Why do we keep up this charade?
How do we tell apart the time to leave from the time to wait?
What does tomorrow want from me?
What does it matter what I see?
If it can’t be my design
Tell me where do we draw the line?
Poets of the Fall, Where Do We Draw The Line?
Sam never dreamed. He only had nightmares.
People he loved burst into flames on ceilings. He saw himself with yellow eyes, revelling in the flames, untouched and unharmed. He spent months with Lilith’s voice taunting him in his dreams. He saw himself burn her demonic soul over and over, but this time he knew exactly what he was doing. He laughed with Ruby triumphant at his side as they broke the final seal together.
That night, when he finally sank into an exhausted sleep, his nightmares were Hell. Literally.
Sam didn’t have actual memories of Hell, never having been there. Although he had occasionally wondered where exactly he was during those days he lay dead before Dean brought him back, he had no memory at all of that time and would probably never know. But he knew about Hell. He had what Dean had told him of thirty years under Alastair’s knife. He had what he read in Ruby’s ebony eyes. Most vivid of all, he had what he gleaned from Meg when she was riding around in his skin…and he had an active imagination that seemed all too eager to fill in the details he was missing. In his nightmare he walked through Hell itself, though its flames did not touch him. He saw the pit with its lake of fire. He smelled brimstone and burning flesh. Demons reached out to him, begging for respite. Human souls hung in tatters, alive and aware, no matter how many pieces they were in. The sounds of Hell were worse than the sights: Sam heard the screams of the damned and the wet sounds of tearing flesh. He heard the voices of the torturers and the sizzle of red-hot blades.
And he saw their faces, those who still had faces. Strangers to him, but still human. He saw their expressions of agony and despair, saw mouths try to form words without air to breathe. Finally, there was one face among the multitude that was not a stranger. He found Needy, her blonde curls burning, her body a torn ruin of flesh and bone. This was the fate she had bought for herself, and Sam knew she understood – too late – that nothing was worth this. Sam saw Needy screaming on the rack and he could not look away or close his eyes. He wished he had paid more attention, seen this coming somehow in time to stop it.
“Don’t kid yourself, Sammy. You saw it coming.”
Sam whirled when the familiar voice spoke from his side. Somehow, it seemed fitting that his father would find him here, amid all this horror. Somehow, it didn’t surprise Sam that John could hear his thoughts.
John’s eyes were almost black – not demonic black, just dilated in the darkness – the whites of his eyes bloodshot from the smoke-filled air. He seemed to be neither demon nor damned soul; a puzzle Sam pushed aside. It didn’t matter. All that mattered was that John was here.
He answered John’s words defensively. “How could I see this coming? I didn’t know she’d do something like this!”
John pointed toward Needy as a demon ripped chunks of flesh from her limbs. His gesture was an order. Look at her. “You of all people know the signs, son.”
Sam couldn’t look. He couldn’t. Hearing her scream cut off as her throat was severed was bad enough. Breath whistled through her torn throat; she still tried to scream.
It was true, Sam did know the signs. In the weeks and months after they lost their dad, he watched Dean break – and that was before they knew about John’s deal. Sam understood the impossible weight Dean carried in that year. He knew that the tailspin of the first few months had been a sign that something was deeply wrong – and that signal Sam had noticed, and tried to deal with. But Dean got better. It seemed like he was healing. Hindsight was always 20/20 and Sam knew now that Dean’s apparent recovery had been a mask calculated to make Sam quit asking questions Dean wasn’t ready to answer. The cracks in Dean’s psyche were still there and when Sam died, Dean shattered. And Sam had known, deep down, that would happen.
But that was Dean. He’d known Dean all his life and knew him as well as he knew himself. He’d known Needy less than a month. How could he possibly have seen the same signs in her? How could he have recognised them if they were there?
“What was she like when you first met her, Sammy?” John pressed his advantage. “Not a normal, happy girl, was she?” His eyes followed the demon as it continued to work on her. Sam did not look.
Sam frowned. “No. She was in trouble.” More than in trouble, he realised. Needy was a wreck. He remembered the day she walked into Hoyt’s Bar: her whole demeanour screamed trouble. She was dirty and starving. The way she rejected Sam’s half-hearted offer of friendship…
“And you let her go.” The accusation was flat.
Sam rounded on him, the familiar anger flaring. “Yeah, I let her go,” he snapped. “What else was I supposed to do, Dad? I had no idea her trouble was supernatural. I helped her as much as I could and she took off.”
