SAM (JANUARY 2008)
The cool water from the sink did little to settle Sam’s racing pulse. In the mirror, he watched the drops roll down his face as the lights of the hotel room flickered. Dean wasn’t back yet, and it’d been five minutes already, more than enough time to get something from the soda machine.
Peering through the window, Sam saw Dean talking to Ruby. As quietly as he could, he stepped out, moved behind the dividing wall, hiding him and putting him within earshot of them. What he overheard Ruby say made his blood run cold, twisted his insides to knots. Dean being doomed to Hell was bad enough, but finding out that meant Dean was destined to become a demon was even worse.
And all because Dean thought Sam's life was somehow worth more than his. Angry tears threatened to push their way out, as Sam thought for the thousandth time that Dean should've let him stay dead back in Cold Oak.
Ruby told Dean she’d lied about Sam being able to save him, too. That she was only there to help Sam get ready for the coming war. But that was the lie, Sam thought. More than that, he knew, he could feel it, buried beneath her words. She hadn’t lied to Dean about Hell, but she was lying to him about the other part. Sam could save him. Only Dean couldn’t know about it.
Conversation over, Dean stormed back to the hotel room, slamming the door shut behind him. Sam moved, turning the corner into the parking lot quickly. He didn’t want to miss his chance. Ruby was just starting to walk away. But she stopped mid-step, sensing his approach.
She turned to him, with a leveling stare, waited a beat before asking, “How much did you hear?”
“Enough,” Sam said, voice unsteady. He swallowed down his grief, no time for despair. “You said, months ago, that you could help me save Dean.”
“That’s right,” Ruby held his eyes. There was something challenging in her gaze like she was daring him to keep going.
“You told Dean you were lying.”
“Do you think I was?”
“No,” Sam said, “but I’m done with you holding out on me. How do I save him?”
“I told you something else, months ago, in that diner. You remember?”
“Yeah,” Sam said with a huff. “You said something about me being the Antichrist.”
“Pride called me the Boy King.”
Ruby cocked an eyebrow. “We’ve got a lot of names for you.”
“So what does that mean?” There were other questions racing through his mind too: why the demon the witches had sold themselves to had wanted to kill him. Why Ruby had fought so fiercely to protect him. There was a war coming, and apparently it mattered what side he ended up on.
“Means I like seeing you squirm,” Ruby said, keeping her tone light. Her expression, on the other hand, was anything but.
“Can I really save Dean? Get him out of his deal?”
“Depends,” Ruby said. “I can help you get there, but in the end, it’s all up to you. How far are you willing to go?” There was a weight to her words, ugly truths Sam didn’t want to hear, perched on her tongue.
She waited for an answer, and then after Sam said nothing, shook her head, disappointed. “When you grow a spine, call me,” and vanished.
The day after they got out of Broward County, Sam summoned Ruby. As he finished the incantation and the bowl of herbs went up in flames, the air around him depressurized. The empty warehouse itself didn’t have any functional lights, but the streetlights outside flickered. And then Ruby was standing across from him, arms crossed over her chest, giving him a hard stare.
“You ready to step up?” she asked, in greeting. “What are you willing to do?”
Sam swallowed, closed his eyes, saw Dean die a thousand deaths in an endless string of Tuesdays, felt his brother’s dead weight in his arms, smelled the phantom scent of blood and gunpowder on the air; the unbearable cloying loneliness of those months without Dean, the cold resolve that had settled in his heart, ruthless and single-minded. Sam opened his eyes again, met Ruby’s pitch-black gaze and said, “Anything. I’ll do anything.”
“You really mean that?” Ruby asked.
“Anything,” Sam repeated.
Anything, as it turned out, was both as terrible as Sam had feared, and terribly easy.
When Ruby first offered him her bleeding wrist, he drank—he did it immediately, without giving his rapidly waning morality a chance to protest. He couldn’t stomach much. The blood burned as it went down, stronger than whiskey, leaving a trail of cold heat in its path. He felt it worming through his insides as he drove back to the motel, felt it settling in his veins when he slipped under his sheets, and by the next morning, it was a part of him.
