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the crucifix was constructed wrong

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He blinks in the middle of the ritual, shudders, doubles over as the words trail off. “What?” he mumbles as a burn starts in his head and then moves down, spreading through his chest, his arms, his legs. He gasps at the pain—

I’m sorry, a voice says softly. I was given a choice, you see.

He closes his eyes, gasping for air.

You’ll make the same choice, the voice says.

Light—For Dean, he hears—

He opens his eyes. Uncurls, glances at the candles, the symbols. “Ruby,” he murmurs. Smiles slowly.

Resumes the ritual.

.

Once, there had been a desperate younger brother, who tried every last thing he could think of to save his older brother from Hell. After he failed, he tried every last thing he could think of to rescue his older brother from Hell. After he failed, he tried every last thing he could think of to exact vengeance on the one who stole his brother from him.

He went down a terrible path. Let himself be tricked, led like a lamb. Finally, because there was nothing left, he let the darkest of the fallen angels in and did the very best he could.

His very best wasn’t good enough, but as he fell, tangled with two angels and the younger brother he barely knew, he saw a crack in the world and he lunged toward it.

There, in a split moment of time and space, something very old looked at him and he stared back, stripped down to only a soul. Interesting, he heard. What an interesting thing you are.

It laughed, that very old something, and said, Because you have amused me, small one, I shall offer you a boon.

There, in a split moment of time and space, something very old asked, To when would you return, small one?

He gazed into infinity and replied, Before my brother went to Hell.

Again, that very old something laughed. As you will, small one.

The very old something closed its eyes.

The desperate younger brother screamed as light—

.

He finishes the ritual, stands. Waits. He breathes, stretches his arms, his shoulders, his spine. He feels young. Strong.

A demon approaches. He turns to watch her appear, pasting a worried expression on his face. Dean was right; her true form, beneath the meatsuit, is hideous. “Ruby,” he says, making the words sound as worried as he can, “Ruby, we know where Lilith is. We need your knife.”

It won’t work on her, of course.

Ruby refuses, going through the same old song and dance, so helpful yet not, so eager yet hesitant.

Dean slips down the stairs. He keeps his eyes on Ruby even though he wants to throw himself at his brother, so young, so frightened, still the strongest person he’s ever met.

There’s Azazel’s blood in him, and Lucifer’s bloodline, and there’s a reason it always came back to him and his brother. A reason they started the end. They were led like lambs.

Ruby attacks his brother.

It still has to play out, so he lets it.

.

He sings along with Dean, wondering, What happens if Lilith dies here? Tonight?

Bobby and Dean make the plan, and he chimes in; he can feel every demon, Lilith most of all.

Ruby was poisoning him, making him biddable. Leashing him until the time was right. Driving a wedge between him and Dean, creating a gulf they couldn’t cross, even as everything went to pieces around them.

He and Dean slip towards the house; Ruby follows and attacks Dean. Again.

He warned her, the first time around; he remembers that. He warned her.

He remembers how it felt, seeing Alistair standing over Dean. Seeing Lilith let the hounds in.

Ruby has her hands on his brother, so Sam reaches. She gasps but before she can scream, before she can try slipping out of the meatsuit, Sam covers her mouth with his palm.

“Sam?” Dean whispers.

He pulls her away from his brother, pressing down at the demon with every bit of his will, his rage, his hatred—and the demon burns.

Dean turns, eyes wide, and watches as Sam lowers the meatsuit to the ground. “Sam?” Dean repeats softly.

Demons approach, dozens of them. Sam steps over the meatsuit, saying, “Let’s get inside.”

.

“Sam,” Dean says once they’re inside with the sprinklers keeping the demons at bay.

It’s so much easier without the demon blood.

Dean’s panicking, fingers clenched around the knife’s hilt, and he keeps looking from Sam to around the room, and Sam has to smile. Maybe he was meant to be Lucifer’s meatsuit, which seems like such a stupid thing—maybe he was meant to become the King of Hell, which seems just as stupid. But it doesn’t matter.

Because for one moment in time, he held Lucifer still, ripped Lucifer wide open, and saw.

