The Long and Winding Road (amypond45) wrote,
The Long and Winding Road
amypond45

Until the Morning Comes - PART FIVE

When he woke up the next morning, Dean had already gone out for coffee. Sam got dressed, ignoring his aching muscles and unhealed injuries, and packed the car, then snapped impatiently at Dean when he finally returned with the coffee and a bag full of breakfast sandwiches.

"What's your hurry, princess? Disaster in Lawrence ain't goin' nowhere. Trust me, it'll still be there when we get there," Dean frowned. "Besides. We still have to come up with a plan."

Sam scoffed. "A plan," he repeated. "Since when did Dean Winchester need a plan?"

"Well, we can't just burst in there guns blazing," Dean shrugged.

"Why not?" Sam demanded. "Isn't that the Winchester Way? Since when are you all Mister Cautious?"

"Since I had a dream back at the cabin and you were in it, okay? And it wasn't pretty."

Sam stared, completely flummoxed. "You had a dream?" he repeated. "About me?"

Dean frowned and looked away, and Sam had time to realize this wasn't gonna be good.

"What about me, Dean? What did you see?" Memories of the last time Dean had had a "dream" about Sam made his skin crawl.

"It was you dead, Sam," Dean growled after another moment's hesitation. "There, you happy? It was you on the floor in some weird-ass ivy-league type building like they got at the University of Kansas, dead. You got me? So sue me if I'm not all gung-ho about charging in there any time soon."

Sam thought for a moment. "So you had this dream back at the cabin?" he clarified. "Before the werewolves attacked?"

It suddenly hit Sam how overwrought Dean must've been to see his part of his dream come true, right there at the cabin, how it must've sent him over the edge with fear and despair.

"I guess so, Sam," Dean shook his head. "What difference does it make now?"

"You were trying to talk me out of going to Lawrence because you wanted to protect me," Sam accused. "Then the werewolves killed me anyway. And that's when you decided to patch things up between us, isn't it? Because if I was going to die anyway, you might as well get your last night on earth."

Dean blinked like a deer caught in the headlights, but he didn't deny it. "I was thinking about you, actually," he said. "I was thinking how you might die without getting what you wanted, and who the hell was I to deny that to you anyway? Huh? It's not like we hadn't already popped that particular cherry."

Now it was Sam's turn to stare incredulously because this –– this was the asshole brother he understood.

"God, Dean, that's fucked up," he breathed. "You realize how really fucked up that is, right?"

Which is when the phone rang. Of course it did. Sam glared at the tiny screen for a moment to register the caller ID before snapping it open.

"Dad?"

Sam was aware of Dean perking up, staring at him in shock as the familiar deep voice on the phone snarked, "Heya, Sammy."

Sam's heart plunged and he felt the air rush out of his body in a single breath.

"You're not my dad." Sam closed his eyes, struggling to regain his wits as Dean reached for the phone. Sam pulled back with a jerk, shaking his head sharply, and Dean's hand closed around the arm of his jacket, clutched the material as he invaded Sam's personal space, pressed up next to him like he belonged there.

Which, of course, he did.

"Bingo, Sammy-boy," John's voice snarled. "You always were the smart one."

"Is he still alive?" Sam felt Dean tense beside him, felt him scramble for the phone again, so Sam leaned his head against Dean's, turning the little phone so they could both hear.

"Oh, he's very much alive," the demon purred. "He's been most cooperative, actually."

"That's a lie, you sick son-of-a-bitch!" Dean yelled, and Sam grabbed the front of Dean's jacket, stared a warning into Dean's eyes to get him to calm down.

"Temper, temper, Dean-o," the demon purred. "John-boy agrees we have a common purpose, that's all."

"What's that?" Sam took the bait just to keep the demon talking, holding onto Dean to prevent any more outbursts.

"Oh, I think you know, Sammy," the demon cooed. "Johnny knows, too. You're ours, Sam. You belong to us. It's time to come home, son."

"Fuck that!" Dean exclaimed fiercely.

"Oh, and just so we're clear, that annoying big brother of yours is not invited," the demon said. "His daddy and I were very clear on that point. It's you we want, Sam. It's you we've always wanted. And if Dean gets in the way, you'll both pay the price. So enjoy your last night of incestuous hay-making, Sammy, because by midnight tomorrow, you're with us where the sun don't shine."

The line went dead and a message with coordinates showed up on the phone. An address on the campus of the University of Kansas in Lawrence, Sam surmised as he lifted his eyes to Dean's, caught the fear and anguish there the moment before the shutters went down and Dean's righteous anger returned.

"The hell with that," he growled. "You ain't goin' alone, and that's that."

Sam shook his head. "You heard him, Dean. If you come with me, he'll kill you. He'll kill Dad."

"How do we know Dad's even still alive?" Dean looked anguished again. "That wasn't him. Demons lie."

