The chapel at St. Mary’s Convent looked more or less the same as it had most of a decade ago, when Sam had first walked inside to kill Lilith. Pale stone walls that reflected dim late-afternoon sunlight shining through broken stained-glass windows, rotting pews shoved in a pile against the front wall, tables full of unlit candles to either side. The blood sigil on the floor was gone, the floor itself looked like someone had detonated a grenade on it, and the walls were cracked and studded with bits of shrapnel, but otherwise the dust and the decay and the general air of ruin were the same.
Sam stopped before the altar, memories too old to be trusted telling him he stood in the exact spot he’d stood then, when he’d killed Lilith, when he’d opened the Cage. When he’d released the devil upon the world and started the Apocalypse.
Fitting, he thought.
Then he turned around to face the figure who stood behind him. “Lucifer,” he said.
Lucifer smiled. “I’m impressed, Sam,” he said. “I didn’t think you’d actually come this far.” He still wore the body Sam remembered him in, the dead man named Nick, whom Sam had learned years later was a distant relative of the Campbells. Sam didn’t know if Lucifer wore that body because it was (still, even after two hundred years) the form Sam associated with him; or if Lucifer’s true form, massive and eye-searing and mind-breaking, was simply too inconvenient when his goal - for now - wasn’t to destroy Sam.
He’d been back for almost three years, ever since Castiel had returned from Purgatory. At first he’d been quiet, so quiet Sam had convinced himself that the chills along his spine, the glimpses from the corners of his eyes, were nothing but bad memories. You spent two centuries in Hell, you were bound to have some nasty flashbacks now and then. He’d had several dozen good reasons for taking on the Trials to close the gates of Hell, but one of them had been the hope that maybe, if he sealed Hell, he could convince himself that Lucifer was locked away for good.
But he never finished the Trials, because he’d do anything for Dean even if it meant letting the demons stay free and the devil lurk at the edges of his mind. Dean had betrayed that with Gadreel, and Sam hated that it had taken him so long to clue in to Gadreel’s presence because he’d thought, the whole time, that the flickers of angelic power he felt here and there, the blank spots in his perception, were Lucifer. Still, it had been a relief, just for a moment, when he learned the truth. Because if he’d been possessed by some other angel it meant Lucifer was still just a hallucination.
Only Gadreel had left, and the angelic presence had remained, getting stronger and stronger, until it was just like old times with Lucifer appearing at Sam’s shoulder to mock him, to taunt him, to cheer him on when he veered dangerously close to the edge trying to find Dean after he’d run off with Crowley. Until finally Sam had to admit that it wasn’t just hallucinations and flashbacks. Lucifer was real, and he wasn’t going away. So Sam had decided to make the best of it.
Lucifer-level magic, Metatron had said. But you can’t exactly ask him. Sam wondered whether Metatron had forgotten who he was talking to, or just hadn’t thought Sam would go that far. He hadn’t wanted to, had held out hope that Castiel or Charlie would come up with something. But the Book of the Damned and its “biblical” side effects had turned out to be at least as bad as Lucifer, and better the literal devil you know.
And Dean was running out of time.
Sorry, Bobby, Sam thought. This probably wasn’t the kind of choice you meant. But I’m not going to let Dean become a demon again.
“You know why I’m here,” he said to Lucifer. A reminder not of his task - they both knew that all too well - but of how stubborn, how determined Sam could be when it was Dean on the line.
“Yes,” Lucifer agreed. “You want me to remove the Mark of Cain from your brother.”
Sam nodded. His teeth were clenched so hard it hurt, but it was that or scream, scream and run and give up and accept Dean was lost. And Sam could never do that.
“What I don’t get,” Lucifer continued, casual, careless, “is why you think I’m going to help you. Are you planning on offering yourself to me? Is that all?” He met Sam’s eyes, and Sam took a deep breath against the memories. “Because that isn’t nearly enough. You’ll be mine in the end one way or another, Sammy my boy.”
“I’m offering you Heaven,” Sam ground out, and then nearly choked with relief because he’d seen the flicker of interest in Lucifer’s eyes, before he was able to hide it. “Heaven,” Sam repeated, “and all its angels.”
“Really,” Lucifer said.
