There was no exact term for the fear of falling. Acrophobia was the fear of heights, he could recall. He supposed another term wasn't really needed. Where else could you fall from but off of a high place? You could tumble off the edge of a balcony, fall from a roof. There was nowhere to fall lower than the ground, at least for most people.
It was funny the kind of thoughts your mind came up with when in dire situations. Here he was, tumbling down into the greatest depths of Hell, and he was worrying about what proper name to give to the fear he felt. Sam Winchester had definitely never been Acrophobic (it would have been ironic, with how tall he was), but he suddenly understood the fear of falling entirely. Or was it the falling that scared him? Maybe it was when the falling stopped that was the thing to fear.
Something had ripped he and Lucifer apart. He didn't know whether it was the cage that did it, or something else, but he'd felt the archangel fall away from him. Maybe he'd just grown used to them being together, but he felt lighter somehow, shapeless. He could feel the howling winds rushing by, seemingly cutting right through him. Was it supposed to feel like that? He felt like a ghost. He felt like he was fading. He felt scared of falling and the rocky abyss he was tumbling into. In a panic he tried to stop himself, arms flailing, but he wasn't only falling, he was being sucked in.
They were being sucked in. He saw Michael in the distance- Michael who was still in Adam- clawing at the air, trying to stop himself, to fly upwards. It was useless. He couldn't see Lucifer, though there was a blinding light following just behind him. He was scared to look in case it blinded him. But wasn't he already dead? What did it matter?
Then he saw it, the way the cavern narrowed, the gaping entrance to a prison, a square cut amongst the rock, the edges glowing.
He barely had time to take in the sight before they had passed it, and the floor was rising up to meet him, burning red and hard. He writhed madly in the air, fighting against the gravity, the vacuum pulling him in. There was fire everywhere. No. No...
Thicks iron bars weaved their way across the entrance, criss-crossing each other until they stretched all the way to opposite sides, sealing the cage. On each intersection of metal was a seal. Six hundred seals that clicked back into place, like six hundred locks turning.
For a few long moments, Sam just stared at the doorway above them. It took a while for him to realise he was looking up when he'd been falling downward. No, he was standing, staring straight ahead. The door was in the wall, not the ceiling. But they'd definitely been falling.
"Down isn't the only way to fall."
The light was still hovering behind him. Without thinking, he turned to face it, immediately wincing, but the great hazy form quickly shifted, seeming to fold in on itself, twisting into a shape until it looked like Nick again.
He didn't know what he had expected Lucifer to do, but the way the archangel was just stood there staring at him made Sam uncomfortable. He felt inclined to respond somehow, to do something. Apologise, maybe. Or... He didn't know. Lucifer didn't look angry. He looked lost, sorrowful, like he was watching something horrible.
It was then Sam realised he was burning. He lifted his hands to look at them, at the fire creeping up his skin. He felt it now, on his face, his body, everywhere, too hot to be recognised, simply pain. He was burning. He was burning.
He could hear the voice, but it sounded far away, like he was underwater. How the hell was he supposed to focus on a voice? He was burning. He was on fire. It hurt so much he couldn't see, or couldn't open his eyes. He could still hear. Someone was yelling now, someone was saying he deserved this.
"It's his fault. It's all his fault we're stuck down here."
"Don't blame him. It's your fault. I didn't want this! We could have just walked away."
"How could I walk away after what you did? It's your fault, it's his fault. You two freaks deserve to burn here together, but I did nothing to deserve this! I am a good son."
He was pretty sure he'd fallen to his knees. Maybe he was just falling again, right through the ground. Falling into the flames. The voices seemed to have stopped. There was a gust of air, like wings flapping, something like a crash, but he paid no mind to it. He had bigger problems. He was burning. He felt like he was being ripped apart.
The heat was maddening. He thought maybe he was clawing at the floor, clawing at his own face. He wanted to die, to make it stop. But he was already dead, wasn't he?
Sam screamed louder.