"He's leverage," Sam guessed, because he really couldn't be sure, beyond needing to take that look out of Dean's eyes. "He's alive as long as you don't come in there with me."

"You think that's him?" Dean changed the subject, deflecting. "Yellow Eyes?"

Sam shrugged. "It makes sense," he said. "John was tracking it when he disappeared, now it's possessing him. Causing who knows what kind of mayhem in Lawrence. Experimenting on a new batch of kids, Dean. That's the thing I have to stop. If I can, I have to try and stop that."

Or die trying, he didn't add, because they both knew that part.

"We need to call Bobby," Dean said.

"What good will that do?" Sam protested. "He can't help us. It'll only make him crazy, knowing what we're planning when he can't do anything to help."

"Maybe he can," Dean insisted. "Maybe there's something he knows that can help us find another way besides you goin' in there like Gary Cooper and getting yourself killed."

"Gary Cooper won, Dean," Sam reminded him. "I don't think that's gonna happen here, but at least I've got a shot at saving those kids. If Yellow Eyes really wants me that bad, maybe he'll be willing to trade. Their lives for mine."

"Not gonna happen, Sam," Dean shook his head. "I'm not letting you go in there alone. Not letting you sacrifice yourself on the off chance that maybe Azazel won't kill Dad. Maybe he won't kill those kids. What's to stop him once he's got you, huh? He's a demon, Sam. Killing and torturing people is what he does."

"You got a better idea?" Sam flung his arms wide. "Because from where I'm standing, we got one card to play, one way to maybe save a few lives here, and I'm willing to take that risk."

"Well, I'm not!" Dean practically shouted, and Sam tensed for the blow Dean looked like he might shell out, just to keep Sam from charging into danger. "It's a suicide mission, Sam!"

"I don't care!" Sam yelled back.

"Well, I do!" Dean clenched his fists, and Sam felt the adrenaline rush of an impending fist-fight. "I can't let you do it, Sam."

Sam was ready for the punch, but Dean wasn't. Sam had the advantage of daily training, the state-of-the-art gym facilities at Stanford, and recent height and weight gain that Dean simply wasn't prepared for. Dean had the advantage of years in the field, though, plus Sam's recent injuries slowed his reflexes. Sam knew his only real hope was to get in the first shot and to make it count.

Nevertheless, it surprised Sam when Dean crumpled at his feet, down and out after a single well-placed blow to the side of his head. Sam winced as he considered the bruise he'd added to the collection on Dean's handsome face as he knelt to check Dean's vitals, then turned him gently onto his side so he wouldn't asphyxiate if he started to vomit.

"Sorry, brother," Sam murmured, swiping his hand through Dean's hair, committing to memory the contours of his beloved face, the familiar smell of sweat and leather, the feel of Dean's soft, spiked hair through his fingers, aware that if things went well, he'd never see Dean again.

**//**

An hour later, Sam was on the road to Kansas, crammed into the driver's seat of a hot-wired Ford Escort, trying not to think about how angry and desperate Dean would feel when he woke up.

But when his phone blasted Pearl Jam about two hours into his drive, it wasn't Dean.

"Missouri?" Sam picked up because he couldn't imagine not answering a call from his old friend, the first person who had really helped him, who understood him because she shared many of his talents and had taught him how to learn to live with them. "Are you okay?"

"And what makes you ask that, Sam Winchester?" she demanded, sassy as ever. "You think maybe all these demons moving into town haven't brought a giant heap o' trouble with them? Is that it? You think maybe they haven't brought all kinds of evil spirits and nasty creatures with 'em? Hauntings everywhere, let me tell you. Practically every house has a spirit in it now. All except one. This whole town is crawling with creepies."

"Sorry to hear that," Sam muttered contritely. "I'm on my way."

"And that's another thing," Missouri went on, as if she hadn't heard him. "Where's that brother of yours? Cuz I'll tell you one thing, Sam Winchester. You need him right now. If you have some Lone Ranger idea of riding in here without him, you got your priorities crooked, you hear me? I'm having all sort of visions right now, waking visions, and I don't like what I see about what you're up to. No, sir."

"Azazel's got our dad," Sam started to explain. "He said I have to come alone."

"You takin' orders from that hell-spawn?" Missouri demanded. "Since when did you start doing anything your elders told you to, huh? Where's that rebel child I remember?"

Sam took a deep breath. "People have died, Missouri," he said. "Because of me. People I cared about. I killed my best friend last night."

"I know, Sam, and I'm sorry," Missouri said. "I truly am."

"I have to stop it," Sam went on. "The deaths, the possessions, the experiments on psychic kids, all of it."

"And you will, if you want to," Missouri said. "You can stop all of it, if that's what you want."

Sam let out a shaky breath, almost closed his eyes in his relief. "So it will work," he said. "If I go in there and give myself up to Azazel, it'll all stop."