He snuck away the next night, and Ruby taught him how to pull a demon from its host. It hurt like hell, and he could barely see by the time it was over, but he did it. The host was alive, too, and Sam felt a pulse of hope in his chest. Maybe this power wasn’t entirely evil. He’d saved a life with it.
After they dropped the shaken but very much alive man at the hospital, Ruby said, “It’ll get easier. You’ll get stronger the more you practice, the more you drink. Few more weeks of this and you’ll be able to take down just about anything. Even hellhounds.”
She gave him a hex bag too. "Slip this under Dean's bed and he'll stay asleep for as long as you need him to."
So Sam met with Ruby again and again, for another dose and another lesson. Pulling demons got easier every time. And Dean never even noticed Sam was gone.
The influx of Ruby’s blood had jumpstarted the part of Sam’s mind that used to give him headache-riddled-visions, jolted it back to life in a wholly new configuration. That same part of his brain was wide awake now, hungry and straining to be let loose, as the throng of demons surrounded the jail Henriksen had dragged them to. Sam felt them, sensed them—their constant rage a hum in his bones.
Five minutes into the chaos, Ruby showed up. Sam smelled her before he saw her, which should’ve worried him, but he had too much other crap to worry about. He ran into the next room over just in time to find Henriksen with his shotgun aimed at her chest.
“You lost the Colt?” Ruby glared at Dean and Sam in turn, then shoved her way through, slipping Sam something in the process. A small flask. She was quick about it, discreet, and Sam tucked it away without a second thought. He followed Dean out of the room, heart racing as he realized what was in the flask. She was here to help them, but he had to do his part too. And he’d be lying if he said he wasn’t eager to try.
They went with Dean’s plan, not Ruby’s. And Sam knew her plan would’ve had lower casualties in the long run, but he also couldn’t ignore the horror on Dean’s face, not just at the proposition, but at Sam’s willingness to go along with it. "Please tell me you’re not actually considering this!" Dean said, "We’re talking about holding down a girl and cutting out her heart."
"And we’re also talking about thirty people out there, Dean," Sam countered. "Innocent people who are all gonna die, along with everyone in here." But even as Sam said it, he knew it was a lie. Because if it was Dean’s life—if it was Dean’s life it wouldn’t matter if there were thirty other lives on the line or a thousand. Sam knew what choice he’d make.
"It doesn’t mean that we throw away the rule book and stop acting like humans."
It was hard not to cringe at that. Dean had no idea how long ago and how thoroughly Sam had thrown out the rule book. But he didn't need to know. “Okay, so, what’s the plan?”
Ruby said she was unwilling to stay and watch them all die, but before she left, she gave Sam one last look, and he could hear her in his mind, You know what you have to do.
Sam steeled himself, as he watched her leave. He did know, but using his powers here, on this many demons, was a little different than on a bound demon with Ruby by his side. If he was really ready to do anything to save Dean then he had to be able to do this. It was just another step along the way. His hand brushed his pocket, where he’d tucked away the flask and he took a breath.
The demons poured in, and soon enough, Sam was by himself.
Henriksen and Dean were down the hall, and Sam was all alone, with two demons. Sam concentrated, focused the way Ruby had taught him, and forced them out with his mind. It was hard. It hurt, but Sam pushed until blood trickled from his nose, until his head throbbed like it was going to burst. But then the demons coughed, black smoke spewing onto the floor, and a circle of hellfire formed around them, pulling them back down into the pit. Sam could barely see through the pain, he was nauseous and dizzy, but it was worth it. It was all worth it.
The man and woman—that demons had been inhabiting minutes earlier—helped each other stand back up, and stared at Sam with wide, frightened eyes.
"Stay here," Sam told them, wiping at his nose. "This'll all be over soon."
"Thank you," the woman said, "whatever you did, thank you."
