"Let me in," Dean whispers, breath hot against the back of Sam's neck.
Sam's so sleepy he feels drugged, can't move his heavy limbs to save his life. He can feel Dean pressed along his back, knows they're naked and in bed together. He's even got some vague notion that Dean's trying to fuck him, especially when he feels Dean's lips on his shoulder, feels Dean's dick sliding between his legs.
"Come on, Sammy, that's it," Dean breathes in Sam's ear as his calloused hands push Sam's legs apart. One of Dean's hands slides over Sam's ribs and down his stomach, wrapping possessively around Sam's erection. "That's it, little brother. Let me in."
It feels good. Of course it does, even if Sam can't open his heavy eyelids, even if his body still feels buried in thick woolen sleep that just won't let him go. They've done this before, this sort of half-awake fucking around, and it always feels good. It's a kink of Dean's, and Sam knows he gets off on it, gets into manhandling and arranging his little brother's half-unconscious body, taking Sam's larger frame and doing what he wants with it.
Sam likes it too. It makes him feel little again. Taken care of.
"That's it," Dean growls, thrusting his hips against Sam's ass, seeking friction. "That's it, Sammy. I got you." He gives Sam's dick a few quick jerks, and Sam tips his head back onto Dean's shoulder, mouth falling open on a tiny gasp. One of Dean's hands is between his ass-cheeks, the other on his dick, and when Dean's fingers slip easily into his slick hole Sam feels tender and raw for only a brief moment. He realizes they've done this already tonight, earlier, and he's still open and loose, still ready.
Dean kisses up Sam's neck, worries Sam's earlobe with his teeth as he lines up his dick at the entrance to Sam's body and starts to push.
"Wanna fuck you now," Dean murmurs, voice hot and dark against Sam's ear. "Say you want it. Tell me you want me to fuck you, Sam."
Dean's hand is really working Sam's dick, thumb sliding over the slit, using Sam's pre-come to ease the friction. The soft skin of Dean's cock-head is teasing Sam's hole, pushing against it without breaching the rim. Dean slips the tip of his tongue along the shell of Sam's ear and Sam gasps.
He feels Dean's lips smile against his ear. "So sensitive," he whispers. "You were always so sensitive."
Dean takes his hand away from Sam's dick so he can touch Sam's lips, then pushes two fingers into Sam's mouth. "Get them wet for me, baby, come on."
Sam sucks obediently, lapping at the salty skin, tasting himself, licking in between Dean's fingers until they're dripping with spit.
"That's it," Dean murmurs approvingly, pulling his fingers free and returning his hand to Sam's dick, spreading the spit over the sensitive skin before taking Sam in hand again. "Tell me you want it, Sam. Say it!"
Dean's dick is pushing against his hole again, and Sam's sleep-muddled brain can't make sense of it. Dean never asks his permission. It's an unspoken agreement between them. Sam's consent is a given. It's always been that way.
"Come on, baby boy," Dean whispers. "Say yes."
Alarms go off in Sam's muzzy brain; he's instantly shaking and covered in sweat, his dick softening in Dean's grasp like a deflated balloon. Bile rises in the back of his throat and he struggles to pull himself away, to wake himself up from what has suddenly become his worst nightmare.
This isn't Dean.
It's – and he's –
"No – no – " Sam's throat is sore, his voice hoarse like he hasn't used it in weeks, and it hurts. It's raw and painful and dry, and he has flashes of memories that bring tears to his eyes. Weeks and weeks of torture, of things being inserted into his mouth, down his throat...
Lucifer leans down over Sam, huddled in a protective fetal position, cold and alone on the hard floor in the corner of the cage, where he's been for weeks now. Maybe months, Sam's not sure. He's lost track. Lucifer brushes the hair back from Sam's cheek and Sam shivers in fear and revulsion as he feels Lucifer's cold lips press to his cheek.
"I never could fool you," Lucifer says with a fond chuckle.
Chapter 2: Pontiac, Illinois - 2007
"Come on, son," John Winchester calls from the motel room doorway. "I want to be in South Bend by noon."