"No," Missouri said. "If you give yourself up to the yellow-eyed demon, you will die."

Sam clutched the steering wheel with one hand, the phone with the other, staring unseeing at the road in front of him. He gave a little frustrated shake of his head.

"Then I don't understand," he said. "If I don't surrender to Azazel, how do I stop what he's doing?"

"I don't know exactly, Sam," Missouri said. "I can't see that far. There's something in the way. But I do know you will stop it. You and Dean. Together. That's what I know. It has to be both of you."

Sam chewed on his bottom lip in silence.

"I can't let Dean get hurt," Sam said. "I'd rather die than let something bad happen to him."

"Haven't you heard a thing I've been telling you all these years, Sam?" Missouri said. "You dying is the worst thing that can happen to Dean. He's your soul-mate. Losing you is like death to him. There is no 'after.' He will get you back, or kill himself in the attempt. Or worse." Missouri took a deep breath, then her voice got low and dark. "There's worse things than death. You know that. Becoming a monster, turning into something evil, something you don't want to be, that's worse. You want to be responsible for doing that to someone?"

Sam's mind flashed to Jessica and he shook his head. "Too late," he said, choking back a sob.

Missouri let out a long sigh, and Sam wondered if she could read his mind at this distance after all. "You really think you could kill your own brother?" she asked quietly.

"No," Sam said. "No, I couldn't. But he's not the monster, Missouri. I am."

"Who told you that?" she demanded. "That demon? Again, why you listen to that devil, huh? What's he done to earn the respect you don't even give your own father, boy? Huh?"

"Azazel's blood flows in my veins," Sam said. "I can feel it."

"John Winchester's blood flows in your veins, boy," Missouri reminded him. "Mary's too. You're a powerful psychic, but not because that demon made you that way. You were born with it. Your mother had it, your darn fool father has it if he was ever willing to admit it, and your brother has it. That's what you feel inside you, Sam. Not some demonic poison that ties you to Hell or makes you evil. You have power in you, but it's not evil, you hear me? It's you."

Sam was driving through mountains again, and the connection started breaking up, but Sam had heard enough anyway. It didn't change anything. He still had to go up against Azazel, had to try to rescue John and those kids. If what Missouri said was right, he could depend on at least a little psychic mojo to help him. He would find out what Azazel wanted him to do, and maybe he could pretend to agree to whatever it was – leading his demon army to take over the earth. Whatever. If he could just make Azazel believe Sam was desperate enough to agree, then maybe he could get the demon to release John and the kids. For now, Sam wasn't letting anything distract him from that mission, and although Missouri's words were soothing, they didn't change what Sam knew he had to do. Alone. No matter what Missouri said, Sam couldn't let Dean get hurt. He couldn't.

He would die first.

**//**

When he pulled into Lawrence the next day, the usually-busy college town was abnormally quiet. The late afternoon sun had decided to hide in some seriously threatening thunderheads, and Sam could hear the oncoming storm rumbling in the distance. He could smell ozone and something rotten, like sulfur, hanging in the heavy, pregnant air. A feeling of expectancy, of something about to happen, made Sam's skin crawl and sweat at the same time.

He decided to leave the car parked in front of his old house and walk to the campus along familiar tree-lined streets. The house looked empty; no car in the driveway, no lights on, the flowerbeds dead and empty in the early spring. Sam considered peeking in the windows, establishing whether someone actually lived here, but then he remembered Missouri''s warning about ghosts occupying many of the houses in town.

Except one.

But if any house should have ghosts, it was this one, where a young mother had died trying to protect her infant son from being fed demon blood and then kidnapped, where a father and brother barely escaped the fire that destroyed their family and set them on a course of terror and revenge, wracked with rage and survivor-guilt.

Yet Sam had happy memories of growing up in this house. He remembered birthdays and Christmases and Easter Egg hunts, throwing balls around with his brother in the back yard, learning to ride his first bike in the driveway. Sam remembered walking to school, Dean carrying his backpack and lunchbox packed with the special sandwiches their mom made just for Sam, on account of his sensitive stomach. Sam remembered the playground with the ball field where he and Dean played and rode their bikes. He remembered the pool where he learned to swim, and the Fourth of July picnics ending with fireworks displays in the park down by the river.

Only none of those memories were real, of course. They were dreams. Extremely vivid, life-like dreams that helped Sam live through the reality of his early years, his reality of abuse and neglect and the frightening, freaky tests and experiments which were described as "treatments" for some unknown ailment from which Sam had suffered since he was a baby. By the time Sam was eight he stopped having the dreams altogether; the doctors found a way to excise his dream-life and his imaginary brother from his brain, leaving him lonely and bereft for four long years until Dean found him wandering a country road near Sioux Falls.

Sam kept the dream-memories, and sometimes he wished he could share them with Dean, whose life growing up on the road with their dad had been just as lonely and grief-stricken as Sam's would have been if he hadn't had his dream-life to escape to. More so, since Dean didn't have any memories of a good life raised together, like Sam did.