“God’s gone,” Sam reminded him. “Raphael and Gabriel are dead. Michael’s in the Cage. You get out of the Cage and go up to Heaven, there’s a whole host of angels just looking for an archangel to lead them. You could even take Hell, if you wanted it; Crowley’s not exactly winning ‘boss of the year’ right now.”
“Heaven and Hell,” Lucifer mused. “And in exchange, I remove the Mark from your brother?”
“Remove the Mark,” Sam said, “and leave Earth alone until the end of Dean’s natural lifespan.”
Lucifer’s eyebrows jumped to his hairline. “Sam,” he said incredulously. “You’re giving me Earth?”
“After Dean’s lived and died naturally,” Sam whispered, “I don’t care what happens to Earth any more. It’s never done a damn thing for us.”
He thought he should feel bad, somehow. He was supposed to be the compassionate one, the one who didn’t like killing, the saving people half of “saving people, hunting things”. But he kept seeing Dean with demon-black eyes, Dean with ordinary black eyes from getting punched in the face, Dean injured and broken and with the weight of the whole world on his shoulders. Dean saying, what if the bus wants to go over the cliff, and Sam wondered again if Dean had thought maybe that was the only way he’d finally get to put down some of that weight.
He wouldn’t let the bus go over the cliff until Dean had had a long and happy life, but Sam had realized a while ago that he didn’t much care if, after that, after they were both gone, the bus decided to take a nosedive. He’d done his part, done everything he could to keep it safe, and it wasn’t enough. Would never be enough, no matter how many times he gave everything in the attempt. So he held his breath and waited while Lucifer considered it, and hated himself for knowing Lucifer well enough to spot it when Lucifer reached his decision.
"I remove the Mark of Cain from Dean and let him live his natural life on Earth in peace,” Lucifer said, “and in exchange, I get Heaven, the angels, Hell... and you.”
“That’s the deal,” Sam said. He felt like his chest was full of knives (remembered fire and ice, remembered chains and blood and pain), but he made himself stand straight, made himself meet Lucifer’s eyes.
Lucifer grinned, bright and wide and eager. “I accept.”
Sam swallowed. “Yes.”
Bright white light flared through the room, and distantly, past the high-pitched whine of angel Grace screaming through his brain, Sam heard thunder boom overhead, heard sudden winds rattle the chapel walls. Power flooded him, cold and terrible and horribly, sickeningly familiar, the tiny spark of Grace that had clung desperately to his soul ever since Death brought it back reaching out to the gate beneath Sam’s feet, finding the rest of itself and dragging it free of the Cage, and Sam forced himself to relax, to not fight, waiting for Lucifer to shove him down into a tiny corner of his own mind—
—but then the light faded, and the electric whine, and Sam staggered and collapsed against the altar. He could feel the cold marble against his palms, feel his legs shaking under him, feel the breath rasping in his throat. Lucifer was inside him; he knew that with every fiber of his being — yet Sam was still in control.
“I thought you might want to be around to say goodbye to your brother,” Lucifer said, and Sam spun to see him standing a few feet away, still wearing Nick’s form. He smiled gently, spread his hands. “Your bargain was quite... generous. It doesn’t hurt me to be generous in return.”
Sam clenched his jaw, feeling his stomach roil. Two hundred years as Lucifer’s chew toy; he knew that wasn’t the only reason. Rather, Lucifer was doing this because he knew - knew that Sam had learned how to give up, how to vanish inside his own mind where even an archangel couldn’t reach him any more; knew it would hurt Sam that much more to make him stay around to see the pain on Dean’s face when he realized what Sam had done. Possibly even knew that Sam had harbored a deep, secret hope that Dean would be able to kill them, Lucifer and Sam both. It would kill Dean to do it, but he’d die human, and Sam had run out of other options.
But Lucifer knew all that, so he’d left Sam in control of his body. It took everything Sam had not to throw up, not to scream, not to collapse. He’d promised himself that he would find a way to save Dean. This was the way he’d found. He wouldn’t give up now.
Still, he couldn’t quite keep himself from dawdling as he pushed himself upright, away from the altar. Couldn’t keep himself from dragging his feet, moving aimlessly around the broken chapel, trying to work up the willpower to leave, to go back to the car he’d stolen and drive the twenty-odd hours back to the bunker.
To face Dean.
Yeah, he was gonna need a few minutes.