Sam slips the photograph back into his wallet, pushes aside the memory of laughing green eyes and warm freckled skin. Sometimes he can't even remember Dean's voice. He wishes he'd saved his brother's voice mails, his old cell phones, just so he could hear it. Dean's been gone for over a year now – killed by the yellow-eyed demon, just like Mom, just like Jess – but Sam misses his voice the most. John's voice is a little like it, and sometimes Sam thinks he can hear Dean's voice in the background when John speaks, like a radio that's just slightly out of tune.
He'd do anything to hear Dean's dark, rich baritone again. Anything.
But of course they've tried everything. The demon's just gone. After the crash that destroyed the car, left Dean lingering in a coma for a few days until he slipped away, devastating Sam and John and tearing a hole in Sam's heart that will never, ever heal – afterwards, the demon just disappeared. Like it got what it wanted. Like leaving Sam and John broken and heart-sick was its endgame all along.
Like it was personal.
And of course it is personal. Of course Sam wants revenge more than ever now, can't imagine any life outside the trail of vengeance he and John are finally united in following. It's like it was always meant to be, father and son, hell-bent together in their pursuit of the only goal that gives their lives meaning anymore.
Sam slings his duffel over his shoulder, grabs his messenger bag with his beat-up laptop tucked inside, and lets his eyes roam over the room one last time out of habit, making sure they haven't left anything behind. Of course there's nothing here. There never is. It's just another empty motel room, devoid of comfort or anything of value, not even a shadow or a whisper of the ghost in Sam's heart, the former co-occupant of every room in Sam's life.
John's already got the truck fired up when Sam climbs into the passenger seat. He gives Sam a grim nod, backs the truck out of the parking lot, then turns up the volume on the tape deck as they head down the highway. John was never much of a talker, but in the last year he's become positively taciturn, barely acknowledging Sam's presence most of the time except to go over a new lead. This time they're investigating some weird storms over Lake Michigan which, along with a couple of unexplained cattle deaths in Northern Indiana, just might indicate demon activity.
Or not. Usually not. Usually these days possible demon activity turns out to be something more normal, like seasonal weather phenomena and ordinary bovine viruses. Sometimes the Winchesters stumble on a simple hunt after another failed lead, and the monster in their crosshairs never knew what hit it, never died so hard and fast, put down with the kind of cold rage that needs instant gratification. Most of the monsters the Winchesters hunt these days are only poor substitutes for the thing they really need to kill, but they take whatever grim satisfaction they can from ending another werewolf or vampire, maybe only dimly aware of how ruthless and heartless their killing has become.
Other hunters keep their distance, of that much Sam's aware. Even Bobby Singer's stopped taking their calls, although they pretty much stopped calling him anyway. The fact is, after Dean's death, neither Winchester could bear to speak to their old friends, to hear the note of sympathy or shared grief in their voices. Their self-imposed isolation is probably destroying them both, but neither Winchester has it in him to care very much.
John's drinking again, only harder now. He holds himself together when they're working, then hits the bottle pretty hard for a day or two afterwards. Sam can't bear to join him, doesn't even allow himself the luxury of a little maudlin wine-crying session once in awhile. For the first few months after Dean's death, Sam spent every waking moment researching some way to bring him back, and he hasn't given up, but he knows in his heart that he's starting to lose his mind. He knows its only a matter of time before he burns out, slips up, gets killed. Kinda accidentally on-purpose, maybe. Probably not.
When they roll into South Bend, John drops Sam off at the university to talk to Professor Mallory, climatologist, while John heads down to the local tv station to question the meteorologists there. Sam's still only twenty-three, can easily pass for a college student looking into climatology for graduate school, and his experience at Stanford stands him in good stead when he needs help from college professors. Most of them can't resist the flattery to their egos and are eager to impress a good-looking young man, and Sam knows just how to lay on the kind of charm that gets them talking.
And talking. Sometimes, the problem is getting professor-so-and-so to shut the hell up, and Professor Mallory is no exception. He wants to take Sam out for coffee, is so obvious about wanting to get into Sam's pants it's a little embarrassing. Sam excuses himself as soon as he gets the information he needs, letting the man down gently but firmly.
As he walks back across the campus to the agreed-upon meeting-place, Sam feels the hair on the back of his neck prickle ominously. He stopped having visions when Dean died, but he still gets these weird little feelings sometimes, like he's being watched. He takes a couple more steps, then stops, turns slowly around to scan the campus lawn he just crossed.
