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Boy King of a Lot of Things

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Sam choked and gasped on air, the sensation of hands covering his mouth and nose still lingering. He coughed and his eyes widened. He was alive. Holy shit he was alive.

His side twinged – well, twinged wasn’t the word, it fucking stabbed – when he drew in deeper breaths, and his enjoyment of being able to breathe again was cut off by a gasp of pain that he couldn’t stop. Fuck but he’d forgotten how much gut wounds hurt.

He lay there, trying to get his bearings. He couldn’t hear anyone around him, so Dean and the other two had left. Which, fuck, Dean still didn’t know that the man – Corman? Conan? – had been bitten. Dean was in danger because Sam had let the man get too close, let him try and smother him. (It didn’t work, thank God. Sam could still fix this.)

That thought had Sam struggling to get upright. He noticed the lamp at his side and almost sobbed. It was so like Dean to leave him a light, even if he believed him to be dead. God but he wanted to see Dean again, reassure him that he was okay.

Oh, God. Dean had to be self-destructing. When hadn’t they gone to hell when the other had died? (Never, his mind whispered, and that’s why the world keeps ending, you dumbass.)

Sam shoved himself upright, doing his best to ignore the tacky blood on his hands, on his shirt, on his chest, fucking everywhere, Jesus, it looked like someone had been murdered where he’d been lying. He was lucky that he hadn’t bled out lying there. He felt blood trickle down his stomach again and groaned a curse, pressing his hand to the wound. It didn’t seem to be bleeding as much as it had been, thank God, maybe it had clotted over while he was out. But it was still leaking blood (he was still leaking blood, he reminded himself, he was his body) and that couldn’t be allowed. He would not pass out from blood loss while Dean needed helps miles away (wherever the hell he was).

Sam held himself upright, one hand braced on the desk. He coughed and winced, hating how it pulled on the bullet wound. He needed to find some way to get out of this rundown station and get back to the Impala (get back home).

His attention was drawn by a rumble: a car. Fuck. Sam pulled in a huge breath and started to move. He left the lamp where Dean had left it. Hopefully his blood would mask his scent for anything hunting him, if he got lucky. (Who was he kidding, the Winchester luck ran more like Murphy’s Law than any sort of good luck.) He stumbled a few times, but he finally made it to a set of double doors across the room. His side was on fire; he felt like he was about to fall over and just pass out. His vision kept going in and out. He kept moving, because he knew that if he stopped he wasn’t starting again.

He opened the door and had to stifle a groan of anger and frustration. Fucking stairs. He couldn’t even stay upright on level ground, how the hell was he going to manage stairs? Just then, he noticed that the sound from the car had cut off. He made for the stairs as fast as his side would let him. He couldn’t afford to be caught in the open, too weak for an upfront confrontation. He’d have to take these werewolf bastards by surprise. He huffed, “Come and get it,” under his breath as he found the first step with his foot.

It worked for the first couple of steps, but he lost his footing somewhere in the middle and almost blacked out falling down the rest. His side lit up in agony and he felt the clot break and fresh blood come pouring out. He almost screamed in agony but managed to keep it behind his teeth, his eyes watering in pain. He headed for a corner, and a door creaked above.

He held his breath, didn’t dare move. The floorboards sent dust downward with every step above, and he didn’t dare breathe in case he sneezed.  When the werewolf stopped, he quickly moved over to a bench and smeared his right hand, still covered in blood, over the ground beneath it. Hopefully that would be strong enough to mask where he actually was. He moved behind a shelving unit and waited for the door to open.

The werewolf made his way down the creaky stairs. Sam heard footsteps above, still, and almost huffed. Of course there’d be more than one. His luck. He had to make this fast and quiet. If he managed, maybe the other would think their partner had killed him…

When the werewolf flipped the table he’d smeared blood under, just like Sam had hoped he would, Sam stepped as lightly as he could behind him and stuck his silver knife in between his ribs. He hoped the meaty thud the first werewolf made when he hit the ground would fool the other into coming down to check it out.

It did. She showed up at the top of the stairs and didn’t even see him coming. He swung the knife, slitting her throat before stabbing her in the heart. He searched her body and recognized her as he pulled away with car keys: the bartender. Now that he thought about it, her change in heart had been sudden; he wished he’d thought to be more suspicious earlier. (That could have changed this whole mess, kept him and Dean from being separated. Another failure of his perception, he mused grimly.) Sam shoved her body down the stairs into the shadows as he pushed upright, car keys in hand.

Now all he had to do was find where Dean had parked the Impala. There was service there. He could call Dean, make sure that he wasn’t doing anything stupid. (Who was he kidding, Dean was definitely doing something incredibly stupid.)

Dean stared down at his limp body, foam bubbling at its lips. “C’mon, Doc, I know you know to roll me on my back,” he muttered, “It’s easier to find a vein.” She gave the command and he rolled his eyes. “Thank you.”

A flash of light from behind him called his attention to Billie’s entrance. He spun and was about to ask, “Where’s Sam?” when she tsked. “Took you long enough,” she mused, staring at his body. “Dean Winchester.”

Dean shook himself (wondered whether he was shivering because it was sinking in that he was dead or because Billie had sounded really, truly dangerous). He looked around and noticed that the Doc’s frantic efforts to revive him had frozen mid-movement. “What’s with the freeze-frame?” he asked, trying not to look at the foam around his mouth. Damn, at least the old Death had taken him away from his body so he didn’t have to watch.

Billie hummed, “Just savoring this.” She paused and tilted her head, apparently examining the same thing Dean was. “Though I have to say, of all the ways I thought you’d go – heart attack, some fang, choking on a burger while binge-watching Charles in Charge…”

Dean cut her off, hating how she was fucking judging him. She had no right to judge him, no right to say anything. He stuck a smile on his face and joked, “Well, that was peak Baio,” while swallowing down the curses that he wanted to say, swallowed down the demands for Sammy, for his soul back in his body, away from whatever the hell the “Empty” even was.

Billie glanced at him, and Dean had to suppress another shiver. He’d forgotten how dead her eyes were. “Point is, never took you for the suicide type. Doesn’t fit your whole martyr thing,” she continued, eyeing him like a particularly interesting microbe. It reminded him of the old Death (the one he’d scythed), and for some reason he felt a pang. Dammit, at least the old Death had been straight with him in how little he cared. She looked him up and down, seeming to finally notice the determination on his face. “So…’sup?” she asked.

Dean took a bracing breath. He couldn’t see any way this could go well, but he had to fucking try. It was Sammy. “We need to talk about Sam,” he said. (There, he’d said it.)

Billie blinked, but didn’t give anything away. “What about Sam?” she asked, seeming marginally more intrigued.

“I need him back,” Dean insisted. God, he hated this, holding none of the cards while she held all the aces. At least with the old Death, Dean could curry favor with greasy fast food and not get blasted into a smear. With Billie, Dean couldn’t do anything but what she decided to do.

“Back?” Billie asked, eyebrow quirking, and Dean felt rage surge into his throat.

He couldn’t tell if it was showing, how angry he was, when he hissed, “Stop playing.” He paused to collect himself and said in what he thought was a perfectly reasonable tone, “Look, you’ve got him, I need him.” (He ignored the Sam in his head that screamed that this is how every Apocalypse starts, Dean, don’t! because, hey, there couldn’t be more than one, could there?) “Let’s make a deal.”

Billie looked completely unaffected when she said, “Pass.”

Dean almost yelled, almost jumped at her with both fists raised, fuck the consequences, but held himself back because this was for Sam. “Really? Just like that?” he said instead, turning the burning fury into incredulity halfway through his vocal cords.

Billie inclined her head, and Dean didn’t think he was imagining the small smirk turning up the corner of her mouth. “Just like that,” she said, giving every word weight, and they fell like millstones on Dean’s back.

He had to find some way for her to capitulate, some thing that she would care about. He figured Amara was a good bet; the old Death had hated it when they’d started some new catastrophe, something about the natural order (Dean didn’t much care). “You know, the Darkness is out there,” he said, trying to sound sure and frightening and ruthless, “and the world is gonna burn.” He took a breath and held in the shakes that were trying to take over his voice. “And once she gets started, that’s the end of everything. Including you.” He kept going, seeing nothing in the reaper’s face and wanting to get a reaction, wanting to get Sam back goddammit. “Now, Sam’s the only one who can stop it.” He ignored how his voice broke on Sam’s name and glared Billie down, dared her to contradict him.

Billie hummed thoughtfully. Dean asked vindictively, “How’s that?”

She tilted her head. “That’s what I thought.” Dean felt himself blink. What? “It’s cute though,” she continued, “You pretending you’re trying to save Sam for the greater good, when we both know you’re doing it for you.” Dean pulled in a breath, ready to go off, ready to tell her how fucking wrong she was (but she’s not, and that almost hurts more than knowing he’s gone). But Billie finished with a finality that he could never match - "You can't lose him." - and Dean felt himself deflate. He almost hunched over, took the blow like a punch to the gut, but made himself straighten instead, face the threat head-on.

Billie smiled for the first time as she stared into his eyes, through him, like she could see the war within him. She said, almost gently, a mockery of a mother’s, sister’s affection, “But, even if Sammy could win the title bout,” Dean snarled at her use of his nickname, “the answer would still be ‘no.’” Dean blinked. He didn’t…he couldn’t have heard her right. It was like she saw his confusion, because she continued, steel in her voice, “The answer will always be no. Game’s over, Dean. No more second chances, no more extra lives. Time to say bye-bye to Luigi, Mario.”

Dean pulled in another breath, tried to plead with her, tried to beg: “I’m asking you…I’m begging you, please.” He shook his head. “Bring him back. Bring him back and take me instead.” The Sam-voice screamed even louder at that, and Dean didn’t flinch. If he had to, he would so that Sammy would be alright. (Watch out for Sammy, Dean.)

Billie shook her head, a pitying look sneaking into her eyes. “I’m not here to bargain with you, kid. I’m here to reap you.” She paused and stared deeper into his eyes, if that was possible. Dean feared what she’d say next, knew it would decide everything. His fate, Sam’s fate, the fate of the whole fucking world, all because he had to…

“And the kicker is…” Dean looked up as Billie began to speak again. He almost couldn’t process her next words. “Sam’s not dead.” The words sunk in and he gasped in relief and fear because oh God, Sam was not dead and oh God, he’d left Sam alone and he was alive and oh God, he was about to die and leave Sam alone. Billie continued, “But you are. Or will be, soon enough.”

Time started back up around them both. Dean heard his body gasping for breath around the cocktail of nasty drugs he’d swallowed. The Doc ordered, voice panicky and hard all at once, “Pulse is fading. Throw me that cardio tray!”

Dean didn’t turn around. He stared at Billie, her words on repeat in his head, a condemning mantra. “But how?” he asked feebly, feeling himself shrink.

“Trust me,” Billie said, and Dean wanted to reply “Like hell.” “If the big W bit it, I’d get a call.” It took Dean a second to process that, that she wanted to handle them personally, but then he noticed her outstretched hand. “Come along now, Dean,” she said gently, lifting her hand towards him. “It’s time.”

Doc was muttering frantically, cursing under her breath, trying to find something in the tray. She looked up, tears in her eyes, and Michelle almost broke down crying where she was holding onto his body’s thigh.

Dean turned back to Billie’s hand, knowing somehow that this was it, that the Doc hadn’t found what she needed to bring him back. He wanted to cuss, wanted to scream at the unfairness, but he’d gotten himself into this mess. He’d done this to himself. He only wished he’d been able to get Sam a note, something to remember him by.

“Dean,” Billie reminded him. “The Empty’s waiting.”

Dean took her outstretched hand and followed her into a blaze of light, doing his best to ignore Michelle’s sobs and the quiet murmurs of the Doc for him to “wake up, you dumb bastard,” because he was going to own this mistake.

And oh, dear God, was this a mistake.

He saw darkness with no stars before his mind shut down, unable to comprehend what the Empty was, and the last thing he heard was Billie’s farewell, with a promise to be back soon with Sam. He tried to protest but his words were swallowed by void.

His world went dark.

Amara looked at the sky for a second, standing in an open field. Her hand clutched at her chest where the key to her cage’s lock had been branded, where Dean Winchester had been branded. She felt the power rush out of the brand.

She screamed, and the field was aflame.

It didn’t take as long as he thought that it should have to make it back to where Dean had parked the Impala what seemed like forever ago. Sam struggled over to the Impala and just leaned against it for a few seconds, reveling in the familiar burn of its black paint and sun-warmed American steel.

He finally pulled out his phone and checked for bars. He threw his head back with a grin when he saw that he finally had reception. He pressed speed dial one and let the call go through.

He didn’t get a response the first time. Sam’s grin started to fall.

He redialed.

The call was picked up, but Dean didn’t greet him. Sam stared into space, waiting to see if whoever had stolen Dean’s phone would say anything.

“Excuse me, if you’re not going to say anything, I’m going to hang up. I have a lot to do.” Some woman had Dean’s phone? How the hell…

Sam cleared his throat, wincing at the rawness (probably from groaning, and being strangled, and…yeah). “Sorry – sorry ma’am. Um, my name is Sam? You have my brother Dean’s cellphone.”

The line was quiet for so long that Sam worried that she’d hung up on him. Finally, the woman came back on, but all Sam heard was a tired, “Well, shit.”

The trepidation in his gut only got worse. “Ma’am?”

A sigh buzzed through the receiver. “Look, Sam was it? Sam. There’s no nice way to say this.” The world swooped around Sam and he almost fell over. No. He’d heard this voice before, heard it in a hospital just before the faith healer, heard it at the hospital just before dad died. Nothing good ever came from that voice. The woman continued, “Your brother’s dead. We … I tried to save him, revive him. He took a lethal cocktail of drugs for some reason, and the only witness is too distraught to be of any help.”

Sam’s legs stopped holding him up. “Oh, God,” he heard himself say. “Oh, God.”

He thought he could hear the woman trying to reach him, but he didn’t pay her any attention. He stared at the phone in his hands. Dean had killed himself. Why? Why would he…

He’d thought Sam was dead. He tried to deal, again, the dumb bastard.

Sam blinked back hot tears. Fuck. Fucking fuck. He pulled in a long breath, and then another because his lungs were screaming at him.

“Ma’am, I’ll be there in a few minutes,” he said over anything she’d been saying. “Don’t…don’t stick him in the morgue, please? I’ll handle everything when I’m there.” He stood and tried to hold in a groan of pain.

The woman must have heard anyway, because (instead of hanging up like he’d hoped she would), she asked, “Sam? Are you injured? I’m a doctor, Dr. Kessler, I can help–”

Sam hung up over her words, pushing himself into the driver’s seat and cranking the car. There was no comfortable position to drive, not really, but he could drive one-handed. He pointed himself at the nearest hospital-type facility (if he remembered, there was an urgent care facility just down the road…) and hit the gas pedal.

He still had a fucking werewolf to eviscerate.

He pulled into the urgent care facility a scarce five minutes later, grabbed his gun – silver bullets, why they hadn’t had these in the cabin he didn’t know – and stepped out of the car. He strode toward the door, ignoring any pain in favor of going over his plan.

Hopefully, Corman-Conan-whothefuckever hadn’t bitten anyone. If he got that lucky, then he may be able put the wolf down, steal some hospital-grade sutures and antibiotics and Dean and get out.

He opened the door and heard screams. He moved as quickly as he could toward them, finding the man, fully wolfed out, hovering over his fiancée. He took the shot, and the fiancée screamed, but the werewolf fell and she didn’t look hurt.

The recoil of the pistol shocked up his arms into his core and his side screamed. He finally gave into the exhaustion, blood loss, and emotional turmoil that had been battering down his reserves. He fell, and the world went dark.

Dean had no idea how long he’d been in the Empty. All he knew was that he had been there, and then he woke up enshrouded in the smoky grey that he recognized all too well. He looked around for an out but Amara stepped in front of him, eyes soft.

“Be calm, Dean Winchester,” she said in what was probably meant to be a soothing tone. It made Dean’s hair stand on end. (He was supposed to be away from all of this! He was supposed to be done!)

Dean shook his head, dispelling the last of the confusion that apparently came with being human in the whatever the Empty was. “What do you want, Amara?” he asked gruffly, trying to resist the pull to her side.

She smiled, and as soft as it should have been, it still looked knife-sharp. “I’m here to retrieve you, Dean. You are mine, and I will not let you rot here.”

“Well, that’s all fine and dandy,” he shot back, “but out there I’m still dead.”

Amara shook her head. “You doubt me? That just makes this easier,” she said, eyes bright.

Dean saw her hand coming to touch his head and tried to shy away. He couldn’t move, caught in a million threads of Darkness and weak from the Empty. “What – no – stop!” he yelled.

Amara touched him on the brow and he flinched away, expecting pain.

Instead, he felt coldness flowing through whatever he was in this place – his soul. He felt the coldness drawing something away, something important, but he couldn’t –

He blinked and stepped closer. Amara was bonded to him, he was hers. Hers to command, hers to mold, hers to hold. She said, “There, that’s better, isn’t it?” and he glanced at her in confusion. That wasn’t an order, but he couldn’t understand the context or what he was expected to say.

“My Lady?” he asked.

Her laugh was his only answer.

Deep inside a maze of mirrors, Dean pounded on his prison and screamed “No!” over and over, but nothing and no one heard him.

Sam woke up to confused shouts, both female. He thought he remembered one voice, maybe even both if he tried. He struggled to sit up, finally noticing the hospital gown when it crinkled around his torso.

Huh. Looked like the doc had taken advantage of his being unconscious to stitch him up. He grabbed his medical chart to see if there was anything he had to be worried about.

He read through the scrawl (no worse than his own handwriting on a bad day), noting that the bullet had missed any vital organs or arteries and that apparently he was showing signs of shock. That was interesting. Maybe that was why Dean thought he’d been – he stopped that thought as everything rushed back.

Dean was dead. For good.

He fell backward and the bed groaned. He hissed through his teeth, wishing he could yell curses at the sky.

The doctor found him like that a few minutes later. She approached him tentatively, and Sam wondered dispassionately how else his life had gone wrong. “Sam?” she asked. “I see that you’re awake, I’m glad. Um, since you’re holding your chart I assume you know–”

“No vital organs hit. No arteries or veins nicked. Signs of shock. Yeah, I got it.”

She took a shaky breath. “Okay, well, um, I just … oh Jesus, Mary and Joseph.” She sat down on the visitor’s plastic chair and buried her head in her hands.

Sam’s interest was piqued. She’d been through a lot today, true, but this was a disproportionate reaction to just what he’d heard about. “What?” he asked.

“Look, I know you said not to take you brother’s body to the morgue,” she began, and Sam nodded along. “Well, not only is that against policy, but he was rather conspicuously in the middle of the medicine stores, and he’d … there were biohazards to clean.”

Sam nodded, seeing her point. “Okay, fine. So you took him to the morgue.”

“We did,” she agreed. “And, um, while a tech was washing hi- the body for storage, a, um, a mark appeared on his right forearm.”

Sam wished he’d never woken up. There was only one mark that would appear spontaneously. And only one reason for it to appear. “Ma’am, did it look like a backwards 7 with an extra line below the upper tail?”

The doctor looked up, either surprised because he wasn’t freaking out about mysteriously appearing marks or because he’d described it perfectly. He figured it was probably both. “Why, yes,” she confirmed. “I don’t – is it genetic, or a bruise, or–”

Sam grunted, “It’s a bad sign,” as he levered himself upright and swung his bare legs off the bed. The hospital gown only hung to maybe mid-thigh (Dean would’ve teased him, goddammit, Dean), but he didn’t care. He had to make sure.

The doctor stepped beside him, trying to ask questions that he kept brushing off. His side didn’t hurt as much, so that was a plus, but he also couldn’t feel his arm. So they’d probably shot him up with something. Which meant that if it came down to it, he’d be fighting one-handed and with a clouded head. The situation wasn’t looking up.

The doctor pointed him toward the morgue quietly. When he walked in, he saw…nothing. An empty table, washed clean. Clean instruments. Feet behind the slab.

Oh, fuck.

He walked around the table as the doctor inhaled shakily. There wasn’t any blood, but the tech’s head was at an unnatural angle. And she wasn’t breathing.

He knelt down by her still-warm side to make sure. He felt for a pulse, moving his fingers a few times to be sure. Nothing.

He let the doctor do her own tests and began looking around. Nothing else was out of place. And, even more glaringly, Dean’s body wasn’t there.

Fuck,” he hissed. “God-fucking-dammit.”

“What…how…” the doctor breathed behind him, sounding short of breath. Sam turned, and she was staring around at the pristine morgue. “I don’t…”

Sam shook his head and crouched down by her side. “Look, ma’am. Dr. Kessler, right?” He waited for her shaky nod. “Right. I know this is freaky. But, well, me and my brother deal – dealt – with weird stuff, and well, we, uh, we tend to bring it with us. I’m sorry it ended like this.” He took a breath. Speaking about Dean in the past tense wasn’t easy when he was coherent. “Look, all I need are antibiotics and a dosage plan. Then my issues and I can get out of your hair. Just … I’m sorry.” He stood, and the doctor’s eyes followed him up.

“You just…” she whispered. “He was dead. No heartbeat, no EEG, no breath, he was dead. How did he–”

Sam cut her off, saying, “Ma’am, it’s better for your sanity that you don’t ask.” He held up a hand. “Trust me, it wasn’t a failing of your assessment. He was dead, I’m sure of it.” He choked up and tried to push all the mess of emotion in his throat downward. “Look, it's not something that's going to be happening to people who aren't my brother, so don't worry about it. Science won’t help, modern medicine won’t help, this is something more powerful than anything you can conceive of.”

The doctor looked down at the tech’s body. “Oh, God,” she breathed. “Why me?”

Sam didn’t have an answer, so he just asked, “Antibiotics?”

The doctor started and shook her head, muttering, “O- of course. Antibiotics. Um, let’s see…” She strode away, and Sam could do nothing but follow. He found her in a room filled with bottles. (He steadfastly ignored the open bottles and pile of pills on the table, and even more steadfastly ignored the puddle of foam and what looked like spit that the doctor stepped gingerly around. He didn’t want to – wouldn’t think about it, about Dean in that state.) The doctor handed him an orange bottle with a handwritten label. “Take two every 12 hours, with food. Don’t skip a dose, and don’t stop before you’re done. If you do–”

Sam tried to summon up a laugh. He thinks it may have worked, because the doctor stopped talking. “Trust me, Doc,” he said. “I’ve done this before.”

The doctor stopped still, staring at him, seeming to finally take in the scar on his neck, his scarred knuckles, and the light scar that ran up his temple. “Oh, um, right, of course. So, um–”

Sam shook his head. “Look, I’ll leave. I’m making you uncomfortable. I’m sorry for the mess, I am, but I have to go figure out what happened to my brother.” He turned around and left, stepping unconsciously over the puddle on the floor.

He walked out the door and made it to the Impala before he collapsed. He hunched over the steering wheel, still smelling like blood, and cried. Huge, gasping sobs that hurt what were surely stitches and staples holding his gut together. (Thank God the doc hadn’t remembered that and tried to schedule a follow-up appointment or some shit. He could handle this.)

He let himself cry for a few minutes, let his vision get blotchy and his cheeks get hot. Then he pulled himself back together, pulled all the pieces of himself that he could find back into a form that resembled what he was, and cranked the ignition.

He left the urgent care facility, heading toward the Bunker. He needed to get back to base before he could let himself fall apart again.

Crowley watched in horror as Amara obliterated a ramshackle church in the wilds of Tennessee with an all-too-familiar figure right by her side. “Bollocks,” he hissed.