“But she didn’t take off, did she?” John challenged. “She found you again.”
“She tried to kill me.”
“Bullshit. You know what she did to that rock band. She sliced-and-diced five men in as many seconds. If she wanted you dead, you didn’t have a chance. And you know it.”
Truthfully, Sam hadn’t realised it until he heard Dean’s description of the murder scene. But he knew it now. Dad was right: with her demonic speed, Needy could have cut his throat before he knew she was there. “Okay,” he conceded reluctantly. “You’re right about that.”
“So if she wasn’t trying to kill you, why’d she attack? Why that way? And why you?”
Sam tackled the last question first because he knew the answer. “Why me? She told me she saw blood on my hands.”
“Right. She knew you were a killer. So…?” John watched him intently.
Needy screamed for help, screamed Sam’s name. He couldn’t ignore her any longer. He knew it was useless. Hell was for eternity. But maybe he could give her some respite. Just for a moment. Sam began to turn, intent on going to her aid.
John grabbed his arm. “Why did she attack you that night?”
“I’ve got to help her!” Sam struggled against John’s vicelike grip.
“You can’t help her. This is Hell and she bought her ticket. Focus, Sammy.”
He tried, though it cost everything he had to ignore her begging for help. The night she attacked him, Needy said she wanted his blood, but Sam knew that wasn’t the answer Dad was waiting for. So what else happened that night? She came at him with a knife. He took her down, but Needy kept fighting. So Sam pulled a gun and let her know he would use it. That stopped her, but the second she thought his guard was down she’d attacked again.
Then he understood what John was getting at. Her attack on Sam was Needy’s version of suicide-by-cop. She’d chosen him because she knew he could take her down, and because she believed him a murderer. She expected him to kill her without hesitation.
And Sam knew then that John was right. The clues had all been there. Sam should have seen the signs. He should have known this was coming.
He could have prevented this.
When Needy asked him about the scar on his back Sam could have told her everything, let her see that these deals always go bad: that no matter how important it seems the price is always too high. He could have shown her how Dean’s deal broke them both. But he chose not to.
So she faced Lucifer defenceless.
“She was looking for a way out,” Sam said. “She was alone, and she thought she was turning into something demonic. She wanted me to end it.” Another scream ripped through the air. Sam closed his eyes, not that it helped any. “But I tried to help her, Dad. She knew I would help her!”
“Does that make you blameless?” The contempt in John’s voice made it clear what he thought.
“No. No, but…”
“But nothing. Why do you think the Devil went to so much trouble, Sammy? What good is her soul to him?”
“Fine. Run away from your responsibility. Again. My son the coward.”
Sam found he was clenching his fists. “I am not a coward!”
“Then tell me why. Say it!”
“I don’t know it’s because of me. It makes sense, Dad, I admit it, but I don’t know!”
“Don’t you? Doesn’t this happen to everyone you love?”
Oh, that hurt. Fuck, yes. Sam’s mother, dead before Sam was even old enough to know her, had sealed her fate with her own deal long before Sam was born. His father sold his soul to the yellow-eyed demon only days after Sam refused to shoot him and end it for all of them. Dean…
But that was family. Sure, Sam had stormed the gates of Hell itself to save Dean (not that it did any good), but that was for Dean. Sam would have done anything, anything to save Dean.
The sounds and smells of Hell faded from his awareness as a bitter smile touched Sam’s lips. He turned to the image of his father and let him see he got the message. “That’s a bit pathetic, you know. Did you really believe I’d say yes just to save a girl I screwed for one night?”
He was no longer looking at his father. Well, it never had been his father. Just another mask.
Lucifer looked back at him calmly. “No, of course not, Sam. You’re going to say yes because in the end, you’ll know there’s no other choice you can make.”
“I am never going to say yes to you!” Sam insisted hotly.
“But you will, Sam.” He gestured and the scene before them froze into silence. Sam looked back, not because he wanted to see, but to show Lucifer he was unmoved. Needy’s body was almost whole again, clothed only in her own blood, her face frozen in a scream of despair. But the sight could not affect Sam. He knew now that this was just a dream.
“When the time comes, you will say yes,” Lucifer asserted confidently. “And when you’re almost there, I think you’ll remember this moment.”
