back to face Sam, a broken look in his eyes, a non-answer on his lips, the lie coming easy and seen for what it is even as the syllables leave his mouth. "Then you'll stay here in TV Land. Forever." Then Gabriel sniffs and looks away, a faraway look in his red-rimmed vessel's eyes as he adds, "Three hundred channels and, uh," Then he turns back, gives Sam a look, like he knows the bluff is transparent, but not backing down away, his true voice almost rumbling in his chest, childish and lost, like he's adrift with nothing to hold on to. "Nothing's on."

That's not what's going to happen, though. Sam knows it. Gabriel knows it. Gabriel's been hiding for a long, long time, chasing the channels and jumping along to stave off the restlessness eating him alive.

It's a veneer, all for show, for Dean, too. A way of buying time, as he tries to figure Gabriel out.

But there's another threat there, too, hiding beneath the surface.

Gabriel might just hand them over, because Lucifer was going to come find them and ram down the doors, and Sam's not sure what will happen after that.

He does know one thing, though. Gabriel might not want to die. But he's not too keen on living, either. Not if he made a play like this, with the chance of goading his brothers. Brothers that are stronger than him, when push comes to shove, and have been eyeing Sam and Dean like hawks. The same brothers he's been hiding from, been avoiding, for hundreds of thousands of years. He wouldn't make a play like this if it didn't chance getting caught. It's practically shining a spotlight on him, even if he'd tried to keep them hidden.

And Sam, Lucifer, and Gabriel all know it.

And Sam knows self-sabotage when he sees it. Something tells Sam that makes Gabriel more wild, more unpredictable, the fact that he doesn't see this for what it is. He doesn't like being seen for exactly who he is, or known, relying on misdirection to hide just what he is. Vulnerable, with his heart on his sleeve, as he tries to make the end of days end whatever stalemate he's too scared to face directly.

Lucifer calls it cowardice: willfully casting off all he is. Sam calls it something else. Hiding, maybe. Not quite denial. But something where you hide and smush yourself smaller, maiming yourself so something else can't do it for you first. Premature self-sabotage, or something...

Somewhere, deep down, Sam wonders if he did this to see if his brother's would come looking. Common sense dictates that's the last thing Gabriel wants, if he wants to keep on living.

But no one is infallible or follows their goals all the time.

And something tells Sam that Gabriel slipped, just the once. That he could feel all his brothers out there, throwing their weight around, and couldn't help but make a play.

Sam wonders, despite his ultimatum, if he's really gunning for the end. Or if this is his excuse, and he's a rat trapped in a maze with no clear solution, just like them, subconsciously trying to find a way out of it.

Or maybe it's simpler than that. Maybe Gabriel thought if he took the vessels out of the picture, Michael and Lucifer wouldn't be able to face off at all, and while it wouldn't last forever, it was better than doing nothing. 

Gabriel lets Dean go, and snaps, and then the room melts away into a forest at night. And Dean and Sam are on their own again, trapped in TVLand Limbo, in some kind of cop procedural show, which is just another tally to add ruining Dean's day.

Sam thinks on his feet, still trying to puzzle out a solution. They're trapped, almost mincemeat at this rate, only able to stave this off until the Archangels make their play. And Sam sure that for Gabriel, this wasn't about them being vessels. Not really.

This was about Gabriel sending passive aggressive messages to his family, without having to face them head on.

When Lucifer sends another line over, it's sadder, this time. More subdued. Doesn't mask the hurt or the anger that's always there, but it's overtaken by memory.

Gabriel always liked maxing out the drama whenever he wanted to make a point. Only way he could really get us to pay attention, when Michael and I fought. The flashier, the better.

Is that what this is? A desperate plea for an intervention?

You tell me, Sam. You're the one so hellbent on saying no, when it saves no one and spares you nothing. You'd understand his motives more than me.

With everything going on, Sam tries to stay as calm as possible. Because if he doesn't, he's just going to panic, and that helps no one, and he needs to keep a clear head. For Dean, for Cas, for himself...

For the rest of the world.

Dean's on the opposite end of the spectrum, lashing out at the smallest of offenses. Like the fact they're wearing sunglasses at night. Sam lets him rant about cops shows and all the rest.

It helps him vent a little of his own rage. But then candy-chomping suspicious guy gets his hackles up, and Sam's all business.

Because he might not be able to tell Dean Gabriel is, well, Gabriel. Not without chancing Gabriel torching him, or any other horrible fate Sam knows might be in the cards to get them to say yes.

But he can expose him the old fashioned way. Hunt him down and prove he isn't what they thought. Dean's smart. He'll put the clues together.

Sam nudges the stick at his foot as they play along with the set dressing of the show. Should do the trick, if Dean picks it up.

Dean stabs the guy sporting the red sucker to throw Gabriel off.

Gabriel falls for it, and stabs him in the back when he's least expecting.

Sam hopes it hurts, that he suffers, just a little, for throwing all his attempts at hiding out the window.

Only fair they expose him first, after they've been hiding for so long.

They see the warehouse flicker, for a second, but Sam is still on edge.

He knows they aren't out of the woods, not yet.

Lucifer's still chomping at the bit, and Cas is missing, and he opens his mouth to tell Dean, but before he can-

Turns out Gabriel doesn't like being stabbed, even if it's nonlethal. Not one bit.

So Sam gets trapped in isolation, while Dean is given an illusion of a brother to follow him out the door and back to a motel that if he thinks hard enough, he doesn't really remember driving to.

--

Gabriel transforms Sam into a car. Okay, not transforms. It's more like trapping his soul in an invisible box, his body not gone but stretched out and scattered so the neutrons and other particles are spread apart on the metaphysical level, not detached but its particles kept on a plane that isn't three-dimensional, all outside time and vibrating at the same frequency they would if kept in the same contingent section of time/space. It makes Sam feel and think his body is part the object he's trapped in. But it's best to keep Sam's consciousness as disconnected from his unconscious body as he can manage, making sure it stays stowed under the backseat. Dean can't see or feel his brother if he tried, trapped under as many illusions as Gabriel can weave around him.

That should throw Lucifer off his trail for a little while longer. Jumble the signal of grace he knows he can't destroy, but can ping off other grace constructs. Misdirection works wonders. That, and it's much easier for an angel to track down their vessel's mind and body with the grace bound to the actual cells of their host in three-dimensional environments, not ten or twelve, seeing as time muddles things up enough. Confusing Sam's consciousness helps too, seeing as Sam's soul is still inside his body, but if his mind feels like it's trapped in a vacuum and his body isn't all in the same place, it makes finding him a more drawn out process.

And that's all Gabriel needs, really, is time. Time to prove to Sam that giving up is the only real option they have.

He just wants this to end. He just wants to stop hearing all the fighting, for all the feelings to stop surging over him and tearing everyone apart.

He just wants silence. Real silence, for once, even though he's been seeking out distractions and frequencies to get his mind off things, and nothing has worked, not even all the amusing things he's chased after all these years. Gabriel thinks if it all stops, if he pretends hard enough, it might feel like it must've been like in the beginning, before he was born, because he'd never been around true silence, even if it had been far quieter before everything else Dad created. Michael, Luci, and Raphael had all existed first. But Luci had told him all about it, from Michael's stories.

Michael had said it was too quiet without them, although he hadn't known anything else aside from Dad before they'd all been brought to life.

Maybe if everything ended, if everyone else was dead, killed off in Luci's and Michael's big showdown to the death... Maybe the damage would be done before they managed to kill each other properly, and it would just be the four of them again. Or maybe other angels would live- it takes a lot to kill them, and grace is sturdier than most of God's fragile creations...

Gabriel isn't sure that's any better. But they wouldn't have a reason to kill each other, if there was nothing left, maybe...

Maybe if it got that bad, if it's all gone, Dad would come back, and tell them all to stop fighting. Gabriel knows that's not a longshot, even, that it's beyond wishful thinking. He didn't care then and he doesn't care now.

No, this wouldn't fix everything that went wrong, but maybe it would be enough to get Michael and Lucifer to change their minds...

Gabriel knows Lucifer would feel no need to kill Michael, if he'd proven his point. And Michael might not kill Luci, even though Gabriel knows he thinks it's his job now, if there's nothing left to fight over. You can't be an abomination if nothing's left to destroy.

Maybe they could be a family again, even if they're all at each other's throats.

Maybe everything being gone again with snap them all out of it. Maybe the quiet would make them remember how things used to be, when it was just them. Luci wouldn't have a reason to be angry, then. Michael wasn't really good at holding grudges when he didn't have to feel responsible for anything else... If his first brothers are the only ones left.

Gabriel doubts Lucifer would kill all the angels if the humans were gone, except for their vessels. It wouldn't solve everything, but they wouldn't be dead.

Deep down, Gabriel knows he's lying to himself. He doesn't want the world to end. He doesn't want Earth, or humanity, or this solar system gone forever.

He doesn't really want silence. He hates silence.

But he's still torn. This wishful thinking is the only thing he can think of that might mean his brothers all make it out alive. You could never talk them out of fighting. Just make them decide it's not worth it to fight on their own terms. Distract them as best you could. It didn't work all the time. But it did work sometimes. And for this, once would be enough.

They wouldn't fight over ashes and dust. Not when all they wanted was understanding from the other, and a way to go back to the way things were before.

--

It's not long before Sam realizes he's talking through the radio, and it's the last thing Sam and Dean need right now. But at least Dean's aware the enemy isn't a Trickster, now. And the only other consolation for Sam is that Lucifer's grace is oddly grainly and hard to hear, which means his headache lessens by a lot.

"Okay, stake didn't work. So, what, this is another trick?" Dean asks.

"I don't know. Maybe the stake didn't work because it's not a trickster?" Sam suggests. Dean has to have some idea that this isn't what it looks like by now.

"What do you mean?" Dean asks.

Sam lays his evidence on the table without giving his own landline to the Devil away. "You heard Cas. He said this thing was too powerful to be a trickster."

"Yeah, and you notice the way he looked at Cas? Almost like he knew him." Dean adds, thinking it over.

"And how pissed he got when you brought up Michael and Lucifer." Sam tacks on, enthusiastically throwing that out as fast he can.

The sun beams into Dean's eyes as he keeps driving, but he doesn't flinch.

"Son of a bitch." Dean grunts, the truth like an itch he can't scratch as realization prickles over him.

"What?" Sam asks. He can't see Dean's face, but he knows that tone, and internally celebrates. If Dean knows what they're up against through his own sleuthing without Sam having to spell it out, he might be able to get a jump on Gabriel when he's distracted. 

"I think I know what we're dealing with." Dean answers, sounding exhausted. Sam lets him hold off on explaining: he already knows the deal, and he needs to think of ways to keep Gabriel occupied while Dean does the heavy-lifting. Only way they're gonna get the drop on him, seeing as Gabriel knows Sam's on to him already.

That, and Sam has to figure out how he'll stop being a car if Gabriel doesn't change him back. It's not a nice feeling. It aches, like having creaky joints that are forced to run at high speeds.

At least Lucifer can't possess him like this...

The silver lining isn't that comforting.

--

"You sure this is gonna work?" Sam's voice pings over the radio, mostly to keep up the illusion for the sake of conning their conman angel.

"No, but I have no other ideas." Dean answers, striding forward, footsteps crunching along the sandy hard clay under his feet. "All right, you son of a bitch!" He yells. "Uncle! We'll do it!" Dean adds, arms out as he supplicates the Heavens. Half-literally, in this case, thanks to their jailer.

Gabriel doesn't show his face.

"Should I honk?" Sam snidely remarks. Being a car is a drag.

Gabriel strides on to the scene, patting the hood of the car.

"Wow. Sam. Get a load of the rims on you." Gabriel says with a whistle.

"Eat me." Sam spits back, the emotion there even if it's not conveyed adequately by the tinny sound of the radio.

"Okay, boys." Gabriel calls, and then he's shimmying back towards Dean, and as he does, his voice changes back to its serious, less than grating, projected tone, and grows into something more honest, all his smokescreens not enough to keep Gabriel's exhaustion from peeking through. "Ready to go quietly?"

"Whoa whoa whoa, not so fast." Dean grunts, and then his voice grows stronger as he points back to the car. "Nobody's going anywhere until Sam has opposable thumbs."

Gabriel gives him an indulgent, less-than-bothered look.

"What's the difference?" He asks, all chipper, before his tone grows distant again. "Satan's going to ride his ass one way or another."

Like he hasn't been already, Gabriel thinks to himself. Really, Sam should be grateful. He'd be able to put off possession a little while longer if he stayed trapped and thinking he was that junk-heap.

Dean blinks at him and resists the urge to deck him in the face. Before he can, Gabriel scoffs and rolls his eyes like he can't take a joke, then snaps, and Sam's emerging out of the car, and pats down his body as surreptitiously as possible, all his atoms reunited in one place and three dimensions again.

"Happy?" Gabriel snipes, eyeing Sam and making a face like he's got a personal vendetta against him.

Sam gives him the most unimpressed, withering look he can muster, the car door slamming in his wake as he stalks closer.

Gabriel keeps his eyes on Sam until Dean starts talking, starting fidgeting, the movement drawing Gabriel's gaze.

"Tell me one thing. Why didn't the stake kill you?" Dean asks, and plays dumb.

"I am the Trickster." Gabriel gives him a look with puffed out cheeks, like the answer is obvious.

"Or maybe you're not." Dean slings back, every syllable gliding into the other as Sam flicks open the lighter and sets the circle around Gabriel aflame.

It's Jessica's lighter. The one thing Sam had left of her, that she'd left behind in his coat pocket. Lucifer's, really, Sam knows. He's not sure if using the flames to trap his brother is poetic justice or not. But it still hurts, on some level, knowing the flames that have kept him safe from ghosts and on hunts this whole time were thanks to Lucifer leaving it behind. After burning on the ceiling, it's all Sam can think about, sometimes. It hasn't been any easier, facing that. Not when all he wants is his old life back, without the Apocalypse, with even the Devil convinced that was just not in the cards.

They could have that, if he tried. If he wasn't so sure this was the only way.

But maybe Sam can change his mind. Maybe he can start with Gabriel.

Or at least get some answers, seeing as everything all leads back to the same place.

"Maybe you've always been an angel." Dean adds, as Gabriel stays trapped, looking to Sam for some sign he told him, and then back to Dean, feigning ignorance. But Sam didn't have to. Dean figured it out all on his own.

"A what? Somebody slip a mickey in your power shake, kid?" Gabriel denies it with a chuckle, a bit too thin and transparent to be believable. He's not used to being trapped- hasn't been for years. And as he talks, Gabriel can't help but glance back at Sam every once in a while, trying to figure him out. Trying to leverage what he knows about his little psychic pow-wow with Satan, if that's a viable angle for anything.

Except Gabriel knows that's too much of a gamble, trapped and powerless as he is right now. Lucifer would be honing in soon. The illusion doesn't hold for long. Not when his powers are cut off.

Holy oil is a bitch.

"I'll tell you what." Dean cuts in, shaking his head and giving a small smile. "You just jump out of the holy fire and we'll call it our mistake."

Sam keeps staring at Gabriel, eyes cold. He needs to figure out a plan right now, before all of this goes bad.

Gabriel laughs, but all the mirth drains from his expression when he meets Sam's eyes again. The grass and forest and road and sand gets replaced by the warehouse, the real one this time, in another flurry of static.

Gabriel claps. It echoes off the walls, much like his shallow laughter, before his tone turns sharp again. "Well played, boys. Well played. Where'd you get the holy oil?" Gabriel asks.

"Well, you might say we pulled it out of Sam's ass." Dean quips. Sam gives him an offended look that rivals the same withering glare he gave Gabriel seconds earlier.

"Where'd I screw up?" Gabriel asks, still staring Dean down. He knows Sam didn't spill the beans, seeing as Sam has barely said anything at all.

"You didn't." Sam clarifies.

Unless you count trapping us in the first place.

I made a gamble and I gambled wrong. Such is life.

Sam hears. He doesn't think Gabriel meant to send it on over, and doesn't deign a response.

Instead, Sam tacks on, "Nobody gets the jump on Cas like you did." 

Gabriel bites his lip. There's a threat there, too, hidden in the hollows of Sam's wide eyes.

Give him back or else. Sam prays.

Like that's going to save you. You're already screwed. Don't you see? One little angel isn't enough to keep you hidden forever.

"Mostly it was the way you talked about Armageddon." Dean adds.

"Meaning?" Gabriel asks, decidedly neutral.

"Well, call it personal experience, but nobody gets that angry unless they're talking about their own family." Dean answers, and it hits a bit too close to home.

Gabriel doesn't look at either of them.

It doesn't stop Sam from sending a barb his way, eyes narrowing as he does so. "So which one are you? Grumpy, Sneezy, or Douchey?" Sam asks, mostly for Dean's benefit. And to let off some steam, seeing as he's just about used up all his fucks for the day.

That, and he can feel Lucifer is closer now. Not on top of them. Not yet. But closer, and it's enough to make him on edge again.

Oooh, am I Grumpy? Lucifer hums. Much more cheery and upbeat, now that's sure Sam's all in one piece.

Take a wild guess. Sam answers, as scathing as he can manage.

"Gabriel, okay? They call me Gabriel." Gabriel admits with a tilt of his head, eyes not once leaving Sam's face. He gives a small, sad smile, and sends over a prod of grace.

But you knew that already, didn't you? How long are you going to keep lying, like me? It's not worth it. Big brother is going to find out about your little soul train somehow. Why stave off the inevitable? It won't change how this ends...

Forgive me if I'm not as eager to throw in the towel as you. Sam hisses back.

I would think, you, of all people, would want this most. Rumour mill says you fell hard for Luci.

Yeah, well, just because you love someone doesn't mean you give into their every whim.

Gabriel. Lucifer snarls, trying to send a line over and focusing on the more important detail of Gabriel chatting up his vessel's soul, even as he ignores Sam's disavowal of him and everything he's stood for. He's expected as much, for a while. Sam doesn't give ground easily. Don't you dare-

Let it go. Sam moans in his head.

For once, Lucifer listens. Probably because he anticipates giving them a lesson on not interacting with Sam's soul in person, and because Sam's had a long, long day. He knows not to push his luck, particularly when Sam's so close to being his, anyway.

"Gabriel? The archangel?" Sam repeats, sounding as skeptical as possible. Just to rub it in, like he doesn't deserve the name.

And maybe Gabriel doesn't, seeing as he's been gone from home for so long. But that's not why Sam's mad at him, he can tell.

He's mad because he can tell Gabriel knows his secret, and he's warning him, he'll be less than a smudge on the floor if he so much as breathes a word to Dean about psychic links to the Devil.

One secretive disaster to another, Gabriel can give him that much. Not like he's the shining example of coming clean. And it's not like it's Dean's business who Sam is brain-mates with. And seeing as Dean still has that self-righteous, offended streak Michael has, Gabriel doesn't grudge Sam's caution. It's not like they're on the best of terms, even when trying to patch things up. They're the vessels precisely because they're powder-kegs too similar to their angelic hosts. Makes sense why Sam would want to keep this from exploding in his face, if he's trying to stave off another blowout that could lead to the advancing end of days.

He really should just give up though. Gabriel feels bad for how much denial Sam has suffused himself in.

"Guilty." Gabriel answers with a furrowed brow and small grin that fades with a single swallow, his expression otherwise not giving anything away.

"Okay, Gabriel. How does an archangel become a trickster?" Dean grills.

Gabriel gives him a rueful look and says, "My own private witness protection. I skipped out of heaven, had a face transplant, carved out my own little corner of the world. Til you two screwed it all up."

You mean you screwed it up for yourself. Sam thinks. Sam can only dream of his own witness protection, seeing as nothing keeps Lucifer away for long.

On the first thought, Lucifer privately agrees.

Gabriel always was one for projection.

You're one to talk.

Sam, I'm wounded. Call an ambulance.

Sam brushes Lucifer off, still not over his own brother trying to hasten along the end of days when he doesn't seem very thrilled about it.

You could've helped us hide, or something, instead of this, if you gave a damn... Sam prays to Gabriel, thinking it'd be nice to have some kind of way of permanently hiding himself. And it's a nervous tic, by now. Babbling. Being wistful. Pretending he isn't terrified Lucifer will just appear out of nowhere to whisk him away.

"What did Daddy say when you ran off and joined the pagans?" Dean asks, twitching.

Gabriel's voice goes flat as his expression. "Daddy doesn't say anything about anything."

"Then what happened? Why'd you ditch?" Sam demands.

Why'd you trap us if you're as desperate to hide as we are? What changed?

Gabriel looks at him, as if considering his answer.

"Do you blame him?" Dean interrupts easily. "I mean, his brothers are heavyweight douchenozzles."

Gabriel head twists back at Dean, lightning fast, even if it's true, because only he's allowed to talk about them like that, not this human, not this harbinger of the end who broke the first seal and set this all off, and he hisses, "Shut your cakehole. You don't know anything about my family. I love my father, my brothers." Gabriel stresses, blinking. "Love them." Then his voice grows louder, more ragged, as a muscle leaps in his throat and his eyes shimmer in the light. "But watching them turn on each other? Tear at each other's throats? I couldn't bear it!" Gabriel yells, looking back at Sam like he was standing in for Lucifer. Like this is half an apology, even though it's not an apology at all. The opposite, really. An accusation, one that makes ice itch under Sam's skin.

"Okay?" Gabriel adds, and when he looks away from them both, his voice grows hard and frayed again, every note buzzing with a twang. "So I left. And now it's happening all over again."

"Then help us stop it." Sam begs, the very same eyes pleading with a resolve and backbone Gabriel wishes wasn't so determined.

That determination would break. Sam's too young to see this for what it is. To see all the intertwined forces locking them in place, without any chance for going back.

"It can't be stopped." Gabriel answers, looking back at him with all the hurt and accusation, like it's their fault even though it's on the Archangels themselves for this, and Gabriel's voice grows hard. His expression remains relentless and hopeless and old.

Sam goes still, his heart hammering in his chest.

At least he's right about one thing.

No. He isn't. He might give up, but I'm not. I'm not saying yes to you. I'm never saying yes, you hear me?

Even if I believe that... Do you really think idealism and holding back will stop the end? Michael is outside of your control, and I will have my justice. I will find a way to win, Sam. I'm going to protect you however I can. Even if the whole world has to burn for it. But if I had my way, it's not the world that will end. Just humanity, and any brother that stands in our way.

"You wanna see the end of the world?" Dean face twitches when he asks it, tone disbelieving, because that's the one thing that hasn't added up this whole time. Gabriel doesn't seem really gung-ho about them playing their roles, no matter how much he's been pressuring them into it. Quite the opposite, really. He seems royally pissed.

Gabriel's shouts echo off the concrete as his face scrunches, nostrils flaring, mouth a rictus crescent of pain. Golden brown eyes burn with blue fire underneath, just barely, like a stoked fire barely kept alive. "I want it to be over!" And then the words burst out of him, having been kept close to his chest without being said, for so long, every time he looks into their faces, and every movement of his hand is a violent cut off gesture, because all he can see is the humans God made for his brothers, the faces they were supposed to wear, the path Dad marked off for them, the pathetic showdown he wanted to be part of his big story, like they weren't his children, like they were props, like this is a lesson they were supposed to understand... He whines, "I have to sit back and watch my own brothers kill each other thanks to you two! Heaven, Hell, I don't care who wins," And Gabriel's voice breaks as he finishes, "I just want it to be over."

 

Agreed. It's been a long time coming. Although, it's not your fault, Sam. We all might want this to end- but Michael made his choice when he turned his back on me. When they all did. That's not on you. You're going to help me make things right, Sam. I know you will.

Enough. I'm done listening, okay? Just back off, right now. Please.

Whatever you wish, kiddo. I can take a hint. Just remember to breathe. 

Why can't you see that you don't have to do any of this to be happy again? Sam demands, for once letting the rage and despair and hurt engulf him. You can have me again, if you just stopped...

I can't do that, Sammy. You know I can't. 

I don't see anyone stopping you.  Hell, you've got at least one brother who doesn't even want to watch you die, which has to count for something.

Gabriel doesn't set the stage here. And my little brother, for all his histrionics, seems to forget that he abandoned me like the others, despite all his whining and making this all about himself. Predictable. Lucifer thoughts turn guarded, though, like he's almost snagged on some nostalgia there. Sam tries to draw more of it out.

Yeah, well. You're an archangel. Remember? You can do whatever you want.

Michael's an Archangel, too, Sam.

Screw him. And screw this!

"It doesn't have to be like that." Sam promises Gabriel (and Lucifer) with all the courage he can muster. They should leave soon. But they could convince him. Gabriel doesn't want this. Not really. They don't have to be on opposite sides, and if they had an edge, had something... It would matter. It has to count for something.

Sam pleads, "There has to be some way to, to pull the plug."

Gabriel laughs in Sam's face. Hysterically. Unable to stop it.

"Oh, you do not know my family." Gabriel chuckles, but the sound rings hollow as his voice grows sober again. Sam might know his family better than most mortals, all things considered. But he wasn't there in beginning, to see them all in all their glory and power and spats that shook the firmament of Heaven along with the waters of the earth, so he does buy Gabriel's honesty insofar he knows Gabriel believes it's hopeless to the very end. "What you guys call the Apocalypse, I used to call Sunday dinner." Gabriel adds, jerkily pointing at nothing, at himself, around the room, with each angry word.  "That's why there's no stopping this, because this isn't about a war. It's about two brothers that loved each other and betrayed each other." Gabriel continues.

Not just two. Lucifer corrects, but his heart isn't in it. Sam can feel him closing in, and his heart clenches from how pleased, how focused the link feels as it weaves around him. Like a net, growing tighter and tighter, as he starts to pin Sam's location down.

Do I even want to know what you're going to do if you get here? Sam tries, still trying to keep the ghost of blind panic distant, and not entirely succeeding. His neck feels damp with cold sweat, and goosebumps creep up his wrist.

I doubt it? Lucifer concedes, and the apologetic honesty the Devil touts like a badge of honor is still drowned by the possessive, hungry need to find Sam and whatever might come after. To track Sam down and unravel the yes from his lips, from his throat, with every breath Sam wouldn't give easily. Lucifer, for all his pretending, isn't exactly planning on playing fair. He'll settle for something less than a yes, provided he can keep eyes on Sam without Sam slipping out of his reach again. Dealing with Gabriel is a mixed bag, otherwise: Lucifer isn't going to let him off the hook for this, but out of all his brothers, he savors facing Gabe down the least.

Sam hopes the tiniest sliver of hesitation he can feel radiating from the Devil is enough to buy them more time, every second a precious resource.

Gabriel's gaze darts between them as he adds, "You'd think you'd be able to relate."

The new focus on themselves throws Sam off. Dean and him... Yeah, they've had their moments. But they're in this together, one day at a time. And Sam wasn't exactly ever in the running to kill him.

"What are you talking about?" He asks, even as Dean glances at him, Gabriel's words hitting a bit too close to home this time.

Gabriel turns to look at him, slowly, then gives another look to Dean, as Dean pretends he isn't following. What two dysfunctional specimens you two are, Gabriel thinks.

Then he smacks his lips together and whistles, head bobbing side to side. "You sorry sons of bitches. Why do you think you two are the vessels? Think about it." Gabriel adds, making a face before he gets all theatrical again, to hide his own emotions, now that they've been on display. "Michael, the big brother, loyal to an absent father," He says, pointing to Dean, then looking back at Sam who mirrors the tilt of his head, the same challenge, as Gabriel sings out with a growl, "And Lucifer," Gabriel pauses and gives Sam a look, like that's the only hint he needs for the reasons Sam is promised to the angel he is, but Gabriel keeps talking, "the little brother, rebellious of Daddy's plan. You were born to this, boys. It's your destiny! It was always you!" He shouts.

Sam's getting real tired of destiny. Of angels telling them they have no choices anymore. For not believing they had choices, the same choices which got them here, after all. Thinking everything is inevitable and doing nothing was a choice in and of itself.

The fire roars in the circle, loud and crackling. Sam tries not to think of other fires, and the lighter in his pocket feels heavy as Sam fidgets with the lid, thumb pressing into the metal to keep him grounded. Everything tastes and smells like smoke, and paint, and concrete. That remained the same through each scene, too, when Sam had concentrated hard enough.

At least until Gabriel gestures up to the sky, and all they smell is rain and ozone, Gabriel not quite unfurling his wings even as he shows how old he really is, mimicking his brother's own ancient cadences, everything he once was, a messenger of God, a herald calling all his brethren together, for once encapsulating everything he'd sworn off and pretended not to be the moment he ran from home, unable to get away almost as much as Sam could. That's just their luck. How fate functions. You can't run from who you are, no matter how much you pretend. "As it is in heaven, so it must be on earth." Then Gabriel looks down, eyes still on fire, as he whispers, "One brother has to kill the other."

Sam looks at nothing. He's tired of hearing the same thing, over, and over, and over...

Then the rage chokes him, lights him up just like it does Lucifer, and he doesn't try to reign it in because that's all too much right now, too.

"What the hell are you saying?" Dean asks, voice rough, as he keeps staring Gabriel down.

"Why do you think I've always taken such an interest in you?" Gabriel answers, tilting his head again. All almost avian, but too-twisted, too immaterial a movement to appear anything less than alien. Gabriel turns subdued, his voice growing softer even as his face twitches, a muscle jumping in his throat. "Because from the moment Dad flipped on the lights around here..." Gabriel adds, and then turns back to Sam, all the weight of the world in his words. "We knew it was all gonna end with you. Always."