Amara turned, his noise giving him away, and he jumped away. He had a Moose to find and ask some very pointed questions. Then he had a score to settle with an archangel.

Unfortunately, the embodiment of Chaos itself took precedence.

Sam was man enough to admit it: he’d been wallowing since he’d made it back to the (huge, empty) Bunker.

He kept going back over the hunt, back over every minute detail, wondering how he could’ve changed this. How he could’ve kept himself from being shot, kept himself from going into shock, kept that goddamned bastard from smothering him. Kept Dean from feeling like his only option was to deal with a reaper who had (multiple times) said that she wouldn’t deal.

He wished he’d never found the hunt. If only he’d dropped it when Dean had told him to, if only he’d let it go and gotten back to researching the real problem, then Dean would still be right next to him, farting and grunting and complaining again and again about being cooped up.

Dean would still be alive.

(He wasn’t fool enough to call any Dean willingly following Amara fully alive. He’d graciously say “soulless,” maybe, but that was almost worse than death, in his experience. Not having control over what your body did…that was worse than hell.)

Sam stared into the bottom of one of the Men of Letters’ fancy crystal highball glasses, swirling the rotgut he’d bought and watching the amber refractions on the tabletop. He figured at this point, around half a bottle in, he was probably a bit drunk, but he didn’t give a shit.

His side throbbed dully and he remembered his antibiotic. He swallowed the pills dry and went to find some toast to try and soak up the alcohol in his stomach and help the pill go down. Having a wound go septic was the last damn thing he needed.

He stumbled around the corner, heading toward the kitchen, when he saw a figure standing in the War Room. Sam stopped, hoping for just a second that it was Dean, but the figure was too short (and squat), and Dean didn’t have a bald spot. It took him a couple of seconds (through the haze of alcohol) to recognize Crowley.

He stormed over, grabbing the demon by the lapel and spinning him around. “What the fuck are you doing here?” he hissed.

Crowley made a face, grimacing and screwing his eyes up. “Good God, Moose,” he said, “If I could get tipsy, a whiff of your breath would do it. You’ve let yourself go.” Sam shook him and Crowley held up a hand. “Now, now, no need to get violent, dear boy. I’m assuming you’ve heard the news?”

Sam glared. “What news?”

“You haven’t?” Crowley asked in disbelief. “Then why the hell are you here, wasting yourself away? Why the hell aren’t you going back out and trying to…I don’t know, cut a swathe through demonkind again to get your brother back?”

“Crowley,” Sam growled, tired of the conversation already. “What news.

“Oh, nothing,” the demon said, waving a hand and rolling his eyes. “Just, you know, your brother wreaking bloody havoc at the side of Amara, you wanker! I’d have thought you’d like to know that your brother happened to not only be alive and kicking, but kicking at blasted five-year-old churchgoers that Amara decided she could sacrifice on whatever insane mission she’s on!”

Sam let go of Crowley and stepped back. What? He hadn’t heard anything…but, then again, he hadn’t exactly been answering calls. Or watching the news. Or reading anything online.


“Where are they now?” Sam asked, stepping forward and doing his best not to lurch too far. (His lack of proper nutrition and sleep was catching up to him fast.) “Crowley. Where is Dean?”

Crowley rolled his eyes and threw up his hands. “Bloody hell, Moose, how should I know? I nearly got smeared like a marmalade on hot toast just for being within a hundred meters! I’m not getting near that crazy broad again!”

Sam stepped forward again, getting into Crowley’s space and ignoring the stench of sulfur that surrounded him. “Crowley. Where is my brother.”

Crowley sighed gustily. “Look, Sam, there’s nothing you can do looking like a good wind would blow you over. I’m not getting myself killed on your damn suicide mission. If I’m taking you anywhere, you’ll be looking fresh as a bunch of daisies, do you hear me? Now go take care of yourself, you smell like an Irish pub.” Crowley walked away, up the stairs toward the door, and Sam started to wonder how he’d gotten in. That question was answered when Crowley yelled down, “And lock your damn front door, you idiot! Who knows what could decide to come in. I’ll call you tomorrow, and you’d better well have gotten some sleep.”

Sam rolled his eyes and followed the demon up, slamming the door behind him. He spun the lock and heard it click into place, feeling the warding hum to life around it.

He turned and looked down at the Bunker, already seeming more empty. He took a deep breath and made his way to the kitchen, hoping that some of the leftovers were still good. He didn’t have the energy to cook, let alone clean up after cooking.

After reheating and eating as much two-day-old lasagna as he could stomach off of a paper plate, Sam threw the rest away, knowing that even three days was pushing it, and shoved himself away from the kitchen table.

He groaned as the stitches (no staples, thank God) in his side protested. He figured he had a couple more days before they could come out, and he hoped that it would be sooner. Feeling the tug on his skin and insides was uncomfortable as fuck, and it only served as a reminder of just how he’d failed Dean and gotten them all into this situation in the first place.

He stumbled toward his room, the down from the rotgut hitting harder than he’d thought it would. He almost turned back for a glass of water and some ibuprofen, but couldn’t find the will in himself to change the path his feet were taking.

He collapsed on his bed and everything went mercifully dark.

He didn’t dream, for once.

Dean didn’t sleep. Something about that felt wrong to him, but every time he thought about it, his Lady would find him and comfort him, her mouth on his soothing his worries.

He loved his Lady. He may not understand why she did what she did, but he knew that she had a purpose. She had a purpose when she tore apart churches like tissue paper and sent him after the congregants. She had a purpose when she screamed at the sky, bathed in blood. Dean had to be honest, she had never seemed so beautiful and deadly as in that moment.

Sometimes he asked her how he could help her further, and his Lady always reassured him with her voice and her lips that he was doing all he could.

Dean was proud of himself, that he could be such a fine companion to his Lady Darkness, his Lady Amara.

Dean watched in horror as every mirror around him showed the outside world. He screamed denial as he watched his own hands slice into a child’s throat. He fell to the floor of his prison, unable to look away because the images surrounded him on all sides, like Amara was trying to show him what happened when someone resisted her.

Sometimes, late at night in the “real world,” Amara would find him in his prison and just watch him. She never spoke, only watched him as he watched her. Dean felt like a zoo animal and hated it, hated her, hated how she was forcing his body to do things that he never would have done under his own free will.

The worst times were those times that Amara decided her loyal follower had done something especially deserving of a reward and clutched him to her chest as his body – not him, not anymore – mouthed at her like a starving man. At those times, Dean closed his eyes and covered his ears, but even then he could hear her triumphant laughter.

Dean wished he could sleep, but knew that Amara would never let him.

Sam woke with a start to his phone buzzing its way off his nightstand. He grumbled and rolled over, wondering why the hell Dean was calling him when he could just come bang on his door.

Seeing Crowley’s number on the screen brought it all rushing back, and Sam fell backward. “Oh, Jesus.”

The call went to voicemail as he lay there, trying to (once again) come to terms with the fact that Dean was AWOL and following Amara like a puppet.

Sam rolled over and opened his voicemail. The most recent one played first.

“Sam!” Crowley’s voice hissed out of his phone’s speaker. “Get your enormous ass up here and let me in! Bloody good for you to lock the door, but I’ve been out here for hours while you did whatever the hell it is you’ve been doing.” A silence. “Just answer your damned phone.” A click echoed from the speaker and the robotic voice announced another ten new messages. Sam scrolled through them, hearing Crowley’s voice on all but one, the oldest new voicemail.

He shouldn’t have been as surprised to hear Jody as he was. Hell, he was surprised Jody hadn’t dragged Claire and Alex to the Bunker and stuffed them in head-first to keep them safe. “Sam?” Jody asked. “Everything’s going insane out here. There’s a crazy woman destroying places around the world – the world, Sam! – and I’m seeing a lot of descriptions of an accomplice matching Dean’s description. Dean won’t answer his phone. Call me, you hear? I’m getting antsy but if I up and leave my town will go crazier that it already is.”

He checked his call log to find that Jody had called him yesterday, probably right in the middle of his bender. He figured it was probably a good thing he hadn’t picked up then; anything he could’ve said would’ve been less than comforting.

He selected her contact and let the call go through. Jody picked up after only one ring, asking “Sam?”

Sam cleared his throat. “Yeah, uh, yeah. It’s me.”

“Oh, thank God,” Jody sighed. “Look, Sam, I’m gonna put you on speaker. The girls are right behind me and I don’t want Claire to steal my phone like she looks like she’s planning on doing.”

Claire’s indignant voice drowned his “Oh, no, seriously, you don’t…” as she retorted, “I would not. I mean, maybe I’d’ve pushed the speaker button for you, but I wouldn’t steal your phone!”

Sam heard Alex in the background or at least he assumed it was Alex) sighing.  He sighed, too. Great. Now he had to figure out some way to frame this to not only Jody but two kids who thought Dean was a hero.

He heard a loud thudding from down the hall and remembered that Crowley was still waiting to get inside. He levered himself upright and groaned at the stiffness in his back. “Sam, you okay?” Jody asked.

“Huh? Oh, yeah,” Sam replied absentmindedly. “I’m okay. I mean, I’m alive so…”

“Sam…” Jody said in that one voice she had that made Sam feel all of three feet tall.

Sam rolled his eyes as he opened the door, holding a finger of his free hands up to shut Crowley up. (The demon rolled his eyes but walked in, deftly avoiding the devil’s trap on the ceiling.) “Look, Jody, I’m alright, okay? I’ve been cared for by an actual professional–” Jody’s exclamation about that was ignored “–and I’m healing up just fine. Not septic or anything.”

Jody’s voice sounded very, very hard (and Claire and Alex were suspiciously silent) when she said, “That was something you were worried about? Sepsis? Dammit, Sam!”

Sam glanced at Crowley to find him smirking like he could hear every word. Who knew, he probably could. “Look, Jody,” he began, trying to head off a rant about how he needed to take care of himself more, yadda yadda, he needed to eat more, et cetera, et cetera. “This isn’t why you called.”

Alex was apparently brave enough to speak over Jody. “Is that really Dean?” she asked. “I mean, I’ve – we’ve all seen grainy footage, but it could … maybe … be someone else.”

Sam sighed, wishing he didn’t have to have this conversation. “Look, guys, I’m…I’m sorry. That’s Dean. It’s…it’s complicated.”

Sam.” Claire said. “You don’t get to dismiss us. Okay? You don’t get to fucking decide what to tell us and what to hide, because we have a stake in this too. So don’t you dare–” Her voice cut off, and Sam heard low murmuring before something clicked and Jody’s voice came back on, a lot clearer than before.

“She’s right, you know,” she said. “We may not be related to Dean, but we damn well like him, and you do not have the right to hide something this big from us.” Sam looked to the ceiling, wishing what they were saying made less sense, and caught sight of Crowley nodding his head proudly.

He glared at the demon before answering, “I know, Jody. Look, I know. It’s just…God. I don’t even know where to start.”

He heard a vague shout that sounded a lot like “The beginning!” from Claire, but he couldn’t be sure. He huffed a laugh, because he didn’t even know what the “beginning” of this mess was.

“I guess I can try to condense it,” he said. “You may want to sit down.”

He heard Jody call the girls over and heard the speakerphone click back on. He drew in a breath and tried to get a logical order of events straight in his head.

“I guess you all – or most of you? – are aware of the fact that me and Dean have died and come back more than once.” He heard Alex’s muffled exclamation over Jody’s whispered promise of more information later. “Yeah, so anyway, the real reason that was happening was we were, I don’t know, amusing? Amusing to the old…avatar? Yeah, I guess so...of Death. And so he’d deal and let us come back and all that jazz.” He drew in a breath.

He tried to tell the story, about how they’d killed the old Death, and how the new one was much less forgiving. He talked about her promises of the Empty and tried to keep any and all longing out of his voice (God, he just wanted peace, he thought. He didn’t notice Crowley’s troubled look.) He skated over the details of the hunt but noted the highlights: the shot to the gut (which got him a shocked gasp and a muffled exclamation of anger from Jody), the smothering and subsequent shock, what he could piece together of Dean’s motivations, and the end result of Dean’s body disappearing after the Mark came back.

“So, yeah,” Sam said, his voice a little hoarse. “That’s…that’s why Dean’s doing what he’s doing. To be honest, I’m not even sure it is Dean. He’d be fighting if it was. I’m…I’m starting to worry that Amara brought him back without a soul.”

No one but Crowley reacted, mostly because no one but Crowley remembered (or knew him from) his own soulless days. Crowley stared, blinking deliberately, before quietly going pale. Sam knew the feeling.

Jody swore quietly. Even if she didn’t know what, exactly, being soulless meant, she could obviously tell from his tone how bad it was. “Look, Sam, there’s gotta be some way to fix this,” she said.

Sam shook his head before he realized that she couldn’t see. “I don’t know, Jody,” he said. “No one can get close to Amara without being eviscerated, it looks like, and I’m not having any of you risk it.”

Alex spoke up, asking quietly, “So you will instead?”

“No one else can,” Sam sighed. Before they could protest, Sam hung up the phone, turned it off, and turned to Crowley.

Crowley grimaced. “Well, that was lovely. I almost felt a tear in my eye.”

“Shut up, Crowley, and tell me why you’re here,” Sam said dejectedly. He held up a hand, realizing what he’d said just as a mischievous light appeared in Crowley’s eyes. “I meant shut up about the phone call, not shut up in general. Now tell me why you’re so damn insistent about talking to me.”

Crowley sighed, rolling his eyes. “Can’t it just be that I miss your looming presence?” he asked snidely.

Sam glared. “Crowley. Talk or I’m going back to bed after throwing you out on your ass.”

“Look, Moose, we both know that Dean has gone rogue. Don’t give me that look, you just admitted it to the good Sheriff and her little ducklings. Regardless of why, Dean’s off the reservation and acting in a way I’ve only seen him act once before. I’m sure you remember that time; didn’t he go after you with a hammer, of all things?”

Sam tensed. He hated the comparison, but it was all too apt. “But if he was a demon…”

“He’s not,” Crowley stated. “Trust me, I’d know if everyone’s favorite Squirrel was black-eyed again. No, this time I’m worried that he’s something worse.”

Sam blinked. “Wait, worse than a demon?” he asked incredulously. “What could be–”

“Soulless might be good way to put it.” Sam shook his head, trying desperately to refuse the notion even as it made more sense than anything else. “Now, Sam, don’t you try to deny it, you already admitted that you’ve considered it. And if he’s not soulless, he’s something worse altogether.”

“What – what do you mean?” Sam asked.

“I mean that powerful beings, myself excluded – I’m talking the heavy hitters, the guys even an angel would be wary of – have the ability to reach into your soul and mess about in there.” Sam shuddered, remembering the cold fingers of Lucifer in his soul, and did his best to shrug it off. It was past. (It had to be past.) Crowley had paused, an odd look on his face, but when Sam looked at him quizzically he continued, “Anyway, I’d be willing to bet my suit that Amara has meddled around with Dean’s soul.”

“So?” Sam asked.

“So? So?” Crowley spluttered. “So, if you remember what Dean was like hopped up on black eyes and the Mark, I can almost guarantee a Dean messed about by the Darkness her-own-bloody-self will be ten – no, a hundred – no, a thousand times worse! And I for one am not going to wait about until she decides that Hell would be a good place to go at!”

Sam sighed. He saw Crowley’s point, but he didn’t exactly see what he could do about it. “Look, I get it,” he said. “But what the hell do you want me for?”

Crowley looked shifty for a just the shortest amount of time, but it had Sam uneasy. Surely the demon wasn’t trying to double-cross him (again). “So?” he asked pointedly.

“Well,” Crowley said, waving a hand, “I figure, you and Dean have this whole thing going – you know, that awful epic codependency, ‘I’ll never hurt my brother’ thing. And I for one have a feeling that was the very first thing Amara went after in dear Squirrel’s soul.”

Sam shook his head. He refused to believe that. After all, that had been what had saved them (or doomed them) every time – Dean’s refusal to let Sam die at Cold Oak, Sam’s refusal to let Dean stay dead and in Hell, Sam’s recognition of the Impala, their easy recognition of each other (and when one of them isn’t their brother), Dean’s refusal to let Sam die (again; that one didn’t bring up any good memories), and Dean’s refusal to kill him (that one had good and bad points).

Crowley held up a hand. “No, Moose. Before you start going on about how you two have some bond and you’ll always recognize each other, blah, blah, blah, listen to me.” Sam opened his mouth and Crowley exclaimed, “No! Look, Sam, I know that you Winchesters have somehow managed to drag yourselves out of whatever thing you’ve gotten yourselves into through the power of brotherly love every time. But I’m saying that, if Amara did what I think she did, not only will it not work, it will have what’s left of Dean laughing in your face as you die of a gut wound. It will not work.”

“But how do you know that?” Sam, demanded, refusing to believe anything the demon was saying. He could be lying…for some reason that Sam couldn’t figure out. Or something.

Crowley rolled his eyes, letting them fall back level with red smoke in the corneas. “Because I am a demon, Sam. Because, in case you didn’t know, us infernal denizens of Hell can see these things, these scars on a soul. We, and by that I mean I, can see the mess Amara has made of Squirrel by pulling out the greater part of his soul – that part that knows you, most likely. It’s tucked away in the middle, huddled in on itself and blanketed by Darkness.” Sam opened his mouth, suddenly interested, and Crowley interjected, eyes becoming more smoke-infused if it was possible, “So help me, if you ask how it works I will gut you and hide in a small corner of the Earth and wait for the Darkness to rewrite the universe!”

Sam raised his hands, shaking his head. “Fine, fine. Whatever. So I just trust you?”

The red drained out of Crowley’s eyes and the look on Crowley’s face almost mimicked relief, if Sam could believe that Crowley had been worried. “Exactly, Moose. You trust me.”

Sam waited for something else, because he could feel the “but” added onto that statement. Nothing was forthcoming, and Crowley was looking distinctly uncomfortable but determined. “And?” Sam finally asked, tired of the waiting game.

Crowley deflated, and Sam waited some more. “Look, Sam,” Crowley began, “I have a proposition for you.”

“You do, do you?” Sam said, skeptical. Nothing from Crowley ever came without its price, and he didn’t want to be paying for this until he was old and wrinkled.

Crowley nodded and drew in a deep breath. It looked like it pained him to say, “I know that, no matter how much I argue, you’re going to go off chasing after Dean.” He sniffed, cutting Sam’s protests (without any heat behind them) off with “Ah, don’t deny it.” He continued, “You’re going to find some way to pursue the Darkness and your brother. So here’s my offer: you let me ferry you around the world, and you don’t argue about my methods in getting us there. I let you investigate and do my very best to keep you breathing, because as much as I hate to admit it, you’re the world’s best bet at survival. You do your very best to not go running off half-cocked and try to listen to my warnings and advice.”

Sam parsed the deal Crowley was offered. The very core of his felt sickened at the fact that he was contemplating it, and he could almost hear Dean trying to talk him away from it, but he couldn’t find any surface faults. It didn’t have any actual restrictions on him except “try not to get killed” and “try to listen to me,” and the implied word “try” made all the difference. He worried slightly about Crowley’s “methods,” so he asked, “What methods?”

Crowley replied, “Only dimension hopping distances, swear it on my immortal soul. Teleporting, you’d say. It’d treat your gut better than angel transport any day.”

With that worry dealt with easily, Sam thought back through the wording. He was sure he was missing something, but he could see Crowley getting impatient and didn’t want him withdrawing the offer. “You swear not to knowingly harm me and to protect me to the best of your ability?”

“Of course, Sam,” Crowley replied. “Does this mean you accept?”

“I don’t really have any other choice,” Sam answered, already dreading what Crowley was going to request. “Sure, I could try to find a friendly god or an angel, but I imagine nothing else wants to get within a hundred miles of Amara.”

Crowley shrugged. “No, I can’t see it happening.”

“Fine,” Sam said. “I agree.” He leaned in for the kiss to seal the deal, disgust roiling in his gut and his eyes screwed closed. (He had to do this, to save Dean. He had to.)

A finger on his cheek stopped him. “Look, Sam,” Crowley said, “Not that I’m against sealing the deal the old-fashioned way, but, well…”

“You are?” Sam asked bitterly. Of course. Now the deal wouldn’t be binding, so Crowley could renege on it at any time and remind him of this moment.

Crowley blinked. “No, for…it’s not like that, you dumb giant! I won’t break my word. I’ve got some principles, you know! It’s just…”

Sam huffed a bitter laugh. “Whatever. Save it for someone who cares. If you go back on the terms, I reserve the right to stick Ruby’s knife between your ribs.” He watched in satisfaction as Crowley gulped. Good. Maybe, if nothing else, the threat would keep the deal intact.

Crowley nodded gingerly. “Ah, right. So, um, when do you want to, ah, start?”

“When can you find her?” Sam asked.

Crowley see-sawed a hand. “Well, I can sense her at any time. She’s causing…quite a stir, she is, and it’s hard to ignore. Anything tuned into the right channels now could pinpoint her to a couple hundred square kilometers.”

Sam blinked. He hadn’t expected it to be so easy. He was just about to head off to start researching, finding the pattern, exactly what he and Dean had done for Yellow Eyes and the Horsemen and so many other monsters over the years.

Now that he didn’t have a reason to do it, he felt bereft of something. Like something fundamentally wrong had just happened and he’d been dropped into a Bizarro world.

On second thought, he almost had, considering that God’s sister (who even could have seen that) was destroying the world for no apparent reason, his brother by her side, apparently willingly. If this wasn’t a Bizarro world, he didn’t know what was.

Sam shrugged when Crowley cleared his throat, obviously waiting for a response. “I guess let me pack a bag. I’ll be back in ten.” Crowley seemed almost stunned at the speed. “What? I need to save my brother.”

Amara watched as her Consort ripped his way through another crowd of helpless dependents of her Sibling. Humans, she thought derisively, So weak and…breakable. I could make something better.

Her Consort, though, her Dean was an unmatched specimen of humanity. She reveled in the blood that he allowed to spatter over his face, knowing that she loved seeing evidence of his deeds for her. She smiled lightly as he turned to her, his knife held loosely in hand and the last human’s corpse fell to the ground behind him.

She stepped up to her Consort and allowed him to press a hungry kiss to her lips. She did not reciprocate, not wanting to lag and allow their tail to catch them. Dean noticed her reticence and pulled back, eyeing her confusedly, and Amara reassured him, “Hush, my Consort, we must move on. Come, take my hand.”

Her Consort happily took her outstretched hand and she lifted them away from the grisly scene. She wondered how many she would have to leave before her Sibling would take notice and confront her.

If only her Sibling had listened to her calls, she would not have to kill their faithful and enslave their Chosen.

She could hear the true Dean’s silenced screams, and she let him scream. She would visit him in his prison sometime soon; she wondered whether he was close to breaking yet. She wanted Dean in his entirety, not this shell of a man that she had fashioned to obey.

She caressed her Consort’s cheek as she carried him away and he leaned into it; she wondered if her Consort had ever had such affection lavished upon him.

She would mend this injustice, to be sure.

Sam had to agree: teleporting alongside a demon was a lot less disruptive to certain…systems than angel travel. But even with the easier mode of transport, he could feel his gorge rising with every jump Crowley took.

Every time they landed, all they found was blood and cold bodies, crumbled masonry of churches and mosques and temples, destroyed statuary and scorched earth.

The worst part was that the victims hadn’t been killed by anything supernatural. He didn’t see any snapped necks, strange cuts, or burns signaling that Amara had a hand in their deaths. No, all he saw was knife wounds, deep and long and gaping open, like a signature reading “Dean Winchester was here.”