The Hell of it was, Lucifer was right. Sam couldn’t imagine anything that would make him say yes to Lucifer, but this was in his head now. Dream or not, he would remember this scene. Knowing that by saying yes, he might save Needy…who in spite of his words, was a lot more to him than some girl he’d screwed once, would eat at his conscience every time he said no.
Of course, he had another way to save her soul. Kill the Devil.
Conveniently, that was already on Sam’s to-do list.
Sam had his arm around Needy’s shoulders when Dean walked into the motel room. He’d been sitting like that for a while, holding her in silence while they waited. Needy seemed comforted by his presence, but she was on-edge because she was separated from Jennifer. She was worried the plan would go wrong somewhere along the way. For his part, Sam had every confidence in Dean and Castiel, and using Castiel’s skills to remove Jennifer from the hospital was much safer than trying to sneak past security.
Three days after major surgery, Jennifer was well enough to walk. Her recovery was, well, supernatural. It baffled the doctors, and Sam was worried someone would start asking awkward questions. So they were getting her out of there a little sooner than was wise.
Jennifer turned out to be a young woman with very strong opinions. She approved of Needy’s relationship with Sam…although that wasn’t the way she phrased it. Sam didn’t much care what she thought but it mattered to Needy…and he rather liked having her close. They both knew they would have to part in a few hours.
“When you get to wherever you’re going,” Sam instructed, “I want you to rent a post office box. It doesn’t cost much. Then text message the details to Dean. Dean, not me.”
Needy frowned. “Why not you?”
“I’ve told you what’s coming. If things go bad, Needy, you don’t want me knowing where you are.”
Dean walked in without knocking and Needy jumped. Sam moved away from her; the conversation was over.
“I’m done,” Dean announced. He offered a paper bag to Sam.
Sam took the bag and opened it. There was an ID for Jennifer – the pictures were a little grainy, but recognisably her. There were two disposable cell phones. The keys to a car – Dean had helpfully attached a label with the license plate. And about $500 in cash. Sam handed each item to Needy as he removed them from the bag.
Needy echoed him. “Yes. Thank you. I’m not sure where we can go yet, but…”
“California,” Jennifer said.
Jennifer and Castiel appeared in the room side by side. She looked tired, but a hundred times better than a few days before. She was wearing a little makeup and her long, black hair was brushed to a glossy shine. She wore black jersey leggings with a turquoise top just long enough to cover the bandages around her middle.
Needy leapt up. “Are you okay?”
“It’s a cool way to travel.” She raised her arms above her head, stretched and smiled briefly at Castiel. “Kinda pinches, though.”
“Why California?” Sam asked her.
“If we’ve got to hide for the rest of our lives, I want to do it someplace where there’s sun. And a beach.”
Dean nodded approvingly. “It’s a long drive, but the Torino is in good condition. Take a long route. Stay off the interstate and pay cash at motels. You’ll make it.”
“I guess that’s a plan, then,” Needy agreed.
Sam wrote on the paper bag: his phone number and one of many mail drops their father used to maintain. He and Dean didn’t use them much, but they still checked each one when they were in the area. He handed the paper to Needy. “I know I said don’t stay in touch, but if you need help, you can call me. If…if I survive what’s coming, you can reach me or Dean at that post box. It might take a while for us to get the message, but we will.”
At the mention of the coming war Needy’s smile vanished, but she took the paper from him. “I’ll remember,” she promised.
Sam turned to Castiel, then. “Cas, there’s something I want to ask you about. I’ve had some time to think and I need your help.”
Castiel inclined his head slightly: he would listen, but wasn’t willing to commit himself.
Sam understood that. “What you did for Dean and me – can you still do that?” Sam saw Castiel’s worried glance at Dean and realised he’d misunderstood. “Cas, I don’t mean that! I wouldn’t ask that, not now. I’m talking about the protection you gave to both of us.” He didn’t want to be specific, not in front of the girls. He had a feeling one or both of them would object if he explained he wanted an angel to carve Enochian warding symbols into their bones.
Castiel’s frown vanished. “I can. But understand, Sam. When the time comes, it will not save her.”
The small hope Sam had held onto vanished. “But until then, it will, right? You said he can use Needy to find us. That’s what I want to keep from happening.”
“Yes,” Castiel answered simply.
“What exactly are you saying, Sam?” Needy demanded. She moved closer to Jennifer protectively.
Sam turned to them. “Castiel can make it so no demon or angel can find you. At least not by supernatural means. You won’t be invisible, just hard to track down.”
“What’s the catch?” Her eyes narrowed suspiciously.
