Warnings: violence, disturbing imagery, hallucinations
Author's Notes: many thanks to my two lovely betas immortal_jedi and kazluvsbooks!
This was written for indiachick for this year's summergen exchange. I loved the prompts!
Summary: John Winchester made a deal to save Dean's life. When that deal is unexpectedly broken, John has to face the consequences. His family is torn apart, his own mind starts to crack, and the Apocalypse begins.
The weight of the Colt lay heavy in John Winchester's hands. He looked up to the dark cement of the boiler room ceiling and thought about his sons, both of them only a few floors above him. Sam was still holding vigil by Dean's side.
Dean didn't have much longer. The doctors had said as much, but John didn't need a doctor to tell him. He could see it in the pallor of Dean's skin, the way his body hadn't responded to a damn thing the nurses had done. The tubes and machines were keeping Dean alive, and his soul was stuck in there, powerless, waiting for a reaper to come.
Even though he spoke them with clear intent and as much force as he could muster, the words of the summoning chant sounded muffled and quiet in the damp basement of the hospital. John lit a single match and dropped it into the herb-filled brazier, trying to focus on the task at hand. He had to do this right. Dean and Sam wouldn't have the protection of the Colt, but they'd have each other. That'd have to be enough.
A hand grabbed his shoulder, and John flinched, turning around.
"What the hell are you doing down here, buddy?" asked a janitor. His name-tag said Stan, and his eyes were locked on John.
"I can explain," John said, holding up his hands.
"Yeah, you're gonna explain to security. Come on. You follow me," Stan said.
Except it wasn't Stan. Of course it wasn't. John drew the Colt, and cocked it, aiming it at the janitor. "Hey, how stupid do you think I am?"
The demon's grin twisted the janitor's face into a malicious smile as his eyes lit up pale yellow. "You really want an honest answer to that?"
Footsteps came from behind John and then stopped, as two other possessed men flanked him. Three demons. Didn't change anything. He was outgunned anyway. The only real weapon he had was his plan.
The yellow-eyed demon raised his eyebrows. "You conjuring me, John? I'm surprised. I took you for a lot of things, but reckless wasn't one of them."
"I could always shoot you," John said.
"You could always miss," the demon laughed. "And you've only got one try, don'tcha? Did you really think you could trap me?"
"Oh, I don't want to trap you," John lowered the gun and steeled himself. "I want to make a deal."
He'd stuck to the plan and even got in the extra caveat. The demon had laughed at him, taunted him, asking how one extra day was going to change anything. "It's one more day with my sons," John had told him.
"Love of family," the demon's eyes glowed brighter. "Alright. Twenty-four hours on the nose. Hopping time-zones won't make a difference by the way. Not that you would."
Sam hadn't left Dean's side since he'd gotten out of the hospital bed. John watched them from the rear-view mirror, sitting together in the back of the car they'd borrowed. Dean was slumped to the right, his head on Sam's shoulder, still exhausted from his brush with death. Too close, too damn close.
John swallowed, as he thought of what was coming. He was going with Azazel, he was going to lose Dean anyway, but Sam would still have Dean, the world would still have Dean. It was worth it. It was the right choice.
They'd had late-lunch/early-dinner at a diner a few hours ago and were heading south. John was driving towards Kansas, towards Lawrence. Not intentionally. He'd go off course before they got to close. Might even veer west and head into Colorado before they ever crossed the border. He wanted to see their house one last time, the house where he'd last seen Mary, but he wouldn't put the boys through that. Not after what they'd just been through.
Dean was awake long enough to have dinner and shower, and then went right back to sleep. John had gotten two separate rooms, but sat at the table, watching Dean sleep for the first two hours. He glanced at his watch. He had about eight hours left. The boys would spend most of it sleeping. If he timed it right, he could grab the Colt, disappear and meet up with the yellow-eyed demon miles away from here. Sam and Dean would be furious at him, but the thought of trying to explain what he'd done was making his stomach curdle.
Sam was lying in the bed opposite Dean, facing his brother. His eyes fluttered open every few minutes, like he had to be sure Dean was still breathing. John still remembered doing that himself after the fire. He hadn't been able to sleep right for months after Mary died, and every time he got close to falling asleep his heart would speed up, thinking of how close he'd come to losing his sons, too.
