He’d done this before. More often than he really wanted to think about. And this wasn’t- it could be worse. Couldn’t think of how at the moment, but it could be worse. Dean was AWOL, not dead. That made all the difference.
Dean’s not dead until I see a body.
His mind kept running through the list of people he couldn’t go to. It was a long list. Too long. Had only gotten longer since the last time he’d-
This wasn’t permanent, just a matter of time.
Matter of time.
Save Dean. Clean up the Leviathans. Find Kevin. Save Dean. Kill Crowley. Save Dean.
He made it a checklist in his head. Imagined little boxes next to each important task. A little empty box for a check mark. Okay, Sam. Okay. You can do this.
Of course (of course) Lucifer was the first to come. When Sam fell asleep in the backseat of the car he was using this week he’d been alone, and when he woke Lucifer was watching him. “You look so innocent when you sleep,” Lucifer said sweetly. “It almost makes me feel positively maternal.”
Sam rubbed his eyes. “Why are you here again?” He asked miserably, before he could wake up enough to remind himself not to engage with a hallucination. Lucifer canted his head to the side.
“You were lonely,” he said simply. “I never want you to be lonely, Sam.” Sam groaned and let his head flop back down.
“I don’t want you.”
“Oh, come now,” Lucifer said. “There’s no need to be hurtful. It’ll be just like the good old days. Just you and me.”
“And Michael,” Sam murmured, “And Adam.” Lucifer waved a hand, loose and careless.
“Yes, well. Details.” Sam wanted to close his eyes and go back to sleep. “I could be Dean if you like,” Lucifer offered placidly, and Sam sat up.
“No,” he said flatly. “Just…no.”
Dean had been gone (missing) for ten days.
“You know,” Lucifer said conversationally. “Deano’d have a better chance of surviving if his only companion weren’t halfway to crazy by way of your brain. Funny how those things work out, isn’t it?”
True, Sam’s brain noted critically. “Fuck off,” his mouth said. Lucifer smiled at him.
“Ooh, baby. You know I love it when you talk dirty to me.” Sam flinched. “Where are you going with this, exactly?” Lucifer went on. “You’ve got no plan. No allies. No sense of direction. You’re a wanted man from coast to coast. I must admit, I’m looking forward to seeing what you come up with.”
“I’m getting Dean out,” Sam said, flatly.
“Heard that one before,” Lucifer murmured. “When was it? Oh…oh yes. Four years, has it been? Your brother not even cold and you were already swearing to rip open Hell itself to get him back. How did that go for you again?”
“I know better now.”
“You know better. That’s precious.” Lucifer snickered and picked at his nails. “Face it, Sam. I can feel you panicking from here. You can’t hide from me. Little Sammy, all alone again. Maybe you should go ahead and put a gun in your mouth before you try to break the world.”
Sam tightened his hands on the steering wheel. “I’m not going to give up just because you told me to.”
“Oh good,” Lucifer said amiably. “I’ll just be here, watching your inevitable crash and burn.” He glanced toward the radio. “Is there anything good on?”
Crowley, it seemed, at least had a handle on the Leviathan thing. Judging by the number of assassinations and disappearances of high profile members of society. Sam went back to motels. Got a double out of habit.
Lucifer slept on the one nearest the door.
He summoned Crowley into a Devil’s Trap. Crowley, who looked at him with a slightly pained expression and drawled, “Really?”
Sam clenched his jaw. “You didn’t leave me a whole lot of options. I figure, who knows about Purgatory?”
Lucifer was picking his nails and glanced up. “So this is the little cockroach you were scheming with. I thought you had standards, Sam.” Sam deliberately ignored him. Stared straight at Crowley.
“Oh, all right,” Crowley said. “I’ll play.” He folded his hands. “What do you want, Sam?”
Sam held up two fingers. “Kevin. And a way into Purgatory.”
“What makes you think I can get you into Purgatory?” Crowley said, all placid ignorance. Lucifer dropped his hand and narrowed his eyes.
“So maybe you can’t kill him yet cause you still need him. You could torture the overweening bastard. It might make you feel better, you know. Playing with you always made me feel better.” Sam twitched.
