In hindsight they should have known better. It’s never just a simple salt and burn anymore.
Sam takes a step and feels Dean’s shoulders against his back. He adjusts his grip on the shotgun in his hands and eyes the slowly approaching ring of demons around them. His breath forms a cloud in front of his face and he shakes his head as a rivulet of water runs down out of his hair into his eye. Rain pours down on all of them, and the drops hammering the branches and leaves seem impossibly loud in the dark woods.
Dean grabs his attention with an elbow to the ribs. “What the hell did they say on the phone?”
“I don’t know. Bobby talked to ‘em.”
Dean groans. “Cas is in the wind and suddenly Bobby’s got a tip line? We walked into this one, didn’t we.”
It’s not a question, but Sam nods anyway, and knows that Dean senses it. He tightens his fingers on the trigger and leans forward slightly.
“Why aren’t they attacking?” Sam snaps back over his shoulder.
“Hell if I know,” Dean replies.
“Something’s not right here.” Sam watches the demons watch him. They’re standing with hands on hips or arms folded across their chests, more intent on keeping them in place than on attacking them.
“Dude, can we do this later, when we’re not surrounded?” There’s a nervous edge to Dean’s voice under the exasperation. Sam’s not wrong. This has all the dressings of a trap, but they’re not dead yet.
“You ready?” Sam asks.
“Let’s do this,” Dean answers, and Sam’s stomach drops when he hears his own lack of confidence mirrored in his brother’s voice.
Dean’s shotgun might as well have been a starting pistol. The crack when he fires echoes loud in the woods and Sam moves forward even as the demons surge towards them both. Whatever had been holding them at bay seems forgotten. One grabs at the barrel of his gun and he fires, catches it in the stomach. He takes another down with a shot to the chest when it lunges at him. “It” is wearing the body of what looks like a soccer mom, but Sam pushes the thought out of his mind as he reaches into his pocket for two more shells.
His fingers are cold and clumsy in the wet but he manages to load the gun. The reassuring sound of Dean’s shotgun comes to him again from further away. He sees a flash in the corner of his eye but it’s followed by a strangled shout. All of the needles on Sam’s internal oh shit sensors shoot up into the red.
“Dean! You okay?” Sam calls out while he takes aim.
There’s no answer. Sam fired two more rounds and starts to move off to his left, where he thought he’d seen Dean.
Suddenly there are too many and Dean is still nowhere to be seen. He’s surrounded again, alone this time, but they’re not hurting him. He tries to force his way out but two of them grab his arms and hold him fast. Someone wrestles the gun out of his hands and throws it out of reach to land with a thud in the brush. Sam struggles and pushes but the demons are inhumanly strong, a mass of violent limbs in the dark. He cries out when one of them wrenches his arm up behind his back. Sweat and rain mix on his face and run stinging down into his eyes.
“Let him go,” says a voice through the darkness. There’s a calm authority there that sends a chill down Sam’s spine. The demons immediately back off, forming a tight half-circle behind Sam and confirming his suspicion that the voice belongs to some sort of leader. He rolls his shoulder and rubs at his eyes, whipping his head around to try to find the source of the voice. Panic starts to flutter in Sam’s chest when he realizes that Dean may have already found this guy.
“Nice of you boys to come to our party,” someone hisses behind him.
“Yeah, sorry we forgot to bring flowers,” he shoots back, taking a cautious step forward. The demons stay packed in around him but don’t touch him.
That’s when he sees Dean. A blur of brown leather jacket and blue jeans flies through the air, his back connecting with a tree hard enough to shake loose a flurry of colored leaves. He falls to the ground, heavy and limp, and Sam runs to him, dropping to his knees when he reaches Dean’s body. The demons move in around them but continue to hover rather than engage him.
Sam brushes a leaf off his brother’s face and is relieved to Dean’s eyelids fluttering. He’s still breathing, and his pulse is thready but constant.
Sam sucks in a shaky breath as a wave of cold air rolls over him. It’s suddenly much colder, the combination of chill and wet making a haze of fog form low to the ground. The air grows tense around him, weighted as if there is an approaching thunderstorm. Sam shivers with both cold and adrenaline-fueled fear. He turns slowly, keeping a hand on Dean’s chest.
The demons that are crowded around Sam back off and go quiet, but it’s no longer the tense, menacing silence they’d held when they’d surrounded Sam and Dean. This is more cautious. Several of them are looking down at the ground, shuffling nervously, but most of them are at what Sam assumes is the demonic equivalent of attention, shoulders back and arms at their sides.
They’re looking off in the direction that Dean came from, and Sam follows their gaze. The demon that attacked Dean steps out of the fog and for a moment Sam is paralyzed when blue eyes as icy as the air meet his. Then the demon takes a step towards Sam and smiles and Sam’s fear tips over into a rage that’s powerful and focusing. He stands slowly, placing himself between it and his brother’s body.
“Exorcizamus te, omnis immundus spiritus, omnis satanica potestas...”
The demons wail and cry as Sam recites the ritual. He spits the words out, his lips curling into an ugly sneer as he stares down the demon coming for Dean.
