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Lessons in Humanity

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The instant Lucifer takes hold of Sam’s mind, he can feel it—a slow, constant pull at the back of his head, the burn of too much going on in too little space. It’s like the most massive hangover Sam’s ever had, except worse, because it’s not going away, and the pressure is just this side of unbearable.

He winces, gasps, and really, really wants to clutch at his skull, but he doesn’t have control over his hands anymore. Or any other part of him.

It’s his fault he’s in this position, if he’s going to be honest with himself. Lucifer had shown up in his dream, looking like Jessica; had held his hand and stared at him like he was the only thing in the world worth looking at, waited until Sam’s guard was down, and then morphed into himself—or rather, himself wearing someone else. A man with dirty blond hair and deep, bottomless blue eyes. Nick-something. Sam has no idea who the guy is. Or was. Some poor soul who fell prey to Lucifer’s charms and too-truthful promises.

Just like Sam’s done. Crap.

To be fair, he hadn’t originally intended to say ‘yes’ to Lucifer—not this early, and not ever, if he could help it. But he’s gotten pretty fucking sick of fighting with Dean, because yeah, okay, he fucked up with Ruby. Helped start the apocalypse and ruin the lives of any person living on the planet. But he’s free of demon blood now, and Ruby’s dead, and even if he can’t quite trust himself to make the right decisions currently he can still try and make things work with his brother again, but apparently Dean doesn’t want that.

Doesn’t ever want it, judging from the expression on his face when he left him and the way Sam’s phone has been completely void of calls from him for a little over a week now.

And Lucifer said he knew. Knew what it’s like to bear the burden of something too big on your shoulders, like Atlas when he took on the world. Sam probably shouldn’t have listened, but there was something intrinsically honest about his demeanor. Like Sam could feel what Lucifer was thinking, and what Lucifer was thinking wasn’t any less than what he was telling Sam.

So Sam said ‘yes’, and told Lucifer where he was so he could come to him, and now he’s part and parcel of an archangel who fell from grace so many years ago Sam can’t even wrap his head around it. His body feels like it’s too small to contain Lucifer, even though he’s the “ready for use” vessel; he feels too hot and too cold all at once, and like he’s going to explode at any given moment. He’s fighting for control over any part of him—lungs, arms, feet—but he’s stone. He can feel Lucifer flexing his tendons as if he’s watching from some place far away, can feel his tongue sliding across the roof of his mouth, and wonders why Lucifer’s finding so much to be fascinated with about his body. Wonders if Lucifer’s disgust at humanity is really all just a façade, and in all truth the archangel just wanted an excuse to get down and dirty with the evolved primates.

Sam, says a voice in the back of his mind, sudden and unexpected, and Sam tries to jump, finds he can’t, and feels a bolt of cramped muscle-pain shoot down the side of his leg a second before it’s eradicated.

I can hear everything you’re thinking, Lucifer’s voice continues, pulsating around the pressure. I think you know the answer to your own question.

So you actually don’t give a fuck about any of us, and you’re just using me to burn down all of civilization in order to take over this planet and have it for yourself? Sam’s attempt at sarcasm comes out loud and clear even in the confines of his own brain, and he’s surprised to hear Lucifer chuckle, like Sam’s said something humorous.

I wouldn’t say I don’t ‘give a fuck’ about any of you, Lucifer amends, and Sam can actually see the air quotes. You, for example, are someone I could genuinely come to like. Seeing as we are so completely alike.

I am nothing like you, Sam snarls, feeling his chest tighten with the power of Lucifer’s Grace, and he has a second to feel a flicker of disappointment which is not his own before he’s shoved down into blackness, reminiscent of his time possessed by Meg.

*

When Sam wakes up, he’s on the side of the road somewhere, a field stretching out endless and green behind him. He has no idea how long it’s been since he was in his motel room, but it’s evidently been a while because the sun’s up, almost directly overhead, and he can feel the quiet protest of overworked muscles underneath Lucifer’s guise.

Where are we, he asks.

Lucifer doesn’t answer right away, and Sam thinks maybe he didn’t hear; that his voice is now and forever going to only be audible to him. That he’s lost to the archangel’s power eternally. He’s a fucking idiot for saying ‘yes’, he thinks; Dean wouldn’t have stayed angry forever, and anyway, Lucifer’s an angel, for fuck’s sake, so whatever Sam thought he was feeling in the motel room was just what Lucifer wanted him to feel.

He should never make decisions like this when he’s tired.

There is a huff of amusement from the back of Sam’s mind, then, and Lucifer says, I don’t take advantage. You knew what you were doing when you said ‘yes’.

Sam makes what he hopes is a ‘I’m glaring at you’ sound. So you can hear me.

I can always hear you. There’s something sad in Lucifer’s tone, like he’s been waiting twenty-six years to reply to anything Sam’s ever said. Like he’s constantly been listening in to every thought Sam’s ever had, and maybe he’s even heard Sam ask for help and wished he could go to him—

No. No, this is not a good train of thought to continue on, and Sam resolutely shoves it down and asks, So where are we then?

Kansas City, Missouri, Lucifer says. He hesitates; Sam can feel it pulling at his mind, like Lucifer’s not used to being anything less than one hundred percent sure of what he wants. Then, I would like to propose something to you, Sam.

Like Sam really has a choice at this point as to whether or not he accepts something Lucifer’s offering. But angels have this huge thing going on where they want consent for every tiny detail, so he says, What is it, and he can feel Lucifer drawing his lips up into a smile.

I’d like to let you take control of your body when you’re around Dean.

Sam makes an incredulous sound. Why exactly are we going to be around my brother?

Well, first of all, because he’s Michael’s vessel. Lucifer makes an offhand gesture with Sam’s fingers. Secondly, because I cannot afford to have Dean hunting me down before I’m ready.

As if Lucifer isn’t always.

Third, and now he sounds faintly amused again, like he caught Sam’s roundabout way of saying Lucifer’s on top of his game, because I would like to have time to rest and plan the apocalypse. And it would be easier to just sit back in your brain and let you walk while I think.

Would he know? Sam asks, because he can’t imagine what Dean’s reaction would be if he found out his little brother said ‘yes’ to the Devil. Doesn’t want to imagine it.

He wouldn’t know unless I wanted him to. And I’m not going to want that. Not for a while, anyway.

It occurs to Sam that if he lets Lucifer near Dean, there is nothing he can do to stop him from taking control and killing his brother.

Sam. Lucifer sounds faintly chastising. I wouldn’t touch your brother. He’s a pawn in the grand scheme of things.

He’d hate that description, Sam says. ‘Pawn’, I mean. He’s not a huge fan of remembering that he’s Michael’s vessel.

Lucifer makes a lazy sound, like he doesn’t really want to pretend he cares about human feelings. Dean’s feelings towards my brother and I aside, does this sound like a good plan to you? To stuff me down, let him think you’re normal?

He’s never gonna think that, Sam says, and is surprised at the vindictive anger in his voice.

Lucifer is quiet, almost contemplative, letting Sam rifle through his own emotions in the back of his mind, where the pressure of the archangel is cramming against his skull, demanding attention. Sam, he says finally, if you don’t, Dean will assume you are dead. I know how unhappy that would make you. I would rather not—I want you to be happy, Sam. You know this. His voice is doing an incredible imitation of true human sympathy, and Sam feels a push of something like sincerity at the back of his mind.

You won’t kill him, Sam says.

I won’t, Lucifer agrees softly.

The ‘not yet’ remains heavy and unspoken between them.

I’ll continue to come to you in your dreams, the archangel adds after a moment. And eventually, I’ll want to take over you completely for the apocalypse. But for now I’ll just be in your mind, just your own private guard. Something in Sam’s brain shifts, and the burning sensation is relieved, like someone took a fire hose and put it out. He can feel again, can move his limbs and blink his eyes and breathe, which he does, heavily. He knows it’s too much to hope that Lucifer’s gone completely, and actually if he focuses he can feel him, Grace swirling around in Sam’s veins and humming just underneath his skin like an electrical wire, but Sam figures with a little practice he can block that out.

“Thank you,” he says, out loud, because he can.

Anything for you, Sam, Lucifer replies. Like this was Sam’s idea, but he doesn’t think too hard on that because his phone’s ringing. He reaches into his pocket and checks the caller I.D. and—

Oh thank god it’s Dean.

“Hello?”

“Sammy? Hey, listen, man, I’m wondering if you’d be willing to meet up somewhere. There’s something I gotta say to you.”

*

So it’s Sam and Dean again, only now they’ve got a plus one—an invisible, unwelcome guest that only Sam knows about. Most of the time, Lucifer keeps his mouth shut, and the only awareness Sam has of him is that steady, faint hum just under his skin. It’s not uncomfortable so much as it’s disconcerting—Sam can feel it constantly, and it’s strong, a connection that seems to run deeper than just sharing a body with the archangel. He wonders how Dean can’t see it, the way his skin feels like it’s glowing; the occasional bursts of emotion that are not his own.

The first week, Sam’s almost able to forget he’s carrying Lucifer inside his skin—there are hunts to take care of and he and Dean gradually get back into the natural rhythm they’ve been following all their lives: hunt, kill, protect. The only difference is that now Dean’s got Cas, too, and when he’s around Sam watches the two of them from the corners of his eyes and thinks, with an odd sense of sadness he can’t quite shake off, that he doesn’t really know his brother anymore. They spent two years apart, technically, and even though Sam knows Dean’s trying to make things okay again, they aren’t, not yet. He’s got some sort of history with Castiel that Sam can’t figure out, and isn’t quite sure he wants to.