He woke up on his motel bed. For a few moments, he just stared up at the ceiling, trying to remember where he was. What were they hunting? What state was this?
He turned his head, eying the room with it's pale green walls, chipped wooden furniture, brown curtains covering the window. The bed sheets pulled up to Dean's waist were beige.
His brother's back was turned to him, the dark grey fabric of his shirt stretched taut over his hunched shoulders.
Sam sighed, slipping out of bed, bare feet touching the carpet and padding across the room. He stopped beside his brother, leaning down and shaking Dean's shoulder. "Dean. Come on, get up."
Dean didn't move. Sam frowned. His brother was a light sleeper, you had to be with the life of a hunter.
He yanked Dean over onto his back, choking back the scream that clawed at his throat upon finding his brother very definitely dead. His face was starting to rot, hollow eyes staring blankly up at him. His throat was slit. Sam found himself holding a bloodied knife.
"No... No, I... What...?"
He threw the knife away from him, watching it skid across the floorboards. Wait, hadn't the floor been carpet? He looked back at the bed. Dean was gone.
He scanned the motel room. Which motel? Where was he? It looked like the room was rotting, disintegrating. He looked up.
Of course Dean was pinned to the ceiling, limbs splayed. Then the fire, engulfing the room suddenly, crawling its way across the walls from every angle, rushing towards him, licking at his skin and pulling him into its embrace.
He was screaming, writhing, remembering that he'd been burning before. Oh, he knew where he was now. How could he have forgotten?
He tried to run, tried to make for the door, but there was no door. There had never been a door. Or a motel room. He tried to console himself with the fact that that meant there was no dead Dean burning, but consolations were hard to appreciate when fire was melting your skin off.
He was clawing at the ground in desperation. Or was it the walls? The ceiling? Maybe he was burning on the ceiling...
He tried to run but he was in too much pain to move. He screamed louder, trying to drag himself away. But where? Where could he hide in this horrible place?
"Sam, it's not real."
"No, you're not. Your mind is just convinced you are."
"I can feel it. I'm on fire."
"No. You think you're on fire. Look at it, Sam. Look properly."
Look? Look at what? His skin melting off? He'd really rather not, but he raised his hands in front of his face regardless. He thought he could see the muscles and bone under scarred skin, but when he looked again he wasn't sure. He didn't know how skin burnt. Wouldn't it turn all black first?
"It's in your head, Sam. The horrors you see can only be as bad as your mind can dream up."
He thought about it. Thought about the concept of being on fire, as horrid an idea as that was. He felt his head. His hair was still there, but wouldn't that burn first? And his clothes, he was still wearing clothes. They would have burnt away first, surely, if this were real. This wasn't following logic. He couldn't be on fire.
So suddenly, he wasn't. He blinked and the flames were gone. He almost laughed in relief.
A hand appeared at front of him, offering to help him up. Sam took it without thinking, letting himself be pulled shakily to his feet.
He'd known who it was, but is mind was only now calm enough to properly acknowledge it and what it meant.
"You're... not Adam, right?"
"No. I'm still Michael. I thought you'd find it easier to speak to me in a vessel, and this way I can keep your brother from having to face this horrid place."
"...Thanks, I guess."
Michael gave a short nod in response, turning slightly to gaze with Sam across the rocky, vast expanse of the cage. If there was an opposite wall, it was too far for Sam to see.
"Where's Lucifer?" Sam found himself asking. He told himself it was a perfectly acceptable question; natural curiosity. "I heard you two arguing before I blacked out... or whatever happened."
Michael shrugged. "Walk with me, Sam."
Seeing no harm in it, Sam followed the archangel as they began a slow pace ahead. He had no idea where they were going, if anywhere, but walking at least gave him something to do rather than thinking about his situation.
"I started seeing other things, you know," Sam said after a near minute of silence. "I thought I was in a motel room with Dean. Then Dean was dead and..." He trailed off, not particularly eager to recount much more detail.
"This place does that," Michael said. "What tortures one man may not effect another as much. It would be unfair to have all the same punishment in Hell, so it gets inside the head of each of its occupants and draws on their own personal fears."
