No one even remotely friendly with the Winchester brothers would ever say anything about it, but the two of them were unhealthily codependent. They did drastic, world-shattering things when they were separated, whether they meant to or not. It could've been because of how they were raised –or not raised, as it were– under the eye of John Winchester. It could've been because they were cursed. It could've been because they were soulmates. The point stood: Separate the brothers, and trouble would follow. And not everyone would live to regret it.
Every demon, monster, and angel who came against them would flout it, shout it from the rooftops, use it against them. That codependency. That disregard for their own welfare, just so long as the other was safe, alive.
They always seemed to forget, though, the consequences. That one way or another, when separated, the Brothers Winchester would cause an even greater mess than they could together.
Pain like fireiceelectricity lanced through his eyes, down his spine; Sam arched and gasped even as he dug into Grace with hooked fingers and peeled. Lucifer gasped.
"Sam, Samuel, Sammy, so good for me, just for me, Michael can't have you."
Lucifer's focus shifted to Sam's back and seared deeply, replacing the mirrored damage inflicted by Michael, from where the other Archangel had shredded the Devil's wings during their last fight. Replaced it with his own mark. Sam snarled wordlessly and twisted, biting the limb that loosely represented an arm, swallowing it down as Lucifer hissed something both pained and pleased. Searing cold enveloped him completely as Lucifer pulled him in impossibly closer, edges blurring together in painful, perfect harmony.
"You still burn so hot—" murmured through him as he was pulled more deeply towards the Archangel's arctic core.
Completely enveloped, Sam didn't fight anymore, nothing beyond some twisting, clawing motions as Lucifer laughed and froze his skin off layer at a time. The pain was negligible to either of them, the action of inflicting it as mindless as the words the Devil spoke.
"The way you act, Sammy, you'd already be just another demon in this pit if you weren't mine. I wish you could see yourself—you're so bright. You're mine, Sam. So much more than that bastard half-brother of yours'; you get brighter the longer you stay with me."
A small eternity of silence passed between them, after, as silent as Hell could ever be. Outside Lucifer's Grace was impossibly hot; loud with a chorus of chains and screams and the rush of eternal flames. There were demons out there, somewhere, but the Cage was deep in the pit—even though there was no doubt of its existence, now, the light of two Archangels disallowed their unholy presence.
Lucifer sang 'Stairway to Heaven', over and over, sad and watching Michael across the Cage.
Sam tried to sing 'Dead or Alive' only once, stopped halfway through and missed Dean until it hurt more than his skin peeling off.
(He sang 'Sympathy for the Devil', later, and Lucifer laughed and sang along until Michael lunged at them with the Righteousness of Heaven burning hotter than hellfire.)
Lucifer picked Sam apart and Sam let him, tearing up bits of the Fallen Archangel in turn. Made for each other. Unmade, remade by each other.
Time passed irrelevantly, measured in pain, loneliness and the fluctuating brightness of the two human souls trapped in the Cage.
Adam faded and Michael let him. Michael barely fought Lucifer anymore, didn't even scream Enochian like they had for so long; sat silent as far away from his brother as he could get. The distance between the two gaped like an open wound.
Sam missed Dean more than the bits of himself that Lucifer tore away, though the pain was almost the same sometimes.
The increasingly rare times Lucifer and Michael tore into one another, Sam slipped from the Devil's embrace, more willing to face the burn of Hellfire than the vicious blows of Heaven's Warrior. Only then could he go to the far reaches of the Cage, and every time things looked just a little bit different; he could see more, and farther, the actual rings of Hell while he stood at the very center.
Screaming in Hell never felt like release, but it was even more pointless to suffer in silence. Hell was Hell—there was no shame in it. (There was nothing that wasn't shameful in Hell.) Sam screamed. He screamed until Lucifer came back, and then sometimes they would scream together until they drowned out the sounds of Hell around them.
He didn't start hearing things until later. Lucifer noticed when Sam stopped in the middle of carving his name (his sigil; Lucifer taught him) into a loose representation of the Archangel's heart, fingers stilled as he strained to hear… Dean, it was Dean. Lucifer sighed, halfway between genuine and mocking, pained and euphoric, and purred that it was just another punishment for an angel in the Cage; to hear the world outside of it and be able to do nothing. Sam ate Lucifer's heart and didn't feel any better.