There is a bonus to having Castiel around, though; when the angel shows up, Lucifer pulls some sort of switch in Sam’s body, and nothing, not even his Grace, is tangible. Sam suspects it’s so that Cas won’t notice Lucifer’s presence, but sometimes he catches Castiel looking at him strangely, like he knows. Which is scary as fuck, but Sam’s not going to say anything.

They get a lead on some monster that’s dampening the wood in houses at a constant rate, allowing massive-jawed termites to chew through the walls and eat their victim’s faces off while they sleep. It’s happening in Morgan City, Louisiana, where the damp air and nearby Atchafalaya River help keep the wet air in, and Dean gets them there around midnight, checking into a motel and asking for two rooms, one for he and Cas, and one for Sam.

“You hear any clicking on your walls, you call us,” Dean says, and shoots Sam a half-smile that says ‘I trust you’ and about a thousand other things that Sam isn’t sure he deserves.

But he doesn’t say that, just nods and grabs his bag and then Dean and Castiel are gone.

Sam’s in the shower in his room, washing road grime and sweat off his skin, when Lucifer reappears, a steady thrum of power against his muscles that would knock him off balance if he hadn’t been half-expecting it. He swallows, reaches up to slide more shampoo through his hair, and asks:

“You gonna take over now, or what?”

I’d like to scope out some areas in Finland and Norway, yes.

“You can’t wait until I’m done showering?”

A warm flare of amusement from Lucifer curls low in Sam’s bones. Does plotting the ultimate destruction of the world require clothes?

“In this case? Yeah.” Sam wants to sound irritated but it comes out like he’s trying not to laugh, and he feels surprise bloom brief in his chest before Lucifer tampers it down.

Don’t take too long, Lucifer murmurs, and fades back into nothing more than a steady, burning hum at the back of Sam’s head.

He supposes it should be weird, having the Devil in his head while he’s showering, but it’s not. Not in the way Sam would’ve expected, anyway. It’s more that it feels natural, like this is the way it’s always been. The way it always should be. Sam doesn’t feel violated, or imposed on, or taken advantage of. There’s a quiet thrum of curiosity coming from the archangel as he soaps up the rag and runs it over his skin, but then Lucifer’s always curious about what Sam does—he feels little bursts of it throughout the day, like maybe it never registered to Lucifer before that humans could be fascinating.

By the time Sam’s finished showering and has gotten dressed again, in jeans and a t-shirt, he’s exhausted, and he’s not sure if it’s from carrying Lucifer around all day or just because it’s almost twelve-thirty in the morning. He walks over to his bed and lays down, shutting his eyes, and he’s asleep almost before his head hits the pillow.

When he opens his eyes again, he’s immediately aware that he’s dreaming—standing on top of a snow-covered mountain, sleeveless and barefoot, but he’s not cold, and the wind isn’t stinging his eyes. The sky is gray and heavy with precipitation, but nothing’s falling currently, so Sam sticks his hands in his pockets and looks around.

Lucifer is directly behind him.

He’s wearing Nick again, that blond, faintly rounded man, the one who’s never going to have a life again, no chance to find a wife or raise a family. Sam feels a vague surge of anger before he remembers that, if everything goes the way Lucifer wants it to topside, he’s never going to have that chance either.

“Hello, Sam,” Lucifer says, in a voice that implies he can hear everything Sam’s thinking.

“You’re not,” Sam starts, then gestures at Nick’s body, unsure how to finish his sentence. “How’d you get him back?”

“It’s not really Nick, if that’s what you’re asking,” Lucifer answers. He takes a step forward and Sam flinches, not thinking, but Lucifer doesn’t do anything crazy like try to smite him or throw him off the mountain or drop the temperature even more. He just stops, arms folded, and tilts his head like he’s trying to figure Sam out.

He always looks like he’s trying to figure Sam out, actually.

“Well, how. I mean, I thought I said ‘yes’, I thought I was your vessel now.”

Lucifer’s lips curve up, and even in separate bodies Sam can still feel his approval (you’re thinking, Sam, congratulations) and his barely concealed laughter, and the faintest hint of affection. “You are. But in this dream, I thought you’d prefer talking to someone who didn’t resemble you in every way.”

Honestly, Sam’s glad Lucifer came to that decision, but he’s not going to say anything. Even if Lucifer’s in his head and will find out anyway. Instead, he folds his arms, mirroring Lucifer, and asks:

“Where are we?”

“We’re in your head, Sam.” There’s a hesitation in Lucifer’s voice now, and while Sam doesn’t exactly feel like Lucifer’s lying, he’s also getting the sense that he’s not being told every little detail. Which, okay, scary.

“Yeah, but I’ve never been here,” Sam says, and gestures at the mountains, at the overcast gray sky. “Never anywhere that looked like here.”

“Perhaps I am providing you with a change in scenery,” Lucifer murmurs, staring at the horizon, with its black line of clouds. Sam’s been traveling long enough to recognize that as a cold front, and he shivers instinctively, though he’s still no colder than he was before. “Do you want me to change it?” The way he asks makes it sound like he’d blow up this entire mountain range if Sam said he thought it looked bad, and that thought, more than anything, makes Sam feel an actual chill run up his spine.

“No, it’s okay,” he says. “It’s clean up here.”

Lucifer smiles, a little bit sadly. “Unlike so many places on your Earth.”

“We’re getting better about that,” Sam says, though he knows it’s not true, not really. It just gets hotter every year, and the ozone thins, and the storms get wilder and wilder, and Sam wonders if he’ll live long enough to see the Arctic melt completely.

And then he laughs, just a little, because he’s not living long enough to see anything. Not now.

Lucifer doesn’t reply, just stands there, hands in his pockets now, biting his—Nick’s—lower lip like he’s thinking. The gray of the world suits him, makes him shine, and without thinking Sam asks:

“You’re called the Morningstar, right?”

Lucifer makes a quiet sound of acquiescence.

“Why?” Though Sam can guess why, the way Lucifer’s almost glowing now.

The archangel hesitates, eyes turning to the side like he’s trying to figure out how to word his sentence. “I was the brightest angel in Heaven,” he says finally. “The most beautiful,” and Sam’s startled at how raw and wistful his voice sounds.

“Do you miss it?” Sam asks after a long moment.

“I’m here, aren’t I?” Lucifer replies, which doesn’t answer the question at all, but Sam doesn’t want to push. Not with him. It’s like having a conversation with an especially dangerous wild animal, only one that seems to have generally harmless intentions. He reaches up and pushes his hair off his face, and squints into the wind, blowing from the east now. He thinks he sees the sun coming out, faint and far away behind the clouds, but he can’t be sure.

They’re both quiet for a long time—hours, it seems, though in reality Sam knows it’s probably only minutes. It should be strange, standing here on a mountain in god-knows-where with Lucifer. Lucifer, for Christ’s sake, but it’s not. Sam can feel the angel’s sadness stretching out inside him, pervasive and vast and incomprehensible, and because it’s a dream, he doesn’t find it strange to turn and press his hand against Lucifer’s arm, trying to push some semblance of comfort through whatever connection they seem to have.

Because it’s a dream, it’s not strange that Lucifer doesn’t pull away.

He wakes up alone and shaking a little, from the cold which seems finally to have caught up with him, but that constant, electrical hum is back in his brain, Lucifer’s presence warm against his skin, and it takes Sam a second to realize that his cell phone’s ringing.

It’s six in the morning, and there are termites to exterminate and water-obsessed monsters to slay.

*

Two hours later, the termites are taken care of and a rather shaken older man is thanking Dean fervently in Cajun French while Castiel stands behind him and quietly translates into Dean’s ear. Lucifer is watching the entire scene unfold from Sam’s eyes; even though he’s turned his Grace off—or whatever it is he does, Sam’s still not sure about that—in Cas’ presence, Sam is still vaguely aware of him, and he wonders if it has to do with them sharing a dream last night. If that amped up the connection.

He doesn’t really want to know.

After Dean extracts himself from the old man’s grip, they pile into the Impala—Dean driving, Sam riding shotgun, Castiel silent and watchful in the backseat—and head down the road to a diner for breakfast. The pancakes Sam orders are pretty good—piled high on his plate and covered in syrup that’s made straight from the canebrakes that grow a ways up north in the Atchafalaya Basin, near Port Allen—but he’s having trouble focusing on them when Lucifer’s emotions are bleeding through the barrier he usually creates. Emotions Sam can’t decipher the meanings of, like confusion, and maybe a little sadness. It puzzles him, and maybe he’s wearing his bemused expression because Dean nudges him and says:

“You all right, Sammy?” and Sam takes a huge bite of pancake and nods so he won’t have to answer out loud.

“Lucifer hasn’t shown up again, has he?” Dean continues, and Sam thinks he’s going to have a heart attack before he remembers telling his brother about the dream he had; how he modified the details so it wouldn’t sound like he’d said ‘yes’.

“No, not since that last time,” Sam lies now, and Dean shrugs, spearing the last bite of sausage on his plate. Cas’ brow is furrowed, deep lines that mean he’s thinking, but he doesn’t say anything, and eventually Dean waves their waitress over and pays the check and they leave, heading back to the motel to pack up and go.

In Sam’s room, Lucifer manifests himself, and his confusion settles hot and too ancient-feeling over Sam’s skin.

“What’s going on?” Sam asks, folding one of his shirts.

