The abandoned hotel is darker than it should be, which is proof enough that unpleasant things have passed this way recently. At first Lucifer had suspected something had interfered with his perception of linear time. But the clocks always confirm his instincts. Today it's no later than three. But the corridors are dim and oppressive, airless, as if the light has simply been swallowed up. Signs that the things have passed through, found nothing to devour, and moved on. Sometimes the gloom will hang for days before dispersing, sometimes it simply stays.
Gloomy or not, it will do as a sanctuary, if one can call any place that any more.
Lucifer follows Sam up the stairs. He'd offered his arm at first, reading the awkward shifting pain of his gait, the dark, wet stretch of blood on his back. But Sam had pushed him back - not aggressively, not angrily - he'd simply refused help.
Lucifer's still close enough to feel the warmth of him, to smell the strange and shifting human essence of him. He feels solid enough, when they touch in the darkness. Though he knows it's a lie. Lucifer knows better than most, how fragile men can be. How fragile they can be forced to be. Though the Winchesters seem suicidally determined to prove him wrong. To prove the world wrong. A delusional stubbornness which he's witnessed perform miracles. Unfair, it feels to him, when not part of any plan. They're the drifting threads, left to float free once the tapestry was ripped to shreds. As if something in the very fabric of creation itself wishes for these two to live. Lucifer's not sure whether it's for good, or ill. They've suffered more than most. He's contributed to that suffering himself. Though he will not feel guilt for his own actions, he refuses. There's no purpose served there but pain, and regret.
Sam finds a room, and in a well-practised and often repeated ritual, they fill it with fire. Lighting lamps, and setting them on the surfaces. The yellow glow will react, violently, if the creatures of darkness draw close, folding away from them. It's disquieting to watch, even with his borrowed eyes. An optical illusion of distance, and scale.
"Bring the light," Sam says, voice low and harsh. His teeth press together in pain when he leans into the table.
Lucifer settles the lamp he's still holding between his hands. Sam touches the glass with his sleeve, pulls it free, leaving the naked flame to flick light across the walls. Then he slowly but determinedly starts tugging his arm free from the sleeve of his jacket. It's clear the movement is awkward, and painful. But Lucifer doesn't come forward until Sam hisses and stills, coat falling from his wrists to hit the carpet. Lucifer carefully lifts the material of his shirt with his fingers, feels the drying tackiness of blood try to cling, Sam's shoulders tense and lift to hurry the movement. When he pulls it away the rich, red smell of Sam's blood fills the room, overwhelms his borrowed senses. The t-shirt comes even more reluctantly and there's a hiss when it peels free. The skin on Sam's back is gouged, skin twisted and ripped.
"I can heal this," Lucifer tells him. Because they have rules they make him follow, the four of them. Whether he understands the why of them or not, he follows them. For all his power, for all his familiarity with monsters, there's still only one of him. It's hard to go to war alone.
"No," Sam says instantly. "We need somewhere safe for the night. Dean and Castiel are coming back this way, and I'm not prepared to take the chance of luring those things back here."
"You know as well as I do that they rarely return once they've moved on."
"I'm not going to risk our lives on things we think we know, or don't, about these things. We can't chance anything."
Lucifer wonders if his life counts, if he's become something to be risked.
"I will not cower in fear of them," he says firmly, and he feels Sam's anger rise to that like a wave.
"That's not what I meant."
Lucifer frowns, feels it on his face with an intensity he still dislikes. "It will take barely any energy at all -"
"You know damn well you flare like a fucking lighthouse to them," Sam snaps. Then shakes his head. "Sorry, fuck, I'm sorry."
Lucifer says nothing.
Sam carefully pulls the small tin box out of his bag, flipping the lid, and revealing what Lucifer already knows it contains.
"Stitch it up."
Lucifer's hands clench into fists, as close as he will allow himself to recoiling at the suggestion. Because the thought of it, patching Sam's skin this way, pulling it into a twisted mockery of its former self with ugly stitches, needle tearing holes in the flesh where the skin is still untouched - the thought of it is abhorrent to him.
"I won't mutilate you."
Sam laughs, like his distaste is amusing. Lucifer would be angry about that, but the emotion underneath is so tangled and conflicted that it would serve no purpose.
"I'm already mutilated, don't worry about it." Sam pushes the bottle he'd taken from the bar across the table. The only thing that hadn't been broken, or stolen. The label is gone, washed away by rain, or flooding. Lucifer knows what the alcohol is for. The brutality of being human, repeated over and over, lessons never learned from one generation to the next. "The longer it stays the more blood it leaks over everything, and the bigger the scar."
The blood runs, stains everything red, with every flex of muscle. Lucifer's fingers pull the tin forward, flesh reacting against his wishes. The curved needle is perfect in its efficiency, and horrific in its intent. Lucifer has seen far, far worse done to a man, an unending, meaningless torrent of cruelty. But there's something visceral about the thought of it. Unnatural in its intimacy, and its intention.
Human hands are ugly and inefficient, and Lucifer has never hated them quite this much before, as he angrily puts into practice skills his brain understands, but has never had to learn. He's used his hands to destroy. He's used them to break every part of a human being which could be broken. To unravel them piece by screaming piece, to prove that not a single atom of worth existed within them.
He has never used his hands to mend one.