John did drift asleep himself that night at one point, right there in the uncomfortable, metal and Naugahyde chair. The sky had turned pink, and there was a mourning dove on the roof right above them, repeating its call over and over. He could still leave, if he wanted to. The Colt was stashed in the weapons duffel right by his feet. The boys were still both sleeping, and even though he'd taught them never to close their ears while they slept, he knew they slept more soundly when he was there, watching. They still trusted him.
His throat hurt when he swallowed and stood, trying to will himself to move. In three hours and seventeen minutes he was going to die. His heart was going to stop and then his soul would go to Hell. The demon had made it very clear that it didn't matter where he was, or what he was doing. At exactly 9:48 AM, he was going to die. He had to have the Colt on him when it happened. If he didn't, yellow-eyes would come find it, wherever it was. He bent down to grab the duffel, and pulled it up onto the chair.
"Dad?" Sam asked, his voice heavy with sleep.
They got ready to go in seven minutes. Dean was still moving a bit slower than usual at first, but by the time he carried the weapons duffel out to the car he looked like his old self. They'd ditched the Honda from last night for an old Ford that had more trunk space.
"There's a Waffle House up the highway from here," John said, moving next to Dean as he dropped the duffel into the trunk. "Want to go?"
"You hate that place," Dean said, staring at him. His eyes looked so much like Mary's sometimes.
"Yeah, but you love it," Sam said, as he passed them both and moved towards the rear passenger side door.
John headed towards the driver's seat. He'd pick up the Colt before they entered the diner. Halfway through their meal he'd mention he wasn't feeling well. If he played his cards right, it'd look like he'd had a heart attack. They'd never have to know. A hiss from Sam drew his attention, and he turned to see his younger son frozen in place, one hand resting against the roof of the car, the other pressing against his temple.
"Sammy?" Dean asked, moving to his brother's side.
"What's wrong?" John asked, his heart stuttering as he realized what was going on. Sam was having a vision. And that meant—
"He's—I think he's here," Sam said, forcing his eyes open to look at his brother.
"Who's here? The demon?" Dean asked.
Their voices faded as John's heart pumped so loudly all he could hear was his own blood. He turned towards where Sam's shaking finger was pointing and saw nothing except trees. Then, for just a second, the air flickered and he saw the demon, still wearing Stan the janitor, leering at him. The demon tapped his finger against his watch, cocked an eyebrow and vanished from view again.
"There," Sam said.
John turned to Sam, panic rising in his throat.
A shot fired.
"That's for our mom, you son of a bitch," Dean said. The Colt was smoking in his grip. He lowered it, and smiled viciously. There was more than a hint of pride in his eyes when he looked over to John.
John looked back over to where he'd seen the demon and saw the crumpled form of Stan, lying on the ground. He looked from the demon to Dean and back and his heart clenched, waiting for the inevitable other shoe to drop.
"You did it," Sam said. "Dean…you did it!" Sam let out a surprised but happy sound and put his arm around his brother's shoulder.
"Nice work, son," John said as he started to walk around the car.
"Dean?" Sam's voice didn't sound happy anymore.
By the time John got to the other side of the car, Dean's heart had stopped beating.
Sam hadn't said a word since Dean died. John had maneuvered him into the passenger seat of the car and laid Dean on the back seat. They'd put Stan's corpse in the trunk.
They built two separate pyres, and Sam helped lift Stan's body up onto the first. But when it came time to move Dean's body, he wouldn't budge.
John stood next to him, wishing he could find a prayer or something—anything to say. "Sam—" was all he could utter, and then his words failed him again when he saw the raw wounds that were his son's eyes.
They watched Dean burn until the sky was filled with ash. When the last of the heat flickered out, Sam asked, "Did you know?"
There was no good answer. Nothing he could say would make it okay. There was nothing he could do to fix this. The being he'd made a pact with was dead—Dean had died as he would have without the demon's intervention. John thought about what else he could do, if he could summon something else, still trade himself for Dean.
"Did you know?" Sam asked again, his voice strained.
John opened his mouth to speak but couldn't. He turned to look at Sam, trying to get him to understand.
Sam met his eyes and his face twisted from fear to something so cold, John nearly took a step back. Sam's left hand was clenched into a fist. A black cord hung down from his fingers, and a drop of blood rolled slowly down from his palm, running down the cord and dripping into the parched grass below. He opened his fingers, and looked down at the golden horned amulet in his hand. He slipped it over his head, tucked the amulet under his shirt and left without saying another word.
