Sam is almost used to the buzzing in his head that he gets after getting zapped by an angel. He sits up slowly. He’s on the rickety little bed in Bobby’s cast-iron panic room in the basement, unrestrained and unhurt, but also alone. His collar and hairline are wet, and there is a thin stripe of a cut along his forearm.
“What the hell?” he mumbles to himself, rubbing at his eyes. He watches the fan in the ceiling turn listlessly for a minute, then stands and goes to the door.
Sam’s getting really sick of locked doors. This time he doesn’t even understand why he’s locked up. He should have passed all the tests they gave him. He’s home; he got out, but maybe Castiel had been able to tell that there was a change in him that holy water and silver couldn’t detect.
“Dean! Bobby! Cas!” He bangs on the door and shouts, growing more and more nervous. What if that hadn’t been Castiel? Can angels get turned into vampires? What if they turned his brother, and that’s why he’d smiled? Dean didn’t look like he was dying, but he hadn’t seen him for long enough to be sure.
Sam keeps calling for them until he hears footsteps on the stairs. The door swings open and Sam stumbles back to let Dean and Castiel step inside. Bobby stays on the threshold, doing his best to fill the opening.
Dean and Sam look each other over cautiously. Dean grins and steps forward with outstretched arms, but Sam backs away.
“Are you you?” Sam asks, eying all three of them suspiciously.
“What d’you mean? Of course I’m me,” Dean scoffs. “Why the hell wouldn’t I be?”
“Prove it,” Sam demands, holding his hands in front of his body defensively. “Let me see your teeth.”
Dean gives Sam a look like he thinks this whole exercise is absurd, but he relents, pushing his upper lip up so that Sam can see that there are no holes in his gums for extra fangs.
“Them, too? They’re not vampires?” Sam asks, nodding towards Castiel and Bobby.
“No, Sam,” Dean replies, glancing back over his shoulder at Bobby, who shrugs. “What the hell? Why would we be vampires? You’re the one we should be worried about.”
“You’re okay?” Sam says incredulously. His voice all but cracks from emotion. It’s the first time since leaving Lucifer that his heart isn’t in his throat. His muscles sag in relief, but there is a lingering apprehension as well.
“Better now!” Dean replies, grinning broadly. This time when he pulls Sam into a fierce hug, Sam goes along with it, embracing him, then moving away to hold Dean at arm’s length.
“How the hell did you get away from him, man?” Dean asks. “Cas said there were hellhounds, and angel-proofing. I couldn’t see any of it but we couldn’t get near the place once we found it. The demons were seriously tight-lipped about it. We’ve been reading, try to figure out-“
“I left through the front door,” Sam says, confusion mixing with the joy of seeing his brother whole and healthy. “Meg said you were hurt, that you were dying.” Sam’s eyes dart from side to side as he thinks, then he pushes past them towards the door. “I gotta go.”
“Whoa there, boy,” Bobby says, holding up in hands as Sam tries to move past him. “You’re not going anywhere for a while. What do you mean, Meg told you?”
“Meg and Ruby, two of the demons that were there when I got taken, they live with him. Dean. Cas! It wasn’t a demon.”
“It’s Lucifer. Yes, we know, Sam,” Castiel says calmly. “We realized it when we saw the wards that were on the fence and the trees around the property.”
“He hasn’t hurt you, has he?” Dean asks, patting at Sam’s arms and shoulders. His hand lands on the pocket containing the ring and Sam pulls back. Dean gives no indication that he noticed.
“What?” Sam snaps, stepping back again when Dean follows him, grabbing Sam’s head to look him in the eyes. “No, Dean, no. I’m fine.” Sam waves him off. “He’s been really gracious.”
“Really?” Dean leans back and looks at him in disbelief. “No torture, nothing?”
Sam knows that leaving again will only raise questions. He is happy to be back, but seeing Dean safe, and knowing that Meg lied, makes him worry about what is happening to Lucifer. He’s torn. He realizes that he has two homes now: one with Dean and Bobby, but also one with Lucifer.
“Look, I told him I’d only be gone a couple days,” Sam says, agitated as he paces in the center of the room. “I’ll come back, but you guys have to let me go, tell him what’s going on. If I stay too long and he thinks I ran away again-“
“You got away once before?” Bobby asks, his eyes bulging beneath his baseball cap.
“Yeah, but a hellhound got me and he saved me, okay? He saved me, and he took care of me. I know you guys think you know what he’s about, but you’re wrong.” He can see the skepticism on their faces, and he rolls his eyes, sighing.
“You are his true vessel, Sam,” Castiel says with stony seriousness.
“I know, but that doesn’t matter anymore. I have to get back to him!” Sam shrugs off Dean’s hands and tries again to go towards the door but Castiel steps into his path.