“That won’t work on me, Sam,” it says, slowly advancing.
Sam is thrown for a moment when they demon says his name, but he takes a breath to steady himself and continues. Their leader keeps walking towards him, picking its way over the tortured demons as if they were fallen logs or dying animals.
One of the other demons grabs Sam by the leg, pulling at his jeans. He kicks hard in the face, sends it sprawling onto the ground where it writhes, sobbing.
“Save us,” a voice pleads from the mass of twitching, screaming bodies. Sam swears he sees the leader smirk and it makes something burn inside him. No honor among thieves.
He speaks faster, perfect Latin pronunciation rolling off his tongue. “Audi nos!” he shouts, and plumes of black smoke shoot up around him, roiling in the air before they disappear, heading off in every possible direction.
Sam is staring at the demon approaching him with panic in his eyes. He’s seen demons that don’t smoke out after the ritual. There are brands and charms that can lock a demon in a body, but something’s different here, and he doesn’t know what it is, and that’s scary as hell. This thing didn’t even twitch.
“You won’t hurt him.” Sam stamps down the tremor in his voice as he spreads his arms, guarding Dean.
“He tried to shoot me,” the demon replies indignantly, gesturing towards his body. The scorched holes in the chest of the t-shirt are telltale signs of a shotgun blast, but there’s no blood and the demon clearly isn’t injured.
Sam’s gun is gone, he’s surrounded, and he’s alone but for his unconscious brother behind him. He has no way of escape and no way of protecting Dean. His best hope is that Dean’s injuries include a broken rib, meaning that maybe Castiel can find them out here in the middle of nowhere. Sam is sure that he is the only thing standing between Dean and certain death at the hands of this whatever it is that’s standing in front of him, regarding him with cool patience.
“Move out of the way, Sam.”
Sam glances around for anything that might be able to help him, desperately trying to figure out a way to get Dean to safety until he wakes up. Then he remembers what the leader said to the other demons. It’s a very bad idea, but it’s the only card he has left to play.
“No,” Sam growls, looking up at the demon with certainty in his eyes.
The demon narrows its eyes. “Excuse me?”
“You told them not to hurt me,” Sam says, pointing at the bodies lying strewn around them.
“And?” The demon tilts its head with a curiosity that looks almost innocent.
“The only way to him is through me.” Sam answers as if that’s all the information he needs to give. “Even now, if you wanted to kill him you could just throw me out of the way, but you haven’t.”
The demon gives him a considering look, and Sam’s confidence grows, albeit only slightly. It’s a long shot, but it just might work.
“If I agree to go with you, can you promise me he’ll be safe?”
The little shrug he receives as his only reply isn’t particularly comforting, but it’s also not a no and at this point Sam has no other choice. He’s made the offer.
“Me for Dean. He gets to go home and be safe, and I go with you.” The demon hesitates so Sam pushes a little further. “Please.”
Sam’s voice is barely more than a whisper, but something registers. A shadow of emotion passes over the demon’s face. It almost looks like relief.
“Close your eyes, Sam,” the demon says, and Sam reluctantly does, his breath coming in shallow bursts.
The smell of smoke in the wintertime reaches him and he shudders. He hears Dean stirring behind him, but when he turns his head to check on him two cold fingertips are pressed to his forehead. They send a shiver through him that goes deeper than the cold. All the coiled tension in the air seems to pull together to the two points where fingers brush Sam’s skin. Light flares behind his eyes and the last sound he hears is his brother moaning his name.
Sam doesn’t know how much time has passed when wakes with a groan, every muscle in his body stiff. He squeezes his eyes shut against a lingering headache, then sits up with a start when he recalls what happened.
He swings his feet over the side of the bed and sits up. A quick inventory tells him that he’s not injured, but that he’s unarmed now, and his phone is gone. He sighs and pushes a hand through his hair, then stands and strides to the door. He rolls his shoulder, but any sign that it was injured last night is wiped away.
Sam tries the doorknob but it’s locked, so he pounds on it with his fists.
“Hey!” he shouts, pulling at the doorknob until the whole door rattles. “Let me the hell out of here! Help me! Help!”
Sam hammers on the door until his knuckles come away raw and bloody. He kicks at it in frustration then turns and leans his back against it, sucking in deep breaths through his nose. Panic fights with rage until the back of his throat burns with it.
He presses his fist to his mouth and swallows repeatedly as he looks around the room.
Daylight filters in through filthy, cracked windows blocked by heavy curtains moving slightly as the wind slips in through the broken panes. There is a small desk and chair off to one side, what appears to be a sofa under a drop cloth, and the bed that he was laying on when he woke up. The low ceiling is marked with exposed beams and everything is wood, like a log cabin.
Sam has no idea where he is, no idea how long he’s been there, and worst of all he has no idea what happened to his brother. Panic washes over him and he steps away from the door to sink back down onto the bed. His chest heaves and he flexes his bruised hand, letting the pain ground him.
He stands when the door swings open slowly. The light from the windows barely reaches out into the hall but he can still see the demon that took him standing in the doorway.