Dean looks over to Sam, who looks back, then at his feet. It's was easier to fight the Apocalypse when it was just two Archangels singing that tune. But hearing it from Gabriel feels worse, suddenly. Like Sam's weighed down by some corruption beyond every manipulation he's suffered, by every lost bit of poison long since plucked from his veins. Sam shivers with the memory, and his mouth turns dry.

It had to be you. Lucifer sings Sinatra in Sam's head, trying to lighten the mood, to stop Sam's fury now transmuted into grief, along with Sam's trembling need to just tear everything apart for being this way, for how he's being used, for being blamed like this, for being expected to shoulder this weight like the end of the world is nothing, is just part of the scenery, is just always where they'll end up, no matter what Sam does, that pangs through all of Sam's soul. How much his life had been choreographed by these blind, entitled sons-of-bitches who dared think they owned the world, and played by God, even, if they're thinking that's just the way they were made, no choices to make, just as powerless as the angels believe themselves to be-

But it's the sheer familiarity of it, of all the casual, mundane pinpricks of Lucifer's intimate, looming memory, the way he sings, the way he jokes, the way he prods and how his feelings sneak past Sam's defenses, wishing only for Sam to let loose, and his presence ringing with all the kind things he's ever cultivated, for Sam and Sam alone...

That single strand of aching need to get in close and never let go: it backfires, and that is the straw that breaks the camels back for Sam today.

I heard you the first FIFTY THOUSAND TIMES.

Aw, but Sammy. Lucifer pouts. His grace turns wary and less carefree, no longer full of the coy lightness that seeped in. Can you blame an angel for being fond of all our greatest hits together? C'mon, kiddo. You used to get all sappy on me. 

Yeah, funny how things change, Sam's prayers snarl, When you're planning the EXTINCTION of MY SPECIES.

Lucifer's mood turns on a dime, from gentle warmth full of memory to frigid, cutting, take-no-prisoners desire. The same certainty that's kept Sam mired in this mess for too long.

You're the only human who is worth it, Sam. I don't make the rules. I just accept the gift in front of me. And you'd feel better if you allowed yourself what God promised you, when he made you who you are. If you only let yourself believe this is a gift that he owes you, and not a curse haunting your every footstep. I was made for you, too, you know. Made to fit inside perfectly, so that you'll never feel empty or alone, never again. Not so long as I'm with you. Our arrangement goes both ways.

Sam shifts, massaging his temples. That's the problem, right there. That he thinks it is all so simple. That having what they want excuses every other vile, selfish thing he has planned for the rest of the world. That Sam loves him too much not to forgive him for it, and that hits too close to home, too.

Lucifer's presence ebbs away. Banished in self-imposed exile, for the faintest, briefest of seconds, seeing as he isn't exactly eager to make Sam moods worse. Doesn't suit his endgame, or just how he thinks he'll convince Sam to come around. Lucifer likes to pretend he isn't pushy, and fundamentally believes in Sam. Believes in the two of them. That, and both he and Sam know when he's had the last word.

Sam's done playing this game.

Dean is too, even though he's in a different ballpark. Same inning, different field.

"No." Dean promises Gabriel. "That's not gonna happen."

Gabriel stares Dean down, not biting.

He's come awfully close. Lucifer needles. His grace surges right back in again, need to protect Sam from what he thinks Sam is blind to always a means to bring him crawling back again. Lucifer's grace is a sloshing riptide dragging Sam back and forth, like he's snatching parts of Sam away with him every time the grace turns shallow. Sam knows Lucifer doesn't quite care to pretend he can help himself. His self-control is laughable, depending on his every whim, and the endless commentary is a habit by now. It's not like Sam didn't expect him to make himself scarce for longer than a few seconds...

And Sam berates himself further, because he shouldn't be so used to this. Shouldn't be so used to Lucifer chatting on and on while he prepares to tear Sam's life with his brother away from him and boil the oceans, only not really. Lucifer gave Sam a whole tirade about how boiling the oceans is the opposite of what this is, and how he'd hide Dean, because Michael doesn't exactly deserve anything, even if it would be more trouble than it's worth. He'd promise Sam he'd try, except Sam had shot him down, because Dean wouldn't want to be a caged bird, just like Sam, trapped in whatever limbo Lucifer would keep them in before trying to bring on the end whether Sam was on board or not. And Sam kept throwing every false plan of Lucifer's Apocalypse back at him anyway, because that was the only revenge he can get, willfully not playing along with all of Lucifer's machinations.

"I'm sorry." Gabriel replies to Dean, his face blank. Then his expression turns into something ugly, something that's heard the same thing before from his own brothers, only for the truth to hurt more. His voice brooks no argument. "But it is."

In that moment, Sam can see just how Gabriel takes after Lucifer, and he hates them both, for that, too. 

The moment passes, however, when Gabriel can't keep eye contact with Dean, and instead he looks to Sam, eyes watering despite him trying not to, and the Archangel heaves a heavy sigh. His voice turns tight and low when he says, "Guys. I wish this were a TV show." Then his voice squeaks, the sound breaking as he shrugs, unable to look at either one of them for long, "Easy answers, endings wrapped up in a bow..."

Gabriel trails off, back to looking at nothing at all, and then his expression hardens, not with rage or what he knows to be true, but just fear and loss and having had enough fighting for a lifetime.

Gabriel whispers, "But this is real."

And then he looks back at Sam, his voice growing louder and shakier as he promises what he knows is true, "And it's gonna end bloody for all of us." He says, because he knows if they somehow make it out of here, no matter what happens, he'll be there for the end, and Gabriel knows himself, that when the time comes, he won't be able to stop from stepping in-between his siblings, and that he'll die not knowing which brother tore him apart while trying to kill the other one. He pretends he won't do it. Like he wants to live. But he doesn't want to see a world where one of his brothers could actually follow through. Not after everything they brought to life together. Not after everything they were.

Then Gabriel turns his face to Dean, unable to take Sam's knowing, sickened, angry look, like he knows exactly what Gabriel's thinking. Gabriel injects the cynical, playful tone he's always used back in his voice, but underneath, his voice still shakes, a bit too throaty to sell the false front he's trying so hard to hold on to. "That's just how it's gotta be." Gabriel adds.

Dean can't take the way Gabriel stares him down, and looks at the flames. The room is so still, so quiet, that the flames sound like a hurricane's drone, all the warmth long since leeched out of them.

After a pause, Gabriel claps, making Sam and Dean jump, even though the sound falls flat and heavy. Gabriel makes sure his voice carries, and keeps up the false cheer anyway. No point being a downer before everything crashes over their heads.

"So. Boys. Now what? We stare at each other for the rest of eternity?" Gabriel asks, still not quite meeting their gaze head on.

"Well, first of all, you're gonna bring Cas back from wherever you stashed him." Dean orders, voice strong, because that's one thing he's sure about, no matter what other crazy has decided to bring the hammer down on their all over again. For someone who pretends to be so above it all, Gabriel sure can be one depressive customer. Guess he's like those comedians- making everyone else laugh, or in his case, laughing at his own shit jokes, when all he really wants is to curl up and drink so hard he forgets how to be sober. And for an actor, he's got a shit poker face, too, when actual emotions actually come out to play. Who knew- and who cares. Dean's had enough unwelcome revelations for the day, and he's done playing free street therapist for harp boy who never grew the fuck up. Hell, they've got enough of their own problems, and this one's sob story is one falling on the wrong ears.

Boo hoo, your brothers suck, Dean thinks. Now let's think about what that means for the rest of the world.

"Oh, am I?" Gabriel challenges, finding the easiest excuse to turn hurt and vulnerability into anger and another pissing match.

"Yeah. Or we're going to dunk you in some holy oil and deep-fry ourselves an archangel." Dean growls, every word loud and rumbling in his throat. The threat holds true.

Gabriel gives them a look, hesitating just to keep his pride, and making a big show of snapping his figures. At the gesture, Cas gets brought on over in a jiffy, standing off to side behind Dean's shoulder, in the same condition as before, mouth sans the duct tape.

"Cas, you okay?" Dean asks, a small note of frantic concern hidden in the edges of his voice.

"I'm fine." Cas assures, heaving in a few breaths like he's winded, which means his grace has probably been depleted enough for it to be a concern. But Cas is always business, always has his vessels' eyes on the prize, with little concern for his own welfare.

Sam lets out a breath he hadn't realized he was holding. He hadn't wanted to think about Cas, all this time. He's too afraid they'd lose the one reliable, free-will supporting friend they have, even if he's terrifying and holy too, when he needs to be.

Silence settles over them for a moment, only the sound of Cas collecting himself, of shallow breathing trying to get under control, hissing against the air, which feels as heavy as lead.

Sam would have backed Dean up, too, if they had to light Gabriel up to get Cas back. Cas is their friend, and deserves better than everything that's happened to him. 

Dean still looks like he's considering lighting up Gabriel on principle, for everything he's put them through today. For threatening the two people Dean has promised himself he'll keep safe.

And while Sam might understand where Gabriel is coming from, that doesn't excuse how he'd almost thrown them to his same brothers' that he's so bent out of shape about, the same angel Sam's been hiding from out in the waking world more with more resolve than he's otherwise felt in his life, even when it's proven futile, and Sam won't forgive Gabriel for jeopardizing that, either.

He's not the only one having a shit time of it. And it's not like deep-frying him would even kill an Archangel. Sam tried that on himself and Lucifer after he'd learned he was his true vessel. Before he'd made the deal that he'd stop trying to find a way to die permanently and in an attempt to weaken Lucifer so he'd have a harder time ending the world. All it did was make Lucifer incensed while only mildly inconveniencing him, forcing him to repair his temporary vessel before he'd brought Sam back again. Although, he'd been far kinder to Sam about the whole experience than he otherwise would be with anyone else, seeing his soft spot and how much pain Sam was in afterwards and how out of it Sam was for days. Yeah, not an experience Sam would repeat.

But for Gabriel, it would just hurt like a bitch, which would serve him right for everything else he's done. Not like he exactly was sorry for all the times he killed Dean right in front of him, or all the physical abuse he's thrown at Sam and laughed about, or all ways he's altered Sam's body against his will. Gabriel still has it coming, even if Sam doesn't have the burning desire to completely end him anymore.

That, and it's a lot kinder of an option that gives Gabriel an easy escape out of here without being tracked down or hunted, particularly when considering some of the ideas Lucifer's been entertaining. From what Sam's been able to glean, Lucifer isn't averse to using Gabriel as bait to get the drop on Michael and Raphael, just as he isn't above taking his anger out on his so-called favorite sibling for all their various issues, but the most likely option on the table so far is entrapping him and trying to force Gabriel to his side, much like he's done with Sam, only with more imprisonment and absolutely zero seduction, all in the name of it being for Gabriel's own good. Lucifer hasn't exactly made up his mind yet, but Sam knows, whatever he decides, they're all better off getting the Hell out of here before he actually finds them. That, and he knows Lucifer. And as much as the Devil likes to critique Dean for all his faults, particularly the one where he had the habit of making decisions for his younger siblings and trapping them to try and protect them, Lucifer's not above doing the same thing with his own little brother, if only to spare Gabriel from having to watch him rend Michael limb from limb. And the Devil would call it fucking mercy, because in Lucifer's mind, it is.

Sam resists the urge to laugh out of nowhere. His life really is a mess.

And underneath it all, the constant strain of all the different directions he's being pulled is really starting to get to him.

Sometimes, Lucifer is just so, so angry, so vile, so blind to his own hypocrisy that Sam can't quite feel the full weight of it. It's right there, right in front of his face, but there's so much to take in that it doesn't feel real. But it makes his skin crawl, all the same, with how wrong he is, with what he considers fair. And Sam hates what he knows Lucifer is capable of, all the things Lucifer considers options. He doesn't consider playing dirty or manipulation off the table: nothing is sacred, nothing is off-limits, provided he gets Sam and gets the justice he thinks he deserves. How at the end of the day, millions of people are nothing but vermin to wiped off the map, barely worthy of a second glance or spare thought.

It makes Sam scared of himself, truth be told, because there's a part of himself so angry, so used and broken and wounded and tired of all the things the world has done to him, to people like him, that sometimes, Lucifer's answers feel right in a way they never should. Not the endgame, never that- never complete, blind, blanket annihilation (something Lucifer pretends is fair, is impartial, because if he picks everyone, no one can claim favorites, but Sam knows the lie for what it is) - but sometimes, Sam wishes he could make the monsters, the cruel, the selfish people in the world who ruin it for everyone else... He wishes they would just disappear. That they would face consequences for who they chose to be, and then never trouble anyone again.

More than that, though, Sam's not sure how the love he has persists in the face of everything Lucifer is. Except he does. Because there's some selfish, lonely, helpless, tender part of him that would throw everything away for Lucifer, would give him everything if he slipped up, because Sam can never let go. Some part of himself that just wants to feel loved, feel safe, feel like he can hold on to someone he knows loves every part of him, the good and the bad and the ugly and the fragile parts of himself he's never able to face, and Lucifer gives him that, and holds on just as tight, and Sam feels it even if it's selfish, even if it fixes nothing, because Sam is only human, and Lucifer had been his best friend, the one constant person he could rely on when he'd had nothing and no  one else, long before Lucifer had ever been his enemy, even if he'd planned that right from the start. That's why the betrayal stung so hard, when the other, less kind truths had reared their ugly, Apocalyptic heads.

It's hard to believe they've kept Gabriel trapped for only a few minutes. It feels like it's been a lifetime, after everything they've learned.

"Hello, Gabriel." Cas finally decides to go with, still catching his breath as he glares Gabriel down.

Gabriel gives him a smile without any warmth.

"Hey, bro." Gabriel sings, the mask of indifference only slipping from his face once as he adds, "How's the search for Daddy going?" Gabriel looks up and ruffles his shoulders, and Sam guesses his wings mirror the moment, from the way the air shifts. "Let me guess..." Gabriel coos, and waits a tick, then his next word rings out, "Awful." Each syllable saturated with hate. Because how dare Castiel presume God would let himself be found, if his first children couldn't find him. What pride the little guy has, if he thinks he's got more of a chance than any of the Archangels themselves. Gabriel had looked the longest for God, after Lucifer fell, before he left for good. Dad didn't care when he turned his back, and God didn't care when Gabriel ran away, and God didn't care now, when his first two children were about to have a cage match to the death. 

Gabriel keeps giving the fake apologetic frown to Cas, then whips his face away like the violent action is a threat. Cas stands still, far too still, like he's trying to figure out what turned Gabriel from what he distantly remembered into what he is today, and Dean pulls him closer, ushering his friend away from the Archangel snarling in his makeshift kennel of fire, because there's no use sticking around.

Dean jumps in, "Okay, we're out of here." He murmurs, glancing at Sam and shuffling as he turns away. "Come on, Sam."

The three people standing in the way of the end of the world all walk away, except for Cas, who walks half-backwards, head turned, not once keeping his eyes off the Archangel trapped in the flames until they've all made it to the door. The three of them go to make their escape before they aren't Team Free Will anymore, only prisoners, or dead, or worse...

Gabriel's antsy fears get the better of him, seeing as Lucifer's still on his way, even if he's close but hasn't located the doors yet. He shifts from foot to foot, eyes darting around as he calls out. "Uh. Okay. Guys? So, so what? Huh?" Gabriel scuffs his foot on the floor, trying to test the flames and flinching back anyway. "You're just gonna, you're gonna leave me here forever?" The fear is his voice is real.

After all that, you're gonna let Luci find me? He sends over to Sam.

Sam doesn't turn around to face Gabriel like Dean does. The answer should be obvious.

"No. We're not," Dean shouts back, "'Cause we don't screw with people the way you do!" Dean pauses, and then steps forward, not backing down for anything as all his words start running together, growing louder and louder with every gasping breath. "And for the record? This isn't about some prize fight between your brothers," Dean adds, and points at him, judge and jury, "Or some destiny that can't be stopped. This is about you being too afraid to stand up to your family." Dean finishes, and he heaves in a giant lungful of air.

Gabriel doesn't blink or breath or move, an Archangel overwhelmed by simple truths as Dean dares put him in his place.

Then Dean shuffles back and slams his hand through the glass of the fire alarm and pulls, the sprinklers dousing the area with water. "Don't say I never did anything for you." Dean calls back over the bells ringing as they leave.

By the time the holy fire goes out around Gabriel, Sam, Cas, and Dean are already out the door.

Gabriel doesn't follow, even though, for once, in a long, long time, he feels like an instrument of holy retribution again, ready to face down something that dared think it had the solutions to a problem Gabriel's never been able to fix-

And then the feeling passes, weighted down like a stone in his throat.

Gabriel is too tired, too scared, too alone, and has been running and hiding without staying anywhere long...

And he wishes those three muttonheads had another way. Had some magical plan that would work.

By Dad, Gabriel wishes it so very badly.

Then he flies off, having chosen to live another day vicariously, on the run again, trying to think of the best way to erase this shitstain of a day from his mind, all his failures and failings he hates himself for all thrown right back in his face.

Gabriel throws himself into the dregs of human civilization, hoping it will help.

It doesn't.

Not when he knows it's all going to be thrown out like trash any day now.

Gabriel remembers before. Gabriel remembers earth, before there were any animals, or bacteria, or plant growth.

Gabriel remembers the planet that collided with this one and broke off into fragments, remembers as he watched, every few millions of years, as the cast-off debris stabilized in orbit and condensed into the moon.

Gabriel remembers the pull of the tides, and the cooling of magma.

Gabriel remembers how Michael smiled at him when he taught him to fly, and the throaty way Lucifer laughed and sang and infused everything around him with light as they snuck off to try and make new things, and how, before Raff became all stuck-up and bureaucratic to be responsible for all the other angels, he'd sneak off and go on adventures with him across the edges of space, through nebulas and black holes and the microscopic ridges of a single-celled organisms tiniest components. Raff complained all the time, and was a giant baby about it- but that had been half the fun. Ribbing him. Feeling like the older brother. Getting Raff to admit he was having fun, too.

Inside Enkidu's head, using his folded over synapses, the echoes of those early days are all an approximation. Memories housed in vessels tend to take on the pallor of the host, turned into bite-sized, humanized impressions of memory, not as flashy or ethereal or beyond physical understanding, thanks to the way angels interact with their host...

But Gabriel missed it.

And right now, he misses his found family, too, the ones that might all stab each other in the back but never left each other out to dry when it mattered. Never tried to kill each other permanently, seeing as those that did faded away, long gone, because in this world, to survive, they can't afford to pick each other off. The other Gods are far more easy-going when it came to some grudges, even if they let the tiniest, shallowest, so-very-human pet peeves fester. Gabriel misses stealing Odin's eyepatch, and Kali's grin, even though she'd soon as burn Gabriel's hands off them see him again right now, and he's overcome for a fondness for all of them, heck, even Baldr, dare Gabriel say it. All the other fragments of Gods cut off from their main hosts, all the vessels that are not human but not quite all they used to be, the same Gods the Archangels used to fight off like they did the Leviathans, just like white blood cells decimated a disease. Sure, Gabriel had thought he'd been substituting his family with pale imitations of stand-ins, when he first set out, a loner in the world. But over the years, it had almost become the opposite. The other gods felt more real, more solid, with his first family almost smoke on the wind, cut off from Earth by choice or otherwise, 

Gabriel misses feeling like he's home. Like he can rely on anyone at all.

Then he ducks into a stripclub, finds the nearest tweaker he can pinpoint, and it's not long before he's swimming in free drugs and booze and legs for days, even if it does nothing to actually make Gabriel feel alive at all.

--

Sam shivers from the cold, damp air, thanks to his slightly soaked jacket, and tries to keep hold of the feeling of sunlight, real sunlight, on his face, along with every real feeling under his feet. Not a simulation. Not a dream. Not another prison meant to force his compliance, like the basement at Bobby's, or Gabriel's other micro-dimensions or time traveling pockets of space.

Just asphalt under his feet and the scent of dying dogwood flowers along the freeway before they get the Hell out of dodge.

 "All that stuff he was spouting in there, you think it was the truth?" Dean asks, feet crunching on the gravel.

"I think he believes it." Sam answers.

Cas shuts the door behind them with a thud, and Sam's head pounds harder, and all Sam wants to do is climb into the Impala and drive for days until they're far, far away from this place.

"So what do we do?" Dean asks, stopping in front of the driver's side.

Sam leans on the hood of the car, too drained to do anything else. His lip curls over itself as Sam sucks in a breath, then he swallows, lips smacking together as he admits, "I don't know."

"Well I'll tell you one thing." Dean grumbles, and then he's looking up at Sam, eyebrows rising and falling and throat tight as he looks as lost and tired as Sam feels. "Right about now I wish I was back in a TV show."

A muscle in Sam's calf twitches, and he scuffs his shoes in the gravel, unable to stay still. 

"Yeah, me too." Sam rasps. Sam wrenches the passenger side door open, ready to topple into the car and not think about anything, anything at all.

Cas even follows suit, collapsing in the back seat to save his strength, considering all the grace he's used today.

Dean climbs in the drivers side and just goes, not even bothering to tune the radio. It hums low, barely audible, as Sam leans his head against the headrest and tries not to fear falling asleep, just this once, not ready to see the constant understanding, the endless patience and contradictory need. To see all the love Sam doesn't know how to say no to, even though he does. Sam is just too tired to put sleep off, and that was that.

His tired, static buzzing thoughts float on by, helping nothing except to serve as background noise so Sam can't think about anything else.

In TV shows, in ones with happy endings, loving someone and talking solved everything, and things worked out because people believed in each other enough.

They weren't full of contradictions, full of loose ends, full of raw fury that broke everyone's lives apart after the happily ever after credits.

Sam wishes things were that simple. That his family and the people he cares about could all just move on, and accept each other, and find a way to be happy and together without breaking each other or the world apart.

But somewhere, deep inside himself, Sam doesn't lose hope, even though he feels like he almost got there.

He's already at rock bottom. You can only go up from here...

And when push comes to shove, it's obvious. Despite not helping, despite not doing anything at all...

Gabriel isn't happy with the end of the world.

And if Sam, and Dean, and Cas, and Bobby, and one useless Archangel try hard enough...

Maybe they'd all find something, just from how much this can't be happening. How much they don't want this nightmare to eat them all alive.

Sam's just going to keep on fighting the current, will keep fighting and fighting no matter the odds, because anything else isn't going to save him.

He's already lost where it counts.

It's not about winning, anymore. Just fighting. Fighting 'til the bitter end until they've stopped it or fought until they can't fight anymore.

And Sam would go down, bloody and sure, even if Lucifer is hellbent on wearing Sam down slow.

When Sam drowns against the tide- it won't be a yes on his lips.

It will just be drowning, and him taking Lucifer right down with him. No victory in this.

Sam believes he can achieve that much. Just like he knows, when it comes to the end of it all...

Dean will give Michael all he's got, and Dean's got more fight in him than he thinks, when someone's trying to rip his family from him. Sam knows that much, has been on the receiving end when Dean thought he's been the one to threaten that, to, and in some ways, that's a twisted kind of comfort, knowing Dean will hold the line out of selfishness and nothing else, even when Sam hates him for it, and even if that's something that's hurt for a long time, too.

Dean is good at hurting the people he loves. If he lets all that out on something he hates...

Yeah, Sam is sure they have a fighting chance, even if the victory will end bloody and slow, without any real win for any side.

I believed in my brother, Sam, just as much as you did. Thought he'd fight for me. Go to bat for me. Look where it got me. Look where we are.

This time around, Lucifer is only slightly bitter that Sam slipped through his fingers again. He's already found him tonight, like Sam knows he would already- and Lucifer knows Sam will come back to him eventually. It's the maddening, always self-assured nature of all their interactions that makes Sam answer something a bit too raw, his chosen words almost as cruel as Lucifer can be to everyone else. But tonight, Sam's too tired to regret it.

And sometimes the truth hurts the ones you love, and they have to hear it anyway.

Yeah, well your older brother doesn't change. Mine can, and he will, and he doesn't play by your rules. Because we believe in choices, and each other, long after everyone thinks we should give up. And that's what will make all the difference. You'll see.

Two can play this waiting game of pure certainty. One plan might not be ordained by God, but Sam's starting to want to spite the bastard, anyway, for whatever wounds he's left to fester for his children, for being blind not to see the damage that's been done and deciding to do nothing about it, anyway.

In Sam's dream, he feels fingertips gliding through his hair, then lightly messaging the nape of his neck to chase all the aches away, and the ghost of eyelashes on his cheekbones flutter, comfortable and familiar and too much like a home Sam misses, and knows he'll never get back properly, not again.

Sam doesn't open his eyes. Only yawns and huddles closer. Lucifer might be a holy scourge on the earth, but he's still Sam's, and in his dreams... It's the only even playing field Sam gets, and the only comfort he has right now, either, despite how messed up that makes pretty much everything.

"You know... Sometimes, Sammy, you make things so simple..." Lucifer whispers. Then his grace washing over. Comforting. Soft.

And for your sake, I almost wish you were right.

Lucifer's grace turn thoughtful after that, and in Sam's dreams, he nestles closer, a familiar weight spooning and wrapping around Sam's waist. But by the time he does, Sam is already out like a light, inside his dreams and out, and Lucifer doesn't begrudge him proper sleep. They're both on edge, after today. Lucifer's close shave with Gabriel didn't exactly calm anything down. Quite the opposite.

Today drained everything out of Sam entirely. And there are still some things not even the Devil can't work in or out of his favor, pure exhaustion being one of them. Sam's neutral, blank state is so-very-human in a way not even the Devil can re-wire, even if it's the very sleep that helps him hone in closer, no matter how much ground Sam won't give for anything.

Chapter Text

Michael, despite everything, doesn't really want to have to take a physical manifestation on. John Winchester is too cramped, too confining, close to form-fitting yet not enough... Worse, he's too full of inconvenient, foreign emotions that don't perceive nearly enough, yet feel overwhelming in spite of all his human limits.

And while Michael knows he should be doing this for the right reasons, deep down, the archangel knows that it cannot be as distant as what it wants to appear as. Father demanded Perfection: So perfection is what Michael will strive for, will uphold, at least until he comes back and tells him why his brother was doomed to die, and if he'd ever bring his little brother back, if that would be enough to persuade Lucifer to be the brother he was supposed to be and disabuse him of being the tainted, vile thing Michael watched his little brother turn himself into-

But Michael can't think about that. He, (and isn't it funny, the more he watches from afar, the more he feels like his, embodied like they classify themselves, akin to his still-unclaimed vessel), and the the one he's slowly cracking open right now, with light and fumes and fire and claws, this father that is not quite a father yet, almost there, yet not, exactly how Michael must pretend to be for all his siblings after Father left... and he shouldn't be letting this human sense of self derail his thoughts so easily.

It's awful, this weakness. Michael hasn't felt it for thousands of years, kept it locked up tight and remote where he can't feel it at all.

But the moment Lucifer was out of the Cage, beyond Space and Time and Being to be free to walk the Earth again...

A fire roared again in Michael, bleeding out from every orifice, his grace still white-hot with a betrayal always festering after all these years.

(Lucifer burned cold and slow and constant, ice and detachment a mask for feelings that flared too often into passion, but while he pretends at patience, it can never mask the hunger, the need to take and take and take, to devour and gorge because nothing would ever be enough...)

Michael was the opposite. He felt everything more remotely, less immediately, with a detached patience Lucifer could only ever pretend to have, but when it came to implementing his plans, Michael always struck with a violent, pointed precision.

Lucifer's feelings built and built and built into waves, into cresting tsunamis, until each part of his carefully laid plans interlocked like a puzzle and fed off of each other, like parasites feeding off of the same host, combining into a mutated protozoa that slowly killed everything off, emitting a slow, wearing down decay until everything fell apart. Entropy at it's finest, the heat-death of the universe.

Michael... Michael was a supernova. His feelings mirrored the Beginning, a molten explosion scattering all the pieces where they fall. And when he broke, when he collapsed, everything was a black hole, collapsing inwards, ripping up everything that could not endure the mathematics and angles and components Michael needed them to be-

(Throwing Lucifer down had been like that, and when Michael first cast him into the pit, he'd burned his eyes and clutched his mouths so he couldn't sing, couldn't scream, and Michael tore at his little brother's wings so he'd have to hobble up from the pit, mutilated, castigated of all of Heaven's whispers, before those scabbed over and healed with all the icy vengeance and poison his brother had filled himself up with-)

Lucifer may have started the end, declaring his Truth that was not their Father's-

But Michael had acted when his Father gave the word. No hesitation. No questions.

Lucifer had turned his back on them.

The end would be the opposite.

Michael would allow the beginning of the end- would let all the keys unlock to his Brother's prison, only to unleash the shell of someone he once created galaxies and nebulae and starlight with at the appointed time, all so Lucifer can learn the error of his ways the only way that was left to them. And Lucifer would be the one to kick off the actual Apocalypse, before being broken, to be remade, to see what he'd never understood, what their Father made Michael punish him for-

Much like their vessels. Dean would break the First Seal, and Sam would break the last. Like they have done, because all is preordained, and time is vastly immaterial to a creature of Michael's power.

And when the final battle came, Michael would cast his brother down with the killing blow...

Unless his Father saw fit to intervene.

Then it all would be over.

 One way, or another, this nightmare would end.

Yet Michael's feelings still bubble over like lava, not outside time or the rigidity of what he knows what must occur, and they creep slow and steady until everything goes nuclear, burns it all up in flames, and with one divisive strike leveling everything in one fell swoop...

Michael may ignore their presence, try to shut them out and tamp them down (like Dean, he's able to persevere through the harshest of trials and pretend they aren't there, until it's too much and Michael wants to make everything else hurt, just like he does-), but they are always there, waiting to seep out and ruin everything, and Michael can't have that, can't be like Lucifer, who only ever thought of himself-

Michael has to be perfect.

