Sam pulled the last needle out of Dean’s arm, his brother’s forearm now covered in needle tracks. Dean was slumped over, head hanging loosely against his chest. His lack of consciousness was a stark reminder to Sam that he’d failed at saving his brother again.
It had only been Castiel’s timely arrival that had stopped Dean from bashing Sam’s head in with a hammer. It was Cas who’d stopped him, and Cas who’d knocked him out and carried him down to the dungeon to tie him up again. Just once, Sam wished bitterly, it could have been him to save the day. He’d never done anything but fail his brother though, he hadn’t been able to save him from hell, or from purgatory. Dean had always been there for him, always done whatever it took to keep Sam alive and safe. And Sam couldn’t even cure him properly
He moved away reluctantly, exchanging the empty syringe for the metal flask of holy water he’d left on the table.
“What the hell are we doing to him, Cas? I mean, even after I gave him all that blood, he still said he didn’t want to be cured, that he didn’t want to be human,” Sam asked, upset. He couldn’t get Dean’s words out of his head. ...your very existence sucked the life out of my life! Demon’s lied, he knew that, but the things Dean had said, had echoed things that Sam had thought for most of his life. That he was tainted, unclean, unworthy of his brother.
Crowley had been sobbing about wanting to be loved by this point, his humanity nearly restored. But with Dean, there was nothing. He’d been sure it had to be working; he’d escaped the devil’s trap after all. But on the other hand, a voice in his mind whispered, he had no proof that the trap was holding him to start with. Dean could have been messing with him the whole time.
“Well… I see his point,” Castiel studied the unconscious figure. “You know, only humans can feel real joy, but … also such profound pain. This is easier.”
Sam’s focus was drawn to back to Dean as his head started to jerk. He unscrewed the cap on the flask, leaning forward with bated breath. Black eyes cleared to green, and blinked up at Sam in a daze. Sam drew in a shaky breath, and felt his pulse pounding in his ears. He has to restrain himself from moving to his brother, he has to be certain before he can finally believe that things were going to be okay.
Before he could fling the holy water at Dean, the newly green eyes rolled into the back of Dean’s head and he slumped into the ropes holding him to the chair like a puppet with its strings cut.
"Dean!" Sam yelled, leaping forward. Dean was too still, his chest wasn't moving. He reached for his brother, felt for his pulse clumsily with the fingers of his left hand. Nothing. "No, no, no! Dean!"
"Cas, help me get him untied," he begged as he pulled frantically at the bindings one-handed.
"Sam..." Castiel made no move to help. Sam finally got his brother free and pulled him off the chair to lie flat on the ground. His body was dead weight, and awkward to move as Sam began chest compressions one-armed, trying to force his weight into the movement to make up for being unable to use his dominant arm. He counted out the compressions carefully, probably moving too quickly, and then pinched his brother's nose to breathe deep into his lungs.
“Dean, c’mon! Please!” It wasn't working. After several desperate cycles of compressions and breaths, Sam turned to the re-empowered angel with a strangled sob.
"Help him Cas, please! Bring him back," Sam begged, tears in his eyes.
"Sam, I can't. He's gone," Castiel said quietly from where he stood a few feet away.
"No! What are you saying, he was fine a minute ago, it was working! You have to do something."
"I suspected this might happen," Castiel hesitated.
"What?" Sam demanded, suddenly enraged that Castiel had known this might happen and said nothing. “What did I do wrong?”
The angel sighed. "Your brother died months ago Sam."
"No, the Mark brought him back,” Sam shook his head in disbelief. “Dean was alive minutes ago, Cas.”
"No, Sam, I don’t believe he was. The Mark turned him into a demon. Demons aren’t corporeal beings. When you told me what had happened to Dean, I couldn’t be sure as there is no precedence for this, but I had considered it possible that the demon he became possessed his own corpse. Normally a demon couldn’t do that, because it takes centuries to create a demon. Dean’s transformation was instantaneous,” Castiel explained slowly. “And now that you've cured the demon, the flesh is still dead."
Like Meg, Sam realises sickly. They’d exorcised the demon from her, one of their first exorcisms. And the human host, Meg Masters had died within minutes; body bleeding out from injuries inflicted on her body while she was possessed. Dean had already been dead for half a day when he had awoken as a demon.
"So what, I cured him just so he could die? Where is he then? Is he just out there somewhere, like Kevin is, unable to pass over, and unable to return?” Sam demanded angrily. “No! I don't accept that. You can bring him back. You brought him back after Hell, after his body was four months dead and buried. Fuck, Zachariah brought Adam back after we burnt his body. You can bring my brother back, Castiel! Do it, or what the hell good are you!"
"I can't Sam, I want to. Believe me I do. Dean was my friend. I once fell for him. I’ve killed for him, died for him,” Castiel sighed, looking almost as devastated as Sam. “But with Heaven closed, I'm weakened. There isn't an angel alive who is still strong enough to raise a life from the dead. We lack the connection to the souls in heaven that we once had. We can barely even heal the living anymore."
"Get out," Sam hissed, tears squeezing from his eyes against his will.
"I really don't think I should leave you alone right now,” he reached for Sam awkwardly in an attempt to comfort but Sam jerked away from the movement.
"Don’t touch me! Get out!" he yelled, voice choked with grief, "You've done enough. Leave us alone!"
The angel backed away, arms held out in appeasement.
"If you should ever need anything, Sam... You are also my friend," Castiel offered gravely. "You have my number of course, and I'll listen for your prayers. And if you can’t reach me, I believe my sister Hannah can also be trusted."