The Colt was gone. John had no idea when it had happened, or how. He woke up one morning and it wasn't under the pillow where he'd left it. The door to his motel room was still locked, the salt lines were unbroken. There was no sign anyone other than him had been in the room.
That was the first night he saw his own ghost. He'd gone to a bar after dinner, because the loneliness was bad enough without adding alcohol to the mix, but he needed a drink. Man, did he need a drink.
It was on his third glass of whiskey, when he was staring at his reflection in the murky mirror behind the bar, that he saw himself double. Not a double-image, not a trick of light. There was another John Winchester sitting in the stool to his left.
"You know who took the Colt, right?" his twin asked him.
He turned and found the stool empty, but the double was still there in the mirror, watching him grimly.
"There's only one person left alive who knows exactly how to sneak up on you, who knows how to keep quiet, and exactly what'll wake you up."
John took another sip from his whiskey. "Sam."
"What good's a gun without bullets?" John asked. The bartender eyed him oddly. He wasn't getting any more refills.
"It's a magic gun. Maybe it does something other than shoot magic bullets." His double smiled slow and it looked almost like pity. "You should've stopped him while you had the chance. Too late now."
"Never too late," John muttered as he drained his glass. He slapped a twenty on the counter and nodded to the bartender who looked just a little relieved at his departure.
It was bitterly cold out, and he wished he had a hat.
"It's been months. Seven months on his own. Nobody to watch him. No father. No brother."
John whipped towards the voice, ready to grab the damn thing by the throat, but there was nothing.
"You knew this would happen."
"You did," his voice sounded like it was stuck somewhere between fury and hysteria. "He's the one. That's what the demon said: 'Sammy's the one who's gonna tear it all down. Why not trade him? He's ours anyway. He's always been ours,' "
"They can't have him," John snarled, his breath curling impotently into the night sky.
"They already do. They have them both."
John yelled and screamed at his ghost, trying to make it explain itself, but the voice didn't say another word.
The next morning, John woke up with a headache bad enough to kill a lesser man. He flipped on the news and found the world had gotten even shittier overnight. After watching the screen in a near-stupor for ten minutes he flipped the channel to another network, and then another. Every talking head was reporting a different horrifying event, but all of them had one thing in common.
The assailant's eyes were black...
Witnesses say the man's eyes were solid black and that he was, quote, Superman strong...
...a woman five feet tall with red hair and black eyes broke his arm...
Demon possessions had gone through the roof in less than twenty-four hours. After debating for a few minutes, John picked up the phone and called Ellen Harvelle. She hung up on him.
So did Bobby Singer.
He got a call back from Ellen's number when he was about halfway to Wyoming. Whatever had happened, that seemed to be the center of it all.
"You John?" the voice on the other end of the line asked.
"Name's Ash. Ellen wanted me to pass on some info."
"She too good to talk to me?" John snapped, then immediately regretted it.
"Affirmative." The man on the other end of the line clucked his tongue. "Listen, she might not want to talk to you, but she must think you've got something solid between your shoulders 'cause this isn't the type of stuff most people would be able to make heads or tails of, you got me?"
"Yeah," John pulled off the highway onto the shoulder so he could take notes.
Ash had a list of coordinates. Each one a church, each one the site of an old railway line. In the center of all of it was a cemetery. In the cemetery was a crypt, and that crypt was a gate to Hell. And if what Ash and Ellen had pieced together was right, then last night, somebody had cracked it open.
The demons were everywhere and they were vicious. John figured out quick how to trap them and hurt them and he did everything he could to get them to talk, but it didn't take long for him to realize that half the time there were still people inside.
Exorcisms worked, but every demon he sent back down would just pass on what he was doing. Not that it mattered. They weren't scared of him, not in the least. It's not like John was expecting demons to be straightforward with him, but some of them were so obnoxiously obtuse he wanted to slit their throats on principle.
The king has opened the door. The king will open the door. The king has set us free. The king will free Him.
"What king? I killed your king."
The new king, the boy king, the one who Lucifer chose above all others.
You're the one we can't tell. Can't tell you. Can't tell father John.
Month after month, things got worse. More and more people were possessed and the world started to break. Things were happening that felt like prophecy—like the end of days—Meteor showers that turned soil to sand and water to blood, crop blights, dry lightning that came out of nowhere and killed men dead.