Perfect, in all the ways Lucifer and everyone else was not.

No one else would be able to get Father to come back, to keep the Host together, to keep creation running-

It may be a thankless task, but it is Michael's purpose. And he will obey where Lucifer always rebelled.

Even now, even when he knows he has to let go, Michael doesn't want much to do with anything that reminds him of all the flaws Lucifer held- his little brother had betrayed him so thoroughly, and despite Lucifer's hatred for almost all of humanity, Michael still couldn't help but see how much Lucifer's own chaos was alive in his father's last creation before he left- not to mention Lucifer's obsession with his own vessel, his one exception to the one rule that had fractured Michael's entire family apart, and Michael would not emulate that twisted, vile fascination or become enamored with his vessel's bodied experiences and feelings and soul.

Vessels are servants to a higher purpose, nothing more. Because Michael doesn't need anything else to complete him.

All he needs is his family back, and Lucifer isn't family until Father has deemed he has paid for his crimes, given penance, and only through death and fear and pain and awe can his imperfect, broken brother ever be allowed to be reborn-

Then they can be happy again. Then everything will work out.

But until then...

There is work that must be done.

And it's time Michael spoke to his vessel.

It's not a matter of reasoning with Dean Winchester. Destiny will not be swayed, and Michael need not lower himself to bargain with a creature so far removed from the sentience and brightness and perfection of the angelic host.

But if Michael is to inhabit his skin...

He needs Dean to be a warrior, to be implacable, to understand-

And he must find a way to make Dean see that turning away from the truth, from his purpose, from what their Father's asked of them...

That is not something Michael will endure, or allow.

Dean already knows he is broken, but Michael has had eons and eons of Lucifer's doubts to make any threat of being swayed by the younger brother unconscionable. Dean is weak, not yet tempered by the age and might of the years Michael has spent waiting for his arrival to let this finally all come to an end-

(And maybe, somewhere, deep down, Michael wants to be understood, to be seen for all the hurt of a brother left behind, unable to let go but unable to move forward or accept the change that has gone on, but Michael ignores that easily. Emotions are weakness. Love of anything other than Father's vision is false, and counts as yet another weakness he must purge from his every wave and echo of form.)

Yes, Dean may be imperfect. But he won't be, not when Michael is done with him, not when he's made to see exactly how they are the same, and how pretending won't change what's happened, or what will happen.

There are no choices.

There is only the Ineffable Will of the Almighty, of Father-

And Michael will only suffer to believe in that.

When John Winchester's legs stand up, they are infused with light that smolders and burns, the grass catching fire and melting to ashen vapor just by brushing his ankles.

--

Sam's only aware of sharp pain, burning, radiating, lungs and ribs collapsed. He goes down with a sharp stab and a gasp of breath, so fast it almost doesn't feel real.

Blood dribbles down Sam's chin, as he chokes on it, and Dean can only struggle in Uriel's grip and scream his brother's name before he's still and dead on the floor.

--

(Sam is used to dying, by now, even if Dean doesn't know it. And when the darkness blurs along his vision he is cast outside of time, into Hell, where the one who is always waiting remains, and there is bright, bright light reaching out to meet him, jamming and twining fingers and claws through his ribcage and inside his soul as wings hug him close, the Archangel's True Form hissing and growling with a possessive displeasure that makes Sam shiver, like thunderclaps hissing under his skin.

Say yes, Lucifer does not whisper.

Instead, it's worse, so much worse-

You ran so far, Sammy. So far, too far for me to keep you safe. Why should I give you back, when I can feel my brother kicking down the door?

Please, we were trying to stop her, I want to live, I do-

Fine. But there's no use letting you come back yet. Not when my brother is right there. No, Sam, no, I think I'll keep you close. Mark what's mine, so Michael doesn't get any ideas... You are such a fragile, beautiful thing. But you need to learn not to run, that I will look after you, if you just ask. I can fix that. It's only fitting I take the edge off, seeing as you weren't on a intentional suicide run this go around. Let me help you.

There's a nudge of a jaw and a curl of fingers, too gentle, tracing the strands of Sam's soul, leaving a tingling cresting feeling in it's wake, and Lucifer's True Voice rumbles against Sam's lips, full of want and lust and promise.

Let me in.

And then Sam's knees go to water and his limbs crumble under the pressure of everything Lucifer truly is, as he slides a tongue past Sam's lips and tightens his grip inside Sam's mental construct of a body, of a ribcage, and all Sam feels is the blissful rush of euphoria, of cold and fire and electricity crackling through his soul as Lucifer digs his not-quite-a-fist in deeper into his chest cavity and Sam only stays suspended upright only by a phantom arm pressing into his back and the power reaching into him, caressing him, tasting him and breathing him in, except it's beyond that, beyond everything, because it's so far beyond every human feeling Sam can comprehend at all.

It could hurt, if Lucifer wanted.

It doesn't. It is the farthest thing from that, tingling through Sam's spine and up his jaw enough for his toes to curl and his head to fall forwards as Lucifer's other limbs stroke the nape of his neck from the top of Sam's head down his spine, and Lucifer reaches out and claims all that Sam perceives himself to be, and for some reason, that's more of a betrayal than anything else.

It feels good, like all the good things Sam has never been allowed to have, or all the good Sam has been given only to have it all taken back, and Sam shudders under Lucifer ministrations, in all the ways he pulls Sam under and unravels Sam and all he is.

It's okay to be helpless in the face of this, Sam. You were made to be helpless. You were made to be mine. And I am yours. Always yours, and I will numb all the pain away, every wound, every scar, so all you can feel is this, is our perfection, in it's wake. Let go, Sammy. Let me feel you, let me touch you, let me have you-

Sam tries to hold himself upright, fingertips digging into the tendons where ethereal wings radiate from the Devil's twisted spine, but even his fingers lose their grip when Lucifer's tongue licks up his heart and there's a kiss forcing Sam's lips apart, even when Sam's is already panting and mouth already gaping open.)

--

Back in time, back on Earth, Dean stares at his brother's dead body and feels the hopeless rush, how everything in his family has failed to keep him safe, Dean included, and the sound of wings flutters in, close enough for Dean to hear above Anna's false apology but otherwise easily to miss.

"Anna." Michael's voice rings out from John's mouth, clearer, louder, ringing with the very air and firmament beyond being from the highest peaks of Heaven's throne.

The air turns heavy and flat, like there's an invisible pressure crushing them all slowly and ghosting over their bones.

"Michael." Anna whispers, turning on her heels.

Michael tilts his head, and steps forward with a lazy, assured tension, displeasure radiating in the curl of his mouth and the set of his jaw, and Dean tries not to feel the same thing as his heart leaps in his throat.

Michael grabs her shoulder.

Anna burns from the inside out, into ashes, into complete nothing, like she never existed in the first place-

Under Dean's tongue, there is an itch, and he feels dizzy, like there's something trying to scratch under his skin and down his throat, and he swallows and looks away, breaking out in a cold sweat as he clenches his jaw and tries not to feel gutted from the inside out.

"Michael. I didn't know." Uriel freezes, head bowed, like a recalcitrant, wayward child caught doing something he shouldn't. He let go of Dean when he couldn't move, still half-holding himself up on the side of the room-

"Goodbye, Uriel." Michael says, all authoritarian, all used to getting his way, and he snaps the lesser angel away with a guiding hand. Uriel would have to be punished- weakness cannot be allowed, not when Lucifer would clamor for any fallen allies to flock to him, and not when it displays the weakness Michael's been trying to stamp out for eons, the same weakness that ripped his first brother-

(and favorite, even now, but Michael ignores that, too, even though Raphael and Gabriel have always known the truth, the gaping hole in their lives and Michael's rage turning remote and shut down into calm in an too all-encompassing way for it to be anything other than the greatest weakness Michael has ever tried to hide inside himself)-

-From him for eternity until he learned his lesson...

(Except Lucifer never learned. Michael knows that all too well. But he ignores it. He has to ignore it. Lucifer would have to grow up sometime, and if the agony of a slow death didn't make him see the monster he's become, then Michael knows there is only one hope of fixing him. And Father won't come back until he's finished this... Until he's ended the final fight and brought his brother to his knees and watched all the grace turn to poison in his veins and leech out of him-).

Mary glances at Dean, and Dean her, and then she stares Michael down because this monster is still the scariest one she's ever known, even more than Azazel, because there is the beginning and the end staring out of her husband's eyes-

"What did you do to John?" Mary's voice doesn't quake too much.

"John is fine." Michael voice purrs like he's instructing a child, non-answer as condescending as they come.

"Who... What are you?" Mary's voice grows louder, more afraid, because no matter who or what the Archangels wear their true selves cannot be entirely contained, but she is not cowed, she will not let this thing take her family away, too-

"Shh..." Michael holds a hand to his lips, then presses two fingers to her forehead.

Mary crumbles to the ground fast as Sam did, only without all the gasping pain, only numb, blanket exhaustion.

Then Michael looks at Dean head-on, and there's terror slipping through every nerve that Dean has, awe making every hair stand straight up, and something beyond both of those things slips down Dean's throat and makes him feel glued to the floor where he stands-

Inside Dean's stomach, there's a knot, and it curls tighter and tighter.

Michael has never been this close before, and the power crackling through the air, whispering over Dean's chest, blisteringly dry and hot and constant, flaring like plasma when solar flares crackle through empty space, like it will expand and crack open his ribs, or break them with too much fire as his grace worries at the lines of Dean's sternum-

Dean hasn't wanted to think about the ringing he can almost hear like a hum of inside eardrums, a sound of recognition, forbidding, controlled and contained.

Michael's grace tastes like a thousand needles on Dean's skin, like judgement, like the feeling you get when there's a monster and all you want to do is skin it alive with all the detached ease in the world-

Michael's essence filters through, distant yet still present, and Dean feels like he's breathless, like he's been running drills, over and over, full of rote exhaustion but predictable and repetitive and habitual, and Dean fights a strange fog that makes his head pound and his teeth grind.

There is a rage, below the surface, that Dean can feel burning even now, and Dean isn't sure if that's his own rage, his own fear, or if that's all Michael unable to hide it from him, unconstrained despite all the efforts to the contrary.

Then it all withdraws, like Michael realized how much he let slip, like he hadn't meant to be seen, to be felt, to be known, and it all leaves Dean cold and shaking, wanting the dry sandpaper feeling to file down his soul, but not wanting that because that would mean the end of everything Dean loves...

And Dean thinks of Castiel, how his grace felt like something growing, like a stormcloud sliced with lightning, like fog rolling in and warm muggy nights, and tries to dispel the tastes of ashes and fire that hums deep inside his bones.

"Well, I'd say this conversation is long overdue, wouldn't you?" Michael starts in, voice dripping with impatience and what almost sounds like disappointment.

Dean steps closer, footsteps in time with the angel mirroring his stance.

"Fix him." His voice is a thin growling whisper, rasping with all the pain and fear of knowing he's staring down something that's been watching him, that is taking him apart just by looking at him-

"First... We talk." Michael warns, holding up a hand. Then he glances down at Sam Winchester, at the face his brother will wear, at the body Michael will tear apart with his lance and poison and claws and wings, at the last thing of his brother he'll see before he is remade from his broken bones and stolen and blood and skin-

"Then I fix your darling little Sammy." And Michael can't the bitterness out of his voice as his own borrowed mouth curls into a sneer.

Sam Winchester was half the reason all this happened, half the reason Lucifer remains tainted. Michael remembers all that he saw, will see, has seen, and for all the younger Winchester's attempts at not saying yes, his pathetic weakness could and would not be overlooked, not when it enabled the worst of Michael's brother to wreak havoc on everyone. He loved Lucifer, loved the monster that was hiding under his bed and inside it, and Michael knows his brother has already grabbed his vessel's soul, plucked it out of this time and place the moment Sam's life sputtered out, and while Michael doesn't care whether Lucifer gets his yes now or later (he'll get it one day, they all know that, by whatever distasteful, base methods he deems necessary, tactics Michael will never touch, because pain is pure, and the love Lucifer has is a fleshy, human want, unfitting for any angel who obeys the will of Heaven). And Michael knows that it isn't proper to challenge his brother right now by dragging Sam Winchester back. There's no need to force the confrontation: it will happen at the appointed time and place, in the future, when Michael has claimed his own vessel and Lucifer Sam, and while Michael could probably tear Lucifer's chosen stopgap vessel apart here and now, that would do nothing to win Father's favor, nor would it teach Lucifer his place. (He has too much faith in Sam, and to lose it, Sam must be broken with him.)

Besides, there's little use for keeping Sam alive and breathing, seeing as he's better leverage dead anyway, at least for making Dean listen.

"How'd you get in my Dad, anyway?" Dean asks, eyeing Michael up and down.

Michael is not one for skirting the obvious, and smiles at he cracks his neck. "I told him I could save his wife, and he said yes."

Except there was no way to save Mary. She was doomed before she was born, just as the Apocalypse portends.

"I guess they oversold me being your one and only vessel." Dean's hisses, and his warring relief and hate tumbles out of him without a second thought. For once, the comparison doesn't hurt Dean. He might be so screwed up he can't even be used right, but he doesn't want to give this son of a bitch anything, and it's wrong, seeing John like this, when, for all of the worst things John ever was, and all the best, he's always been unerringly human. The grace swoops around Dean and makes him ungainly, uneven, like he's stepping on a minefield and can't quite keep his thoughts together, Michael's wings radiating out the barest hint of feeling just by their physical proximity.

"You're my true vessel, but not my only one." Michael corrects. He's never really cared about the importance of true vessels the way Lucifer did. All that mattered is the cause they served. And John was an instrument of his Father, a loyal soldier who Michael could use. Lucifer's sentimentality was sickening: like it had blinded him to the fact human were frail, and easily led, and where Lucifer raged at their flaws, wanted to break them into pieces for not being good enough, for appearing to replace him, for not giving him Sam immediately so he could rip them apart-

No. Michael preferred distance. He would shepherd these poor souls, care for their welfare as his father ordered. But he would not feel anything for them. It's like caring for fish. A bit tricky to keep alive, and a shame if a school dies off and throws off the ecosystem- but ultimately, humanity is not as important as it feels. It's not so vast as to grow beyond itself. There's a reason the Archangels ruled the beginning and were the sovereigns of all that came after, God's guiding hand. They were made above them, to serve and guide, with all the certainty and logic of Heaven's will. Just as their souls kept Heaven and Eden thriving, upholding the Glory of the cradle of all God's creation.

All serve the will of Father.

"What is that supposed to mean?" Dean challenges, terse and tight and trying not to let the burning air and hum of wings he can almost see set his teeth on edge.

"It's a bloodline." Michael indulges him. Like a schoolteacher, gently correcting. No use being cruel, or getting angry. Humans are so small, so limited in their existence, after all. It's like reprimanding a dog that keeps digging the same holes and pretending it isn't in trouble.

"A bloodline?" Dean's impatience only grows, because every second Sam isn't breathing is a second too long.

Michael is brusque in his interruptions. "Stretching back to Cain and Abel. It's in your blood, your father's blood, your family's blood."

In all the blood Lucifer tainted, and for all the ways my family has been forced to clean up his mess, Michael thinks, and he tries not to let his anger grow, keeps it under lock and key, as he thinks of the blood and the cracked open skull of yet another human tainted by Lucifer, with the brother (the one that was Michael's, this time, one who was not supposed to be marked with any kind of poison now branded with Lucifer's own curse) turned into something vile and inhuman and impure, carrying down the generations. Trapped on Earth, Lucifer wanted to ruin everything that was Michael's, too, for what Michael did when he throw him down from Heaven, and all it did was seal his Fate and make Hell swallow Lucifer up for all the earth could not contain.

Dean takes that in with a wide-eyed helplessness, glancing anywhere but Michael as he realizes just how much he isn't prepared to deal with the ramifications, the generations and generations that this has stretched out long before him and set the stage for what will be.

"Awesome. Six degrees of Heaven Bacon." Dean finally swallows and finds his voice. "What do you want with me?"

Michael still smiles too much with John's face, mocking laughter and scorn pulling at the edges of his mouth.

"You really don't know the answer to that?" The Archangel challenges.

"Well, you know I ain't gonna say yes, so why are you here?" Dean snarls, glaring Michael down as he steps closer, and he yells, "What do you want with me?"

"I just want you to understand what you and I have to do." Michael says, slowly but surely. Like he's Dad and all of this will be made easy, and Dean can see eons blinking beneath John's eyelids and holds Michael's gaze, brow furrowing.

"Oh, I get it. You got beef with your brother." Dean answers, and then his face twists, because he can feel all the weight crushing him, can feel the heat of Michael's anger like it is his own, like he just wants to break Sam apart and keep him locked up forever or break him so he can't see him break his heart all over again, and that, more than anything make Dean want to rip John's stolen body limb from limb where he stands. "Well, get some therapy, pal." Dean shouts, "Don't take it out on my planet!"

Michael shakes his head, and his eyes gleam with something old nostalgic and full of memory, and all Dean feels is the heat of a tarmac on the open road out West, in the summer heat, when he takes a break from driving Baby and Sam still is passed out in the other seat, and sees a grief, and a pain, so much pain, fueling all the hatred and anger and need to rip brother limb from limb that he can feel reaching out from this thing across from him, that he can feel clearer than anything else, like the rest of the world is just shifting like sand beneath his feet-

"You're wrong." Michael says, so certain. "Lucifer defied our father, and he betrayed me." And there's a fire burning under John's skin, burning through his pupils, bitter and rancid and aching, as Michael says, so softly, "But still...I don't want this any more than you would want to kill Sam."

Michael walks over to Sam, stares at his motionless body, like he can see the echoes of his own brother inside him, like he can see something bright and alive and laughing that once was what Lucifer would be, and like he can see the empty dead ending to a book that is already written.

"You know, my brother, I practically raised him." Michael says softly. "I took care of him in a way most people could never understand, and I still love him."

Then there's the pressure of wings unfurling, and Dean can sense snippets of something he can't quite understand, singing and something ageless and endless and perfect as the cosmos stretched out before them, holding something new and alive and something other than just Father, than just Himself, something different and young and willful with a mind of it's own, wings unfurling and tongues laughing out with open mouths and Michael helped guide his little brother through the empty nothing of the Endless Night-

And later, when Michael held up the skies while Lucifer lit up the darkness and Raphael and Gabriel crashed into stars Michael and Lucifer had painted across the sky, and then there's too much there, too many eons and eons and ages of folded over space and time that is too much for Dean's brain, and all Dean gets are snatches of memory, because it feels like it's just the three of them, just the four of them, just the five of them with Lucifer guiding his two younger brothers like Michael used to look after him with their Father unfurling the blueprints of their universe and hoping they can help build the scaffolding of everything else he's tried to create-

And Dean swallows, feeling like he's holding his little brother in his arms when their house burned, or holding his hand when they walked through the grass to a new broken-down motel in all the transient places that were always home, or how he would watch Sam in the car when they were young when Sam dozed on his shoulder and mumbled nonsense as he slept.

Then Michael's expression closes off, and his wings snap shut, and John's jaw clenches in a familiar way, the way it did when he told Dean he might have to kill Sam one day, that Sam was not like them-

And then all Dean feels is broken, agonizing pain through every membrane and every tendon and every too-tight constriction of his lungs when he sees the echo of when Sam died in Cold Oak, blood pouring from his lips, spine ripped straight through, as Dean prayed and prayed and prayed to his brother didn't want to believe he was already dead-

"But I am going to kill him because it is right and I have to." Michael finishes, wrath seeping through the cracks of John's voice and turning into something ugly and violent and old.

"Oh, because God says so?" Dean challenges, keeping calm, tamping down his own emotions as he thinks of the few times he actually stood up to John, and all the surprise and fear vibrating through Sam's eyes as he looked at Dean like he'd never seen him before, like he'd been a brother Sam hadn't expected to get back, and it burns inside Dean's heart sure as the bitter, cruel resignation festers inside Michael, always raw and stinging without any real relief. It had burned all the mercy out of him, over the years, and left Michael only with hurt.

"Yes." Michael interrupts immediately. "From the beginning, He knew this was how it was going to end."

We all did, Michael thinks. The moment he made you, gave us bodies destined to kill each of us with, the moment Lucifer would not stand down, we knew it would all go bad, that Lucifer would be lost to us forever and I would have to break him, because I am the only one who will-

And Michael doesn't think of the betrayal in Lucifer's eyes, of the hurt, as he begged him not to let him go, to stand with him, to break what Father had created because they could do better, they didn't need to kneel for something lesser than them, broken and imperfect-

Michael may have agreed with the sentiment, but you do not refuse to bow. Not when Father orders it.

Not when God is the only guiding light, and left them for not being loyal enough, obedient enough, for not loving him enough because he wanted them to love his creations more than him, and sometimes, Michael wonders if God left because he could see just how much Michael agreed with Lucifer even when Michael did all he asked anyway.

"And you're just gonna do whatever God says." Dean says flatly.

"Yes, because I am a good son." Michael answers. And when God sees that he loves him like he's supposed to, that he's loyal, that he's not broken and flawed like Lucifer, that he can fix this-

Father will return, and things can go back to what they are supposed to be.

Dean, of all people, should understand, but it is his understanding that is Michael's undoing.

"Okay, well, trust me, pal. Take it from someone who knows: that is a dead-end street." Dean answers, blinking away tears, swallowing with a lump in his throat he felt every time he remembers Sam looking at him like he had failed him, like he wanted to run away and never come back, and how all of the fights, all of the loyalty, to Dad and all his rules, had only ever broken Sam, made him want to go, and it had broken Dean, too, because how could they ever love each other as equals when all Sam wanted was to be seen, to be loved, to be free as himself, not just falling into line, only Dean wouldn't let him go, or accept why he wanted to leave because he couldn't do this alone and he wanted his brother with him, not trying to give up, even when he could see that this life was breaking him and Dean had only ever held on tighter until Sam had no choice but to abandon him and to stop Dean from dragging Sam down with him-

Michael does invade Dean's space now, truly angry, but still contained, still disbelieving in the sheer lack of faith his own vessel has in what he knows to be true, so clearly-

"And you think you know better than my father? One unimportant little man. What makes you think you get to choose?" Michael argues, because if it was all so simple, if it was up to them, why would things ever be like this?

Why would it ever be broken in the first place?

No, it was not being obedient enough, strong enough, good enough-

Michael had failed his brothers, his father, and he would not fail them again by doubting the grand design. Doubt had made everything go wrong. It would not fix what was already broken.

"Because I got to believe that I can choose what I do with my unimportant little life." Dean rasps, eyebrows raised as he tries not to feel so small, so useless, in the face of the holy, ancient thing staring him down, the thing that lit up the cosmos from the inside out and helped mold the world in His Father's image.

Michael blinks, and becomes softer, more condescending, like he knows just how broken inside Dean knows he is.

"You're wrong. You know how I know?" And John's face mimics the twitches Dean makes, the eyebrows, the tic of the jaw, before Michael steps back and looks at Sam's body again. "Think of a million random acts of chance that let John and Mary be born, to meet, to fall in love, to have the two of you. Think of the million random choices that you make, and yet how each and every one of them brings you closer to your destiny."

There is no getting out. There never was. Everything is part of the plan, and when that plan is realized, God will return, and they will make the world what he wants it to be, like they were supposed to-

And who was this man, this tiny pawn in the face of eons of pain and patience and broken promises, to think he could ever stand in the way of that, when he hasn't even been able to escape everything he's ever hated himself for?

Michael circles back to his vessel, to this incomplete, opposite half of himself, something so base and so beyond forward-thinking, so willing to rush in without regard for the consequences of his actions, so unlike him, and yet not, because their anger, their loss, their need to go back to simpler times was all too much the same-

And Dean can't meet his eyes again, because all he feels is the complete certainty, the complete oblivion of all the fears that rise to choke him every day, and he will not give this monster any ground no matter how easy it would be to say yes, and pretend it would fix things, and patch up the wounds that have never healed deep in Dean's memory, in his life.

"Do you know why that is? Because it's not random. It's not chance. It's a plan that is playing itself out perfectly. Free will's an illusion, Dean." Michael continues, so sure, so relentless, and Dean looks up at him, sour hatred for all the truth he feels eating away at him, at the belief that they were screwed from the start, at all the things he pretends he hasn't seen with Sam and all the ways he tosses and turns at night like warding off an invasion that Dean knows can only be one thing. But then Michael is too settled, too comfortable, with the knowledge he's going to rip his brother apart, and that Dean would ever let the same thing happen to his little brother. "That's why you're going to say yes." He says.

And Dean just stares at him, silent, wanting to pretend he has faith in himself like Sam does in him, but knowing for all the ways he doesn't want to lose Sam that Michael is pulling so many strings, and the way Michael looks at him like he's so young, so hopeless, so willing to fall in line-

Like he is broken in already.

And Dean feels like he's being pulled apart, piece by piece, and feels like he's back on the rack, like all of Hell is roaring at the back of his head because for all his good intentions he has only ever been one thing, and that is trying his best when his best just isn't good enough, never has been and never will be and Lucifer's going to steal Sam and wear him easily, because all Dean has ever done is lose his brother while his brother ran, and now Michael is offering the only way out. The only way Dean won't have to see it, when Sam finally breaks because the Devil won't let him rest, won't stop hunting them, and because Sam was the one that left him, abandoned him, to break the last seal and why did he have to do it, why couldn't he just listen-

Why couldn't Dean love him enough not to scare him away, like he always does?

And Michael sees all of Dean's self-hatred, of all the ways he has betrayed himself, and turns caustic. Weakness in his vessel was not allowed, not if he was going to use him to fix things. All of that must be corrected, before the end.

Dean should be grateful he is willing to patch up all his failures.

But they say nothing about the understanding that passes between them. They are seen. They know what the other is.

"Oh, buck up. It could be worse. You know, unlike my brothers, I won't leave you a drooling mess when I'm done wearing you." Michael taunts, skirting around the thing they will not talk about, the knowledge that both of their brothers are broken and that they always have to haul them out of the messes they created. He is like his vessel that way, too, more mouthy and with a darker sense of humor than most expect.

"Well, what about my dad?" Dean asks.

"Better than new. In fact, I'm gonna do your mom and your dad a favor." Michael half-laughs, because it's time Dean realized what was right in front of his face.

"What?" Dean asks, still not following, still not willing to accept the truth that's been in front of him the whole time.

"Scrub their minds. They won't remember me or you." Michael explains.

"You can't do that." Dean whispers, holding on to the last injustice that is not his fault, the last painful thing he could fix-

"I'm just giving your mother what she wants. She can go back to her husband, her family-"

"She's gonna walk right into that nursery!" Dean interjects, feeling like he's four again, knowing there's no way to stop this, that everything he's tried to change has all gone up in smoke-

Michael turns away from him and back to Sam.

"Obviously. And you always knew that was going to play out one way or another. You can't fight City Hall." Michael warns, and he smiles, his voice rasping in John's chest, because he's long since resigned himself to the fact that this was how things were. It's not really Dean's fault he's taken so long to understand. Michael didn't want things to be this way, either, once, but after all the years pass, you learn to scrub away all that weakness and accept how things are going to be.

Dean will get there, in the end.

And Dean feels the weight of what lesson Michael wants to teach him, has flown out here just to hammer home. There's no rewriting the past. No fixing the future, because everything that happened will happened, and outside of time, everything that must happen will be. 

Michael bends down, and places two fingers on Sam's brow, so gently, like he's looking at who his brother used to be and not the thing that would house him as a monster, as a thing to be put down.

Dean can't move, stuck in place, shoulders bowed and all the feelings like he's barely alive at all smothering his every breath.

"He's home. Safe and sound. Your turn." And Michael permits himself to touch his vessel, just the once, just slightly, as he tugs at Dean's jacket. Michael's voice is too sure, like he already knows he owns him, and says, "I'll see you soon, Dean."

And then there's a feeling of heat, like burning alive only it doesn't hurt, as Michael touches John's hand to Dean's forehead, baptizing him in his hopes and dreams and certainties of his father's legacy, of the traditions putting down what is broken and starting over anew.

--

When Sam's body is gifted back to the future, Lucifer hugs his soul close as he starts sewing him back into his body, breathing down his throat while tugging Sam back to life.

"It won't be long, baby." Lucifer whispers, kissing his jaw. "You treat yourself right, and in the meantime, I'll make sure nothing gets near you, or your brother. Michael won't get close again-"

And Sam starts, breaks free of the fog as Lucifer withdraws from inside him, as he can finally think straight, and asks a silent question as he panics because he didn't know Dean was trapped with Michael and he can't let Michael get his hooks in him like Lucifer has himself-

And Sam lurches upright, starts breathing, but he's still pinned down by the Devil as he straddles him, one hand ghosting over his chest, 

"Sammy, Sam. Breathe." Lucifer instructs, other hand rubbing Sam's back, lips so close as he whispers in Sam's ear, and Sam can't get enough air, every limb still feels stiff and numb and Lucifer is doing that on purpose, bringing back control extra slow, and Lucifer doesn't let him get a word in edgewise, just to say his piece. "Dean is fine. Trust me, my brother wasn't asking the big question, not yet, not until it's the right time, he was just stopping in. And I promise you, I won't let him get the drop on you again, and he'll suffer for this, all of Heaven will, for hurting you, I'll make them bleed-" Then Lucifer breathes in and traces Sam's face and calms himself, eyes rapt as he pushes feeling back into Sam's chest and arms and legs, "You know you can stop it, Sammy. You can always stop it. You say yes to me, and I'll never let him lay a hand on your brother. And even if you don't say yes- you call for me, I will be there, you know that, and no one will ever get close. I promise, Sammy. You don't have to keep hiding- all you have to do is ask for my help, and I'll be there. You know what to do if you need me. Just do me a favor and don't go gallivanting off to the past again. I don't want to wear Nick out before you're ready. That would just be a waste."