Students heading to class, sunlight through trees making soft shadows on the lush green of the grass, no one standing still and staring at Sam.
Sam's sure about the feeling, but he doesn't tell John when John picks him up at the edge of campus, drives them to a motel just out of town, then goes out to get food. When he doesn't come back after a couple of hours Sam's first response is frustrated anger. John must've stopped in a bar. Again. Sam's just about to go out to get himself some food when his phone rings.
"Heya, Sammy." The voice on the phone isn't John, and Sam's irritation is gone in an instant as he feels cold water rush through his veins.
"Who is this? Where's my Dad?" he demands, fear prickling up the back of his neck along with a rush of guilt for not warning John about his feeling earlier.
"Hey now, Sammy, is that any way to greet an old friend?" The voice snarks.
It's male, unfamiliar, full of insinuation, but Sam's brain analyzes the threat instantly, knows he's got only two choices here. He goes for the lesser of two evils out of what's left of his misguided faith.
"Try again, Sammy," the man sneers, and Sam feels all the breath punch out of him, feels like he's drowning.
"You," he gasps with what's left of his air. He clutches the small phone so hard he suddenly realizes he could easily crush it, so he loosens his grip a little. "Where's my dad, you son-of-a-bitch?"
"Temper, temper, Sammy," Yellow-Eyes soothes. "You don't want to wreck your chance to see your father again just because you can't control your anger, do you?"
"You've got him," Sam states the obvious, struggling to control his fear. "Is he – is he okay?"
"He's fine, Sam, and he'll stay that way as long as you do exactly as I say."
"Put him on the phone," Sam growls through gritted teeth. "I need to know you're not lying."
There's a pause on the other end of the line, as if Yellow-Eyes is turning his head to look at someone behind him. "He's a little indisposed at the moment," he insinuates.
"So help me God, if you hurt him – " Sam has to fight to keep from screaming, pacing the floor just to give himself something to do.
"You'll what, Sammy? Huh?" Yellow-Eyes taunts. "Offer your life for his? Like he tried to do for little Dean-o? Is that what you're telling me?"
"What?" Sam's empty stomach lurches and roils. "He did what? When was this?""
"He didn't tell you," Yellow-Eyes remarks. "Interesting. Something tells me your father doesn't exactly trust you, Sammy. Maybe you're better off without him."
"You listen to me, you son-of-a-bitch," Sam smacks the flat of his hand against the doorframe, wishing he could hit something more satisfying, frustrated almost beyond human endurance. "You hurt my dad, I will end you. I will find a way, if it takes the rest of my life, and I will kill you. I swear it."
"Seems to me you're batting zero so far, Sammy," Yellow-Eyes comments. "Sorta running out of options here. Let's see, so far I've killed your mommy, your girlfriend, your big brother, and now I've got your daddy sitting here already looking a little under-the-weather, if you get my drift. And you're threatening me? Not sure that's such a good move, kiddo."
Sam takes a deep breath, closing his eyes, and steadies himself against the doorframe. He tips his forehead against it, taking a minute to gather his thoughts and take stock of his choices.
Dean's face appears in his mind's eye, as clear as if he was standing there, smirking at him, right eyebrow cocked in that teasing way that always drove Sam crazy. "What're you gonna do, Sam?" he seems to say. "Better find out what he wants."
"What do you want?" Sam asks out loud, letting out a long sigh, keeping his eyes closed so he can almost feel Dean beside him.
Yellow-Eyes makes a creepy little sound, almost like an approving hum. "It's time, Sammy," he murmurs, almost purring. "Time to fulfill your destiny. Your brother's death has turned you into a killer, and now you're ready to complete your mission."
"What mission?" Sam snaps, angry and irritated again, eyes flying open to stare wildly at the empty space next to him. "What the fuck are you talking about?"
"Opening the Gates of Hell, Sam," Yellow-Eyes seems to be smiling now. "Don't you remember? You've always known it was what you were meant to do. You're my favorite of my special children. I always knew it would be you, and now you've won, don't you see? You outlived the others, and it's time for you to take your rightful place in Hell. It's the natural order of things. You're the boy king, remember? It's all you, Sammy."