"Don't mention it," Sam said, as shouts and crashing sounds came from a few rooms over. He headed for the hall and shut the doors behind him. Sam took a few seconds to catch his breath, then brought the flask to his lips and drank deep. The pain in his head vanished instantly and when he rounded the corner, to find another two demons ready to lunge at him, he felt almost giddy. Pulling them was easy.
Sam took eight down altogether, sent them screaming back to the Pit. But there were too many, and the remaining dozen cornered him and Dean. Sam was drained, running on empty. Like an engine without a starter, he couldn't bring his powers to the surface anymore. The demons pinned him and Dean to the wall, and then Henriksen put the last part of their plan into action, flipping on the intercom, a recording of Sam reciting the exorcism. It worked: the demons around them all began to howl, fleeing their hosts in a churning cloud of black smoke and malice.
It was a bittersweet victory. Exorcising those demons had saved the hosts here, now, today, but there were others, hundreds more, seeking out other lives to ruin. But Sam could stop that cycle. He could send them all back to Hell, if he only got strong enough.
Lilith got back at them in the end. She took every human life they’d saved, including Nancy’s. Ruby came to the motel room in time to tell them to turn on the news, so they could see their failure being broadcast live, to look at the faces of the victims, and know everything they'd done had been for nothing. Well, not everything, Sam thought, grimly. Some of those demons were gone for good now. But not all. Not Lilith—the demons’ ringleader. Their queen.
Sam let that thought sear into his thoughts, felt his power stir to life, whispering that he could take her down, too. But he knew he wasn’t strong enough. Not yet. He barely had enough left in him to take down a regular demon, let alone one that was strong enough to command all the others. He felt awful. Drained and weak. All those deaths tonight were on his hands. If Sam had made this choice earlier, been further along with his training, he could’ve saved everyone, maybe he would’ve even killed Lilith already. He’d spent too long letting his useless moral code hold him back. He wouldn’t make that mistake again. Not ever.
Ruby caught Sam’s eyes, just before she turned to leave, and there was a softness there, that said, I know what you did, and I’m proud of you, and I’m sorry you couldn’t save them all.
But if I get stronger, Sam thought, I will be able to save them all. I can’t let this happen again. I won’t.
Dean looked about as heartbroken as Sam felt, and told Sam to take the first shower. Sam nodded gratefully, and when Dean turned away to change his shirt, he slipped the hex bag under Dean's mattress. He pushed down the pang of guilt he felt each time he did this. But he didn’t have time for guilt, they didn't have time. If he wanted to save Dean, he had to do whatever it took. This was just another step along the way.
By the time Sam got out of the shower, Dean was deep asleep. Sam slipped out the door and found Ruby waiting for him in a Mustang.
She drove them to a decrepit barn a few miles away and offered him her bleeding wrist.
After the ambush at the jail, after seeing what he could do, after realizing just how much more blood he’d need, Sam clung to the last tattered bits of his conscience just long enough to insist, “You need to find a different vessel. I don’t want any more innocents caught in the crossfire. There’s a woman’s soul in there with you. ”
Her laugh was sharp. “Not anymore.”
Sam took a breath. “Did you kill her?”
“No." She arched an eyebrow. "Your friend Bobby did when he was testing the Colt.” Her voice grew more biting. “You know, before I fixed it for you. Before you lost it.”
“Yeah, okay.” Sam nodded to himself, squeezed his eyes shut, as he added, “We’ve got nine weeks to save Dean. Tell me what’s next.”
She held out her wrist again. "Sure. But first, you've gotta take your vitamins."
Arguing with her was counterproductive. Sam closed his mouth around the wound and drank. When he’d had his fill, she told him how strong he had to get to kill demons. To kill Lilith.
“When I kill Lilith,” Sam asked, “what happens to Dean’s deal?”
“It gets transferred to the next ruler of Hell.”
“How do I break his deal?”
“Kill Lilith. Take the throne. Then you can break any deal you want."
Sam scoffed. "Not gonna happen."
"Then Dean goes to Hell.”