“How are you feeling, Sam?” he asks, stepping forward into the room.
Sam says nothing. His jaw tightens and his eyes cut to the side.
“I’m glad we can finally meet in person,” the demon continues, folding his hands in front of his stomach.
“Is Dean safe?” Sam asks, open accusation on his face when he meets the demon’s eyes again. The calm Sam sees there serves only to aggravate him further.
The demon nods. “Yes, and so are you.”
Sam laughs humorlessly. “Yeah, you demons don’t seem like the delayed gratification type, so what am I doing here?”
“I’m not a demon,” he answers. The way he lifts his chin is almost haughty, as if he’s insulted. “I’m an angel. My name is Lucifer.”
“Lucifer?” Sam repeats in a harsh whisper. “As in Satan?”
“That’s not a name I prefer, but yes.”
Lucifer doesn’t look like any devil Sam ever imagined. He’s got short, unruly blonde hair and mud-flecked jeans that sag at the knees. He looks like he’d be more at home in a hardware store than on the throne in Pandemonium. In fact the only physical evidence of Hell that Sam can see on him is the way the skin on his forehead and cheekbones is inflamed and peeling like he’s been burned, but he carries himself like a king.
He’s not as tall as Sam but when he straightens his shoulders Sam swears he’s looking down at him. He’s being judged by arguably the most famous angel in history, and it terrifies him.
“Are you going to kill me?” Sam asks.
“I would never hurt you.” His voice is soft but insistent, like it’s important to him that Sam believes him.
“Then what do you want with me?” Sam shouts, as if to counterbalance Lucifer’s impenetrable calm. The situation is hopeless and frustrating and if he can’t leave then he’s sure as hell going to get an explanation.
Lucifer frowns. He opens his hands and strolls forward towards Sam, who backs up further into the room.
“You’re my vessel, Sam.” Lucifer says the words slowly, watching Sam for his reaction. “My true vessel.”
He smiles, and it’s all Sam can do to keep his knees from buckling under the weight of everything he agreed to in order to save his brother. He can’t talk; he can barely breathe, so he just shakes his head over and over.
“Yes,” Lucifer says.
Sam summons all the defiance he can find in his chest, pulling the strands together around his racing heart and gasping lungs. “If I’m your vessel, then why are you still standing there?” he challenges.
“I’m still an angel. I can’t take you as my vessel without your consent.”
“How do I know you’re not lying?” Sam grits his teeth and swallows hard, clenching and unclenching his fists at his sides. “That I won’t fall asleep later and you’ll just take me?”
Lucifer’s brows sink and his jaw goes slack for a moment. He looks almost wounded. “I would never lie to you,” he breathes out with a shake of his head. “I couldn’t. I don’t have to. It would be like lying to myself.” He steps forward again and Sam backs away, moving so that the couch is between them.
“You stay the hell away from me!” Sam shouts to hide the panic creeping into in his voice, but it does the trick. Lucifer stops, and this time there’s no mistaking the grief in his eyes as he looks at Sam. He lowers his hands and moves away, back towards the door.
“I’ve imagined this so many times, Sam,” he says, turning when he’s reached the other side of the room. “It was never supposed to be this way.”
Lucifer pulls the door closed after him and Sam hears the lock click. He strides across the room and tries the doorknob anyway, pounding the flat of his hand against the door when it refuses to give. He swallows hard against the bile rising in his throat. The light switch by the door yields no result, either because the bulb is broken or because there’s no power in the room.
The door set into the far wall opens into a small bathroom occupied almost entirely by a claw foot tub. Sam frowns at his reflection in the mirror above the sink, rubbing at the stubble on his chin. He has dark circles under his eyes and when he looks down at his clothes he sees splashes of something dark on his shirt and jeans. He pushes his fingers through his hair and turns away from the mirror. The tap opens with a squeak when he turns the handle, and after a minute’s time the water is running both clear and warm. He takes the opportunity to splash water on his face and hands only to realize that there are no towels, so he struggles for a moment, blindly pulling off his flannel shirt to use it to dry his face.
He returns to the main room and shudders at the chill. He’s been running on adrenaline but it’s fading now and he’s feeling worn and shaky, and now that he’s alone he feels exhaustion creeping up on him.
Opening all the drawers in the desk he finds nothing more than stationary and an ancient phone book. He briefly considers the desk itself, but he has nothing to break it apart with other than his fists and feet. The fireplace at the far side of the room is made from big, uneven stones in various shades of grey and brown. He’s not even sure that it works when he lights a small fire with his Zippo. The meager supplies don’t seem enough to fill the room with smoke, but he’s still relieved when he sees embers floating slowly up into the chimney.
The room is already warmer when he tugs at the curtains to try to cover the broken windows. One slides more or less effortlessly, but the second sticks, and he gives up after doubling over in a coughing fit caused by the cloud of dust that he shakes loose.
More dust swirls up around him as he pulls the drop cloth off the sofa. Its sturdy wooden arms and back are covered with plush cushions in a vaguely Native American pattern. It’s in surprisingly good condition and he sinks down onto it, staring into the fire.