Bobby Singer finally called him back and said just one word, before hanging up again. "Lilith."
Lilith: the first demon, the one who'd taken Azazel's place when Dean shot him dead. It didn't take John long to get a demon to confirm who she was. He demanded to know where she was. The demon he'd doused in holy water wouldn't tell him, but it didn't matter.
It was well past midnight by the time John was done. After salting and burning the corpse of the person the demon had ridden, John walked back to his truck, past the scrapyard, past the boarded up super-mart, past the playground, and stopped.
There was a little girl on the swingset. She couldn't have been older than ten. She was wearing an all white dress and pigtails and waved at John as he passed by.
There was nobody watching her. No parents, no older siblings.
"Hi John!" she called out. "Want to see how high I can swing?"
John's gut turned to ice when he saw her eyes glow pale white. He swallowed down his fear and crossed onto the grass. "Lilith."
The girl—the demon—swung her legs out and back with force, grinning as her eyes slid back to a more human-looking blue. "I bet I can go all the way around if you push me."
"Cut the crap."
Lilith held her legs still and her grin turned cold. "You wanted to see me. I'm here."
John cracked his knuckles for lack of something to punch. Then he took a deep breath and asked, "What are you doing?"
"I'm swinging, silly." Lilith giggled, a child's gleeful laugh and it felt like razors in John's skull.
"The meteor showers, the mass possessions, the rivers of blood...they're all signs."
"You sure are smart, mister."
"All of it, everything you're doing. It's a precursor to something else." John stepped closer to the demon-girl as the swing slowly came to a halt.
Lilith slid off the swing and as soon as her feet hit the sand, four men appeared—all of them with black eyes. They flanked the outside of the swing-set, eyes trained on John. Lilith took the last few steps until she was less than a foot away and curled her finger, beckoning John to lean down.
Against his better judgment, he leaned forward until Lilith could whisper in his ear.
"It's a secret," she said. Then she kissed John on the cheek.
His skin flushed, and he straightened, furious before turning his back on her.
"You should be proud of your son."
John froze, and fought the urge to turn back to her for nearly five slow seconds.
"He's a real natural. I didn't know if he had it in him at first." She wrapped her pigtail around her right pointer finger and tilted her head. "But...Daddy knows best."
"What did you do to Sam?" John snapped, ignoring the way the demon guards closed in on him when he stepped closer to Lilith.
"Who said I was talking about Sam?" Lilith asked. The inherent innocence of her features distorted as she frowned. "Sam doesn't play fair. Tell him to stop taking my stuff."
The ludicrousness of her statement just enraged John further. "I haven't seen Sam in months. He hasn't returned a single phone call. What makes you think I—"
"You're his father. Aren't you?" Lilith asked. "Find him." She narrowed her eyes. "You really don't know, do you?"
Lilith clucked her tongue. "Did you hear what happened in New Haven?" She winked at him and vanished, followed shortly by her demonic bodyguards.
He started to walk back to the abandoned house he'd stashed his things at, watching his breath curl into the cold night air. He was alone with his jumbled thoughts until his doppelgänger appeared.
"Lilith is scared of Sam. That right there should tell you something," other-John said, walking in pace with him. He was wearing the same faded green jacket, the same jeans, the same scuffed boots. He was practically a mirror-image. Except for the whole talking part.
John still wasn't sure if he'd just cracked and started seeing things, or if this was some kind of demon or monster he'd never heard of, but whatever it was it gave off no warning signs—no change in the air, no omens, not a smell or sound other than its voice. When it exhaled there was no breath. Seemed pretty likely he was just going crazy.
"You know exactly what's going on. You just don't want to believe it."
"Shut up," John muttered, his voice strangely loud in the otherwise quiet suburbia. There were still people living here. Not in every house, but some. "You're not real."
"You should've stopped Sam when you had the chance."
"He's my son."
"He sure is. And you taught him well. Taught him about vengeance being more important than anything else. What do you think he's been up to since you killed Dean?"
"I didn't kill—" John lowered his voice. "I didn't kill Dean." Yelling out loud to someone that was most definitely just in his head wasn't a good way to lay low.
"As far as Sam's concerned, you did. He's a smart kid— he could see the guilt on your face. All he knows is that you made some kind of deal with Yellow-eyes, and the second he died, so did Dean. So either the demon killed Dean…or you did." The doppelgänger gave John a cold smile. "What do you think Sam believes?"