Now, coming home to Lawrence, Sam felt the ghosts of his own dream-memories dancing around him, taunting him. No one lived in their old house now. The place was cold and lifeless. Not even ghosts would dwell there. No real ones, anyway.

By the time Sam reached the University of Kansas campus, the storm was close. Bright flashes of lightning lit the empty, gloomy streets, followed almost immediately by loud crashes of thunder, rumbling away again like boulders down a mountainside, gathering momentum for the next onslaught. Thunder shook the ground and rattled the windows, but no lights came on. No one dashed down the street to get where they were going before the storm hit.

Sam had the feeling of eyes watching him, though. It wasn't just a sixth-sense or psychic feeling. It was a creeping, eerie, haunted feeling that anyone might have being alone in a deserted town, a town so recently teeming with life. Sam wondered where all the people had gone. They couldn't all be possessed by demons. He imagined the real people cowering silently in their houses, not fully understanding how their once-friendly town had become a place of terror and mayhem, where once-trusted and reliable colleagues and neighbors had turned feral and unpredictable, throwing themselves off rooftops and murdering co-workers and friends. From the intel Sam had gathered, Lawrence had made the national news for its sudden uptick in unexplained deaths and murders. The FBI had been called in to investigate. Theories abounded about tainted water, a misdiagnosed virus, mass psychosis. Now Lawrence was in a state of lock-down, the mayor had declared a state of emergency, and the National Guard had been called in. A curfew was imposed.

But Sam could see no sign of National Guard or FBI presence. He wondered if they hadn't arrived yet, or if they had suddenly received orders not to come after all. Maybe the demon-possessed mayor had everything under control and called off all outside help.

A sudden cool breeze heralded the arrival of the storm just as Sam reached Jayhawk Boulevard. Here was the new science building where the experiments were happening, where a new crop of orphaned and abandoned children were receiving the "treatments" that plagued Sam's nightmares and real-life memories. He wondered if one of them would turn out like Sam one day, ready to embrace his or her dark destiny. It made Sam wonder if there were others, children like him who had been born with special abilities, whose natural talents had been enhanced by demon-blood and "treatments," children who were adults now, some Sam's age, some fifteen or thirty years older.

You're the only one, Sam, the familiar voice of John Winchester spoke suddenly in his head, making Sam jump. You're my favorite.

Sam immediately closed his mind, filling it with thoughts of puppies and rainbows, as he'd been taught to do when he wanted to shield himself from another psychic.

John's laughter boomed in his head, echoing, as if he was standing in a large, empty room, inside Sam's head.

You can't keep me out, Sam, the voice purred. I made you. I'm inside you, flowing in your veins. I'm already part of you.

"No," Sam muttered out-loud, shaking his head as if he could physically eject the voice. "You're not."

Rationally, Sam knew the voice wasn't part of him; the demon was projecting its voice into Sam's head, a trick Sam had learned could be used to persuade others. It worked particularly well on people who didn't have a strong sense of themselves to begin with, who welcomed the voice in their heads that told them how to think, how to behave, what to do.

Sam had only ever practiced this particular skill on a bullying older foster-brother when he was a kid, convincing the boy to burn his entire collection of girly magazines in the back-yard one afternoon. It hadn't been as satisfying as Sam had hoped, making someone do something they didn't want to do. In fact, it had made Sam feel like the creep everyone already said he was, and he'd never used the ability again.

The skies opened as Sam crossed the street to the Natural History Museum and slowly climbed the stairs. He was soaked by the time he reached the doors, and he took a deep breath before reaching for the handle of the nearest one.

The door moved inward of its own accord, revealing the dimly-lit lobby within, silent as a tomb.

Sam's heart was racing and his palms were as wet as the rest of him as he stepped across the threshold into the building. Immediately, the rush and roar of the thunder and pouring rain were muted, the outside world subsumed by the oppressive air within, the air thick with power. A feeling of dark malevolence crept up Sam's spine, making the hair on the back of his neck stand up. A single light glowed, dispelling not even a little of the gloom of the empty lobby, an exit sign shining its cold blue florescence into the dark space.

"Heya, Sammy," a familiar voice sounded from the shadows at the other end of the room. Sam turned his head toward the sound, saw two yellow lights shining in the darkness there. Eyes, Sam realized. Shining, cold, yellow eyes.

Sam stiffened, pulled himself up to his full height, and clenched his fists. He cleared his throat, determined to speak aloud. "Well? I'm here."

"Yes," the voice agreed, and Sam watched in trepidation as the creature stepped forward, into the dim emergency lighting. "Yes, you are."

The power's out, Sam realized. That's why there's no lights anywhere.

Azazel sucked in a long breath, and Sam could see him now, could see John Winchester's familiar form and face, eyes glowing with that eerie yellow light.