Sam feels the walls closing in around him, feels the air grow darker. Memories he didn't know he had, of things he doesn't remember doing, now flood to the front of his mind as if they'd always been there. Memories of other special children, of Yellow-Eyes coming to him in a dream, showing him the night his mother died, dripping demon blood into baby Sam's mouth. Confusion and disbelief distort the memories; Sam's sure they're not real, more like dreams of another life, a year passed very differently. But at the same time he's convinced those memories should be real, which makes no sense, of course.
"No," Sam whispers, too soft for anyone but himself to hear.
"Time to make the big choice, Sammy," Yellow-Eyes goes on. "Time to step up to the plate and take the final swing."
Sam shakes his head, closes his eyes again, and there's Dean, giving him that intense gaze he gets when he needs Sam to focus. "There's gotta be another way, Sam," he says, voice low and rough, and Sam's so relieved to hear it, even if it's just in his head, that he practically cries. "Use that big college boy brain of yours and think!"
"I can't do it," Sam whispers. "I won't."
"I'm sorry, Sammy," Yellow-Eyes sneers. "Not sure I heard you. Come on, kiddo. What's it gonna be? Dad's life for the Gates of Hell going once, going twice...?"
Sam's blood pounds in his ears, and when he opens his mouth it feels dry and scratchy like sandpaper. It tastes like sulfur.
"Need a little aural stimulation, do we?" Yellow-Eyes coaxes. "Looks like Daddy's coming 'round."
Sam holds his breath as he hears John moaning in the background. The sounds grow louder as Yellow-Eyes obviously walks over to John and puts the phone close to his ear.
"Dad?" Sam calls, knowing his father can hear him now if he's conscious enough.
There's a pause as John responds to Sam's voice, gathers his strength and starts yelling. "Don't do it! Sam, whatever he wants, don't do it!"
A loud whack followed by a sharp cry of pain sears through Sam's senses, makes him call out. "Dad!"
"Yeah no, he's out again," Yellow-Eyes snarks into the phone. "Not sure how much longer he'll last, really. My demons have been a little rougher than they shoulda been working him over. I think it's all those friends and family Johnny's managed to send back to Hell over the years, not to mention my son, who your brother killed outright. Yeah, I gotta say I don't blame them wanting to take a little revenge. It's only natural when it's family, right, Sammy?"
"Where is he?" Sam demands. "Tell me where he is so I can come get him. He needs a hospital!"
"So I take it that's a 'yes'?" Yellow-Eyes pushes. "Are you saying 'yes' to my deal, Sam?"
Something about the tone of Yellow-Eyes' voice niggles at the back of Sam's brain, something off about it that he can't quite put his finger on. Other than the obvious, of course; Yellow-Eyes is manipulating him, Sam knows that, but there's something else going on. Something Sam should remember...something just beyond reach of his conscious memories...and Sam's not exactly trusting his memories all of a sudden, thinks maybe Yellow-Eyes is messing with them, somehow...
He closes his eyes, and there's Dean again, gazing steadily at him, giving him strength.
"Don't do it, Sam," he warns, his voice rich and real in Sam's ears, the sound a balm on his aching soul, on his grief. "You know Dad would never want this."
"Last chance, Sammy," Yellow-Eyes warns. "Say 'yes' to this, I'll let you have your dad back. He's all you've got, kiddo, don't lose him too."
"How do I know you won't kill him anyway?" Sam demands, opening his eyes to the sight of John's empty bed.
"You don't," Yellow-Eyes agrees. "But I think we both know you're gonna give me what I want, Sam, one way or the other. Might as well save your father's life while you're at it. You're never gonna see him again regardless."
"What are you talking about?" Sam's heart beats faster, his palms sweat.
"You know what I'm talking about, Sammy," Yellow-Eyes purrs. "You've got my blood in your veins. Your dad knows that. You're more mine than his, always have been. You do this, your father will never want to see you again. But at least he'll be alive. Just think about that, Sam. He may hate you, but at least he'll have his life."
"I need to see him!" Sam cries, knowing how desperate he sounds, not caring anymore. "Please!"
"I need that 'yes,' Sam," Yellow-Eyes prompts. "I'm texting the address to you right now. Say 'yes,' and I'll hit 'send.'"
No! Sam hears Dean's voice in his head, clear as if he was standing right next to him, as if Dean could read his surrender and was lodging one final protest.
