Sam understands that fundamentally, he is not a good person.
He’s done his duty to the world more than a few times, sure, but he’s not— when he sees someone like Dean, right. Well, not that anyone is like Dean. So. When Sam sees Dean, he sees Dean looking out at the world with this vision, this sense that things should be one way when they’re not. He’s able to see things that way, has this brutal hope that gets smashed every time, and Sam—
Sam’s not strong enough for that.
Every morning he wakes up with his chest caved in like the first time he woke up after Lucifer brought him back to life, a decade ago now. Or more years ago than that, if you count the Cage. Every morning. He sees Lucifer in everything, every day: the radio, coffee tables, orange juice. The mirror. It’s like he doesn’t even have room to think about all the other evil that’s lived in him, because Lucifer’s gone and carved out a whole cavernous monument just to himself. Sam is nothing so much as his own mausoleum.
This morning, though, Sam doesn’t wake up, because he hasn’t fallen asleep. He opens his eyes after a fruitless two hours, and gets out of bed once it’s late enough.
Like every other day, Sam brushes his teeth. He can’t stand looking at Lucifer’s face so early in the morning, so there’s no mirror in his bathroom. No mirrors anywhere in the bunker, actually, except for any cursed mirrors down in the basement and whatever Dean might have in his room.
And then, like every other day, Sam makes himself leave his room to eat breakfast. He’s never hungry but he forces himself to eat, because if he doesn’t then he won’t until Dean makes him at dinnertime, and it’s not Dean’s job to keep Sam alive. It’s not anybody’s job to keep Sam alive anymore now that Lucifer’s dead.
The not-sleeping isn’t sudden, not really, not considering that he hasn’t slept through a night since he left the Cage — or, rather, since the Cage left him, since it’s not like the pain stopped the moment he came up out of Hell — but it sneaks up on him. He thought he’d just scrape by on three or four hours a night for the rest of his life, but this morning marks 48 hours since he last slept. Maybe it’s time to start worrying.
“You sleep okay?” Dean asks, like he does every morning, hip resting against the kitchen counter as he opens the fridge. A wave of exhaustion washes over Sam, pulls him down into it, into the quicksand of his own body. He sits down.
“I— I, uh.” Sam sniffs. His sinuses always act up when he gets less than his usual amount of sleep, probably something related to his immune system weakened against the dust in the bunker now that they don’t have God’s protection against mundane problems. “Dunno.”
“You— what?” Dean pulls out a carton of eggs. “Also, you want ‘em scrambled?”
“Sure,” Sam says, because he probably won’t eat it anyway, and Dean likes them scrambled.
Dean cracks five eggs into a bowl and starts whisking. Over the clink of his fork against the glass, he asks, “So. What’s up with your sleeping?”
Sam closes his eyes. He’s so tired. He can feel his body tense every time the fork hits the bowl. “Haven’t slept in a while,” he says. Clink. Wince. “Like… I can’t.”
Dean turns his back to Sam to cook the eggs, and Sam lets himself rest his head on his forearms. “So, you, uh. You need help, or?”
“I dunno,” Sam mumbles, muffled into the table, and humiliating tears start to prick at his eyes. He’s so, so tired. He took a shower yesterday, he thinks, but maybe it was the day before. He’s sure he’s showered since the last time he slept. His whole body hurts, the way it always does, but in the bright kitchen light he is suddenly, abruptly angry with it, with his stupid frail birdcage of a body.
“I’m gonna try to sleep,” Sam says, Dean’s voice a grating horror. He slams into the doorframe on his way out, winces as he stumbles through the hallway. Collapses on top of his bed, lights off, pitch black in his room like he’s used to, door open because he was too tired to close it but he can’t, he can’t sleep with the door open, oh Christ, oh fuck—
Dean knocks. He says something, but Sam can’t hear it, because he’s too busy flinching so hard he almost topples off the bed, trapped in his messy sheets. “Sam,” Dean’s saying, “hey, you okay?”
“Ow,” Sam says into the comforter, hyperventilating as he tries to claw his way out. “Ow, oh Jesus, it’s fine, I’m fine, I’m fine—”
“Sam—” Dean pulls him out of the covers, pulls him up into a seated position, only the light coming in from the hallway to see by. Sam hurts. And he’s just—
“I’m so tired,” he says hoarsely, trying to remember how he did it last time. Did he just lie there and wait for unconsciousness to come? How does it happen? Is there some thin alleyway, some undefined threshold, an uncertain gap for him to slip into and forget about himself just long enough to sleep? His fingers tighten against Dean’s shirt. “Dean. Dean. How do I do it.”
At least Dean doesn’t pretend not to know what he’s talking about. “Just lie down,” Dean says, and then sniffs his shoulder. “Actually, no, change your shirt first. You’ll feel better.”
“I’ll get it dirty,” Sam says, which is something he usually doesn’t care about but today it is urgent. “I should shower first. I should— but I’m so tired.”
“We can wash your shirt again,” Dean says gently, and keeps one hand on Sam’s shoulder so he can use the other to unbutton his shirt. “Why do you even wear so many layers at home, huh?”