Lucifer exhales, and Sam thinks if he could see him his eyes would be shut. It’s what you do, he says finally, slowly, like he can’t quite word what he’s thinking. You humans are too reckless with your lives, the way you throw yourselves into the path of danger and expect to come back still breathing.

“It’s the job.” Sam frowns, grabbing his toothpaste and studying the worn-out tube for a second before tossing it in the trashcan. He can use Dean’s for a few days. “Anyway, you know, not everyone is a hunter.”

But all of you are built in with this adrenaline, Lucifer counters, and Sam can feel, as well as hear, the anger in his voice. Why do you feel the need to repeatedly throw yourselves into the line of fire?

Sam zips his duffel shut and pauses, hand on his phone, staring out the window at the live oak growing alongside the parking lot. “I don’t know,” he says. “It’s just a human thing, I guess. We’re reckless and selfish and a lot of us don’t know when to put the brakes on and say ‘okay, enough’. But you know, Lucifer, there’s a lot of good things about people. We’re not just a mindless species that goes around throwing ourselves in front of trains or angry spirits because we think someone else is gonna pull us back in time.”

Doubt curls against Sam’s spine, a degree or two lower than what he’s used to, and he shivers a little.

I don’t understand why you’re so hell-bent on saving the world if it’s composed of such arrogance, Lucifer says. Do you have that low a regard for your own life that you’d risk it for someone else daily like that?

“It’s not like I’ve ever not come back,” Sam counters. And then, because he’s a little confused himself now as to where this conversation is headed, he adds, “You realize I can’t actually die, now that you’re a part of me.”

He expects Lucifer to agree, or approve, or at least unwind some of the tension coiling against Sam’s skin, but he doesn’t say anything, and after a few minutes his Grace flickers out entirely, and Sam figures it’s a sign that he should just give up and go join Dean and Castiel by the Impala.

*

This time, when Sam opens his eyes in his dream, he’s on the edge of a natural pool that leads to a waterfall, spilling out from a vine-covered cliff. It’s later in the afternoon, Sam can see the sun preparing to set over the horizon, and the air is warm, humid, but not uncomfortable. His shirtsleeves are rolled up, the top two buttons undone, and it takes him a moment to realize he’s standing ankle-deep in the water.

“Sam.” Lucifer’s voice is quiet behind him, unassuming, but Sam still startles, turning halfway to face the archangel.

“Where’d you put us this time?” Sam asks, gesturing up at the towering trees, the colorful splashes of birds flying through the branches. “Another ‘change of scenery’?” Because there’s no question about it: nowhere he knows of in America, at least not the continental United States, looks like this.

An odd expression crosses Lucifer’s face, impossibly old and more than a little tired. “You could say that.”

Sam reaches up and pushes a hand through his hair. “Is this based off a particular part of the world you’ve seen?”

Belatedly, it occurs to him that he’s making small talk with the Devil, but honestly he doesn’t care. Lucifer hasn’t tried to push him, not since the first day, to do anything he doesn’t want to; hasn’t taken over his body completely, hasn’t tortured any of Sam’s friends or family. Sam doesn’t want to say he trusts Lucifer, exactly, but being joined by the mind, constantly feeling what Lucifer feels, kind of makes it difficult not to believe him. Or at least not have a problem with communicating with him. Whichever.

Lucifer must catch the gist of Sam’s thoughts because he chuckles, eyes warming up ever so slightly at their corners, and Sam absolutely does not think that he likes making Lucifer smile. “Somewhere in Malaysia,” he says. “Not an established village. Just a part of a rainforest mostly uninhabited. I thought you would like it.”

The research buff in Sam is screaming, begging for a chance to explore this place and figure out its secrets, but it’s just a dream. It’s just a dream, and he doesn’t know why he feels so disappointed by that fact. His eyes drift up to the heavy green canvas above them, spots of blue sky visible between the leaves, the sound of the waterfall creating an almost melodious background noise.

“It’s gorgeous here, Luce,” he says, turning back to face Lucifer just in time to see the sunlight catch in his hair, framing his face almost in a halo. A slow, surprised smile curls Lucifer’s lips, and he murmurs:

“Nicknames already, Sam?” just as Sam realizes what he said, and looks away again, trying to school his expression. He can feel a low, steady flush creeping up along the inside of his shirt collar, and is glad that Lucifer’s not inside his head in these dreams.

“What happened to the apocalypse?” he asks after a while, sitting on the edge of the water and rolling his jeans up further, sliding his toes into the muddy bottom of the lake. “You haven’t exactly been active in your attempts to destroy the world lately,” and then wonders why he’s provoking Lucifer, giving him ideas.

But the angel only laughs, surprised and sharp, and gives Sam’s shoulder a light nudge with his fingers. “I can’t take over the world when you’re showering, remember?”

Sam snorts. “Yeah, all right, fair enough. But I mean, you haven’t. There aren’t any new reports of apocalyptic happenings, not even little ones—”

“Perhaps I prefer to keep your body rested until such a time as when I can be reunited with my brother,” Lucifer interrupts quietly. It’s sincere, what he’s saying, but Sam’s also still getting the sense that he’s not being told the whole truth. He presses:

“You could do that anyway, you know. Even if you went and fucked up something in all fifty states, plus half of Asia, you could still go head-to-head with Michael later.”

“Do you want that?” Lucifer’s posture is relaxed and easy, hands in his pockets, head tilted, but something dangerous has slipped into his mood now. It’s warning Sam not to keep asking questions, and a chill runs down his spine, settling cold and low in his hips.

“No,” Sam says, and Lucifer does this thing where he nods in agreement and looks disappointed at the same time. In the back of his mind, Sam thinks he sees a flash of Lucifer’s Grace, as it is shown to the other angels—brilliant and glorious and bright and infinite, surrounding his human form, backed by wings so expansive they seem to touch the tops of the trees.

Then it’s gone, and Lucifer’s suggesting that Sam go for a swim, because “the water’s clean, and he might not get another chance”, and Sam unselfconsciously strips off his shirt and jeans and tosses them on the bank of the lake and pushes off the shore with his feet, sliding down into the cold blue of the water, until all he can see of the surface is faint rays of sunlight, and distant shapes that must be fish.

When he comes up for air, Lucifer’s gone, and the sun has almost set behind the trees. Sam’s swimming for shore when he wakes up, the wet taste of water still lingering in his mouth, and is only partially surprised to find that in his sleep, he’s pulled off all his clothes and tossed them on the floor.

*

There’s a gash running along the length of Sam’s forearm, and even after Dean’s finished sewing it up it still fucking hurts, a bright line of pain against his skin. He can feel Lucifer’s presence, shifting and humming inside him, but with Dean there and Castiel just in the room next door, he’s not doing anything. Not even attempting to lessen the pain, and Sam wonders why Lucifer wouldn’t have just stopped him from getting hurt in the first place.

And then wonders why he’d want him to, when Sam’s never been the type who would ask anyone for any favors.

“You’re gonna be okay,” Dean proclaims eventually, in his Doctor Voice, and Sam nods, sinking back onto his mattress and shutting his eyes. He just wants to sleep; hunting werewolves in the middle of the night in the middle of a fucking forest is not exactly like playing tag in the schoolyard.

“You can go, Dean,” Sam says, when it becomes apparent even through closed eyelids that Dean’s not going to move. “I won’t actually die on you, it’s just my arm, and not even the one I use on a regular basis.”

Dean snorts, and Sam can sense some sort of masturbation joke hovering in the air just past Dean’s lips, so he grabs the extra pillow on his bed and cracks one eye open long enough to throw it accurately. His brother ducks, laughs, and walks through the door connecting their rooms, pausing long enough to tell Sam he’s probably gonna go pick up some takeout later before shutting the door.

He isn’t aware of falling asleep until he opens his eyes and finds himself on a quiet, lonely stretch of beach, feeling about four hundred miles from anywhere. There are rocks and cliffs just to the west of him, but where he is now, it’s just sand, and the water, lapping gently at his now bare ankles.

Lucifer is sitting beside him, and his expression is quiet, barely contained fury. “Sam,” he says, and looks pointedly at Sam’s arm, stitched together and red just under the surface.

“You were there,” Sam reminds him, because he was—even if he wasn’t able to manifest himself within Sam in Castiel’s presence, Lucifer was there throughout the entire hunt. He’s always there, and Sam supposes he should find that a lot more terrifying than he does. “You could’ve stopped it from getting this deep.”

“You should not have been so reckless,” Lucifer says, and frowns at the cut like it’s personally offended him. “What the hell were you thinking?”

Sam shakes his head. “That Dean was gonna die if I didn’t get to him before those werewolves did. Or at least that he was gonna turn, and he’d never forgive me if I let that happen.”

The crease between Lucifer’s eyebrows deepens. “Your priority should not be for your brother’s safety, it should be for your own. What if you were to die?”

“Then you’d have to find another vessel, I guess.” Sam shrugs, flexing the tendons in his hand and wincing as the muscles under his stitching jump. “Wouldn’t really matter, anyway, at least Dean could have a normal life. Start a family, y’know?” He looks down at his lap and allows a tiny smile to grace his lips, though it doesn’t reach his eyes. “Maybe he and Cas could settle down together somewhere.”

He doesn’t notice the change in Lucifer’s proximity to him until the archangel is gripping his arm, not too tight but just on the borderline between firm and painful. “You think that’s why—you think that’s what Dean would want?” The fury in his eyes hasn’t shifted, but it’s sadder now, and concerned in a way Sam doesn’t want to think too much about. He bites down on his lip, a startlingly human gesture, and hesitates before adding, “I have told you before, Sam, you are my true vessel. They made you for me.”