But this makes no sense to Sam; Dean would never make a choice that would end in the death of their father. Never. He would say 'yes' just to buy them some time, save Dad's life right now, figure out how to get out of the deal later.
Something's not right here.
"Time's up!" Yellow-Eyes announces, gleeful. "Better hurry if you want to say your last goodbyes, Sammy."
"No!" Sam cries out as he hears the unmistakable sound of a blade sinking into flesh.
John makes a wet, gurgling gasp, like he's got a mouthful of blood, then the line goes dead.
"No, no, no, no!" The word pours out in a litany of disbelief as despair floods Sam's veins with dust and ash and death. "Come on, come on!" Sam's struggling to redial when his phone beeps with an incoming text message.
He's out the door, carjacking the first vehicle he finds, jerking the stunned driver out of the driver's seat at gunpoint and taking off without stopping to think about where he's going. The address is on the main drag, no more than a five-minute drive, but Sam floors it, ignoring the honks of passing drivers. It's already late, around midnight, and the streets are fairly quiet anyway, businesses all closed down for the night, not a single pedestrian on the street. When Sam screeches to a stop in the alley next to the empty warehouse he leaves the keys in the ignition, finds an open door near the dumpster and charges up the dark stairs inside, barely taking time to pull his flashlight and gun out. When he reaches the second floor he gets ready to kick in the door but finds it standing slightly ajar, as if somebody was in a hurry to leave and forgot to shut it on their way out.
Or as if someone – or something – is waiting for him.
Inside there's a single light-bulb hanging from the ceiling, casting a harsh light on the middle of the room, leaving deep shadows at the edges. Almost directly under the light John Winchester sits tied and slumped forward on a sturdy wooden chair, blood dripping into a large puddle beneath him. He's not moving, and his eyes are closed, chin resting on his chest, clearly unconscious and held upright only by the ropes binding him to the chair.
Sam crosses the room in two long strides and sinks to his knees in front of his father, one hand moving up to find the pulse in John's carotid artery, the other seeking out the source of John's wounds. John's pulse is weak, his skin clammy and cold, and the sheer quantity of blood-loss is disturbing. There are nicks and cuts all over John's neck and arms, along with abrasions and bruising on his face commensurate with a brutal beating; one eye is completely swollen shut.
Nothing life-threatening, though, until Sam finds the gaping knife wounds in John's chest and abdomen. As Sam pulls away the blood-soaked cloth of John's shirt, his father moans, shifts on the chair and opens his good eye, lifting his chin so he can see Sam's face.
"Sammy – " John tries to speak, but blood bubbles up to his lips and he chokes instead, coughing and spraying Sam with a mouthful of warm, coppery fluid.
"Shh, Dad, don't try to speak," Sam admonishes, hands moving quickly over the ropes binding John to the chair. He pulls out his pocket knife, too impatient to loosen the knots, and saws away frantically at the bindings. "I'm gonna get you out of here. Get you to a doctor. Gonna patch you up good as new."
"Sammy – " John gasps as Sam's blade cuts through the last rope and the big man slumps forward into his son's arms. Sam rocks back on his haunches, struggling to support John's dead weight, trying not to think about how much blood he's lost. Sam's mind is working the problem, recalling his dad's triage training, reciting it in his head.
"Come on, Dad," Sam says, frustration boiling to the surface as he tries to lift John to his feet, free now of the ropes but weakened by blood-loss and shock. "I can't carry you. You have to get up and lean on me."
"Can't." John sinks down to the floor, resisting every effort to get him up, to get him moving. "Sammy, listen to me."
"No, Dad, you're gonna be fine," Sam protests, warm wet tears streaming down his cheeks unbidden. "I just gotta get you outta here. Gotta get the bleeding stopped..."
He takes his own jacket and shirt off without even thinking about it, pulls John's shirt open and attempts to stuff the cloth against the wounds there. There's so much blood it isn't even possible to find individual wounds, and Sam starts to take his belt off, thinking maybe he can create a make-shift tourniquet...
"Sam, stop." John's hands find Sam's wrists, holds them still with more strength than a man should have when he's bleeding out on the floor of an empty warehouse in some stupid mid-western college town. "I need you to listen to me, son. Can you do that? Listen to me."
Sam lifts tear-blurred eyes, sees the evidence of impending death in his father's sunken features, his pale skin, the unnatural flush in his cheeks, his one good eye.