"Almost Biblical," the demon said nonsensically. "I am that I am. And here you are, Sam-I-am."

"So what do you want?" Sam demanded, pushing down the fear niggling at the back of his skull.

The demon smiled, and it was John's smile, but it wasn't. It made Sam's skin crawl.

"Come here, son," the demon said, sounding suddenly like John, and Sam knew that was deliberate. "Let me show you something." The demon turned, gesturing toward the shadows, and Sam felt sure he was about to meet his own death.

The demon shook his head, and Sam could tell it had heard his thought. "If I had wanted to kill you, you'd be dead by now, Sam," it said softly. "Now come let me show you something."

The demon turned, disappeared into the shadows, and Sam followed. When he almost reached the darkness, he realized there was another glowing light coming from the room beyond, and that room was larger, the ceiling reaching up at least two or three floors over his head.

Sam was aware of the front door closing with an echo of finality behind him, and he was certain the door was locked and that he was trapped. At the same time he noticed that the second room held the skeleton of a dinosaur, and he tried to focus on the sight to keep his panic at bay.

"Your daddy used to bring you and your brother here as kids," the demon said. "Remember? You loved it here."

Sam grit his teeth, rage flooding his senses as he recalled the dream-memory Azazel referred to. "Stay out of my head!" he hissed. "Those memories aren't real!"

"You sure about that, Sammy?" Azazel lifted an eyebrow, smiled at him with John's dimpled grin. "They seemed pretty real when you were a kid. It got to be a real problem for us, as a matter of fact. Your imagination got in the way of the work we were trying to do. The enhancements we were working on for you."

"So you cut it out," Sam accused. "You ripped out part of my mind. My dream-memories."

"No," the demon shook his head. "We tried, but we couldn't remove those memories. You buried them, to protect them from us. They're still there. It's all still there. That's what makes you strong, Sam. That's what makes you special."

"I don't understand," Sam shook his head. "What do you want?"

Azazel smiled, but instead of answering, he turned and gestured to the dinosaur, which must have been a mosasaur in life.

"These monsters ruled the seas, sixty million years ago," he said. "Back then, Kansas was under water, and these babies swam all over this area, eating each other. Then, in a little less than a hundred years or so, they were all gone. Just like that. Just winked out of existence. Like somebody decided one day that their time was up. And on the basis of that thought, that one idea, an entire species disappeared.""

"It was completely random," Sam protested. "Just a random astronomical event."

"You sure about that, Sam?" Azazel said. "No forethought involved? No intelligence? No destiny?"

Sam huffed out a breath. "You're suggesting...You're saying there's a God." Sam shook his head. "I don't believe that."

"I'm saying, it's possible to wipe out an entire species with nothing more than a thought," Azazel said quietly. "I'm saying, that kind of power exists. And I think you have it."

Sam flinched involuntarily as something clicked inside his brain. What Azazel said couldn't be true, didn't even make sense, but something in Sam resonated when he heard the words, like a switch had been turned on inside him. He felt a kind of low-level pressure in the left temporal lobe of his brain, a sound like a hum vibrating at a steady frequency. He could feel heat spreading out from that area of his brain, getting warmer as it grew.

"You can feel it, can't you?" Azazel said, staring keenly at Sam, and Sam could feel the demon's mind pushing into his, seeking out the source of the warmth in his brain.

"Get out of my head!" Sam exclaimed, slamming up every invisible wall he could muster.

"I can help you harness that power, Sam," Azazel said, John's deep voice resonating with command and persuasion. "You can do great things, change the world, just like we promised when you were a kid."

"By exterminating the human race?" Sam cried over the humming in his head. It was getting louder, and he pressed his hand to his temple in an attempt to stifle it. "Like the dinosaurs? Just rub us all off the face of the earth?"

"That might be a good start," Azazel nodded. "Mankind has kind of had its day, wouldn't you agree? Time's just about up, I'd say. Time for a new race to take over the shop for awhile."

"What? Demons?" Sam almost shouted over the noise. "Is that it? You really want to give the planet to a bunch of hell-spawn? You think demons could do a better job taking care of the Earth?"

"Couldn't do much worse," Azazel shrugged. "Don't underestimate us, Sam. Most demons are dying for a chance to redeem themselves. Why do you think they love being topside so much?"

"Uh -- because they live to torture people?" Sam snarked, rubbing his head, starting to wonder if he could contain whatever was happening inside him.

"Wrong!" Azazel said. "They torture humans because they're consumed with jealousy. You people have all the opportunities, all the possibilities still ahead of you, but you squander then every damn time! Demons have nothing to lose and everything to gain. Hell is a horrible, horrible place, Sam. You really never, ever want to go there, and you sure want to get out if you do. Most demons are willing to do whatever it takes to get topside, even if it means turning over a new leaf. Putting aside their vices and crimes to do good in the world."