“Wait, wait. How can that not matter?” Dean demands. “He wants to wear you on his stroll over Creation and you think that’s not important?”
“He’s not gonna wear me, Dean. He has a way around it. He’s barely mentioned the Apocalypse while I’ve been there. Now would you please let me out?” Sam moves towards the door again but Dean stops him, planting a hand on the center of Sam’s chest.
“What way could he possibly have around it? God himself has planned this.” Castiel’s confusion is written on his face.
“I don’t know, Cas. He was going to tell me tonight. It seemed like he was excited about it.”
“That’s never good,” Bobby says from the doorway.
Dean moves forward, looking Sam in the eyes as he could read his thoughts. “You just got here, and now you’re going to leave again? Go back to the devil?”
“I promised him I wouldn’t run away again,” Sam explains, pushing a hand back through his hair. “He let me go because we thought that you had been attacked by vampires and, and that you were dying. But you’re not! You’re fine, and that’s great, but that means that something’s up there and I have to go find out what. Meg lied to me, and I need to know why.”
“So, what? Just because I’m not dead, it’s not worth hangin’ around? That’s your baseline now? ‘Dean’s alive, so back to the devil’s lair!’” Dean’s voice is filled with derision.
Sam isn’t getting his argument across and he knows it. It’s clear on all their faces. He’s not sure how to explain without going into detail about his connection with Lucifer, though, and he sure as hell isn’t going to start talking about whatever he felt in the garden before he left.
“It’s not about leaving you, Dean,” he explains, emphasizing every word. “I need him to know that I’m coming back.”
Dean’s eyes widen as he listens to Sam. “No. You need to cool off in here for a few days and think about your priorities. You got away from the devil-“
“He’s an angel.”
“This is my point. You need to listen to yourself,” Dean says. “Talking about the devil like he’s got feelings other than hate, like he can care. I mean seriously, Sam. You make it sound like you care about him!”
“So much of what we know about him is wrong.” Dean turns away from Sam but Sam follows him around the little room. “He compared the Bible to when Dad used to get drunk and tell whole bars full of strangers about how I deserted him.”
At that Dean turns to face him. “Except for every time that dad did that, there were five times when he would buy everyone a round and tell them all about his son that got into Stanford!” Dean shouts and waves a finger at Sam. “The devil doesn’t have those kinds of stories, Sam. Ever wonder why?”
Sam opens his mouth to argue but gives up, defeated.
“All right, one of us’ll come check on you later,” Dean says. They file out of the room, leaving Sam alone. Dean’s face is a mix of hurt and anger as he watches Sam until the door clanks shut.
“You know, he locked me up in the beginning, too! You’re no better than him!” Sam shouts, slamming his fist into the rusted surface of the door until his knuckles come away bloody. “Dammit, Dean!”
Sam sinks down onto the bed again, confounded by his own emotions. He is glad to be back, and his relief at knowing that his brother is all right is palpable. He had longed to be reunited with him, but now that he’s here all he can think about is returning to Lucifer, to know that he too is safe. At some point during their weeks apart, Sam had started to take for granted that Dean would be okay without him, and that Dean in turn would feel the same way about him. His own knowledge that he was safe and happy with Lucifer had led him to forget what it must look like from his brother’s perspective, that Sam was the devil’s prisoner. It seems impossible to explain his desire to return without making mention of emotions that Sam isn’t sure he understands himself. What he does know is that any attempt to tell Dean about his feelings for Lucifer will not result in him being let out of the safe room.
Castiel is the first to come down, hours later. Sam is sitting cross-legged on the bed reading one of the books left abandoned on the desk Bobby’s set in the room. Castiel has a tray with him with food and a couple cans of beer.
Sam looks up from his book but doesn’t reply.
“I am sorry about these circumstances,” Cas says, tucking his hands onto the pockets of his ever-present overcoat. “Dean is- we all are very happy you’re home and safe, but the things you were saying are deeply troubling.”
Sam closes the book and sets it aside, unfolding from the bed to stand in the middle of the room. “There’s nothing to be troubled about, Cas. Look, I’m happy to be back too, I really am. I’m happy Dean’s safe, but Lucifer trusts me and I don’t want to screw that up by staying away too long. If I can go back then maybe I can make it up to him.”
“You’re very worried about maintaining his trust. Do you have a plan to defeat him?”
Sam looks at Castiel in horror. “No. I just want to go back to him.”
“Why would you want to go back into the service of Lucifer?” There is genuine confusion in Castiel’s voice, and his eyes are moving over Sam like he’s looking for marks of possession or manipulation.
“I’m not in his service. We’re friends. We… we’re friends.” The word doesn’t feel adequate but saying anything to Castiel else seems dangerous.