He wanted to cry but wouldn’t give Crowley the satisfaction of seeing how hard this was hitting him.

That lasted until Crowley landed at an eerily familiar church, now torn to pieces and scattered. Sam looked for the sign, hoping that it wasn’t true. He finally found the sign, the top torn off but the writing still visible: “Blue Earth Lutheran Church.”

“Oh, God,” Sam gasped, looking around and seeing even more familiar spots. The small field behind the church (now littered with pieces of bodies, some still dressed in church clothes) where he and Dean used to spar under Pastor Jim’s watchful eye. The road (now covered in blood, cracked masonry, and worse things) he and Dean used to run, miles falling away under their soles. The altar (now cracked in two and covered in the new pastor’s blood) he used to pray at, with Pastor Jim beside him, tutoring him in the prayers. The confession booth (now just shards of wood) where he’d confessed to Pastor Jim, a long time ago that he’d never felt clean.

“Sam?” Crowley asked worriedly (or at least it sounded like worry). Sam choked out a breath, doing his best to stay upright and not collapse to the ground and scream to God (if he was even listening) that they didn’t deserve this.

When he didn’t respond, he felt Crowley take his arm, surprisingly gently, and pull him away. He didn’t bother to look at where they landed, expecting more blood, gore, and destruction.

Instead, all he could smell was fresh sheets and the faintest hint of sulfur from Crowley that would always tempt the worst side of him. He looked up and found himself in a hotel room, one that he and Dean would never have stayed in. The sheets were actually white, and everything smelled clean and crisp. (A note on the pillow reassured him of the sheets’ cleanliness. What kind of hotel did that?) Strange prints hung on the wall, of lakes and wildlife, something that was supposed to be soothing, he supposed.

Crowley spoke up again, asking, “You, ah, you alright, Moose?”

Sam shuddered. “I, yeah, I’m fine,” he said, doing his best to scrub his mind. He didn’t need more nightmares than he already had (Lucifer, in multiple forms now – his body, Nick’s vessel, and now Cas’ vessel – and the Cage, his soulless days, the Trickster, the Trials, Meg, Gadreel … the list just kept going).

“You don’t sound ‘fine.’”

“I’ll be fine after I sleep, alright, Crowley? Don’t pretend that you give a shit.” Sam turned and noticed that Crowley had his hands in the air, a strange look on his face.

“Alright, then, Moose, I’ll leave you to it. Your bag is on the chair.” Crowley vanished without a sound, and Sam allowed himself to collapse onto the bed and hug one of the pillows to his chest. God, but he wanted to rewind all of this, rewind it all back to the Trials. If only he’d ended it there, none of this would’ve happened. Dean would have never taken the Mark, would have never become a demon, he would have never had to remove it and unleash the Darkness, and the world would still be spinning. (Not to mention, he thought quietly, Dean wouldn’t have to deal with demons anymore.)

He fell asleep, still thinking about how he could have fixed it, how he could have just stopped all of this years before it began.

In his nightmares, Pastor Jim begged him for help as his blood flowed from a gaping tear in his neck.

Crowley watched quietly from the shadows, his vessel hidden from human perception. He wondered if that would stop Sam from sensing him, though. Sam had always been special, and now he needed to access those abilities.

He wondered how strong Sam could become at his full potential, powered up and accepting every aspect of himself. Even now, with Sam completely ignorant of the power under his skin, Crowley could feel the questing power brushing over his demonic soul, wondering what he was doing and whether he was any danger to the power’s holder.

Crowley did his best to project a non-harmful aura, like he had been doing for as long as he’d been encountering the larger Winchester. He didn’t want to know what that power felt like when its curiosity and vague warning morphed into destructive protectiveness.

He figured that any being who had encountered that power in one of the moments when it had awakened hadn’t lived to tell the tale.

And even though he hated to have to do it, he would have to wake Sam to the fact that he held this power, coiled up inside of his now-mortal coil. He would have to wake the sleeping giant, and let him take control of everything his birthright promised him.

Sam groaned lowly and rolled over, eyes shifting restlessly beneath his eyelids, and the power shoved him away. Crowley went, resolving to return in a few hours and to let Sam sleep.

Sam startled awake, sure that something was watching him. Almost without thinking, his hand went to the knife under his pillow and brought it up to throw. When nothing was immediately obvious, Sam settled slightly, but sniffed deeply. Sulfur. Probably Crowley being creepy and watching him sleep, he decided. He wondered why the demon had decided to help him; it wasn’t like Crowley to put himself directly in harm’s way, even if the world was at stake.

He glanced at the clock. Four hours of sleep was enough. He levered himself out of bed, knife left on the bedspread, and stumbled over to the bathroom. He barely noticed the amount of space he had as he pissed. He did notice the wrapped bar of hand soap. A wrapped bar of soap. Usually he and Dean were lucky if the soap dispenser wasn’t attached to the wall and spitting the chalky pink stuff that seemed to be ubiquitous across the nation.

He washed his hands with the bar of soap (and that was still so weird) and left the bathroom to grab his shower bag. No way was he smelling like “Leafy Rain” or whatever the hell the hotel called their shampoo fragrance.

He didn’t do much more than scrub himself of sweat and dirt in the shower, because the water pressure compared to that of the Bunker wasn’t exactly amazing (although having hot water that lasted in a motel was another novelty). He dressed inside the bathroom, because who knew when Crowley would be back (invisible or not, the bastard), and Sam didn’t want to give him a peepshow.

He started and went for a gun that wasn’t there when he walked out of the bathroom to find Crowley sitting in the lone armchair in the room. All he needed was a white cat, Sam thought with a twist of humor, and he’d be the stereotypical movie villain. (He didn’t say that, because he didn’t need Crowley to look at him like was crazy.) “Crowley,” he greeted warily.

“Moose,” Crowley replied. “Nice to see that you’re cleaning yourself up.”

Sam rolled his eyes. “Yeah, whatever,” he said. “When are we getting back on Amara’s tail?”

Crowley looked shifty, and Sam almost growled at him, but Crowley said, “Actually…” before he could.

“What?” he asked.

“Well, Moose,” Crowley began, “I have a confession to make: I’ve been lagging behind Amara intentionally.”

What?” Sam interjected, clenching a fist. He could have helped; he could have been there in time to do something. He growled, wishing that punching the demon would actually have an effect.

Crowley flinched; Sam didn’t bother to ask himself why. “You aren’t strong enough,” he gasped. Sam blinked. What? He waited for Crowley to continue. “If I dropped you in front of Amara, Sam, you’d be a grease spot. Maybe less. I’m not letting that happen! You’re the only chance this damn planet has.”

“But?” Sam asked, hearing it implied.

But,” Crowley continued, giving him the stink-eye for interrupting him, “Just because you aren’t powerful now doesn’t mean you can’t be.”

“No.” Sam refused out of hand, already seeing where this was going. He was not getting back on demon blood; no matter how much it tempted him, he wasn’t.

“C’mon, Sam,” Crowley wheedled, “Just a couple of sips – or liters, you know, not to be precise – and you’ll be powered up again! Hell, you’re the Boy King. Fully charged, you rival Lucifer himself! If you’d just get over this childish–”

Sam snarled, “Shut the fuck up.” He was surprised when Crowley did with a muted “ulp!” but thanked God that he was listening. “I will not drink demon blood again, Crowley,” he growled. “I promised Dean that I never would again, not for any reason, and I am going to hold that promise! So you can stick your offer where the sun doesn’t shine and think of literally any other method of defeating Amara.” Crowley raised a hand and Sam rolled his eyes. “What, Crowley?”

“Just reminding you of our deal, Moose,” Crowley said in a strangely tentative voice. “You remember? I am to do my very best to keep you alive. And this is the best I can do.”

“And yet,” Sam countered, “The comedown from demon blood will harm me, so therefore giving me demon blood for a temporary power-up will harm me, which is not allowed under our deal.”

Crowley blinked and cursed. Sam smirked. Stanford Law was good for something. But then Crowley tilted his head and asked, “But what if I didn’t mean for it to be temporary?”

Sam cleared his throat. “Hold up,” he started in disbelief, “You’d willingly continue to give me fuel to become more powerful than you? What if I decided you were useless to me?”

Crowley waved a hand dismissively. “Eh, you wouldn’t. I’d be your blood supply. Like that Ruby bitch back when the first Apocalypse was a problem.”

“And yet I killed her in the end,” Sam countered.

“Only when you discovered she’d pulled the most masterful double-cross I can think of that I didn’t pull,” Crowley responded, a smirk on his face.

Sam rolled his eyes, slashing a hand in front of him. “It doesn’t matter. I refuse.” He ignored the quiet longing that he’d long ago buried deep.

Crowley rolled his eyes as well. “Fine, then. I suppose I’ll continue hanging back, for your safety, Moose. You know, because of our deal.”

Sam growled but couldn’t think of a way to force the issue. Crowley had him cornered, but Sam was a stubborn bastard, and he wouldn’t let Crowley manipulate him into drinking demon blood again.

It went on like that every day. Crowley would pull Sam along, always landing just as the bodies cooled and the blood coagulated into metallic-stinking pools around crumbled masonry and wood. Once Sam had had enough of smelling nothing but blood and recent death, Crowley would take him to a hotel – never the same one, Sam noticed – and let him sleep. Then he’d come back in the morning and make the same fucking offer.

Sam wanted to refuse. He did refuse. But he knew, and he knew that Crowley knew, that seeing nothing but death was getting to him. He wanted to save these people, and he couldn’t the way he currently was. Crowley didn’t seem to be thinking very hard about other options (Sam tried to ignore the niggling voice that said because there aren’t any), and instead just kept hammering at that one option.

Sam could feel that, eventually, he would break. Crowley would find the weak point in his armor and the addiction he’d buried would come roaring back with a vengeance.

He kept trying to shore his fumbling resolve with memories, memories of Dean calling him a “bloodsucker” and telling him “If I didn’t know you, I’d hunt you.” It was working, but the addiction had steamrolled over those before.

This time, standing in yet another anonymous hotel room at the crack of dawn, staring down Crowley, Sam decided he’d start the conversation. “Goddammit, Crowley,” he growled before the demon could open his mouth, “Isn’t there any other way for me to power up besides the demon blood?”

Crowley smiled slowly and Sam was just very confused. It was almost like Crowley…had been waiting for that question.

“Why, Sam,” Crowley purred, “I thought you’d never ask.”

"You see, Moose," Crowley began, "You're not just the vessel of Lucifer. No, you're the Boy King."

Sam rolled his eyes. "Uh huh, I knew that."

"No, Moose, you don't understand what that means," Crowley chastised. "Being the Boy King is so much more than being the chosen of Azazel and his brood, or being fed demon blood as a tyke." Crowley paused; Sam assumed that it was for effect, but he actually wanted to know what Crowley was going on about, so he cleared his throat. Crowley rolled his eyes and sighed, "Spoilsport."

"As I was saying," Crowley went on, "You're the Boy King. Of Hell. Now, that comes with some power. And not just a little bit of power, I mean enough power to bring a group of demons to their knees with a thought."

Sam waved a hand. "Yeah, and I have to access it with demon blood, I know."

"Not at all!" Crowley replied. "In fact, you're better off without it! The power makes you more … malleable when you’re fed demon blood, to make you easier to mold to Lucifer’s wishes, I suppose. Either way, demon blood, as much of a 'power-up' it is, narrows the field. You can only use your power on demons. Without that booster - and limitation - why, the Boy King could reorganize Hell completely!"

"Yeah, right," Sam scoffed. "And how do I unlock this mystical power?"

"Technically," Crowley waffled, “You've already done it. All the Boy King needs to do to unlock their power is, well, spend time in Hell in their own body, not as a soul."

"Then why the hell haven't I noticed anything?" Sam asked, throwing his arms wide. He would have noticed if he'd suddenly gained powers; it wasn't like it was all that hard to miss!

Crowley wavered, a strange look on his face. "Well," he said, "There's one caveat..."

"Of course," Sam growled, "Why not, it's Hell.”

"You see, you have to be, ah, endorsed. By Lucifer."

Sam blanched and did his best not to remember cold fingers of Grace and cruelty teasing into his body, into his soul. "No."

"I, ah, I assumed that would be your answer, Sam," Crowley replied, "And luckily enough for you and your delicate sensibilities..." Sam growled and Crowley corrected himself, "Which are of course completely warranted! But there's not really a definition to 'endorse.' One could take it as meaning, oh, say, possession. You know. The ultimate endorsement."

Sam growled, "I think torture would rank higher on that list in Hell."

Crowley tilted his head, conceding the point. "Even so. You've been endorsed, you have the power within you. So... now to unlock it, if you will."

"Unlock it?" Sam asked.

"You haven't noticed anything odd about yourself since your return from Hell, have you?" Crowley returned, and Sam shrugged. "Well, I can tell you one thing that changed."

"Oh?" Sam asked.

"You've done a damn fine job of not keeling over, not matter how bad the wound, haven't you?"

Sam flashed back to the Trials, to his hallucinations, to a million wounds he'd received and yet not really been brought down by. (To a gunshot wound in the gut and hands over his mouth and nose, to blackness and a strange light that held him until he woke with a gasp.) "Fair. Still, I’d have noticed abilities on the level you’re suggesting years ago.”

Crowley waved a hand. “Trust me, they’re there. In fact, without you in control, they act to protect you without your conscious control. By, say, shoving very insistently at certain demonic essences who are too close to you when you’re angry. Like, say, now.”

Sam huffed a laugh. Well, that was one thing to say for them: they hated Crowley as much as he did. (He still hated that there was anything in his body that acted without his conscious approval. He hadn’t had to deal with anything like that since Gadreel, and even though these powers were technically a part of him, they were still separate in that he didn’t know how to control them, and for that reason he hated them.)

“So how would I go about ‘unlocking’ them, Crowley?” Sam asked.

Crowley shrugged. “Honestly, Moose, I’m surprised you haven’t already. All you need to do is know about them and accept them as a part of yourself.”

Sam barely kept himself from laughing and asking sharply, “That’s all?” Seriously. How long had it been since he’d felt that his body was his own alone, let alone that some mystical powers granted by birthright were his? Since Gadreel?

No, he figured, likely since he was wandering around soulless. After all, that was when everyone else started caring about what went into his body, and when people started screwing with his body, and his head, and his life.

He hadn’t really accepted his body as his own since Hell. Since Lucifer had ripped it to pieces in front of him and laughed as it remade itself, Hell’s magic at work. (Sam wondered now if it was less Hell’s magic and more his own powers.) Since Lucifer had forced it to remake itself with extra hands, or another head. Since Lucifer had stuffed him back into the misshapen body and laughed as he tried to use the appendages that weren’t his own. (Since the extra head had turned toward him and addressed him scornfully, called him “weak” and “sniveling.”)

Crowley was watching him, he realized, he should stop shaking. He should stop shaking, he told himself. He didn’t. And Crowley thought he could just accept some foreign powers that he’d apparently been harboring unconsciously? He couldn’t even control his body.

“Moose?” Crowley asked. “Sam?” Sam ignored the strange note of concern – and maybe some fear – in the demon’s voice.

“Get out,” Sam hissed, clenching his hands. He could almost feel a whiplash inside of his body as the demon flickered out with a shout.

He collapsed to the ground and gathered himself into a ball. He did his best to stop the shaking. (It didn’t work.)

Lucifer flinched, sitting in his makeshift throne in Heaven, an office chair (with actual padding, his sibling had assured him, voice warbling. Something had occurred in Heaven, he thought, that his younger siblings had become these weak-willed beings that didn’t even have a ruler. No matter; he’d set them to rights. It may take a little…force, but he had to bring Heaven back to its former glory, and prove to Father that he was a good child worthy of being reinstated among the Host.)

He knew that power. Granted, it was … holier than he remembered, but if his King was truly walking the Earth, Lucifer could use the power boost.

He sent tendrils of his Grace out, feeling for the resurgence of a power he barely remembered. (Where had he felt it before?)

As quickly as it had come, it vanished, and Lucifer almost atomized his “throne.” The angel before him – some low-level Power, nothing that truly mattered – stuttered. “I – is everything alright, Sir?” they asked.

“Of course, Abathar,” Lucifer cooed, “Now…continue with your report on …” He gestured to them, unable to remember quite what he’d been ignoring.

“The, ah, uprising among the souls of recently dead hunters, Sir,” Abathar stuttered.

“Yes, exactly,” Lucifer sighed. It wasn’t like the hunters could do anything; he had no idea why his siblings were so worried. The angel started up again, and Lucifer tuned their voice out again. This was what a ruler did? Ugh.

There was a reason he’d never aspired to be God. This was it.

Crowley wheezed out a breath, crouched in a safe house he’d warded long ago to capture him if he was ever banished from somewhere. It wasn’t even that his sternum hurt, for Pete’s sake; his bloody soul hurt, deeper than he’d ever felt a hit before.

Goddamn but Sam packed a punch.

Crowley imagined what that power could become with the younger Winchester at the reins rather than sitting limpid on the saddle, and laughed and laughed. Oh, yes, he’d have his vengeance on Lucifer for treating him like less than trash.

Amara glanced up at the sky, away from the quiet tent where her Consort rested. (He was still human, regrettably, and as such required rest and food.)

She knew that power, knew it as deeply as she knew her own. She could feel the chains of it around her being, still locked in place, even if she was no longer trapped within them.

Sibling? She asked on a wavelength only the two of them could hear. She waited for a response for some time.

When she didn’t receive one, she roused her Consort with a snarl on her face. So he was ignoring her now?

Then she would have to get his attention.

Sam finally fell asleep what was probably hours later, but he couldn’t confirm or deny that. He didn’t remember his dreams, just tossing and turning on the floor all night. All that he remembered, if he tried (which he didn’t, because that would be counterproductive), was a sense of time passing as the shaking ebbed and strengthened.

He could remember a coil of something in his gut that he didn’t recognize. It was still there. He ignored it.

He couldn’t control it, it wasn’t his, he could ignore it.

Maybe it would go away if he denied it enough.

He huffed a bitter laugh. And when had that worked? If he didn’t figure out how to accept this power enough to use it, the world would end.

They had enough examples of him (or Dean) trying to ignore something and it blowing up in their faces. No need to add another example to their pile.

He sighed and pointed his focus inward, pulling in deep breaths and letting them go, just like he’d taught himself back when he tried meditation to get rid of his hallucinations. C’mon, he coaxed, feeling like an idiot but figuring that if it helped, it was okay, C’mon, I accept you and all that jazz, now how the fuck do you work?


Well, more like a raspberry blown in his face. The power skated away from his grasp and Sam almost kept from cursing out loud.

So help him, it was laughing at him. His own power was laughing its ass off.

For fuck’s sake.

He huffed and went after it again, seeing if he could grasp it tighter.

It turned out that he could not, and that the harder he tried, the further away it slipped.

What do you want from me? He asked, finally, desperate.

All he got was images. An ancient, bronzed coin, flipping through the air. The sun and moon in the same sky. A moose, antlers brandished forward and out, standing over a spotted foal.

He cut himself off, because he was going insane. A moose.

He ignored the feeling of certainty and raucous laughter that followed him out of the meditation. He let himself surface slowly.

Crowley was talking to him. Fuck, how long had he been there?

Sam startled upright, getting his legs to hold him up as one hand went for Ruby’s knife at his side. “What the–” he started to yell.

Crowley jumped as much as he did. “Easy, Moose, easy!” he responded in kind. “Look, can you rein all that in? I can barely be in the bloody room with you.”

Sam huffed and dropped his hand. “Even if I could control it, I wouldn’t let my guard down, Crowley.” He ignored the offended expression on the demon’s face. “What do you want?”

“Gee, you sound chipper, Moose,” Crowley groused. “Goes to show what you get–”

Crowley,” Sam growled. The demon gulped, and Sam could almost feel the tendrils of power poking at the demon.

It was kinda cool.

Except for the fact that he wasn’t doing it.

(He flashed back to a dream of woods, of shooting himself in the back and stabbing himself in the stomach. He wondered if he’d had another self running around in there, hiding from him until he accepted it.)

(He wondered if the power had been within the tortured self, the part of him that still remembered the Cage. His mind slid away before he could remember again.)

Crowley was talking again. Hopefully it wasn’t important. “– and your Advisor would be immortal, just like you. A perfect fit for–”

Sam interrupted, realizing that he’d definitely missed something. Immortal? Hold the fucking phone. “Wait, hold up, immortal? Hell no. If that’s a result of accepting this power, I’m out.”

Crowley blinked. “Um, Sam, you’re already, well, immortal. Like I mentioned before, you’ve already lived through some things that would have killed anyone else. Haven’t you?”

Sam stuttered, “But – that doesn’t mean I’m immortal! I could just be more difficult to harm, or, or possessing faster healing, or more impervious to supernatural injuries…” He refused to accept this. By God, he’d just wanted peace, just the chance to let someone else take over, for so long now. (“So?” echoed through his head, and he refused to realize that Dean would probably never let it happen.) He couldn’t be immortal, because immortal meant that he’d never die, never be held to Billie’s promise of a working DNR, never be able to just fucking rest.

Hadn’t he earned that?

Crowley stared at him, something dawning in his eyes. Something like pity, or realization, or an unholy mix of both.

That’s right. He’d been there when Sam had said far too much. He’d been there when Sam had confessed to this wish for peace that Dean would never allow as long as he was breathing.

Fuck Crowley and his pitying bullshit.

“Sam?” Crowley asked tentatively. “It’s not reversible. And it’s real. Your body has changed, any being with the ability to see the supernatural can see it. You, ah, you…glow, of a sort. It’s a very distinctive glow.”

Sam hung his head, letting his hair fall into his face. He wouldn’t let Crowley see this moment of weakness. He’d already let him see too much, both back in the church and here. He had to pull himself together.

So he was immortal now. Fine. He could work with this.

(He ignored the fact that Dean was not, and the fact that he’d never get peace the way he’d wanted it, and the fact that sometime in the future he’d watch his brother die and not be able to do anything about it, because it would be his time. He couldn’t think about that now. He couldn’t.)

He walked backward through what Crowley had been saying. Something about an Advisor? Maybe? And…“immortal like you”?

“Crowley,” he asked, looking up, face set, “What was that about an Advisor?”

Crowley blinked and nodded. “Right, so you were listening. Good. So, to recap, you, as the Boy King, can take an Advisor. Anyone. Human, demon, angel, even a bloody werewolf if you so chose. That Advisor would serve by your side, immortal. I imagine you already have a candidate…”

Sam couldn’t believe it. So now not only was he immortal, but Crowley expected him to consign Dean to it as well? Hell no. Unless Dean specifically asked for ways to stay by his side, and had a valid fucking reason besides “I don’t want to be separated from you.” Because that codependency had been what had sunk them, time and time again.

Although, this time, there wouldn’t be any deals. No resurrections. No need for resurrections. Just living forever, watching everyone age and die around them, except for those like Castiel who were just as eternal. The codependent urge to be together would be…satisfied as it could be.

It sounded too good to be true. (It was Crowley. It probably was.)

Sam realized Crowley was waiting for an answer, so he shrugged. “I won’t force him,” he added. “I’d never force anyone to. It’s a matter of principle,” he said as Crowley made a face.

Principles,” the demon scoffed. “Damn things give me hives.” He sighed. “Whatever, then, Moose. I suppose I’ll leave you to figure out your power, then.” He raised a finger to snap. “Just don’t forget, Moose, we’re not going anywhere until you can protect yourself. I’ll not have you endanger me by being incompetent.” With that, he flashed out of the room.