He knew the answer. Had it burned into his brain—etched into his thoughts like Sam himself had carved it there in big bloody letters. He wanted the thing haunting him to shut up—to stop heaping even more guilt onto him. "New Haven," John said finally, determined to block out the hallucination. He had to focus. Lilith had given him a hint—something had happened in New Haven, and he had to find out what.
New Haven, Portland, South Berwick, all of them the site of something unnatural. Fields of wheat turned to stone, cattle falling dead by the thousands, hail storms so bad they left streets looking like Swiss cheese. They were signs, all of them, and they were pointing to one thing.
"Lucifer?" Bobby Singer asked again. "You're serious."
John rubbed his fingers against the bridge of his nose. "I wouldn't have come here if I wasn't."
"What in the hell makes you think I got the first clue about this?" Bobby drained the rest of his beer and set the empty bottle down with just a tad more force than was necessary.
"You know things, you've got more books than God, and you're smarter than me."
"You ain't wrong there..."
John ran his fingers through his hair and let out a heavy breath. "This demon, Lilith, she's old, and she's strong. She could've killed me without batting an eyelash."
"But she didn't, because...?"
"I don't know. I think she wants me to see what's coming." John swallowed at the memory of what the demon had said with her stolen, innocent voice. She said 'Daddy knows best,' and I thought she was mocking me at first...but now I'm thinking she didn't mean me at all."
"Lucifer's her daddy?" Bobby stood and walked over to his desk. He grabbed an old book from his desk and carried it over to the couch. It was aged,even compared to the other musty tomes Bobby had. This one looked like it had sand worn deep into its tattered binding.
"Thing about the good book is— there's 907 different versions of it. Lots of stuff got cut out. This one here's all the bits left on the chopping room floor." Bobby paged through the book carefully, like he was afraid to tear the timeworn sheets.
John crossed the room to look at the rest of Bobby's collection. Half of the texts weren't in English, which cut down the number he could read. He picked up a copy of Daemonicus and began to page through.
From what he and Bobby had been able to piece together, what had happened in New Haven and elsewhere were rituals specifically designed to break open seals—locks on Lucifer's cage. When they were all opened, Lucifer would walk the Earth again.
That discovery explained a lot, actually. Something fundamental had changed. The air itself felt different, and it smelled like ash far more often than it should, even when there were no fires nearby. Demons were everywhere, reports of possessions were in the thousands. Worse yet…now they were fearless.
When John captured one wearing a school-teacher who was about two feet shorter than him, she was completely calm. Her eyes never even shifted to black and she didn't struggle against the salted, holy water soaked rope, even when it blistered her skin.
"Tell me what Lilith is doing," John said. It was the same question he asked them all.
"Lilith is dead."
He wasn't expecting that. "Who killed her?"
The demon looked at him strangely. "You don't know?" Her voice took on a strange pitch,offended and incredulous all at once. "I know who you are, John. We all know. You're off limits."
"I—" John stared at her. "What?"
In the back of the school-room, leaning against the chalkboard, John's twin came into being, laughing. "This is just too good."
The demon recited, in a sing-song voice: "Don't touch Father John, don't touch Bobby Singer, and don't even speak about Brother Dean."
"Sam told you that?" John's eyes stung and he blinked, too furious to give into the despair lodged in his throat. "He giving you orders now?"
"Of course he is, you've known that for months," his doppelgänger said.
The demon's eyes grew brighter and then flipped to black as she said, reverently, "Our God gives us orders. Lucifer walks the earth. He is reclaiming all of his kingdom."
"Well that's new. Guess the jail-break already happened. Add another failure notch to your belt there, John." His other-self traced a finger across the chalkboard, leaving an uneven line on the dusty surface.
John started reciting the Rituale Romanum by rote. He wanted the demon gone before she told him anything else.
After a week of futile anger and not nearly enough whiskey, John knew what he had to do.
From then on, he asked every demon he came across just one question: "Where's Sam?"
This demon, the eighth one this week, he'd pinned to the ground with sigil-engraved spikes. "Where's Sam?" he repeated.
It blinked up at John calmly. "Exactly where he should be."
They never gave him a straight answer anymore. The return of Lucifer had given them all a case of cryptic-speak. John unscrewed his flask and poured the holy water over the demon's face, making sure to coat the eyes and mouth.