Blood runs, the line slow and thin beneath the first stitch, a bright new trail on Sam's tanned skin. It meets his thumb, where he holds Sam still. There's nothing fascinating - nothing shocking about that trail of blood, no difference to any other. But as he presses and pulls, coaxing skin together, he cannot take his eyes from it.
There's a quiet inhalation of air every time the needle pierces the skin, slides slowly through. A steady press and release of tension, that Lucifer knows is Sam clenching his teeth. He's aware that six months ago, Sam would never have trusted him to do this - would not have trusted him at all. This thing, this ritual of ruination, is more a sign of trust than any other moment they've shared since the creatures came out of the darkness. For all the blood they've waded through together, this is the first time Sam's treated him like he's real. Has let him touch him, lay hands on his skin for a purpose. Standing here, mending him - in brutal, primitive simplicity - fingers slick with the warm stickiness of blood. There's nothing delicate, nothing glorious about the messy, ungentle horror of it. His skills brought to bear in ways he never expected. He could knit this man together flawlessly, as easily as breathing. But instead - he touches his thumb to his fingers, smears the brightness of Sam's blood - instead he will mark him permanently to make him whole again.
"How do you go through each day knowing how breakable you are?" Lucifer asks into the silence, needle paused over his skin. "How little it takes to leave you torn, and ripped, and broken."
He can tell there's a flippant answer ready on Sam's tongue, something insulting - but he doesn't answer straight away. Instead Sam swallows, then sighs out the breath he's holding.
"We don't come into the world like you do." His voice is quiet, tired. "We grow up, we learn our own limits, and then we live in them. Most of us try and live in them. You have to give us points for trying."
"I don't have to give you anything." The pain is old, and familiar. He's not even sure there's genuine heat behind it any more.
"You couldn't just ignore us though, could you?" Sam says bitterly. "You couldn't just turn your back and say to hell with everything and left us be."
"He made that impossible. He demanded that we love you, that we bow down before you. When you were barely more than animals. You didn't deserve it."
"No," Sam says, with no hesitation. "We didn't. But that wasn't our fault. You didn't have to take it out on us, you didn't have to stick around and punish us. You could have just fucked off somewhere, and done whatever you wanted. It's a big universe." The frustration, the pain is still fresh, even with everything else. Even with the world dying around them. Sam still feels everything, still hopes, still wants to understand; he still hurts for the things he can't change.
"I don't want to fight," Lucifer says. They've already fought too much already.
Sam's laughing, careful hitches of his shoulder, and Lucifer stops stitching, and lays a hand on his spine.
"What?" He's frowning, he knows that he's frowning. Often the laughter is at his expense. It shouldn't matter. But anger comes too easily to him now.
"It's not - you sounded like." Sam shakes his head. "It doesn't matter."
Lucifer presses the sharp point of the needle into his thumb, testing. He could draw his own blood if he wanted to. Fold himself tighter, leave the vessel more human, and less angel. Lucifer can feel Sam's heartbeat beneath the sliding edge of his hand, fast with tension and pain, beating beneath the muscle, with the furious, stubborn determination that he has grown to expect from the younger Winchester. He feels as if he's closing a hole over that heartbeat. Sealing it inside, away from all the jagged pieces of the world, that seek to rip it apart. The stitches are wet, as straight and neat as Lucifer can make them, with his borrowed hands. This flesh that imprisons Sam, and protects him.
Lucifer has never before felt so sharply, uncomfortably close to mortal.
He wonders, suddenly, if his Father really is done with it all. If these creatures are simply the darkness that eats the world, when He has finished with it.
His fingers rest on Sam's skin, where it's slippery and raw. Sam doesn't raise any protest to his fascination, breath pulled in slowly, waiting, Lucifer thinks. He could unpick his motives - his thoughts - if he wished it. But there's his own stillness to consider. His own refusal to step away, to distance himself from the wash of blood, from the greater quantity of it, still pumping through Sam's veins. He sets the needle down and holds his hand over the wound. He can feel the imperfection of it. The untidy, flickering edges of the stitches he'd made. He feels it. All of it. The scar, when it forms, will in some way be his as well. The shape of it, the feel of it. The way it pulls the flesh, it will be his work, for as long as Sam lives.
Lucifer frames it with his hand, gentle, suddenly aware of what he's done. He's struck by the strange, desperate urge to unpick his careful stitching, and start again. He wants to repeat this quiet ritual, to smooth away the blood, and pull the skin together. He wants to listen to Sam's quiet, stifled noises of pain. Because he finally understands that this is not mutilation, this is not brutal and abhorrent. He's wrong to judge as a creature who has never been flesh. Never breathed inside it, lived inside it, and felt his own blood wash across his hands.
The flawless gift of perfection he could have given is a lie. Lucifer has not marked him with the grisly imperfections of man, but as a soldier, sent back out to war.
He wonders, in a quiet, dark moment of honesty. If Sam would piece him together the same way, long fingers pulling together his flesh, fingers slippery with his blood. If Sam would care enough to hold his weight, pierce him with a needle, stitches dark in the candlelight like they don't belong, and yet somehow beautiful for the way they curve through living flesh, hold it together.
He presses his thumb against the untidy, raw red line, feels the unnatural heat of the wound - there's a flinch, the wordless mutter which for all its displeasure doesn't make Sam pull away.
Lucifer wonders if they are not angel and man. Nor devil and human. But soldiers fighting a war. The last war.
If their skin, and bones, and blood, are the only things of worth they have left.