Sam rolled his eyes. Melodramatic bastard.

But still. He needed to figure these powers out, figure out how to “accept” them or whatever the fuck he needed to do. Or he’d never be able to save Dean and actually ask him about this Advisor shit.

He settled back into his cross-legged sprawl and focused inward. He evened out his breaths and did his best to forget everything rushing around his head. His power perked up, and Sam braced himself for more cryptic images.

Instead, he got a powerful feeling of regret, backed by stubbornness.

What, so you finally found those memories? He asked it. Realized how badly I just wanted to have an end, for God’s sake?

The stubbornness increased tenfold, and he got an image of a signed contract dated back to his year(s) in Hell. Regret still leaked though, but it was obvious that his power, as sentient as it could be, was agreeing with Crowley.

By the time he’d learned about it, it had been a done deal for years. There was no way out.

Fuck, he cursed. Fuck you, fuck this, and especially fuck whatever twist of fate decided that I was the Chosen One or some shit.

His power sent him the equivalent of a mental shrug and the image of a man yelling at a hurricane.

Yeah, he got it. It was futile, it was inevitable, it was fated. All shit he’d been told before, and all shit that he’d proven wrong.

That got him an image of the same man drowning in the storm surge, still screaming.

Fine, he said. Fucking fine. I get it. You can quit with the messages of inevitability now.

He got a very strong impression of You liar. It wasn’t wrong.

He pulled away. He needed to sleep. If he was going to spend all of tomorrow meditating, he needed to have a lot more concentration than he knew he could muster on less than five hours of sleep.

He lay back and wished that he could go back to the very first Apocalypse, back to when Cas found him in the Cage and dragged out his body, and Death returned to finish the job, and tell them to leave well enough alone.

Amara was getting bored. Or rather, she was getting annoyed. Very annoyed. Her Sibling refused to appear before her and confront her, no matter how many of his followers she had his Chosen kill. What was she doing wrong?

She expanded her consciousness to the realms around the human Plane. A few realms of minor gods, in no way affiliated with her Sibling, piqued her interest, but in the end she focused on the three that she knew her Sibling had a hand in: the Planes called Hell, Purgatory, and Heaven.

Heaven had strong wards around it, still resonating with her Sibling’s power. It would take some time to breach those defenses, time that she did not want to waste. Her tail may have fallen behind, but they could catch her at any minute, and she disliked being hounded.

Purgatory seemed inconsequential, filled with twisted and animalistic souls that struck her oddly, older and cleverer than any of the beings she had found. Feeling one out, she realized that they could be a challenge for even her.

She would save Purgatory for later, when her Consort was resting.

Hell, though, Hell was ripe for the taking. It had no wards except for those laid by Lucifer, the foolish angel who her Sibling had deemed unworthy. As such, she could break through those wards in a matter of seconds and be deep within Hell before any of the denizens realized.

She smiled. She had a feeling that her Consort would enjoy ripping apart beings that fought back for once.

She roused him, shaking his shoulder gently. When he stared confusingly into her face, she soothed, “Hush. I have a new target for you. Come, my Consort, let us go to Hell.”

She wondered at the sudden hatred that flashed across her Consort’s face but dismissed it. It would only fuel his killing rage. And surely it could be nothing too personal.

Dean winced when he heard where his body was headed next. Even he could feel the incandescent flash of rage that ran through his body, no matter how blocked off from everything else he was.

As much as he hated being Amara’s puppet, seeing her face when her loyal “Consort” went to fucking town on Hell would be a treat. Maybe she’d even deign to ask him why on her next visit.

He missed talking to people.

He missed talking to Sam.

Crowley was keeping one eye on Amara even as he waited for Sam to figure himself out. After all, it wouldn’t do to lose the very villain they were trying to fight.

And there was no way he was bringing Sam to a showdown without full confidence that Sam wouldn’t end up overwhelmed, because if Sam was overwhelmed, he was bloody toast.

So he made sure that Amara was sticking to her pattern, popping around the world to wreak havoc and murder, and he made sure that Sam wasn’t trying to go find his brother himself.

That was why it was immediately obvious when Amara disappeared off the map.


Just like that.

That couldn’t be good.

Sam was deep in meditation, trying to get his power to just work with him, when he was pulled out rudely by his power slamming into something that had just teleported in.

Sam opened his eyes to find a demon in an older man’s body slammed against the wall. “What do you want?” he hissed.

The demon flinched. On a second look, Sam noticed the blood soaking through the body’s clothes, and the black ribbons of smoke – demonic essence? – floating away. “My…my King,” the demon stuttered, “I…I meant no offence, I swear it, I deeply apologize for disturbing you–”

Sam cut in. He wasn’t about to be genuflected to by a demon. No matter where his powers originated. “What do you want?” he asked again.

Crowley popped in, immediately demanding, “Report! Why are you here, Rowan?”

“Sir!” the demon (Rowan? What kind of demon was named Rowan?) said, back trying (and failing) to straighten against the shove of Sam’s power. (For once, they were in agreement. It felt almost like control.) “She’s here,” the demon continued. “She’s tearing us apart, sir. Well, actually, he’s tearing us apart, but she brought him! We need you in Hell, sir, we need someone to stop him!”

“Who?” Sam asked, frustrated.

Crowley sounded horrified. “Amara and your dear brother, Moose.” He paused and added wryly, “So that’s where she disappeared to.” Sam was still stuck on the fact that Amara was attacking Hell. It didn’t fit her M.O. So he almost missed Crowley commanding the demon, “Bring us to them!” and grabbing Sam’s arm, breaking Sam’s concentration and letting the demon free himself.

Right before the demon vanished and Crowley followed him, Sam heard Crowley whisper, “I damn sure hope that you’ve got the handle on those powers that it looks like you’ve got, Moose. Because I can’t let my kingdom be savaged by your brother and his unholy whore.”

The room disappeared around him.

Hell was as shitty as he remembered. Screams of agony and fear echoed around him, and the sound of blades sinking into flesh was all too familiar.

For just a few seconds, he found himself back in the Cage with Lucifer, with Lucifer sliding a sliver of metal between his ribs into his lung and pulling it back out with a wet sucking sound. Sam tried to suck in air and tasted blood.

Crowley’s nudge dragged him out of the flashback. His power shoved resolve and knowledge that it was over his way.

“You know, Moose,” Crowley said lowly, “You could change all of this. You are the Boy King. No one would dare challenge you, not anymore.”

Sam huffed a laugh under his breath, thinking privately, Yeah, right. Not like I can access those powers myself. No one respects a King who can’t control his own body. His power sent him the image of the flipping coin again. It was apparently a favorite. He mentally rolled his eyes and replied, Just because we’re two sides of the same coin doesn’t mean I can just leap into controlling you. His power sent him a mental shrug.

Sam felt the same way.

They walked through Hell – getting the grand tour, Sam thought snidely – and the screaming just got louder and louder as they approached wherever they were going.

Then they got there and Sam understood. Before him, hundreds – no, thousands – of souls hung from chains and racks and hooks, suspended over what was currently a battlefield. Their screams were drowned out by those of the fighting demons, who seemed to be falling left and right. Flashes of orange-red appeared every other second, and Dean was at the center of the mass.

Dean looked feral. That was the only word for it. His face was twisted into a snarl, and his face was splattered with blood and bone. His arms were red to the elbows, and his knife was dripping red. Sam watched as he gutted a demon, only to pivot and behead one that had been trying to get behind him.

He was actually an army of one.

And the craziest part was that he was winning. Demons were trying to smoke out left and right, only to be caught by a nearly invisible web of dark tendrils encircling the battlefield and shoved back into a vessel – any vessel – where Dean would kill them.

Sam traced the web back to Amara and nearly laughed at the look on her face. She stared in what could be called overt shock at Dean as he snarled – honest-to-God snarled – at a demon while gutting it slowly.

She’d obviously not looked too hard into Dean’s past. Sam was sure that if he hadn’t been surrounded, Dean would have made each and every death much slower.

But watching Dean tear Hell to pieces wasn’t to point. Because as much as he enjoyed watching the racks be demolished, that down there wasn’t Dean. Sam could see that in every move, in every expression. That down there was Dean’s body without Dean – his face was too cold, and his every strike was mechanical, even as it was obviously engineered to bring maximum pain.

Sam stepped forward. “Dean!” he yelled. “Dean!

It was like he didn’t hear. Dean kept attacking, slowly running out of demons to slaughter. But Amara sure noticed, because she laughed coldly.

“Dean Winchester is mine now,” she shouted to him, derision in every syllable. “And he is truly mine. I have taken every part of him that would object and locked it away. You’ll never reach him, Samuel Winchester. In fact, when my Consort is finished here, I will set him upon you.” She grinned darkly, and Sam felt the strong urge to strangle her. Dean wouldn’t…but maybe, this way, he would. Amara continued, “I think that watching himself kill you would finally break him. It would be a glorious victory.”

For a couple of seconds, Sam wanted to fall to the ground and curse the world. He wanted to curse God and ask him why he wouldn’t just show his face and get this grudge match over with so that Amara would let his brother go.

Then he found the rage he’d been building ever since he’d realized what Amara had done. He gathered it around himself, a huge ball of hell to the fuck no, and snarled silently. His power echoed him, coiled tightly within him, all of it focused tightly on Amara’s cloud of Chaos and Darkness.

Crowley’s yelp brought the ring of fire that had been drawn to him to his attention. He glanced over to see Crowley backing quickly away, batting at the charred front of his suit. He reached out a hand and ran it through the Hellfire, thinking So that’s how it works. Cooperation. Not submission on either side.

His power hissed an affirmative, anger at Amara evident in every communication.

Let’s do this, Sam growled in return, and the power followed his every move. They gathered a fireball together, the Hellfire coalescing into a globe taller than Sam. With a nod, the fireball hurtled toward Amara, who was watching with some unnamable emotion blanketing her face. (Fear? Rage? Confusion? Recognition? Sam couldn’t say.)

Instead of batting the fireball away like Sam had expected her to do – it wasn’t like he was anywhere near her level of power – she growled and pulled Dean to her over his protests, disappearing just as the fireball exploded where she had been standing.

Without a thought, Sam caught the thread she’d left. He could follow this, he realized, How? As he dragged himself in Amara’s wake, his power replied with something that could loosely be translated to You’ve always been able to by instinct, but to act on these kinds of instincts, you have to acknowledge them. (It was actually the image of the coin again, this time lying with Sam’s face up and a wolf’s face on the underside, slowly flipping upright. Sam figured his translation was okay when the power sent him an affirmation.)

It took him a few seconds to come out on the other side, but he figured that with practice he could do it instantaneously. When he landed, he found himself in the middle of Times Square, surrounded by screaming passers-by, some of them blood-streaked or falling to the ground either unconscious or dead.

Oh God. Please, no.

Sam pushed his way through the crowd, heading toward where everyone else was running away, and he noticed a few people – mostly men near his size – trying to shove him away, fear and horror in their eyes. Sam ignored them and shoved past. He had to find Dean. He had to stop this.

Sirens wailed in the background as he found Dean in the center of the mob, manic grin on his face, slashing his way through the New Yorkers as Amara looked on, satisfied. Something about Dean looked off, and Sam looked closer. He realized that Dean’s eyes weren’t green. They were grey from eyelid to eyelid – not the black that marked every demon, but a swirling dark grey that looked almost exactly like the Darkness under Amara’s skin.

Sam refused to accept that Dean was hers. But he wouldn’t let her run again.

His power took note, and he used it to pull debris and concrete from around him into a domed shield, surrounding him on all sides. The world went dark. Underneath the barrier he’d just constructed, Sam ordered his power, Hold this. Do not release it under any circumstances. He felt his power agree, and with protection of his body ensured, he proceeded to reach out, like he’d done to follow Amara in the first place.

He found Dean, a somewhat familiar glow encased by shadow tendrils. Sam didn’t touch, knowing somehow that Amara would be able to feel his probing, and also knowing that he didn’t have the dexterity to reach between the bonds.

The decision not to touch lasted until he heard Dean’s voice, shouting curses loudly, his voice cracking multiple times as he railed against something to stop, to let her go, goddammit.

Dean? He hazarded, figuring that maybe words could cross the bonds where his power couldn’t.

Dean’s voice paused before he asked, Sammy? Is that…is that you?

Yeah, Dean, it’s me, he replied. It’s okay, I’m gonna free you.

Dean scoffed, Yeah, right, you’re just another hallucination. Shut the fuck up. You’re not actually there.

But I am, Dean, he replied. He thought (privately, at least he’d thought so), So apparently telepathy’s another new thing. Huh.

Apparently it wasn’t so private, though, because Dean asked, Another new thing, Sam? What the fuck did you get into now?

Sam brushed him off, saying Talk later, now let’s see if I can do anything about these… He reached out with his power and gingerly brushed one of Amara’s bonds. He felt Amara take notice.

He had all of a second to think Oh shit and to hear Dean scream his name in fear. Then he felt his power shoved away from Dean and he came back to his body. All he knew was pain.

(From what Crowley would say later, Sam figured that Amara had sent a lightning bolt or six at his shell, sending it – electrified – collapsing onto him. Which would explain why he hadn’t been able to move or really breathe until Crowley found him.)

He lay there for a long time. The feeling of his bones knitting themselves back together brought back memories of the Cage, and Hell knitting him back together every time Lucifer tore him apart. He couldn’t draw himself out of the flashbacks, and soon he felt Hellfire licking at his sides. He wanted to scream but he couldn’t breathe.

Just then, a slab of what was probably concrete was lifted off of him. Crowley’s voice floated to him like in a dream: “Oh, good, Moose, you’re still alive. Let’s get you out of here, you suicidal idiot.”

He would swear that he didn’t imagine Crowley lecturing him about stupid recklessness and not getting himself killed the whole time he was being unburied. (Crowley, of course, denied it.)

When he was finally free – and Sam didn’t know how Crowley kept his actions hidden from the general public, but he somehow did – Crowley lifted him gingerly. (Sam’s nerves still lit up like the Fourth of July, and he could’ve sworn he heard Crowley apologize profusely before they teleported away.) They landed in yet another hotel room, and Crowley laid his body on the bed. Sam tried to groan, but apparently something wasn’t fixed yet, because he still couldn’t make a sound (although he could breathe, so small victories).

Crowley left him there. Sam hallucinated a hand brushing his hair away from his forehead as he succumbed to unconsciousness.

Crowley let Sam lie in bed for days. He’d check back in daily, to make certain that he hadn’t died in the night, and to check out how far he’d healed. Every so often, Sam would be semi-lucid when he popped in, but Crowley managed to keep from having any in-depth conversations.

To be honest, he was rather infuriated with the man. What the devil possessed him to go galavanting after the Darkness herself to try and tear her favorite playtoy from her grasp with zero training and zero experience?

Damn Winchesters and their damn codependency. It would literally be the death of him someday, he was sure of it.

But unfortunately, he couldn’t see it going away anytime soon. The next time Sam got it into his head that he should try to free Dean, he’d go running off to try, practiced or not. Which meant he needed practice on something that wouldn’t bite back.

Crowley hated to admit it even to himself, but he had to volunteer to be Sam’s dummy.

Good God, but this was going to be awful.

For the first time in days, Sam woke up without pain somewhere in his body. It was nice, he figured, to realize that you were healthy. To be healthy.

Admittedly, he’d practically done it to himself. He’d walked into that trap headfirst. He should’ve practiced messing with his powers before he tried to take on the Darkness herself.

But then again, he hadn’t had a handle on his powers until almost literally that point in time. So it wasn’t like he’d had an opportunity to practice.

That argument wouldn’t hold water, unfortunately.

He blinked and sat up when Crowley popped in. He waited for pain to set in, and sighed deeply when he didn’t. Thank God. He really was healed.

Crowley didn’t bother waiting for him to glance over. He just starting ranting: “Sam, you bloody idiot, what were you thinking going after Amara blind? She could have actually found a way to kill you, and then where would I be? Where would the world be? Oh, that’s right! Burned to the bloody ground!

Sam winced. Unfortunately, it was all true, or he’d be arguing. Crowley was just putting in words what he’d been thinking.

Crowley continued, “If you insist on going after Amara like a bloodhound after a serial killer, at least practice severing ties on a soul! For God’s sake.”

Sam replied sardonically, “Oh yeah? On who?” Crowley’d never let him practice on him. He was far to possessive of that vessel to–

Crowley sighed. “On me, I suppose.”

Sam blinked. What? “What?”

“Look, Moose,” Crowley said, “I don’t have to like it, but you need to practice on someone that won’t bite back. And I’m your best shot. So…I suppose you’ll have to practice on me. Unfortunately.”

Sam held back a smirk. “Um, okay. When do we start?”

“Whenever you’re ready and awake.”

Sam stretched and realized that it had really been a while since he’d pissed and showered. “Uh, how about after I take care of some…business?” he asked.

Crowley sniffed and screwed up his nose. “Admittedly a good idea. I’ll return in an hour or so, Moose. Please have clothes on.”

Sam nodded, dancing in place now that his bladder had woken up. As soon as Crowley vanished, he ran for the bathroom. Pissing felt even better than realizing that he wasn’t hurt any more.

When he’d finished his business, he stripped and started the shower, putting the water to just above lukewarm. Too hot, and he had a feeling that he’d start getting flashbacks of his time in Hell. But too cold and he’d remember how cold Lucifer’s Grace felt inside of his when he–

He cut that train of thought off and focused on letting his muscles relax one muscle group at a time under the rush of the water. Taking a shower felt heavenly, and he wished he could actually stay under the spray until the water went cold.

Unfortunately, Crowley’s time frame was ambiguous enough that he couldn’t. As soon as he’d shampooed and scrubbed the sweat and dust off of himself (and luxuriated for just a few minutes – just a few! – under the warn water), he jumped out and scrubbed himself dry, wrapping the towel around his waist. (It was actually wide enough to be decent: another plus to the non-skeevy hotel.) He peeked out of the bathroom and, not seeing Crowley, poked around with his power as well, just to be certain. When even that turned up nothing, he stepped out, dropped the towel, and pulled on a pair of boxers.

Crowley popped in as he was tugging on a t-shirt. Sam realized that, now that he and his power were actually cooperating, he could feel Crowley coming. It was a strange feeling, like feeling an approaching thunderstorm in your bones.

Crowley hummed, “Well, at least you have pants on, Moose.”

Sam rolled his eyes and finished tugging on his t-shirt, picking up a flannel to wear over it. “Keep joking, Crowley,” he fired back, “Now when are we doing this?”

Crowley sighed and braced himself. “Right now,” he said, screwing up his face.

Sam tensed and wished he didn’t have to do this. But he reached his power forward and felt for where Crowley attached to vessel. He felt out each of the connecting points, noting their relative strength and location. (Interestingly, Crowley was holding on strongest to his vessel’s…chest? Almost like he wanted to stay in the vessel’s heart.)

After he’d noted every location and rechecked for any that Crowley had tried to hide (he found three; Crowley was craftier than he’d thought), he began snipping at each of the connections. He could feel Crowley – not Crowley’s vessel but Crowley himself – flinch at each snip, but apparently the demon was committed to allowing him to learn on a demon that didn’t fight back. (Sam was glad; he wanted to figure how to do this before he had to figure out how to defend himself at the same time. That could come once he’d mastered this.) He fumbled a few of the connections, his power sliding off of them, and Sam took a second look. These were stronger than they first appeared, he realized. He applied more of his power – and more – and finally, they snapped, one by one.

Crowley streamed out of his vessel’s mouth, a reddish cloud that crackled and snapped. Sam pulled back, and Crowley reentered his vessel.

As soon as he had control back, Crowley wrinkled his nose. “Ugh,” he complained, “I hate this worse than I hate listening to minions recite statistics at me. And I do hate that.”

Sam wanted to apologize, almost. He felt…dirty, in a way. Not because he’d been practically soul-to-smoke with Crowley, though. More because he’d just done exactly what he told Dean to never do to him: gone into someone’s soul and fucked around.

He could hear what Crowley wasn’t saying. He wasn’t mentioning the violation that came with having your soul messed around with. He wasn’t mentioning the pain that even demons felt when connections were severed (or formed). He wasn’t mentioning the unease that started coming up every time the person that could do that to you was in your view.

(He remembered every second of Death building a wall in his head, and every second – no matter how short – of Castiel tearing it down. Sometimes he still couldn’t look straight at Cas, and he’d never again been as comfortable around Death. Sure, he was able to fake it, to act like he was okay with Death being within a mile of him, but he wasn’t. At all. He was almost glad that incarnation was gone.)

“C’mon, Moose, how long are you going to leave me on tenterhooks?” Crowley jibed.

Sam blinked and shook himself. He reached out again. This time, he tried to do it faster. Both to decrease the time he had to touch Crowley’s soul-smoke and to decrease the time that Crowley had to feel him poking around.

With every attempt, Sam could feel himself getting better, more precise, faster. He began to try and hide from Crowley, to sever as many bonds as he could without letting the demon know he was. He kept his eyes open, focusing on not letting them drift, focusing on looking like he wasn’t doing anything.

That was harder. After all, Sam was slicing at bonds in Crowley’s soul. Not only did it require more focus to try and nullify the pain before he could feel it, it required more focus to find the points of contact without alerting Crowley to his rummaging.

Crowley clued in on the second or third time he’d gotten halfway through the process without tripping his senses. “Oh, good job, Sam,” he praised, panting. “That’s a good idea. The more you can do without them noticing you, the more ahead of them you are.” He drew in a breath, face red. “But next time, inform me, would you? It’s rather…distressing to realize that you’re halfway out of your vessel already. Next time I could lash out on instinct.”

Sam almost said, “Please do,” but he realized before he could that he should probably master doing it all under the radar before he tried to contend against an aggressor.

Just then, his stomach growled. Right. He had forgone breakfast. He glanced at the clock. And lunch, too, at this point. Crowley rolled his eyes. “What do you want?” he asked.

“Um…that Indian food you brought back a couple of days ago?” he asked sheepishly. It had been delicious and filling, and it had actually been vegetarian. He only got to eat like this when Dean wasn’t around and he wasn’t on the road and scamming credit cards.

Crowley sighed, “Oh, all right. Only because you’re doing so well.” He popped out. While he was gone, Sam made himself a cup of coffee in the hotel’s coffee maker. It wasn’t bad, but it certainly wasn’t what he was used to at the Bunker. Man, he thought, I wish I was in the Bunker. Where there’s actually decent coffee.

He blinked and felt a pulling sensation. He opened his eyes and he was standing, holding the hotel’s shitty disposable cup full of passable coffee, in the Bunker’s kitchen. Directly in front of the coffeemaker.

“What. The. Fuck,” he wheezed. He realized he’d dropped the coffee cup and that hot coffee was soaking through his socks. “Fuck!

He bounced around on one foot, trying to take off his now-soaked socks while also trying to keep out of the growing puddle of coffee. When he’d managed to get the socks off, he collapsed onto a chair. “How the fuck did I get here?” he asked himself. “There’s no way I can…teleport.” No. Way.

Crowley would have mentioned something like this. Surely.

He stared at the wall, wondering if he should try it again. He didn’t want to end up lost…but he also really wanted that Indian food. Anything in the Bunker refrigerator had gone bad days ago.

He huffed and imagined himself back in the hotel room where Crowley had left him.

He felt that pulling sensation again.

He landed smack on top of Crowley. Indian food almost went everywhere, but Crowley managed to grab it and hold it aloft.

“Goddammit, Sam, where the hell have you bloody been?” he yelled.