"Nicely done. You should really have considered a career in torture," his double's voice said. "I'm pretty sure it runs in the family, too. Remember how good Dean was with that revenant 5 years ago? Kid's a natural."
John ignored his inner voice and forced the rest of the holy water into the demon's mouth. It hissed and made a pained noise, but it didn't scream. "I don't care what you do to me."
"It doesn't matter what you do. You can't stop it. Nobody can stop it. We won. Don't you get it?"
John crouched down low and brought the tip of his pocket knife to the demon's cheek. He pulled the blade quickly down at an angle, cutting shallow and wide and emptied the pouch of consecrated earth on top of the wound.
The demon's eyes flicked between black and pale blue and finally it screamed, but then the scream turned into a laugh.
"Where's Sam?" John repeated.
The demon stopped laughing and smiled wide. "Remaking the world."
John stopped tracking demons, and started focusing on a whole different set of signs. Not the apocalyptic ones,there were just too damn many. There'd been other things,things a more paranoid person might have seen as personal. Cities decimated with only two survivors: a pair of brothers, one eight, one four. A church out in the middle of nowhere that burned for three days without stopping until somebody finally found the gagged woman pinned to the cross in the back, completely untouched by the flames or smoke. Her name was Mary.
Over the course of the next week, Kansas was ravaged by flash floods and tornados for exactly seven days. Cities and towns were completely flattened, every single one...except for Lawrence.
John wove the small sedan he'd hot-wired through the streets as quickly as he could, but there were pieces of houses everywhere—broken furniture, roof-shingles and whole roofs in some cases. Cattle roamed down the highway, a herd picking its way through the aftermath.
His double joined him halfway through the drive, sitting quietly in the passenger seat as he looked out at the damage alongside the road. Using a small pocket knife (that looked just like John's own), he made a mark on the dashboard for every corpse they passed. The minute they crossed the border into Lawrence, he folded the knife closed, waved good-bye and vanished.
Lawrence was completely untouched, like the weather had hit an invisible wall that followed the city line exactly. There weren't many people left, but the few John did see looked terrified, still expecting the sky to fall at any minute.
When he got to the familiar light-grey house, the one that would always smell like Mary's burning flesh, the first thing he noticed was how nice the lawn looked. Whoever lived here now had paid a landscaper. There were flowers and hedges, and the grass was perfectly even. He rang the doorbell and waited, trying to steel himself for whatever answered the door.
After a minute had passed with no answer, John grabbed the doorknocker and rapped it twice. The door was unlocked, and opened inwards from the slight force of the knock.
It looked like a normal enough home at first glance. The current owners had changed little things: replaced the living room wallpaper with a flower trimmed egg-shell print, and pulled up the carpeting on the stairs.
"Hello?" John called out after he crossed into the pristine kitchen and found that empty too. The oven was on, and the scent of rosemary and chicken permeated the air.
He was about to turn around and head upstairs when he saw something move out back. The small back door in the kitchen had been replaced with sliding glass. As he got closer, John noticed how different the backyard looked.
The lawn was a startling shade of green, as lush as the grass out front. There was a small play-set in the center with two swings and a slide. A little girl was swinging back and forth, and didn't didn't seem to notice John at all.
There were two full-length lawn chairs facing the play-set, both of them occupied. One by a woman with blond hair and the other by a man so tall his bare feet hung off the bottom of the chair. He was broad, too, shoulders sticking out just past the edges of the chair. John could just see the man's long hair through the slats of the chair and swallowed, his mouth painfully dry.
"Hot as Hell today, ain't it?" said the man.
John took a few more steps around the chair until he was facing his son. Sam had grown over the last year. He looked even taller, and his frame had filled out, his white polo shirt stretching tightly across his chest and arms.
"I was starting to wonder if you'd ever show up, John," Sam said. He sounded like a different person, his voice softer and yet somehow more invasive than it had any right to be, words echoing with an unsettling dissonance right in the back of the brain.
"What did you do to Sam?" John asked, as he finally understood. His refusal to accept what his son had become dissipated—water drops on metal super-heated by the light of an unforgiving midday sun.
The thing wearing Sam's skin, Lucifer, smiled, a show of teeth, as he swung his long legs to the side of the chair and stood.
Even in his boots, John was shorter than him, and he found himself straightening, pulling his shoulders back and doing all those other things animals do to make themselves look less like prey. "Get out of my son."