Sam’s anger got the better of him and he whirled towards her. “You said—“
“I said you could save him. And you can.” She smiled at him, flash of teeth bright in the dim of the night. “We can’t break the deal. But we can change how it plays out.”
“Not yet,” Ruby said. “You don’t even know the basics.”
“Basics of what?” Sam asked, through clenched teeth.
“Magic,” she said like it was the simplest thing in the world.
“Fine. Show me,” Sam said.
As it turned out, Sam had a knack for spell-work. Ruby said it was because of the blood Azazel had given him to start with, and her supplements. That theory was likely true, considering how much easier it was for him to do a tracking spell after they took a break and he had another few mouthfuls from Ruby’s wrist.
Each night, Sam learned something new: how to find all demons within a ten-mile radius, then thirty, then a hundred. They couldn’t hide from him anymore, and every night he sent as many as he could back to Hell.
Ruby taught him how to use telekinesis, how to call and quell fire, how to read thoughts and bend them, without anyone knowing.
Magic was just another tool in the arsenal for Sam. Something else he’d need the night Lilith came for Dean. But more importantly, it kept him off the radar. He could hide everything they were doing from Lilith.
Six weeks into their training, Sam had gotten strong enough to kill demons. And the rush of that knowledge, the righteous thrill of triumph he felt the first time he made a demon burn away into a shower of fiery sparks and ash made everything he’d done worth it. The host that demon had ridden had been dead for months, but at least Sam had gotten them some vengeance.
Lilith would find out about dead demons, of course, but wouldn’t know who had killed them, wouldn’t be able to sense Sam practicing, getting stronger. Taking her by surprise was just as important as getting enough power to take her down. He’d only get one chance.
The final part of their plan, the most crucial part, had given Sam the most pause. To change the nature of Dean’s deal, Sam himself had to become a conduit to Hell. Per Ruby, he was born to be exactly that. Drinking Ruby’s blood would damn him further—he knew that and accepted it—and it all seemed a small price to pay to keep Dean out of Hell. He was damned anyway, tainted from birth. But now he could put his cursed blood to use, combine it with magic and save Dean’s soul. By binding it.
So Sam practiced. More and more complex spells until he was skilled enough to thread the lightning in his veins into the spell-work. They practiced until Sam could call all his power to the surface with ease, eyes going as black as Ruby’s. He could feel it when it happened, the world flickering, taking on different tones and whole new shadows as he looked beyond the tangible and saw the metaphysical threads connecting everything.
“One more time,” Ruby said, with the tone of a teacher used to reprimanding.
Sam had messed up a spell or two in the past, and he tended to do it when he was on edge. Magic was about more than saying the right words over the right sigils and ingredients. Intent mattered more than anything. And when his mind wandered, if he let his emotions derail his train of thought, things tended to go wonky. The demon blood, though it gave him a lot more power, also made his temper much faster to rise.
Tonight his temper was a wildfire. He’d heard Dean talking, whimpering in his sleep, terrified of his fate, and Sam couldn’t take it anymore—he’d knocked Dean into a deeper, dreamless sleep and gone right to Ruby: demanded that they do the binding spell tonight. She’d protested, and then relented under the condition he could recite every step to her.
It took Sam massive effort to keep his anger at bay, to keep his desperation from overwhelming him. Dean had two weeks left. Fourteen days until Hell. Sam forced the thought from his mind; he had to stay wholly focused on his intent, on his goal. “I close my eyes, say the words as I carve the seal.”
“And?” Ruby kicked the tip of her boot against one of the broken pallets near them for emphasis. The warehouse was recently abandoned and still had power; the fluorescent lights above them hummed faintly.
“I picture Dean in my mind, picture his soul going into the sigil.”
“And I don’t stop until I can feel the sigil burn, I face it towards the mirror and then open my eyes.”
“Good. Do it.”
Sam looked at her and held out his hand. She handed the knife to him, handle first. He met her gaze for a few seconds, accepting the steady challenge there. She wasn’t sure he was ready. But he was. He had no choice. Fourteen days.