Needy knew he’d been deliberately vague and Sam could tell she wasn’t going to let him get away with it. Truth, then. “It hurts,” he answered honestly. “A lot, but only for a few seconds. And if you ever need an x-ray you’ll have a lot of explaining to do. But after everything that happened, I think it’s worth it.”
She still looked suspicious, but she looked at Jennifer. “I’m in if you are.”
Jennifer looked at Sam. She seemed very vulnerable. “Will this thing stop them…getting in me again?”
Sam understood that fear all too well. “I don’t know,” he told her truthfully.
“It will prevent demons from possessing you,” Castiel confirmed. He said nothing about angels.
Sam nodded. “We’ll make you both as safe as we can,” he promised Jennifer. For the next ten years, anyway. He wondered if Needy had told Jennifer about her deal. Or if she intended to. She hadn’t picked up on Castiel’s allusion to the deal.
Jennifer nodded. “Okay, then.” She looked at Castiel. “If this is gonna hurt, can you do it before the pain meds wear off?”
There was mud spattered down the sides of the Impala, heaviest around the wheels. Dean rubbed his finger across the caked mud, grimacing. He unlocked the trunk and tossed his bag in.
Sam watched, uncertain what to do. Maybe Dean was right: they should go their separate ways. Sam should make it as difficult as possible for Lucifer to find him, at least until he could figure out how to kill an archangel. Or, if all else failed, he needed to find a way to kill himself, and do it so completely Lucifer couldn’t bring him back. The first meant staying away from the hunting world and the second most certainly meant staying away from Dean. But on the other hand, if Sam had learned nothing else from all this, he had learned that giving up hunting was no longer an option for him. He could try to stay out, but stuff always seemed to find him.
Dean turned, one hand on the trunk as if he were about to close it. He saw Sam hovering there and seemed to realise that they still hadn’t talked about the future.
“Uh…can I give you a ride somewhere?” Dean suggested awkwardly.
That answered Sam’s question, but he wasn’t willing to cave. Not just yet. He heaved his duffel into the trunk. “I guess so.”
“Where are you headed?”
Sam had no destination in mind. He named the first city that popped into his head. “Detroit.”
Dean gave him a quizzical look. “What’s in Detroit?”
Sam shrugged. “Ice hockey. I like the Red Wings.”
“Weird. Well, hop in. It’s not far.” Dean slammed the trunk closed.
For the first few miles, Sam simply enjoyed the familiarity of being back in the car, back on the road, with Dean at his side. Even the music, which he usually merely tolerated, sounded good to him. But he knew he had only the length of this journey to figure out if they could stay together. Sam knew what he wanted. In spite of his rationalisations, he wanted – needed – to be with Dean. It was the only human connection he had left.
Time to bite the bullet. Sam turned the music down, just enough to let them talk. “Dean, I want back in.”
Dean sighed impatiently. “I don’t know if that’s a good plan.”
“It could be a terrible plan. But I want in, Dean. I’m a hunter. Didn’t I just prove I can do it?”
“Sam, you were always a Hell of a hunter. That’s not the point.”
“Then what is?”
Dean answered only with silence. After a moment, he reached toward the volume control, a sure signal he considered the conversation closed.
Sam stopped him. “Dean, please talk to me,” he begged. “If this is something that can’t be fixed, I…I understand. But at least tell me what you’re thinking.”
Dean glanced at him, once, then back to the road. He set his jaw grimly and for a moment Sam thought he would get no answer. Then Dean huffed out a breath loudly. “You know how badly things have sucked for us? How long? I mean, pretty much since we lost Dad, right?” The words sounded like a challenge.
Sam thought about it. First, they lost Dad, which sent Dean into a major emotional tailspin. Around the time Dean started to recover from that loss, Sam met Madison, who he’d loved and had to kill. So, yeah, not many bright spots in that particular year. The next year started with Sam being dumped into the yellow-eyed demon’s celebrity death match and getting himself killed. Dean sold his soul and an army of demons escaped from Hell. Sam couldn’t think of any real bright spot in the year that followed, either: even remembering his desperate, doomed quest to break Dean’s contract was painful. Sam couldn’t argue about the rest.
“Yeah,” he agreed. “It’s been a rough few years.”
“After we left River Pass I was happy, Sam. I mean really, honestly having fun. I didn’t even remember what that’s like.”