Castiel’s eyes narrow and he presses his mouth to a thin line, like if he just concentrates hard enough, he can figure out what Sam means. Sam hopes that’s not true.
“Well, in any case, here’s your dinner.” Castiel sets the tray on a table near the door, apparently giving up his attempt to understand Sam’s motives for the time being. “Umm, knock if you need anything and one of us will come down, otherwise we’ll be back in a few hours.”
“You guys realize there’s no bathroom in this, right?”
Castiel looks around the room, his eyebrows raised as if this is the first time he’s considered it. It probably is the first time he’s considered it, Sam realizes.
“I’ll mention that to Bobby. Take it easy, Sam.” The farewell is probably intended as congenial, but comes across stilted and awkward, like Castiel feels he has to say something, but doesn’t know what.
“Like I have any other option,” Sam mutters to the closed door.
The days here blur together much like they did at the beginning of his captivity with Lucifer. The bathroom problem is solved via angelic escort, and Dean makes himself scarce for the first couple of days. When Sam does see him, it’s always loaded glances and a tight jaw, like Dean wants to talk, but doesn’t know quite what to say.
Sam is happy to be home. He keeps reminding himself of that as if to reinforce the idea in his mind. He hadn’t realized how much he missed his family until he was reunited with them. It’s like breathing a different type of air, replacing everything that he was with Lucifer and reminding him who was before he was taken. He’s not sure he can decide which person he likes more, though. With Lucifer he’d been needed in a way he’d never felt before. He’d felt whole and right, and he’d been happy there, too.
Being back at Bobby’s with Dean, on the other hand, is a mixed blessing. He had missed his brother, but the reunion had been bittersweet, and Sam had been reminded of everything that made him different from his family. Dean’s obstinance, his inability to let Sam decide for himself, and his belief that he knew what was right for his brother; all these things had come to the forefront as soon as they’d seen each other again. Dean had always needed Sam more than Sam needed Dean, and now that Sam had Lucifer in his life, he was more aware than ever that he could be happy apart from his family. Dean would always be a constant in his life, but with Lucifer Sam felt like an equal, not like someone’s little brother. Here (outside the panic room), there’s the stability that can only come from the love of family, but with Lucifer there is something new and unexplored. It thrills Sam, and he wants to know more.
The gold ring lies heavy in his pocket. He brushes his hand over it often but never takes it out. It’s the only piece of Lucifer he has left now. He’s not sure if the headaches, muscle cramps and shakes he feels are a result of withdrawal from demon blood or angelic grace, but he feels them all the same. He fights them down whenever Castiel or Bobby come by with food, but when he’s alone he sweats and trembles, clutching the ring through his shirt like a lifeline. When he’s alone he misses Lucifer so bad it hurts, tears stinging at the corner of his eyes. With no one to fill the hole inside, it gapes like a wound.
Dean comes in one afternoon with food. He perches on the corner of the desk and stretches over to hand Sam a beer. Sam smiles and accepts it. He’s missed spending time with his brother, but he knows that this conversation is not going to be light and friendly. He hopes that maybe, without Castiel and Bobby there, he can get his brother to understand.
“Good to see you, man,” Dean says, eying his brother critically, like he’s still not sure it’s actually him. “Sorry I haven’t been around. There was a thing with some demons, if you can believe that. Bobby went along. It, umm, it went well.” He settles back on the desk and opens his beer, raising it to Sam.
“What did they look like?” Sam asks, a chill running down his spine. He imagines Ruby lying on the ground, unmoving and covered in blood. He is less affected by the idea of Meg in the same pose.
“Jeez, I don’t know,” Dean answers with a shrug. “They looked like demons. Then they looked like ganked demons.”
“Was there a girl, with dark hair? Long, dark hair, dark eyes, yea tall?” Sam stands and holds up a hand.
Dean watches his brother for a moment before answering. “Maybe. Why?”
Sam runs a hand through his hair. He starts pacing nervously. “Did she answer to the name Ruby?”
“Sam, why the hell are you asking about the names of demons?” Dean slides down off the desk and leans back against it, folding his arms across his chest.
“She’s a girl, a demon. She stayed with Lucifer. She was… she was nice to me.” Sam takes a pull on his beer and leans against the table on the opposite side of the room. He can feel heat creeping up over his face and he only hopes that Dean doesn’t pursue what “nice” could mean.
Dean has a gash above his eyebrow surrounded by a vibrant bruise. “What happened there?” Sam asks with a nod.
“Your girlfriend,” Dean shoots back.
