Author's Notes: Fic written for the 2015 Summergen Fic Exchange. I thought now – after the Season 11 mid-season finale – would be the ideal time to post it here. Hope you enjoy.
Sam had never meant to say "yes."
He's twelve. The water is glorious, clear and deep, the sand at the bottom fine and white – no slimy water plants or silt to sink into.
He and Dean do it over and over again. Climb dripping from the lake, pound through the summer grass to the oak tree, grasp the braided rope and swing, toes gripping the knot at its frayed end, arcing over the water. Sam launches into space with a whoop, letting go, flying, flying… Splashing down, and knowing his brother will be right behind. Cool, lovely liquid soothes hot skin as he kicks for the surface.
No one else is there. Just the two of them, faded beach towels spread out in the sun. They drowse, joke, munch on PBJs and Ho-Hos gone gooey in the heat. Laughing, Dean threatens Sam with sticky fingers, daubing chocolate frosting anywhere he can reach. Sam flees, straight for the rope, the water, hollering in triumph as he soars over the lake and lets go…
Lucifer whispered in his dreams. "You're the one, Sam. You're my vessel. My true vessel." The day after, Sam reached out to his big brother, the one who had always shielded and saved him, the one who had loved him since before he was born.
Dean said they should "pick a hemisphere."
Breathless with loss, Sam's single thought was to undo what he had done. To make up for Ruby, and the blood, and breaking the last Seal. To atone for freeing Lucifer to walk the Earth, for being the shape he meant to walk in. The dim hope of earning Dean's forgiveness was the only thing that made bearable waking into the world each desolate morning.
Without allies, and having surrendered his only means to otherworldly power, taking out the Devil would be no mean feat, but a stubbornness bone deep and beyond rational was Sam's birthright. He persevered.
He's nine, and giddy with anticipation. He clings tight to bags of Boston Market chicken and supermarket pie, hunches over to keep the freezing rain from soaking his packages as he turns the key in the motel room door.
Dean is slouched on his bed watching an episode of The Twilight Zone on the snowy black-and-white TV. He glances up, brow quirking at the sight of his sodden brother grinning from the doorway.
"Happy Birthday!" Sam crows, kicking the door closed with his foot and holding his purchases high so Dean can see. For a moment, confusion sparks through moss green eyes, as if this is a scenario he can hardly conceive.
Sam lays items from the bags on top of the flimsy nightstand between the beds. "C'mon! Let's dig in!"
Dean breaks out in a dazzling smile as what Sam has done sinks in. Within five minutes, gravy stains his t-shirt and a smear of cherry pie filling decorates his cheek. Mouth full, he marvels at how Sam managed to earn money and bring him these goodies, all without Dean suspecting a thing.
The praise feels good, but that isn't what fills Sam's chest with warmth. It's the happiness lighting up his brother's face. It's the knowledge that he put it there.
Through unsavory means, Sam garnered intel which led him to an object of power – an ordinary looking geode the size of a grapefruit, its inside coated with rare Tanzanite crystal, an unbroken sphere but for a tiny fissure through which it could be filled. According to the lore, it could defeat unthinkable evil if packed with potent talismans from realms over which that evil held no sway. Sam traveled the world to collect the most promising of these: ashes of ancient heroes from a temple devoted to Kali, pulverized pendants of conch once worn by priests bound to Quetzecoatl; the powdered entrails of a Chinese dragon; the ground horn of a sacred Minoan bull. Blended and focused by the crystal, these should destroy a Judeo-Christian avatar no matter how powerful, absolutely and inescapably lethal.
In Detroit, eyes soft and expression open, he approached the Devil, broadcasting surrender with conciliatory words and slumped shoulders, buying time, getting close. They were inches apart when he smashed the geode to bits right under Lucifer's nose, praying that death would bring oblivion.
Nothing happened – not to Lucifer, anyway. "Nick" puckered his lips and blew the cerulean dust – Sam's last hope – into the southerly breeze. Everything living withered in its wake.
Sam had known degradation. Cruel captivity, wounds of the body, violation of the spirit.
Lucifer rendered them all inconsequential. A lifetime of loss was compressed into seconds while the Devil blasted through Sam's consciousness images of loved ones destroyed and desecrated because of him, always because of him. Mom. Dad. Jess. Then he became more inventive, targeting Sam where his defenses were most brittle.
And Dean died a thousand ways: beheaded, eviscerated, crucified, burned, drowned. Each time, Dean's last act was to gaze at Sam in accusation. As his vibrant eyes filmed over, melted, or disappeared beneath the sea, Lucifer would blandly mouth: "Your fault." It went on for an eternity. It would go on for an eternity more unless Sam said "yes."
It was inevitable that he finally did.
Thereafter, Lucifer treated the younger Winchester whose body he wore with tenderness. They were cosmically, mythically alike, he explained to Sam, and he had meant it when he'd said he wanted to give him everything.
For the most part, he set Sam's consciousness to drift in contented memories, whispering how fortunate he was to be the vessel of the most merciful of archangels.
At four, Sammy snuggles close to his big brother under a worn patchwork throw. Clumps of wet snowflakes thump at the window of Pastor Jim's living room. Adult voices murmur from the kitchen nearby, and the scent of baking Snickerdoodles drifts through the air. He feels warm, and safe, too, with Dean's arm around his shoulders. His brother's hands hold open a beloved comic book, and his voice rises and falls to perfectly narrate the Tales of the Knights of the Round Table.