"I see." Sam gave a weak smile. "It's effective."
"Indeed," Michael said seriously.
Sam sighed, tilting his head back to see the roof but again finding he could only see nothing but darkness. The whole place was bleak, like walking through a room with the lights turned off. "So," he started slowly, "how're you doing? You know, with all this."
Michael shrugged. "Someone will be sent for me soon. I will not be left down here."
Sam didn't think breaking into the cage would be that easy, even for the might of Heaven, but he said nothing.
"I will try and allow you and Adam to leave with me. I am sorry for this fate for you, Sam. I always said to my father that being Lucifer's vessel was a cruel fate for anyone. I would have been happy to fight on another plane in our true forms. Lucifer should not be permitted near to anyone."
Sam frowned, brow furrowing.
"Lucifer is like poison. He corrupts everything he comes into contact with. That's what those horrid demons are, twisted souls poisoned by Lucifer's influence."
"He's your brother," Sam couldn't help but say. It disturbed him how casually Michael was saying all this. He wondered if Dean had ever talked about him like this to other people, but- thankfully- he couldn't quite see it.
"Yes," Michael sighed, though it seemed more a gesture for appearance than genuine emotion. "That's what makes this all so disappointing. My brother, now such a monster."
"What?" Sam said. "That's it? You're offended just cause it's your brother? Are you worried it makes you look bad or something?" He was vaguely aware he was mouthing off to an archangel, but he supposed he was in Hell anyway, such risks didn't seem such an issue. Besides, he couldn't help but feel what Michael was saying was unjust. A part of him still compared Michael to Dean, and the idea of his own brother saying such things about him unnerved Sam, though he knew Dean wouldn't.
"I just don't understand it," Michael muttered, shaking his head. "We were happy. Why did he have to ruin it?"
"Well..." Sam hesitated. He didn't want to be too bold in defending Lucifer, merely on principle, but he had to admit Michael's attitude irked him. It was as if he couldn't even be bothered to consider Lucifer's reason. "He felt strongly about the whole issue of humanity, you know. People do strange things when it comes to something they really care about."
"I thought he cared about me. Us. Our family."
"He does," Sam blurted. He paused, lowering his voice. "Look, maybe I don't know everything about it. But, just maybe you need to take into account that Lucifer thought he was doing the right thing."
Michael turned to look at him, expression stern. It was disturbing to see on Adam's usually placid features. "Disobeying our father is not the right thing."
Sam broke eye contact quickly. "I can't comment on that," he said shortly. "I'm just, you know, saying Lucifer had his reasons."
"Well his 'reasons' were wrong."
"Not to him."
Michael's eyes narrowed dangerously and Sam decided against saying anymore. Already in Hell or not, provoking an archangel too far was never a good idea.
They kept walking. The landscape hadn't changed much. Still gloomy and nothing but rocky floor and shadowed walls.
"How big is this place?" Sam asked.
"That depends," Michael replied. "The concepts of time and space are not the same here as on earth. This place is essentially endless, but you may come across the walls if you look, but the distance between them may not be the same next time you find them. Likewise, it may not look the same. Hell will be whatever your mind makes it into, as you've already seen a little of."
Sam nodded. "So what, Lucifer flew off?"
"More or less. He's likely sulking somewhere."
Sam considered what he wanted to say. He decided he might as well. "You know, seeing as we're all stuck here. Maybe the two of you could... talk?"
For a few moments, Michael said nothing. Sam wondered if he was about to simply fly off and leave him, but eventually, he responded. "You heard all that, that was said in the cemetery."
Sam nodded. "It's strange, you know. Since I said yes, Lucifer let me hear and see everything. From Jimmy- that's Cas' vessel- I got the impression it wasn't quite like that."
"It's not usually," Michael said, a touch of genuine surprise lining his voice. "I don't know why Lucifer kept you so aware." He paused. "A bad decision, it seems. Though it would explain how you actually managed to regain control."