Then Lucifer kisses him, slow and coaxing, and Sam tries not to feel like he's drowning again as he gains control of his limbs.

And then Lucifer is gone, because the last thing Sam needs is the Devil walking in right when Dean is too vulnerable to fight back and still reeling from what Sam knows must have been unpleasant, and claustrophobic, and maybe too tempting, after all.

No use trying to string Fate along.

--

When Sam finally lurches back to life, fully online, Dean is not yet in the motel.

He gets zapped in a minute later, looking haunted and half-dead and asks Sam if he's alright and doesn't check for any other wounds, because his chest isn't caved in anymore and Sam has drunk half a bottle of whiskey already.

They do patch up each other's nicks and scratches, and after Sam offered Dean a swig and he passed, they both remain silent, both of their throats not working right with all the grace buzzing in their system and the threats and promises too much to say anything about at all.

--

It's Cas who breaks the silence when he flies in and soon collapses.

Sam catches him, and Dean supports his head and other side as they heard him to a bed, both of them talking to Cas and each other to try and keep him conscious as they carrying the too-heavy weight of an angel before he passes out in their arms.

"Well, I could use that drink now." Dean sighs. His hands haven't stopped clenching and unclenching this entire time, and Sam still feels the ghosts of every place Lucifer touched his soul, feels the echo of a ghost of a kiss on his cheek and feels like he's betrayed Dean somehow, even though he hasn't done anything-

"Yeah." Sam manages, and then all he can think of is how Lucifer promised him so many things, promised he could keep Dean safe and sometimes, everything just seems so unfair that Sam wants to break and let himself go and let him in if it means Dean will finally be safe, that Cas and everyone Sam wants to keep from breaking might be able to live freely-

But Sam can't think like that. He can't.

He can't stop thinking that, anyway.

Today has been too much, every part of him is just buzzing with exhaustion, with pain, and hell, Sam can't even get the idea of Mom and John and everything out of his head, he had never seen her before, had only ever heard whispers of someone everyone had blamed him for taking away, and they were just going to walk back into the same trap, and Sam could still see them, so happy, before everything got ripped away and all they had wanted was safety, was their life, was each other, it's too close and too familiar and Sam still can't see how John turned into what he became but he can, because everyone always said Sam was too much like him in some ways, and if Jess...

If Jess hadn't been Lucifer to start with, he'd understand his father all too well, even if it didn't excuse anything.

"Well...this is it." Dean starts in. It's the most he's said to Sam directly since Sam woke up, aside from the usual check that Sam isn't dying anytime soon.

"This is what?" Sam asks, chugging the entire glass of whiskey in one go.

"Team Free Will. One ex-blood junkie," Dean eyes Sam up and down, notes the shaking of Sam's hands hasn't fully stopped yet, either, then toasts to himself and Cas like it's not the saddest sight he's ever seen, "One dropout with six bucks to his name, and Mr. Comatose over there." Dean grits out. "It's awesome."

"It's not funny." Sam doesn't have the energy to pretend. He's so close to breaking right now, and he knows it, and he thinks Dean knows it, too.

Dean takes another swig of whiskey.

"I'm not laughing." Dean answers, voice low and raw and tired. Whatever Michael did-

He had broken Dean, too, and Sam had promised he wouldn't let this happen, because he was allowed to be broken, but Dean...

Dean deserved so much better, and Sam thinks he knows what Michael's angle was, because of all the angels, Michael knows Lucifer best, and knows what he's after with Sam, and it's not like Sam hasn't let Dean down, and Sam can see the resignation in Dean's eyes like he's seen, week after week after week...

Then Sam asks what he's been too scared to ask ever since he woke up with Lucifer on top of him and his first instinct hadn't been to run far, far away, or even to say No.

Sam hadn't said no, not once, not today, hadn't had any fight left in him, and that scares him most of all.

Chapter Text

Sam. Get out of there. You've been made.

Sam jolts into awareness to find a shotgun pressed to his temple.

Tell me where you are so I can kill them and keep you safe.

Sam doesn't answer. He has more important things to worry about, seeing as Dean's life is possibly on the line. But maybe they are on warpath for Sam, and no one else…

He can only hope.

Michael tipped them off. I know it. This screams of his fucking tactics, he's been keeping my forces pinned all day-

"Stay quiet, and don't move." One of the masked men warns in a low whisper. "Or we'll kill you now and kill your brother before he notices."

Sam's only afraid of dying because it would lead Lucifer right to him, and he's been doing such a good job of hiding, lately.

That, and Sam's died to prevent his own possession and failed so many times now. Hard to make it feel anything other than repetitive.

Sam wouldn't even be afraid, really, not if Lucifer wasn't going to drag him away once he finds him, or use Dean as leverage to make Sam say yes-

Sam. I wouldn't do that to you. I just want to keep you safe. Let me.

Dean finally wakes up after trying to find a gun under his pillow, then eyes a gun to his chest and turns to see Sam sitting up on the bed, the second assailant with a gun to his head.

Sam gives Dean a nervous look.

A voice challenges, "Looking for this?"

The masked man holds up the gun, and tosses the cartridge from Dean's pistol, his mate's shotgun still aimed at Sam's head and Dean's chest.

"Mornin’." Dean answers.

"Shut up. Hands where I can see 'em." The first man answers.

Dean complies, but then he places the voice.

"Wait a minute. Is that you, Roy? It is, isn’t it? Which makes you Walt." Dean turns to Sam's assailant. "Hiya Walt."

Roy and Walt look at each other. Walt removes his mask.

"Don’t matter." Walt answers.

Roy follows suit, stubble and sweat visible on his skin.

It almost hurts more, by having hunters after them. Sam’s still not over the voicemail his brother sent: the one where he’d said there was no going back. That he was nothing more than a vampire.

"Well, is it just me, or do you two seem a tad upset?" Dean defaults to sass, terrified for Sam more than himself.

Walt and Roy stay intently focused on Sam.

"You think you can flip the switch on the Apocalypse and just walk away, Sam?" Walt accuses.

Sam swallows.

"Who told you that?" Sam asks.

"We ain’t the only hunters after you." The shotgun pumps, jumping in Walt's hand. "See you in the next life."

Or not. Sam panics, thinking of Hell, of all the other times he tried to die and the Devil raised him anyway-

Sam.

No.

He'll just show up anyway, once Sam dies. What's the point of giving the Devil what he wants, when Sam might be able to reason his way out of this, might be able to stop this-

"Hear me out." Sam begs. "I can explain, okay? Please."

Walt stares him down. Waits a tic.

Dean goes to get up, but Roy tracks his movements, butting the gun closer to his chest.

"Stay the hell down." Roy warns.

"Shoot 'im first." Walt suggests.

"Killin’ Sam is right. but Dean…" Roy hesitates.

"He made us and we're going to snuff his brother, you idiot." Walt contends, face unmoved. "You want to spend the rest of your life knowing Dean Winchester’s on your ass? ‘Cause I don’t."

"Please don't do this-" Sam asks, but Walt isn't having it.

"Shoot 'im." Walt orders, head tilted to Dean, and that shuts Sam up real fast.

"Go ahead, Roy, do it." Dean snarls. "But I’m going warn you, when I come back I’m going to be pissed. C’mon! Let’s get this show on the road."

Roy hesitates.

"Come on, already." Walt urges.

Roy takes one halting step forward towards Dean.

Walt shoots.

Sam goes down, bloody and fast.

--

Every angel in Heaven and every demon in Hell hears Lucifer scream, enraged, possessive, honing in on the position of his True Vessel's corpse.

Incensed, because Sam's not in Hell. He can't feel him.

No. Sam's in Heaven, like he was never meant to be.

Because of Michael.

And Lucifer is going to make him pay for it.

--

Dean jumps up, every nerve screaming, but Sam is dead, really dead-

They gun Dean down a second later before he can do anything.

--

When Sam wakes, there's a radio hissing with static by his ear.

He's at his apartment. The one he shared with Jess.

You don't get to steal what is mine. Give him back, Michael, and I won't start leveling Heaven to Earth early-

Sam hears hiss over the radio and in his head, a bit garbled.

I am not a possession.

Sam replies on autopilot, disoriented.

He feels something bright and burning and cold ring against his teeth in answer.

But you are mine.

That doesn't hiss over the radio, this time.

Sam takes a moment to get his bearings. There's no doors, and the view from the window is a bit too much like watercolor paintings, indistinct and runny and not quite all there.

Sam figures he might as well find the baseball bat Jess... Lucifer... had stored under the bed, in case it will do anything.

Even if it won't actually injure an angel, because this is their turf.

(In hindsight, Sam probably should consider Jessica's eagerness to bludgeon intruders in a new light, but he can't quite muster the energy. He did just die again, after all, and it's not like Lucifer's paranoia isn't entirely unfounded, case in point.)

It's still more than a little exhausting, and Sam is far more worried about Dean, because what if Michael is using this time to wear him out and try and get him to say yes in person-

He isn't yet. I'd know. I'd feel it.

Small mercies, then.

Sam wonders if Jess can't populate in the memories because she was really Lucifer, and tries to find a way out of this.

--

The air is cold outside the Impala. Thunder keeps rumbling, a dry summer phenomenon.

Dean doesn't know why Sam is so young. All the worry has been smoothed off of him, replaced by the Sam he once knew better than the one he knew now. The Sam that didn’t surprise him.

It feels like a dream. It has to be a dream...

Deep down, Dean can feel how it's a bit too different to be a dream and ignores it.

Dean leans on the roof of the Impala, thinking.

The radio roars to life, all scratchy feedback.

"Dean!" A voice rumbles, unsteady, over the radio.

Dean leans past the driver’s seat through the window.

"Cas?" Dean asks, thrown.

"Yeah, it’s me." Cas responds.

Dean wrenches open the door and listens close.

"You gotta stop poking around in my dreams. I need some me time." Dean jokes, but it tastes wrong. He wishes Cas were here. Cas felt safer than whatever this was.

"Listen to me very closely. This isn’t a dream." Cas announces.

Dean watches his surroundings with wary consideration.

"Then what is it?" Dean presses.

"Deep down, you already know."

And there's light and blood and sound and emptiness and the roaring vacuum of death sucking them up, all lightness pulling them from their heavy bodies.

"I’m dead." Dean says quietly.

"Condolences."

"Where am I?"

"Heaven."

--

The minute Dean showed up, Sam knew he'd have to employ some sort of damage control. His more cherished memories (memories apart, memories free, memories without a care in the world-) depopulated, to instead yield to happy memories that did not connect to Stanford or Jess. Sam does not know why Heaven would deign to make that change, or if it's part of a larger manipulation. (It likely is.)

"Wow. Just wow."

"Dean? What are you doing in my dream?"

Dean just makes a face in response.

"We're in Heaven." Dean answers.

I know. Sam doesn't say. It's not a comfort. Neither of them are off the chessboard.

Not only is Sam forcibly used as bait against Lucifer, but here, he is leverage to hold over Dean, now that Michael made a play.

Sam wonders which is worse, hoping the Devil comes for you and rescues you and your brother, or hoping Michael lets the Apocalypse go...

Sam needs a third option. A jailbreak for them both to get out.

"Heaven." Sam asks.

"Yup." Dean is certain.

Sam lets out some of the hysterical skepticism out, even though he knows the truth, because it's better than facing other feelings he does not have on lockdown.

"Okay, how are we in heaven?" Sam asks.

"All that clean living, I guess." Dean deadpans.

Sam shakes his head.

"No, no." Sam regains his composure. "Okay. You… I get, sure. But me? Maybe you haven’t noticed, but I’ve done a few things?"

And Lucifer has a hold on me, one you don't even know about. How did they even get me up here?

Through bullshit, Sam. 

Sam can hear the unprompted thoughts, but his grace still sounds tinny and far away, like it is miles underwater.

"You thought you were doing the right thing." Dean answers, but Sam can tell it's the kind of fake supportive certainty that shows Dean hasn't forgiven him for it.

Sam is tired and bitter and drained, and he answers, "Last I checked, it wasn’t the road to heaven that was paved with good intentions."

"Yeah, well, if this is the Skymall it sucks. I mean, where’s the triplets and the latex, you know? C’mon, a guy has needs."

"You know, when you bite the dust they say your life flashes before your eyes."

"Your point?"

"This house, it’s one of my memories."

"When I woke up, I woke up in one of my memories. The Fourth of July we burned down that field?"

"Maybe that’s what heaven is: a place where you relive your greatest hits."

If so, Sam wonders why all his memories so far have been empty.

They were all memories of places he'd been with Jess, sure. But Jess wasn't in any of them.

Sam wonders if Lucifer has something to do with that by proxy, seeing as he was inside her.

"Wait, so… playing footsie with brace-face in there? Then that’s a trophy moment for you?" Dean challenges, incredulous.

"Dean, I was eleven years old." Sam sighs. "This was my first real Thanksgiving."

"What are you talking about? We had Thanksgiving every year."

"We had a bucket of extra-crispy and Dad passed out on the couch." Sam answers.

The world around them rumbles and shakes and the lights flicker.

Sam hears distant screams.

I'm coming for you, Sam. Don't let my brother find you first.

"Get down." Sam says, dragging Dean to the corner of the room.

--

It's night again. They're on a street Sam knows like the back of his hand.

A pit forms in Sam's stomach.

If Dean knows... He won't take this well.

"What memory is this?" Dean feigns cluelessness. There's an edge there, though, one he can't hide and that Sam doesn't want turning into another thing widening the gulf between them.

"No idea." Sam lies. "Alright, come on. Dean… Road. God. Remember?"

"Wait a minute. Wait a minute. This?" His tone is all accusation. "This is the night you ditched us for Stanford, isn’t it? This is your idea of heaven? Wow." Dean laughs. "This was one of the worst nights of my life."

"I can’t control this stuff." Sam answers. He doesn't care, either. He's not going to apologize for this.

He's not going to apologize for the first feeling of being free and moving on and getting out, even if it had hurt. Even if there had been loss, there had been something more important there. Something Sam would never trade for anything, because it's the first time he felt free enough to seek out what he needed for himself, and to know that even if it hurt, he'd get through the pain and the loss and survive.

--

"Sir?"

"Yes?"

"Lucifer is waging war against Heaven directly."

"Move them to the Garden. That will be the last place the Serpent can breach."

--

Look, it took a lot of ritual mass murder to even get a line up to Heaven, so don't criticize me. You gave me no choice.

--

When Sam and Dean come to in their newly-fixed up bodies, Roy and Walt are bloody dismembered smears against the wall, heads caved in and chests collapsed and it's enough to make Sam heave.

At least until Sam sees Lucifer right in front of him and scrambles backwards against the wall, while Dean goes for the angel blade they know is useless, only to get thrown against the headboard and pinned by invisible force.

Lucifer's eyes don't leave Sam's face, and he doesn't even turn when Dean keeps struggling like a not-quite-dead bug half-pinned on a corkboard.

Sam keeps his eyes on Lucifer. Lets him approach. Doesn't really do much else in case it means Dean isn't Lucifer's center of attention, just in case Lucifer decides to take his frustration out on Michael, or at least the next-best stand in for him.

Lucifer hauls Sam up to his feet, one hand on Sam's collar, the other on his shoulderblade, and Sam tries to keep his eyes cast down when he can to avoid the too-close-too much feeling of Lucifer taking things into his own hands and breaking promises Sam knew he would try to break, anyway.

"Sam, the next time someone tries to kill you," Lucifer starts in, voice level and low but there's a shaky edge just waiting to break through, Sam can tell, and Lucifer keeps going, forces Sam to look at him, hand slightly digging into the underside of his chin, "And you don't let me help, I am flying you to Hell myself and keeping you there until I have killed off your entire species and leveled Heaven into a pancake. Do you understand me?"

"Lucifer-"

"Do you understand?"

"Okay-"

"I want to hear the words, Samuel."

"Okay! I hear you. I... I understand."

"Good. Now keep yourself hydrated and eat the damn pizza. I'll know if you don't." Lucifer instructs as he walks back to the door. "And if any angel other than Castiel comes with ten feet of you, I will find you. And you won't like how I respond, so.... Take care of yourself. I mean it."

Lucifer flies off without another word.

Sam tries not to look at the very bloody remains of the pizza delivery guy splattered on the doorframe that is revealed in his wake.

Dean stares at the carnage in the room and then Sam, mouth agape.

There's silence for a bit. Very uncomfortable, terrifying silence.

When Dean talks, it's low and furious and muffled to the point that Sam knows something has broken inside him, and it's something Sam doesn't know how to fix.

"Sam, why is the Devil acting like your personal trainer?"

"Guess he wants his vessel in tip-top shape." Sam grits out. "And then panicked that Michael had it."

Dean doesn't buy it for one second.

--

When Sam and Dean step outside, it's like the aftermath of a war zone. Or a zombie movie.

The entire town is silent and covered in bloody, dismembered corpses hanging off of every spare bit of space.

Cars are stalled with their lights on in the middle of the street. Nothing makes noise except some crows.

On the news that night, every major news station in the area covers the carnage of the entire town and how every civilian is dead. 

And Sam's guilt settles heavy on his shoulders, because he doesn't know how he's going to stop this. Not when Heaven can pluck him off of earth and Lucifer can do whatever he damn pleases and...

And he's going to figure out a plan, or so help him...

He can't let this continue on. Not like this.

--

And after Castiel's search for God is useless, and after the day they've had, and the fact that Cas and Dean don't seem to have a single hope anymore, and everything else...

Maybe Sam shouldn't be surprised, that Dean's ready to throw in the towel. That he'd throw the amulet Sam gave him in the trash, after something like that.

But Sam still fishes it out and puts it around his neck for now, hides it under his layers of flannel that still don't keep Lucifer's chill from settling on his collar.

One of them has to believe that it matters. One of them has to believe in them.

One of them has to have hope that they can fix this, even if it seems impossible, because Sam is tired of being told everything is some divine plan and there's no escape when this is his life, and it's his choices that led them here, which means his choices might dig them back out.

And Sam isn't giving up yet.

The odds have been stacked this entire time, and he has no answers...

But he still hasn't said yes.

And that has to count for something.

Chapter Text

“They all say we’ll say yes.” Sam starts in. All the fears are not new, but Sam can feel something has shifted with Dean after his conversation with Michael, and after Lucifer…

“I know. It’s getting annoying.” Dean answers, as if he can wave away the fear just like that. But Sam can feel that tension there, the almost-exhaustion Dean’s keeping buried away.

Sam nods, his eyes averted.

“What if they’re right?” He can’t help but ask.

(Feels the hum of Lucifer against his skin, the soul and Archangel close but not joined, just a taste of the things he’s been running from and failing. Sam, it’s only a matter of time.)

“They’re not.” Dean hesitates over the glass, but his voice stays assured. Takes a swig of alcohol for good measure. Sam wishes he could have that abandon, that denial back.

And Sam lets the things he hasn’t wanted to fester break though, because he needs Dean’s surety to fight the Devil inside his head.

“I mean, why… why would we, either of us?”

You know the answer, Sam. You’ve always known.

And Sam trips over his words with a shrug of his shoulders, can’t stop talking too fast as it all rushes out. “But… I’ve been weak before.” And the words die again. Sam licks his lips, looks down at his drink because he still can’t erase his own role in all this.

I’m weak now. Sam doesn’t say. But Dean doesn’t give him a chance to doubt.

“Sam-” Dean interrupts, but Sam keeps going because if Dean is going to argue he wants him to destroy every doubt plaguing him all at once. Looks at Dean because this was something he could face head on.

“Michael got Dad to say yes.” Sam challenges.

“That was different.” Dean assures, adds, “Anna was about to kill Mom.”

Sam isn’t buying it, just gives Dean a panicked, cynical glare.

“And if you could save Mom? What would you say?” Sam asks. Voice choking off because this isn’t working as planned.

Dean swallows as he pauses.

And Sam suddenly finds there’s no argument keeping him tamped down from the machinations of Lucifer, no answer that would challenge the fact he might say “Yes” for a reason with all the best intentions.

It would all end the same.

Sam trying to keep the Devil out and the Devil having his fun anyway.

But Sam will try anyway. He won’t be the one saying yes.

Not this time.

--

And it kills him, when Dean doesn’t believe. When he says he knows Sam will say yes in a bid to force Sam to let Dean give himself up to Michael. When he says, “Lucifer’s gonna wear you to prom, man, it’s only a matter of time.”

Gotta say, Sammy, Lucifer whispers in his sleep, Big Brother’s dealing with this even worse than I thought.

And Sam ignores it.

That isn’t a choice, either.

Because he would not be the one to give in. Not when it really matters.

“Don’t say that to me.” He answers, quiet, and he lets himself cry because this is the last confirmation of his own failings he needs. “Not you, of all people.”

I can see a brotherly resemblance.  Michael liked to kick me while I was already down, too.

I don’t care what you or Dean or Michael or anyone thinks. I am going to end this. You don’t get to have me.

But I already do, Sam. Hell, let’s say you never say yes. Take a gander down that impossible lane you are so focused on driving along. Even if you never say yes, I still already have you. You’re mine in every way, Sam. And I know you know it’s true.

Sam doesn't let that truth doesn't faze him, because his acceptance of the truth is just another enemy to conquer. All in a days work, as his nights grow longer and longer.

More often than not, Lucifer keeps on fucking Sam in his dreams, Sam unable to do much except to whine and beg and scream for more. Although when he does say no, the Devil stops, one small act of unspoiled kindness in a sea of coercive power-plays and uneven, tiny betrayals, if only Sam didn't know what to expect from Lucifer once the smokescreen cleared between them.

The Devil never asks for a 'yes' on those nights. He's mostly quiet, content to hear Sam's moans of bliss and want and need, and usually whispers things Sam finds familiar, promises from before the time that Sam knew exactly what Lucifer could be. Red eyes gleam, too bright and knowing, as the Devil preemptively unmakes every protest Sam's lips can't quite make himself speak.

Your heart and soul is mine, Sam. Always has been. Even if you won't give the rest of yourself up so easily.

Sam pretends it doesn't matter. That everything that he lets happen while unconscious isn't a betrayal of everything he tries to be.

The alternative, the whispered assurances, the slow wearing down through discussions of inevitability as Lucifer only holds Sam close, are always worse in comparison.

--

And Sam would admit, it was so, so satisfying, when Castiel reminded Dean just where they stood. What they were giving up for this. Sam would forever be indebted to the angel for that, because that gave him something else to hold on to before the end. It was a lifeboat in a storm Sam knew he wasn’t going to survive.

But it was a lifeboat all the same.

And it was that chance that made up Sam’s mind. They would save Adam. And he would trust Dean and Castiel and Bobby.

Because if he believed in them, maybe they would believe in him.

And that was the last thing anyone- Zachariah, Uriel, Michael, Dean, or Lucifer- expected him to have.

--

That whole feeling of resolve doesn’t even fade as Sam spits up his guts in tandem with his younger half-brother, although Zachariah’s brute show of force is not an experience he’d like to repeat.

NO, DON’T YOU DARE SAY YES, DEAN, DON’T YOU DARE-

You know, Sam, this ill-advised course of action is a bit too suicidal for my tastes.

And before Dean can kill Zachariah himself, there’s a markedly different voice interrupting Dean’s hasty negotiations for the price of admission.

“You know, I’m all for blood and tears,” Lucifer starts, ice cold, “But I’ve never been a fan of Michael’s stealing what's mine. And twice... Is two times too many.”

There’s a flash of light and the imprint of wings as Zachariah burns, one angel blade stuck through his chest.

And Sam can breathe again, Adam, too. But Sam is breathless in a more painful, less physical way.

“Miss me, Sammy?” Lucifer asks. And their piece of heaven is colder than the deepest depths of the Mariana’s Trench.

There’s a rush of wings, and the three Winchesters are all flown away by the Devil himself right before big brother arrives.

--

They are thrown down in a warehouse. Castiel stands bound in an angel trap a few feet away.

“Let’s get a few things ironed out, shall we?” Lucifer’s smile is all teeth, not a shred of kindness to be found. "After all, we four have a lot to discuss."

Sam keeps his arms out, shielding Dean and Adam even as Lucifer stands motionless on the other side of the room.

“Don’t bother trying to run. I won’t let you. Let’s just… settle down and have a chat.” Lucifer continues, mostly addressing Dean. He knows Sam can’t go anywhere at the moment, their vessel link always singing.

Sam feels wings as too-light, too-sharp feathers brush against him so softly, not cutting skin.

“So. Sam, I think it’s high time we cleared the air of any lingering misconceptions. What do you think?”

Sam swallows.

“About what?”

“I think you have an idea.”

Sam stares at the floor.

“I’m not saying yes.”

“Oh, I know. You’ve made that abundantly clear.”

Sam jolts like he’s been struck by lightning and stares into the Archangel’s eyes.

What? You’ve been pushing this for months, and now, just like that-

Like I said, high time we talked. I’ve been mulling some things over. I think you’ll want to hear what I have to say.

“Do you really think we believe that you’re just giving up so easily?” Dean’s voice carries over.

Lucifer rolls his eyes and makes some chairs appear.

“I’m not giving up anything. And normally, I wouldn’t care what you or anyone else is stupid enough to believe, Dean. But Sam relies on you, and I need your cooperation to ensure he doesn’t get dragged into something stupid and deadly again, even if that is an occupational hazard. So. Sit and keep your mouth shut. Not you, Sam.” Lucifer clarifies. “Just you two. It will settle Sam’s nerves.”

Lucifer’s grace surges around them in all its glory.

Adam listens, scared to death. Dean doesn’t. Castiel paces in the angel trap on the floor.

Lucifer glances over, but doesn’t press the issue or force Dean to comply. His eyes, and the full force of everything the Devil is, just rivet his attentions back to Sam.

“Sam, this is a trick, it has to be, don’t listen to him-” Dean’s voice is far away.

“You can say all you like, Dean, after I’ve said my piece.” Lucifer hisses. Dean’s voice cuts out in spite of himself, no grace required.

Sam wonders why Cas hasn’t said anything, it’s not like him at all, as he tries to ignore the ringing and brightness and feelings rising up around him, inside him-

 “You can let Cas go-” Sam tries, hoping to focus on anything else instead.

“No, I can’t, Sam. He’ll try to fly you away, and he’ll fail because he’s low on power, considering he’s barely an angel anymore. And then you’ll all find a way to blame me for it, and I’m not feeling too charitable after you nearly died just now. So. We can talk like this, or I can fly you off all alone with no audience. Your pick.”

There’s a pause.

“Okay.” Sam whispers.

This works.

Thought so.

“Good. Far easier to get this all out in the open and out of the way, right here. Right now.” Lucifer trails off, his tone growing gentler as his hands clasp behind his back. “Now, Sammy… I know you have questions.”

“I… yeah.” Sam manages to say.

This is kind of a 180 from everything-

Oh, trust me, I know.

“And before we start... Well, your brothers and Castiel don’t trust me, and I realize that you, Sam, for all your virtues, might need a gesture of good faith. So here. Managed to grab them while I grabbed you. Once in a lifetime opportunity, when you’ve been kicked out of Heaven for eons.”

With a snap! Ellen and Jo are there, in the room, alive, huddled on the ground and shivering, still wearing the clothes they died in.

Sam stands, arrested, as Dean ushers them away from the Devil, towards him, eyes wide and mouth saying words Sam can’t quite hear right now.

You-

Oh, ye of little faith. I told you, Sam. Although, we know that’s not true. You just really enjoy denial.

Lucifer waits, too patient.

“I would have brought others back to you. But that would take another jailbreak into Heaven, and I’m Public Enemy Number One. So they’ll be upping security now that I got through. Castiel can’t really help either, low on grace as he is. So unless you want to go yelling to Michael again, Dean, which I don’t advise, I’m afraid there’s not much I can do on that front.”

“I would think you’d be all for anything that keeps the End of Times gravy train going. Now you’re telling me that you don’t want to wear Sam? That you don’t want me to say yes to Michael?” Dean can’t help but interrupt. “Wow, Satan. Who died and took your place?

Lucifer looks at Dean like he’s a particularly dense mosquito.

“Sam is his own person. And as for you, not at all. It gives me the advantage, even if Nick is wearing thin.”

“I thought you were all about Fate and Destiny.” Dean counters. “And what happens when you do lose blondie here?”

“Then I’ll… have to improvise. I’ll manage.”

“I’m sure you will. Con some poor sucker into buying whatever snake oil you’re selling.”

Lucifer talks over him.

“Be that as it may, my brother doesn’t deserve his vessel. He squandered his chances.”

Dean keeps going and looks at Sam, expression obvious. “Sam. You really believe this guy?”

“And he doesn’t love you like I love Sam, so-”

Dean stops talking.

“I’m sorry. You want to run that by me again?” Dean manages.

“I love Sam. Water is wet. Do I need to check your hearing, too?” Lucifer tone is pure ice.

“Stop it.” Sam grates out. Lucifer’s attention snaps back to him.

“Sam, is there something you want to say?”

Sam looks at anything, the wall, at no one.

I thought we weren’t-

Things change. You want me to attempt giving you up as my Vessel? Fine. I’ll do my best. But I’m not giving up what we have for anything, Sam. This is the price you pay. And isn't that what you wanted? For love to come in and save the day?

Sam doesn’t have anything to add to that. Weathers Dean’s pointed gaping look with as much courage as he can manage.

“Sam, what the Hell is Satan on about-”

“Dean-”

“Oh, God, Sammy. No. Don’t look at me like that. Don’t tell me that what he’s implying goes both ways-”

“Wait, what-” Adam is incredulous.