“Guess they thought you didn’t deserve anything better,” Sam says bitterly, without thinking.

There’s a long silence. Lucifer stares at Sam like he doesn’t quite know what to make of him, this strange, young human with water between his toes and wind in his hair. Sam can feel a mixed swell of emotions coming off him, ones he can’t read, and that’s strangely frustrating. The archangel looks unhappy, though, like what Sam said didn’t exactly bring up the best memories for him, and Sam is suddenly reminded of how old Lucifer is, and how powerful, and how, if he wanted, he could snap Sam’s neck with a flick of his wrist and still be able to use him to create the apocalypse.

“I suppose not,” Lucifer says finally, and he lets Sam’s arm go and turns to face the ocean.

Bizarrely, Sam wants to apologize.

“Well,” he says, “I can’t be enough for you, Luce.” That damn nickname again, slipping out, but Sam doesn’t care, this is a fucking dream after all, and anyway he enjoys seeing that expression of surprise flick over Lucifer’s face, so human it’s almost laughable. Now, of course, the surprise is coupled with that damn head tilt, and it’s oddly endearing, in a way Sam doesn’t really want to dissect.

“Why wouldn’t you be enough?”

“Because I’m,” Sam starts, and gestures at himself—deep gash in his arm, mile-long legs, stupid thick hair that takes forever to wash. “There’s nothing pure about me, and you’re. You’re the Morningstar, for Christ’s sake, Lucifer—”

There’s a soft sound in the air then, like wings shifting, and suddenly Lucifer is gripping Sam’s arm again, though less fiercely than before, and with an expression of such intense focus on his face that Sam is startled. He’s not worth that kind of concentration, or concern, or whatever it is he sees in Lucifer’s eyes as he runs a finger down the wound.

“What are you doing,” Sam manages after a few seconds, and his voice comes out a lot more hoarse than he’d intended.

“I’m going to make you okay,” Lucifer explains, without looking up. Like he just expects Sam to accept it, and part of him does want to, but.

“Healing me would definitely make everything a lot more conspicuous,” he points out, tugging on Lucifer’s wrist with his free hand. The archangel does glance at him then, one eyebrow raised, a move Sam’s ninety-five percent sure Lucifer’s copying from him.

Well, fuck.

“Just,” Sam says, because Lucifer hasn’t taken his hands off Sam’s arm yet. “I don’t want Dean to know. I don’t want Cas to know.” He’s frowning now, biting his lower lip, trying to push through images of Dean angry, Dean leaving, the loneliness he feels when his brother abandons him because he thinks he’s a freak. And maybe it goes through, or maybe Lucifer just doesn’t want to fight him in the dream, or maybe it’s that whole permission thing again, but Lucifer lets go, all reluctance and worry, fingers sliding over Sam’s skin as he drops his arm.

It’s strange, how much Lucifer wants Sam to be healthy and whole, and not entirely because he’s his vessel.

“Really,” Sam reassures. “I’ve had worse. And it’s not like it’s gonna get infected or anything.” He points out Dean’s careful stitching, and Lucifer looks at it for a second, then nods once and turns away, like these menial human methods of care are so completely beneath him.

For a while, they sit in silence, the salt water pushing against their feet—Lucifer looking oddly vulnerable without shoes or socks—and the gulls cawing above them, then Lucifer says, quietly, “Don’t ever rush into something like that again when you have obvious outside help,” and Sam doesn’t have to look at him to know the tight lines around his mouth; the barely restrained need for vengeance in his eyes.

“Yeah, okay,” is all Sam says in reply, and apparently that satisfies Lucifer, because he doesn’t say anything else, and after a few minutes the dream ends and Sam wakes up in his motel room, Lucifer’s Grace crackling like electricity under his skin, carefully avoiding the wound so as to not accidentally fix it.

*

I won’t let you, Sam.

Sam rolls his eyes. “Lucifer, come on—”

You are injured, and going out may cause you to sustain further injury. And I cannot promise that I’ll be able to keep from healing you forever.

It’s halfway to an admission of caring; twisted and sick, and about six different variations of ‘wrong’, but still. Sam breathes out; tries to remember that Lucifer’s an angel. That he doesn’t always understand humans—or ever. “It’s been a week,” he reminds him gently.

There is something shifting in their relationship these days, ever since the dream on the beach; some huge dynamic that Sam thinks is probably important but he can’t quite get his finger on it. It’s not that there’s still a massive lack in apocalyptic reports on the news—although that definitely has something to do with it, and Sam’s always about two seconds away from calling Lucifer out on that particular detail. No, this is different, this is more personal. Deeper, closer to the place where they’re connected. Where everything Sam feels, Lucifer feels too. And vice versa.

It’s not that Sam likes Lucifer better, or anything. It’s more that he’s starting to understand him, and with understanding always comes a greater sense of empathy.

He’s pretty fucked.

A week is nothing, Lucifer snaps, frustration twisting tight around Sam’s spine. Dean hasn’t even taken the stitches out yet, Sam; it’s hurting you, I—

“Luce,” Sam interrupts, “you have to realize we need groceries.”

Because that’s what this is all about. Dean asked Sam to go get groceries—beer, pie, burgers if he could find the microwavable kind—and it’s been half an hour and Sam still hasn’t left. Because he’s arguing with Lucifer about whether he’s healed enough to go on a simple errand run.

Honestly, it’s really fucking ridiculous.

Lucifer makes a noise like he can’t believe how weak humans are—tiny, petty things his Father created and then expected him and all his siblings to worship.

“It’d just take me maybe fifteen minutes,” Sam presses, and then the connecting door opens and Dean walks in.

“Talking to yourself, Sam?” he asks, raising an eyebrow, mouth twitching, and Sam rolls his eyes. He can feel Lucifer settling down into his bones, preparing to vanish entirely, and he thinks maybe if Castiel appears right now he can get off the hook entirely—because if Lucifer can’t be there, he can’t protest anymore against Sam leaving—but then he catches the pinched, almost-worried line between Dean’s eyes, and he says:

“You okay, man?”

Dean does that thing with his expression where he thinks he’s not showing any emotion and lifts one shoulder in a half-shrug. “Cas left,” he says. “Said he has to go look for his dad. Which I mean I get that, you know, I do, but he didn’t say where he’s going, and I.” He pauses. “There’s the apocalypse to deal with.”

Sam politically doesn’t mention the lack of apocalypse ever since Lucifer took over his body.

“Anyway, I uh. I thought I’d come stay in here for a while, since he’s gone. Make it easier to have one fridge for all the beer.” He dumps his bag on the empty bed by the window and Sam watches a muscle jump and twitch high in his jaw.

“Dean, he’s gonna be okay, you know,” Sam says.

“No shit,” Dean grunts, but his shoulders are a tense line visible under his shirt. And then, “Did you go to the store yet, bitch? ‘M fuckin’ starving.”

Sam makes an exasperated sound. “No, but I’m going.” He grabs at his shoes and feels Lucifer in the back of his mind protesting, but he ignores the slightly annoying sensation and heads out. Better to deal with Lucifer in the parking lot than to deal with his brother, who is going to just sit around and stare at the wall and pretend to do research on the laptop until Cas comes back.

He’s got both shoes on and is heading for the Impala when a sensation fills his chest: burning cold and lightning encasing his ribs and it’s coming in volumes, faster and stronger than he can keep up with. Gasping, he pauses, leaning against the frame of the motel, and grits his teeth.

What the hell, Lucifer? he yells in his head, because there’s no way he’s gonna get caught out here talking to thin air like a lunatic.

You let me do this, Lucifer says.

What, the shopping? I told you, I’m okay for it, my arm doesn’t hurt that bad anymore; clearly Dean thinks I can do it anyway.

Yes, well, Dean’s judgment is slightly impaired by the loss of a certain angel. Lucifer pushes a few pictures through Sam’s brain, little touches Dean and Castiel have been sharing over the past few weeks, the way Dean looks at Cas sometimes, the way Cas has been slowly remaking himself in Dean’s image, and Sam sighs.

Well, okay, what do you want me to do, Luce? Just walk back in the room and tell Dean, “Oh yeah, by the way, I can’t go shopping, my arm’s hurt and Lucifer doesn’t want me overusing it”?

No. No. A pulse of frustration. I’d like to take over your body; go for you.

Sam laughs out loud at that, and a young mother stares at him for a second before hurrying her children into their motel room and shutting the door behind her. Jesus, Lucifer, Sam says. You don’t know the first thing about shopping.

It’s not like I’d be alone, Lucifer points out. If you let me go as you, and return to the motel room as you, then you can rest up for a bit, and by the evening you and your brother will be holding hands and frolicking through the fields.

Please don’t ever say that again.

Let me be you for a few hours and I won’t. Lucifer is smirking, Sam can feel it, and he smiles a little without thinking about it, and cautiously shifts his grip on Dean’s car keys. A bolt of pain lances up his forearm and he winces, and Lucifer makes a quiet noise at the back of his mind.

No tricks? Sam asks. Because he has to be sure.

No tricks, Lucifer agrees. He sounds borderline upset, like maybe he’s honestly worried about Sam’s well-being, and as uncertain as Sam feels about the whole situation, he figures it can’t be too bad—Lucifer’s not lying now, he can feel that much, and he is tired, has been since last night’s ghost chase that took until dawn because the damn thing was haunting sixteen different rooms on four different floors of two separate office buildings.