"You did good, Sam, you hear me?" John says, his voice choked and hoarse as he struggles to breathe, to pull enough air into his punctured lungs to push the words out. "You didn't let that bastard take you. You made the right choice."
"Dad – " A sob tears through Sam's chest, and he wipes furiously at his eyes with the back of one blood-covered hand, feels his father's blood mixing with the tears on his cheeks.
"You keep fighting, Sam," John chokes out. "Don't let him get you, you hear me? Never say yes to that bastard."
"Yes, sir," Sam sobs, shaking with the effort to keep from collapsing, to hold it together one final time for the old man.
"That's it, son," John nods, his hands tightening on Sam's wrist, his bicep, just holding onto him with all the strength he has left. He's got his one good eye fixed on Sam, and its glittering and dark, almost like he's possessed, like the force inside him that's been driving him this long is going to be the last thing left, probably has been for a while now. "That's it now."
Sam can feel it when John lets go, starts slipping away, his grip loosening and his gaze sliding away from Sam's face, onto the floor past Sam's elbow, no longer able to stay fixed on anything.
"Dad?" Sam clutches his father's shoulders, tries to pull him upright, the idea of keeping him from drowning in his own blood the central point of Sam's existence now. He hugs John's body against him, feels for a pulse. He finds a stuttering rhythm that doesn't hold, feels John's chest rise and fall once more, then go still.
There's a moment after it's obvious to Sam that John is gone when Sam just doesn't think about it. He closes his eyes, imagines Dean crouching next to him, wonders vaguely why Dean isn't mad. Dean should be furious at him for failing to save John. Dean should be raging and full of grief and disappointment in Sam, letting him know in no uncertain terms that Sam let him down. Dean should be wanting to hit him, should be throwing things and screaming his frustration that Sam could let this happen.
Sam feels something warm and solid on his back, and he wants to believe it's Dean's hand, offering comfort and reassurance.
"I could bring him back, you know."
Sam's eyes fly open as the hated voice sounds in his ears. He stares into the shadows at the other end of the room and sees movement there, then something glowing. He thinks it's a cigarette at first, then realizes it's two yellow eyes, staring at him from the gloom.
Sam lowers his father's body gently onto the floor and stands up slowly as the figure from the shadows moves forward into the light. Sam knows who it is even without the yellow eyes, but being face to face with the thing that killed his family for the first time in over a year isn't nearly as terrifying as Sam had always imagined it would be.
For one thing, the man is short. Sam knows it's a meat-suit, that this isn't really what Yellow-Eyes looks like, this compact, solidly-built working man with his rough, calloused hands, a man who was probably a construction worker or a sanitation engineer in his former life. That man probably never menaced anyone, the tan creases of his sun-toughened face usually relaxed into a genuine, easy grin over a socket-wrench or a draft beer, slow to anger, rarely allowing life to get him down.
John Winchester had been a more worthy meat-suit for this much evil, Sam thinks idly as he stares at the demon. At least John was tall and imposing. At least John could be genuinely threatening without much effort.
"No," Sam says without hesitation. If Dad hadn't wanted him dealing before he was dead, Sam has no doubt how he'd feel about being part of any deal that brought him back to life. Because Sam'd feel the same way. Deals like that are dirty as they come.
"Aw, Sammy, I thought you'd be more of a gamer than that," Yellow-Eyes taunts, his smile tight and without an ounce of warmth.
Sam pulls himself to his full height, clenching then slowly unclenching his fists. He takes a deep breath through his nose and lets it out through his mouth, all the while keeping his gaze locked with Yellow-Eyes'.
"My dad would never want me to deal with you," he says firmly. "Especially not to be brought back from the dead."
"Aw, you know, that's touching, Sam. That really is," Yellow-Eyes rubs his chin, looks thoughtful, almost sympathetic for a brief moment. "Respecting Dad's wishes, even after death. You know, you're a much better son than he ever gave you credit for, sport. There's an irony in that, don't you think?"
Yellow-Eyes pauses for a minute, a soft smile turning up the corners of his mouth, his look speculative and full of cunning.
"But he's not the one I'm offering to bring back," he says quietly.