Sam laughed nervously. “Um, so…I can teleport,” he said.

He laughed harder at the incredulous look on Crowley’s face. He snagged the Indian food and sat down, taking a bite. He was hungry, and the aroma of curry and actual vegetables had filled the room when Crowley had arrived.

He’d let the demon process.

Lucifer blinked. There it was again, much stronger this time: the power of his Boy King being used. He shifted on his “throne,” thankful that his (much) younger siblings had left him alone for a while.

He reached out with his Grace, following the threads of the power. Each time the user stopped, he had to start over, losing the thread. It was getting frustrating, he’d admit.

But then the power flared like a firework. He could follow a use that large even without continuous use. He traced the power back to its source.

He wondered why he should be surprised that it was Sam Winchester. After all, no other human in recent times had been so lovingly “endorsed” by him. No, Sam Winchester had most definitely received his endorsement. Many times, in so many lovely iterations.

Lucifer smiled at the memories, and squashed Castiel down when he protested.

Now that the Boy King had arrived, he figured, he should stop watching the Darkness wreak havoc. After all, he could drain Sam and receive a huge, if short-lived, power-up.

Yes, now he could take on the Darkness and show his Parent that he was a good Child. He could prove himself again.

He took flight from the Heavenly throne room, aiming for the room where Sam sat with a demon nearby. (Crowley, that weasel-y bastard, he’d get what was coming to him.)

Sam started, nearly choking on a slice of potato, when his powers suddenly freaked out. He couldn’t tell why until he felt it: a cloud like an ice storm, accompanied by the sound of too-many, too-loud wings. Crowley cursed and vanished as Sam stood, the chair falling behind him with a clatter. Lucifer was heading right for him.

Looked like his powers were going for a test drive whether he wanted them to or not. He had to free Castiel. He didn’t want him subjected to another second of possession by Lucifer.

Lucifer landed with a clatter of wings, twisting Castiel’s face into a frown. “Oh, did the demon get away?” he asked lightly. “Pity. I’ll have to hunt him down once I drain you of all that lovely power I gave you.”

“W-what?” Sam stuttered, barely able to force words out around the cold that had sunken into the room with Lucifer’s arrival. His Grace blanketed everything, and it felt like Sam had a coating of frost over every inch of himself. He checked, glancing down at his chest.

No ice. This is real. This is real. This is real. This is real.

He took a deep breath, and Lucifer continued, “I don’t suppose you know where he went? I mean, this process will be painful either way, but I can always shield you from the worst of it.” He smiled softly, and Sam wished it was Castiel behind the smile. But he knew that smile, knew the deadness in those eyes, even if it was a different mouth and different eyes.

“Please, don’t,” he breathed, pulling his power deep into himself, trying to hide it from Lucifer. Trying to hide what he was about to do.

Lucifer hummed. “Oh, you remembered how much I love it when you beg,” he mused, smirk widening. “How sweet.”

Sam let himself collapse backwards into the chair that remained upright. He wouldn’t be able to concentrate on keeping himself upright when he dove in. He’d be fighting for his life, and hoping that Lucifer was focused enough on his internal attack that he wouldn’t try and eviscerate him. “Please,” he breathed again, hoping to distract Lucifer.

Lucifer stepped closer, face softening (falsely, his memories reminded him). Sam dove into the mess that was his ties around Castiel.

Lucifer noticed his presence almost immediately. Sam wondered for a few seconds why he didn’t attack, but didn’t let that slow him down. He dove through the tangled web that was Lucifer’s Grace wrapped around Castiel, and found the weakest points.

He touched the connection and found himself in the Bunker – or a very accurate facsimile of one, he realized – standing in front of a huge web of ice stuck to the wall. Sam shrugged, figuring, what the hell. Sure, it didn’t happen with Crowley, but Lucifer was a whole ‘nother weight class. He slammed his power into the ice web and it shattered. The point disappeared, and Lucifer howled in rage around him. Ignoring that, Sam sprinted for the next connection he could feel.

He managed to sever six before Lucifer caught up to him in what he assumed was Castiel’s mind. He’d just turned away from the mess of shattered ice shards when Lucifer appeared in front of him, arms crossed and huge wings of ice framing his shoulders.

“Now, now, Sammy my boy, that’s not nice,” he chided, walking forward.

Sam gathered up all of his courage. “I’m the King of Hell now, you bastard,” he hissed. “So you can get the fuck out of Cas’ head.” With that, he gathered his power around him and tested if he could teleport within Cas’ mind.

He thanked God when he could, because his last glimpse of Lucifer’s face had shown him rage laid over a grudging respect.

Lucifer stared in shock and rage when his quarry vanished from in front of him. That shouldn’t be possible. Even he couldn’t teleport within a mind like that. How could Sam Winchester do it when he, the angel who bequeathed the power to him, couldn’t?

He stormed down the hallways, letting his wings drag the walls. He tracked Sam by the bursts of power he released.

Unfortunately, the Winchester had gotten smart. He was teleporting all over the place now, and Lucifer couldn’t track a pattern.

He decided to wait near the strongest point of his connection. Sam would eventually have to come, and when he did, Lucifer would destroy him.

Sam teleported around Cas’ head, thankful that he could. It was keeping him ahead of Lucifer and his tangible rage.

He destroyed every point of connection that he found. At first, he slammed his power into them, but he realized that using his fists worked just as well, so he conserved his power. (He didn’t know if he had a reserve of a specific size, and if he did, he definitely didn’t want to discover that now.)

When he popped into what seemed to be the Bunker’s kitchen, the last thing he expected was to find Castiel watching some TV sitcom on an old antenna TV.

“Cas?” he asked. “Is that…you?”

Cas jumped and spun around, his eyes wide. “Sam?” he asked. “What are you doing here?” He hurried over, shoving Sam away. “You must leave now! Before he finds you. Please, Sam, I don’t want him to hurt you.”

Sam gently pushed Cas’ hands away. “Hey, Cas, it’s okay,” he soothed. “Look, I’m here to help you, okay? I’m trying to cast Lucifer out.”

Sam was surprised when Cas scoffed. “Oh, right,” he muttered, “You and what army?”

Sometimes Sam was still surprised at the lingo Cas had picked up when Metatron shoved pop culture into his brain. This was one of those times.

Thus why it took him a couple of seconds to figure out how to answer.

“Um, right, uh…” he stuttered. “Well, you see, Cas, I have these…powers.”

Cas nodded. “Yes, you are the Boy King. But even if you accepted those powers fully, you would not be strong enough to best Lucifer.”

Sam shrugged. “I mean, I’m doing okay so far,” he said. “I’ve taken out, I dunno, half of his ties to you? Maybe a little more?”

“What?” Cas asked. “That’s impossible.”

Sam almost wanted to be offended at the lack of trust, but he got it. He wouldn’t have trusted someone (even Dean) popping into his head and telling him that he was here to rescue him when he was possessed by Lucifer, either. “Trust me, Cas,” he said, “It’s possible. In fact…” he paused, feeling around for what had brought him here.

The TV was abnormally cold to the touch. He slammed his power into it, and it dissolved into shards of ice. Cas made to protest, but paused. “I…know that power,” he said uncertainly. “You said you are the Boy King?”

Sam nodded quickly. Now that he’d destroyed the TV, Lucifer could come find him any minute. “Look, Cas,” he said, “I can do this on my own, but it’ll go quicker with your help. Just…find the places Lucifer connected himself to you and slam a fist into them. If it doesn’t shatter, leave it and find another. I’ll come and get it.”

Cas made to object, but Sam held up a hand, stating, “I don’t have much time. Lucifer is probably already on his way. Either you’re in or you’re not, Cas,” he said, hating the ultimatum but needing the help.

Sam hated the way Cas’ face crumpled in distress, but when it hardened and Cas answered, “I’ll help you,” he wanted to cheer. Thank God.

“Okay,” he said quickly. “Just head down that hallway. If you see any ice, hit it hard.” He popped out of the room as Cas headed out of the kitchen.

In the end, with Cas’ help, it took probably half the time. Lucifer didn’t show up at all, which at first Sam was happy for – until he realized Lucifer’s strategy.

He appeared at the place that Lucifer’s connection was strongest – the last connection present, he’d made sure – to find Lucifer lounging on a chair in the library.

“Why, hello, Sam,” Lucifer purred. “Fancy meeting you here.”

“Lucifer,” Sam stated, seeing Cas enter through the arch opposite. Lucifer’s back was to Cas, and Sam wanted to keep it that way. If Cas could sever the final bond…well, he knew how liberating it was to strike the final blow, even if you needed help getting there.

“You’ve been very rude, Sam,” Lucifer mused, standing and walking closer. His back was still to Cas.

“Have I?” Sam asked, deliberately needling the archangel. “I thought I was freeing a friend.”

Lucifer tutted, shaking his head mock-disappointedly. “Sammy, Sammy, Sammy,” he hummed, “You just don’t understand.” He looked up, eyes hard. “Castiel is mine now.”

“Why?” Sam asked, watching Cas approach the huge web of ice with caution. He began feeding his power into Cas. He watched Cas pause and glance back before nodding his thanks.

Lucifer laughed. “Why, God’s resurrected this little angel so many times it’s ridiculous!” he jeered. “I thought that, perhaps, if I took him for my own, I’d finally get his attention!” His voice dropped, and his head fell. Sam watched Lucifer put on a pout. “But no dice,” he said. “God hasn’t shown. I guess little Castiel isn’t so important after all.”

Sam watched Cas’ back stiffen. No, please, he thought, please hit it, I’ve given you the power, you can do it. He almost breathed a sigh of relief when Cas threw a wild punch at the center of the enormous patch of ice that spread between two bookshelves.

As the ice shattered, Lucifer spun and screamed, “No!” Light began to fill the room, and Sam closed his eyes and covered his ears, making sure to do it in the real world, too. He didn’t want to find out how his immortality fared against pure Grace right now.

Then, just like that, Lucifer was gone. “Cas?” Sam asked.

He ran forward as Cas crumpled to the ground and curled into a ball.

Lucifer screamed the whole way out of Castiel. His plan was spotless! How did this happen?

He streaked away from Earth, deciding to leave it for dead. He couldn’t fight the Darkness as he was, and Sam was (somehow, he seethed, his Boy King should not be able to overpower him) too powerful to overcome in a fair fight. And from what he’d seen, he’d never be able to sneak up on him, so it would always (unfortunately) be a fair fight.

He hovered around Alpha Centauri to wait for the Darkness to consume the Earth.

If God returned, he’d make his way back. But if not, at least he’d have died among the stars that he hadn’t truly seen in eons.

“Cas?” Sam asked frantically, not sure if he should grab his shoulders and shake him or if that would make it worse. From personal experience, it wasn’t what Cas needed, but Sam also needed him to get up.

From personal experience, Cas was going to be out of commission for a long while. Sam just hoped that he’d managed to miss the hallucinations, because both of them had already undergone that once (even if his had been Cas’ fault and Cas had taken his into himself to try and make amends).

Sam looked down when Cas groaned. “Hey, hey, Cas, you doing okay?”

Cas rolled onto his back and pushed feebly at the floor. Sam helped him sit up. Cas’s voice was rough when he said, “I’m fine.”

He almost fell over when he tried to stand, and Sam had to grab for his arm to keep him from overbalancing. “Hey, whoa, easy. Easy, Cas.” Cas swayed in his grip and Sam focused on the Bunker. Maybe familiar surroundings would be helpful in getting Cas back in equilibrium.

Cas blinked when Sam teleported into the Bunker’s kitchen. “Oh,” he said. “You can fly.”

Sam blinked. “Wait, what?” he said. “I thought it was closer to how demons get around.” Flying…that was angelic. That definitely wasn’t a quality that he could see the Boy King of Hell possessing.

Cas nodded his head back and forth. “Well, I suppose it’s a mix of both means, technically. I suppose flying is the word I am used to using. A more correct translation could be ‘dimension hopping,’ or possibly ‘trans-spatial instantaneous movement.’”

“So…teleporting,” Sam continued, a smile on his face. Trust the angel to come up with either an overly simplified term or a really, really overcomplicated one.

“Well…yes,” Cas said, “but that implies the usage of some kind of device, normally…”

Sam laughed. He couldn’t help it. Damn, he’d missed Cas. “Let’s just call it teleporting, Cas. Simplest, most correct term.”

“If you insist,” Cas replied, a small smile on his face. It only stayed for a few seconds before it fell away. “Sam?” Cas asked, and Sam had never heard him sound so small.


“Are you…are you certain that he is gone?”

Sam blew out a breath. He knew just how Cas felt, how strange it was to be alone in your own body again, how warm everything suddenly was. How it still felt like something was hiding behind your eyes. “Yeah, Cas, I’m sure. You struck the final blow, and he didn’t exactly go quietly.”

Cas shivered, and Sam made a mental note to turn the heat up. “But are you sure?”

“If you really want me to I could check,” Sam began, already hating this option. “But please be sure. I don’t want to make you uncomfortable.” He didn’t want to be another invader in Cas’ mind, where there had already been one too many.

“Can’t you…sense him?” Cas asked. Apparently he’d picked up on Sam’s readiness upon Lucifer’s arrival, even if Lucifer hadn’t.

That was a good point, actually. And it didn’t involve invading Cas’ mind again. “You’re right,” Sam agreed, “If he was here I’d be able to.” He paused, checking one more time to make sure, sweeping his power over Cas’ body to find any last traces of Lucifer. “I can’t sense him at all. You’re clean, Cas, I swear.”

Cas collapsed into a chair behind him. “Thank God,” he whispered.

Sam huffed a sardonic laugh. “Yeah,” he agreed. He looked around the kitchen, trying to find some way to move on from the frankly heavy conversation. “You, uh, you want me to make you a sandwich or something?” he asked. “I mean, it’s not gonna be anything like what…what Dean would make, but I don’t think it’d kill you.”

Cas looked over. “I would…I would like that. I don’t – I actually don’t know when I last ate. Angels don’t – I don’t need to eat, but I do like it.” Sam heard everything underneath that and let it go. Cas would deal with it in time.

“Two sandwiches, coming up,” he said, turning to the fridge. On second thought…how long had it been since he’d been in the Bunker? A week? More? The meat was probably bad. And who knew if the cheese was growing fuzz yet, but he didn’t want to find out. “On second thought,” he said out loud, “How about PB and J?”

Cas smiled. “That sounds very good, Sam. Thank you.”

Sam smiled back and went to find the bread. Here’s hoping it wasn’t growing fuzz, either.

Sam stayed in the Bunker with Cas for a day before he started getting antsy. Who knew what Amara was doing right now? He didn’t want to turn on the TV and check, because he didn’t want to disturb Cas.

And that was the thing: Cas. Sam completely understood his reasons, but he still acted like Lucifer hid around every corner. He would be useless in a confrontation with Amara. Sam worried, honestly, that something would happen and Cas would dissolve into a panic attack. He knew that he would have (but, then again, he also had to deal with memories of years of torture).

Sam needed to get back on Amara’s tail. Now that he’d accepted his powers fully, he could feel what Crowley felt: a massive blot on the world, somewhere far away. A writhing mess of Chaos and Nothing somewhere in the world. He didn’t have the accuracy Crowley had, but he figured that it probably came with practice.

Which meant that he should be practicing. He should be tailing Amara, doing his best to catch up so that he could free Dean.

Hell, he’d defeated Lucifer. Amara shouldn’t be too difficult.


Yeah, right. He could do this.

“Sam?” Cas asked, and Sam blinked. Oh, shit. He’d gone too deep again. He’d been trying to figure out his limits, see if he could practice with his power without having something to practice on, but he wasn’t having much luck.

And apparently he was now worrying Cas. “Hey, man, what’s up?” he asked, turning with a smile.

“Am I…I don’t want to be holding you back,” Cas said, looking anywhere but at his eyes. “If you feel you must leave, you are free to go. Do not stay behind on my account. I am fine,” he said, looking anything but fine. Pale, drawn, tired, bags under his eyes like bruises.

Just like that, Sam felt like a dick. God, he’d been planning on going behind Cas’ back, leaving him alone right after he’d been freed from Lucifer, for God’s sake.

Another case of one of them sacrificing everything, including friends and their wellbeing, for their brother, he thought cynically. Dammit, he thought he’d gotten over this. (Actually, he’d hoped that he’d just stopped being so bad about it, because he’d realized years ago that it was like a reflex.)

He sighed, and Cas jumped. “Cas,” he began heavily, and he watched Cas tense, like he was expecting a blow. “Fuck, I’m sorry. I’ve been an asshole to you, with no real reason.”

He watched Cas glance up, like he was waiting for Sam to disappear anyway.

How had he not noticed this?

“You have,” Cas said with the gravity he put in everything. (Sam was sure it was the voice.) “Are you…do you need to…Am I…”

Sam shook his head. “Look, I’ll be the first to say that I really want to go get Dean right now. But I’ve been shunting you to the side to do it, which is the dick move of all dick moves. I didn’t want to make you think – I don’t want you to feel useless.”

Cas shrugged, saying, “Even so, I am. I know that I cannot sleep well at night, and I frequently jump at shadows or movement that I thought I had perceived. I would be a deadweight on any prolonged chase.”

Somehow hearing Cas say what he’d been thinking for a couple of days now finally made it click how awful it was. Hell, he remembered Dean using that same logic on him, and it had been just as true, but that didn’t mean that it didn’t rankle.

He scrubbed a hand over his face, wishing he could rewind the last couple of days. Wishing he could do a better job reassuring Cas after his possession, wishing he’d actually been a friend these past couple of days. Goddammit.

“You’re not wrong,” Sam began gently, but raising a hand as Cas looked up, something behind his eyes that Sam didn’t like to see. “But! But, you are not the sum of your abilities. Okay? You are not only here because you’re, fuck, I don’t know, useful or some shit. You’re here because you’ve been with me and Dean since you met Dean, practically, and you became a friend along the way. Sure, you’ve made mistakes, but me and Dean haven’t exactly been perfect friends either. That’s part of friendship, Cas, part of being that close to someone else. And I know that if Dean was here, he’d be agreeing with me and probably cussing you out for letting yourself think otherwise – and beating himself up for letting it happen.” He shrugged. “I’m doing the same. I can’t believe – I’ve been such an ass.”

Cas stayed silent for a while. Sam was starting to get worried, but finally he said, “I see.”

It was quite for a few minutes. Sam stared at the floor. Cas, he assumed, either did the same or was staring at him. They were both likely options.

When Cas spoke again, Sam almost jumped. He look up, and Cas was laser-focused on his face, like he was watching for his minute reactions. Cas said, “I would not be opposed to you going after Amara and Dean. I do not like – no, I abhor was she has made Dean into, and I know that I do not have the power to overcome her.” He paused and looked Sam up and down. Sam felt like he was under a microscope, but he let Cas talk.

“I think,” Cas began slowly, “I think that you may have the power that I and the angels lack. Something is familiar…but it’s not possible.” Sam opened his mouth to ask a question – Cas had said that multiple times now, and Sam had always been a curious person. But Cas continued, “You should go after Dean. You will be able to at least hold your own, I believe. But…” he quieted. His face was strangely open and vulnerable, something Sam hadn’t seen since Cas had taken on his hallucinations.

“Yeah?” Sam asked, question forgotten for the moment.

“I…would appreciate not being alone. Do you have someone you could call? Charlie, perhaps, or–” He stopped. (He probably noticed the stricken look on Sam’s face. Fuck. Fuck, Charlie. He’d almost managed–) “Or, or not!” Cas tried to backtrack.

Sam shook his head, still feeling blank. “No, uh, it’s…Charlie’s dead,” he said dully, fighting to get the words out. Fighting to accept it, still, even after he’d watched her body burn and heard Dean tell him– “Charlie’s been, uh, been dead for a while now. I, uh,” he cleared his throat. Damn dust. “I guess we never had the chance to tell you. It was – it was a bad time. For, uh, me and Dean.”

Cas’ face fell. “Oh,” he said sadly, “I…I understand. She was…she was a good person.” He cleared his throat. “Full of life. I cannot–” Can’t imagine her dead, Sam filled in.

Yeah, he couldn’t either.

“It’s, it’s okay, Cas” he tried to reassure. “We should’ve told you. It just…never came up, and then the Darkness happened, and everything just…”

“Yes,” Cas agreed. “It did.”

Sam tried to shake off the weight that had fallen over his shoulders. (He’d lost so many people; how much longer could he do it? How much longer would he have to do it?)

“Anyway,” he tried, clearing his throat loudly. “Anyway, I can, uh, send Jody this way. I don’t know if you’ve met her…”

Cas blinked. “She is the one watching Claire, isn’t she?” he asked.

“Huh? Oh, yeah, that’s right,” Sam said.

“Do you think…” Cas asked.

Sam shrugged. “I don’t know, man. Last we saw Jody and the girls, Claire was running a bit wild. But I think she settled down after we left. You’d have to ask Jody.”

Cas nodded. “Of course,” he said. “When you call, would you ask for me?”

“Sure, man,” Sam replied. “I’m gonna go ahead and call her now. I want to get out and go find Dean ASAP.”

“Of course,” Cas said, “I will leave you to it.” He walked away, and Sam breathed out. At least now Cas wouldn’t be left alone. If Jody was willing to come out here, that is.

Sam pressed Jody’s speed dial and waited for her to pick up. The call picked up after only two rings. He raised his eyebrows. Was something wrong?

“Sam?” she asked, sounding out of breath.

“Jody,” he said, “something wrong?”

“Is something wrong?” she asked, sounding slightly angry. “Is something wrong? Sam Winchester, do you know what is happening out here?”

“I–” he tried, but Jody steamrolled over him.

“People are dying left and right! Your brother has been sighted laughing as he kills preschoolers, Sam! That psychotic woman acted like he was her lover! Yes, I would say that something is goddamn wrong.”

“Oh,” Sam replied, feeling very small. He hadn’t been watching the news, but this was…this was bad. He hoped that Dean wouldn’t remember any of this, but he had a feeling that he would. Oh, God.

Oh is right! Where the hell have you been? I’ve been trying to reach you but haven’t even gotten an answering machine! Your damn voicemail is full!”

Sam pulled back and checked. Sure enough, he apparently had way too many new voicemails to be only one person. (Who knew how many of them had needed immediate help, only for Sam not to answer.) “I didn’t – Jody, I’m sorry,” he settled on saying. He couldn’t make excuses, because there really wasn’t one. Not for an oversight of this magnitude.

“I’ll bet you are,” she replied stoutly. “Now, what the hell do you want? It’s gotta be something important, for you to ignore your voicemails but call me up.”

“Right,” Sam said. “Okay, so you’ve met Cas, right?”

Jody paused. “Claire’s Castiel?” she asked in confusion.

“Uh, yeah,” Sam said. Wait. Had she met Cas? The way she was asking said no, but he could have sworn…on second thought, Cas had always been elsewhere when he and Dean went to help Jody, ever since before the first Apocalypse. Damn. “I, uh, guess you haven’t met him. So…anyway, he’s just been through some really tough times, and both of us don’t want him out hunting Dean down. Would you be able to maybe come down here and watch him?”

“Hold up,” Jody said. “You want me, the sheriff of Sioux Falls, to come down to you boys’ secret base to watch over a man that I’ve never met and that Claire is still uncomfortable around? You want me to leave my jurisdiction, leave my people to whatever merry hell happens to dance through, and come babysit?”

“Jody…” Sam said weakly. He didn’t have an argument here. Everything Jody said was completely true. She had her own set of responsibilities, not to mention Alex and Claire to mind, and asking her to pick up and come down to Kansas was too much.