Sam's laugh was as soft as his voice, barely more than an exhale. "No."
"Get out of my son, or I swear to God—" John's voice cut off as the air around him suddenly turned to ice.
Across from him, Sam's face distorted ever so slightly. There was a terrible light buried under his skin, an inhuman fury that flared wide and then collapsed in on itself as Lucifer regained his composure. "Or what? What are you going to do, exactly? What are you going to do in my Father's name?"
John tried to steady his breathing enough to speak, but his tongue was stuck to the roof of his mouth and his lips had frozen together. He pried them apart slowly, forcing his jaw muscles to move and tasted blood in his mouth. But he could speak. "I'll find a way to stop you."
"No you won't." Lucifer turned his head towards the swing-set. "Sari, sweetie. Come here, please."
The girl on the swing dragged the toes of her shoes against the dirt and brought herself to a stop. She stood and walked to them, eyes staring vacantly straight ahead.
Sam's fingers curled over the girl's shoulder. "Go give your mother a kiss."
The girl turned her head then, looking up at Sam like she'd just noticed he was there. Her eyes widened and she made an abortive sound, a cut-off gasp. Her pupils began to dilate and the whites of her eyes grew red as the small capillaries burst, one by one. With teeth bared, she lunged at the woman in the lawn chair.
John found himself between them, with one hand pressed against the rabid girl's chest and the other holding onto her arm. "Run!" he yelled to the woman behind him, but she didn't react. Her gaze was completely empty. The girl fought his hold with far more strength than she should have had, until John's fingers ached with the strain of holding her back. "Run, dammit!" he yelled again, but the woman in the chair stayed where she was. He saw something move out of the corner of his eye when he turned to look over his shoulder at her. Something small and fast.
Sari broke free from John's hold and threw him aside, sending him sprawling to the ground. He landed in the grass and found Lucifer smirking down at him, Sam's long hair catching the sunlight behind him like a fiery halo.
John pushed himself to his feet quickly and started to move towards the chair. Sari had stopped short of attacking her mother, but only because someone else had gotten there first. A small child, two at most, with hair as light as his mother's, was kneeling on top of her, his bleeding arm pressed to her mouth.
"Jenny's a good mom. Always makes sure Ritchie and Sari are happy, even when she's not," Lucifer said, watching the display.
"What did you do to them?" John asked, unable to take his eyes off of the bloodied toddler, who crawled back down off the lawn-chair and waited for his mother's eyes to turn as bloodshot as his own.
"I gave them a gift. The final stage of human evolution."
John watched the family run out of the yard, smeared with their own blood. The small boy loped on all fours, too slow to keep up with the others when he was upright. "You made them animals."
"You've always been animals. All I'm doing is reminding you of that. It's so much easier this way. No more messy human emotions, no more politics, no more conscience, no more wars, just one impulse: spread the virus."
If it was a virus, then there could be a cure. There had to be.
"Kansas is nearly empty. Thanks to them, Lawrence will be cleared in under four hours. This is happening right now in one home in every city in every state, all over the world." Lucifer said, so matter-of-factly it made John want to punch him.
Since that would only result in his own knuckles being broken, he restrained himself and said, "You bastard."
Lucifer's bemused expression was so unlike Sam it almost made it easier to look at him. "Technically speaking, you're right. I was born out of wedlock."
"So that's your big plan: get humans to wipe each other out?"
"That's the first phase, yes."
"After the first hour of infection, the cerebrum start to shut down and the amygdala goes into overdrive. They will feel nothing but rage. They'll tear each other apart, limb from bloody limb. By tomorrow night there won't be a single living human left." Sam's eyes widened, the green of his irises refracting a fervent golden light from within. "Then nature will erase all memory of your kind and my Father's creation will return to its former glory."
"Your father…you think he would've wanted this? You don't think he hates you even more for what you're doing?"
Lucifer didn't move a muscle, but from one moment to the next there was a living shadow behind him, as massive as a skyscraper. It unfurled until the darkness covered the whole damn sky. There were little flickers of white fire in the blackness forming the faint outline of tapered feathers. Arching wings, six of them, that vanished a moment later, leaving the sky painfully pale. "Sam hates you, you know."
John kept his face calm. "I know."
"He fought me at first, but when I showed him the truth— when I held up the mirror to humanity and let him see…really see what your kind is capable of, he understood."
"You're lying. Demons lie," John said.