The words throw Sam for a moment, utterly confuse him until he feels something warm on his shoulder, feels the goosebumps and the prickling hairs on the back of his neck. It's chilly in the room, he realizes for the first time, and it isn't just because Sam's half-naked. The air is unusually cold. Unnaturally so.
Which is when he understands.
Stupid. How could he be so stupid? All this past year, dreaming of Dean, imagining him right there beside him when he closed his eyes – it wasn't just Sam's vivid imagination, although that had always been a part of himself he knew he could depend on to maintain his sanity, to keep him grounded.
No, this was something else. Something he hasn't allowed himself to think about, despite his training, despite all his first-hand knowledge and experience.
Sam closes his eyes, takes another deep breath, and Dean's right there, right beside him, hand warm and reassuring on Sam's shoulder.
"Don't listen to him, Sam," Dean seems to say. "Don't let him manipulate you."
Sam opens his eyes, glares at Yellow-Eyes.
"You said you couldn't," he accuses. "You said when my dad tried to deal for Dean's life, you wouldn't do it."
Yellow-Eyes grins, and in the dim light his face seems skeletal, feral. "Not then," he hisses. "Not when I already had him just where I wanted him."
"You double-crossed him," Sam accuses. "You let him think you were going to save Dean. You took the Colt, but you let Dean die anyway. You lied!"
"Even better!" Yellow-Eyes is grinning so broadly now his face seems ready to split in two. "I took his soul! John's mine now. Left here, went straight to Hell. Did not pass go. Did not collect two-hundred dollars. Straight. To. Hell."
"But Dean – " Sam's heart is pounding painfully.
"Is still right here, sport," Yellow-Eyes nods. "Always has been. Right beside you. You know that. You can sense him, when you want to."
"No," Sam breathes, shivering against the cold creeping along his bare skin. He knows it's true, he's just been in denial. Hasn't wanted to admit he could be what's holding Dean here. But of course he is. Of course Sam's the thing binding Dean to the Earth.
"And I always make good on my deals, Sammy," Yellow-Eyes continues. "I took your daddy's soul in exchange for Dean's life, and I'm prepared to honor that deal. Right now. All I need is a word from you. You say 'yes,' kiddo, and Dean's back, good as new. Just like that."
Sam's heart is pounding fit to burst now, his hands clammy, sweat mixing with his father's blood on his brow, sliding down his temple, his cheek, his neck, despite the cold. He feels alive for the first time in over a year, his skin tingling with electricity, his blood buzzing with excitement. The thought of having Dean in his arms again, alive and well, after he's forced his memories of Dean so deep inside this past year – forced himself to forget how it feels to touch and feel and love – after training himself to go on without that part of himself that could do those things, to survive despite the Dean-shaped hole in his heart – it's almost too much.
Sam wonders if a man could die of the shock of coming back to life in his own skin.
Then he remembers what he's done this past year, all the killing, the rage and senselessness of it, how he's let his vengeance define him until there's probably not much left of the man Dean loved so much. In fact, there's not much about him that's lovable anymore at all, if there ever was. He imagines Dean's look of disappointment, his shock and revulsion at what Sam's become – a killing machine without a discernible soul, obsessed by his pursuit of death and destruction in order to achieve one goal: to find and obliterate the thing that took away Sam's reason for living.
Truth is, the possibility of finding and killing Yellow-Eyes was the only thing that gave Sam's life meaning this past year, the only thing that kept him going. Truth is, Yellow-Eyes succeeded in ripping Sam's soul right out of him when Dean died, and now the only part of Sam worth saving is already dead.
"What'd'ya say, sport?" Yellow-Eyes prods. "You want your brother back. Say it. It's all you think about. I know it is, because I can see inside your head, Sam. I know how your heart works. I'm already inside that massive brain of yours. Not like you can keep me out, after all. I'm in your blood."
"No," Sam breathes, shaking his head a little to clear it, to wrench free of the shivery, buzzing sensations that are making his heart and his head pound with blood.
Demon blood. It sings to him, makes him dizzy, eats away at his resistance. It clouds his judgment with heady promises of repressed desires fulfilled at long last, forces images into his mind of long-forgotten memories. Images of Dean's laughing face, his sparkling eyes, the sun in his hair, his profile at the wheel of the car, the backs of his hands on Sam's naked thighs, scattered with freckles, the knuckles perpetually bruised or scarred. Dean's hard, muscled body pressed against Sam's, the feel of his warm mouth trailing long wet kisses down Sam's chest.
