Sam set down his cell phone carefully, taking a deep breath to distract from the sting of tears in his eyes. He'd known that Dean wouldn't take him back, it hadn't really been a surprise, but it still hurt to have it said. Angrily wiping at his eyes, he took another calming breath to steady himself. He had felt wrong ever since he'd nearly been forced to swallow the demon blood. Even though he'd spat it out, somehow it felt like it had creeped under his skin and infiltrated his system anyway.
He moved towards the bathroom, hoping that maybe cleaning himself up for bed would help. He brushed his teeth clinically, detached, then used mouthwash just to be sure. His mouth felt clean, but he still felt filthy. Sam looked up in the mirror, and for a moment he could have sworn he saw the black eyes of a demon looking back at him. He swore sharply and blinked, only to see his own reflection. Was he hallucinating? He didn't feel like he usually did on a detox, but he did feel sick and distraught. He closed his eyes and shook his head, then turned to leave the bathroom.
Sam stopped in front of the bed, where he had laid his bag of tools, and his eyes fell on a serrated blade just visible inside the bag. It was certainly tempting. He could just cut the offending substance out of his skin. Even if he bled out, Lucifer had promised to bring him back, so there wasn't any harm. If Lucifer had been lying, well, then Dean wouldn't have to worry about his weakness anymore, and could stop the apocalypse with Castiel. The more Sam mulled over the idea, the more logical it seemed. Either he drained himself of the demon affliction he'd been tainted with, or he left behind a world better for his absence. It was a win-win, as far as he could see.
It takes a surprising amount of forethought and determination to drive a knife through one's skin with the intention to end life, but Sam was able to do it. He was nothing if not focused. Starting at the crease of his arm, he drew the blade sharply down to his wrist, then replicated the movement on the other arm. The wounds were relatively deep and long, but Sam knew it was going to take him a while to bleed out, regardless. He had done that on purpose, knowing that the pain was his punishment for causing Lucifer's rise in the first place. If he was cleansed, then perhaps he could avoid further harm, and if that wasn't possible, then he could at least take himself out of the equation.
When darkness finally began to settle over Sam's eyes, he welcomed it with less fear in his heart than he might have expected. He knew with certainty that he was going to Hell. Whether that meant the literal Hell he knew his soul was destined for or the metaphorical Hell that was an Earth where Lucifer wanted to wear him and Dean hated him, he didn't know. He supposed, as he faded, that he would find out soon.
Sam had not expected death to be a 'blink and you'll miss it' sort of experience. He didn't really remember previously dying, but he knew that it wasn't supposed to feel quite like this. It took him a moment to realize he was in the exact same place he had faded out, but his arms were mended and he was sitting in a pool of still fresh blood. He wasn't sure whether to be relieved or disappointed. Slowly he got to his feet, tears stinging his eyes, though he was not sure why. He reached the bathroom mirror again, staring into it and looking for any trace of the demon in him. He didn't see it, but he could still feel it, wriggling under his skin in an attempt to bring out the darkness that Lucifer surely wanted to capitalize on.
Determined now, Sam knew that his first attempt had not been enough. He was still something evil, and if he didn't do everything he could to stop himself, then he would be putting people he loved in danger. Whether or not they still cared for him wasn't an issue. Taking a quick sharp breath, Sam exited the bathroom, heading back over to the pool of blood in which he'd dropped the knife. He picked it up, eyeing it speculatively for a moment, then plunged it into his heart.
When he awoke the second time, Sam was on his back, laying flat out on the floor, the knife still clutched in his hand. This time he didn't even need the mirror to be able to feel the darkness inside of him, pulsing and somehow seeming stronger and more vital than it had when the demon blood itself was in his mouth. Feeling sick, Sam ignored the tears that began to fall as he reoriented the knife to his gut, determined to try again.
- | - | - | -
Dean turned around to see Castiel regarding him curiously, and breathed a sigh of relief. "That's pretty nice timing, Cas," he said warmly.
Castiel smiled slightly. "We had an appointment," he pointed out.
Moving forward to rest a hand on Castiel's shoulder, Dean shoved aside the memories of a future Castiel intoxicated by addictive substances and smiled at his present-day friend. "Don't ever change," he instructed.
Castiel nodded slightly in assent, then his expression turned serious. "You need to return to Sam," he intoned grimly.
Dean made a resigned face and nodded. "I know. I was going to call him."
"No, I do not mean that you need to reconnect soon," Castiel corrected. "You need to return to him immediately. I can take you." He held up his hand to show how serious his intent was.
Dodging Castiel's hand, Dean gave him a funny look. "Why? What's so important?"
"When did you last speak to Sam?" Castiel asked evasively.
"A few hours after I talked to you," Dean replied warily. "Before Zachariah took me on a field trip. Why? What's wrong?"
Castiel hesitated, before looking at Dean apologetically. "I was not aware at the time, but Sam was attacked after you split up. I believe-"
Dean cut him off. "By who?"
"Other hunters." Castiel looked slightly put off at the interuption. "Apparently, his hand in Lucifer's rising was discovered, and they attempted to utilize his potential as a weapon to take out a demon who killed their friend."