Lucifer raised his chin, his nostrils flared, and he looked offended. "I am an angel."
"I didn't fall," Lucifer said, his voice echoing unpleasantly inside of John's head again. "I was thrown, cast out, falsely accused of every crime you disgusting apes have committed." Lucifer looked down at his hand, Sam's hand, and flexed his long fingers wide. "Sam is the only human worth keeping alive. He was destined for this. Mine since the moment he was conceived. He's going to inherit the Earth." Lucifer smiled beatifically as he lowered his voice. "What more could any father want for his son?"
John's restraint crumbled and he found himself lashing out at the Devil before the rational part of his brain could stop him. He landed a punch to Sam's jaw, another to the ribs, another to the stomach, aware but uncaring that his own knuckles were shattering from the impact.
Lucifer stopped him after a while. Not by force or by overriding his body with power. He simply grabbed a hold of John's wrists and held them still.
The fury inside of John melted into despair, settling leaden in his bones. His eyes closed reflexively, like not seeing the Devil look out through his son's eyes could make it stop being true.
"Sammy, I'm so sorry," John whispered, as a tear slipped down his cheek. "I should've stopped this. I tried, I tried so damn hard, but I—"
Lucifer scoffed as he let go of John's arms. "Oh please. No you didn't. If you really wanted to stop it you would've killed him the moment you found out what he was. But you didn't, did you?"
John had a thought then, bittersweet but the only spark of hope he had left. "At least Dean didn't have to see any of this." He straightened his back and met Sam's eyes, determined to get through to whatever was left of his son. "Dean's up there, Sam, in Heaven with your mom. He didn't have to see any of this," John said, and he even felt himself smile a little.
The thing wearing Sam's skin shook its head,lips pressed thin with false pity. "What a pretty lie."
"Dean's up there," John repeated. "He never did a thing wrong, he—"
"I didn't make the rules, John." Sam's lips quirked. "Thou shalt not kill. Thou shalt not take the Lord's name in vain. Thou shalt not steal…" He cocked his head. "How many of the big ten did Dean break before the age of thirteen?"
"You can't be serious," John said. "Dean was a good kid, he was the best, he—"
"You sold your soul to save him. Then you violated your agreement with my son," Lucifer said. "Azazel died so Dean died…but Hell still had claim on a soul. Since it couldn't take yours, it took your kin. It's really not that complicated."
"You son of a bitch!" John yelled. "He doesn't belong there. Let him go!"
"He belongs there. You have no idea how proud of him we are, John. He's a real natural."
John shook his head, backing away as Lucifer stepped closer to him.
"Time passes differently in Hell. Dean's been down there for…" Lucifer glanced down at Sam's wrist. "…just over eight months, right? That's eighty years in our time-zone."
"No— you're lying."
"Give me one reason why I would feel the need to lie to a thing like you."
John didn't have an answer to that.
"Eighty years, John. And for the first forty he fought us. He turned down our offer every day until finally, finally he stepped down off the rack, picked up a knife and cut into another human soul." Sam put his hand on John's shoulder. "He's special. Both of your sons are. Sam was made for me, but Dean…Dean helped set me free."
"What?" John could barely even process Lucifer's words anymore. There was too much horror, too much pain, for any of it to be real. His head was throbbing with the need for it all to stop. He thought about the gun in his side holster and the exact angle he'd have to fire it to make sure he'd succeed.
"No," Lucifer said, curving Sam's lips into a smile. "You don't get to check out early. You made your bed, and you get to lie in it. This world —my world—exists thanks to you and your sons. If you hadn't raised them the way you did, hadn't made them the perfect weapons…we wouldn't be standing here right now."
John had walked back towards the lawn chair without realizing it. The back of his calves grazed the metal frame of the chair and he stopped moving.
"Sit, please," said the Devil. "Make yourself comfortable."
His body obeyed Sam's voice, and John found himself sitting in the lawn-chair, legs stretched out. He would have protested, but what was the point.
"This world is mine now. Every human that kills another goes to Hell. We've gained 10 million new souls in the last ten minutes."
"What do you want from me?" John asked, as the fight drained out of him. He couldn't move; he couldn't do a damn thing.
"I want you to watch."
Sam's fingers pressed against John's forehead and the backyard disappeared as his mind filled with images: the last hours of humanity broadcast right into his head.
"I want you to bear witness."
And so John did.