A question forms on the tip of his tongue, and Lucifer intercepts it: You think if Castiel hadn’t been there, I would’ve allowed you to hunt? He sounds annoyed, but it’s tinted with a sort of fond exasperation, like he’s maybe starting to accept that Sam doesn’t listen ninety-nine percent of the time.

Go ahead, Sam sighs, and feels a tiny flare of approval from Lucifer.

Then the cold returns, and envelops Sam’s entire body. It crackles along his limbs, into his head, across his chest. The tighter it wraps around him, the more it burns, just short of uncomfortable, and Sam goes to wince and finds that he can’t. He can’t do anything, actually, not even blink, and he’d forgotten how trapping it feels to have Lucifer literally consuming his body from the inside out.

Oh, I wouldn’t say ‘consuming’, that’s such a negative term, Lucifer says from somewhere just outside Sam’s brain. It’s his voice, but it isn’t—there’s something more cultured about it, coming from Lucifer, something gentler—and Sam sighs into the empty space of his mind he’s now occupying.

Do you know how to drive, or do you need me to talk you through that, too? he asks, and wonders how many scratches he can get on Dean’s baby before he notices. Probably zero.

A shiver of amusement reaches Sam, and he feels his legs moving forward; feels something clenching up in his back. Who said anything about driving? Lucifer asks, in the same moment that Sam realizes what’s about to happen, and he barely has time to yell bring the car! before Lucifer is transporting them from the motel to the nearest store in a rustle of wings.

They appear in the parking lot with the Impala, and Lucifer lifts Sam’s hand to stop the car alarms.

Fuck, Sam says viciously. He wasn’t expecting that, and feels more than a little shaken up as Lucifer walks him to the door. Is it always that… fast?

Lucifer chuckles.

Bastard.

Get a cart, Sam adds, nudging Lucifer from inside his head towards the row of blue carts lined up just outside the store. You carry the groceries in that.

“I can figure that much out for myself,” Lucifer snaps, out loud, and then his gaze falls on one of the store workers. She’s on her break, smoking a cigarette, and staring openly at the tall man in a plaid shirt muttering to himself. Lucifer shifts Sam’s fingers inside his jacket, frowning a little, and instantly she vanishes, leaving behind nothing but a pile of ash and the stub of her still smoldering cigarette.

Oh my god, Sam says, staring through his eyes at his hand, which Lucifer is now flexing curiously, head tilted. Oh my god Lucifer what did you just do.

“She was staring,” Lucifer replies, tense against Sam’s unhappy protests. “I’d prefer to do this as quickly as possible, and without scrutiny.”

Might help if you don’t talk out loud to yourself, Sam reminds him.

Lucifer tightens his—Sam’s—fingers against the nearest cart. “I’m not putting up with this.”

An idea comes to Sam, but he’s not sure how well Lucifer’s going to take it. Hesitantly, he sends out a mental picture of a Bluetooth headset, and an explanation of what it does; how people talk into them and have both hands free and no one gives them a second look.

“Sam,” Lucifer says, and Sam can’t tell if it’s an admonition or praise or just his name. But Lucifer’s waving his hand now, and a second later a Bluetooth headset appears in his palm, and Lucifer fixes it to his ear with relative ease.

“Okay,” he says, pushing Sam’s too-long hair out of the way of the headset. “Now what?”

Sam can’t keep the smile off his face—or what would be his face if he was able to control it still—and he’s pretty sure his amusement is tangible to Lucifer, because his wings are flexing; Sam can feel them against his own back. It’s a weird sensation, but it’s not entirely bad.

Now an archangel goes shopping in a Wal-Mart for human food with a Bluetooth headset, he says.

“You’re hilarious,” Lucifer says, rolling the cart inside the store, and Sam doesn’t even want to know where the hell he picked up sarcasm.

Grocery shopping normally isn’t very difficult—pretty much the one thing Sam knows he can do without fucking up at all. Just grab the six-pack, the pre-packaged pie, the paper towels, the toothpaste if they need any, and the Hamburger Helper if they’re at a motel with a microwave in the room, check out, and leave. Takes him about ten minutes, max.

With Lucifer acting as Sam, it takes almost an hour.

“What in the world is this?” is the first question the archangel asks, holding up a box of Nutri-Grain bars and shaking it.

Put it back; it’s not necessary for us.

Lucifer turns the box over, running one finger down the ingredients list. “Calcium carbonate,” he reads carefully. “Whole grain oats, whey, cinnamon—what is this like?”

They’re good. A little chewy. But Dean’s not gonna eat them and I don’t want a whole box just for myself, so. Shelve it.

“How do you put oats into a bar,” Lucifer muses, ignoring Sam completely, and begins tugging on the flap at the top of the box.

No, don’t do that, Sam protests.

“Why?”

We’ll have to pay for it, if you open it before you buy it.

Confusion runs along the connection, like Lucifer doesn’t quite understand the importance of money, but he shelves the box again and pushes the cart further down the aisle.

“What am I looking for, Sam?” he asks after a while.

Hamburger Helper, Sam reminds him.

“And what does that look like?”

Sam does an approximation of a smirk. Like Hamburger Helper.

Lucifer lets out a quiet huff of breath. “Your sarcasm bleeds through the connection,” he says dryly. He turns the corner and comes face-to-face with the alcohol aisle—whiskey, beer, liquor. “What’s the difference between these?”

There’s Abita Amber if you want flavor, Sam says. Dean likes Budweiser when he can get his hands on it. Or there’s Corona, that’s pretty popular.

“I don’t understand, if it’s all beer why do they have different labels?” Lucifer asks, reaching into the refrigerator and pulling out a six-pack of Bud Light.

Different companies. This one’s manufactured in St. Louis, Missouri. Some of them come from Mexico. It all depends.

Lucifer just shakes his head, starts to walk away from the aisle and only turns back when Sam reminds him he has to shut the refrigerator door first.

It occurs to Sam, then, with a vague sense of amusement, that he’s teaching the Devil about liquor. There’s a song in there somewhere, he just knows it, and he feels Lucifer turning his lips up into a small smile as he walks.

They pick up Kraft Macaroni and Cheese when they can’t find Hamburger Helper—“what do you mean, the cheese is a powder?” Lucifer asks, and Sam just exhales and says, just trust me on this one, Luce, you don’t want to know how they do that—and a half quart of milk to cook it with, and a tiny carton of apple pie, which seems to amuse Lucifer. Like the thought of cramming apples in between two slices of cooked dough and spreading sugar and butter over it is absolutely hilarious to him. When they go up to the checkout counter, the girl working stares at Sam’s form, and Sam feels Lucifer tensing up, either not used to or not particularly fond of the attention.

Then Sam remembers the worker from outside, and he mutters, Don’t do that in here, just pay her and take the groceries back to the motel.

“I wasn’t going to,” Lucifer replies darkly, a little annoyed, and the girl blinks.

“What?”

“Not talking to you,” Lucifer almost snaps, and points at the Bluetooth headset.

Sam groans softly.

The girl raises an eyebrow, then grabs the groceries Lucifer’s set up on the conveyor belt and starts running them over the scanner. “That’ll be seventeen eighty-seven,” she says finally, and Lucifer mirrors her raised eyebrow.

“That much?” he asks. As if he suddenly knows all about money, and wants to haggle prices with her.

“That much,” she says, only a little sarcastic.

A tiny spark of cold annoyance blossoms in Lucifer’s chest, and Sam, for lack of anything better to do, immediately pushes through images of inflation over the years. It’s not a bad price, he says, and, just give her the money, just reach into my pocket and pull out my wallet.

This is absolutely a nightmare, Lucifer says, wisely talking in their shared headspace now, but he reaches down and grabs Sam’s wallet anyway. There’s a crumpled twenty stuffed down next to a picture of Mary and John when they were newly married, and Lucifer studies the photograph for half a second before pulling the twenty out and almost shoving it into the girl’s hand.

“Thanks,” she says, rolling her eyes and opening the cash register to deposit the bill and get Sam’s change.

Five minutes later, they’re walking out to the parking lot, cart stuffed full of bagged groceries. You did good, Sam says, and a flare of pride rises up from Lucifer. They reach the car, and Lucifer presses on the button to unlock its doors.

“It wasn’t that hard,” the archangel says, wings shivering against Sam’s body as he puts the bags in the backseat of the Impala.

Yeah? Why’d you spend ten minutes arguing with the salesclerk over whether Borden’s should continue having a smiling cow on their logo, then?

“Because—” Lucifer shoves the cart out of the way and rests his palms flat against the trunk of the car—“no bovine creature should look that happy about being on the cover of its own produce, and certainly not if its name is Elsie, Sam—”

But Sam’s laughing too hard to hear the rest, and after a few seconds he feels the warmth of Lucifer’s chuckling run down his spine, and then they’re flying back to the motel, car and groceries in tow.

The air trembles when they touch down, and Sam feels Lucifer folding his wings back before walking around to the back door and opening it. He lifts out the two bags, Sam’s muscles straining, and starts for the door.

I can take it from here, Luce, Sam points out.

“But you’re such fun to walk around in,” Lucifer says, a little petulantly.

Yeah, well, I don’t want you interacting with Dean. The implications there remain unspoken—maybe Sam trusts Lucifer when they’re alone, but he still doesn’t really want him near his brother, and certainly not when there’s a risk of Castiel returning. Because they all know that when Cas comes back, he’s going to go where Dean is.

“I’m not going to hurt him,” Lucifer says quietly.

Still, says Sam. It would be better.