“It’s not what you think-” Sam’s voice sounds weaker than it should be.

“Son of a bitch. Son of a bitch. God, Sam. My god. You sure know how to pick ‘em.” Dean takes refuge in obtuse denial and festering anger, still there from Ruby and the blood and partially driven but what he wished he didn’t already suspect. “How long has this been going on?”

“Sam’s right.” Cas cuts in. “It’s not what you think, Dean.”

“You knew about this?” Dean turns on Castiel, because he needs somewhere to let his rage out, and the Devil wasn’t playing.

“Lucifer has been visiting Sam in his sleep.” Castiel clarifies. “And don’t pretend, Dean. We all knew.”

Sam stares at Cas in betrayal.

“Cas-” Sam breathes.

“He needed to hear it. There’s no point hiding it now-” Cas is resolute.

“That was not your call to make-” And Sam is furious, more furious than ever.

“Well, I’m glad someone decided to set that straight. Here I thought he was just trying to get you to say yes, but no, turns out the truth is worse, that we were right not to trust you because you are fucking the Devil every night in your sleep-” Dean’s voice is like a knife cutting Sam to pieces.

“SHUT UP DEAN.” Sam snaps, breathing too heavily. Then he takes a deep breath and turns to Lucifer. “You happy now? You get what you fucking wanted?”

Lucifer looks at Sam intently, and shrugs. “Their opinions don’t matter to me, Sam. And this is not why we’re here, not really. But if you want me to hurt them for their reactions, I will. All you have to do is say the word.”

No one says anything.

Sam turns his back to the Archangel that just won’t stop staring at him.

“What are you getting at, Lucifer?” Sam asks, pacing. “Just… stop dragging this out and tell me what you want.”

“Gladly. I’m willing to put the Apocalypse on hold, Sam. Will do it, just for you. On one condition. You give me two months of your time. You can use that time convince me it’s not worth it, that we don’t need to do this. How’s that for the deal of the century?”

Sam’s mouth is dry, and his heart is beating too fast, and he can feel how dilated his pupils have grown even though he can’t see them.

“And if I fail, once those the two months ends?”

“Sam, no-” Cas finally speaks.

Dean’s voice is louder. “Don’t tell me you’re falling for this-”

“After those two months, we pick up where we left off. I try to convince you to say yes, and you do whatever you like, like you always do.”

“Why?”

“Because, Sam. You say the Apocalypse hurts you, and I’m willing to put the work in if you are. Besides, you keep telling me there’s another way, that we don’t have to do this, and even though I am inclined to be doubtful, extraordinarily so, the truth is… I want to believe you. I want to believe we can have this, have us, without having to hurt you more.”

“But you hate humanity.”

“Yes. Well, barring you. And do I want them to live? Not at all. Do I want to give up everything that God did to make up for imprisoning me? No. But I told you I would try for you. And this is me. Trying.”

Because I love you.

Sam can’t quite find words.

You really mean it?

Sam. I haven’t lied or broken any promises to you yet. Don’t start giving up on me, now.

“How do we know this isn’t a ploy for you to get him to say yes, and jump his bones when he’s caught off guard?” Dean accuses.

Lucifer laughs.

“Because I wouldn’t do that to him, and he knows it. Hell, even Castiel here knows it, why do you think he’s been so dead set on keeping Sam away from me? But maybe that’s not enough for you. So. Read my lips, Dean. I don’t need to break the rules. I want Sam to want me, to let me in of his own accord, fair and square, no tricks necessary.” And the Lucifer is closer again, touching Sam like he can’t help it, other hand keeping Dean and Adam pinned as if they even had a chance at stopping him. “Besides, I can get him to say yes whenever I want. Well, maybe not yes, not exactly. But close enough. Isn’t that right, Sammy?”

And then he’s smiling that smile and Sam still can’t look at anyone again. He feels the flush creep over his skin.

“Say another word, Lucifer, and I’m going to stab you in the face.” Sam manages through gritted teeth, as if he doesn’t feel Lucifer’s true form swarming all over him.

Lucifer winks. “I’m sure you’ll try.”

Then he grows serious, tone deepening. “Look, this is a win-win situation here. You’ve already handled three horsemen, and I’ve got complete control over the last one. No one gets hurt, I’ll vessel hop responsibly if we even need to worry about Nick wearing out by then, which I doubt. And I’ll help you fight off Heaven, and call off my demons-”

“Yeah, and how’s that going to work, are they just going to be on board with you jumping ship?”

“They’ll do as they are told. Besides, I’ve already pitched the game plan.” Lucifer is certain, like always.

“Oh, really?”

“Of course. They just think it’s another step in the overall plan. Benefits of me being upper management, and all that. More importantly, you get to keep your body, Dean and Adam don’t have to worry about Michael while I’m on call, and I can heal you when you hunt, since Castiel won’t be an angel for long, and we can be together, just like ol-”

“I get the picture. You don’t have to keep selling it.”

 “Just being thorough. So, you on board, Samuel? You ready to venture off into the great unknown?”

“Do I have a choice?”

“You always do, Sam. And if you don’t take the deal, I’ll just send you all off to that junkyard home of yours.” Lucifer’s tone is too casual. “It’s Bobby’s, right? Maybe add a few wards to keep Michael’s lackeys away. Besides, if you run into trouble, well. You know where to find me. I’m only a prayer away.”

Sam waits, thinking. Looks at Ellen and Jo and Dean and Cas and Adam and back to the floor.

Looking anywhere but Lucifer. His thoughts are in an all-out war.

“Sam, he’s lying to you.” Dean pleads. Don’t let him have this, don’t forget what he is… Don’t let him have you, Sam, he’s already taken too much, Sam can see clearly broadcasted over Dean’s face.

If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is. This is definitely a trap. Sam argues with himself, but then another thought bubbles up, even worse. How many people have we seen where one half of a couple always think they can change the other and then it ends bad, ends bloody?

Then, But he wants to change, and… And he’s trying. People can’t make others change, but if he’s willing to do this, then he can change, because he wants to, he said so-

And since when hasn’t anything like this gone wrong? Sam’s cynical side musters.

He wants this, he wants us, we can fix this, we can bring people back if we play this right- The desperation grabs hold, not willing to be left out. Practicality soon follows on its heels, Sam’s realism always reliable.

And if it all goes to shit, well, we’ve bought Dean and Cas and everyone more time…

Deep, deep down, Sam knows what his heart wants.

“Fine. Let’s do this.” Sam finally decides before his voice can betray him. “But if you try anything-“

“Sam, you wound me. You know I’d never do anything you don’t secretly wa-”

“Okay. Fine. Starting now. Please, stop talking.”

Lucifer obeys, then flies them all back to Bobby’s.

Bobby shoots the Devil with rock salt, not exactly in the know.

Chapter Text

"So let me get this straight," Bobby starts in after everyone has settled down, his voice gruff as always, although a bit more uncontrolled. "You got rescued from Heaven, and Dean was prevented from saying yes to Michael, by the Devil, who then raised Jo and Ellen after he decided he wants to put off the Apocalypse... All because of Sam. And he is going to attempt to not kill everyone in the world like some Disney Princess hopped up on an idea of true love? Am I following this correctly?"

Sam nods, Lucifer crouched by his feet, hand twined in his.

Dean keeps pacing, unable to stay still.

Bobby is very quiet after that.

Sam looks down, unable to hold Bobby's gaze.

There's a very long pause.

"I take it if you are staying with Sam, that means you intend to stay here." Bobby asks a bit stiffly to Lucifer, and Sam watches Lucifer's eyes meet his, the Devil's expression like a king addressing some odd curiosity he can't quite figure out.

"I go where Sam goes." He answers and shrugs.

"We don't have to stay here if you don't want us to, Bobby, this isn't-"

"No, Sam. If we're doing this..." Bobby resists the urge to curse or insult the entire premise on the account of the Devil's grace scaring the shit out of everyone, but it's a near thing. "Then I don't want you in over your head. You can both stay. At least then we can keep tabs on the Devil at all times. Make sure he doesn't... Well."

"Yeah." Sam murmurs.

With that going as well as it could go, Bobby hugs Ellen and Jo like he'll never let them go.

"I'm glad you two are back." He says, voice muffled.

"You and me both, Bobby." Ellen answers, voice a welcome sound.

Dean does the same, and Sam starts, hand falling from Lucifer's grip, and then... waits, unsure if it's welcome from him, all things considered.

Jo and Ellen hug him anyway. Sam doesn't let go until they do.

Lucifer rises, but hangs back. Sam can feel the arch of his wings ruffle and looks back at him, then Lucifer eyes them all, then looks anywhere else around the room.

Jo and Ellen look at each other and then Sam and Dean and Bobby. Adam hangs back, sitting on the side, watching, Castiel standing on the side, still watching Lucifer.

Everyone stands there in silence, not sure what to do.

You... You could apologize, maybe?

Sam, I-

Look, are you sorry they died?

Well, yes.

Then what's the issue?

I'm sorry they died for reasons I think you would not approve of.

Lucifer, at this point, that's the least of our problems. An apology would at least be... something, for Jo and Ellen's sake, if nothing else. Think of it like the first steps of learning how to actually show consideration towards people who aren't me.

Sam, I said you could convince me to stop the Apocalypse, not make me like people.

Same difference in my book.

Lucifer finally looks back at Sam, who is still looking at him now that they're all just standing there, and then to Cas, who keeps staring him down. Sam suspects they've been having grace conversations of their own.

"Would you appreciate an apology?" He finally settles on, looking to Jo and Ellen with a blank expression.

There's another pause.

"I mean, it's not every day you get a personal apology from the Devil." Jo tries for levity to break the awkward tension that hasn't ebbed thanks to Dean and Lucifer barely being able to exist in the same space, still a bit thrown by everything.

Lucifer nods. "For what it is worth, I am sorry you died the way you did." His tone is less strained, but his posture isn't.

Sam sighs loudly.

"Lucifer, that is the worst apology I have ever heard in my entire life." Sam moans, head in his hands. "Ellen, Jo, I'm sorry-"

"No, that's fine." Ellen cuts in, eyeing Lucifer up and down. "It's a decent start, considering the source."

"I'm not accustomed to apologies. What am I supposed to say?" Lucifer asks, voice stilted.

"Oh, I don't know," Dean growls, half-pacing from unreleased violence, "Maybe, gee, I'm sorry I'm such a feathery asshole who happily ruins people's lives and hunts them down and mass murders them indiscriminately?"

Lucifer gives Dean a withering look of pure contempt. "See that would work, except I'm not." His voice remains flat. "And my methods aren't indiscriminate-"

Sam rushes in between them, hands up, voice controlled. "Okay, hold on. Dean, if you could... Ease off, please. Lucifer, try pretending you are apologizing to me when you apologize to them."

"Sam... I don't even apologize to you." Lucifer answers, puzzled. Dean mouths something insulting behind Lucifer's back.

"You did once." Sam argues back and crosses his arms.

"Yes, but... That was arguably not the best apology." Lucifer concedes, fidgeting. Sam's never seen him look this distinctly uncomfortable and he'll admit, it's nice to see the tables turned on their heads for once.

"It's a miracle, everyone." Sam exclaims with heavy sarcasm, then mutters, "Never thought I'd see the day you'd ever admit you were even slightly wrong."

"Don't get used to it." Lucifer sniffs.

"Okay, this is just painful to watch-" Bobby interrupts, expression akin to the look of someone who has eaten an entire lemon whole.

"If he lets Mom and I punch him, I'll call it mostly even." Jo cuts in a bit too happily, walking past Sam with determination.

Lucifer looks at Jo, head tilted as if he can't figure her out.

"That would break your hand, but if that's what you want-" Lucifer says without inflection.

"I'm still game." Jo pipes up.

Lucifer looks at Sam, who stares back.

Sam, I can honestly say I am out of my depth here.

You'll learn.

You seem a bit too on board with this.

Hey, fair's fair, you did give the order that killed them.

As you wish.

Without further ado, the Devil lets Jo and Ellen punch him, then heals them when their hand breaks.

"I got to punch the Devil," Jo mouths to Adam and winks as she punches the air. Adam gives her a slight grin, but still looks drained.

"Adam, you okay?" Sam asks, checking up on him.

Adam hugs himself. "It's been a long day. With Heaven and being raised from the dead and..." He trails off, eyes still avoiding Lucifer like the plague.

"Yeah." Sam says quietly, then looks back down at his feet. Lucifer rubs his shoulder absently as if he doesn't even know he's reaching out to touch him, like it's just a habit. Dean looks ready to shiv him, but doesn't comment, and Cas huddles closer to him.

I can never get over that you are here, with me.

If you murdered less people we could have avoided that whole separation faster.

I'm a slow learner, clearly.

Bobby takes the moment to get everyone situated. "Okay, why don't Dean and Adam and I go make dinner." Dean looks rebellious but then sees the look on Bobby's face and storms off with Adam following behind at a slower pace, although not by much. "Jo, Ellen, you make yourselves at home. Same goes for you, Cas, do whatever you like. Sam... do your thing, I guess." He trails off and eyes Lucifer and then Sam again, wheeling away with a shake of his head, muttering something that sounds like, "God save us." Under his breath.

"Dad's not really one to pick up the slack." Lucifer calls after him, not-so-apologetically. Bobby wheels away faster.

Castiel doesn't move an inch or leave the room.

"Cas," Sam starts, shaking Lucifer's hand off, "Are you-"

Cas doesn't even look at him, still trained on Lucifer with intensity. "I told you I would keep Sam safe and that you would never take him." He growls, voice a low rumble.

"Well, it's your lucky day, Cas. I'm not possessing him. You got your wish, for now and possibly forever, if Sam has his way. Unless you mean taking in the biblical sense, in which case, we've already missed that boat, seeing as we've already done the deed-" Lucifer half-laughs.

Sam steps between them.

"I don't care that I am not strong enough to fight you, Lucifer. If you hurt Sam, I will end you. I swear." Castiel vows. Sam's feels his wings flicker against the air, a warning.

Lucifer tilts his head and claps one hand on Sam's shoulder again, the other hand punctuating the air as he points and says, "See, Castiel. This is why I like you. You're loyal, and you don't quit. Admirable qualities. Sam's lucky to have you as a friend... even if you aren't everything you used to be."

"Don't talk to Cas like that-" Sam warns, drawing back with a scowl.

"That's not an insult, Sammy. I'm just speaking the truth. Castiel is almost human now, Sam. We all can read the writing on the wall. He's given up so much for your cause, and Michael's folks are gunning for him right after you and me, so... All I'm saying is, it pays to have friends in low places, when the time comes. You remember that." Lucifer addresses Cas directly, mouth almost quirking into a smile.

"I will be watching." Cas answers, resolute.

Lucifer's arm loops around Sam's shoulders. "Hopefully not too closely." Then he winks at Sam.

Sam pushes him backwards, and Lucifer backs off.

"Look, you mind... just... giving me some space for a second, while I talk to Cas?" He asks, looking between them again.

"It's fine, Sam." Cas assures, giving him a smile of his own. "I've said my piece, he's said his. We understand each other. I'll see if I can get Dean to... process all this without self-destructing." Cas trails off. "If you need anything... If he does anything, pray. I'll be there."

"I will." Sam assures.

Not that it would do him much good, poor thing.

Stop.

He can't fight me toe to toe and win, Sam. That's just basic math. It's a tragedy. He's almost as stubborn and desperate as you.

I'm almost offended.

I tell no lies.

With that, Cas walks away to find Dean and help with dinner. Sam and Lucifer watch him go.

"What... What happens now?" Sam asks, and swallows audibly. It's just the two of them, and now that everything settled in, that it's real, Sam suddenly doesn't know where to start.

"I'd say we can start slow, Sam, and that I'd give you more time to convince me, but I know we don't have long. Michael is going to be pushing the issue more once he finds out about us. And Nick won't last long if I have to get into extra scrapes." Lucifer sighs.

Sam grabs his hand. Lucifer starts, surprised and drawn in.

Sam kisses him.

"Thank you." He whispers, and then they are both leaning in close and kissing.

Thank you for believing in us.

You only have yourself to blame, Sam. You are irresistible. You know that?

You've told me once or twice.

And Lucifer kisses him again and then flies them outside, hidden by a tree.

In the meantime, Sam thinks he knows where he can start teaching the Devil why the Apocalypse isn't worth it.

--

"So. That happened." Jo starts, helping peel some potatoes. Ellen gives a grunt in agreement. "That really happened."

"Of course it's Sam. It's always Sam," Bobby adds in, equally incredulous as he keeps braising the ribs they defrosted from the freezer. "I don't know what goes through that boy's head. Romancing the Devil, never thought I'd see the day-"

"Do you think it'll work?" Adam asks, very quiet. "Do you think he'll convince him?"

Dean drops the plate he was holding, but Cas catches it before it falls.

Everyone looks at each other, nervous. Dean's hand shakes.

"We'll see." Bobby answers, noncommittal. He looks back down at the ribs and keeps cooking.

What people want to happen and what they feel to be true are very different things, and they all know the Devil is already too dangerous to be underestimated.

"Sam is an idealistic, love-struck son of a bitch and this is the dumbest thing he's ever pulled-" Dean starts, and Cas grabs him and hugs him closer before he ends up throwing the plate with too much force into the stove. Adam takes the plate from Cas, and Cas holds Dean steady.

"Don't talk about your brother like that, Dean." Cas answers, weary and drained.

"Cas." Dean answers, tone brooking no argument. "He's trying to convince one of the oldest things in the Universe, who, oh, right- wants to kill everyone and has killed thousands of people, the one who made demons, the biggest bad to ever walk the earth, who helped engineer his entire life up until now- to give up what it sees as its own God-given genocidal crusade, in the name of true love. Excuse me if I'm skeptical." Dean shouts, not looking at anyone, and then his voice breaks. "How did he even fall in love with him, Cas? I know he tends to go for evil sons-of-bitches but this... this takes the cake."

"I don't think Sam sees it like that, Dean. You aren't giving him enough credit."

"How does he see it, then, Cas?" Dean growls, rounding on him, in his face. "Enlighten me."

"I don't think he really thinks he's going to convince him." Cas answers haltingly, eyes darting around.

"Cas, what is the point then-"

"I think Sam knows he's most likely just buying time and that he doesn't want to have to keep fighting Lucifer off in the meantime." Cas replies, more sure as he meets Dean's gaze. "That's not to say he doesn't love him, or that he doesn't want this endeavor to succeed. But Sam is Lucifer's true vessel. They have a bond through Sam's soul and Lucifer's grace, and it goes both ways, Dean. Sam... I think he is trying to use that bond, that understanding, to his advantage as best he can. He doesn't have any other weapons that will work, and after God said his piece, left this to play out... I think love is all that he can have faith in. I think it's the only option that he thinks he can make work in his favor." Castiel trails off numbly.

Dean stands around listlessly, taking that in.

"And if we're being frank, Lucifer has been wearing him out, Dean. We've seen it. And yet, despite everything, despite our own loss of faith in him and everything else, Sam has no intentions of saying yes. And he's been fighting him tooth and nail since he got out." Castiel admits. "He's been remarkably resilient if you consider that the moment the last seal broke, Lucifer had already found ways to contact him."

"Which you could have told me." Dean seethes, hand flexing and unflexing.

"Sam knew nothing was working to keep him out of his dreams, and he didn't want to worry you... And, Dean. Sam was scared you would stop believing in him."

Dean lowers his gaze, and they both don't comment on how that might be a bit too close to the truth.

"And this was the better option?" Dean grits out, meeting Castiel's eyes again. "Finding out like this? Rooming with him, like the Devil is Sam's new boyfriend he's taken home to meet the family, only turns out his boyfriend is a supernatural serial killer who has to be convinced not to nuke everyone?"

"Dean... I don't think that before tonight, Sam ever thought there would be a reason anyone would find out about any of this. Sam fully intends to say no until the end. And I think... I think he expected to turn Lucifer down and either die taking Lucifer out with him, or die when Michael made his move." Cas says, very, very softly.

Dean starts pacing again.

"That's not... We're not letting that happen, Cas. But that doesn't explain why he thinks he loves him-"

Cas shakes his head.

"That's a question for Sam, don't you think?" Castiel answers, a bit too quiet.

Bobby nods in assent. "There's a lot about Sam we don't know. Kids a hard one to crack, and Lucifer, even less."

Castiel continues, working off that thought. "And it is possible Lucifer has been contacting Sam... longer than we thought, if Sam's willingness to trust in this plan is anything to go by. Which is a testament to Sam's strength. But it doesn't answer any questions."

The thought isn't as comforting as anyone would like it to be.

--

In the meantime, Lucifer allows Sam to start teaching him the basics of showing people basic politeness and not being an asshole as they sit up in a low-hanging tree.

"Did you forget how to be decent person when you left?" Sam jokes. Now that Lucifer's shown his hand, that he's trying, that he brought people back, Sam can't quite hold back on the feelings that have always been there, the familiarity, the thing he and Jess used to have.

It's hard to stay away. And Sam would keep his distance, he still feels guilty for everyone else who's died, but he doesn't know them, not enough, and Lucifer... Sam's doing something good here. He's fixing this. He's found a way to make this work, and he doesn't want to let go. If he's a little too happy to see Lucifer... It's only a point in his favor, because Lucifer feels it as much as he does and Sam needs this not to go wrong...

Lucifer pokes Sam out of almost-spiraling, all the emotions hitting him at once. His wings remain out to brace himself and keep Sam close by.

"Don't kid yourself, kiddo. I was never decent or lovey-dovey, not even as Jess."

"True. You were always tearing people a new one." Sam almost laughs, but then he looks back at Lucifer, more serious.

"Thank you for bringing them back. Ellen and Jo. And for saving me, and Dean, and Adam." Sam says, suddenly shy. It's hard to fight this, to stay away, now that he has something that's not his own grasping desperation to hold on to. He believes in something.

He has faith not just in what he knows or what he believes or what he wills himself to be, but in someone other than  himself. He has faith in what he had with Jess, with Lucifer, in Lucifer and what he'd known he could be if he tried, again. And it had been so long since Sam had felt less than alone in this, or that he'd been anything other than one human pitted against someone and something he'd loved deeper than he'd ever loved and yet still could not excuse, could not comprehend with all the depths of Lucifer's mutable hatred and violence mixed with all the kindnesses and threats laden in their joint memory of what had been and what could be.

"You're welcome." Lucifer's voice is rich and full of honesty and promise. Sam huddles closer, and the soft down of Lucifer's wings wrap tighter even as his fingertips glance over Sam's own. There is no edge, no hidden meaning in those touches, in what is left wanting. There is just them, and what they once had, and the things they could be for one another without taking or demanding beyond what the other was willing to give.

Sam leans his head on his shoulder for a moment, breathing it in.

They sit like that, enjoying the silence and the crickets and the dark of the night together, the lights on Bobby's porch the only thing lighting up the area save for the stars spattered over the clouded-filtered sky.

Sam hasn't felt this weight lifted from him in so long, and it aches, but in a way that doesn't hurt much longer.

The hope is almost too much, but it's a hope Sam can't let escape his grasp.

Not when they are together again, when they want the same thing, when they aren't on different sides...

"How did you get Cas, anyway?" Sam adds on, mirroring Lucifer's head tilt as his posture straightens.

Lucifer shrugs. "He was flying erratically, barely able to stay afloat. Took all he had to try and get back to you, only it wasn't enough. And Heaven's forces were trailing after him, not far behind... So I took initiative, killed the scouts, and milked the opportunity for what it was. If nothing else, he would be a good bargaining chip." Lucifer doesn't hide the truth. No point.

There's a pause as Sam just looks at Lucifer, expression scrutinizing, but the edge of his fears have dulled. There's no bite to Lucifer's words. Only a frankness that means there will be no more secrets, and that's just about the only thing Sam knows he can trust, when it comes to Lucifer and all the ways he can spin his silver-lined words in his favor.

Just as there is only one thing that will ease Sam's mind as much as can be managed, considering all the horrors that have come to pass already.

There is only one thing Sam knows that not even the Devil can run from, if he decides to answer. Sam will know it is the truth, and Lucifer, for all his faults, hasn't always been able to hide what could be lies when asked something so direct.

Sam knows, if he asks, he can get a real answer.

And it's all that is holding him back. All that's keeping those doubts from holding him hostage.

And Sam can't be a hostage anymore. He's spent so long dangling off a cliff without a parachute, and if he's going to take the plunge, he wants to believe there's someone ready to catch him on the way down, like there used to be.

"If you could go back... To when I freed you. If you could go back and do this all from the start, without killing or hurting anyone, and we could keep what we had, once. Would you?" Sam asks, looking back down to the ground, kicking out his feet.

Lucifer strokes Sam's face and guides it back up to meet his gaze.

For you?

"In a heartbeat, Sam. In a heartbeat." He assures, as ageless and certain as always.

Sam kisses him again. Lucifer kisses back harder, this time.

It's 2 am when they get back into Sam's room and fall over each other on the bed.

Sam is distinctly out of breath and is pretty sure he's lost his shirt somewhere along the way.

Lucifer muffles the noise and makes sure the door is locked so they don't interrupt anyone nor get interrupted.

It's only polite, after all.

Chapter Text

The first thing Lucifer does after he makes himself at home at Bobby's, and when left to his own devices, is take apart the refrigerator while everyone except Sam is still asleep.

Gears and wires and coils of antifreeze are laid out on the floor and the counters and the table as Satan tinkers away, not using grace, just Nick's nimble and calloused fingers, his eyes focusing on each piece as if he is on a holy quest to find a grail or something.

"Why?" Sam starts, only half-coherent as he makes a cup of coffee. Lucifer had been left to his own devices for thirty minutes while Sam was taking a shower (and refused to let him in), and this is how the Devil decides to spend his time.

"I'll put it back together again. Besides, I'm keeping the food cold enough, anyway."

He is. There's a block of ice sitting on the kitchen table, all the food and drinks and alcohol kept inside it.

"Doesn't answer the question." Sam mumbles as he stumbles into a chair and drags it next to Lucifer's cross-legged form, one foot poking the Devil's shoulder.

Lucifer doesn't look up, still fiddling. "I like seeing how things work. Taking things apart. Putting them back together. It's what I used to do, before I was locked up, when I helped Dad with creation. And I always told you I would learn how to repair a sink, and a microwave, and the fridge, so I figured this was the place to start. Bobby certainly has enough tools on hand."

"He's going to want his fridge back." Sam warns as he sips his coffee.

Lucifer waves a hand. "I can always put it back together the non-manual way if it's an issue. Don't know if Dean will swear off food because I touched it, but that's his problem."

Sam keeps watching him work and sipping his coffee until they hear movement, and then Lucifer repairs the fridge and packs up all the food like he never did anything with his grace.

Bobby wheels in looking a little suspicious.

"What are you doing up?" He manages to ask, still bleary.

"Couldn't sleep." Sam admits. He ducks his head, one hand lighting on the back of his neck at Bobby's too-knowing expression.

Lucifer tilts his head, voice low as he asks, a bit too meekly to be genuine, "Am I permitted to use your kitchen?"

"The Devil, asking permission. What do you need it for?" Bobby yawns, although he white-knuckles his wheelchair. 

Lucifer looks to Sam and smiles a half-smile. "I like to cook. Figured Sam could help."

Bobby looks distinctly flabbergasted at the concept of Lucifer cooking or doing anything mundane at all.

"Long as you don't poison anyone, knock yourself out." Bobby finally grunts.

Lucifer nods, turns to the stove, then turns and glances back at Bobby before he rolls off again. Lucifer's expression remains calculating.

"I could give you back your legs, if you like." He suggests. He's fairly certain that might be a faux-pas to some humans, but Lucifer's fairly certain that only applies in some circles, and generally not humans who were injured and lost their mobility as a result... Particularly when one of your demons was the one responsible, and said human feels useless and helpless due to his condition, even if he won't admit it.

Bobby pauses and turns back around. "What's the catch?"

Normally, Bobby would tell Satan to shove it. He doesn't need pity or charity or whatever bribe or insult that is meant to be, when he knows full well how much he's afraid he can't protect his family. But he doesn't, because when the enemy is staring you in the face, you see why they are trying to make nice or bluff and then plan accordingly.

Sam looks at Lucifer, measuring, knowing the power play for what it is, before his expression calms thanks to assurances Lucifer gives him.

And Lucifer winds his way around Sam again, who closes his eyes as Lucifer hugs him close. "There is none. Sam's been trying to stress being kinder to people as a general courtesy. Think of it as a thank you for letting Sam stay here and being good to him. That... And I was wondering..." Lucifer trails off, growing still.

Bobby's expression turns closed off and wary.

"Could I use your tools and take apart some of your machines and put them back together?" Lucifer's voice is a bit too hopeful as he holds up a wrench from behind his back. "I want to figure out how microwaves work."

Bobby's look of confusion returns with a vengeance, but he takes the deal after ironing out some very specific details. The only downside is if the two months ends in failure, Lucifer is taking the favor back, which Bobby could have predicted anyway. Lucifer doesn't want to give them any advantages to keep Sam from saying yes in that case.

Sam views the entire exchange as another victory and helps Lucifer set up the batter and skittle, spatula in hand. 

And if Lucifer's a bit more handsy as he works and cooks with Sam over the counters, Sam can't say he really minds.

Bobby watches them and sips coffee of his own, sees how oddly familiar they dance around each other and work together before he feels like he's intruding, then walks a few laps around his yard on his own two legs again, thinking deeply.

No one is dumb enough to believe Lucifer did what he did out of any consideration for anyone else except Sam. The only question is what he hopes to get out of it.

Bobby worries he might know.