Dean knew that meant they had tried to give Sam demon blood, and his own blood ran cold at the thought. "And?"
"It was forced into his mouth, but he spat it back in their faces," Castiel informed him. His expression was challenging, as though he was expecting Dean to find fault in Sam's actions.
Dean slowly let out a breath and nodded. "All right, good. Why are you so worried, then?"
"As I was saying previously," Castiel said pointedly, referencing the earlier interruption, "I believe that the incident may have severely damaged his psyche."
Straightening with concern, Dean's eyes flashed. "Why?"
"It has come to my attention that Sam has committed suicide eight times between the time you last spoke with him and now." Castiel informed him gravely.
Dean's jaw dropped. He wasn't able to process that kind of information. "He...I..." He floundered for a moment, before the wording Castiel used struck him as odd. "What do you mean committed?" He asked hoarsely. "Don't you meant attempted?"
"No," Castiel disagreed. "He was successful in each attempt." The confusion must have been clear on Dean's face, because Castiel added, "His soul did not reach Heaven. It was grasped from transition and put back into his body each time." He paused, then added, "By Lucifer."
There was too much to take in, and Dean wasn't sure what he wanted to focus on first. "Lucifer?"
"Will not let his vessel take this particular method of escape," Castiel finished morosely. "Were Sam to reach Heaven, Lucifer would be unable to retrieve his soul from inside Michael's territory, which is why he is responding so quickly."
"Heaven?" Dean asked next, not trusting himself to utter more than simple questions at this point.
Castiel looked surprised. "You and Sam are both destined for Heaven, Dean. Were you not aware?"
Dean gaped at him. "That's kind of hard to believe, Cas."
"Do you not have faith in me?" Castiel asked, his tone an odd cross between threatening and self-doubt.
"No, I trust you, Cas. I do, I swear. It's just..." Dean blew out the air in his lungs slowly and shook his head. "I dunno, we'll cross that bridge later. Bigger fish at the moment. Is Sam alive right now?"
"He is," Castiel confirmed.
"Take me to him," Dean demanded.
Castiel nodded once, wisely choosing not to comment on Dean's less than respectful tone, and laid two fingers on Dean's forehead.
Dean almost collapsed when he took in the motel room, his eyes immediately drawn to the massive bloodstains on the floor of the room. The rest of the room was typically Sam - neat to the point of OCD, with everything organized and in an easily accessible place. Only the floor looked like it had been the sight of repeated brutal stabbings. With a sick weight in his heart, Dean realized that that might be exactly what Sam was doing, only to himself, not anyone else.
There was a sighing sound from the bathroom, then Sam emerged into the room. His eyes were sunken and hollow, and his skin looked raw, as if he'd been scratching at it relentlessly. There was no light in his expression, and any life that had been left in him seemed to have been snuffed out, leaving behind a shell of a man.
"Sam?" Dean gasped, aware that his voice was low, the way one might soften one's tone to approach a wounded animal.
Sam visibly started, having not been aware of Dean or Castiel's presence. "What...what are you doing here?" He asked slowly, confusion twisting his expression.
"I was going to call you, but Cas suggested I stop by instead. What have you been doing?" Dean tried hard to keep his voice neutral, not wanting to further upset his clearly suffering brother.
His face still contorted, Sam gestured helplessly to his arms, where there were fresh scratch marks from blunt fingernails. "I can't," he whispered brokenly. "I can't get it out, and I can't leave. It's useless."
"What are you talking about, Sam?" Dean asked firmly. He needed more detail before he could talk his brother off this cliff. He could see from the shape of his face that Sam had been crying, and that was never a good sign.
"I tried so hard," Sam choked out the words, "but it's in me! I can feel it, Dean, and it won't leave, no matter what I do. I tried to just leave, to keep the danger away, but he won't let me." Tears began to fall again, and Sam's knees buckled, sending him to the floor, where he sat in a kneeling position beside one of the pools of blood he'd left behind.
Any desperation and fear that Dean had been able to keep below the surface came to the top now, and he knelt down to grip Sam's shoulders tightly. "What's in you, Sam? What are you trying so hard to get rid of?"
"The darkness!" Sam spat. "I tried, I was so sure I didn't drink any of it, but I can feel it crawling in my skin. I'm evil, Dean, and I'm going to get everyone killed. I need to get it out or get me out, but I can't even do that right." He choked again, but didn't wipe the tears from his face. he avoided Dean's piercing gaze, instead eyeing the blood on the floor with regret.
"Hey, are you talking about the dicks that attacked you?" Dean urged, anger slipping into his tone uninvited. "You did good, Sam, seriously. You spat it back in their faces, didn't you?"
"It wasn't enough," Sam shook his head, upset. "It's still in me, I know it."
Dean took a deep breath, regretting it when the smell of blood made his nose wrinkle. He thought he understood now though. "Sam," he began quietly, "you think some of the demon blood got in you, so you're trying to drain it out of yourself?"
"Not just the blood," Sam disagreed. "The darkness, me. I need to get it out of me, the darkness that I am. I kept trying, but he won't let me get clean, and he won't let me leave, which would be just as good, or maybe better. Either way you'll be safe."