There’s a pause, and for a moment Sam thinks Lucifer’s going to deny him, but then he shifts, and the burning cold drains off Sam’s bones and condenses itself into the electricity crackling along Sam’s spine and through his muscles.

“Thank you,” Sam murmurs, stretching his fingers and removing the Bluetooth headset from his ear. His arm is throbbing again, just below painful, and he’d be tempted to ask Lucifer to just go ahead and fix it if he wasn’t afraid of Dean’s reaction.

Don’t you go getting yourself hurt like that again, is all Lucifer says, before settling into the back of Sam’s head. He seems a little sad, like maybe he wants to have more control over Sam’s injuries than he actually does, but accepting, too. Like he’s finally resigned himself to keeping his Grace off where it’s not wanted.

Sam readjusts his grip on the grocery bags and heads into the motel room, with Lucifer’s presence humming quiet and almost-warm and familiar—and welcome, though Sam can hardly admit that, even to himself—against his skin.

*

That night, Sam’s dream is a huge white space, nothing around him but light and air, and he’s standing on nothing but he finds that if he focuses, he can maintain a sense of balance. Lucifer takes a while to come to him, dressed as Nick, with his head tilted and an expression of curious warmth in his eyes.

“Hello, Sam.”

“What’s up with the scenery?” Sam asks, gesturing at the endless expanse before him.

“I thought I’d let you choose where tonight.”

Sam almost smiles. “Because you enjoyed the little shopping spree we had earlier today, so you were feeling generous?”

Lucifer laughs, bright and open and a little startled; like Sam still surprises him, even though he’s his vessel and their minds are intrinsically intertwined, now and forever.

“Yes,” he says, “you have no idea what it did to me, looking down the aisle of produce and seeing packaged chicken for only eight seventy-five a pound.”

Sam laughs then, too, he can’t help it. It’s always amusing when Lucifer does human things like sarcasm or flirting, like he’s trying on different emotions to see which one fits him best.

The warmth in Lucifer’s eyes bleeds across the connection and settles low in Sam’s chest.

“So you mean I can choose wherever?” he asks.

“Anywhere you like,” Lucifer agrees.

Sam smirks, says, “Antarctica,” just to test Lucifer, but then he blinks and they’re in Antarctica, frozen snow and ice around Sam’s bare feet and ankles. Wind cuts into his hair and against his skin, and he closes his eyes for a second, listening to it roll along the empty space of the largest, driest desert in the world.

When he opens them again, Lucifer is dragging one scuffed boot through the snow and staring up at the sky. The southern lights are hovering over them, a dance of green and purple electromagnetism in the atmosphere, and Sam breathes out, breath crackling in the air and freezing in tiny ice crystals.

“Jesus,” he says, because what else can he say?

“Would you like to hear it?” Lucifer asks, and before Sam can ask what he means he’s walking forward and pressing two fingers against Sam’s forehead. There’s a moment when Sam, irrationally, thinks this is the end, that he’s going to die here in the wasteland of his own mind, but then—

It’s like someone’s turned on a switch inside his brain, one he didn’t even realize was missing until it got flipped. Electricity runs down his arms, warm and heavy and familiar, the same way he feels when Lucifer’s sparking bright and ready inside of his skin. Suddenly he can hear everything, not just the southern lights but the slow shifting of ice under his feet and the waves lapping against the shore and the eternal, low roar of the Sun at its point on the horizon where it doesn’t set, not at this time of year. The colors are amplified to a point where Sam has to close his eyes again, because it’s too much. It’s all too much, and his head is—god, it’s expanding, just short of painful. Stretching to make room for everything Lucifer’s offering him.

The aurora crackles through Sam’s brain like a radio that’s not quite in tune, and he says, “Lucifer, this—” and finds that he can’t describe it. Can’t describe the sensations coursing through him, ice and fire and fury and lightning, and the smell of ozone sparking sharp in his nostrils.

He wonders if this is how it is for Lucifer all the time, this cacophony of sound and color and life and movement.

The aurora flickers and shifts above them like a vast and ethereal curtain, sparking light and heat, and a part of it dips down, low to the earth. It’s red; almost violet where it hits Lucifer’s skin, and when it gets close enough to them it splits, crackling in thin air, electricity charging in the gray light of Antarctica. Sam watches as the aurora dances along Lucifer’s shoulders, watches it move against the air around his back, and in a single instant he sees wings—fuck-all huge and stark red against the sky. Blazing with color and light, like twin bonfires, flaring out around Lucifer and into the aurora, which seems to be conducting them in some electric current.

Sam can hear it all, a rush of wind and movement in his ears, each feather moving separately as Lucifer flexes his wings, slow and steady, eyes on Sam. Always on Sam.

They stare at each other, not saying anything, and gradually the aurora lifts away. Lucifer’s wings vanish in small sparks, and Sam is left with a feeling in his chest like someone stuck his hand in an electric socket.

Lucifer removes his fingers from Sam’s forehead, and he stumbles backwards, gasping, head struggling to wrap itself around what in the hell just happened. He stares at the archangel, and Lucifer stares back, patient, ever waiting, head tilted like he’s calculating Sam’s reaction. Like he’s been waiting for this.

Sam takes a step forward. And another. And another, until he’s about a foot from Lucifer’s face. “That was,” he starts, and clears his throat, making a frustrated hand gesture at the inadequacy of human language.

“I know,” Lucifer says, and reaches out to push Sam’s hair off his face.

“It’s like that all the time for you?”

“Yes.” Lucifer’s lips curve a little at the edges, in a sad sort of way, like he’s not sure whether or not he should be pleased that he gets to experience so much, constantly.

“Fuck,” Sam says, awed, and then he leans in and kisses him.

It’s not like he planned it or anything, but once he starts he’s not sure he’s going to have the self-control to stop. Kissing Lucifer isn’t like anything he’s ever done before. He tastes like electricity and light and ice and the solar winds, he tastes like the fucking aurora and Sam fists his hands in Lucifer’s jacket before he knows what he’s doing, dragging him closer. In the back of his mind, he thinks he hears the echoes of the magnetic field still dancing across his brain, all synapses firing, trying to keep up with this sudden sensory overload. It’s hot and wet and messy, Lucifer’s mouth on his, and by the time Sam pulls away he’s breathing in hard, great gulps of air, like he’s never going to get enough again.

“Sam,” Lucifer says.

The sun’s a little higher on the horizon now, just a little, and the aurora’s gone. Strange how he lost track of the blur between reality and illusion when he tasted the thermosphere on his tongue.

“Um,” Sam says, because holy shit.

The burning cold of Lucifer’s kiss is still branded on his lips.

“Sam,” Lucifer says again, and then, “Do you wish me to leave?” With his mouth all wet and red, pupils dilated, skin flushed even in this cold.

Instead of answering that question, Sam rocks back on his heels, asks one of his own: “Are you still doing the apocalypse?” and then immediately regrets it, because the last thing he should be doing is reminding Lucifer that they’re sharing a body for a reason.

Something fleeting and sad crosses Lucifer’s face, and Sam thinks he catches the tail-end of a thought, half-formed and tentative; that maybe Lucifer actually wants to save a planet that can produce electric light storms with solar winds and magnetism; that maybe Sam’s humanity is a strange enough concept to make Lucifer want to learn more about his Father’s favorites.

“I’m thinking about it,” Lucifer says finally, and Sam has a second to look him in the eye and wonder if he’s lying for the first time before the archangel goes; sound of wings flapping in the empty air, and Sam is alone in Antarctica, the snow piling up around his feet. The taste of Lucifer still strong in his mouth.

He sinks down into a crouch, head on his knees, and stays there until he wakes up.

*

Cas comes back, ironically, on a Thursday.

Dean and Sam are sitting in their motel room—Sam is researching for a hunt and Dean is flipping through the channels on their busted television and glancing at his watch so frequently that Sam half wants to call him on it. Lucifer’s just underneath Sam’s skin, as usual, and silent, the way he’s been ever since Antarctica. Sam can’t get the taste of him out of his mouth, that smoky, electric flavor, sinful and sensuous and utterly addictive.

Sam, Lucifer starts, the first word he’s spoken in nearly a week, and then his Grace vanishes. Sam is startled, and has a second to glance toward Dean, brow furrowed, before the air condenses itself and Cas appears, tie a little askance but otherwise exactly the same.

“Hello, Dean,” he says.

Dean blinks at him.

“I didn’t intend to be gone for so long,” he adds. “One tends to lose track of time in the Himalayas.”

“Yeah. Yeah, I uh,” Dean says eloquently.

Sam clears his throat. Castiel looks at him, head tilted in an all-too familiar way, and then he says, “Hello to you too, Sam.”

“It’s good to see you back, man,” Sam says, and Cas nods, before gripping Dean’s shoulder and vanishing.

Sam chuckles, staring at his laptop screen, and a few seconds later Lucifer’s Grace manifests itself in his chest, warm and amused and almost fond. It is interesting, watching their relationship, he says, in that curious voice he uses whenever humanity does something particularly fascinating. Your brother does everything for my brother, I think.

“Yeah, well, the same goes both ways.” Sam pushes his hand through his hair, not particularly liking that the first thing Lucifer brings up after seven fucking days is Dean’s relationship to Castiel. Not when he can still see the aurora every time he closes his eyes; can still hear the rush and snap of charged atmospheric particles. Not when he still remembers every second of that magnificent join of Lucifer’s wings to the southern lights.

It occurs to him that he kind of is starting to do everything for Lucifer, too.