“If anyone would know, it’d be you. I haven’t forgotten how interested you were in it.”
Crowley closed one eye and regarded Sam out of the other. “And what do you have to offer me, were I to give you this information? Oh, let me guess – your soul.”
“Wasn’t on the table,” Sam said flatly. “How about I don’t kill you?”
“Charming,” Crowley murmured. “All right, I’ve made up my mind. No, and no. Sorry, Sam. Guess you’re just going to have to work out another way.” Sam had a (entirely useless) blade in his hand in a second, but the ceiling had already cracked violently and Crowley was gone, the knife sticking in the wall instead of Crowley’s eye.
“Well,” drawled Lucifer. “That was effective.”
“Shut up,” Sam snapped at him, right fist working open, closed, open, closed. Lucifer leaned back against the wall and resumed picking at his nails.
“Well? What are you going to try next?”
Sam didn’t answer because he didn’t have an answer. Lucifer snickered quietly.
“Tick, tock,” he said. “You know, I have to wonder if big brother’s dead already. Ingested and digested. This whole mess could be an exercise in pointless. What’re you going to do if that happens? Lie down and die like Little Ann in that real sad book you used to love?”
Sam squeezed his eyes closed and then forced them open, turned to leave the room. “First thing,” he muttered, “I’ll come up with some way to get rid of you.”
“Aw,” Lucifer said. “You don’t really want to get rid of me, do you?”
No, Sam thought, no, not really. But at least he managed not to say it.
Michael turned up next, in the backseat on the way through Nevada chasing rumors and dead ends. Michael looked like his father – his father forty years ago, anyway. Back ramrod straight and staring straight ahead when Sam caught sight of him in his rearview mirror and nearly crashed the car. Lucifer stopped fiddling with the radio and looked over his shoulder, and scowled.
“Oh, look who it is. Why did you bring him along, Sam?”
“Sit down and buckle your seatbelt, Lucifer,” said Michael primly. Sam pulled over to the side of the road, a laugh bubbling up behind his teeth. He leaned his head against the steering wheel.
Some slightly rational part of him muttered that this was probably a bad sign. It was a very small slightly rational part of him, though, which should have been more worrying than it was.
“You don’t even like me,” Sam pushed out. “Why are you here?”
Michael stared at him, unblinking, for several moments of silence. Finally he looked out the window and said, “I felt left out.”Lucifer snickered and Michael shot him a glare.
“Jesus,” Sam muttered under his breath. “Jesus Christ.” Michael looked disapproving.
“You see, brother,” Lucifer said, “This is what a nervous breakdown looks like.”
“Yes,” said Michael. “Fascinating. Are we going to sit here on the side of the road or are you going to continue driving?” Sam squeezed his eyes closed and rubbed his temples. After a moment, he pulled back onto the road and tried to keep his gaze straight forward so he could pretend he was alone in the car.
“Now look,” Lucifer complained. “You upset him. Only I get to do that.”
“Where are we going?” Michael inquired politely. Sam didn’t answer. Lucifer dropped his voice to a stage whisper.
“He doesn’t have a clue,” he said. “That’s what makes it so exciting.”
He scribbled the list down on a napkin in a coffee shop. Save Dean. Clean up the Leviathans. Find Kevin. Kill Crowley. Drew neat little boxes next to each entry. Picked up another napkin and did it again. Save Dean. Clean up the Leviathans. Find Kevin. Kill Crowley. It wasn’t a long list. Not so bad, really.
“Sam,” said Lucifer, leaning over the table. “You’re starting to worry the nice people.”
“Does writing the same thing nine times over make you feel better about the fact that you cannot check any of your little boxes?” Michael inquired delicately, and Sam blinked and looked at the debris of napkins around him, the same list over and over and over, empty boxes looking like failure like the longer it takes the less likely-
“You ever wonder if maybe Dean took a nosedive into Purgatory to get away from you?” Lucifer asked innocently. “I mean, he wasn’t exactly gung-ho about the whole life thing there towards the end. Which I don’t personally get, I think you’re great company.”