“Don’t you ‘dammit, Dean’ me, Sam!” Dean pushes off from the desk and strides across the room, planting himself right in front of Sam. “Do you know what you sound like? Cas told me what you said to him. Friends with Lucifer? You want to go back?” He makes a disgusted noise and turns away, scrubbing at his jaw. “Do you not remember when he was going to kill me?”
“Did you not notice a certain lack of demon attacks while I was missing?” Sam counters, letting his irritation bubble to the surface. “That was him. While I was there, it was hands off of you.”
“Just because you asked?” Dean’s eyes narrow in disbelief.
Sam shrugs. “Well, yeah. That was the deal. I go with him, you’re safe.”
“Sorry if I don’t get on board with Satan as quickly as you do,” Dean replies, turning away from him again.
“See, while you’ve been gone, a lot of his soldiers haven’t been following orders.”
“Well, if you attack them, they’re going to defend themselves.” The argument sounds logical in his head but insane as soon as it’s out of him mouth, and he knows Dean won’t wait with his rebuttal.
“How else was I supposed to find out where you were? Demons took you, so I asked the demons, all right? And since when do you defend demons?” Dean shouts. “Or Lucifer, for that matter?”
The way Dean spits the angel’s name out sets Sam’s nerves on edge. This wasn’t how he’d hoped that this would go. He takes another deep breath, calms himself, and tries a new approach.
“He’s not like you think. None of them are.” He considers for a moment. “Well, no, some of them are. But Lucifer’s still an angel. He’s gotten this terrible reputation when a lot of the time, it wasn’t even him! He was locked up in Hell!” Sam’s losing this argument, and fast. He loves his brother, but he can’t ignore the fact that his time with Lucifer changed his outlook on the battles they fought together.
“Oh, so, this plan to destroy humanity and wipe off of the face of the Earth, that’s just a typo in a press release?”
If Sam had missed Dean’s sarcasm while they were separated, he’s forgotten now. He sighs. “No. No, that part’s true,” he mutters with resignation. “But there’s more there. I think maybe, if I go back, I can convince him not to.”
At that Dean perks up and regards him with genuine interest. “So you do have a plan to kill him?”
“What? No! I mean talk him out of it.” Sam can hear his own voice rising at the thought of killing Lucifer. That’s exactly what he doesn’t want it to come down to.
“Aww, c’mon, Sam!”
“We talked,” Sam insists. “A lot. About all kinds of stuff. He listens to me. Do you know how he talks about his father, Dean? He still loves him.”
“He is the devil, and he’s burning up some poor bastard just to try to get to you.” Dean’s voice rings off the cast iron walls and he throws his arms wide. “He doesn’t give a shit about people, and you’re a person, so forgive me if I think you’ve overestimating your importance to him.”
“He had a family. He talks about the other angels. They’re his brothers and sisters, and he misses them. He misses Michael so much.” Sam is plaintive, and he watches Dean as he speaks, but his brother isn’t giving up any ground.
“Nice to know someone misses their family,” Dean mutters angrily.
Sam goes numb at Dean’s accusation. His mouth drops open and for a good while he just stares, unable to believe that his brother thinks he hadn’t missed him.
“I did miss you,” Sam finally answers. “I thought about you all the time. All I wanted was for you to be safe, and you were, so I stayed.”
“And now, even though they lied to you about my safety, you want to go back.” Dean crosses to the door and pulls it open.
“It’s not like I want to leave you.” Sam pleads even though he can tell it’s too late, at least for this time around.
“You want to go back to him, though.” Dean glares at him, and Sam lowers his eyes and nods.
“I do, but that’s not the same as wanting to leave you guys again. Maybe you could come with me, I could show you how he’s changed. He’s not like you think he is.” Sam’s heart lifts a little at the idea, but the look on Dean’s face is clear. No one’s going anywhere.
“It’s not happening, Sam. His agenda is the Apocalypse, and to do that he needs you, so you’re staying here.”
Dean steps over the threshold and pushes the door shut with a clank. Sam stares up at the slowly turning ceiling fan. There will be no convincing his brother, which means there will be no returning to Lucifer.
Whatever Dean might think, he can’t end the Apocalypse from inside this room. Sam remembers the destruction Lucifer had wrought the last time he thought he’d lost Sam. This time there will be no last-minute rescue, no grace healing the wounds on his body and in his soul.
Sam can hear thunder outside. He sighs and shakes his head. It’s starting, and he’s the only one that can stop it.
He fishes the ring out of his pocket and rolls it back and forth between his fingers. It gives off tiny sparks of grace that tingle in Sam’s fingertips, nothing more.
“You knew, didn’t you?” he asks the ceiling. “You knew and you let me go anyway.”
Sam scrubs a hand over his face and sighs heavily. “I’m sorry, Lucifer,” he breathes to the darkness.