"I don't believe you," Sam growled. "Demons are evil. They don't know how to be anything else."

"Most demons are human souls, Sam," Azazel said with what almost looked like sorrow. "They've become so twisted and tortured they're no longer human, but they remember. They remember how it felt to be loved, to have someone care for them, to do something good for someone else. After millennia in hell, they're desperate for change. For redemption."

"No," Sam shook his head, shocked. "That can't be true. Demons aren't human!"

Azazel grinned, perfect white teeth gleaming in the dim light, and Sam had a moment to consider that John Winchester must've had good dental care growing up. Must've had someone who loved him enough to take care of him, to get him to regular dental check-ups.

More than Sam or Dean ever had.

Strange that John never talked about his childhood, that Sam couldn't remember any grandparents or aunts and uncles or cousins in his elaborate, vivid dream-memories. It'd always been just the four of them.

But of course Sam didn't remember much about John and Mary, either. The memories he had were almost all of Dean. Even though he was peripherally aware of their parents, Sam had no specific memories of either of them. That was just the way memory worked, he'd decided. The most important things were front and center, and the rest was off to the side, taken for granted, part of the background.

"Get out of my dad," Sam hissed, the humming in his head making it hard to concentrate. "Get out and leave him alone."

"No can do, Sammy. Not until I have your word you'll do as I ask," Azazel shook his head.

"You need my permission?" Sam cried. "I thought you were a demon! I thought you could just take what you want! Possess me, take whatever power is inside me and use it yourself."

Azazel shook his head impatiently. "I wish I could, Sammy, but it doesn't work that way. Your power is something only you can use. I can help you, but I can't do it for you. You have to agree of your own free will."

Sam stared, overwhelmed by this new information. His ability wasn't just demon-made. However much Azazel had enhanced his power with demon-blood and whatever else, it was still his. Sam's. Azazel couldn't just take it from him.

He had a choice. None of this was inevitable after all.

As soon as Sam understood this, he knew it was true. He felt stupid because it should have been obvious to him from the beginning. It was what Missouri had told him, but he hadn't believed her. He'd been so sure that the darkness inside him was evil, that it had caused the deaths of people he cared about, that it had corrupted Dean. He'd believed that it would consume him, eventually.

But the truth was that it could only consume him if he let it. It wasn't inherently evil at all. It was just that strange place inside him that was part of who he was, that was dark not because it was evil or impure, but because it was a mystery. Unknown.

"Then my answer is no." Sam drew himself up, struggling to ignore the pounding hum in his head. He squared his shoulders, clenched his jaw and his fists, and stood tall, shaking only a little because this was it. Now Azazel would kill him, move on to the next batch of kids. Find someone else. "I won't do it. And I know – I know my dad wouldn't want me to give in to you, ever, so I'm pretty sure he's okay with that."

For a brief moment, Sam could see the rage and raw frustration in Azazel's face – John's face. Then he schooled his features again, raised his eyebrows, and looked almost sympathetic.

"Poor little Sammy," he said softly. "Always so sensitive. You think your daddy loves you?" He shook his head sadly. "He thinks you're a monster, Sam. He thinks you're already one of us, and if I ever gave him his freedom again, about the first thing he'd do is kill you. Especially after what you've done to his son."

Sam sucked in a breath, shaken to the core but not surprised. He looked down at his feet, aware for the first time of other demons in the room, hovering just out of sight in the shadows, breathing in their borrowed bodies.

"If that's what he thinks, I probably can't convince him otherwise," Sam said quietly, his voice only shaking a little. "But I know him well enough to know that he would never want this. And Dad, if you can hear me, if it means anything to you, I never meant to hurt Dean. And if you can believe I'm still your son, then you know I'm every bit as stubborn as you are, and I'm not letting this evil so-of-a-bitch manipulate me. You hear me? He can't have me! I've made my choice, Dad, and I'm sticking to it! I won't do it! I – "

Sam's voice stopped mid-shout as Azazel raised his hand. Just stopped, like the hand had pinched off his vocal chords. Sam put his hands to his throat, struggled to make a sound, but nothing was coming out. It didn't hurt, it wasn't like he couldn't breathe, but the sound was just gone.

Azazel was glaring intently at Sam, and once he had his attention again he shook his head, lowered his hand.

"Such courage in the face of certain defeat," he commented. "Daddy doesn't give a shit, of course, still thinks you're a sick little freak. Wishes he'd killed you when he first had the chance. But he really doesn't matter anyway, does he, Sam? You never cared much for John Winchester. If I snapped his neck right now, I doubt you'd even mourn him much."

Azazel turned away, but Sam caught the cunning gleam in his eye, and it made his blood run cold. It didn't matter that Azazel knew how he felt about John; he just hated that the demon could read him so well in the first place.