He heard her sigh. “I’m not saying no, Sam. I’m just trying to remind you that, just because you know me, you can’t expect me to come running at your beck and call.” She sighed. “Just give me the coordinates and I’ll find you.”

Sam replied, “You’ll need to call Cas to get in. I’ll be locking the door behind me, and I can’t see that changing when I’m gone. Cas is…he’s fragile right now, okay? Don’t let him wallow in his room when you get here.”

“Okay,” Jody agreed readily. “I don’t have his number. You got it somewhere so I can write it down?” Sam recited the number from memory, something John had drilled into him. (He also knew his and Dean’s original social security numbers by heart, as much as that helped him now.) “Alright-y, then,” she said. “Anything else?”

“Actually,” Sam said, remembering Cas’ request, “Would you be able to bring the girls? Cas wants to meet Claire again.”

Jody paused. “I’ll…have to ask them,” she replied. “I don’t know how stoked Claire would be to see him again, and I don’t know if Alex would want to come along. I’m not leaving one of them alone.”

“I get it,” Sam said. And he did. Jody had seen a lot of shit in the past six years. Even just one experience with the supernatural would put her on her guard; being bombarded with it probably left her with some overprotectiveness. (Like Dean’s, he thought with a pang.)

Jody asked, “You need anything else?”

“Not that I can think of,” Sam said. “I’ll call you if something comes up, but hopefully me and Dean will be back at the Bunker within a week.” He paused, thinking – if he took Dean from Amara, she was going to throw a shit-fit. He’d have to figure out how to keep her away from the Bunker…a problem for a later date, he figured. Right now, he had to find Amara first, and get Cas taken care of. He said his goodbyes and hung up, already trying to see if he could figure out where Amara was.

He paused, remembering the voicemails Jody had alerted him to. He checked his inbox. No text messages, but nearly a hundred missed calls from more than ten separate phones over two weeks. His voicemail inbox apparently only accepted twenty lengthy voicemails.

He checked them all, one by one. Jody had called him and left a voicemail ten times, each time asking him where he was and why he wasn’t answering. She kept mentioning things she’d seen on the news. She became more frustrated and almost scared as time went on. Garth had left another five voicemails, sounding worried and mentioning that his pack was debating on pulling up stakes and moving into the hills, deeper than they already were. He asked after Dean with every message.

Crowley had apparently called three times. His voicemails ended up being a lot of cursing and then a command for Sam to “pick up the bloody phone, dammit.”

The other two were voicemails he’d saved for years. He didn’t need to listen to them. He had them memorized. He kept them as reminders.

He breathed out after he got through his messages. So the world was going to shit. Not exactly new news. Sure, the fact that even a werewolf pack was about to make a run for it was worrying, but he could do this. He could get Dean free, and they could beat Amara. Somehow.

He focused back on finding Amara. He found the blot her presence left on reality and centered himself as well as he could on it. It kept shifting, and he had a feeling that he’d need to get closer when he landed. But even just getting closer was a good start.

He popped out of the Bunker, trusting that Cas could take care of himself until Jody (and possibly her entourage) arrived.

The first time he landed, he was in France. It took him a couple of seconds to figure it out, though, because everything was normal – except for the fact that everyone was speaking French. He didn’t ask for directions and hoped that no one asked where the hell he’d come from. He just focused and tried to get closer to Amara.

He somehow got lucky enough – or maybe his powers were smart enough – to not be seen by anyone. He just landed, figured out where he was, and looked for screaming civilians. If there weren’t any, Sam figured that Amara wasn’t there and moved on.

It took him days. Whenever he heard English being spoken as a general rule, rather than occasionally on the sidewalk, he stopped and grabbed food from the nearest restaurant he can find. He was glad that he’d thought to grab his wallet and the various cards and IDs in it. He didn’t want the companies becoming wise too fast to the fact that he was suddenly in Europe (or Japan, or Africa, one memorable time) without buying airfare. He did his best to use one card per continent, using the one he’d been using primarily before only when he was sure that he was in the US.

Whenever he saw a motel, he bought a room and slept and showered. He barely managed to grab six hours, tossing and turning, but it was better than nothing.

He finally caught up to her after narrowing her location down to somewhere in Germany (or at least he thought the signs were in German – he was almost certain he saw that funny B that sounded like a hiss on a sign before he had to duck out of sight). She was…actually not doing anything. It was just past dark, and she and Dean were sitting in a field. There was no one around for miles, from what Sam could tell.

What the hell?

He poked his head up again, hoping that his powers were under enough wraps to keep Amara from noticing his exact location, because he didn’t think he could stand up to a full frontal assault.

Even if he was stifling his powers, he could still see that something was off with Dean. He could see his soul – or where it was supposed to be. Instead of light, like he was used to seeing in humans, all he could see was gray-black, swirling clouds. It wasn’t even a web, like Lucifer’s possession had been. This was more like a burlap bag wrapped around Dean’s soul, covering him and smothering his light.

He ducked down and tried to pull a shield up. He’d need it if Amara realized what he was doing and where he was before he was ready to get the hell out.

Then he reached out to try and find Dean’s soul in the weave of Amara’s control.

Before he even thought he’d made contact, he was sucked into Dean’s soul.

He landed in a hallway filled with mirrors. He looked down to see – nothing. Blackness. He had to swallow and stare straight ahead to combat the vertigo, because it didn’t even feel like he was standing on something. The bottom of his stomach kept dropping out, and he felt like he was constantly falling down a staircase, without ever hitting the stairs or the bottom.

When he looked around, he found Dean. Technically, Deans. Dean was looking out at him from every mirror, just staring blankly at him.

“Dean?” he asked quietly.

It set off a cacophony, and Sam regretted saying anything.



Bloodsucking freak!

If you hadn’t been born Mom would be alive!

Go back to Hell!

Sam almost covered his ears. These couldn’t be Dean. They had to be some kind of illusion. Some kind of defense mechanism or something.

These couldn’t be Dean.

He started walking. He didn’t know what he was looking for, but he couldn’t just stand there.

If these weren’t Dean, then the real Dean was somewhere in here. Now he just had to figure out where.

As he walked, each new “Dean” he encountered shouted a new set of insults. Every insult piled onto his back like the proverbial straws on the camel’s back.

Maybe this was Dean. Hell, he’d heard all of this before. Half of it was straight from the voicemail he still saved as a reminder of how far to never go again. The other half, he was sure, had been thrown his way at least once over the years.

He almost crumpled. It was too much. It was all too much. He’d never be able to find Dean in this. How would he be able to tell Dean apart from these others?

He took one last, desperate look around, hoping to see something that told him that this wasn’t a futile mission.


A Dean straight across from him was yelling, alright. His face was bright red and his eyes were wide.

But Sam couldn’t hear him. Because all he could see on that Dean’s lips was a word he’d know anywhere: “Sammy!

He stared for a couple of seconds as that Dean kept screaming. He couldn’t hear him.

Could it be the real Dean? Could he have found him?

“Dean?” he asked again, quietly hoping.

The shouting just got louder, but the Dean he was staring at nodded once, eyes hard, and then kept pounding on the mirror separating them.

Sam stood on shaky legs. The shouting pounded down on his shoulders, but he was able to shake it off for now, because he’d done it. He’d found Dean. The real Dean.

He raised a fist, and Dean stepped back, already asking something, Sam could see it in his face. Sam didn’t have time to explain; he was surprised Amara hadn’t already tried to confront him.

When he smashed a fist into the mirror, shattering it, all hell broke loose.

Glass flew everywhere as Sam’s fist, bolstered by the healthy shot of power he’d shoved forward, kept going forward. All around him, the other Deans screamed like they were dying for five long, agonizing seconds before they went quiet. Then Amara’s screams filled his ears. From the way Dean held his own hands over his ears, too, it wasn’t just in his head.

Sam struggled forward. He could feel Amara approaching, and he wouldn’t let her do this to Dean again. He couldn’t.

“Dean!” he yelled, “Give me your arm!”

Dean looked at his like he was insane. “Are you kidding, Sam? I don’t know what the hell you’re doing but you need to get outta here!”

Sam shook his head, forcing himself toward Dean even as Amara’s screams drilled into his skull. “I’m not leaving you to her!” he yelled, finally managing to grab Dean’s arm, the one where the Mark sat.

He took barely a second to register how it looked within Dean’s mind. Here, it wasn’t a mark – it was a thread of wispy, smoky grey that wound its way out of Dean’s arm and off into the distance. It was pulled taut, as if Amara was using it to reel herself in.

Sam slammed his fist into the thread, praying that it would break. It didn’t, and Dean almost crumpled to his knees, a pained yell slipping from his lips.

“The hell, Sam?” he asked, panting and grabbing his arm. “The fuck are you doing?”

“I’m freeing you,” Sam answered.

Dean blinked, and then glared. “Hold up. Are you back on the demon blood? Where are these powers coming from? Goddammit, Sam, I thought we agreed–”

Sam cut him off, not willing to listen to the same damn rant (and not having the time). “Look, Dean, either you help me and you’re free from her forever, or you stall and she kills me and sticks you back in a holding cell in your own damn body. Okay?”

Dean scoffed, “Well if it’s like that,” but Sam could see the resolve. He knew Dean would go along if he just had the right incentive. And he really didn’t have the time to explain all the crazy shit that had been happening that even he couldn’t understand.

Sam poked at the point where Amara was bonded to Dean with his powers again, and Dean yelped. “Would you stop that?” he hissed. “Feels like you’re, I dunno, fingering my soul or some shit.”

Sam rolled his eyes but quit. “I’m going to need your help, Dean,” he said, looking up at his brother. “It’s gotta come off, but you need to be the one making the decision.”

“And what the hell does that mean?”

Sam could feel Amara coming even closer. The thread was getting darker, too, as if more of her was bleeding in. “Look,”he said hurriedly, “Just hit the thread – or mark or whatever you see – as hard as you can. This’ll hurt like a bitch but the mark will be gone.”

Dean looked down at his arm. “O…kay,” he said slowly, raising a fist. “I don’t see how–”

“Just do it, Dean!” Sam yelled. Amara was so close he could almost feel the Darkness encircling them.

“Fine, fine!” Dean yelped, apparently getting a weaker version of the same feeling. He raised his fist and slammed it down on the thread. At the same time, Sam shoved all but a small portion of his power into the thread.

It snapped with what Sam would almost call a twang. Dean screamed, going to his knees and holding his arm. Sam couldn’t see any damage to his soul, and he didn’t have the time to make sure. He pulled himself out of Dean’s mind and lunged for Dean’s limp body.

Amara screamed, her hands barely missing Sam’s. When Sam had Dean in his arms securely, feeling him stir and hearing him ask muzzily what the hell was happening, he pictured the Bunker as best he could. “C’mon, Dean, we gotta get back to Hell!” he shouted, hoping to send Amara on a wild goose chase.

He felt kinda bad for Crowley, but not really. And he’d happily see every other demon down there turned into so many black smears.

Sam jumped.

She had lost him. She had lost her Consort!

And not only that! She had lost her Consort at the hands of his brother, who instead of feeling like Hellfire ran through his veins – as he’d felt when she first met him, when her form was still a young human girl – he felt so similar to her Sibling that there was no way that they hadn’t meddled.

So her Sibling felt that they could fight this confrontation through an intermediate with a fraction of their power?

As they wished.

She would tear her Sibling’s world apart and prove that her Sibling’s champion was nothing more than a coward who would never risk his neck except to save his brother.

She unleashed her full power, allowing it to wreathe the world in her Chaos.

The brother had said that he was off to Hell?

Then she would follow him and drag him back, alive, to witness his world burn.

She flickered out of view, taking half of her power with her to Hell. The other half, she left to grind the Earth that her Sibling had created into molecules, one monument at a time.

When they landed, Dean shook himself and backed up. “Sam,” he said slowly, “What the fuck was that? Why the hell were you in my head? How did you just – did you just teleport? Are you back on the–”

He was, thankfully, interrupted by Cas slamming into his diaphragm and holding on. Dean wheezed out a breath but hugged back, distractedly asking, “Cas? What – you’re?”

Cas released him (reluctantly, it seemed) and backed off, saying, “Sam saved me, Dean. He is not ‘going dark,’ as you say.” He smiled. “I am glad that Sam could save you as well.”

That said, he turned to Sam, and Sam almost shrunk under the former angel’s heavy gaze. “Sam, I am glad that I remained behind. I feel much more centered, with Jody’s help. That said, next time, I would like to come with you. Please.”

“Right, yeah, of course,” he said. “I’m not going to stop you. I’m glad you’re feeling more like yourself.”

Jody’s voice rang through the halls. “Boys? You’re back?” She rounded the corner, and Sam was immediately wary. She looked shaken, even more than when she’d been told that her son was a zombie and that he had to die.

“Boys?” Jody said, “What in the hell have you been up to?”

Dean shuffled his feet, muttering something unintelligible.

“Oh, I know about that,” Jody said. “But Sam said something about, what mind control? You didn’t have control, Dean,” she said, her voice going softer. “It wasn’t you.” Her eyes hardened as she looked over to Sam. “But the point still stands! What in the ever-loving hell have you done? The news is going insane!”

Cas was already hustling to the TV room as Sam asked, “What?” Dean was hot on Cas’ heels, and Jody gave him a look. Sam followed, wondering what the hell he’d caused.

The news was flickering between live footage in what looked like dozens of cities. Sam caught sight of the Eiffel Tower, the Vatican, a Japanese shrine, Big Ben, the Needle in Seattle, and the Empire State Building in a span of thirty seconds. All of the landmarks were wreathed – no, engulfed – in bands of writhing Darkness.

Amara had finally unleashed her full power. And the world was paying for it.

He’d done this.

“Oh, God,” he breathed, almost collapsing. “Oh, God, no.”

There was a casualty count on the bottom right corner of the screen. Sam didn’t know how the news crew was getting the number, but it kept ticking upward. It was already in the thousands, and a hundred thousand wasn’t even pushing it at the rate the counter was climbing.

Dean collapsed onto the sofa. “No,” he whispered. He spun to Sam. “Take me back!” he yelled. “She’s lookin’ for me! If you don’t take me back to her, she’ll tear the whole goddamn world apart!”

“If you go back, we’re all dead anyway!” Sam retorted. “If she even catches a glimpse of me, I’m dead! If Cas goes near her, he’s dead! If you go near her, there’s not even a guarantee that you’ll live! She’s off the rails, Dean! She’s past all reason! The only fucking things we can do are confront her and die messily, or wait until she runs out of steam.”

Dean growled, “She won’t ‘run outta steam’ until the Earth is so many goddamn molecules, Sam. She’s not some finite thing. She’s literally Chaos fuckin’ incarnate, you think she’s gonna stop?”

“I’m not letting you go back to her and die, Dean!” Sam yelled. “I won’t let you!”

Dean snarled, “And, what, you’ll stop me?”

“I will if I have to,” Sam replied, hating it even as he said it. But, God, he couldn’t let Dean do this. He couldn’t.

Someone behind him that wasn’t Cas or Jody cleared their throat, and Sam spun and reached with his powers. Whoever the hell got in to the Bunker had to be –

His powers ran into a wall of light, so painfully burning that he hissed and pulled back. He looked again and…Chuck stood there. In his ratty bathrobe and slippers.

What. The. Fuck.

“Chuck?” he asked. No way was Chuck the source of that power…

Behind him, Cas gasped and Sam heard clothes rustling. He looked back to find Cas on one knee, face hopeful. “Father?” he asked quietly, before ducking his head.

The perfect soldier.

Oh, fuck.

That was…

Chuck was…

“Uh, hi?” Chuck said, “Um, Castiel, you can stand. I, uh, I don’t stand on ceremony anymore. Please, son?”

With that, Cas stood, and Sam realized Chuck was the source of the bright power that had flooded the room.

Chuck was God.


Behind him, Jody made a sound that could have been called a whimper. He heard her whisper, “This is so fucking over my paygrade.” She (or at least, Sam assumed it was her; he hadn’t turned away from Chuck once) walked out of the room. Sam heard the liquor cabinet door creak – the one door that Sam refused to oil.

He figured it was a fair response.

He wanted a goddamn drink, too.

He cast a glance at Dean to see his brother glancing back and forth between Chuck and Cas, who was still on one knee. He could see Dean getting ready to explode; he knew that face. He was almost surprised when all Dean shouted was “Fucking really?” before walking out of the room. Sam heard him pull down another glass from the cabinet and slam it on the table, probably pouring himself a generous slug of whatever Jody had pulled down.

Sam turned back to Chuck.

He stared. And stared. He was trying to figure out why the power around Chuck felt so familiar…he poked once or twice at the walls around Chuck, but couldn’t even touch them. They radiated something that repelled him, leaving his powers feeling singed.

Chuck fidgeted.

Sam stared some more. Served him right.

Finally, he turned to leave. “Took you damn well long enough,” he threw over his shoulder.

He really hoped that Dean had saved some of whatever Jody was drinking for him. There wasn’t enough alcohol in the world at this point.

It took a couple of drinks for Sam to realize that nothing was happening. At this point, Jody was slurring-drunk, and Dean was well on his to tipsy.

But Sam felt like he’d been drinking water. In fact, if he hadn’t been the one pouring straight from the bottle Jody had pulled down, and if he hadn’t felt the burn in the back of his throat with every swallow, he’d wonder if he was.

Of fucking course alcohol doesn’t affect him now. (That would explain how Chuck had had so many empty bottles of rotgut around without needing his stomach pumped, Sam figured. He’d always wondered, in the back of his head, on and off.)

But if he couldn’t get drunk, then he’d have to deal with Dean drunk. And wow, Dean was on his way to drunk.

“S’mmy,” his brother slurred, poking his shoulder. “Y’know what’s th’worst part of this whole fuckin’ mess?”

“Mmhmm?” Sam answered, wishing he could get away.

“’S that Chuck wrote about me havin’ sex!” he yelled. “Wha’ th’fuck, ‘m I right? I mean, he’s God and all tha’ shit, an’ he–” Dean stifled a burp “he wrote about me havin’ sex! I thought, I dunno, I thought maybe ‘cause he’s God an’ all…” He paused to take another couple of gulps, except his glass was empty. “Huh,” he said, “S’mmy, my whiskey’s gone.”

Sam rolled his eyes. “Yes, it is,” he said patiently.

Dean noticed the whiskey bottle, which Jody had appropriated and was drinking from straight. She hadn’t said a word for a while; Sam would be worried but she looked like she was about to stop, once the bottle was empty.

“S’mmy,” Dean whined, getting his attention back, “Jody’s got – Jody’s got th’wishey!”

“She does,” Sam said, non-confrontationally.

Dean made a grab for the bottle, but Jody pulled it away and almost fell out of her chair. “This is so over my … my … my lev’l,” she said, voice louder than it probably had to be. “An’, an’ I deserve this whiskey, you…Dean! I deserve it!” She slammed back the last swallow in the bottom of the bottle and almost shattered the bottle when she smashed it back onto the table. She swallowed a burp. “Oop, uh, ‘scuse me,” she said, going pink. “I’m, uh, I’m gonna go find water. An’ crackers. An’ then I’m … I’m gonna find bed.”

“Good idea, Jody,” Sam said encouragingly. “You do that. I’ll handle Dean.” Jody wandered in the general direction of the kitchen. Sam hoped she didn’t get lost and decide to sleep in a hallway somewhere.

Dean looked offended as he could be with his cheeks bright pink and his eyes overly wide. “I don’ … I don’ need handlin’!” he said loudly.

Sam sighed. Time to take his brother to where he could sleep this off. “C’mon, Dean, up you go.” Dean made grabby hands at the alcohol cabinet, and Sam said, “No. No more alcohol for you. You’re already gonna have a killer hangover. No more.”

He felt like a babysitter.

It was compounded by Dean’s very loud complaints. The whole. Way. Back.

Sam finally made it to Dean’s room, supporting more of Dean’s weight than he really wanted to be. He let his brother drop onto the bed and made to leave, but he stopped at a stray thought.

Could he heal people? He’d never tried…but maybe if he got the alcohol out of Dean’s system, they could have the talk that they really needed to have.

He walked over to Dean, who had collapsed onto the mattress and hadn’t moved yet. He put a hand on Dean’s head, awkwardly. How the hell did Cas do this?

He let his powers poke around. He felt something weird in Dean’s veins, something that didn’t belong. He pushed at it with his powers, and it evaporated slowly. It felt like fire and water all at once, and Sam had a feeling that he’d figured out how to do this.

When he’d finished, he sat down on the bed. He was a little winded, but otherwise the expense of power didn’t seem too big. As he sat down, Dean sat up, shaking his head like he had water in his ears.

“What. The. Hell?” he asked. “Dude, I was drunk. Now I’m not. And last I heard, you weren’t possessed by an angel!”

Sam started with Crowley’s first visit and told what he figured Dean would want to hear. He left out what he’d seen Dean do, because (from experience) Dean already knew, and it would only hurt more if he mentioned it again. He talked about Crowley’s attempts to make him drink his blood – at that, Dean mentioned that he’d like to “stab the limey bastard” – but Sam assured him that he hadn’t.

Then he talked about what Crowley had said. About being the Boy King of Hell by birth, not because he’d drunk demon blood and was the vessel of Lucifer.

“So, wait, hold up,” Dean said. “You mean you gotta be, I dunno, under Hell’s thrall or some shit? Because if so, you are giving that right the fuck up.”

Sam shrugged. “I don’t think so,” he said carefully. “I mean, I got Lucifer out of Cas, so technically I’m more powerful than the creator of Hell. If anything, I probably ‘hold thrall’ over Hell.”

Dean nodded, conceding the point, but then asked, “But wait. You ‘got Lucifer out’? So, what, you got funky powers again?”

Sam sighed and tried to explain everything that he could do. The expulsion of demons and angels, the teleporting, the healing (apparently), the telekinesis (something he hadn’t really explored). Dean listened carefully, his eyes roving over Sam as if looking for physical differences. (He wouldn’t find any; Sam checked.)

He didn’t mention the immortality bit. Dean’s face had fallen in the middle of his inspection, and Sam suspected that he’d figured out what being the ruler of Hell meant.

Dean had accepted that he was going to die before Sam, and it hurt. A lot.

But Sam wasn’t going to mention the Advisor thing that Crowley had mentioned before talking to Chuck. And before talking to Dean about it. Because there was no way Crowley hadn’t omitted something, and Chuck probably knew everything about it.

And he wasn’t going to force Dean into immortality. Not without knowing every damn caveat the demon hadn’t mentioned.

When he finished talking about what he’d been through the past couple of weeks – months? – he noticed that Dean was nodding off. Sam let him, leaving quietly. Dean didn’t tell him to stay, so he figured Dean would be alright.

He and Chuck had some talking to do.

Lucifer glanced up, as much as any direction was “up.” He’d been orbiting Alpha Centauri when he could have sworn…

“Parent?” he whispered in their true language, his true voice igniting a dull spot on the star back to its full power.

He reached out small tendrils of his Grace to make sure that he’d felt it.

He met a light and Order that he hadn’t felt since he’d been cast down halfway there. Acceptance and love surrounded him, even as he felt deep reproach for how he’d treated his younger siblings.

He hated to admit it, but if he’d been inside a human, he wouldn’t have been able to control its tear ducts.

He beat his wings and angled back to Earth.

From the way he could feel the Chaos even among the stars, his Parent would need aid. And he could give it.

He could possibly prove that he was worthy again.

Sam walked into the library, expecting to need to go into the TV room to find Chuck. Instead, Chuck was just…sitting at one of the tables. Like he was waiting for him.