He sank to his knees in front of the mirror they’d propped against the wall, brought the knife to his left palm, closed his eyes, thought of Dean, and began to chant as he pushed the sharp tip into his skin.
Sam chanted for what felt like hours, until the rhythm of the words became a heartbeat, until the blade traced easily through the grooves in his flesh, until his inner vision of Dean felt real enough to touch. In Sam’s mind, he raised his palm and Dean stepped forward, took Sam’s hand and disintegrated, one molecule at a time, with a grateful, loving smile on his face. Sam felt something snap into place, like the cocking of a rifle, bullet in the chamber, and the sigil began to burn, more ice than fire. He turned his palm away and opened his eyes. A light, red as hellfire, poured from the bleeding wound in his hand, struck the mirror and pierced through it. He gasped as he felt his mind reaching down—a cord from the depths of his soul, a psychic grappling hook being tugged further and further into the abyss. Another pull, a resonance that made it thrum like a cello-string, and it snapped back inside of him. The mirror went dark, and when Sam turned his palm back around, it was unmarred.
Ruby grabbed him by the shoulder, jolting him out of his trance. When Sam looked up at her, all he could see was her dark silhouette, haloed by the one dim light above—the only bulb still working, all the others had imploded. His eyes slowly came back into focus, until he could see the curve of her lips, the proud gleam in her eyes.
“You did it,” she said, sounding genuinely impressed. “You really did it.”
Sam wanted to test the binding right away, but this magic had as much to do with Dean as it did Sam. Sam touching Dean wouldn’t do a thing if Dean didn’t feel something at that moment. This particular spell was all about their bond. That’s why Sam was sure it would work: Sam was a bodily conduit to Hell—his tainted blood—made even more thoroughly tainted by Ruby’s, and he had a permanent link to Dean through their shared blood, amplified by the sigil. But to take Dean’s soul into himself, to siphon it away from the demon deal, required Dean’s will as much as Sam’s. Dean had to touch Sam and feel; as Ruby had explained it, the emotion didn’t matter much as long as it was focused on Sam. Something strong, like love or fear or regret, would work faster, but even mild affection would do the trick, as long as it was all for Sam.
On the way back to the motel, Sam got Dean his favorite fast food breakfast: egg and bacon on a biscuit with a side of hash browns.
He let his hand linger when Dean grabbed the bag from him, their fingers brushed, and Sam felt the spell kick in. A trickle of energy, the tiniest sliver of Dean’s soul, a glowing bead full to bursting with sorrow and the warm heartache of longing—it coursed into Sam, the gleaming pulse traveling from his fingertip down his capillaries settling in the palm of his hand like a burning ember, and he had to pull back, had to steady himself, look away before Dean caught on.
After that first time, it got easier. Dean touched Sam constantly throughout the day, little motions Sam hadn’t picked up on before, but now each one had a weight to it, a significance. By that night, when Dean clapped Sam’s shoulder on his way to the shower, Sam could see the binding: glimmering threads connecting the two of them, a spiderweb of light that came from a dozen little points on Dean—from his heart, his head, his arms, all of them coalescing in Sam's palm. From there, those pieces of Dean tunneled deeper into Sam, nestling in his heart.
That night, Sam waited for Dean to fall asleep naturally and then peered into his mind, listening to his dreams. As soon as even a hint of fear and unease crept in, Sam pulled on the binding, imagined all of Dean, safe inside of Sam’s heart, until Dean’s thoughts were peaceful again.
It was going so well, better than Sam expected. And then Dean got a call from Dad. Of course, it couldn’t really be Dad. But people all over town were getting calls from dead relatives. Worse still: that call Dean thought was from Dad held more sway over Dean than Sam did. It made Sam furious, his anger a churning roil that sat and festered in his gut as Dean left on his own to follow what he thought was a lead—walking right into a trap set by a crocotta.
But here Sam was, in the basement of a phone utility building, captured himself by the crocotta. He got free when the thing was preoccupied, feeding on its other victim. It was easy to get out of his binds, knock the crocotta back against the metal rod sticking out of the cork-board wall, piercing its brain, killing it. Sam watched its life fade, relishing this small victory. With a push of power, smaller than he thought he’d need, Sam set the dead monster on fire, let the flames grow until it was entirely consumed.