"Sir Kay was bold, and fearless with an ax," eight-year-old Dean reads. "Lancelot was the bravest of the knights, most skilled with lance and sword, and the King's most trusted. But Galahad – he was the purest of the knights. If any of them would find the grail, it would be he. As he knelt before Arthur, white light shone from above, illuminating his upturned face and smooth features. Rapt, he vowed to undertake the quest."
Queasiness creeps into Sammy's tummy along with a sense of wrongness, a terrible certainty that he will never be worthy, never contain the Light. "Dean," he whimpers.
The older boy glances down with concern. "You OK, squirt?"
Fat droplets quiver on thick lashes, drip down rosy cheeks. Dean offers more stories, Snickerdoodles, and hugs, all to no avail. "I'm bad," Sammy thinks, ashamed and not wanting Dean to see. "I'm bad."
The memory wisped away, and perhaps that was a mercy, too.
"Bad," Lucifer murmured. "How could my vessel, my magnificent vessel, have thought himself anything other than perfect?"
Sam always perceived Lucifer as "Nick," needing that distinction to maintain a sense of boundaries. It was the fallen angel, however, who picked the setting for any exchange. His favorite spot was a place where Sam had once been jubilant with unaccustomed freedom: Flagstaff, a slice of cheap but oh-so-delicious pizza in his hand, Bones the Golden Retriever nuzzling sweetly for a bite.
"I do understand, Sam. They despised you for wanting something different." Lucifer reached to scratch Bones behind the ears.
Denial was instantly suppressed; Sam knew better than to contradict the Devil, especially when he was reveling in the notion that they were of a kind, Sam more his match than Gabriel, Raphael, or Michael. But Sam also knew, with every bright pulse of his soul, that he'd once been loved whether he deserved it or not.
"Always pressuring you to deny your own truth," Lucifer rambled on. "Casting you out when you couldn't bear to live a lie anymore."
Sam knew what would come next in this familiar litany. He was not disappointed.
"But it was worse for me. Your father came to know you were cursed, Sammy, but he never blamed you for it. My Father…" and this is where his eyes took on a resentful cast. "My Father cursed me, and then exiled me for being cursed."
A symbol etched in flame danced in the air between them – a sort of backwards "F" that Sam didn't recognize. Lucifer lost control of his anguish; it burst outward for a millisecond, overwhelming Sam. It hurt, and for a span of time Sam knew no more.
Lucifer nudged Sam awake, made sure he was looking out of their eyes, when a familiar figure strode into the rose garden. This Dean, as brave as the one Sam had known but far more worn, aimed a familiar firearm – the Colt! - and pulled the trigger without preamble. Sam felt the ensorcelled bullet pierce his brain, rejoiced for a heartbeat, happy to die at his brother's hand if only he took Lucifer with him.
The force did knock the Devil back a few steps.
"That's quite the souped up pistol you've got," he remarked conversationally, rubbing at a raw spot on his forehead – all that remained of a rapidly disappearing entry wound. With a casual wave of his manicured hand, he slammed Dean so hard to the ground, ribs shattered. Lucifer placed his white loafer just so against his neck, snapped it. "See, Sam?" he soothed, clearly thinking himself compassionate. "For him – mercy. For you – justice."
Shock was morphing into a howl of despair when the same familiar figure strode into the garden once more, canvas jacket now blue instead of green. With clairvoyance born of his link with Lucifer, Sam knew this man was his Dean – the one he'd parted from five years ago. New to this "now," his wretchedness at seeing Lucifer wearing Sam was palpable.
Sam longed for him with all he was.
Lucifer tried to sell the out-of-time Winchester his "poor little archangel" story but this Dean wasn't buying. (Sam could have told Lucifer he wouldn't.) Dean's gaze was locked on Lucifer and on Sam's body, fierce with hate and grief, eyes filling even as he called the Devil "an ugly, evil, belly-to-the-ground supernatural piece of crap."
Sam's heart broke for him. He fought to somehow communicate that he was still here…sick with remorse, grateful, loyal, incomplete without his brother, willing to be consigned to nothingness or torment as long as Dean didn't have to face this moment alone.
Lucifer, unfortunately, had complete control, hazel gaze triumphant as Dean swore to kill him.
"Whatever you do, you will always end up here," Lucifer promised, smug. "Whatever choices you make, whatever details you alter, we will always end up…here. I win. So…I win."
"You're wrong…" A tear spilled over, traced its way down Dean's cheek. Sam screamed, thrashed, frantic to reach him.
"See you in five years, Dean."
Dean vanished, Sam sobbing his name. Lucifer's mood instantly curdled. "Ingrate," he sneered, and began to take Sam apart…
The timeline shuddered, collapsed, a billion possibilities-that-had-been obliterated, a slate wiped utterly clean.
In the shadow of a railway trestle, Sam exited a stolen car and cautiously approached his brother, barely keeping a rein on the impulse to fall to his knees and weep, so thankful for his brother's forgiveness he could barely cope.
Dean told him it didn't matter if the bad guys would always try to use them against each other. They were all they had and, more than that, they kept each other human.
"So…what do we do now?" Sam clutched the demon-killing knife his brother had entrusted to him, knowing he would follow Dean anywhere.
"We make our own future." Jaw set, the elder Winchester was the picture of determination.
Sam nodded. Hope rekindled, he folded himself into the Impala, taking the seat beside his brother, the only place in all of Creation he would ever belong.