Looks like they were having this talk.

Chuck’s small smile twitched upward, but Sam didn’t comment on it. So what if God found him funny?

“Look,” he started, sitting down across from Chuck, “Did you have anything to do with this?” He let himself growl, because pissed was an understatement by this point. He’d be changed, without his input, into some immortal being that was meant to rule Hell. Like Sam would want to rule Hell!

He saw Chuck wince just slightly, and looked closer.

Chuck was completely opposite what he had been. He wasn’t twitchy, he didn’t shy away from eye contact. He looked sure of himself and completely comfortable in his skin. His eyes were level and just barely warm, but still distant. Like he was there with Sam, but still lightyears away.

Sam could see this man being God.

The image broke when Chuck asked, “You’ll have to clarify, unfortunately. What, exactly, are you accusing me of causing?”

“This…Boy King shit!” Sam hissed, trying to keep his voice down. God knew Dean needed sleep. “You…I’m not human anymore!” He shoved his power forward, poking into Chuck’s shields as well as he could, ignoring the burn. (He figured that calling God a fuckwit wasn’t the best idea, but you know what they say about actions…)

Chuck chuckled.

Sam blinked. Wait. Did he…fuck, God could probably read his thoughts.

“Only if you broadcast, which you do, considering your amount of power and minimal shielding,” Chuck said, smile still on his face. “Now, about the Boy King. I will admit that I messed around a little bit with the original mold. You see, originally, you weren’t supposed to be much more powerful than a Knight of Hell. Lucifer would have beaten you soundly, because he was originally the one who gave you, the Boy King, your power, and he wouldn’t give you more than he could beat. But, well, that wouldn’t do.

“I needed someone to fight off my Sibling,” he sighed, “I hear you call them Amara and that they call themselves my Sister?”

Sam nodded mutely.

“Well, I imagine that’s more a constraint of the English language than anything else. Sibling is the better word, as Amara is as genderless as any angel, as I am, no matter their vessel. But that’s beside the point. You see, I had certain things that I had to prepare before I confronted my Sibling, but I knew that their rage would lead them to try and destroy my world. I needed someone to stop them.” Chuck sighed again, pausing.

Sam wondered errantly whether it was also, even slightly, because God couldn’t kill his – their? – sibling outright, because they loved Amara. He wondered, cruelly, he realized when Chuck winced, whether it was just easier to love Amara when they were locked in a cage.

Chuck continued, cutting off Sam’s train of thought. “That became you, Sam Winchester, because you are truly the perfect vessel for it. Already prepared for power as both my brightest child’s human vessel and the Boy King, you took to my…additions well. I had to tweak the original mold slightly; where before, an angel blade to the heart could kill you, now nothing short of my power or something equal – say, my Sibling’s full might, or the explosion of a star – could truly kill you.” He paused and thought for a couple of seconds. “Don’t get dismembered. I…don’t actually know if that would work, or what would happen if it didn’t.”

Sam already knew, and resolved to definitely never do it again.

(Chuck looked chastised and almost guilty when the memory flitted across Sam’s mind. Sam remembered that it had been God to send Lucifer into the Cage, so technically God had been the root of most of his life’s troubles. He couldn’t bring himself to be angry. He was just…resigned.)

“At the moment,” Chuck continued, “You’re about as powerful as my two brightest children, together.”

Sam held up a hand and Chuck paused. Sam was glad, because he needed to let that sink in. Holy shit. He was…he was fucking stronger than Michael and Lucifer put together. He…he knew that level of power. Had felt it in his bones (literally). He…he had that power.

Oh, God. (He tried to ignore the irony of that thought.)

Chuck cleared his throat. Sam lowered his hand and waited for Chuck to keep talking, and probably drop even more shocking information. That seemed to be the theme.

“I…didn’t actually give your power a limit except ‘not more powerful than me,’” Chuck admittedly, apparently sheepish. “So…theoretically, you could keep gaining power as you need it. There’s not really an upper limit.”

Right. Because God is all-powerful. Literally. So Sam could be…almost to all-powerful but not quite.

“At what point do I become too dangerous?” he asked quietly. He could imagine what he could do with even a fraction of the potential power.

Kill every demon. Fuck, he could destroy Hell.

Kill every monster on Earth. Seal Purgatory forever.

Seal the doors of Heaven but leave a door open for the reapers. (He didn’t want to piss off Billie; he was sure she’d find some way to reap him.)

Go back in time and experience anything he wanted. Any concert, any Broadway show, any major historical event. Any civilization.

He could remake the world.

Get rid of climate change. Stop deforestation in its tracks. Eliminate pollution.

Fuck, he realized on a whim, he could just wipe out humanity and start over.

“No,” Chuck said, suddenly fierce. “That, you will never do.”

Sam felt power fill the room. It swamped him, leaving him at drift in a burning sea of light.

He felt very small, all of a sudden.

So this was what God felt like.

“I’m sorry,” he gasped. “I…I wasn’t intending to.”

“No, you were not,” Chuck – God – said. His eyes went bright, and the sea of power around Sam rolled and crashed. “You will not be able to upset the order of the world. You will not be able to seal any Plane. You will not be able to remake the world, except to fix small things – things such as small areas of pollution. You will not be able to erase any of my creations from existence.” Sam felt the power behind every command, felt them settling into his bones.

He knew that his power had more limits now.

Chuck’s eyes faded, and he smiled slightly. Sam almost flinched, because that was a conflicting image. He could still feel the anger and reproach in the power around him, but Chuck was smiling at his like he’d just…succeeded at something.

Chuck shrugged. “You didn’t fight back,” he explained. “You could have fought back, but you accepted it.” He sighed. “That’s why I gave you leeway. You can still help the world. You can revive not-long extinct species, as long as the impact to the ecosystem is not large. You can make it more difficult for, say, demons and Purgatory’s children to walk the earth. But you won’t be able to keep them all out; such is the nature of the world. Chaos and Order in balance.”

“I see,” Sam said quietly.

He let that sink in. Holy shit. He was part of that balance now. God had elevated him, just some Kansas brat who’d been dragged around the US as a kid, who grew up in motel rooms in castoffs, who knew the underside of the world and was a part of it, who had started more than one Apocalypse at this point – God had elevated him, Sam Winchester, to a part of the cosmic fucking balance.

What the hell would Dad even think about this?

He laughed. It may have been slightly hysterical. Okay, more than slightly. He wasn’t stopping. He should stop now.

Holy. Shit.

“Sam?” Chuck asked. “Didn’t you have a question for me?”

Sam caught his breath. Right. The Advisor thing. He needed to see if Crowley was hiding something. “Um, Crowley mentioned that I could…appoint an Advisor?” he asked.

Chuck nodded. “And that your Advisor would be immortal as well.” He took a breath. “Technically, Crowley was not wrong. Originally, your appointed advisor would become quasi-immortal. Unfortunately, that person would also be consigned to Hell for eternity.”

Sam balked. “Oh hell no,” he growled, “Crowley didn’t say that.”

Chuck glanced over, bemused. “You’re surprised?”

“Well, no, but still!”

Chuck shrugged, waving a hand. “Either way, you are not the ‘original’ Boy King. Now, to anoint your Advisor – Dean, I imagine? – you would need to give him just a bit – and I mean that literally, because even Michael’s vessel cannot handle the power influxes that you could create – of your power. Then Dean would become your equal in longevity and endurance, but not in power. He would have the power level of, say, a lesser angel at best.”

Sam blinked. “That’s…a lot of power.”

Chuck shrugged. “I’m making this up as I go,” he said, suddenly appearing really human. “Honestly, Dean will need all the power he can get if he’s going to be joining that fight against my Sibling.”

Sam conceded the point with a nod. Yeah. He couldn’t let Dean get killed by Amara, because he imagined that getting Billie to listen to him and give Dean’s soul back would be difficult. Especially because she was probably bitter that he was back again.

Sam wanted to ask, not because he wanted to change Dean immediately – he remembered his anger at Dean for changing him (angel possession was a big one), and he wasn’t going to be a hypocrite – but because he wanted to talk to Dean as soon as he was awake enough to be aware of what he was promising.

Chuck sighed. “I suppose that’s the best I can ask for. After all, my Sibling is still wreaking havoc in Hell, looking for your two. She has left this Plane, but Hell is already in shambles, and she is not yet done. I can feel her probing at Heaven’s defenses, and that I cannot allow. We will face her tomorrow, whether you are ready or not.”

“So how do I do it?” Sam asked. “I swear that I won’t force this on him without his explicit and informed consent.” He felt his power surge around him, and realized that he could swear binding oaths now. It was a good thing he meant to keep this one.

“Kiss his forehead and allow your power to anoint him,” Chuck said.

Sam blinked. “Wait, that’s it?” he asked incredulously.

Chuck looked oddly offended. “Not everything has to be a complex ritual, you know.”

“And who, exactly, conceived of all the complex rituals?” Sam asked. (Holy shit, he was teasing God. What was his life.)

Chuck sighed. He looked around. “You should go to sleep, Sam,” he said suddenly. “Though your body is more durable, you still require some rest.” Sam got up. Just before he left the room, Chuck said from behind him, “Rest well, Sam. Tomorrow will be an interesting, busy day.”

Sam didn’t want to know what that entailed.

He went to bed; now that he thought about it, he was tired.

Lucifer landed in a room that belonged to a distant cousin of the Campbells whose mother had run from the hunting life hundreds of years ago. Her descendant sat in front of him, alone and crying in the middle of the night.

He wouldn’t leave this girl alive when he left; he was far too much for her to hold. But he needed her vessel.

And she didn’t seem too opposed to dying.

"Are you okay with dying, kid?" he asked the quiet teenager who stared at her bleeding wrists, tears pooling in her eyes. She didn't seem to hear him at first. Lucifer cast around to see if anyone would disturb them, but he heard no one else in the house. It felt...too empty

"Everyone else has," she answered, and Lucifer got it. He wasn't supposed to feel empathy for these apes...but here he was, wishing that he was able to bring her family back together again.

"So is that a yes?" He prodded, needing her explicit consent (even if the answer wasn't exactly to the question she was supposed to be answering) before she passed out from blood loss.

"Yeah," she said. "Yeah. I don't care anymore."

With that, Lucifer poured himself into her vessel and allowed her quiet soul, so confused but grateful, somehow, to ascend.

He'd never allow his vessel's soul to descend to Hell; he knew what it was like.

Sam had made his choice, and Lucifer had tried and failed to stop him. (If his rage had kept him from trying very hard, and his desire for vengeance kept him from letting the ill-fitting human soul from leaving the Cage, he'd never tell.)

Lucifer followed the quiet beacon of his father's power towards Kansas. Toward where it all began, and where it all ended, and where it all would end again.

When he got there, he decided to stay outside for a short while and observe. He could feel Sam inside, as well as little Castiel, and another two humans, one of which he knew (Dean Winchester, he scoffed quietly). His Parent welcomed him and agreed.

His Parent would tell him when to enter.

Lucifer nodded and settled his vessel in the grass to wait.

The next morning, Sam walked into the kitchen to find Dean nursing a cup of coffee and Jody nowhere in sight. (Hopefully she’d found her bed, Sam thought. Maybe he should go check on her.)

“Already checked on Jody,” Dean greeted him. “She’s totally out, but she looks alright otherwise. You think that you could go whammy her? She’s gonna be miserable when she wakes up.”

“I gotta talk to you first,” Sam said.

Dean raised an eyebrow and gestured toward a chair. “What’s up?” he said as soon as Sam sat down. “There some kinda caveat to those powers you got? Besides the whole ‘I’m immortal now’ schtick?” Dean sneered.

Sam understood why Dean felt the way he did, so he didn’t push back. “That’s…actually what I want to talk about,” he said.

“Oh, really?” Dean asked bitterly. “What more do you need to know than ‘I’m gonna live forever and you ain’t’?”

Sam hated when Dean’s Midwestern accent, buried deep but still there, came out. It only happened when he was either possessed or pissed. “Look, Dean,” he said quietly, “I can, as the Boy King or whatever, appoint one person to be my Advisor. Kinda like my right-hand man. You know, equal in everything but power.” He took a deep breath, saw that Dean was listening carefully. “You’d be immortal, like me. And…pretty damn durable. So, uh, don’t go getting dismembered if we do this?” He tried to laugh.

Dean did too. It didn’t work. (Apparently Hell and Lucifer had similar ideas. Sam felt awful for bringing it up.)

Dean asked, “So how much crazy shit do we need Cas to find before I’m your Advisor?”

“Well, um, actually, it’s…it’s just a forehead kiss,” Sam said. “No ritual, not weird ingredients.”

Dean blinked. “Hold the fuck up. Just a forehead kiss? You’re fuckin’ kidding.”

Sam laughed again, this one genuine. “Dude, that was my exact reaction,” he said.

Dean shrugged. “Well, hell, if that’s all it takes lay one on me.”

“Wait, Dean, you should think about this. It’s not like what burger toppings you want. This is literally life-changing, okay? I don’t want you rushing–”

“Will it make me immortal as you?” Dean asked quietly, staring at Sam.

Sam nodded. He didn’t say anything. (Nothing needed to be said.)

Dean huffed. “Then what are you stalling for? C’mon, the answer’s yes, bitch.”

Sam got up and walked around the table. It felt strange to stand over Dean like this. It felt even stranger when Dean screwed his eyes shut and tilted his head back.

“Dude, are you puckering up?” Sam asked, almost laughing. “It’s just a kiss to the forehead!”

Dean shifted in his seat. “Shuddup, Sammy, I forgot about that part, okay?” He blushed just a bit.

Sam refused the urge to hold this moment in time. He leaned forward and pressed his lips to Dean’s forehead. It was a little oily and his nose smushed Dean’s gelled hair. But he felt the barest hint of power flow outward and knew it had worked. He leaned back.

“So, uh, did it work?” Dean asked. “Because, I, uh, I don’t feel any different.”

On the surface, Dean seemed the same. Sam looked closer. Threads of bright power coursed through Dean’s body like veins. “Trust me,” Sam said, “You are.”

“Okay then,” Dean said. “Now what?”

“Now,” Sam said, “I am going to go find Jody and get rid of her hangover. Then I’m finding Chuck so that we can figure out how we’re stopping Amara.”

Dean nodded. “Then I’m gonna finish my coffee and find you.”

Healing Jody was a matter of seconds. She woke up when he finished and blinked up at him with his hand still on her head.

“Uh, hey, Jody,” he said.

“Sam,” she began slowly, “Did you just cure my hangover?”


She sighed and straightened before realizing that she was still in last night’s clothes, which still smelled faintly of whiskey. “I’m very grateful,” she said, “But I need a shower. Badly. So you get out and tell everyone to do their business, because I am locking that door behind me, and no one is getting in.”

“Of course,” Sam said, and started heading back to the kitchen to tell Dean. He didn’t think that Cas or Chuck would need to use the facilities, so Dean was the only other person he had to warn.

On that thought, where were Cas and Chuck?

A teenager exuding a very familiar power appeared in front of him. Sam reached for his angel blade, or even a firearm. He realized he wasn’t packing at all and cursed his stupidity. If Lucifer could get in, who knew what else –

“Hello, Lucifer,” Chuck said as he rounded the corner. “Sam, please don’t be afraid. I allowed him to enter.”

When Lucifer saw Chuck, Sam felt his power in the room writhe, and his vessel’s face contorted in anger. Sam was about to find Dean and Jody, get the hell out, and damn the consequences to the building when Chuck held up a hand and said, “Not here, Lucifer.”

They both vanished.

Sam breathed out and relaxed.

Then Cas came running around the corner breathing hard, eyes wild. “Sam! I felt–”

“Yeah,” Sam said, still trying to get his own heartrate down. “Yeah, Chuck is dealing with him. I guess Chuck called him in as reinforcements or something.”

Cas shuddered, and it didn’t look voluntary. “I don’t – I don’t think that I could work with him,” he said.

Sam nodded, quietly thinking that, even if Lucifer was their only hope of having a chance, he wouldn’t want to work with the archangel. He didn’t say it out loud, because he had a bad feeling that they’d be working with Lucifer whether they wanted to or not.

“Why don’t you come with me and we can make some eggs, maybe some bacon. Even angels can eat breakfast,” he said. “C’mon. They’ll be gone a while.”

Cas nodded once, still looking hunted. He followed Sam, though, and sat at the table quietly. Dean, who was still nursing a cup of coffee, gave Sam a questioning look, but Sam shook his head and Dean dropped it. Jody walked in, and a look from Dean and Sam both had her holding in her questions. Once all the people in the Bunker were in the kitchen, Sam explained in as few words as possible what had happened: Lucifer appeared, Chuck appeared, mentioned that he called Lucifer, and then they disappeared.

Every time Sam mentioned Lucifer, Cas flinched. Sam did his best to keep it to a minimum, but sometimes he just had to. Sam hoped that Cas was alright; he wouldn’t poke around in Cas’ head, not after just being freed from being possessed.

They all sat and ate breakfast, or in Dean’s case got another cup of coffee, waiting for Chuck and Lucifer to show back up.

Sam could understand why Lucifer was angry. Hell, he’d been stuck in a Cage with his issues for hundreds of years. He knew down to every sordid detail Lucifer’s daddy issues. He also knew that Lucifer was probably blowing something up in anger right now. Which is why he thanked God (ironically and literally) that Chuck had taken him away from the Bunker.

It wasn’t even that Lucifer was angry at God, really, Sam figured. No, it was more like Lucifer wanted to be acknowledged again. He’d been cast away, and now he longed for God to acknowledge him. But because he was the living embodiment of pride, that led to even more angst.

Sam hoped he’d get over it by the time Chuck brought him back. He really didn’t want to have to deal with it (again).

Two hours later, the dishes were all washed and dried and everyone had huddled in the war room. Jody was quietly staring into the library; Sam wondered what she was thinking, but didn’t pry. He knew that she was overwhelmed at best; the worst she’d dealt with before this was vampires, and now he’d thrown her right into the showdown of the century.

Cas, on the other hand, was pacing. Dean watched him worriedly, but Sam let him pace. He needed to do something, Sam knew, but there was nothing to fight, nothing to confront.

The first warning that Chuck was returning was a ping (of sorts) on Sam’s powers. He straightened and Cas glanced over, going stiff. Apparently he felt it too.

Dean shifted, sneezing. He tensed and looked around. Sam wondered if his new power was reacting, too.

Jody clued in when the air was displaced with a small pop and Chuck and Lucifer appeared in the entrance to the library. She jumped, the only one not expecting something.

Lucifer looked angry still, but the power in the room was more relaxed than it had been. Chuck, on the other hand, looked like he hadn’t succeeded at what he’d set out to do. Sam wondered idly what had been said.

Obviously it hadn’t been quite the family reunion that either had been hoping for.

The first thing Lucifer said (and it was still so strange to see him in a teenager, but Sam couldn’t see a soul in the vessel, so he wasn’t going to argue) was an apology to Cas. It wasn’t received all that well. In fact, Sam was surprised Cas didn’t punch him, the way his face went hard.

Sam watched Lucifer puff up, probably about to take the moral high ground – I apologized so you should accept it – before Dean cut in, saying, “Can you fuckin’ blame him for not accepting your apology, you dick?”

Chuck glanced at Lucifer, a quick glance that Sam could tell conveyed a lot, and Lucifer deflated. “I suppose not,” he sighed.

Sam thought quietly, making sure to keep Lucifer from hearing him – he’d been practicing all night in pulling up shields – that he hadn’t forgiven anything Lucifer had done to him, either. Chuck obviously still heard him, because he glanced over at him, sadness obvious in his eyes. Understanding washed over him through the power in the room.

Sam stood up, already at the head of the war table. “C’mon, guys,” he said, trying to ignore how his voice wanted to shake at how Lucifer strolled closer. “We need to figure out how to beat Amara. She’s still ripping the world apart, and we don’t have much time before she gets close enough to sense the warding around this place.”

“Actually,” Chuck said, gravity behind his words, “I’ve been shielding this building from my Sibling’s sight completely for weeks. As far as they know, it’s just another meaningless blot on the landscape. But still, I agree – they must be stopped. Amara has already overrun Hell and is attempting to breach Purgatory and Heaven. Purgatory’s wards were already stretched thin, and a breach would cause havoc – the Leviathan would again be freed, and all manner of ancient monsters would walk free behind them. Amara has been having more trouble with Heaven, because I left a great many wards on its boundaries before I left. But my instructions to renew them every millennia have not been heeded for a long while, and they have grown weak.”

Castiel glanced up, confusion all over his face. “I have never heard of such wards or orders,” he said.

Chuck shrugged. “It is possible that, once the archangels withdrew, they were forgotten. No matter how it came about, it means that my Sibling is already near the weak points. They need only another day before the wards are breached. We must bring the fight to Amara, as you say.”

He turned to Jody, who was looking determined but scared stiff. “Jody Mills,” he said gently, “Your courage is admirable, truly. But you are the only true human here, and I worry about your safety when we face my Sibling. Would you allow me to put you to sleep, so that you sleep through the battle?”

Jody looked offended and relieved all at once, and she glanced around furtively. Sam nodded slightly, supportively, trying to send you’re only human, let us handle it vibes her way. He saw Dean do that same, worry on his brother’s face.

Jody agreed, voice shaking just the tiniest bit. The next instant, she vanished from the room, and Sam didn’t think that he imagined the relief in Chuck’s sigh.

With the war party, of a sort, together, they started discussion how they would draw Amara out. Chuck had said that he already had a plan to trap her, and that getting her to show up (and figuring out where to bring her) was key.

Lucifer suggested using Dean as bait, and Sam balked. “Hell no! I am not putting my brother in danger again!” he yelled.

Dean shook his head, saying, “It’s a good plan, Sam! She wants her Consort or whatever, so put me out there and make me a decoy! She’ll go after me, expectin’ a human, and she’ll not only get a powered-up me, but she’ll get you and the rest of us too.”

Sam turned to look around. Cas looked supremely uncomfortable with the idea, but he also looked like he’d go with whatever his Father said, so his support was right out. “C’mon, Chuck, there’s another way,” he urged. “Didn’t you say you were shielding yourself from her? She’s looking for you first. If you lower those shields, even a bit, she’ll show up for sure! We don’t even know if she’s looking for Dean right now or just tearing the world apart in a blind rage ‘cause you haven’t shown!”

Cas nodded slowly at Sam’s side, and even Lucifer looked interested. “That is a sound plan,” Cas said quietly, turning to Chuck. “Sam raises good points.”

Chuck sighed. “I know. But I will not lower my shields here. When I do, my Sibling will strike first. She would destroy this place to get at me. We must go somewhere more deserted, but where the boundaries between Planes are thin.”

Sam could think of only two places like that off the top of his head: Stull and the Wyoming cemetery. Chuck looked at him with a smile. “Yes, Stull would do.”

Dean groaned, “Oh, God, not again. I’ve had enough of showdowns in cemeteries, seriously now.”

Lucifer smirked. “Oh, the irony,” he said. “Fighting yet another adversary on the soil of that field.”

Chuck cut in before they started arguing. “Before we go to Stull, I need to give you these.” He held out a sword to each of them. They felt different to Sam – brighter, closer to the power that emanated from Chuck than an angel’s power. They had to be – “These are forged from a drop of my power. They will harm Amara, although they will not kill them.”

“Well why not?” Dean asked.

Chuck glanced over. “My Sibling is as vital to the universe as I am. They are Chaos, I am Order. We cannot exist without the other. The only reason I can act this drastically is that they have overset the Balance, and it is my duty to fix it. Otherwise you three would have been on your own.”