The potential answer scares him more than he would like to admit.

--

Once everyone is awake and done rejoicing over Bobby's regained mobility (although Dean does take him aside and they talk in low voices before joining back with everyone), the whole human crowd sits around Bobby's table. Sam pours mugs of coffee for everyone as Lucifer presents breakfast with very little fanfare.

The sight is somewhat surreal, although Lucifer does hide behind Sam, not liking all the human eyes on him.

"Sam wanted me to do something nice, and I figured if we are going to put the past behind us then I needed to give you all some kind of peace offering, like those human rituals where you break bread and promise not to murder each other. Hence, pancakes." Lucifer explains, expression relaxed and arms open as long as he's still within two feet of Sam at all times.

"Yeah, because that's going to solve anything." Dean mutters under his breath.

"When did you learn to make pancakes while imprisoned?" Castiel asks, suspicious, and only somewhat curious.

"It's called reading. And you pick up on things when you're surrounded by humanity day in and day out." Lucifer evades as he shrugs. "That and my children have a weird love for the cooking channel."

Even that admission doesn't put Jo or Ellen off entirely, since they are starving. Coming back from death does that. Even Adam looks a little less spooked. Barely, but it beats nothing.

That's almost a lie. You made these for us every weekend.

What he doesn't know won't hurt him. And it's true. Some of them adore Rachel Ray and Gordon Ramsey. Not for the right reasons, but still.

Everyone except Dean starts piling the pancakes on their plate. It's done with some hesitation, although Adam doesn't hide how he pokes at them with a fork warily.

"I helped make them, guys." Sam sighs. "And I watched him the whole time. They aren't contaminated or poisonous."

People are much more enthusiastic about the pancakes after that. Except for Dean. He doesn't take anything. He just holds a fork in his hand like he's mentally planning how to shiv Lucifer with it.

The peace only lasts a minute. Longer than Sam would have expected, all things considered.

"So that's it, then? Everything's fine? Are we just going to ignore the giant elephant in the room?" Dean demands as he finally snaps. A fork clatters on the plate too loudly.

Everyone looks at him, except Lucifer, who still only has eyes for Sam.

"Which is?" Lucifer asks, a bit too nicely.

"You're the Devil."

"I think everyone is well aware of that fact, Dean-" Lucifer cuts in with a roll of his eyes.

Dean voice snarls louder as he talks over him. "You've been murdering people the moment you got out. You made demons. You sent Azazel after our parents. You sent out Lilith and Meg and Ruby and you are the reason everything's gone wrong. You ruined Sam's life-"

Lucifer straightens, his eyes narrowing to slits as he stares Dean down, hands still massaging Sam's shoulders.

"Okay, let's get one thing clear. I created demons like Azazel, yes. But I was not in the know about everything my children did. I was locked up, hands tied, no matter how much I would rather be anything to the contrary. The one time Azazel managed to get a line through, I gave him too much benefit of the doubt because I knew he was loyal. One mistake I would change if I could, because apparently I gave him too much freedom to twist my orders, and he took advantage." And then Lucifer is pacing, all motion, as he continues, "I told Azazel that Sam was to be kept safe, to be prepared for me, so that no one could hurt him. I instructed him to make the other psychic children so Michael wouldn't find Sam and possibly murder him in his sleep in case he wanted to try and keep him contained in Heaven before I made my way out. I told him to raise Lilith so she could break the seals and to do everything in his power to grant me freedom. Everything else? Everything he did, to your father and mother and your family? To Sam? That was not something I was even aware of, and if I knew it was happening and had any way to stop him, I would have. And he would be punished severely for even thinking about doing everything he did, especially to Sam." Lucifer's hand squeezes Sam's shoulder again. "And logistically, killing Mary was wasteful, considering she would have made a decent backup vessel if all else failed." Lucifer trails off at Sam's glare.

I'm not going to twist the facts here, Sam.

Still a sore subject and not the best call to make.

You told me to be more open and direct.

Not if it means you are going to be more of a dick.

"Doesn’t matter now. We can’t take back the past, and priorities change." Lucifer hisses, and then holds up a hand to keep going. "As for everything else, well. Ruby didn’t do what she did on my orders, and Lilith turned out to be less obedient than planned. Both of them hurt Sam in ways I would have smote them for, easily. But by the time I was out, you had already dealt with them. Other than that, don't pretend I'm the only one behind the Apocalypse, Dean. Michael is set on burning the whole place down, and if it's an arms race to the finish, then I'm going to win." Lucifer growls as he breaks off. He crosses his arms. "And fine, I’ll admit it. I'm no saint, Dean. Hell, Sam is the one good thing that's ever happened to me. So sue me, I didn't want to give it up. My whole entire life everyone's been convinced this was the only way I'd keep him. So yeah. I'm the Devil. I'm learning. If anyone has a problem with that, well, it's a free country. I can’t stop you. But I think Sam’s the one who gets to make the call if I ruined his life, and so far, I don’t see him agreeing."

And Lucifer's hands are perched back on Sam, possessive and desperate for contact. Like an anchor in an ocean. Or maybe just Lucifer's way of stopping himself from tearing Dean to shreds.

“So, what, we're just supposed to be completely okay with this? What about all the people you killed? All the Horsemen and natural disasters and everything-” Dean counters, jaw clenched tight.

“What, do you want an apology? I already apologized to those two," Lucifer points to Ellen and Jo, "And I don’t think an apology will really help anyone who is still dead. Otherwise, I’m not going to pretend I care. You apes are the whole reason I got locked up in the first place. They all had it coming. Your entire species has it coming except for Sam. And if it wasn’t for Sam being Sam, you’d probably all be dead already." Lucifer says stiffly.

"Lucifer-" Sam cuts in, a warning.

Lucifer ignores him. "Besides, I don’t like you. So any apology I give you in particular, Dean, would be insincere. And I don't lie, although I will make an exception and apologize if that’s what you really want here.”

“What I want is for you to get out of my brother’s life!” Dean bellows as he slams his hand on the table.

"That's not ever going to be an option." Lucifer says, too softly.

Sam sighs and clears his throat.

"Look. I get that this isn't ideal-" Sam starts, trying to defuse the situation.

"Oh, you think? Sam, he killed Jo and Ellen, or did you forget-" Dean interrupts, not having it.

Ellen and Jo look at each other and Sam, who looks ready to interject, then they all decide it's not worth it. Adam keeps picking at the pancakes, perhaps from nerves.

"Not directly. And I brought them back. You're welcome." Lucifer hisses at the same time, voice pure acid.

"Because that makes it fine." Dean grits out.

"Doesn't it?" Lucifer says, eyebrows raised. "Look, so I had Meg send my Hellhounds after all of you. Well, except Sam, he was just supposed to follow when they dragged your little band over to me, but your buddy system nixed that plan. Either way, not my fault you all chose the hard way out. I had my priorities and I wasn't about to let you get in the way. You made your choices, I made mine. And Sam could've come to me any time he liked. But he enjoys living in the land of denial and you all want to go out in a blaze of stupid human glory. Not my problem you haven't learned from your mistakes."

Ellen, Jo, Cas, Adam, and Bobby each meet Sam's tired eyes, then each other's. Silent communication and agreement passes between them. They can defend themselves and their reputations just fine, and aren't going to get involved or say their piece until Dean and Lucifer get their tantrums out first.

"Ignoring that pile of bullshit. You say you don't want to hurt Sam? Then you didn't have to send them after us in the first place."

"Didn't I? Should I have sent out embossed invitations?" Lucifer hisses. "You're acting like I'm supposed to care. Newsflash, I don't. You all mean nothing to me. Sam knows that. The only reason I am giving you any sort of courtesy right now is for his sake. And if he wanted to protect any of you, he wouldn't ask you to keep getting in the line of fire. He knows better."

"Don't you dare blame my brother for what you've done-" Dean grits out.

"Oh, I'm not. Believe me.  I've never blamed Sam for any of this. He's blameless. This is Michael's fault, and God's fault, and the fault of your pathetic species. Sam is just a victim here."

"Yeah, a victim of YOU-" Dean snarls.

Sam lets Lucifer keep going, because the best way to deconstruct and fight his argument is to see what he uses to justify himself in the first place, preferably when he can't filter things out to make himself look better and spin his angle. Sam already knows to look out for that, it's just who Lucifer is, his aversion to admitting his own responsibility a coping mechanism left over from the Cage and his family trauma. His own unwillingness to feel responsible for his own decisions is a response to never learning actual coping mechanisms and a pervasive fear of rejection, much like how his need to be tactile all the time was the clear result of never having company and being touch-starved for eons.

It makes Sam's life difficult, to put it mildly.

Lucifer inhales, one hand rustling through Sam's hair as he cuts Dean off as if he didn't say anything. "No, Sam's problem is that he respects you all too much. He lets you call the shots and make all the reckless decisions to your hearts' content, despite his better judgement. And that's because you made him think he has something to prove, when he doesn't. If you didn't blindside him and make him think he has to go along with your stupid plans and pointless moral directives, which will save absolutely no one, we wouldn't be where we are."

Dean explodes, "Sam made the choices he did because he knows what you are and because he cares about people, unlike you!"

"Doesn't change the consequences or the outcome." Lucifer's tone is cutting, then turns into a groan. "Come on, Dean, you're acting like you have an argument to prove here. You don't. Do you hold conversations and moral discussions with cockroaches as they go about their day? Do you mourn termites and let them live in your house when you see a colony? No. You flush them out and eradicate them."

Everyone else looks a combination of sick and vaguely terrified at the comparison. Adam pushes his plate away. Bobby gives Sam a very, very pointed look, but Sam doesn't see it because he's got eyes only for Lucifer.

"Are you implying I'm a termite?" Sam cuts in, deadpan, to try and lessen the tension. He can argue about this with Lucifer later, when he's more likely to listen.

Lucifer gives Sam a look of pure angelic offense. Dean also doesn't look amused, but is too overcome by anger to speak at the moment.

"Sammy, why do you ask baseless questions just to spite me?" Lucifer sighs and rolls his eyes. "The answer is no, by the way. You know I love you."

"Just checking." Sam's words are lighthearted, unlike his prayers. He's going to capitalize on the opening as best he's able, while Dean can't talk and rile Lucifer up again, or vice versa.

You really need to stop putting me on a pedestal-

It's not a pedestal if it is true.

Lucifer, I'm not better than the rest of humanity.

I beg to differ, Sam. You already know my opinion on the matter. It's not going to change.

Lucifer keeps going. "Barring Sam, that's all your pathetic species is to me, although honestly that's an insult to the termites, seeing as they're far more useful in comparison. I'm not going to change my mind or feel differently about it, so expecting me to feel remorse isn't going to end well for you. However, that doesn't mean I can't be convinced not to kill you all, so just agree to disagree." Lucifer orders, waving a hand as his eyes narrow. "Besides, if anything, I've been more than generous, letting you hang yourselves with your own rope instead of burning you personally one by one."

"Because that's not horrifying or uncalled for or overkill at all." Sam groans, head in his hands.

"I am horrifying, Sam." Lucifer's tone softens as he tilts his head. "I'm a being a light and beauty and sound and terror. I was made that way, just as I was made to be holy and a machine of war. Just as Castiel was made to be... whatever anomaly Castiel is." Lucifer points as he looks over to the other angel.

Castiel looks distinctly disgruntled.

"Just because we're angels doesn't mean we can't change or decide for ourselves what we are or how we value God's other creations-" Cas starts in.

"Very true." Lucifer points at him, "Still don't care about humanity. Let it go."

"Like Hell I will." Dean shouts, finally having found his voice and having reigned in his almost attempt to stab the Devil with a piece of cutlery. "But fine. You want to talk about Sam? We'll talk about Sam." 

"I am right here." Sam cuts in evenly. He's ignored easily.

"You've been trying to isolate him from everyone who loves him since day one." Dean answers, fists clenched.

"Funny. I see it as setting him apart from people who would drop him the moment he does something they don't like." Lucifer says, his voice pure ice.

The mood turns on a dime again.

Dean turns a strange shade of purple. Ellen, Jo, Adam, and Bobby all inch away, because they can read a room and know that this is going to get even uglier than it already is. Castiel stays near Dean in case he has to stop him from doing something stupid, but mostly so Lucifer doesn't try something.

"That's not true. But who cares what you think? You're nothing but a parasitic, obsessive psycho and a liar. Don't think I don't see right through you. You don't want Sam except for what he can do for you-" Dean yells.

"Oh, really? Because that's not how I see it, Dean. I'm trying to keep him safe from a world that doesn't deserve him. Did you ever think that maybe then Sam would have saved more people if he didn't have you breathing down his neck making him feel like he has to say no? Oh, wait, no, because you keep telling him he's a monster and leaving him out to dry the moment he does something you don't approve of, never mind the fact he is a grown man who can make his own choices. Maybe, if you actually cared about his welfare, Sam wouldn't feel so much shame and he would have said yes earlier, would have saved more people before I ever got to them because he was able to make me go along with his perspective. But he didn't, and he won't, so now we have to work with what we have. And don't you dare act like I'm the only one acting out of selfishness, Dean. You dragged him back into this. You wanted to keep your brother for yourself, but not in any way that would protect him. You left him alone and defenseless and beat him down when he needed you most."

"Lucifer, stop-" Sam rises and puts a hand on his chest. Lucifer grabs his wrists and pulls him closer, gaze too bright and old and vengeful.

"No, Sam. I won't. I'm not letting your brother treat you like mine did. Once was enough." And then his gaze is laser-focused on Dean, arrested and condemning. "Did you go to bat for him after Ruby manipulated him? Did you support him when he broke the last seal? Did you believe in him when Azazel called him a monster and when your father ordered you to kill him?"

Ellen and Jo gasp. Adam looks horrified. Bobby looks down.

Castiel remains impassive, because someone needs to keep a level head here, when all is said and done.

Lucifer, please don't-

No, Sam. This has gone on long enough. I am tired of watching you blame yourself for your mother's choices, for your brother's failings, and for your father's sins.

Dean turns white with rage, looks ready to leap over and punch him in the face, but Castiel holds him back, and Lucifer keeps going. "Oh, no, wait, you didn't. You beat him to a pulp and told him he was a freak and actually entertained the idea of killing him. Oh, and you let him take the blame for things that were not his burden to bare. You abandoned him and made him feel like he had to hide things because otherwise you'd lock him up forever or hunt him down like an animal. Sound familiar? And if Sam didn't have his own stubborn sense of morality and force of will, however much it might vex me, I would have won him over right then and there. So forgive me if you're opinion is worth less than my considerations of the human race, Dean Winchester. Your only saving grace is that, unlike my brother, you changed your mind and saw sense, however little you may have."

Dean doesn't know how to counter that, so he sticks with what he knows.

"Sam, how can you love this thing? Because that's what he is. A thing with zero regard for human life. A serial killing, remorseless monster who doesn't respect what you have dedicated your life to doing, which is saving people and keeping them safe. Hell, he killed me in the future when he was wearing your skin."

Sam starts and gets very confused at that, "Wait, what?"

"I'm an angel, much like your little crush over there, and I haven't killed you yet. And if Sam has his way, we won't even get to that future, although honestly, I'm surprised, seeing as even you could see that particular future you had it coming."

"What are you two even talking about, what future-" Sam interrupts, heated, but Lucifer and Dean keep staring each other down and don't let Sam in on that whole debacle.

"Although, in the interests of honesty, right now, I wouldn't be adverse to the idea." Lucifer keeps going as he mutters audibly under his breath. "You should thank your lucky stars your brother loves you, considering you don't deserve it."

"Lucifer, that's enough." Sam's voice burns as he finally puts his foot down. "Leave my brother alone."

"I will when he stops insulting you." Lucifer argues back.

Dean ignores him, eyes only on Sam.

"Sam. I want answers. Right now." Dean demands.

Sam can't keep his eyes from the floor. "I don't owe you an explanation."

"Oh, really?"

"No. My feelings are my own. I don't need to justify them. But I do owe you the responsibility of making sure this doesn't go bad, and that things don't get worse, and that people are safe-"

"Sam, no one is safe anywhere near this guy. Least of all you."

"Dean, I'm fine. I'm... more than fine, now, honestly. Not having the Apocalypse hanging over our heads even from one side is a pretty big deal. And Dean, people are safe when I'm around, Lucifer listens to me when he won't listen to anyone else, even if you don't believe me... Look, I know you think this is just Lucifer lying to try and get his way. I know. But I know him. And... if nothing else, Dean, even if this doesn't work... We're still putting off the Apocalypse. We're getting somewhere here, even if you can't stand him and don't like it. But if you want me to leave, if that's what I have to do to protect people, to try and fix this-"

"Oh no you don't! What, you think we're going to leave you alone with Satan, Sam? And let him spring whatever damn trap he's got waiting? No way, Sam. No way in Hell."

"Sam doesn't have to stay with you if he doesn't want to-" Lucifer starts up again.

"Shut up and stay out of this, Lucifer." Sam hisses. "I'm handling this."

Lucifer obliges, expression inscrutable. 

"Oh, you are? How are you handling it, Sam? Hiding things? Keeping secrets? Fucking Satan?"

"That's not entirely correct. Sam has already told me about Lucifer's intense need to be involved in his life." Cas interrupts. He isn't happy about any of this, but he's not letting Sam field this one with only Lucifer backing him up. It's a recipe for disaster.

Dean stares at him.

"And you were fine with this... Whatever this is? And you didn't tell me?"

"I was and I remain terrified for Sam's well-being, and did not want to break his trust. But as angel, I do understand, on some level. And you shouldn't blame him, Dean. The majority of the scope of true vessel relationships aren't entirely within a vessel's control." Castiel cuts in.

"That's not the point-" Sam answers, and Lucifer talks over him, too.

"Don't you dare insult my love for Sam, Castiel. I only want what is best for him." Lucifer sounds like he would like nothing less then to rip Castiel's wings off. "And besides, you're one to talk, considering how you've treated your vessel."

"I am not casting aspersions on your feelings or whatever attempts you've made at not being a murderous, morally inept dumpster fire, Lucifer. I am merely saying there is a power imbalance and other factors in play considering the nature of the soul and the bond-"

"Cas? Are you saying my brother is being subject to divine mind control?"

"Dean-" Sam starts in again.

"No, I'm saying it's complicated-" Cas vollies back.

"Complicated enough for Sam to throw away everything he believes out the window? For Satan?" Dean's voice grows louder.

"Dean! Listen to me." Everyone quiets when Sam starts yelling. Sam composes himself and keeps going, "I know you're not happy about this. I know it's... hard, and I get that you don't understand. I get it, okay? Lucifer fucking hates people and wants to eradicate them from the face of the earth. And he just waltzes in thinking he can just make things better by justifying everything he does and invading my dreams and making not-well-thought-out promises and killing more and more people only to take it back when it proves inconvenient for his plans. Believe me, I know. He's an exhausting, attention-starved, entitled, trigger-happy son-of-a-bitch who doesn't apologize properly and who doesn't understand healthy boundaries. No offense." Sam adds, turning to Lucifer briefly.

Lucifer keeps his expression neutral. "None taken."

Although, what promises of mine aren't well thought out? 

Not now.

And how am I entitled? I can't be entitled, Sam. I'm an archangel. Everything belongs to me. It's the natural order of the universe.

I said not now. Although, we are definitely unpacking that at some point.

Sam keeps talking. "But he wouldn't be here if he wasn't trying to change... And if he didn't love me. And I'm going to help him, so just... just give him a chance. Please. For me."

"God, Sam. You have it bad."

"Dean-"

"No, Sam. This is going to blow up in your face, just like it did with Ruby and Lilith. Then I'm going to say I told you so and we're going to have to clean up your mess-"

Lucifer interrupts, not taking prisoners. "Oh, that's rich, coming from the one who considered murdering his own brother when he was only using his powers to safely exorcise people. From someone who didn't support him making his own way in the world and getting out of the life, and oh yeah, the one who truly kicked off the Apocalypse but didn't take the rap for it. Real classy."

"Lucifer, that's not-" Sam interjects as he tries to break it up. By now, Adam, Bobby, Jo, and Ellen have made their way out of the room, unnoticed, Adam and Jo taking their plates piled with pancakes with them.

"He needs to hear it-" Lucifer argues.

"Want to say that again, Blondie?" Dean yells in unison. Castiel just waits off to the side, expression stony.

"Did I stutter? Did your pin-sized human brain lose the ability to comprehend words?"

"Oh, I'm sorry. This coming from you? Hello, Satan, I would have never gone to Hell if Lilith didn't drag me down there, all because I sold my soul to save Sam, because he was dead! Dead, because of what Azazel did, because, oh right, Jake killed Sam, and Azazel didn't care, because he wanted his special psychic children to battle it out to the death. So you wanna try again?"

"I own whatever I have done, Dean. I have to live with my failure to protect Sam while imprisoned, and I don't pretend to be something I'm not. I failed him while in captivity. I'm not going to fail to protect him again. But that doesn't change your actions. Face it, Dean. Sam trusts you and believes in you when you don't deserve it."

"Let's say I agree. Newsflash, Satan, then neither do you!"

Both of them break off, Dean breathing heavily, and Lucifer too still.

"Okay, now that you two have gotten that out of your system-" Sam asks, voice flat.

"Don't, Sam. Don't pretend this is okay." Dean argues.

"I can't believe I'm saying this, but on that front, I agree." Lucifer adds. "Let's say Sam forgives us both, Dean. For all the things I've inflicted, by proxy or otherwise, and you for all your ghastly, short-sighted attempts to control his life. You know the difference? I never knew better. I have to learn these strange human concepts about life and love from the ground up. Sam's still explaining them to me, and I won't pretend to get it, because I don't. But you. You had a foundation of human morals to uphold as Sam's brother and friend, and you broke that trust and respect. That's worse in my book, Dean. Whatever Sam might think. You're his brother. And you betrayed him."

"And what are you, huh? What are you to him?"

Sam tries to interject, but both Lucifer and Dean aren't listening anymore.

"I am his other half, Dean. Time to face the music."

"You wouldn't be anything if he didn't let you out, if you didn't trick him into letting you out-"

"While I am grateful Sam bought me my freedom, here's a refresher of the cold hard facts you know so well. Sam might have broken the last seal. But at the time, he thought he was stopping Lilith from breaking it. He thought he was stopping the Apocalypse at the cost of his ability to live his life. But you broke that first seal all on your own, without any prompting except for the release from your own pain. Let he without sin cast the first stone. Face it, Dean. Your brother is a better person than you."

"I know! And that's even worse! Because he trusts you. He trusts you too much and you haven't earned it. And Sam doesn't deserve what you're going to put him through, or what you've already put him through! And nothing, not Sam's love, not his trust, none of it... It doesn't change what you are, what you are going to do when all is said and done-"

"Are you so sure? I love Sam, Dean. I've always believed in him. You don't know what makes him trust me. And we both know Sam has always had good intentions. You don't, and you can't say the same. So back off." Lucifer growls.

"You can't make me."

"You want to bet?"

"I am going to protect him from you no matter what it takes-" Dean vows and charges forward.

And Castiel holds Dean back again as he meets Sam's eyes.

"Who says he needs your protection, Dean? What has your protection ever done for him?" Lucifer hisses.

"Who says he needs yours?" Dean bellows.

"The host of Heaven, for one, considering all that they've already done to him. And have you considered maybe I'm protecting him from you-"

"That's it. Lucifer, let's go. We're not getting anywhere like this." Sam says, tone brooking no argument. Sam gets in Lucifer's face, taking up his field of vision.

"Fine by me. You can attempt to get me acclimated to the rest of your less annoying human family unit later, after you've convinced me not to set your brother on fire."

Then Lucifer flies Sam away, expression as furious as a brewing thunderstorm.

--

Not long after, Dean punches a wall.

Castiel just watches, tired. This was enough of a mess already.

But if he's going to protect Sam, he has to play this safe. Engaging Lucifer where he has an advantage won't help anything at all.

This debacle only proves it.

Dean grows very quiet and his eyes look out the window.

"Cas, he's going to eat my brother alive... And Sam just might let him." Dean chokes out.

Castiel pats him on the back, because there is nothing left to do at the moment.

"Can we follow them?" Dean asks, pacing again.

Castiel shakes his head. "No way to track them. If Lucifer want to stay hidden, he will."

"How do we know he isn't stealing Sam away forever or trying to get him to say yes?"

Cas stares, expression resolute.

"He won't. He wants to win Sam over, Dean. He is trying to prove himself in a way that will bring Sam closer to him. Abduction doesn't support his angle at the moment. Right now, Lucifer think he thinks he's winning."

"How do you know-"

"I can generally tell when other angels lie. Lucifer is good, I'll give him that. He spins things to make himself look better. But he doesn't lie directly to Sam. Or at least, he believes his own lies." Castiel admits. "And Sam is wiser to his game than you give him credit for."

"Then why did he-"

"Let Lucifer say all those things? Because he's trying to figure out the best point of attack, Dean. Sam wants Lucifer to want to cave and choose him just as much as Lucifer wants Sam in all his glory."

Dean sits, a bit broken by that assessment.

But Castiel can't ignore the truth, either. "And if Lucifer is going to steal Sam away against his will... It's going to be when he thinks he's lost and has no other options. We need contingencies for if that happens."

Dean refocuses, staring down Cas like he's seeing him for the first time.

"You have my attention. What were you thinking?" Dean asks.

"We could pay a visit to another Archangel. Lucifer has at least one brother who isn't trying to end the world." Castiel answers, eyes unblinking.

And in that moment, even with his fading grace, Castiel doesn't seem an ounce of human at all.

Ellen and Jo and Bobby and Adam wander in soon after, to try and get a handle on things while Lucifer is away.

--

Chapter Text

Lucifer flies them a motel Sam knows well, and Sam wonders if Lucifer just has a room on hold indefinitely for whatever he feels like using it.

When they land and Sam rights his balance, Sam crosses his arms and disengages, his expression far from patient.

"Lucifer, you can't ask me to just go along with this when you can't even exist in the same room as my brother without having a meltdown." Sam decides to start with. Safe enough topic now that they aren't anywhere near Dean.

Lucifer sighs. "He just gets under my skin, Sam. I was trying."

"Try harder." Sam demands as he holds Lucifer's shoulders, face scrunching.

"Okay, okay." Lucifer answers, palms raised. "I get the memo. I was out of line. Message received."

Sam starts pacing.

"I mean, you're an Archangel." Sam adds, throwing his arms in the air. "You're billions of years old. Act like it."

Lucifer grabs Sam when he gets close enough and reels him in with a wink. The icy grace hums between them, frequencies of soul and angel sending tremors from the crest of their heads and shivers down their spines, the skin contact not enough for them to stop themselves from huddling closer.

"But I never act my age, Sam." Lucifer croons before he kisses him, and Sam responds, until Sam swats him off playfully.

"You know what I mean. Be the mature one." Sam huffs as he pouts, then his gaze gets a bit more distant and closed off. "This is hard enough for Dean as it is. And it's hard enough for you and me on our own. We don't need to make this even more of a mess."

"I hear you loud and clear, Sammy." Lucifer mouths into Sam's neck as he kisses him again. Sam leans into the feeling.

"I mean it, Lucifer. No more death threats, or anything remotely similar." Sam's tone is still steely and unconvinced. "Dean has my back when things go bad. You don't have to be so paranoid about him."

"I'm not paranoid, Sam, I'm just being realistic based on how he's treated you." Lucifer snipes back.

"Lucifer, he's not Michael." Sam answers, straightening.

"Maybe not, but Sam-" Lucifer whines, movements jerky as he gesticulates.

Sam intercepts him and holds him close. "No, Lucifer, you need to get this through your head-"

"Sam, you remember what he did to you. You remember how he acted when we got you up to Stanford and all of it. Do you expect me just to trust him, when I know his track record?" Lucifer yells, hands gripping Sam like he can't physically let him go, and then his voice turns pleading, "He hurt you, Sam, he did things to you you never deserved-"

"Same could be said of you on the other end-"

"Sam, I have never laid one hand on you or purposely ever done anything to hurt you-" The pain shines through Lucifer's expression, stricken and heart-wrenching and Sam almost wants to back off but can't quite do it.

"I know, but you have indirectly, and the others don't know you like I do. You need to get a grip." Sam finishes with authority, arms falling to his sides.

"Sam..." Lucifer answers as he tenses up, wings ruffling as he bites his lip.

"Lucifer, I know you have a lot to work through. I know you're still angry, you're still hurting, that all of this is not what you are used to. And I know you want to be there for me and protect me. I know. I understand. But you need to get this through your head: Dean isn't the ticking time bomb you think he is. He's going to come around, and this will all work out. Okay? This isn't your family history repeating itself. Trust me, please." Then Sam's voice grows gentle as he leans closer and strokes Lucifer face, "You might see too much of your brother in mine, but they aren't the same."

Lucifer stiffens at that, but Sam's expression softens, and he kisses him lightly on the mouth, all chaste. "And I know you think you have my best interests at heart, but that doesn't change that Dean is my brother, and he matters to me. And I matter to you, and you matter to me. So try to show some consideration for how this is for him, for my sake. Please." Sam asks.

Lucifer's wings curl around Sam as his hands grip Sam's hips, his mouth ghosting over Sam's again.

"I'll follow your lead, Sam." Lucifer answers, all solemn. Then a muscle tics in his face as he adds, "But if he insults our relationship, I reserve the right to torment him a little."

"Key word being a little. Exercise restraint. No speeches." Sam demands, fingers digging into Lucifer's collarbone.

Lucifer nods, stubble nuzzling the underside of Sam's chin.

"I'll behave." Lucifer promises, blinking slowly. Sam gets a little lost just staring at him, and they both stand there, suspended, still not able to quell the feeling of how close they are. 