Sam didn't like to think as much anymore, but he was still smart, and sometimes there were lulls where he was self-aware and guilty enough to consider his lot. What he and Lucifer did to one another was torture, but was it mutually consensual or retaliatory? It had been so long. He couldn't remember ever deciding to start.
Lucifer liked when he engaged.
He though about demons. When he was alone, he wondered about himself, and then about Lucifer. No matter what the Archangel thought, Sam couldn't help but wonder…could it be that they both really were demons? Profane things that wore such bright light over their corruption? Physically or metaphysically, their dark spots were only darker beside the shining light. It didn't even require much looking to see that.
Michael wasn't looking after Adam, not like Lucifer looked after Sam. Adam was starting to blacken at the edges. If he turned demon, would the Archangel's presence destroy him?
(What would it have been like if Dean were here with him instead?)
That was—that was Dean. He sounded like—
"No…no-nonononono. Oh God… Oh God… Sam!"
It sounded like Dean was in Hell.
It had already been seen once; Sam Winchester did drastic, world shattering things when his brother went to Hell.
He wasn't in Hell anymore—or the Cage, anyway, Sam couldn't tell. It might've been Hell—he still hurt, nothing made sense, and the only thing leading him was the feel of his brother's voice.
"What am I supposed to do? Sammy. God."
Sam didn't think about Lucifer, or how he had slipped both the Archangel's hold and the Cage's bars.
"What am I supposed to do?"
Dean. Dean. He had to get to Dean and—something. Do something.
"WHAT AM I SUPPOSED TO DO?!"
He was going to do it. He had everything in the trunk; picture, grave dirt, yarrow… Dean shut his eyes to block out the sight of his little brother, too still, too pale on a dirty mattress. He couldn't. He just couldn't. He was supposed to have protected Sammy, kept him from getting hurt, from…
Sam didn't deserve this. He was the only one in their messed-up family that could've gotten out, that did get out. He didn't deserve…this.
Dean couldn't do it, couldn't be here, alive, alone. Not when his little brother, his Sammy, was gone.
Dean was selfish, and he was gonna get Sammy back.
He breathed in deep, shuddery, and didn't even try to hell himself that the burning in his eyes and the wetness on his cheeks was anything but what it was. God, Sam.
There was a piercing screech of sound and a blinding flash of light, bright enough to burn his eyes even behind his eyelids, behind his back.
Breathing. Great, wavering heaves, the kind taken by someone who'd just drowned. Someone with no air in their lungs, and were starving for it.
Coming from the bed behind him.
Dean whipped around, too stunned to feel anything at the sight of Sam, sitting up and gasping, blood hemorrhaging from his nose and his eyes wild. It wasn't possible, it couldn't be possible, but…
"Sam?" His fingers itched for the holy water on the table, tattoo be damned, but it was Sam. Then Sam looked at him, eyes bright, scared, too much white.
"D-Dean?" It took a minute for his eyes to focus, but Sam looked him in the eye. And damnit, it was that same look he used to give when he was still too small to hunt, when Dean came back with Dad from one of the bad hunts—one of the ones where they were gone too long, or came back with him bloodier than he should be, new wound messily stitched because even then, Sam could do it neater than Dad. And that look just wasn't fuckin' fair, because Dean wasn't the one that just rose from the dead like something out of a Romero flick.
"Dean." Sammy said, less a question this time, shaking bad but there. And then his eyes flicked over Dean's shoulder and his already pale –pale as death– face leeched bone white, his eyes rolled back in his head, and he went down.
Dean didn't even think, didn't hesitate, to lunge for the mattress when Sam slumped down, one hand going for his neck and the other his chest. And there it was, what he'd been wishing for since it left—rise and fall under one palm, pulse under the other, both unsteady and too fast but undeniably there.
Right then, he didn't even care it was too good to be true, because he knew that this was Sam.
Dean laid his head down on his brother's chest and just…unclenched. Let go. But just for a minute before that 'something's not right' niggle –the sense that was fine-honed and had saved his bacon more times than he could count– started up. Sam's heartbeat wasn't slowing down.
Dean wanted to kick his own ass as he manhandled his yeti of a little brother onto his side because –fuck– the kid was stabbed in the back and could still be bleeding out—
His breath hissed out through his teeth in one long sound. The hole in his brother's back was gone. Scarred over. A knot of slivery-white that looked more like marble than anything, even if it felt like skin under his fingers. Sam didn't so much as twitch, though there was a suspiciously whimpery noise coming from his throat now.