Why does Sam think that? How does he know that he has demon blood in him? Did Azazel put that thought in his head?
Azazel. How does he know Yellow-Eyes' name?
Something's wrong here.
"Come on, Sammy." Yellow-Eyes' squints at him, and Sam's aware that only a few seconds have passed; his mind is reeling. "You know you can't hold out on me forever. Just say the word and your brother is yours again."
Sam closes his eyes, feels Dean right beside him, inside his personal space, almost pressed against him. Sam can feel his brother's heat, feels his breath on Sam's neck.
"You tell that son-of-a-bitch he can go to hell," Dean rumbles, voice low and intimate, just for Sam to hear. "You and me are fine just the way we are. Not leaving you, Sam. There's nothing can come between us, you hear me? Nothing."
Not even death, Sam answers in his head, silently, but Dean seems to hear him.
"That's right," he nods, and Sam can see him now, Dean's beautiful face with his long, thick eyelashes framing his huge green eyes, freckles dusted across his nose and cheeks, his mouth just as plush and kissable as Sam remembers, his strong jaw set firmly. "I'm right here, Sam. Not going anywhere."
"No," Sam pulls himself up to his full height, directs his glare at Yellow-Eyes with as much rage and determination as he can muster. "Not doin' it. Not for anything."
Yellow-Eyes raises an eyebrow, and Sam gets momentary satisfaction from the knowledge that the demon is surprised and displeased.
"Huh." Azazel's eyes narrow, his mouth sets in a tight line. "You sure about that, Sammy? You sure you want to consign your brother's spirit to permanent limbo? You do know what happens to disembodied spirits over time."
Sam closes his eyes, lets Dean's warmth rush over him before he opens them again, stares down the demon with a stiff nod. "I know. Dean's strong. He'll be okay."
Yellow-Eyes looks doubtful. "I don't know, sport," he shakes his head. "Dean always struck me as fragile. Vulnerable. A weak link. That's why I removed him from your life in the first place. He was holding you back, Sam. Too much emotional baggage. You're stronger without him."
"That's not true," Sam insists. He's my rock. And I'm his. Sam thinks but doesn't speak the words aloud, won't give voice to the power of the Winchesters' connection, not to this demon. "And my decision stands. Not doing it. Not helping you do anything, you son-of-a-bitch."
Yellow-Eyes looks thoughtful, tilting his head as if listening to Sam's thoughts. "I could remove him from your memories," he tells Sam softly. "Make you forget him."
Sam feels cold tendrils of fear snaking up his spine. There's something about this that feels familiar, like he's had this conversation before.
"I don't care," he breathes, his heart pounding too hard again. "My answer's still the same."
Yellow-Eyes smiles, and his face transforms, becomes hollow and full of shadows, skeletal and white as bone. "I can give you false memories of him, Sam. Make you think he beat you. Raped you."
Sam feels a rush of familiarity again; he's definitely had this conversation before, or something like it.
Or he's lived it, had these things happen in another life, a life where he has memories of Dean being a monster. A demon.
Something shakes loose inside Sam's head, skitters across the inside of his skull, leaving behind a memory of Dean with black eyes, Dean staring up at him from a chair in a dark cellar room, snarling at him, barely human.
Sam shakes his head to clear it, tries to focus on the memory as it slithers away, leaving behind a sense of unease that settles deep in his bones. Something is definitely not right. All of this – Sam's memories of the past year, since Dean's death – all of this is wrong.
He glances up at Yellow-Eyes, but it isn't Yellow-Eyes anymore. It's a different man, taller, more handsome, sleek and graceful like a cat, his movements fluid and deceptively attractive, like a dancer.
"Who–" Sam starts to ask.
Then the man smiles, crosses his arms and ankles as he leans against a post in the center of the room.
"I think you know who I am, Sam," he says, his voice sending shivers of pure terror through Sam's body. "I never could fool you. Not for long, anyway."
Sam feels the ground rush up to swallow him as darkness clouds his vision, floods his consciousness with pin-pricks of pain as his current memories collide with other memories, shifting Sam's sanity until the darkness feels like blessed relief and he relishes the blank thoughtlessness of a deep, exhausted sleep.