Sam chose not to comment.
"So," he said instead. "What are we going to do? I mean, we're all here and it's not like we've got HBO in the pit, right?"
Michael turned to him with a frown, clearly not understanding the reference.
Sam smiled weakly. "It's, er, a TV channel."
"Oh." Michael raised both eyebrows slightly, but shrugged it off. "I see."
Sam found it rather ironic that Michael seemed to be one of the more oblivious angels, at least when it came to human things. With how he had boasted about being the first to bow to humans as his Father asked, Sam was surprised at how little he knew about the creatures he was supposed to serve. He couldn't help but think that maybe Michael had missed the point.
He opened his mouth, intending to make some other mundane comment about their situation, when something caught his attention.
In the dim, gloomy expanse of rock and not much else, any change in scenery was easily noticeable, so the gleam of pale yellow on the ground quickly caught his attention.
Michael frowned as Sam hurried forward, crouching down and picking up the thin object. It was a feather, rather ragged, but still a beautiful.
"Just leave it, Sam," Michael said.
Sam ignored him, holding it close to his face to study it. "It's an angel feather, right? Can they fall out?"
"Not generally," Michael said vaguely.
Sam stood up, looking around. There was another feather up ahead. He dashed over and collected it up, too. He stopped, turning to look at Michael. "Are these yours?"
"My wings are white."
Sam's expression hardened. He walked forward, toward a shadowed area where the rocky wall bent in and over hung, casting the space in almost complete blackness. As he got closer, he could see a shape lying on the floor, huddled close to the wall. He knelt down beside it, hand hovering over a back covered in dark green fabric. He hesitated only briefly before placing his hand down.
He thought he felt Lucifer twitch slightly, but otherwise he didn't respond.
Sam looked up at Michael, who merely stood with his hands by his sides. "What happened?"
"We may have had an... altercation."
"You fought him?" Sam said. "After everything? Down here, of all places? You still felt the need to fight your own brother?"
"Lucifer betrayed me," Michael snapped.
"We're in Hell, Michael. Can you not let it go just for now?"
"I won't be here for long," Michael insisted. "And once I am freed, we will restart the apocalypse and I will fulfil my destiny as I am supposed to."
Sam's eyes narrowed. "Why does it have to happen? Are you that desperate to kill your own brother? Even after all this, you really can't just let it go?"
"It is my destiny," Michael said firmly, as if that settled the matter.
Sam rolled his eyes. "Your chance at glory, you mean. Doesn't family mean anything to you?"
"Of course," Michael snapped, fists clenched. "I'm doing this for my family."
"Lucifer is your family!"
"Lucifer is a freak!"
Sam hadn't realised his hand was still on Lucifer's back. He froze as he felt a jolt underneath his fingertips, glancing over, but stopping himself from commenting. Slowly, he turned back to Michael. "Why? I'm 'the boy with the demon blood', aren't I a freak, too?"
Michael rolled his shoulders back, lips pursed. "I have tried to be nice to you, Sam."
"Screw that," Sam spat. "Go on, tell me what you think of me. I'm a freak too, right?"
"Yes," Michael growled. "My Father did not intend for such abominations. I thought you might still be saved, when I so generously offered to help you get out of here with me. I was even going to keep you company until then."
"Screw your company."
"You weren't saying that when I helped you snap out of it when this place was starting to get to you."
"Thanks for that," Sam said quickly, though with a clear lack of gratitude. "I appreciated it. But you know what? I think I can handle myself now. Get lost, Michael."
The archangel frowned, looking perplexed. "You're staying here? With him?"
Sam paused, gaze straying to look down at the hunched creature lying on the floor beside him, his face hidden. He swallowed. "Yes."
"Fine," Michael hissed. "I'll go and wait for my rescue crew and I'll ensure we don't let you hitch a ride. I hope you'll be very happy together."
With a flap of wings, he was gone.
Sam let out a breath he hadn't realised he'd been holding, jumping slightly when, from just below him, a surprisingly humbled voice mumbled, "thank you."