Well, fuck.

Confusion shimmers across the bond. You are upset, Lucifer says quietly. He’s not asking. About the last dream.

“Not upset,” Sam clarifies, and then feels heat prickling along the back of his neck because this is turning into the weirdest conversation he’s ever had. “Just—look, can’t this wait until the next time I go to sleep, Luce? I don’t want—” He pushes through an image of Dean walking in on Sam making out with a girl, and tries to convey that it had been more than the embarrassment over being caught with his hand up her shirt, it had been the invasion of his privacy, and Lucifer makes a quiet sound of acquiescence.

Yes, he says, voice carefully neutral, and then, The last time you looked in the refrigerator, you were low stocked on beer; perhaps you should make a run to the store.

Sam doesn’t know what strikes him more: that Lucifer noticed their quantity of supplies, or that Lucifer has finally decided that his arm’s healed enough for him to make grocery runs on his own.

“Yeah, you’re probably right,” he mutters, and slips on his shoes, grabs the car keys to the Impala, which are still laid out on Dean’s bed. He walks to the door that joins his room to Dean’s old one, knocks, and pushes it open.

Dean and Cas are standing in the middle of the room, not saying anything. Dean’s arms are wrapped firmly around his angel, and his forehead is pressed against Cas’ in an almost possessive gesture, like he’s determined to protect him and keep him now that he’s finally back. Cas’ fingers are tight against Dean’s shirt, and his mouth is solemn as usual, but his eyes are soft at the edges. Sam’s not entirely sure that Dean is even aware of his presence.

Sam holds up the car keys and Cas nods once in understanding, and then Sam backs out and leaves.

*

When Sam comes back, the door between his room and Dean’s is still shut, and so he puts the beer on the table and sets himself up in front of his laptop, looking as always for something to do. There’s a hunt two towns over, which is a surprisingly short distance; a poltergeist, fucking around with people’s houses and their fine china and their pets. It doesn’t seem too urgent, though, so Sam allows himself to wait half an hour, finishing off his beer before going and knocking on his brother’s door.

“C’mon in,” Dean calls. They’re sitting on one of the beds together, fully clothed, although one of Dean’s hands is resting on Cas’ knee and he’s looking at him with a sort of warm happiness in his eyes that Sam hasn’t seen since before Hell. His expression shifts when Sam tells him about the poltergeist, but he still looks content, evidently excited to have something to do. They pack up their things and drive over city limits and long stretches of asphalt before reaching their destination. Cas and Dean interview the locals while Sam reads the paper, looking for signs of any abnormal activity over the past few days.

By eight o’clock, they have the house. Small family, annoying cat that scratches Sam’s wrist when he leans down to pet it, and with Cas in the other room he feels a tiny, frustrated surge from Lucifer, who wants to both fix Sam and kill the cat and can’t do either.

By ten-thirty, the poltergeist is gone, and after reassuring the family—and especially the seven-year-old girl who was almost killed by her dollhouse—that they’re safe now, Sam, Dean, and Castiel return to the motel. It wasn’t exactly an easy hunt, but it was routine, and Sam wishes Lucifer could’ve been there. He thinks he would’ve liked it: the banging cabinet doors and the sliding china and the huge French windows that kept shattering.

You can always allow me to heal your cuts, it would be almost as good, Lucifer suggests quietly while Sam brushes his teeth.

“Forget it,” Sam grunts around a mouthful of toothpaste, “Dean already saw,” and then he rinses his mouth and heads off to bed.

When he opens his eyes again, he’s in Egypt—Egypt, for fuck’s sake—and the sun’s almost completely gone down behind the Pyramids of Giza, creating a soft, orange-red glow about the land. It’s cool here at night, but as always Sam doesn’t feel it. He digs his toes into the sand, and the history buff inside him gets a thrill at the thought of being within touching distance of something so ancient. The oldest of the Seven Wonders.

“I thought you’d like it here,” says Lucifer from somewhere behind his left elbow, and when Sam turns the archangel is studying him, hands in his pockets. He looks patient, as always; quiet; thoughtful; maybe a little sad, though that could just be a trick of the light.

“Yeah, it’s—” Sam pauses. “It’s pretty awesome,” borrowing one of his brother’s words, but Lucifer laughs anyway.

“I was here when it was built, you know,” he says, eyes drifting over the Sphinx and the Pyramids and the desert that stretches, endless, all around them. He looks tired, and Sam is suddenly reminded of how old he is, how trapped he must feel in Sam’s body, or in Sam’s dreams.

They’re quiet for a long time. Lucifer isn’t moving, he’s watching Sam, waiting, though Sam doesn’t know what for.

“I shouldn’t have kissed you,” Sam says finally, because the silence is too much and the sun’s gone down, and it’s easier to say things you don’t necessarily mean if you can’t see the other person’s—angel’s—face.

Lucifer makes a sound and even in the half-dark Sam can see his mouth tighten. “I preferred thinking you were simply upset,” he says, and there’s something in his voice that’s just this side of broken. Not even Lucifer can neutralize his disappointment. Although maybe in this case he doesn’t want to.

“Well,” Sam says, “I’m not upset, I just. I think it was a bad idea.”

“Because of what I am.” It’s not a question, and the way Lucifer says it sounds like it’s a fact he’s gotten used to, like something he’s forced himself to start believing because no one else is ever going to think any differently.

“Because of what you’ve done,” Sam tries. “And what you wanted me to do—the apocalypse, and everything.” There isn’t any way he can say it that will make it sound any more truthful to his ears, but he can’t. He can’t have a thing with Lucifer, it’d be too dangerous. Too much like driving over the edge of a cliff without his seatbelt strapped on.

He’ll have to figure out how to forget how easily his mouth slotted against Lucifer’s, and that low electric taste on his tongue, and how the smell of the atmosphere was burned into his nostrils for hours afterwards. How he woke up hard and wanting, and how much he’s wanted to do it again ever since.

“There’s something I have to tell you about that,” Lucifer says, and he sounds hesitant, a little—not afraid, but wary. Like he’s not sure what Sam’s going to do.

“What, the apocalypse?” Sam raises his eyebrows. “You mean like why there hasn’t actually been any apocalyptic activity since you took control of me?”

Lucifer looks almost miserable. “Yes,” he says, and Sam’s suddenly, briefly tempted to just grab his wrist and kiss him again, just to get that expression off his face. To do it before he remembers that it would be counterproductive.

“You can tell me,” Sam says after a moment.

The archangel straightens his shoulders, wings making a low rustling sound in the wind, and he says, “You’re in Egypt right now.”

“Yeah, I know,” Sam says, and raises an eyebrow.

“No, I mean.” Lucifer pauses, frustration bleeding through the connection, “You are actually in El Giza, Sam. Physically, your body is not in the motel room, it’s here in the desert.”

Which yeah, okay, Sam wasn’t expecting to hear that. “What.”

Lucifer breathes out. “The first dream, I took you to Finland. Norway first, but then Finland, and it—seemed easier if I would wake you in a remote area than in a populous city.”

Took me—”

“You are my vessel,” Lucifer reminds him, voice oddly gentle. “It’s not impossible for me to maintain full control of you once you’re asleep and transport us places—”

“So wait,” Sam interrupts, too loud, and angry now, though he’s not entirely sure why, “you’ve been doing apocalypse shit with me and then making me think I was dreaming? What about when we went to Malaysia, was that—Jesus Christ, Lucifer!”

“I never actually harmed anyone,” Lucifer offers. “I was—curious to see various parts of the planet, and I could not use your computer to research if I was going to actively take these places later—”

Sam laughs, sharp and sudden, and not at all nice. “You used me,” he says. “All these trips—” he gestures at the Pyramids—“this wasn’t really. You had this ulterior motive—you were gonna wait until my guard was down and then take the planet by storm?”

Lucifer feels distressed now, though Sam can’t figure out why and doesn’t want to. “Sam,” he says. His voice is carefully blank, but his eyes—god, Sam can’t look at him right now—

“Are you still gonna do it?” Sam asks. “Use me as your fucking pawn?”

Pain. That’s the expression in Lucifer’s eyes, it’s pain, bordering on sorrow, and Sam doesn’t want to see that. Not when Lucifer’s been dragging him halfway across the world every night to scope out his best starting point for the goddamn apocalypse. “Sam,” Lucifer says again, even quieter.

“I think you should leave.” Sam folds his arms across his chest. Turns away from the archangel because he doesn’t want to see when Lucifer lifts a hand to smite him and take his ruined body forever.

When he looks over his shoulder again three minutes later, he’s alone.

Sam’s in the desert and Lucifer’s gone, and fuck if he can’t still taste the devil on his tongue.

*

In the morning, Sam wakes up feeling hollowed out, worn, and exhausted. It’s like he didn’t get any sleep at all, and his feet are still gritty from the sand.

He walks into the bathroom, empty feeling persisting, and stares at his dark-eyed reflection in the cracked mirror above the sink. There’s something missing, he can see it in his face, something important, but he can’t figure out what.

Five minutes later, he leaves the bathroom and heads next door to Dean and Cas’ room.

They’re already up. Dean’s eating breakfast and Castiel’s watching him curiously. “I’d like some more coffee,” he says as Sam walks in, and Dean nudges his cup across the table.

“Just don’t drink all of it, you remember what happened last time you had too much caffeine,” he advises, and then, “Morning, Sam, you look like hell.”

Castiel looks up at Sam, and his head tilts so completely to one side it’s a wonder it doesn’t roll off his neck. His eyes take on that strange, flat, faraway look they get when he’s going into full angel-stealth mode, and he says, “You are different.”