It slips out before Sam can keep it in. “Don’t want anyone to see,” he murmurs, eyes drooping but never enough to let him rest.
Dean pauses, and then slides Sam’s overshirt off. “Okay. Yeah, all right. You’re all right. Can we change your T-shirt too?”
“Yeah,” Sam mumbles, lets Dean lift his arms up like he’s a kid again, like Dean’s getting him ready for school. Dean steps away afterwards to get another shirt for him and Sam faceplants into the bed, exhausted and wired and so unused to feeling his bare skin in the air. He hates his body. He hates it so much. He doesn’t ever want to have to look at it, but here it is, just out there for Dean to see, Dean who’s had to see so many awful things in his life already—
“Sam,” Dean chokes out, something terrified in his voice. Sam wonders if that’s just what his body is to the people around him, now, some incomparable horror, more desecrated than any crossroads. “What, uh. What’s on your back?”
“What?” Sam tries to turn, but he can’t see anything. “What are you talking about?”
“There’s—” Dean puts his hand on Sam’s skin, hand burning a hole through the space between his shoulder blades. It has been— Sam doesn’t know when the last time was someone touched him there without at least two layers of fabric between them. Maybe it was Amelia. Or Toni, if that counts. Not like him and Eileen have taken each other’s shirts off recently—
Dean clears his throat. His hand presses against Sam’s back and then lifts, leaving him light, untethered, air, nothing. “There’s a mark. I guess you don’t know about it.”
“Obviously not,” Sam grits out.
“I—” Dean blows out a breath. “Okay. It’s, uh. It’s not— it’s not bad, it’s just. I don’t think you’ll like it. Do you wanna hear it?”
Honestly, Sam doesn’t. He already knows his body is a stranger. But he’ll be thinking about it, and there’s no way he’ll fall asleep with this hovering over him, so he says yes.
And Dean says something irrevocable. Dean says, “It’s, uh. ‘Bout two inches long, maybe? It’s like an upside down triangle, but the diagonal lines of the triangle cross over each other and curl up, and there’s this V at the bottom. I think — you remember — I think it’s the symbol for—”
“Lucifer,” Sam croaks out, because from the moment Dean said upside down triangle he knew, and it just took him a minute to make his mouth work. And then shudders, every part of him suddenly and brutally cold. Always cold, with him. Always and forever. “He— he—”
“Get it off,” Sam hisses nonsensically, trying to reach around to pull his own skin off. “Get it off, get it off me, get it off—”
“Sam, Sam, it’s okay, the Devil’s gone, it doesn’t mean anything—”
“He branded me,” Sam gasps, knows he’s wild around the eyes, can’t think of anything except the horror of it, the visual of it, the fact that he has always known he was Lucifer’s but now it’s real in this world, this world that has been a fantasy to him since he came back. But Lucifer hasn’t — he hasn’t touched him, so how could he, when could he have — “When did he do it,” Sam says, wishing he could be someone else, just for a little while. “When— when could he—”
“I don’t know,” Dean says. “It doesn’t look new, but I mean, it might not be like a normal tattoo. You think he—”
When did Lucifer have time to touch him, to lay a hand on his skin like this? “When I was dead,” Sam realizes. Two years ago. Two years he’s been living with it and he didn’t know, he didn’t even know, he thought the stain of it was in his soul and not out there, bared for anyone to see. “I— I— I want—”
Dean pulls the comforter over Sam’s back to cover him, and Sam belatedly remembers that he’s shivering. “What do you mean?” Dean asks, and Sam wonders if he’s forgotten what it did to Sam, to be free of Lucifer when they crossed over into that rift and then to see him again.
“Apocalypse world,” Sam whispers, and flinches at the memory of it, Lucifer’s hands poised to snap and Sam unprepared to take it but less prepared to say no. “The vamps. I was dead, and Lucifer brought me back. He must’ve— must’ve waited before doing it, so he could—”
It hurts. Sam thinks about it: his body, a corpse, he should’ve been— should’ve been free of it, was ready for it, but even this empty shell of a meatsuit was made into a toy for Lucifer. Sam can see it now: his lifeless corpse, unresisting, pliant, pliable. Lucifer rucking his shirt up so he could— so he could— or maybe he took Sam’s shirt off entirely, looked at his body for a while, enjoyed it. And he’d rolled Sam— Sam’s body onto its stomach, defenseless, exposed— and he’d put his hand there, maybe that was how he did it, touched his first-favorite vessel with no barrier but the thin skin of his second-favorite vessel, and Sam couldn’t say yes and he couldn’t say no because he’d been— he’d been a body and nothing else, oh God—
Sam thought it was just his soul that Lucifer wanted to hurt, but he’s finally coming to understand that every part of him is for exploitation.
“Sam,” Dean says, putting his hand warm and firm against the back of Sam’s neck. “It was— this is awful. I’m not denyin’ that, you know it’s awful. But I— I don’t think it means we gotta worry. It’s not gonna hurt you.”
“He hurts me every day,” Sam whispers, barely conscious of it, suddenly so exhausted he thinks he might pass out and be glad for it.
“Hey, Sammy—” Dean says, but Sam doesn’t hear the rest of it, because he’s unconscious.