Michael scoffed. “You always did attach to the strangest creatures.” Lucifer’s eyes flicked over to his brother, momentarily annoyed.
“I maintain that snakes have the most delightfully endearing faces.”
Sam rubbed his temples. “Dean wouldn’t – he wouldn’t,” he mumbled, under his breath. “He-”
“Doesn’t hate you that much? Oh, that’s cute,” Lucifer said, which wasn’t what Sam had been planning on saying at all. He shook his head, short and sharp.
“He didn’t know what was going to happen,” Sam said, but even he could hear the edge of desperation in his voice. Dean wouldn’t. He wouldn’t.
If he did could you blame him?
Sam’s stomach lurched like it was trying to turn inside out. He gathered up his napkins and left, trying not to notice the faintly relieved sigh that followed him out.
“I begin to understand your fascination with this one,” Michael observed in his usual detatched tone as Sam closed yet another book that told him nothing.To Lucifer, not to him. “He is truly astonishingly obstinate. Like yourself.”
“What can I say,” Lucifer murmured back. “I’m a narcissist.” They seemed to have temporarily settled their differences, standing shoulder to shoulder while Sam scrambled for something, anything to hold onto. Flipping through book after book and chasing down lead after lead that only led to crackpots and people staring at him in terrified bewilderment as he demanded to know-
“You,” said Lucifer delicately, speaking directly to Sam this time, and patting him on the shoulder affectionately, “Are truly certifiable. Taking it to an admirable level even for you, I have to say.” Sam twitched and reached up to brush his hand away.
“I did not think there was any situation in which insanity was admirable,” Michael said, from where he was examining an abandoned stack with bland disinterest.
“That’s because you’re a closed-minded traditionalist,” Lucifer said, acidly condescending, and Sam lowered his head to the desk he was sitting at and tried to breathe deeply.
“Couldn’t one of you at least be helpful?” he mumbled. Lucifer ruffled his hair and stepped away.
“Sorry,” he said airily. “Contractually obligated not to be. I have a reputation to maintain, you know.”
“The dark pits where things that my father abhorred dwell are hardly my area of expertise,” Michael said primly, in the tone of voice that Sam had come to understand meant he was offended.
“Blood sacrifice is usually a good bet,” Lucifer noted. “Surely you don’t need all of those veins in one piece.”
Sam swallowed. “I can’t help Dean if I’m dead,” he said lowly. Michael huffed, a brief and amused sound.
“Because you are evidently so much good as you are,” he said, a touch caustic, and Lucifer snickered.
“You’re so cute when you’re snippy, brother,” he said. “Isn’t he just, Sam?”
Sam lifted his head and reached for another book. “I think you’re both fucking assholes,” he said. “Now shut up and let me work. Just for a little while. Please?”
“Oh,” said Lucifer. “Since you asked so nicely. Walk with me, Michael?” Michael paused a moment, then reached out and touched Sam’s shoulder, very briefly.
“If I did not think this futile,” he said, after a moment, “I would aid you, if only because it would annoy my younger brother. And you and I do both know that Dean deserves better.” He pulled his hand away and turned. The two archangels wandered off down between the stacks, Lucifer linking his arm with Michael’s. The silence was suddenly very loud.
Sam tried not to let himself miss them.
He tried ignoring them sometimes. It never lasted long, though. It was just –
They were all he had. Sure, they were hallucinations, or manifestations of his fucked up subconscious, or whatever. But they were all he had, and he couldn’t hurt them like he could hurt anyone else who got too close (would hurt, he knew that lesson, kept learning it over and over again).
He half imagined reaching out sometimes. To Jody, maybe. To someone, anyone. But his personal entourage was always there to remind him why that was a bad idea.
Somewhere in the back of his head he was afraid of the day when he woke up to find one of them looking like Dean. Feared that he would just let himself forget that it wasn’t Dean.
“What if you never get him back?” Lucifer whispered in his ear, driving down another road to nowhere.
“Then I’ll keep going until I do,” Sam said flatly. Eyes on the road. Don’t stop. Just keep going.
And going and going.