It was Sam’s turn to answer with silence, because there was nothing he could say to that. It fucking hurt. Dean was saying that Sam made him miserable. There wasn’t any argument or logic that could change anything. Sam watched the landscape rush by the speeding car and a heavy weight grew in his chest. Dean didn’t want him around. Dean was leaving him.
Always before, it had been Sam’s decision to leave. The only time they were parted against Sam’s will was the night Lilith’s hellhounds killed Dean. And look how far Sam had gone to quench that pain. His thirst for revenge brought them to the edge of Armageddon.
Now only two decisions stood between the world and that final battle.
Sam swallowed, hard, but said nothing.
The Impala sped on toward Detroit.
When Dean reached across to change the tape, Sam broke his long silence.
“Dean, can I ask you something?” That he would ask at all betrayed his hesitation; usually Sam would go straight for whatever he wanted to say. But although he was desperately curious, Sam wasn’t quite sure how to broach this subject.
“Anything,” Dean answered. He slid a new tape into the stereo but didn’t push the play button. He just waited for Sam while watching the road ahead.
“That night at the bar,” Sam began, “the open mic. What the Hell did you do?”
Dean gave him an odd look. “Things Have Changed and – ”
“Dude, that is not what I mean!”
“Well, then give me a clue, ’cause I don’t remember doing anything that wasn’t part of the plan.”
Sam stared at his brother. No. No way could he have imagined what he felt during Dean’s performance. It wasn’t just Sam: Needy had felt it, too. Was it possible that Dean could have projected something so intensely sexual, but not known he was doing it?
“Dean,” Sam explained patiently, “everyone in that bar was mesmerised. Even I felt it. And Needy said – ” he broke off, not sure he should repeat Needy’s words.
But it was too late; Dean had already heard. “What?” he demanded. “What did she say?”
“She asked me if you were part incubus,” Sam admitted, embarrassed.
The look Dean gave him then was not what Sam expected. Dean should have been offended by the suggestion. He should have been angry. Since Sam knew his brother’s ego when it came to women, he would also have settled for flattered or pleased. But Dean’s expression was exasperated, as if he thought Sam had missed something blindingly obvious.
Suddenly, Dean looked at Sam more intently. He seemed about to ask a question but then he laughed, a genuine, delighted laugh. He pulled over to the side of the road, but left the Impala’s engine idling as he turned to Sam, his smile now wicked.
“So tell me, Sammy, just how good was it for you?”
Sam felt himself redden and returned Dean’s look furiously. Wanting a little payback, he didn’t answer directly. “You remember when we first found Chuck’s Supernatural books?”
Dean’s eyes narrowed. “Yeah.”
“You remember those other stories? On the internet?”
“Yeah,” Dean repeated, his tone wary now.
“Do you really want me to spell it out?”
Dean caved. “I’ll beg you not to,” he said quickly. “Sam, I’m really sorry. I never meant – ”
“Screw the apology! Dean, I want to know what you did!”
Dean shook his head. “You’re not usually this slow, Sam. Shoulda listened to Blondie.”
Sam felt cold suddenly. Dean couldn’t mean… “Only one of us is that kind of freak,” he insisted.
Dean gave him that exasperated look again. “Sam. Do you really think I’d put myself out there as succubus chow if I didn’t have some kind of protection?”
“What’s that got to do with…?” Sam stopped, beginning to understand.
“I painted a mirror sigil on the guitar, Sam. Geez!”
“Dad always said they don’t work,” Sam objected, not exactly reassured.
“No,” Dean corrected, “he said they’re unreliable. Which they are, because it only works for certain kinds of demon. I double checked with Bobby. A mirror sigil works for a succubus.”
Sam took a breath. Okay. That made sense. Except… “Wait. To do that you had to know what kind of demon Jennifer was. Before that night.”
“Obvious much? I followed her trail from Devil’s Kettle. I knew exactly what she was.”
So Dean had used a mirror sigil to turn the succubus’ power back on her. She had tried to seduce Dean, and had been seduced instead. But Dean didn’t have much experience with that kind of power and his attempt to channel it had been poorly focussed. So it wasn’t just the demon who got hit by the reflected magical seduction. It was everyone in range.
Understanding didn’t make Sam any more comfortable with what he’d felt that night. A little warning would have been nice!
Dean turned the car back onto the road. “You are such a girl, Sam. Really, I know I’m good, but – ”
“Dean, I swear to God. I will break that guitar over your head!”
Dean was still laughing when they crossed the city line into Detroit.
~ End ~