“Unless you can bring Dean back, don’t bother,” Sam said bitterly, turning his back.
Sam didn't watch as one of his last friends in the world left the room. He let the broken sobs he’d been restraining wrench free from his throat as he curled up next to Dean's body. He pressed himself against Dean's side, pulled Dean's arm loosely around his own body and rested his head on his brother's right shoulder. It was almost like his brother was holding him. His bad arm ached where it was trapped between their bodies. He ignored it. It was irrelevant, his shoulder meant nothing when his brother was dead.
His body felt unnaturally heavy as he cried silently into his brother’s shirt, begging in his mind for Dean to just be sleeping. But Dean didn't move, his green eyes stared vacantly ahead, never blinking. Sam lost track of time as he lay there, unable to get up, and unable to fall asleep. He was exhausted, bone tired. But his mind kept trying to process what had happened.
Eventually after an eternity of allowing his grief to engulf him, Sam shook himself mentally and realised he should be thinking of a way to get his brother back, not wallowing in his grief. They’d both died and been resurrected so many times. Sam knew more on the subject than any other human alive. Surely there was something he could use.
The angels couldn't do it, not unless Sam could work out a way to open Heaven. And with thousands of angels working on that and failing, there was nothing he'd be able to come up with to help - unless he was willing to deal with Metatron and could convince Castiel to hand him over.
The bastard who'd killed his brother to start with, was also the one who sealed Heaven a year ago when he cast all the angels out. Sam knew he couldn't do that though, he couldn’t make a deal with the dick that had killed his brother. And the only thing he had to bargain with the caged angel for anyway was his freedom, and he couldn't allow heaven’s scribe to be let loose to try and take over the world again. His first action would be to take out both the Winchesters permanently. And as much as the Winchesters were used to creating bigger problems to deal with their problems, it would be a betrayal to Dean's memory and probably land them both dead anyway.
Demons could bring back the dead, had brought Sam back from the dead and Dean from near-death. But none of them would deal with Sam; they had all learnt to steer clear of him when he’d been looking for Dean over the last six weeks. Crowley might hear him out, out of some obscene affection for Dean, but they'd tried that route already. Crowley's solution had been to bring Dean back as a demon and that would just bring Sam back to where he was now.
Sam still had nothing.
"Sa-aaam," a voice sing-songed. Sam didn’t answer the familiar voice, used to disregarding his constant companion of the last four – or two hundred - or so years.
"Oh Sam, don't cry," Lucifer crooned. "Only I'm allowed to make you cry."
"Go away," he muttered. What was the point really? He was only holding on to his sanity for the sake of his brother. Why bother ignoring the devil now?
"Sam, now you know I don't like that name," Lucifer always answered his thoughts as much as his words. The archangel dropped to the floor to lie on his stomach, resting on his elbows so he could gaze at Sam. "And you really should listen to what I have to say. After all, I know how to bring him back," he sang the last line.
Sam lifted his head. Lucifer wasn't really there, he knew that, but he was part of Sam's subconscious. The part that had played host to an archangel and shared his thoughts. The part that knew things that Sam couldn't remember usually, that his mind had hidden and compressed because millennia of memories were not something his conscious mind could handle. He might actually know something.
"Tell me," he pleaded, fingers clenching useless in the fabric of Dean's shirt. "I'll do anything."
"Funny you should say anything, Sam. Because you see, when little bro said there was no angel alive that could bring your brother back, he wasn't quite right was he? Because there are still two archangels alive who absolutely could help you - if we weren't trapped in that pesky cage anymore."
"Why would they help me?" Michael and Lucifer both had Sam and his brother to thank for their current predicament.
"Why wouldn't we? If you found a way to free us, or one of us - me preferably just in case you want my vote - you could ask us for anything you wanted. You could bind me to my word, you know it's possible."
Sam hesitated, but from the slow smile of satisfaction on the blond's face, he knew he wasn't fooling the Morningstar. "They hurt me, for centuries."
"Did we?" Lucifer questioned. "Are you sure? I mean we were there the whole time you were in the cage. But don't you remember? I was being hurt too. The cage was built to punish me Sam, wouldn't have been much of a punishment if I could spend centuries having fun inflicting pain on an enemy. But if I had to watch while my vessel, my Sam who was made for me was hurt for centuries? Well, I think that would have been torture for me. I love you, Sam. You are mine, and I will help you. You just have to free me."
The devil lies, the rational part of his mind argued.
"I've never lied to you, Sam," Lucifer insisted. "I don't need to."
Sam levered himself up from where Dean's body was slowly stiffening.
'We don't get to quit in this family – this family is all we’ve ever had!' he'd said to Dean earlier. This had to be a better idea than eating a bullet. Dean was still out there somewhere, unable to get into Heaven where he could rest. Sam had to do something. And this honestly couldn't be much worse than the deals and compromises he and Dean had made with the King of Hell.
This might work; he could bind an archangel with a contract, keep the world safe, maybe open Heaven up again. And more importantly get his brother back and remove the Mark that had been given to Dean by Cain. Though honestly, if he had to compromise, he could live with just one out of the four.
“I’m sorry, Dean,” Sam whispered hoarsely against his brother’s mouth. “I can’t do this without you.”
He pressed his mouth against Dean’s lips, not really kissing, just touching for the last time. The lack of warmth strengthened his resolve, he’d felt this particular coldness far too many times over the years. Dean would live; he’d make sure of it.
He forced his stiff aching body up to his feet, and faced the now-standing archangel. He would break into the Cage to deal with the devil, in exchange for Dean. Only one problem now though.
"I don't know how."