Maybe he didn't understand. Dean tried not to let his confusion show on his face. He was dimly aware of Castiel's presence behind him, but was grateful that the angel had not interfered. "Sam, do you mean Lucifer?" When his little brother nodded brokenly, Dean steeled himself and asked, "Why are you upset that he's bringing you back?"
Sam's face crumpled. "He needs me to be dark for him, to be his vessel, so I can't ever be clean. He needs me alive too, or I would be in Hell right now, and everybody would be safe from me."
Dean felt like he'd been punched in the stomach. "Sam," He said his brother's name so firmly that Sam actually looked up at him, surprised. "None of us are better off without you, you hear me? Not to mention that Cas said your ticket's punched for Heaven."
"That's not true," Sam argued, his tone petulant like a child. "You're the one that gets Heaven, not me. They don't let monsters into Heaven."
"Hey!" Dean snapped, demanding Sam's attention again. "You're not a monster, you hear me? Making bad decisions makes you human. I started this damn thing, remember? We live, we learn, we fix up the shit we break, and we move on. You hear me?"
Sam's expression was both pained and confused as he looked at Dean, a thousand questions threatening to tumble forth. "You said you were done trying to save me," He commented softly, as though the words hurt to physically utter.
Dean recoiled as if he'd been slapped. "When the hell did you hear that?" He asked, bewildered. "I will never give up on you, Sammy."
Sam's entire expression crumpled at the nickname, and he sagged back on his heels. "No, you said you would kill me, that I was a vampire," he protested. "You were right, the darkness is never going to go away." Tears filled his eyes again, and he began to look for the knife he'd set down before his last trip to the bathroom.
"Sammy!" Dean jerked Sam's shoulders, commanding his attention again. "We are brothers," he said firmly. "Always and forever, get it? I'm never going to abandon you, and you sure as hell better not abandon me. Even if I'm so pissed at you that I can't see straight, I will never hate you, and I will never kill you. How could you ever think I would?"
Desperate and confused, Sam made a grab for the nightstand, where his phone sat after he had last used it to call Dean. He pulled up his voicemail and pushed the device into Dean's hand. "That's not what you said!" He argued, face still taut with pain.
Unsure what to do to restore his brother's belief in him, Dean hesitantly hit play on the saved recording, holding it up to his ear. He flinched as his own voice filled his ears, with threats and vicious insults being hurled, and above all the clear tone that there was nothing Dean hated more than Sam. Disgusted, Dean hurled the phone away from himself, not bothering to see where it landed. "I swear to God that's not me, Sam, on my life. I know you have no reason to believe me, but I promise you I never said that. When...?"
"I was thinking about leaving Ruby," Sam whispered brokenly. "I just wasn't sure...and then...I opened my messages."
Dean felt sick again, but for an entirely different reason. "I did call you, but I apologized for acting like Dad, and I told you we were brothers, Sammy, always. I don't know if it was the powers of Heaven or Hell, but somebody screwed with that message to send you over the edge. I need you to believe me, little brother. I would never, will never, say anything like that to you."
Something akin to hope flared up in Sam's eyes, but he was still far more broken than he was whole. He opened his mouth to speak, then closed it again, looking lost.
"I'm always going to need you, Sammy, so you are not allowed to just check out, all right?" Dean urged, the pool of blood at their feet a very obvious reminder of Sam's state of mind.
"You'd be safer," Sam argued weakly.
"We're stronger together," Dean retorted. "We may be each other's weaknesses, but we've always been stronger as a team. I'm not letting you go."
There was a long pause, then Sam slowly nodded. As he did, Castiel moved forward from his place of observation in the corner and placed his fingers lightly against Sam's forehead, causing the younger Winchester to slump into Dean's immediately outsretched arms.
"What'd you do?" Dean murmured.
"He is sleeping peacefully now," Castiel informed him. "I have also healed him, though he was largely healthy already. He should not suffer any longer from any ill effects connected to the blood, real or imagined."
"Thanks, Cas." Dean used a hand to smooth Sam's damp hair away from his face, his heart heavy with the weight of how broken his brother looked. "Can you...I dunno, take us somewhere? Somewhere safe, where I can keep an eye on him while he recovers?"
"I can deliver you and your vehicle to Robert Singer's home," Castiel offered, including the Impala in the suggestion as a reflex, knowing that he'd be asked to bring it along regardless.
Dean smiled softly and nodded. "Yeah, that would be great."
"I shall send you there now, then check on you soon after once I have delivered your things," Castiel decided.
Dean nodded, and tightened his grip on Sam as Castiel tapped his forehead. There was that odd feeling of movement, then he was suddenly looking at a perplexed Bobby in his wheelchair.
"What the hell happened to you two?" He asked, eyes wide.
With a sigh, Dean dragged his larger brother over to the couch, then took a seat beside it, determined not to move. "The apocalypse sucks," he commented wryly.
Bobby eyed him for a moment speculatively, then wheeled out of the room towards the kitchen. "Two beers, coming right up."