"You might not miss daddy dearest much," the demon continued. "But I know someone who would." Azazel nodded at someone in the shadows, and Sam heard a scuffling noise, a familiar grunt of protest as two demons stepped forward, holding a bound and gagged figure between them.

Dean.

His brother's wide-eyed look of horror and desperation when he saw his father's face with its glowing yellow eyes was something Sam felt sure he could live the rest of his life not seeing. It brought tears to Sam's eyes, made despair flow through his veins. And when Dean turned his accusing gaze on Sam, those huge, expressive eyes begging Sam to fix this, to do whatever it took to save their dad, Sam was flooded with shame. He wondered how much Dean had heard about how willing Sam had been to throw John's life away, Azazel giving Dean the chance to see just how little John meant to Sam.

Or at least, that's how Sam imagined it felt to Dean.

"So, how're we doing now, Sammy?" Azazel's insinuating voice cut through Sam's shock and guilt like a knife. "Are we having fun yet?"

Sam's vocal chords were still clamped, and when he tried to move he realized his whole body was caught in a psychic vice, frozen in place. He watched helplessly as Azazel closed in on Dean, John's face adopting a look of fond adoration. He stepped close, right into Dean's personal space, and lifted a hand, still gazing down into Dean's face from his slight height advantage. Dean glared back, tears glistening in his eyes as the demons which had been holding him drew back, leaving Azazel alone with Sam's brother.

Azazel made a little gesture and the gag and bindings holding Dean's arms behind his back fell away, but Dean was still frozen and unmoving, staring up at Azazel as the demon cupped his face, almost gentle.

"So beautiful," Azazel breathed. "I can see what Sam sees in you, for sure. There's an innocence and goodness in you, isn't there? No amount of killing or corruption can really touch that."

Azazel turned to Sam, still holding Dean's face. "You've chosen well, my son," he nodded approvingly at Sam, who clenched his jaw and renewed his efforts to break free.

Loving Dean was never a choice, Sam's inner voice retorted.

"It'd be a shame to mar these lovely features," Azazel murmured, dragging his fingers down Dean's cheek, over his lips and chin, wrapping his hand around Dean's exposed throat.

Sam struggled to focus the pressure in his head, clenching his fists, his toes, testing the limits of Azazel's hold as the demon leaned in, nosing along the side of Dean's face, taking deep breaths of Dean's heady scent. Sam knew that scent, knew it was probably tinged with rage and fear right now as Azazel pressed his lips to Dean's cheek, then the corner of his mouth. Dean squeezed his eyes shut, clenched his jaw, his throat working under Azazel's hand – John's hand – as he struggled to break free. When Azazel pressed his lips against Dean's, the younger man's eyes flew open, and Sam flinched at the horror and grief he read there.

"Mmmm, so sweet," Azazel murmured as he kissed Dean's unresponsive lips. "Like honey. Such a good boy for Daddy. I bet you'd be all pliant and obedient for me, wouldn't you, Dean-o?"

"Get off him!" Sam burst out, and Azazel turned his head, keeping his hand on Dean's throat as he smirked at Sam.

"That a-boy," the demon hissed. "There's that fighting spirit!" He grinned wide as he hit Sam with another wave of power, momentarily cutting off Sam's airflow and silencing his vocal chords again.

Sam closed his eyes, concentrated on loosening each muscle from Azazel's psychic grasp. He was shaking with the effort; when he heard Dean's stifled whimper as the demon began kissing him again, something snapped in Sam and he gasped, eyes flying open in time to see Azazel running his hand down Dean's chest, over his stomach, slowly making its way down over the front of Dean's denim-covered crotch. The demon had one hand behind Dean's neck, holding his head while Azazel french-kissed John's son with John's tongue, squeezing between Dean's legs with John's other hand.

"What d'ya say, Sammy?" the demon panted as he tore his mouth away from Dean's for a moment, turning his grizzled cheek against Dean's swollen lips, rubbing them with John's whiskers. "You wanna watch your father fuck your brother? Huh? Before I kill them both? Or should we skip the fun and go straight to the painful part?"

Sam renewed his struggles, groaning with effort, and Azazel laughed cruelly. "Does this turn you on, Sammy? Your father thinks it does. He thinks you're probably hard as a rock right now, watching him fondle his first-born, watching little Dean-o give it up to Daddy like the dirty little whore he's always been. Isn't that right, Sammy? We could probably take him together, couldn't we? I could make him suck Daddy's cock while you fuck him. Then we could switch! What do you say? Huh?"

The humming in Sam's head had reached epic proportions, to the point where he could barely hear the demon's taunting voice. His vision had started to blur, and all he could see was Dean's face, the tears running out of his closed eyes, down his tipped-up cheeks and into his ears. Dean's chest heaved with his efforts to escape Azazel's hold on him, and Sam could see his puffy, reddened lips trembling, his hands clenching and unclenching at his sides.