A glint of red in the shadows, illuminated by the flickering lightning, caught his eye, and Sam let himself wander over to it. Probably nothing, leftover blood from the 1972 massacre (though that should be long since dry and brown, he thought), or maybe blood from Lilith’s death and the Cage’s opening. But when he got closer, crouching down to peer into the shadows behind a damaged, rotting pew, he saw that it wasn’t blood. Something was embedded in the moulding at the base of the wall, next to the edge of the crater left behind by the Cage’s opening.
He dug in his pocket for his flashlight, pulled it out and flicked it on. The light illuminated a small carving of a pentacle - a five-pointed star surrounded by a circle - with a tiny red ruby embedded in the center of the star.
“What’s that?” Lucifer asked curiously. He’d followed Sam over (technically didn’t have to; he was inside Sam and seeing through his eyes, but his illusory body had walked over at least), and was frowning at the carving.
Sam glanced up at him. “It’s not yours?” he asked. He’d sort of figured any occult symbols carved into the foundations of the church built over the door to the devil’s Cage would be related to that Cage. And a ruby… well, that wouldn’t be much of a stretch, considering who’d brought him here.
“No, actually,” Lucifer said, sounding baffled enough that Sam believed him. He crouched beside Sam, squinting at the pentacle, then he said suddenly, “What’s that behind it?”
Sam frowned. The carving was on a piece of moulding that sat a little apart from the rest, the lines at its edges too clean for an accidental break. He tugged the moulding away from the wall, revealing a yellowed piece of paper taped to the plaster behind it. He worked it free carefully, mindful of the damage decades of exposure and neglect had done to the paper, and unfolded it.
My dearest Louisa, it read, words printed in a neat and delicate hand. I’m sorry to leave so abruptly, but something’s come up and I must return home. I’ll miss you dearly. If you ever wish to see me again, speak these words and we’ll be reunited. -Maggie.
Sam had been reading out loud - a habit he’d picked up because he hated Dean hovering close enough to try to read over his shoulder - and now turned his attention to the Latin written at the bottom of the paper: “Inter aditum, quam viam,” he read. “Coniungere simili simile, et aperiunt viam—”
“Wait, Sam—!” Lucifer yelped, eyes going wide, and Sam tried to cut himself off, but even as the last syllable left his lips he felt power surge through him, felt the world tilt beneath his feet, and then he was falling, plunging into darkness.
A million years passed, or maybe just a few minutes. Sam became aware, slowly, that he was sprawled on something uneven and hard. Dirt, he realized. Dirt and sticks and bushes. A forest…? His head ached, and past the ringing in his ears he could hear birds chirping and a low steady roar. He forced his eyes open.
Definitely a forest, and a Midwestern one at that (and Sam thought it said something about his life on the road that he could tell a Midwestern forest from a Southern or Eastern or Western one). Narrow trees, thick thorny underbrush - though Sam had, fortunately, managed to land in an area relatively free of brambles - a hill sloping down and away on one side and up to a crest on the other, topped by the battered, broken ruin of an old stone lighthouse. Late-afternoon sunlight slanted low through the trees, rapidly dimming behind thick stormclouds that boiled on the horizon, and a cool breeze kept the leaves in gentle, swaying motion. Lucifer was nowhere to be seen, the cold hum of his Grace under Sam’s collarbone faded to almost nothing.
But Sam barely paid attention to any of that, because there was an unfamiliar man standing over him. Even from flat on his back on the ground, Sam could tell the guy was extremely tall, maybe even Sam’s height, albeit with a leaner build. He had badly-cropped dark hair, wary dark eyes, and the pale skin of someone who didn’t get much sunlight. Sam’s first thought was hunter, given the guy’s worn jeans and T-shirt with the logo of a Chicago news station, beard scruff, the old scar under one eye. But over the jeans and T-shirt, the guy wore a heavy black leather inverness coat, its mantle hanging down to his elbows, and in his left hand he held a wooden staff. Definitely staff and not just walking stick - it was thick and sturdy, almost as tall as the guy himself, and etched with runes and protective sigils.
And, perhaps most importantly, he wore on a chain around his neck a silver pentacle with a ruby in the middle, just like the one carved into the wall of St. Mary’s.
“Huh,” the guy said, his voice deep and dry. “And here I thought this week was going to be boring.”