Alright. Screw this. He needed Bobby.
And if he dumped a little holy water on Sam on the way there, well, he was only being careful.
"Sam. Sam. Sammy! Open those eyes, Sammy, you're gonna want to see this."
Sam opened his eyes to Lucifer standing over him, and an intricate –Key of Solomon– Devil's Trap on the ceiling. There was so much wrong with that that Sam very nearly passed out again, the very first thing being that Lucifer looked like he was wearing Nick again, and not the True Form Archangel that he'd grown accustomed to.
This wasn't Hell. Sam knew Hell, Lucifer knew Hell, and this wasn't Hell.
"Sshhh, Sam, listen." His eyes twitched over and caught Lucifer's smirk, and the exasperated eyeroll at the confusion that must've been plain on his face. "Don't tell me you forgot already? Sammy. You've been pining after him for how long, and you don't remember Dean?"
That was it—that's what got Sam up like a fire'd been lit under him. There'd been Dean, he'd needed Sam, been screaming for him, and—
And Sam slipped the Cage. Somehow found himself in his body with Dean above him…and Lucifer standing over Dean's shoulder, laughing like it was the world's biggest joke. There'd been something hauntingly familiar about it, but Sam just couldn't think—
"Come on Sam, listen already, will you? You're missing the good part!" It didn't make any sense; if he was out, what was Lucifer doing here? Why wasn't he possessing Sam? How was he even here? Because Sam was sure now; this was Bobby's house and— "Sam!" How was no one coming to check in with Lucifer yelling like that?!
"Shut up," Sam hissed, even as he staggered over to the doorway Lucifer was peering through. He was struck by a spike of confusion—since when was there a couch in the study? But there was now, he had been sleeping on it…and it was right under the strongest Devil's Trap in the house. Something in the vicinity of his heart unclenched when he was able to pass through it unhindered.
He stopped beside the Devil, ignoring the icy hand that closed possessively around the back of his neck—that wasn't what was giving him chills. It was Dean, Bobby and Ellen around the kitchen table, pale and strained. And Dean, Sam knew what was off now—he looked so damn young…
"Tell me that's not what I think it is. Why would Colt build a hundred mile Devil's Trap?"
Lucifer started laughing again as hand inched up into Sam's hair in a motion like anyone else would pet a cat, all mirth and barbed affection. "Congratulations, Sam. You went and did it now; you went ahead and broke the world."
Dean was doing everything he could to stay focused and not think about his little brother comatose in the next room, carefully centered under a Devil's Trap. No matter how damn disturbing it was to have Sam out of sight, he had a job to do and it couldn't wait, not for anything. Not for, Jesus Christ…
"Tell me that's not what I think it is. Why would Colt build a hundred mile Devil's Trap?"
Dean didn't know how he heard it, but he did. That same quiet little whimper Sam'd kept up the whole drive to Sioux Falls—and damnit, was that fucked up or what? Sam didn't whimper, not even when he was so beat up he couldn't move, not even when he was a kid—only it was behind him now, too loud for his brother to still be in Bobby's study.
"Sam," And fuck that, fuck it, Dean's voice didn't come out cautious. Just because Bobby had no fucking clue how Sammy was breathing, either, just because he'd passed every monster test they could think of. He was not freaked out by his brother, but when do Winchesters ever get what they wished for without some fucking serious strings attached? "Sammy, you okay?" God, he wanted to kick himself. His little brother rose from the dead, of-fucking-course he wasn't okay.
Bobby and Ellen were watching Sam, too, no doubt seeing the same things he did, even if they didn't get it the way Dean did. Sammy had his shoulders hunched, his chin practically touching his chest, but he was watching them through tangled bangs with wide, wild eyes. And Dean got that part; that was Sammy's freaked face, sort of how he looked after he got a vision. No, the part Dean didn't get was the way he was angling his body to one side, why his eyes kept darting slightly in that same direction, why his hand looked like it was holding onto something where there was only empty space.
He didn't say anything, though.
"Sam, boy, say somethin'." Bobby sounded understandably cautious, but if his hand got any closer to that gun he hand under the table, Dean would have to clock him. He wouldn't pull that punch, neither.
"Sammy, c'mon man." And there went his little brother's eyes again, and that was really starting to piss him off –and freak him the fuck out– because that was Sam's 'I'm listening' face but it wasn't at any of them. "Sam!" That got his attention, and God, how could that kid still pull off the puppy eyes?