They kiss, Sam going in first, both of them going harder and more open and hungrier this time, until Sam disengages from their embrace and pokes Lucifer's chest playfully.

"Good. Otherwise, you won't get your damn reward for good behavior." Sam starts in and starts undressing, pulling his shirt clean over his head.

Lucifer's eyebrows raise as he eyes Sam up and down. His lips almost curling into a smile as he adds, reverent, "Are you trying to bribe the Devil, Sam?"

"Depends. Is it working?" Sam slings back, shoes and socks slipped off and pants discarded to the floor, one bare foot walking out, then the other. Lucifer leans into him as Sam is peel off Lucifer's layers of clothes, throwing his jacket to the floor and sliding that damn t-shirt over his head, fingers sliding up his chest. Lucifer closes his eyes as Sam starts undoing his belt and unzips him, hands cupping the wings of his pelvis with a controlled strength that makes Lucifer want to bring Sam begging on his knees.

And then all contact is broken as Sam steps away and leans back on the bed, legs spread with a cavalier confidence and want that almost brings the Devil himself to shame.

"I'll need to look a little closer. Take your proposal out for a test drive..." Lucifer says as he licks his lips, and then Sam is pulling him down and rolling over on top of him and giving them both some much needed stress relief.

--

A hour later, they both lay in each others arms under the covers. Sam is out of breath, and Lucifer imitates the humanity of the gesture out of intimacy and for the sake of it.

"If this is what all our lessons are going to start off with, I'd have given you far more time to convince me." Lucifer starts in, rolling on top of Sam to kiss him again, first aiming for Sam's mouth, then creeping lower and lower as he goes.

"You could always," Sam starts, then inhales abruptly as Lucifer spreads Sam's legs wider and kisses the inside of Sam's thighs, and Sam manages to gasp out, "Give our deal an extension," before Lucifer centers himself, tongue licking all the way back to Sam's navel before Lucifer lowers his head again, starts sucking, and keeps going to town. Sam whole body jerks and trembles and his back arches against the bed as Lucifer keeps him under the sway of his tender mercies. Sam whines and weeps and thrusts in synchronicity with each bob and dip of Lucifer's head, all while the Devil's fingers remain tightly coiled around Sam's wrists, holding Sam right where Lucifer wants him.

"Mm. If only I could." When he lets up, Lucifer's voice is breathy and sounds genuinely put out by the limits of his own terms, but war is war, and they don't have that kind of time. He slides back up higher all while his fingers glide over Sam's skin, tracing his ribs and chest and thighs before he crooks his fingers and starts fucking Sam with rougher, more controlled movements. "Such a shame, though. If this is what all our makeup sex is going to end up like, consider me converted. If I didn't keep my promises I'd have to start more fights just to get you alone."

"Shut up, Lucifer." Sam growls as Lucifer cleans them both up. Then Sam diverts Lucifer's arms off him and rolls over on top of him.

"You'll have to make me, with that perfect mouth-"

Sam cuts him off with a sharp, violent kiss, not playing games.

The Devil's legs wrap around Sam's legs and press against his hamstrings as Sam's fingers do some exploring and stroking and pumping of their own, Sam leaving some hickies and bite marks over Lucifer with a vengeance.

That is, until Sam tells Lucifer to ease off, and then Sam turns him around, kisses his chin and the underside of Lucifer's neck where his pulse jumps.

Then Sam painstakingly outlines every single reason Lucifer should try to be a better person and not end the world in against the back of Lucifer's head in vivid detail as he thrusts inside him and makes the Devil groan, only wanting for more as Sam fucks him again and again.

--
When they finish Sam's very memorable lesson, they check in with Bobby and Cas, and Sam tells them that no, he has not been kidnapped (yet, Lucifer mouths behind his back with one hand cupped and winks), and then they go for a walk deep in the woods somewhere Sam doesn't recognize. Based on all the pine trees, Sam suspects it's in the northeast somewhere.

"Why do you even want the Apocalypse, anyway?" Sam begins with as he glances around. There's a butterfly resting on a pale flower near a creek, and Sam watches its wings flutter before it flits away.

"I've told you, Sam, humanity deserves it," Lucifer bites a cuticles and spits it on the ground, body still coiled up with too much energy unreleased, "Michael and the rest of Heaven need to pay, and it's God's reparations for locking me up and keeping you away from me-"

"Yes, I know that. Believe me, I know, you've been very, very, very explicit about that. But what about the rest of the Earth? What happens to it if you finally enact whatever evil plan you've been concocting?"

"I'm not going to hurt this planet. Why do you think I hate humans so much? Your species pollutes and abuses and destroys it. Whole species and environments and far more useful creatures and ecological niches are being wiped out every day. It's a travesty."

Sam stops short, both eyebrows raise as his nose scrunches. "Are you seriously telling me half your reason for wiping out humanity is ecoterrorism and population control?" Sam asks slowly.

"I didn't mention that before?" Lucifer sounds puzzled and actually thrown for once.

"No." Sam sighs, then his tone grows colder. "Lucifer, when you weren't asking me to say yes, you've spent every night since you've gotten out giving me a verbal diatribe of all your emotional reasons and justifications for doing what you are doing and kept telling me how you were doing this for us and that resistance is futile because our future is inevitable while trying to convince me to let you fuck me at the same time. You never really got farther with explaining anything else."

"Whoops." Lucifer sounds less than bothered. "I thought my reasons were straightforward, although I'll admit, that is a glaring oversight, I'll be sure to be more... thorough, in the future."

Sam snorts and ignores the implications left unsaid. "At least some things don't change."

"What's that supposed to mean?" Lucifer asks as he stretches. Pine needles crunch beneath their feet.

"Lucifer, you were a biochem major with minors in ecology and neuroscience. I don't even know why I didn't see the writing on the wall." Sam answers, tone resigned. "Plus, remember when you set up those debates and fundraiser galas for save-the-whales and save-the-rainforest and save-the-treefrogs and all that? Basically the same thing you're doing now, only with less murder."

"I plead the fifth." Lucifer says a bit too enthusiastic, one hand clutching his chest.

Sam sighs and pinches the bridge of his nose. "I don't even want to know. Oh, that reminds me. Why were you so interested in stem cells and cloning if you saw the birth of the world and watched humanity being made and all of that?"

"Wanted to keep tabs on the current literature. Plus, I was trying to find a way to maybe keep Jessica's body or make temporary vessels more permanent, but humanity has barely scratched the surface. But at least it always gave me a good laugh for when I got bored."

"Sometimes you worry me, you know that?" Sam replies with a shake of his head.

Lucifer perks up and bumps Sam's hips with his and winks. "Only sometimes?"

Sam grabs his hand and doesn't let go as they keep walking, and Sam keeps deconstructing every argument Lucifer poses and talking the Devil down with even more abandon.

--

"So what's our plan?" Jo asks.

"Get Gabriel and see if he thinks this has any chance of working." Castiel rumbles, shoulder back.

"Are we just going to ignore what Lucifer's true angle is here?" Ellen cuts in, wringing her hands after washing up the counters from pure nervous energy.

"Which is?" Dean turns to her.

"Look, we have four options here." Bobby starts in, and Dean turns back to Bobby, who paces. "Either it's a trap, and he's lying about everything like a no-good-sonovabitch, and Sam is in deep with the worst murderous psychopathic supernatural piece of evil known to man. Or, he's not, and he's an out of touch angel who never learned to care that murder is wrong and is genuinely trying to be good for Sam because he's in love with him and focused on redemption."

"Fat chance." Dean snorts.

"Don't interrupt, although I am right there with you. Option three, he isn't lying about his feelings, but the Devil falls off the bandwagon because he's not one for resisting temptation, and he has a backup plan to deal with it. Option four: He's genuinely in love with Sam but has no intentions of actually changing and has another plan entirely. That's the worst angle of them all..."

"How's that the worst out of all those options?" Dean queries.

"Because if he's lying and has no feelings, Sam will get over it and probably kill the bastard himself." Bobby gruffly answers with a shrug, then continues, "If he's not lying and actually reforms, we're all good and have an ally to stop the rest of the Apocalypse. If he falls off the bandwagon and regrets it, he might try again or Sam might be able to strike another deal with him. But you ever seen what people do for love, boy? If Lucifer really does want Sam as he is, and if he loves him as much as Sam does, then we're well and truly fucked up a creek without a paddle. Because even if Sam says no until the end of time, Lucifer is going to stop at nothing to keep him, even if he has to entirely change his plans for the Apocalypse around to accommodate. If he thinks he loves Sam as much as he says, then Sam is his priority. And if he can't get Sam to side with him, it's going to get ugly, and he'll do anything to get Sam reliant only on him, which makes us the prime targets on the chopping block."

"Wouldn't we be safer? Comparatively, I mean? He's already killed us, and if he wants to stay in Sam's good graces, then he'd want to keep us alive, even if he imprisons us... Otherwise, why would he bother to raise us from the dead?" Ellen asks.

"Not if he thinks we're a threat to Sam, although you're right. He might not kill us. He might just keep us imprisoned and threaten to torture us or worse forever so Sam can't leave him. I doubt he has qualms killing people more than once. Either way, if he's as far gone as I think he is, Lucifer will burn the whole place down just for Sam's sake, or what he'll say is for Sam's sake, Heaven and Hell included. And I think we've all dated enough crazy to know the tip of that iceberg, when people love someone to the point where it ain't quite love at all."

"Thanks, Bobby, I feel so much safer now." Dean grunts.

"Bobby makes a valid point. There's no safe with the Devil, Dean." Cas corrects. "And his Achilles' Heel was always love to begin with. That's why he fell. The idea is more feasible than you think."

"So, what you're saying is, we're screwed?" Adam interrupts, perched uneasily on his stool like he could fall of any moment.

"Not if I have anything to say about it." Cas answers primly.

"Hey, guys, we're back-" Sam calls from the door.

Everybody looks back and hurriedly hides their plans as discreetly as possible.

Lucifer notices, but just clasps his hands behind his back and does nothing as he follows Sam into the room while Sam starts making lunch and asking people what they would like.

"That reminds me," Bobby starts in. "How are you even able to get in here?"

Lucifer tilts his head, and then turns back and points to the door. 

"I don't care that you're the Devil, don't get smart with me. I meant how did you here in the first place. Do we have to worry about Michael crashing my house, too?"

"Oh, your wards and sigils are more than solid. Beautiful work, actually. Cas certainly taught you well." Lucifer compliments as he pretends to be surprised at human competence, and then taps his mouth. "I just... added some extra ones the last time I was here. Specific to me, no one else."

Everyone freezes, even Sam, who looks back at Lucifer from making lunch, surprised but not enough and more suspicious. Lucifer raises his palms at him and shrugs, like, what else were you expecting.

Any calm Dean managed to regain is immediately broken, his voice frantic as he glances at Bobby and Ellen and then back to Lucifer. "What do you mean, the last time-"

"No need to give yourselves a heart attack. I was spying on you and knew his location anyway. Not a big deal. More like a necessity, considering how everyone targets Sam so often." Lucifer ignores him and keeps going, turning to Bobby, "Which reminds me, I'm going to have to drink up some demons to stop this body from degrading more, soooo.... Should I go outside? Do you have a designated spot? Don't want to intrude on your hospitality or get your floors all... scuffed."

"We've got a room, although since we'd prefer to keep an eye on you, here is fine, provided Sam isn't near the stuff." Bobby manages to keep his voice level, although he's far from nonchalant and his eyes are still wide. "But first, if you could answer Dean's question thoroughly, seeing as I'm mighty interested in your answer as well."

Lucifer shrugs again, all matter of fact. "I check up on Sam sometimes. I'd prefer to do it when he isn't asleep, but usually he is less than thrilled. Much easier just to stop by when he already thought he was asleep or was otherwise indisposed and couldn't do anything about it."

Everyone looks at Sam, who looks at Lucifer like he both wants to kill him and is completely and totally mortified. There's also a slight blush there, and Dean is more than suspicious.

"Sam, you said Lucifer can find you when you die. Did you die in Bobby's house and somehow not tell anyone about it?"

"No." Sam says quietly after a pause, washing his hands to distract himself.

"Well, then did you invite the Devil over and forget to mention it-" Dean's voice gets rougher.

"No. Hell, no. It wasn't like that-"

"Which made my nights so long and broke my heart, Sammy-" Lucifer mimes being stabbed in the chest and dying, then starts making another circle to summon a demon that counteracts the wards to stop that kind of activity. Ellen, Jo, and Adam take that as their cue to exit the room.

"Then why didn't you tell us Lucifer had been here before-" Dean demands at the same time, still staring at Sam.

Sam looks at his hands, but holds his ground. "What were we going to do about it? We had no sigils to stop him, believe me, I checked more than once, and I didn't know he added anything to the wards. I was kind of distracted."

"Distracted that he showed up?"

Sam nods.

"Among other things." Lucifer mutters under his breath, but Sam shoots him a dirty look and everyone else ignores him.

"And why didn't you mention that after it happened?" Dean's tone is a dangerously low grumble.

"Uh, boys-" Bobby starts in, but he's ignored.

"You would have taken me out of the game and locked me up somewhere, Dean, don't pretend otherwise, which would have meant he would have just shown up and abducted me. I know, because he described his whole backup plan in detail." Sam's face scrunches in distaste.

"And you were okay with that?"

"No! But it's not like he's been reasonable this entire time, kind of par for the course since Lucifer has no sense of restraint."

"True." Lucifer hums absently. Only Bobby pays him any mind.

"And how was I supposed to bring it up?" Sam continues and sounds a little more higher pitched than usual. "Oh, by the way, Dean, Lucifer was here and can find me almost any time he damn pleases provided-"

Sam's brain finally catches up with his mouth, which he covers up with his hands. He is definitely is blushing now and doesn't say anything.

"Provided what?"

"Doesn't matter." Sam murmurs.

"Sam-" Dean warns.

"I said it doesn't matter-" Sam is furiously throwing his lunch together now with hasty and uncontrolled movements.

"Sure sounds like it matters, Sam-" Dean almost gets in Sam's space, but Lucifer holds up a hand.

"Leave him be." Lucifer warns, and there's a note in his voice that makes everyone shut up and freeze in their tracks.

Sam fidgets.

Lucifer summons a demon and goes to drink, but by now everyone's not distracted by Sam but by the demon who has been silenced and whose throat is about to be cut.

"Sam, don't look at me like that," Lucifer sighs, noting his expression, "The demon already burnt them out. All I'm doing is taking out the trash. No human murder is occurring in your childhood home, pinky promise."

"Oh, no, you aren't doing that here-" Dean interjects.

Bobby is more incensed.

"What did I just say?" Bobby fumes.

Lucifer rolls his eyes and arches his eyebrows as he answers, "Sam will be fine, trust me. I wouldn't do that to him. Besides, that ship has sailed a long time ago."

Sam doesn't look at anyone still, particularly when Dean, Bobby, and Cas all stare him down. Cas looks... More than concerned in comparison, all the gears in his head turning as he puts two and two together.

"Oh, really? Because he sure as Hell wasn't okay the last time, when Famine..." Dean bellows now, more forcefully, but then something dawns on him and he trails off. "Wait a second. Sam, how are you not over that? Lucifer's the one who released him, and we had to lock you up and everything afterward."

"Um." Sam can't quite come to his own defense and he loses his nerve.

"Funny story, that." Lucifer hums too lightly as he drinks, blood staining his palms. "Seeing as that's the night Sam slipped up."

Sam only glares at Lucifer. "You said-"

"I said no such thing-" Lucifer goes to suck out more blood, but pauses when Dean turns to look at him and Sam again.

"Sam, what is he talking about?" Dean demands. Sam sighs.

"Lucifer can find me whenever I drink demon blood."

"And you... didn't think to mention that?" Dean's voice chokes off.

"Well, I wasn't planning on drinking any." Sam hisses.

"What if I demon forced you to?" Dean demands, winding up again. Sam looks distinctly uneasy and nauseous at the idea, the premise dredging some things up.

Lucifer's tone is acid as he finishes the demon off, sucking the blood off his fingers before he waves all the evidence of blood and the demon and the summoning sigils away. "If they listened to me, they wouldn't, although I admit they've been really bad at the whole, 'don't touch or harm Sam in any way, shape or form' order, so I guess that's a valid concern, except for the fact then I'd show up and kill them myself immediately after, so it wouldn't have ended too badly." Lucifer tries to be reassuring.

"Wait. You send Famine after us-"

"Not after you. Sam wasn't paying attention to me, and you were glued to his side, and it was Valentine's Day, so I took initiative to get us alone. Sam did all the rest of the legwork himself."

"So you magically influenced Sam to lose control and had Famine send demons after him-"

"I had nothing to do with those two demons, Famine forgot his place. They showed up, Sam drank, then I showed up. We shared some quality time once I assured him I wouldn't let anything happen to you, and then I dropped him off to save the day. It was a long time overdue, and then I rescheduled our date after Sam blew me off. Everyone got what they wanted. I got Sam, you and Castiel didn't die and got your Horseman bling for all your troubles, and Sam got my Valentine's Day gift and got to kill a rampant force of evil. So you can stop looking at me like I'm dirt on the bottom of your shoe who took advantage of your baby brother who is an adult, might I remind you. He has needs."

"Sam was craving blood, not your company-" Dean slings back, but he stalls at Lucifer's too-slick expression and Sam's very, very red face.

"You so sure about that?" Lucifer's tone is too innocent and Sam actually sits down, head in his hands, this time. 

"Lucifer-" He chokes out, but Lucifer pats his shoulder. Bobby grabs a beer from the fridge and starts drinking.

"He needs to get used to the idea, Sam. We can't dance around it forever."

Sam laughs hysterically a little as Dean starts in again.

"Yeah, like I'm going to be so okay with this. You got Sam high and manipulated him, and then just left Sam to ride out the aftershocks. Sam, how can you-" He stops at Sam's expression, not looking shamed or upset, just embarrassed and more than miffed. Dean turns back when Lucifer's voice cuts through the silence like a knife.

"Dean, about that. I'm not Ruby. I sobered Sam up before we hung out. Trade secret." Lucifer vows, and Castiel looks distinctly too knowing about what remains unsaid there as Lucifer continues, "Consent, and all that jazz." Lucifer holds up a hand. "Scout's honor as an angel."

"Then why was he freaking out and in pain, screaming for help-" Dean answers, stance combative.

"When you three left him all alone in a basement to detox, because that's not unnecessarily cruel? Are you so sure that was him?" Lucifer's tone is a bit too dry, and he draws himself up to his full height, his expression is less than kind. "You think I'd let you do that to him again?"

Dean looks back at Sam, who looks ready to tackle the Devil.

Sam hisses, "Lucifer, I am going to kill you."

"Somehow, I remain doubtful." Lucifer smiles, wraps his wings around him, and kisses his cheek. Sam isn't quick enough to stop him.

"Sam, while we're on the subject, what else am I missing here?" Dean cuts in.

Lucifer winks, "Best to get it all out at once, out of your system-"

"Shut up, Satan."

Sam clears his throat to shut them both up and scuffs his feet. "Lucifermayhavekindofabductedmeagainforadate." He says in one breath, barely intelligible.

"You wanna say that again, slower-"

"Lucifer and I had a thing. On Valentine's Day. Like a date." Sam is still looking at the floor, and Castiel is still staring at him, silent. Bobby just stands there, hands at his sides, and then grabs another beer from the fridge and swigs that one until it's dry, too.

Dean's brain malfunctions.

"Sam, you were... That... That early?" He manages to stammer, shock still overriding every other emotion he might feel. Bobby hands him a beer as well.

Sam nods while Lucifer hangs off his shoulder, beaming.

And then Dean is suddenly very intent and vehemently tearing into both of them for answers, "Is that why you trusted him with this whole deal?"

Sam nods again. "Partially."

"You said again, Sam. What did you mean by again?" Cas finally manages to interject, tapping his foot while he glances at Sam, who goes even more still, lunch forgotten.

"Sam, if you could answer Cas' question." Dean manages through gritted teeth, the anger finally showing it's face.

"He's found me other times outside my control." Sam admits, looking out the window. Lucifer rubs his back and it takes all of Dean's willpower not to punch him.

"What about the week where there were no infernal signs? That one of those times?" Bobby finally says from the other side of the room.

Sam hugs himself. Lucifer tilts his head, ruffles Sam's hair, and eyes them all with actual solemnity.

"Sam got jumped by some hunters. They shoved demon blood down his throat after threatening to kill Sam's fellow bartender, some girl." Lucifer's tone is a bit too dispassionate. "So I showed up and finally found Sam, after Sam kept avoiding me, sent the girl on home, killed the hunters for their assault on Sam, and then took care of Sam while he was under the influence. Not like Sam had any of you to help him."

"Reggie, Tim, and Steve wouldn't do that." Bobby argues.

"Oh, but they did." Lucifer hisses, expression feral again. "Well, two of them did. One of them died attacking some demon and they blamed Sam for it."

"So after Sam tried his best to hide from you, you waltzed on in and made him your prisoner?"

"It's not like he was in his right mind to be left alone. And he wasn't my prisoner, Dean. He was very high and very lonely and very vulnerable otherwise. I was just making sure he recovered."

"Couldn't sober him up immediately as an Archangel?"

"Sam wasn't on board at the time. Had to trust me a bit more first. So we just waited it out slowly, and then when he was sober I just... Didn't leave." Lucifer answers and shrugs again.

Dean looks back at Sam and bites his lip, eyebrows scrunched.

"Wait. Wait just one freakin' minute. Sam. You said you were with someone. On the phone. When we asked you to keep your head down. You said... Oh, God. You were with him, weren't you?"

"Dean..." Sam can't quite say anything else and hides his face in his arms.

Lucifer face twists into something as he mutters, "Dad wasn't really a topic of conversation, kinda ruins it..."

"You were. This entire... Holy... Sam how did you think this was okay? How could you hide this?"

"I... I wasn't really dealing with it, honestly." Sam mumbles. "I wasn't even sure how to process it, never mind talk about it."

"He really wasn't." Lucifer assures. "I had to deal with so much denial, you don't even know. Don't look at him like that! He figured keeping me occupied at least meant no one else was dying, so he wasn't actively trying to betray you. And what else was he going to do, say no?"

Only then the words catch up with him, and everyone freezes. Lucifer looks at Sam, whose fists are clenched and mouth set as Lucifer puts on a hand on his shoulder, which Sam catches and pushes away.

Sorry.

Not now.

Dean almost answers that but then thinks better of it, face promising retribution, as he grits out, "This is all your fault."

"Guilty as charged." Lucifer replies, nonchalant.

But when Lucifer starts muffling his laughter, Sam instead glares at him, tone full of promise, "I am making you pay for this later."

"Looking forward to it." Lucifer replies, eyes shining. Lucifer tries to kiss Sam again, and Sam smacks his shoulder, but then Lucifer hugs him closer and goes in to kiss him again.

Lucifer walks away when Sam shoves him off, standing closer to Castiel.

Bobby turns to Sam, voice low. "Sam, how in the Hell..." Then he and Sam starts talking so low no one else can hear them over Lucifer and Dean's raised voices, which argue about some things Sam pretends he isn't listening to about Lucifer taking advantage, with that being the most flattering and least-curse ridden descriptor. Lucifer takes it in stride.

"You... You..." Dean is incoherent again as he just stares the Devil down, looking like he'd much rather break his glass of beer and stab him with it. "Sam, how can you want him? He's stalked you and wants to wear you like you're an angel condom! He's the one who sent demons to make you drink the blood in the first place!"

"Dean-" Sam sighs, palming his forehead, but Dean's not done.

"No, Sam! How are you okay with kissing him or fucking him or anything? How... How do you not feel used and disgusted or find him in any way dating material...? I mean, his face is starting to burn off, for crying out loud!"

Sam goes to counter him, judgmental, but Lucifer beats him to it.

"First, rude, and maybe not the best thing to point out considering how much hassle it took to get this body. Second, I never make Sam do anything, it's his choice, although I might influence things so I can get him in the same room. And if we're going with your earlier comparison, Sam had to drink the blood to get ready for me, for safety reasons, because he is only human, even if he God did make us, what's the word, uh, soulmates? You can think of the blood as kind of like lube-"

"Lucifer, don't you dare-" Sam chokes and dashes over to try and cover his mouth, but he doesn't get there in time.

Lucifer finishes the sentence anyway, voice a deeper rumble as he keeps grinning, eyes alight. "-And he has to take so much of me in, so it helps to have something to ease inside while I fill up every inch of him."

Dean actually vaults forward past the chair and punches the Devil clean in the face this time strong enough to break his hand, and then he breaks the beer glass on the counter and tries to stab him with it (which fails), for once his face lacking in fear and instead replaced by a combination of horror, righteous and protective brotherly anger, all topped off with complete and utter mortification.

Sam lets him, face burning, his head falling into his hands. "Dean, I'm sorry-"

"I'm not." Lucifer interrupts a little too giddily.

"Lucifer-" Sam mutters, still not looking at anyone.

"I made a tactical decision, Sam. He was being rude, asking about our sex life, implying things with less than glowing connotations when he should just kiss that constipated face of ye old angelic accountant over there already and stop taking his dating woes out on us. Talk about a lack of boundaries. Now maybe he'll be scarred forever and refrain from sticking his nose where it doesn't belong."

When Sam looks up, Dean fist still shaking and his face looking a bit green. Cas heals his hand, not looking at Lucifer, either.

"Lucifer, I love you," Sam groans, "But sometimes you make it really hard for me not to want to stab you."

"Oh, I'm sure I'll find a way to make it up to you-" Lucifer sings and winks. "Besides, it's not like you'll kick me out."

Sam punches his arm, a vein pulsing in his jaw. Lucifer barely feels it.

"Bobby might." Sam mutters, and then his voice raises again, "Lucifer, I swear, on all that is holy and otherwise, if you say one more word-"

"Okay, Sam, I'll zip it. Silent as the grave." And Lucifer mimes zipping his lips and finally shuts up.

Sam just looks at Dean, still beat red, and then shuffles his feet and looks down again. "You... You might just want to take a walk, Dean." Sam manages to say.

Dean's body slumps as he walks away.

Cas eyes Lucifer and says in Enochian, "We'll be talking, later." And then he looks at Sam and shakes his head.

Sam points Lucifer towards the door in exile at his behavior.

I expect you to make up for all of that.

Anything for you, Sam.

Then Sam sighs and stops Bobby on his way out.

"We need to talk." Sam admits shakily.

--

"So what are the odds that went badly?" Jo asks with a sigh.

"I bet it's worse than we thought." Ellen answers as the sound of raised voices they can actually make out now. Then she looks over to the window where Adam is sitting again. "Adam, you seem kind of out of it, still. Have you been able to sleep?"

"Yeah. Readjusting is hard... And I'm just thinking..." He pauses. "Do you think any of them are going to be okay? Any of us?"

They all look at each other, uncertain.

Dean stomps past them, Cas in tow, although Cas stops and joins the group to help all of them while pouring over the news, radios, lore, and everything to keep countering the rest of the Apocalypse that hasn't stalled. Lucifer, strangely enough, joins them as well without Sam, which throws everyone off, but he's actually more than helpful since he's been tracking everything Michael's been doing and coordinating his own movements in response, so he knows where his forces are and where Michael's are and how many casualties have been hitting both sides.

That, and no one wants to be the one to tell the Devil to get lost.

--

"Bobby, I don't mean to keep secrets..." Sam starts, uncertain, as they sit next to each other. Sam sips a beer of his own. Bobby's on his fifth. "I'm just..."

"I get it. Say what you need, Sam. We're long past, well..."

"Yeah. I know. But Bobby," Sam's tone sings with intensity, "You can't tell anyone. You understand? Anyone. I mean it." And then Sam's voice breaks, "Please. I can't..."

"If that's what it takes to get some answers, Sam. I'll pay that price. Now what's going on? What the Devil has you head over heels with the Devil?"

Sam rubs a hand over his face, then looks down at his palms.

"Bobby, I don't know how, but I know it's true, and... Lucifer was Jess. He was Jess the whole time I knew her."

And Sam tells everything he knows and that he can to Bobby, because he's tired, so damn tired, and he needs to talk about it to someone who is human, who knows Sam, and has let Sam down the least.

--

Bobby joins the team ten minutes later, Sam following in tow. Everyone decides to stay on decidedly neutral subjects when not tackling the best way to counter Heaven trying to nuke the earth on it's own.

--

After Sam and Lucifer go off wherever they are spending their time, Bobby sighs, wipes the sweat from his brow, and huddles up the rest of the team plus Dean once Cas goes to get him.

"So it's worse than we thought. And it looks like option four is the unlucky winner here." Bobby says in hushed tones. "Both Lucifer and Sam have feelings and Lucifer has gone farther than we thought he did to get himself situated in Sam's life."

"How do you know for sure?" Ellen asks.

"Trust me. I know." Bobby says with finality. Sam might have sworn Bobby to secrecy when he fessed up to everything, but that doesn't mean Bobby can't use that knowledge to his best ability to help.

Cas has an inkling, and asks, "Did Sam tell you why he's so... invested?"

"Yep. And he isn't going to tell anyone. Don't ask, or he might know I hinted at something, and then he probably won't tell me anything. But I can tell you he's not going to be okay with us icing Lucifer if we have to."

"Bobby, I have to know, is it mind control-" Dean asks, insistent.

"No. It's actual, real feelings. And Sam has them for reasons that actually make sense, more than I would like to admit, but it also makes this entire situation worse. So just get on board with how we're gonna stop Lucifer from blindsiding him. You hear me?"