Dean looks at Cas with both eyebrows raised. “What,” he says, around a bite of donut.

Sam winces. Of course Cas would’ve noticed, how could he not. But what does he mean by different, Lucifer hasn’t even shown up all morning, much less right now—

“What is he talking about, Sam?” Dean asks. Brisk and a little on the borderline of angry.

“Um,” says Sam. There’s really no easy way to put it, and he’d wish he had never backed himself into this corner to begin with if he wasn’t still burning with the memory of Lucifer telling him he’d worn him halfway around the world. “I’ve been. Well. I might have said ‘yes’, a long time ago. To Lucifer.”

It’s like the room temperature drops twenty degrees. “You what,” Dean says, low and dangerous.

“It was when we were still fighting,” Sam says miserably. “He came to me in a dream, and I—”

“What the fuck, Sam! Why the hell would you do something that insane?”

“It isn’t like anything’s actually happened since I let him in—”

“Oh, yeah, right.” Dean laughs bitterly, then turns to Cas. “Did you know about this?”

Castiel blinks. “I—I was not entirely positive that what I was detecting was Lucifer’s presence.”

Dean’s expression goes from angry to confused and back in a single second. “What the fuck do you mean, you weren’t sure?”

Oh, for Christ’s sake. “He’d vanish when I was in the same room with you and Castiel,” Sam interjects, and Dean glares at him.

“Vanish,” he repeats.

“Yeah, like he’d make all his Grace go away so Cas couldn’t sense it.”

“Oh, well, isn’t that just convenient.” Dean stands up and walks away from the table a few feet, shoulders tense. “When were you planning on telling me this, exactly?”

Sam bites his lower lip to keep from saying ‘never’. “At some point,” he says.

“This is real great for our whole brand-new policy on working together to beat the Devil, Sam,” Dean snarls. “Where is he right now? Is he there? I wanna talk to him, tell the asshole to come out and fucking talk to me.”

“He can’t,” Cas interrupts quietly.

“Are you sure?” asks Dean sarcastically, and Cas flinches, hurt.

“Lucifer is no longer within him,” the angel explains.

“Way to make it sound like some filthy cheap porno, Cas,” Dean grunts, rolling his eyes.

Sam makes a low sound at the back of his throat. “What do you mean, he’s not here anymore.” But he knows what Cas means, he explained it already—Lucifer isn’t inside him anymore (which does sound like porn, oh god) and that’s why he woke up empty. That’s why he doesn’t feel whole right now, standing here talking to his brother and his brother’s whatever-Cas-is. There’s an ache in the center of Sam’s chest, and now that he’s aware of it it’s only growing bigger, tightening at the edges.

“Do you know where he is?” Dean asks, murder in his voice.

Sam doesn’t. He doesn’t know why Lucifer would’ve left without saying anything, or at all, and he doesn’t know why he’s so upset about it.

After a while, Dean says, “What about the apocalypse, did he ever make you do anything with that?” and Sam has to shake his head, because Lucifer didn’t, according to the dream. Even if Lucifer’s definition of not working toward his original end-goal is a little bit twisted.

“I think he got distracted once he made me his vessel,” Sam says. “He never did anything with raining frogs or swarms of locusts or giant tornadoes while I was with him.”

“Wow, fantastic,” Dean mutters. “Doesn’t change the fact that you’ve been hosting Lucifer for the past ever.”

“Yeah, well, I’m not anymore,” Sam snaps, irritated. “He’s gone, Dean. He’s gone.”

Five minutes later, he’s leaving the room, and the last thing he hears before he slams the door shut is: “My little brother, Cas! For fuck’s sake!”

*

There isn’t really anything left for Sam to do but pray.

It’s been two weeks and four days—not like he’s been counting, but it’s pretty hard to miss the date when it’s staring at him from the bottom right of the computer screen all the time—since Lucifer left, and the emptiness hasn’t gotten any easier to handle. It burns, low and steady in Sam’s stomach, making it hard to sleep or eat or breathe or fucking think, and he’s at his wit’s end. Dean seems to have kind of come around; he’s not angry with Sam or Castiel anymore, at any rate, and that if nothing else is progress.

They’re holed up in Tacoma, Washington, with some sort of vengeful spirit to take care of near Puget Sound, and Dean and Cas are out conducting interviews in their FBI suits, leaving Sam to research on his own in the motel. The dull ache’s been getting worse, though, the emptiness that gives Sam a headache, and he can’t focus on the article he’s reading when he’s so dizzy he’s almost falling off his chair. So he shuts his laptop, takes off his jacket, lies down on the bed, and closes his eyes.

“Lucifer,” he says quietly, to the silence of the room. “If, uh. If you can hear me, then come. Please.” He rattles off the motel name and room number, heart pounding, and swallows heavily.

After a pause, he adds, “Amen,” and then squeezes his palms together, waiting.

Sam’s half expecting one of two things to happen: either Lucifer will come and rejoin with Sam’s body, or he won’t come at all. What he’s not expecting is for Lucifer to appear physically, a rustle of wings and denim in Nick’s body, but there he is. Wearing the same olive-green shirt and jeans and gray-blue jacket and scuffed boots he wore in all Sam’s dreams, only he’s real, this time, and Sam has to resist the urge to jump off his bed and walk over to touch him and make sure.

He can feel something cool and soothing move over his chest as Lucifer stands there, something that’s doing a lot to settle the pain he’s been in since Lucifer’s disappearance.

“Hello, Sam,” Lucifer says.

Sam blinks, breathes in. “Hey.”

Lucifer sticks his hands in his pockets and glances over at the wall, an expression on his face like he doesn’t quite know what to do with himself now that he’s here. “You called,” he says, half a question, head tilted in Sam’s direction.

Sam sits up, because it’s ridiculous for him to still be lying down, and “Yeah,” he says, clearing his throat. He can’t stop staring at the archangel. Lucifer looks different in real life, more solid, and strangely comfortable in Nick’s skin, like he belongs there. Like he’s not just wearing the man anymore, but has in some intricate way become him, or at least part of him.

Lucifer must catch Sam’s thoughts, because he turns to him, a startled look passing over his eyes.

“You wanted something,” he says finally, though Sam can tell that’s not what he’s thinking. “You have a request to make?” His voice is oddly toneless, as though he’s carefully not concentrating on whatever it is he’s feeling—or not feeling. Sam’s still not quite sure how angelic brains work.

“Can you just,” Sam starts, and then stops, biting his lower lip. He doesn’t want to sound needy, but. There’s no other way to ask it, and he’s kind of limited for time. “Why’d you leave?” He gestures at himself, trying to elaborate, but there’s no need—he can see Lucifer understands.

A tiny furl of sadness slides into Sam’s chest, one that is not his own, and he’s surprised at how grateful he is to have the connection reestablished. He hadn’t realized how much he enjoyed being part and parcel with another being, with someone else’s thoughts and feelings, until Lucifer literally dragged it away from him.

“I didn’t wish to make you unhappy,” Lucifer says carefully. “I hadn’t realized how you were going to take it—what I told you.” He takes in a breath. “You wanted me gone, and so I left.”

Sam remembers telling Lucifer to leave, but he didn’t—Christ, angels are complicated, and he frowns at his hands, too large and long-fingered in his lap. “I just meant then,” he says. “I didn’t mean forever, Luce, I—” He hesitates. “I was kind of used to you, you know.”

Lucifer frowns too; Sam can feel it without having to look up. He frowns but he doesn’t say anything, and after a few seconds Sam stands up. He walks over to where Lucifer is standing, too human and yet not, all at once, and he puts his hand on his arm.

“Lucifer,” he says quietly.

“I refused to demolish any of the places we went,” Lucifer says, fierce and defiant. “This planet is like nothing I’ve ever seen, and you—you humans, you’re fascinating things. So proud and arrogant and yet willing to lay your lives down for people you’ve never even met.” He doesn’t say especially you, Sam, but then he doesn’t have to.

“I don’t want to be part of it later,” Sam announces, his hand still curled loosely around the warmth of Lucifer’s skin. “I don’t want you to suddenly one day change your mind and ask me to help destroy the world.”

Lucifer looks sad, and impossibly old, and so very tired. “Sam,” he says quietly, “I already told you, whatever you want—” He breaks off mid-sentence, clenching a muscle high in his jaw. He looks almost upset, like there’s something he’s trying to say but can’t get Sam to understand. As if he needs to reiterate that he’s given up everything for Sam. That he’d do it over and over again if it meant he could just have Sam, like this.

Which is—okay. “You really don’t want to do the apocalypse anymore.” It’s not a question, but Lucifer shakes his head anyway, and Sam’s grip on his arm shifts.

“I said I would never lie to you,” the archangel murmurs, and there’s something in the back of his voice, something soft and curiously hesitant, and Sam’s nostrils fill with the scent of atmospheric discharge and electricity as he pulls Lucifer in. It’s even better than the first kiss, maybe because they’re both grounded on actual planet Earth now, in the world of the awake, and Sam pulls his fingers through Lucifer’s short hair and doesn’t really care five seconds later when he finds himself backed up against the wall.

Lucifer splays his fingers over Sam’s hip, a possessive gesture that fills him with heat. “Sam,” he breathes.

“You’ll stay,” Sam says, half a question, half not, and Lucifer nods, leaning up and fitting their mouths together again.

All in all, Sam thinks, it’s not such a terrible way to stop the apocalypse.