Being Lucifer’s meatsuit wouldn’t save him from Lilith; he’s still not sure she ever knew the true plan. But she did her best to destroy him, while his brother died two steps away, and she failed. A few drops of demon blood when he was an infant couldn’t possibly cause that.

He breathes, watching his brother breathe. Dean looks so young. So unburdened.

Lilith is upstairs. She hasn’t left the child yet.

She won’t, because Sam reaches.

.

Dean follows him up the stairs, body tense with all the words he’s biting back, fingers white on the knife. Every part of Sam is singing, is ready, has never been stronger or surer.

The woman cowers in the corner as Sam strides into the room. Lilith rages, the floor and the walls shaking, and when she turns her gaze on him, the girl’s eyes turn bone-white. “You!” she shrieks with the girl’s voice. “How!?”

He smirks, body loose, shoulders relaxed. “I’m what you wanted, right?” he asks. Dean steps up beside him; to Sam, he’s obviously confused but backing Sam’s play, whatever it is. “You and Azazel, you wanted a king—well, here I am.”

He can practically hear everything Dean isn’t saying, but he keeps his gaze on Lilith. She holds up a hand; wind rushes around the room, a light begins to build, and Sam steps in front of Dean.

He doesn’t hold up a hand. He doesn’t need to, not anymore.

The woman screams as Lilith lowers her hand, and the little girl’s meatsuit gazes up at him in bewildered horror. “Lilith,” he says, and his glee is evident in every word as he continues, “You’re trapped in that body. You can’t run. You can’t hide.”

She killed his brother. Dean died screaming, torn apart by hellhounds, and then he went to Hell, where he was tortured for decades, and he had to live with the guilt of what he did when he broke. Because of this demon. Because of Azazel’s plan, because of the angels, because of the demented game Heaven and Hell played, will try to play again.

“I’m not going to exorcise you, Lilith,” he says. The woman is weeping against the wall, and Dean is warm behind him, stepping next to him, confused and frightened and just a little bit proud. Sam can feel his emotions, can almost hear his thoughts.

He’s not sure Lilith has ever been this terrified before. He revels in it.

She killed his brother. He reaches out and inside the little girl, Lilith burns.

.

Dean insists on taking care of the family, and then, they step outside to see all the neighbors collapsed on the ground. Sam knows that Dean wants to ask, wants to demand, wants to wrap him in cotton and never let him out of his sight.

“They’re alive, Dean,” Sam says, because he can feel their souls, all of them.

This is what Ruby tried to keep from him. What Azazel had groomed him for. What’s the point of a vessel that can’t withstand an angel’s power?

“Boys!” Bobby shouts.

The hounds howl, drawing close; Dean flinches but then steps in front of Sam.

Sam says, “No.” He can sense how the hounds hesitate, how they circle around. They have Dean’s scent, and they were sent for him. “No,” Sam says again.

They whine, all six of them.

Dean is panting, watching them, and Sam tilts his head, meeting each of their gazes.

“No,” he says for the final time.

They slink back, ears flattened, tails tucked between their legs, and then they whirl and run.

“What the fuck is going on?” Bobby demands.

.

Sam sits shotgun, angled slightly so that he can watch Dean. Dean, who should be dead. Dean, who should be in Hell. Dean, who sacrificed everything he could to keep Sam safe, keep Sam fed, keep Sam clothed and in school, keep Sam alive. Dean, who he’s betrayed and left behind and torn down.

“Stop lookin’ at me like that, Sammy,” Dean says.

Sam can’t. His hands nearly beat Dean to death not even a day ago. Dean could’ve been torn apart by hellhounds not even an hour ago.

He ripped into Lucifer, and even though Lucifer is currently in his cage, he saw and he knows, and Michael could perhaps destroy him, or Death—but nothing less.

Nothing less can threaten him now, not Heaven or Hell, and he doesn’t want to tell Dean any of it, doesn’t want even the shadow of that weight on his shoulders, but he spent two years lying to his brother and he won’t do it again.

He watches his brother, and he smiles.