His giant little brother stumbled into the room, looking around like he expected everything to disappear if he didn't pay close enough attention. He got right up to the table, and it was all Dean could do not to twitch at all the tension the two older hunters were radiating. Sam didn't even seem to notice, his eyes –too wide, too wet; something was wrong– on the map of Wyoming spread out across the table, complete with connect-the-dots star.
Almost like he was in a trance, Sam reached out and tapped the little boneyard marked right in the middle of the star. "Hell Gate," he murmured, like he wasn't dropping the conversational equivalent of an H-Bomb. Then his eyes –God damnit– darted to the side again and his whole face darkened with an unfamiliar sort of disdain. "Azazel."
"Sam—" It seemed like that was the only thing he'd been saying lately—Sam, Sam, Sam, as if he was trying to convince himself of something. But it was Sam, damn it, not some demon using him as a meatsuit. (Yellow Eyes hadn't smoked at holy water, either, but that's what the exorcism had been for.) It was impossible and there were so many things wrong that he didn't have time for because the fuckin' world might be ending. (And, shit, did he have to think that? Because now all he could remember was something Sam had rambled about years ago, how it said in the bible about the dead rising during the Apocalypse and fuck.)
"Dean, we have to hurry." His baby brother was staring at him imploringly, already the most he'd said since coming back to life. All the breath left Dean, like he'd been holding it and hadn't noticed; he'd started to wonder if Sam had come back with brain damage or something. (He'd already been dead more than a day.) He almost missed what came next with how quickly Sam was speaking once he got started. "We have to get there before Jake can open the Gate, Dean, he's working for Azazel and he's going to let out a demon army if we don't—"
"Whoa, whoa, whoa! Sammy, hold the phone! Jake? Who the hell's Azazel?" The 'confused' line formed between Sam's eyebrows and, again, his eyes focused on something that wasn't there before they went sad and wet, like he was about to cry. Ellen was looking less like a wary hunter and more like a mom who wanted to wrap the kid in bubble wrap and keep him safe forever. Dean sympathized. He'd always wanted that for Sam, almost as much as he wanted him hunting right alongside him.
"Dean," Bobby said quietly, also watching Sam like he wanted to tell the kid to lay down, but also like he was an old book full of very interesting lore. "Azazel's a demon name. A powerful, old demon."
It hit him like ice water dumped over his head. "Yellow Eyes?" Dean was embarrassed by the croak that was his voice, but then— "Sammy, did you say a demon army?"
Sam wasn't looking at him anymore, though –surprise, surprise– but at the empty space at his side, forehead crumpled like he was solving a hard problem. Or like he was hearing something that made no sense. All on their own, Sam's eyes made their way back to him—to his chest. And before he could blink he had his arms full of giant baby brother and Sam…Sam was clutching onto his amulet like it was a lifeline. Dean patted his back awkwardly for a minute, then gave in and hugged the kid when he started flinching for no reason. He didn't like that pitying look on Ellen's face, and almost missed Sam's muttering as he thought of a way to tell her to fuck off without getting himself shot.
"You didn't sell your soul—you can't Dean, you can't go to Hell, you can't." If that cold feeling didn't stop coming on soon he'd start shivering, he was sure. Instead, Dean swallowed it and put his hands on Sam's shoulders, pushed him back until he could see his brother's face.
"This a psychic thing, Sammy?" But Sam was back to not answering, and this time Dean could feel the fine tremors shaking through him as too-bright hazel eyes went to empty space and then to the other two hunters that he hadn't acknowledged before then.
"We need to go. Now. Jake has the Colt, he'll open the Hell Gate." Sam shuddered, hands gripping the sleeves of Dean's jacket, tight, like a lifeline. "He's one of the psychic kids. He can do mind-whammys now, like Andy. You need to kill him before he can talk to you." Dean very carefully did not look at Bobby, did not need to see what face he was making at hearing Sam –Sam– say they needed to kill some human, psychic or not. Didn't want to see an incarnation of 'It might not be Sam' or 'He coulda come back wrong'.
"Sammy," Dean said slowly and, damnit, carefully. "Sammy, who is Jake?"
Sam blinked hazily, but was still wearing a shadow of his 'why don't you know this, jerk?' face. "Cold Oak. He killed me, Dean."