“Oh,” Dean said quietly.

Yeah. Oh. It was a little daunting (okay, a lot daunting) to be going up against what was literally a force of Creation. Even with the opposing force of Creation at their side.

How had he and Dean ever believed that they could do this on their own?

Chuck looked around. “It is time to go,” he said. “My Sibling is too close to entering Purgatory.” With that warning, the Bunker disappeared from around them, replaced with the bare grass and dilapidated graves of Stull Cemetery.

Just after they landed, Sam felt the shields around them fall. Then he felt Amara’s attention fall onto them.

Darkness filled the air, rose up from the ground. It became a rolling mass around them, in front of them. Instead of its normal shapeless mass, this Darkness held teeth and claws and tendrils with spikes. Sam was glad he’d anointed Dean before they’d come.

At least whatever killed Dean would kill him, too.

God, he felt naked standing here. He wished he had a gun, even if it was completely useless. It would make him feel better. Not packing left him with an empty spot in the small of his back. From the way Dean was twitching, he felt the same.

Lucifer, though, Lucifer looked scared stiff but determined to hide it. Sam remembered suddenly that Lucifer had already done this once, eons ago. He’d already faced Amara, and sure, he’d won, but he’d had all the might of Heaven (most of which was probably dead) behind him, along with his Father. He probably felt just as naked, Sam figured.

He hated being able to sympathize with the Devil.

Cas looked even worse than Lucifer when Sam looked closely. Sam didn’t think angels could sweat, but something was plastering Cas’ hair to the back of his neck. His grip on the blade his Father had given him was tight, and his knuckles were white as a sheet. But when he just glanced, Cas looked…put together. Stoic. A good soldier, ready to fight (to the death) for his commander’s cause.

It was times like this that Sam remembered that, before he’d ever even heard the name “Dean Winchester,” Cas had been a soldier. The leader of a garrison. He was more battle hardened than Sam could ever be.

Just then, Amara walked out of the darkest mass, tendrils of Darkness twining around her hands. Her black dress dragged on the grass, and her arms were still covered in specks of blood.

She looked ready and willing to kill without a thought.

“Hello, Sibling,” she greeted, eyes dark. “It’s been far too long.”

Lucifer knew the plan. His Parent had told him, after he had finished blowing a few new craters into Earth’s Moon.

It was a good plan. Lucifer knew it logically, as one of Heaven’s once-generals. In fact, it had no real downfalls, except for the time it would take his Parent to set it up, and for the way the Darkness could take notice at any moment if the battle lulled.

No, its only downfall was that he would not survive it.

He drew a deep breath, even though he didn’t need it. He understood why the Winchesters kept giving themselves up, now. His Parent had asked him without distraction or diversion to give himself up for the good of his siblings, and he had agreed.

He had already tortured them enough, he realized once his Parent had shown him how they cowered in Heaven, waiting for his return.

He loved them, he realized as he watched Bartilomeus stand and take charge. It was useless; he could have crushed any one of them (or many of them) with a thought. But they were trying, and that was…endearing. It was something that he’d always liked in his soldiers, when he was still a part of Heaven. The plucky way they faced anything much, much stronger than them with resolve and surety, even if he could taste their fear, had always impressed him.

And they were his siblings, at the core of it all.

He had forgotten that, he thought. In all his hate, he had forgotten that. His Parent had reminded him, and he would like to think that his Parent was proud of him for how quickly he had agreed to be their shield.

His Grace was equal to that of hundreds of his younger siblings. His Parent would have had to sacrifice practically the entire Host of Heaven if he hadn’t agreed.

He hoped his decision made his Parent proud.

He hoped his Parent would remember this, and forget all the havoc he had wreaked, both before humans found fire and during the short time he had been freed.

He hoped his Parent remembered him as a hero of sorts.

It was all he’d really wanted, he figured. His Parent’s approval.

Amara’s greeting echoed across the field. The world felt like it was holding its breath. Sam gripped the handle of his bright new blade tighter.

He could feel the two huge wells of power brushing each other. Chuck’s bright, burning light with Amara’s chilled, smoky darkness. He wanted to call them two behemoths, but he didn’t think the English language had a word with enough breadth to encapsulate everything that Chuck and Amara held at bay.

Chuck sighed. “Hello to you too, Sibling. It has been a long time. I wish we had met under better circumstances.”

Sam watched Amara stiffen. Mouths with really sharp teeth poked out of the mass of Darkness surrounding them. He could have sworn that he heard howling.

From the way Dean was drawing tense, he heard it too. Maybe it wasn’t all in his head.

He wondered if there was a way for Amara to absorb things like hellhounds. He wondered if there were hounds buried in that Darkness, things just waiting, salivating to tear him and Dean apart.

He hoped his immortality could stand up to chunks taken out of his body. Because those teeth weren’t in any way looking less sharp.

Chuck sighed. “Sibling, I wish we could resolve this peaceably,” he said quietly. “But you have desolated my most beloved Creation. You have torn to pieces my Earth, killed so many of the humans that I created that I worry that they will never recover from the massacre.

“I cannot forgive this.”

Amara looked taken aback. She cried, “I am your sibling! We were born together! You knew me before you even conceived of any matter, let alone an angel or a human. Why do you punish me for attempting to destroy such a small corner of your creation? You could easily replicate this on a different world, pull a few of these humans aside. You could even revive those who have died! I know you could!

“And yet you choose them over me, your Sibling from the start of being? You would dare?”

Chuck shook his head. “Sibling,” he sighed. “As the opposite of myself, you will never know the love that I have for this Creation. You will never know the joy of Order and Creation, because your very being is Chaos and Destruction. I do not fault you for this. And when you were happy destroying far away from my creation, I was content. But then you began to pick away at the edges of my creation. Your fingerprints still lie in the cosmos, destroying everything they approach.

“I cannot allow you to destroy more. It is the principle of the thing, as a human would say. If you destroy these humans, then I am not the benevolent creator that I promised them that I would be.”

Chuck shook his head. Sam thought that it was almost like he couldn’t sense the danger surging in the Darkness around them.

Maybe it didn’t bother him. He was God after all.

But man, it bothered him. And from the wary look on Dean’s face and the way he glanced around every time something poked out of the Darkness mass, Dean felt the same.

This fight, when the talking finally stopped, would be epic. One for the eons. Because there was no way, with the way the malice was echoing around them, Amara would back down.

The fight broke when Amara yelled across to Chuck, “Then, if you will defend them so staunchly, defend them in truth!” Sam felt Darkness fly outward, almost like a shrapnel field. Oh, Jesus.

The Darkness ran into some kind of field only a hundred yards out, from what Sam could tell. Apparently Chuck had placed up barriers just in case Amara pulled just that kind of trick. Damn helpful, he thought.

After that, he didn’t do much thinking. The punishing jaws and smoky dogs that jumped out of the smoky Darkness around him kept him too busy to think too much.

He did feel something building below him, though. He wondered, in one of the few idle moments between stabbing a tendril of Darkness aiming for his neck and a dog lunging for his calf, what was happening.

Then he was swept back into the fray.

YHWH thought that this should be more difficult. They thought, maybe, that remaking the fabric of Their universe should provoke some kind of backlash, something to preserve their Creation.

They figured that They should fix that. Once They were done. For the moment, They needed to complete this as fast as possible, before Their warriors were killed.

Sam Winchester was holding his own, and YHWH was proud of Their child. Sam was truly the best choice for a King that They could have found. Even Dean Winchester did not have the resolve and the force of will that Sam did.

Speaking of Dean Winchester, he appeared to have the same ability. YHWH was glad that They had been able to tell Sam how to anoint Dean to Sam’s side. Dean would be a good Advisor once he accepted that he was not the leader anymore. Once he accepted that Sam was the final say, he would give good advice and be a good mediator for Sam’s occasionally explosive temper.

Their true Children were fighting well against Their Sibling, even little Castiel. Their last Child, Their most beloved in a way. Yes, both were fighting well.

YHWH returned Their focus to the working They had to build. They needed to make certain that there was no opening, no way for Their Sibling to slip free. They had learned Their lesson the first time.

This time, when Their Sibling was locked away, there would be no release.

Sam dodged the jaws of yet another Darkness dog. (He needed another name for these damn things, but all of his higher brain function was taken up with analyzing his surroundings, making sure that he wasn’t about to be jumped on). Dean, behind him, knifed it and it dissipated with a yelp.

He couldn’t keep this up for much longer. No matter how much power he had, eventually his body was going to give out.

Dean breathed out hard once he’d knifed the hound. Damn, but this brought back way too many memories that he’d have liked to stay buried.

He spun to intercept another tendril of Darkness. (He was having really awkward flashbacks to some really ill-advised porn choices right now. God, anything but tentacles, for Christ’s sake.)

He didn’t know how whatever power Sam had smacked on him worked, but something was making him want to sneeze and giving him the feeling that the ground was being shuffled around in a really weird way that didn’t feel possible.

As long as it didn’t fall out from under his feet, he was okay with it.

Castiel could feel his abilities being stretched to the limit. He was constantly beset by the Darkness’ beasts. He hoped that his Parent would finish whatever working They were constructing between the Planes soon, because otherwise Castiel, no matter his level of skill or training, would be overrun.

He flinched at a pained yelp just behind his ear. He turned to find a beast just inches from his neck, its chest speared through by a bright sword. Lucifer threw the beast off of his sword, smiling, and Castiel flinched.

Surely Lucifer wasn’t still angry about being thrown out of his vessel?

Instead of attacking like Castiel had expected, Lucifer sliced at another beast behind him that Castiel had already wounded, but not killed. Castiel flinched away.

What would his Parent do if Lucifer killed him this time? Would his Parent’s power in the sword destroy him completely?

“Come, sibling,” Lucifer said, “Stop flinching. You were fighting well. Fight with me, one last time.” Lucifer turned his back – turned his back – and attacked a mass of Darkness behind him.

Castiel wanted to trust his sibling, but he couldn’t. Not after Lucifer’s possession of his vessel, not after everything Lucifer had done with his hands.

But, just this one more time, he could fight with his sibling.

Castiel turned to guard Lucifer’s back, making sure to keep his awareness half on Lucifer, just in case his sibling decided to take their revenge after all.

He wondered to himself: why did Lucifer sound like they were saying goodbyes?

YHWH heard Their child bid Castiel goodbye, as much as Lucifer could without giving away the game. They were proud of Their child, even if Lucifer had wreaked so much havoc. Lucifer’s final act more than made up for anything they had done before.

Even if Lucifer had roamed the Earth for a year, Their Sibling’s destruction would have far outstripped them.

But YHWH couldn’t tell Lucifer this. They had no time. They had almost completed the working, and once it was complete Amara would sense it, if they hadn’t already. Once the frame for the new Cage was complete, YHWH would have to act very quickly to keep Their Sibling from escaping into the farthest reaches of Creation and hiding from eons.

The last piece fell into place, and YHWH surrounded Amara with Their power. Their Sibling would not be able to move for a short time.

YHWH could feel Sam, Dean, and Castiel’s confusion, but They had no time to explain. Amara was already struggling, and YHWH did not have, paradoxically, the power to hold them for much longer. Their two powers touching was like two magnets with the same poles being shoved together, and soon even YHWH would be repelled.

YHWH nudged Lucifer, and Their brightest Child willing left their vessel. YHWH noticed Sam and Dean shield their eyes in a reflexive movement before beginning to weave Lucifer’s Grace into the Cage, creating the strongest bonds They had yet created. The power of Order combined with just a hint of Chaos that Lucifer had gained when YHWH placed the Key to Amara’s first Cage within their Grace.

Amara would never leave this Cage, and she seemed to know it.

As he closed the final bar, Amara’s presence vanished from Earth’s Plane, going to the Void. He whispered, in a voice that only his Sibling could hear, “I’m sorry, Sibling,” as they wailed from within the Cage. Rage and fear battled in their voice.

YHWH felt something wet on Their vessel’s cheek. They evaporated it with a thought. Surely, it was only a reaction of the human body They took temporarily. Nothing more.

YHWH pulled away from the Void, doing Their best to ignore Their Sibling’s more and more feeble cries for mercy.

This had to be done. To save Their Creation.

This had to be done.

Sam watched in awe, barely remembering to shield his eyes, as Chuck pulled – pulled? – Lucifer’s Grace out of his vessel. His vessel collapsed into dust, long dead, but Lucifer shone so brightly that Sam was amazed he wasn’t blind.

Then the brightness vanished and he heard Amara scream one more time before she fell silent.

The Darkness around him disappeared. Completely.

He looked around.


His wounds healed as he watched. (Handy.)

He looked around, trying to figure out what was going on. Why it had ended so abruptly.

Chuck was staring into the distance, still glowing a little. Sam figured God was doing Godly things and would come back shortly.

Cas, on the other hand, was looking…shocked was the best word. Completely gobsmacked was another one.

Dean was looking around just as confusedly as him, and Sam watched a painful-looking gash on his ribs heal – just like that.

Their clothes were still in tatters and bloodstained, though. Sam hoped he could fix that. He’s pretty sure his junk was a couple inches from hanging out for the world to see.

Sam walked over to Cas, and saw from the corner of his eye that Dean was doing the same.

“Hey, Cas,” he asked quietly, trying not to startle the angel too badly. He already looked like he was one stiff wind from falling over. “Hey, you okay?”

Cas shook himself. “I don’t…I don’t understand,” he whispered. “Lucifer just…”

“What,” Dean said loudly, and Sam glared and was ignored. “Did Luci throw himself on a grenade or what?”

Cas looked over, still shellshocked. Apparently the look shocked Dean into some kind of silence, because he didn’t demand more answers. Thankfully. Sam wondered if Cas even knew the answers, at this point.

Cas whispered, “Lucifer gave himself, his Grace, to become the Cage for Amara. He can never leave the Void. He will always be Amara’s guardian. I don’t…of anything I expected, this was not it.”

“Wait,” Sam said just as quietly, “Lucifer sacrificed himself? To save humanity? No way. How…that’s completely out of character!”

Dean blinked. “Wait, that’s what the wishy-washy feeling was? Chuck remaking reality?”

“Yes,” Cas replied. “Father was creating a new Cage for Amara, one with no lock or key. Amara cannot escape this Cage, and Lucifer’s sacrifice ensured it.” He sighed deeply. “It is done.” He stared at the sky, and then at Chuck, who was still in the center of the field, unmoving. “I must go and alert Heaven of the developments, if they are unaware. I will return in a few days.”

He vanished with the sound of wings.

Sam looked over at Dean, and then glanced at Chuck. Or, well, where Chuck had been. There was nothing there but empty field.

Sam guessed, as King of, well, a lot of things, considering who exactly had given him the power, Chuck was handing things off to him for a while.

Damn, he had a lot of stuff to fix. (He asked Chuck, quietly, to fix the cities and, if possible, revive the people Amara and Dean had killed and wipe the world’s collective memory. If anything should be rewound, this was it.)

(He felt an agreement and then a rush of Chuck’s power through the fabric of the world. Considering it was God’s idea, he figured Billie and the Fates couldn’t be too angry.)

Sam looked back at Dean, who was walking to him. “So, uh, what next?” Dean asked, rubbing the back of his neck, still holding his blade.

Sam shrugged. “Well, first I need to fix Hell. In more ways than one, I guess. I mean, I’m sure Amara did a number on it, but even before that I know you’d agree that it needs major remodeling. You know, less torture except for people who really deserve it. No kids’ souls ending up there. No deals with desperate people, or at least a lower cost or something. Maybe reserve the hounds for only the really evil souls.” He flinched at how torn up Dean had been after the hounds got to him, when he went to Hell. He heard Dean shudder, and figured the sentiment was shared.

“Then I need to come up here and see what I can do about the monster thing. I mean, I can’t wipe them off the world – don’t ask – but maybe I could–”

Dean cut him off with a laugh. “Damn, Sammy, I was kidding, bitch. Right now, you’d better only be planning on teleporting us back to the Bunker. Because, man, I am gonna sleep for a week.” He gathered Sam into his chest and Sam went, laughing. Yeah.

He relaxed into the hug. Yeah, sleep would be good. Relaxing. Letting himself sit back, maybe read something that wasn’t research-related for once.

“Jerk,” he whispered into Dean’s shoulder. He tried to ignore the wetness in his eyes, and the wet patch he swore he could feel growing on his shoulder.

He jumped back to the Bunker after a few seconds, his arms still around Dean. He tucked his head into his brother’s shoulder and breathed in. God, how long had it been since they’d hugged?


Hell could wait.

One week later, after a lot of resting, after sending Jody back to Claire and Alex with the news, after actually relaxing and eating homecooked food, after talking with Cas about how they could coordinate the rebuilding efforts in Hell and Heaven, Sam was content.

So, of course, Crowley, who Sam had almost forgotten about, just had to pop back up.

When he knocked on the door, Sam opened it without really thinking, wondering why Cas was knocking when he could just pop in. Sure, they’d tightened the wards, but Cas had an exception worked in.

The first thing he heard from Crowley was, “Oh, goodie. You got rid of her.”

Sam almost smeared the limey bastard. Almost. So. Close.

But. Crowley would be a good regent for Hell. He followed the rules and submitted to power when it wanted what he wanted. Or when it could take him out without a thought.

Sam shoved at the black oil slick in Crowley’s vessel with a hint of his power, and made sure to emphasize how little of it the nudge was by lowering the shielding he normally kept up. (Leaking power all over the place was bad form, according to Cas.)

Dean walked up behind him as Crowley yelped and apologized profusely. Sam waited for him to genuflect, but he didn’t quite go that far. (Thank God. He didn’t want to ruin the powerful air he had by laughing his ass off.)

“Crowley,” Sam said. “I need you to be my regent. You will enforce any rules that I set. You will punish the offenders in the way that I see fit. And you will not bend the rules unless I have approved it. Are we clear?”

“Yes, ah, yes m’Lord,” Crowley said. He bowed again, even deeper, before vanishing.

“So I guess it’s time to go take care of Hell,” Dean grumbled.

“Yeah,” Sam said. “Put it off as long as we could.”

Dean – who had been messing around with the powers Sam had given him for the last week – followed his jump into Hell.

They were met by a large group of old demons, their inhuman true forms on full display and their oily power leaking everywhere.

Sam scoffed and lowered his shields just enough to let them know that they were far outmatched. “I am the new King,” he announced, making sure that his voice could be heard. “I am not only the Boy King; I have been anointed by the Creator. You will bow to me and follow my orders or you will die.

“Dean, my brother, is my anointed Advisor. He is not bound to Hell, but you will obey his orders, or you will die.

“Crowley, the demon, is my regent when I am not present. You will obey my orders, but he will punish you if you break them until I return. Then you will die.

“Am I clear?” he asked the growing group of demons. He could sense that most knew they were outmatched, and would at least wait to rebel until Crowley was alone – which was the best he could hope for at this point – but some were far more openly rebellious.

“Go fuck yourself, Winchester,” one of the ancient demons hissed through what looked to be mandibles.

Sam heard Dean draw a breath, getting ready to retort, but before he could, Sam sliced his power through the demon’s soul. It burned, screaming.

Jesus,” Dean swore.

“Does anyone else have objections?” Sam asked quietly, his voice projected over Hell.

No one said a thing, and many of the once-rebellious demons were openly contrite.

They began kneeling before him.

Dean looked out over the mass of kneeling demons and said exactly what Sam was thinking: “Oh, Jesus.

They tried to crown him on a throne made of bones. Sam declined. A lot. The Old Guard was really insistent. (Sam kept thinking about old geezers every time they said something like In the old Hell, we would…)

He finally managed to get them to agree to his changes, mostly by disintegrating a few more of the Old Guard and a lot of the rank-and-file who tried to ambush Dean in the halls of Hell’s palace. Dean got a few, but Sam pretty much blanket-killed every demon within fifty yards. The demons respected them both a lot more after than show of power.

Finally, he felt that he could leave Hell under Crowley’s rule for a while so that he could go topside and get the stench of brimstone out of his nose and call Jody back.

But first, he had to have one last chat with the regent. He told Dean to go ahead of him; he’d catch up. Dean looked skeptical, but went.

Sam popped in on Crowley where he was holding court. The demon who (by the sound of it) had been whining to Crowley about not being able to answer the summons of some teenagers with a legit book of summoning rituals shut up. Quickly. Mainly because Sam crushed its jaw closed and asked, deadly quietly, “Do you have an objection to my orders?”

It shook its head.

“Good,” Sam hummed, releasing the demon. “No children. Up to the age of twenty-one. If they want to ruin their life at that point, I’ll let them. But if they’re intoxicated or unaware that they are summoning…?”

“Don’t…deal?” the demon offered, voice squeakier than Sam thought it could be.

“Exactly,” Sam hummed, turning away. “I’m glad you’re learning.”

When the demon lunged for his back, a knife from the racks (that it thought it’d been hiding particularly cleverly) brandished, Sam vaporized it with a thought.

“I think I just saved you from an assassination attempt,” he joked to Crowley, who was telling a demon at his side to clear the throne room.

Crowley looked at his dourly. “Yes, yes. I had it handled, Sam.”

Sam glared, his power building at his behest.

Crowley sighed, but quickly corrected himself, “Your majesty. I had it covered.”

“Even so,” Sam said, “It got in with a knife. Unacceptable.”

Crowley rolled his eyes but nodded. “That one slipped by,” he admitted, “Mostly because he was in a group of ten, and he managed to blend into another group before my security could grab him.”

Sam hummed boredly. He wasn’t really here to make Crowley tighten security. Crowley at least had that in hand. Paranoia of being overthrown as the King paid off as the controversial regent.

Sam asked pointedly, “Crowley, how did you know about the Boy King? How did you know so much?”

He watched Crowley shrug and wanted to strangle him. “Well, Majesty,” Crowley said, “I’d been waiting for you to figure it out for years.” He sighed. “Pity it took the grandmother of all Apocalypses for you to finally get a clue.”

Sam wanted to strangle the demon. He did. But he couldn’t, because Crowley was the only demon Sam had any modicum of trust in.

He left the throne room, appearing in the Bunker’s library. He surprised Dean, who was walking toward the kitchen, hair still dripping from a shower.

With a thought, Sam banished the stench of brimstone from his clothes and gathered his brother into a hug.

“Sam, what–” Dean asked before his breath was knocked out of him by Sam’s chest slamming into his.

Sam shrugged as he stepped back. “Just wanted to make sure that you were okay,” he said. “I know you and Hell don’t have a good past.”

Dean rolled his eyes. “I’m fine, bitch,” he said, “Stop being a worrywart, yeah?” he kept walking toward the kitchen. “C’mon, I was thinkin’ maybe some jambalaya today. I’ll even put some vegetables in, just for you, you hippie.”

Sam snorted. “They’re good for you, jerk,” he shot back.

“Yeah, you keep sayin’ that, but I don’t feel any better,” Dean teased.

Sam scoffed. “You’re immortal, Dean. You don’t–” He stopped himself. If he said that, Dean wouldn’t let him live it down. “Look, I like them, okay? You can damn well deal.”

Dean laughed. “I’ll let what you just about said drop just because I’m a cool big brother,” he teased, huge smile making his eyes light up. “And you can have your damn vegetables.”

Sam laughed.

Damn, even if he had a shit-ton still to do – figuring out the monster situation, coordinating with Cas, figuring out what he could fix about the environment that Chuck wouldn’t kick his ass over – it was nice to have this. To be able to joke with his brother without having some catastrophe hanging over their shoulders.

He could get used to this.