Then Sam's vision clouded over, pin-pricks of light dancing in the darkness in front of his eyes, exploding like fireworks at the edges of his sight. He felt something pushing against his muscles, something else reaching tentacle-like into his mind, and he visualized grabbing onto it, pushing back. His muscles tensed with the effort, but it wasn't merely physical; he was pushing on something that felt real but also immaterial, like a magnetic field that responded to his movements with counter-movements, pushing back with a force equal to the one he used against it.

When he realized he could gather enough strength at one point to push the entire forcefield off of him, Sam was flooded with sheer adrenaline. It was easy, he realized. All it took to free himself was to focus that strength on each point at the same time, or at least almost simultaneously, the way a bed-sheet hanging on a line rippled when a breeze struck.

It only took a split second, then Sam was free, gasping and flexing his muscles as he stumbled backwards, blinking at Azazel as he became aware of the room again. Azazel was stumbling too, a look of shock and rage on John's handsome face as he stared first at Sam, then at Dean, who was free as well. Sam had only a second to wonder if he'd managed to somehow free them both, then Dean was throwing himself at the demon possessing his father, fists flying, grabbing and shaking him, growling and snarling like a junkyard dog.

"Get out of my dad, you son-of-a-bitch!" Dean cried, choking on the words, which is how Sam realized Dean was sobbing, tears streaming down his cheeks, nearly blinding him.

Sam reacted instinctively, reaching for Dean while chasing after the demon's field of telekinetic power with his mind, grabbing at it as Dean clutched the front of his father's jacket, fist making contact with John's jaw in a solid punch.

For a moment, Sam thought they'd won. He could feel Azazel's confusion and surprise. He could feel something even deeper and more pungent, something that felt almost like fear.

But before Sam could claim a moment's triumph, the demon regained its wits. With a power so savage and sudden Sam hardly saw it coming he was thrown backwards across the room, slamming into a concrete pillar with such force he felt something crack. His skull, probably, he thought dully as he struggled against the demon's renewed power, holding him tighter this time, sealing up any gaps in the pressure so that every inch of Sam's skin tingled with a magnetic force that was pressed so tightly against him as to be almost painful.

He could move only his eyeballs this time, so that he had to witness everything in vivid detail as Azazel took his rage out on Dean, telekinetically slamming him to the floor, then ripping into his chest through his clothes, making Dean scream as rivulets of blood spurted forth in perfect rows, soaking the remains of his tee-shirt as Azazel railed and snarled his frustration.

"You think you can fight me? You think you can take me on? Huh? Pathetic little shit. Now you die painfully. Now you can show your brother exactly what's in store for him if he doesn't get off his high horse and get with the fuckin' program."

Dean screamed again, back arching off the ground as invisible claws ripped into his chest, as invisible hands closed around his exposed throat and squeezed.

"No!"

From deep down inside him, Sam felt Dean's life waning. He could feel it like it was his own life force slipping away, like it was his own soul getting ready to depart, and everything in Sam protested. Violently. Viscerally. His consciousness drew back inside himself, away from the agonizing screams of the man who was more than just his brother, more than just his lover. In that moment, Sam's consciousness narrowed down to one single thought, one singular idea.

Sam couldn't let Dean leave him. Dean must stay. He couldn't go.

The moment the idea coalesced in Sam's mind, it became something physical, and Sam both understood that and didn't know what it meant at the same time. All he was aware of was that something was different now because that's the way it had to be. Dean couldn't not exist because he was part of Sam. Dean couldn't die.

For Sam, it was as if the air in the room had been sucked out. He couldn't breathe, and his brain reacted to being deprived of oxygen by shutting down, by flashing images in front of him that Sam remembered from earlier days: Dean laughing at him as Sam missed the ball Dean pitched when he was four. Dean helping him blow the candles out on his birthday cake when he was five. Dean jumping from the swing and Sam too afraid to follow until Dean held his arms out and promised to catch him. Dean snuggled up behind him on the sled, holding Sam tight against his chest as they raced down a snowy hill, cold wind biting their cheeks, making their eyes sting. Dean right there in the front row as Sam won his first debate for the speech team in eighth grade, leading a standing ovation of one. Dean jumping to his feet when Sam crossed the stage to accept his diploma.

Dean lying in bed, bare to the waist and covered only in a sheet, blinking up at him with sleep-mussed hair and a crooked grin. Dean in the driver's seat, glancing over at him, face breaking into a smile just for Sam, just because Sam always made him smile and Sam knew it.

The images played faster and faster in front of him, reality overlapping with memories from his dream-life until they flowed seamlessly, until there was nothing to separate them at all. Then Sam realized the sound was off and the images were becoming smaller, farther away, surrounded by more and more darkness until they were no bigger than a bottle cap, till he had to squint. Then, with a final impression of something being squeezed into a hole or sucked down a drain, they were gone.

PART SIX | BACK TO MASTERPOST
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