--

Lucifer and Sam end up going to a highly populated area to teach Lucifer more reasons he shouldn't kill everyone and to try and get him re-acclimated to large groups of people without immediately feeling the need to level the street. That, and it's punishment for his earlier behavior. After two hours, they hit up an abandoned farmstead Lucifer knows to work out more personal issues, seeing as today could've gone much better, all things considered.

Sam decides to broach the subject of families, afterwards, because he knows Lucifer is only being more difficult lately because he's not dealing with this arrangement as well as he would like. 

Sam knows that. It's why he put up with all the bullshit earlier. Figures it's best to catch Lucifer when he's less on edge and more agreeable, although the latter descriptor isn't entirely apt.

He's always like that when it's just him and Sam, though.

They fly back to Bobby's at 6:30 pm. Sam goes to help Bobby make food, asking Ellen and Jo and Adam what they would like, while Lucifer, oddly enough, keeps more distance than he otherwise would. Distance here being ten feet instead of two.

"Sam mentioned you liked pie." Lucifer greets Dean on the way back. "He picked it out, since we all know your opinion of me."

Dean takes the pie with a glaring, obstinate fury. "This doesn't change anything."

Lucifer shrugs. "Maybe not. But Sam loves you. So for his sake, I'll make nice. I'd appreciate you doing the same."

And then Lucifer wanders off to bask in Sam's radius again.

They all play poker after they eat.

Cas and Sam actually conspire to beat Lucifer, and miraculously, they do.

--

As everyone is wrapping up and going to their rooms, Sam catches Dean alone as they pass between the bathroom.

Lucifer is waiting in Sam's room, antsy, but doesn't follow Sam everywhere. Sam won't let him.

"Look, Dean... Just, just talk to me. Please." Sam begs as he catches his shoulder.

"What is there to talk about, Sam?" Dean answers, voice flat. "You're in love with the Devil and trying to reform him. Not much I can say."

"You know he only doesn't like you because he's scared, right?" Sam says, too gentle. "All his brothers gave up on him, and he never got over it. But you haven't given up yet. It scares him because he thinks you're either going to fall off the bandwagon and back Michael, or you won't, and he's worried that means I'll give up on him." Sam says quietly.

"See, Sam, how do you know that? How do you know anything that you know about this guy isn't fake?" Dean pleads, voice growing higher at the exhaustion.

"Because it isn't, Dean. For better or worse... We understand each other. And I love him. And I have to believe I can help him." Sam says, determined and eyes beaming.

"Sam-" Dean's voice breaks, too much emotion there. He's been trying to protect him, and he's been running on empty, and Sam's the only one screaming they need to find another way this whole damn time, and now his other way is suspect because turns out, he loves one of the people propagating the apocalypse and Dean didn't know this whole time.

"Dean. Please. I can't do this alone. I will, if I have to, but it will make it so much harder, and our lives are hard enough." Sam begs, although his voice is pure steel.

Dean lowers his gaze, then hugs his brother. "I'll try. But you better take precautions, Sam. I don't trust him."

Sam closes his eyes and exhales. "I know."

And then they part. And Sam heads back to his room, back into the Devil's waiting arms.

Dean watches him as the door opens, sees his glance over for a second before his eyes rivet back to Sam.

Sam closes the door behind him.

And Dean is shut out of whatever this is going to be.

Later that night, Castiel finds Dean outside, working on Baby. He sits in companionable silence as Dean shines up the car and absently does some touch-ups to clear his head.

Chapter Text

 "So you just invited him over?" Dean keeps up the hushed whisper outside on Bobby's porch, no one quite sure where Lucifer and Sam went off to or when they'd be back.

"We need a cover to meet with him, Dean. Otherwise, this isn't going to work. Besides, as distasteful as the Archangel is, he knows Lucifer, and that might help him slip up and reveal more than he otherwise would." Cas assures.

"Do we know when he'll be here?" Dean frets, hands clenching the rag in his hand harder.

"I told him 4 pm or else." Castiel's blue eyes glitter with promise.

"And he went for that?"

"He did." Cas's voice rumbles, almost sardonic but not quite. "He found my delivery funny. I think he understands the gravity of this situation. And I know the whole Apocalypse business scares him, more than he would ever admit."

"Well, I trust you."

Cas smiles, although it's almost watery and too-insubstantial, which is not the norm, even when Cas feels beaten. "I wish I had the same certainty you did, Dean. I'm not sure how I am supposed to protect your brother. Not from this."

--

Inside, Sam pours over the data they have about Michael's movements with Lucifer and Adam. Jo, Ellen, and Bobby are out on a case to let off some steam and cabin fever, with everything that's been happening so fast. Sam thinks that since it's been three weeks now, the shock about the Devil's whole deal is giving way to more acute unease and fear, since Lucifer isn't exactly easy to live with when he's not your biggest fan. And with Michael hanging over his head, he's not that easy to live with when he is your biggest fan, and even Sam admits it.

And Sam's been trying to reach out to Adam more, when he can. Adam isn't exactly on board with any of this, but he's scared stiff of Michael from Zachariah and he's terrified of Lucifer and he's just not that close to anyone else except maybe Jo, and Sam never really got to be a big brother to him. He wants to prove that he can get this to work, because he knows the alternative isn't really an option. 

But hey, at least they all are on the same page when it comes to Michael. That's the other thing that's got them all on edge. Heaven's been busy, with some mass disappearances, some odd signs, weird storms no one can explain... But it's been oddly quiet, and it's the kind of quiet before the storm hits.

Speaking of which, Lucifer's whole arrangement with his demons and Death has been absent from all discussions, mostly because of the baggage it carries around Ellen and Jo, but Sam knows he has to bring it up eventually. Lucifer might be laying low and taking a break from his plans for humanity's mass extinction, but Sam knows he'll do anything to keep his advantage over Michael's forces. The question is how he's doing that right now if he isn't converting souls and isn't making direct moves.

Luckily, Sam knows how to press his advantage to learn that information, and Lucifer has been less-than-stingy about revealing some details or slipping up, possibly because Sam's been closer and taking more of an interest. That, and the whole soul-vessel-bond thing and the angel blood and Sam's powers. Lucifer's been far more willing to volunteer information there, and since Sam's been practicing and indulging him a bit more, he's also been able to dig for more information there, even if Sam knows Lucifer's holding back on explaining everything.

He does get very distracted by Sam showing off, though, and it makes him clumsier than he otherwise would be. Not that that's saying much, because Lucifer on a mission doesn't really leave loose ends, but it gives Sam an advantage he otherwise wouldn't be able to capitalize on.

The only issue there is Sam has to keep hiding things, although he's pretty sure his hints to Cas have gotten through. He only hopes that is enough to keep everyone prepared and on their toes, because it's a badly kept secret Dean, Cas, Bobby, Jo, Ellen, and Adam are all planning something around Lucifer, and both Sam and Lucifer know it.

As long as it doesn't set him off or ruin the deal, Sam's on board. Anything that can help them stop the Devil from falling off the rails or going back to whatever desperate pining actions fueled his murderous rampages in the first place.

And Sam knows Lucifer's trying to win him over, too, trying to tip him over whatever compromise he can. But he knows he can't do that without compromising his own position, and he needs this deal as much as Sam, right now.

They missed this.

And now that Sam has something to fight for, has a way to fix everything he can, can build his future again-

Sam can't let it slip through his fingers again.

He's lost too much already.

And Sam hopes Lucifer can see that. That Sam wants him back, would keep him, would say yes if it didn't mean the end of the world. The end of humanity.

The end of everything Sam's tried to protect.

--

By four on the dot, the doorbell rings.

Dean answers the door.

"Cas said you might drop in." Dean says, roughly. On the door handle, his fingers aren't steady.

Through the doorway, Sam sees the familiar face of someone he has more than lukewarm feelings about on a good day and less-than-stellar flashbacks about on a bad day.

All of Dean's deaths play on repeat, Heat of the Moment playing on repeat, and Sam tastes nothing.

Then Sam takes a breath, and steadies himself, the weight of Lucifer leaning into him. Grounding him.

Lucifer hasn't let go of him, not once. Sam his anchor as much as Sam is his.

He's stone. Immobile. But Sam can feel his wings tighten around him from the strain, smothering, possessive, resisting every urge to fan out and blind his brother from the hurt, the hurt Sam knows Lucifer still feels.

There's a reason he's angry, sees himself as betrayed. Thought his family betrayed him first.

It's everything Sam's been trying to keep contained. Helping Lucifer through, one day at a time, if it means he'll choose happiness and peace and not the violent, bloody silence he's convinced is the only way.

"Gabriel." Lucifer starts, a bit too calm and still. He holds on to Sam like a lifeline, like he'll slip through his fingers if he's not touching him. His grip almost bruises Sam's wrists, but doesn't.

He can't break the one person who still loves him. Who took him back. Who he needs to see things his way.

Sam doesn't deserve to pay for the failures of others.

Gabriel eyes him from the doorway. "Heard the rumors you were living it up with the Winchesters. Didn't believe it at first until I heard it from the horse's mouth..."

"What are you really doing here, little brother?" Lucifer asks, and his voice is no longer controlled. It quakes, a low-tone growl, and it's bitter, and suspicious. Lucifer's eyes narrow, and his vessel's lips thin. There's no mirth now. Only jagged wariness, and mistrust.

"I'm not entirely sure." Gabriel admits, shifting on his feet. Almost stepping back, but not. Like he's terrified, because he is. "But I was invited over for dinner."

He steps into the threshold of Bobby's doorway. No one stops him.

Lucifer pulls Sam closer to him and backs away a little, then glares at everyone.

"Why is he here?" He demands, voice louder, rougher.

Dean's the one who answers. "Thought that since you met Sam's family, it's only fair we got to know yours better."

Lucifer's expression closes off, and he says, curtly, reigning his composure in. "Not the best call." Then he turns back to Sam, "Sam, do you want him here?"

Sam takes a moment to inhale and pinches the bridge of his nose. "Look, I'm not a big fan of Gabriel, but this might help you, and as long as he behaves... It's not like I can criticize them for doing this, Lucifer. I mean, I brought you back with me. So let's just see how this goes? That okay?"

"Fine. If you think it best." Lucifer's voice still sings with an undercurrent of off-note unease, and it sounds like a threat, but he turns back to his younger brother. "It's been a long time, little brother."

Gabriel wrings his hands as if he doesn't realize he's doing it. "You can say that again, Luci."

Lucifer actually flinches and his pupils are thin as he looks his brother, his spine still hunched over Sam like if he's not holding on to him at every point of contact Sam would disappear like smoke.

--

Sam asks if he can trust Lucifer to be okay if he takes a breather.

Lucifer lets go and says nothing. Just nods. Takes a step back as Sam takes one step, then rushes to the hallway by the bathroom, pulling Dean and Cas along with him.

"Excuse us." Sam calls back over his shoulder. Not sure why his cracked voice bothers, or who he's addressing. Adam, maybe.

Although he looks oddly unbothered.

So he knew this was happening. Of course he knew this was happening. That's probably why Ellen and Jo and Bobby left, although why they left Adam here, Sam doesn't know.

If this is the extent of Dean and Castiel's and their plan...

Sam's not sure if he should be leaving Lucifer unsupervised.

But if there's any indication that he can exert some level of self control and not break Bobby's house...

Sam can't run interference 24/7. And he had to get Dean away for Gabriel, even if it's just three minutes. He's grateful Bobby is out of there too, remembers all too well the stake and everything and not being able to get Dean back-

But Lucifer promised he wouldn't let Gabriel go nuclear, just as he promised Sam he wouldn't go nuclear himself.

It will be fine.

Sam still wishes he could've pulled Adam into the hallway, too.

God, when did this become Sam's life.

Then Sam looks at Dean and Cas, rubbing his face, running his hands through his hair, shifting from foot to foot.

"Guys, maybe next time, you could tell me when you're inviting Lucifer's folks over. You know. As a courtesy." Sam manages to say.

Dean had the grace to look down, but doesn't look apologetic, just uncomfortable.

Cas stares at Sam and pats his shoulder.

"We would have." Cas tries. "We couldn't risk Lucifer getting any idea of the involvement. We needed a way to see if he's..."

"In control?" Sam supplies.

Cas nods.

"Yes. We also didn't want to chance anyone else finding out, in case it would endanger everyone. But we will try to keep you informed, in the future." Cas assures.

Sam. Seeing as you are no longer emotionally about to freak out... If you could please, please come back now. I would appreciate it.

On my way.

Sam walks back to the kitchen.

Dean and Cas follow, and sit next to Adam when they get back.

Dean doesn't stop palming the angel blade once. Force of habit, even if it's useless. He makes sure there's still holy oil hidden in the flask Sam undoubtedly thought was full of Jack Daniel's.

Precautions. Always be prepared.

If Dad could see them now...

--

By the time Sam and Dean and Cas have come back in, Gabriel and Lucifer are still eyeing each other across the room. Not getting closer, or further.

Studying each other. All silent communication, years of silence and loss and unresolved anger and abandonment between them.

Two stars in a nexus, crackling with power that floods the room.

Gabriel shuffles forward and sticks out a hand.

"Truce?" He asks with a quirk of his lip.

Lucifer takes his hand and then envelopes him in a hug.

"This doesn't make us even." Lucifer hisses, hugging him tighter.

Gabriel looks all Archangel for a second, all terrified, lost younger brother, and then he rolls his eyes, makes a face at Cas, and unfurls his wings, hugging Lucifer back.

"You really need to learn to relax, Luci." Gabriel suggests.

"Sam is a great help there." Lucifer answers, but deep down, there's still danger welling. Warning: don't talk about family. Don't talk about the past.

Gabriel notices the way Lucifer's voice doesn't shake. The careful modulation of it all. 

Feels the energy, restless and lashing out and wanting to burn everything down despite the fact he's reigning it in.

"I can see that." Gabe almost quips, but then decides better on it. That would just be a reminder.

And it's not like he isn't scared to death. He knows how set on the end of days his brother's have been. And heck, he'd just wanted it over.

But now Lucifer, of all people, might just back down, because if anything he's always been a sap for people who loved him, possessive and obsessive in the extreme, and Gabriel wonders just how Sam got this far. Gabriel didn't even think making this deal was possible. He's not sure, even, his brother knows what he is doing.

Scratch that. He knows Lucifer doesn't know what he's doing.

Because if he did, he would've just taken what he wanted already, and torn Gabriel to pieces.

Gabriel can see feel how angry he is. All the grace bubbling beneath the surface. The accusations.

You left, you destroyed- Gabriel wants to argue, but doesn't. The echoes still whisper, there, unconstrained. Lucifer notes them.

Just as he knows what Lucifer would say.

You said nothing, when God cast me out. You didn't look at me when I walked the Earth. You let me rot in Hell. You would see Michael try to kill me, or me him, and you can't say a word about it-

Because I know stopping my two older brothers would've done jack shit.

True. But you could've looked for me. Could've said something. Could've sought me out.

I left. I didn't back them up. And I don't want to die, brother. Michael wouldn't let me near you, even if I tried.

Lucifer relents. Understands that grief. Shares it.

And I'm not sure I trust you. I'm not sure if I can ever trust you again, after what you did. Gabriel doesn't dare to think. Because he's not sure who he brother is. What the real deal is, now. Gabriel has committed his fair share of crimes. Killed people. Tortured, not by his standards, but theirs. He knows humanity, and it's fickle, petty materialism and bodily needs and clumsy, messy lives. No archangel leaves a mark on the world without causing some damage. They are too bright, too absolute, to not leave a mark on God's favorites.

But Gabriel is fond of them, fond in a way he knows Lucifer will never be.

But Sam has clearly done something. Made some argument. Done something for Lucifer to veer off course when he otherwise wouldn't.

Otherwise he wouldn't be here.

And Gabriel knows his brother, or knew how he thought, once. He thought he knew. But so far, Lucifer has been...

He's just been broken, and waiting, and desperately holding on.

Gabriel wonders if he built up all the memories of Lucifer's endless rage, all the blame, all the things he thought Lucifer was up, as an excuse. To feel less guilty for staying away.

Then again, Lucifer was always good at making him feel guilty for things that were not always his fault, even before things got bad. Gabriel's not sure of his own memory.

But he wants to believe.

And he knows what hasn't changed. Lucifer was violent, and needy, and hellbent on his singular pursuits. Right now, that was Sam. Every particle of his being sang of it.

And Gabriel...

Gabriel isn't sure what he's looking for.

A way out.

A new path.

Something to believe in, if Sam can change the script.

Gabriel hadn't wanted to hope. But he does, if Lucifer didn't rip him apart on sight, like he knows Lucifer would have otherwise. This had been a litmus test for more than one thing.

Lucifer has always seen things without any shades of grey. With him, or not with him.

And right now, he sees this as Gabriel taking a side.

Except he isn't. But Gabriel can't say that.

Then Lucifer pulls back and latches on to Sam again.

Sam allows the extra contact, the leaning into his neck, the too-close handling.

He knows when Lucifer is on the brink of not dealing, and mentally sends over all the places they can go to cool off, just the two of them, if it means Lucifer calms down.

Lucifer, for what it's worth, let's Sam's thoughts, even and measured, calm him down, a wave after wave, keeping time, as do his heartbeats, which Lucifer counts.

--

They decide to go outside. Have a picnic, of all things. Gabriel is bizarrely fond of food, and Sam doesn't want him near TVs, or HBO, or electronics, or anything he can use for additional innuendo that might goad Lucifer into wringing his neck and because Sam doesn't want to listen to it. Adam, of all people, runs as much interference as he can, seeing as Gabriel's a stranger to him and much more approachable, as archangels go, and Sam isn't exactly one for talking to Gabriel, still annoyed by him even if it's not constructive and he's trying, and Lucifer is quiet, unsure of what to say, so Gabriel just babbles on and on about everything until the ice is broken and Lucifer eases, ever so slightly. Like he's convinced Gabriel won't try to rip Sam away.

After being tired of being crushed by the Devil as a makeshift teddy bear, Sam stretches and goes to toss the pasta salad, arguing with Dean, who is restocking the cooler as they go. Sam takes a beer when he offers it and chugs. There isn't enough alcohol in the world enough to drown out Gabriel, and if Sam has to be sloshed to get through, he will.

Lucifer needed some kind of closure. Some way of anchoring himself and relating to what happened to him without having Sam as his only lifeline or talking him through everything.

Sam still wonders why Cas thought it best to bring Gabriel in, seeing as that's clearly not their main motive, here.

"You know when we were working that fairy tale case, and I asked you if you could be more gay?" Dean starts in.

"Yeah, I corrected you because I'm bi, you jerk," Sam challenges, trying to lighten the mood.

Dean keeps talking over Sam, unable to reign his emotions in now that there's two archangels hashing it out around his brother and him. "And said maybe you'd find your fairy godmother? An angelic sugar daddy is not what I meant!" Dean answers.

Sam raises his eyebrows. "Wow. Dean, being around Gabriel really isn't good for you. Normally you'd at least think before letting that out."

Dean sighs. "Look, Sam. I don't get why you're fussing so much and bending over backwards to accommodate his emotional needs." Dean scolds, motioning to Lucifer. "If anything, you should be the one upset. I mean, aside from all the other stuff, he's practically cradle-robbing you, literally and figuratively."

Sam makes a scathing noise and gives Dean a decidely unimpressed look.

Dean keeps going. "And I don't get why you have to coddle him. He's billions of years old-"

"Yeah, and he has the emotional maturity of a five year old." Sam answers, rolls his eyes and gives Dean a look like he's being more stupid than usual. "Let's not kid ourselves on whose the more responsible party in this duo."

"And babysitting an angel is appealing to you?" Dean needles.

Sam sighs. "He's really not that bad. He's just... angry. Really, really angry. Once you get past that, he's mostly just a messy, needy smartass." Sam continues.

"Once again, Sam. Aside from the obvious, what about that is attractive?" Dean huffs, tossing another bratwurst on the barbecue.

"Because Sammy likes to support people, just like he likes feeling needed. It goes both ways. Sam likes focusing on messes he can fix to avoid his own denial, mainly because he doesn't hear that he's important enough, in my opinion." Lucifer supplies, stepping up from behind him, wrapping his arms around Sam's waist. Dean grumbles about not asking his opinion, and doesn't say, "Don't call him Sammy," because that's been a losing battle, all of which Lucifer ignores as he peeks out from the side of Sam's head, smiling, as Sam keeps tossing the salad, then takes another swig of beer. "And he's always had a soft spot for cynical never-do-wells who are rough around the edges, particularly ones who stick up for him when the chips are down or who support his intellectual pursuits."

"Yeah, okay. Describe yourself as rough around the edges again, you ass." Sam warns, waving the spoon in Lucifer's face. "I dare you."

Lucifer's face is the picture of innocence as he leans closer, and Sam leans back into him despite himself, letting the Devil carry his weight.

"But Sam. You like the rugged, fixer-upper types. Or I should say, you like people who can keep up with you and all your adventures." Lucifer adds, all mischief.

Sam rolls his eyes and side eyes Dean, looking more relaxed than he probably should.

"I'm in it for all the history." He jokes, and Dean tries to smile, and fails, but Sam keeps going anyway. "Imagine all the lore we can learn from the oldest nerd in all of creation."

Lucifer laughs.

When Lucifer kisses him, he falls forward, and if he is a little more aggressive, well...

You get what you dish out.

Mm. I am not complaining.

Dean makes a strangled noise and looks away, snagging another beer.

Sam should feel guilty, but he doesn't.

"You're better than primetime." Gabriel catcalls.

Lucifer stiffens, and Sam tries to distract him again.

He'll get used to Gabriel. He can.

He has to be a positive example for both Lucifer and Dean, if he's going to make this work.

Lead as a positive example for everyone, really, since he's the only one who hadn't given up yet, before Lucifer made the deal that Sam is hanging on to like a lifeline.

He's lived with Lucifer before.

He can convince him.

He can do this.

He can get what they had back, if he just tries hard enough-

--

All things considered, it takes an hour, two sunshowers no angels stop to keep their cover from being detected, four uneaten hotdogs, one hastily made flower crown Gabriel has piled on his head, three near smitings when Gabriel almost said something too suggestive and Lucifer nearly attacked him, before things actually take a turn for the worse. Mainly because Dean has decided to bring up people dying, again, after they all moved indoors and he lost a round of poker and Gabriel and Lucifer started arguing about the crusades and Cas and Sam tried to change the subject. Dean, of course, decided to latch on to his other favorite topic to try and figure out just why Sam is holding on to Lucifer so hard, when for the past few months he's been terrified out of his mind.

"Sam, explain that." Dean demands. "Explain the double standard."

"What, you think I'm okay with genocide?" Sam accuses, all calm forgotten. He's shaking with anger, and Lucifer's wings rush over him, soothing, same as his fingertips glancing the nape of Sam's neck, like Jessica always did. "That I'm okay with people dying?"

"No, Sam, that's exactly the point. Why does he get a free pass-" Dean gesticulates at Lucifer, mouth set in a frown.

Lucifer laughs out loud and then hides it in his hands when Sam glares at him.

"I'm sorry, it's just..." Lucifer pretend wipes a tear from his eyes. "If you heard Sam lecture me about everyone I've ever killed, directly or indirectly, you would not be so quick to play that card."

"Then why is he okay with you? I don't get it! Sam, you always are saying unless something's killing people, it's not a monster. However, once something's killed someone, well, we hunt it, it dies, problem solved. What makes him different?"

"Well, let's see. For one, you can't kill me, so no solution there." Lucifer says, ticking down his fingers, counting as he continues, "Two, Sam loves me more than anything and couldn't hurt me even if he wanted to, uh, three, Sam and you and all your friends have killed so many people at this point, it's started to blur together, uh, four, things aren't nearly as straightforward for you two anymore, five, true vessel bonds, six, I'm an angel, and God made it my job to kill and judge things, what's doing it a little early, and seven, well, seven's not something Sam would want me to bring up as dinner conversation, eight, it's just good strategy, which Sam resents, but understands from my perspective, and nine... Sam, you want to field one? Those are just off the top of my head, but I can go on. Don't want to hog the floor."

Sam gives Dean a look, pleading, all tired and drawn, and Dean can't find it in him to keep up the fight, to get angry, because Sam just looks so small...

"Honestly, I don't know why he's the exception there." Sam sighs. "I just... don't want him dead."

That's terrifying. Dean doesn't say. Don't you realize how terrifying that is, what he's been willing to do to get to you-

Gabriel gives Dean and Cas a look from the corners of his eyes, and Dean looks down. Saw something in his brother's eyes that got him all jittery again. Gabriel taps his foot, wings flexing in and out. Visibly uncomfortable. Visibly feeling not-safe. Castiel feels it. Lucifer would, if he cared enough. He doesn't.

Lucifer pays it no mind, his eyes riveted on Sam.

"Wow, Sam. Way to make me feel loved." Lucifer answers as he shakes his head.

"Lucifer, we've talked about this." Sam narrows his eyes, his voice is steel. "I put up with a lot, but the moment you joke about people dying is the moment I start kicking your ass."

"My bad." Lucifer says with barely any effort, one wing looping past Sam's shoulder.

"And you still really suck at apologies." Sam criticizes as Lucifer pulls him into his lap, hands lighting on Sam's waist.

"Maybe I just want more private lessons on technique." Lucifer suggests, eyebrows raised, and then he's ducking down to kiss Sam again, who dodges.

"Cas, you have an angel blade on you?" Sam asks out of the side of his mouth.

"Yes, do you need to borrow it?" Castiel's dry voice contrasts with the way his eyes smile at the question. He will deflect and help Sam diffuse the situation as best he's able. But he will get to the bottom of whatever Gabriel has seen. That's why they brought him out here, aside from asking about the other archangels and tracking the angel blade and making a plan if Lucifer tries to steal Sam and restart the Apocalypse another way. Gabriel knows Lucifer better than most. He's able to see what Castiel might miss. The warning signs.

Lucifer rolls his eyes and moans, "Okay, okay, point taken. I will genuinely try to not make fun of dead humans because they matter to you, Sam. I just thought maybe you might get on board with the whole not all humans deserve your sympathy train, or at least accept that not singling specific humans out is more fair than other options."

"There is so much wrong with that statement I don't even know where to begin." Sam answers, a practiced one he's all too used to, and crosses his arms, specifically turning away from the Devil, who is still trying to win his attention back again.

"You know, Sam, even if he wasn't a murderer, you could still do so much better." Castiel says once he decides to throw his hat in the ring.

"Yeah. Like Jessica. She was loads better than this guy." Dean contributes brightly, until he backpedals and realizes that's probably not the right call to make, because it might hurt more than it helps. "I mean, Hell, sorry Sam, I meant... You know."

"It's fine." Sam says, tone something a bit too soft. He looks at his hands, entwined in Lucifer's.

Lucifer, oddly enough, preens in silence and looks a bit too not-jealous with that assessment. Gabriel looks back up and turns suspicious. He knows when Lucifer is too aloof. When he's hiding something.

Sam's expression still fluctuates between stricken and wanting and something else Dean doesn't recognize but almost thinks looks like determined, possessive purpose.

Then Lucifer smiles at Sam, his voice rumbling from his chest, "You know Sam, he has a point. Jessica was far more laid back than I am in the here and now."

Sam shoots him a distinctly calculating glare. "You didn't know her like I did. As for that second assessment, don't expect a rebuttal. You are so high maintenance sometimes."

"Maybe I just need extra stress relief." Lucifer posits and nuzzles Sam's cheek.

"Maybe you'd get more if you actually showed me this is working." Sam sighs, and holds up a hand to ward off Lucifer's fingers from mussing through his hair.

Lucifer's expression sobers into something not playful at all as he tilts his head in actual concern. "I thought I was making decent progress?"

"You are, but... I don't know, you don't feel like we've hit a wall somewhere?" Sam gestures, reaching.

Lucifer looks down, expression growing colder and darker and more broken and his grace is icy cold as it leeches out and starts setting everyone on edge. Sam's expression softens into something warm and patient as he feels the careening fear of being abandoned hovering in his chest cavity even though Lucifer is doing his best to keep his panic locked up.

"Look, I'm not saying this isn't working." Sam assures, hugging Lucifer closer. "I just... I want to help, Lucifer. And I'm not sure if I need to change my tactics."

Sam presses a kiss to his jaw, gentle and understanding and promising that he's not going anywhere.

Lucifer shifts underneath him, sharp fear receding, the cold less like knives now, and his expression clears a little, like sunlight through a cloud, but he still looks tired. "Are you asking me for suggestions?"

"I'm asking what you need from me. Feedback." Sam prods, then kisses Lucifer's jawline. "I just... need some more ideas on what might actually give you... I don't know, coping skills? Because it's not the logic of the argument that's holding you back. It's emotions that you aren't dealing with."

Lucifer, for once, doesn't turn that into an evasion with easily maneuvered physicality. He just settles in, actually looks like he's racking his brain for anything that might fix this, and Sam relaxes, closes his eyes, and rests his head on Lucifer's shoulder while Lucifer's fingers grasp and fidget Sam's clasps hands, entwining Sam's fingers with his.

The atmosphere shifts, and Cas and Dean actually feel like they are intruding on something despite themselves. Watching the two, they get a sense of what it must be like when it's just Lucifer and Sam, what it must be like when Lucifer drops his rough, sarcastic mask with Sam as his only witness. It's not like they haven't realized the difference- there are moments where Lucifer isn't constantly cracking jokes or trying to maul Sam with physical closeness, where he's just quiet as he watches, reverent, like he can't believe Sam is so close, that he can touch him, that he's even near him, like Sam is his everything, and it would actually be sweet if it wasn't the most terrifying, intimate intensity Dean's ever laid eyes on from someone just looking at his brother. It's been easier to cope and mellow out the pa