In the heat of the fire, Sam thought of Dean and of Hell, and his anger came flaring back to life. He was trying to protect his brother, but he couldn’t protect him from everything. Especially not when both of them kept running headfirst into traps. Sam had almost lost him, and they had so little time left before—
No. Sam cut off that line of thought. He turned his back on the stinking monster-corpse and headed out the door, struggling not to think of how many days, hours, minutes they had left before Lilith came for Dean. Ten days ten days tendaystendaystendays.
When Sam got back to the motel, Dean was already waiting for him—and the expression on his face made Sam's rage begin to collapse in on itself. “You were right, Sammy, it wasn’t Dad.”
This close, Sam could feel the binding kick in, the thin strands thrumming between them. And maybe proximity was key, because Sam had barely sat down on his bed to pull off his boots when Dean crossed the room and came to sit next to him.
“Sam, I’m sorry.” Dean paused, waiting for a reaction. “I’m staring down the barrel of this thing, you know? Hell—for real, forever.” He cleared his throat. “I’m scared, Sam. I’m really scared.”
“I know,” Sam said, softly. I’m sorry.
“I guess I was ready to believe anything.”
“It’s okay to believe there’s a way out,” Sam said, but still couldn’t bear to look at Dean. He wanted to comfort him, tell him everything was going to be all right, that—
Dean grabbed Sam’s hand, squeezed it hard, something that was normally so un-Deanlike, Sam would’ve been worried—except that this was exactly what he needed.
The binding ratcheted up into a higher and stronger frequency the longer Dean held his hand, and Sam could feelDean’s soul, could see it once he let his focus pierce deep enough, a stream of light running down Dean’s veins coalescing in his palm and bleeding into Sam’s skin. Sam siphoned it up eagerly, like blotting paper drank ink, and the light sunk down into him, buried amidst all the shadows inside his veins. Sam could feel a hundred new threads connecting them, and he pulled on them tentatively, willing Dean to give him even more.
Dean’s eyes widened and his voice wavered, ever so slightly, when he said. “Dad’s not gonna get me out of this. Nobody is. I have to get myself out.”
“No, you don’t,” Sam said, turning towards Dean, “You can’t. But I can. And I will.”
Dean gave a half-hearted huff, like he was laughing it off, only he sounded more like he was trying not to cry. God, he was terrified. “Sam I know you’re gonna try but—“
“No,” Sam snapped. “I’m gonna do a hell of a lot more than try, I—“ he stopped, voice quavering, overcome by his own desperation for Dean to understand, for him to trust him, just this once. A confusing mix of emotions swelled up in him then, possessiveness doubled by the desperation he’d been feeling for months, and before he could stop himself, he took Dean’s other hand and held it tight. “I will get you out of this, Dean, I swear. You have to believe me. Please.”
Dean blinked, clearly startled by Sam’s intensity. His hand twitched inside of Sam’s grip and another pulse of light flowed out of Dean and into Sam: love, desperation, and faith. And just like that, Dean’s brow smoothed, and the heaviness lifted from his eyes. “Okay. Okay, I believe you.”
The fury Sam had felt earlier melted down into something else entirely—relentless resolve. He was going to save Dean, whatever the cost, and then Dean wouldn’t ever doubt him again.
Maybe it was because of the deal coming closer to being due, or maybe it was an unwitting side effect of Sam’s use of magic and the glamour he’d added to keep the demon blood from showing in his eyes when he was angry, whatever the case, Dean was touching Sam a lot more than he used to: fingers brushing against his, shoulder to shoulder even when there was plenty of room, legs stretched out under the tables at diners, so their boots were flush against each other, sometimes just grabbing Sam’s arm or his hand like he needed reassurance that he was still there. Whatever it was, Sam was grateful and hungry for more.
Dean’s looming deadline made things that much worse too, that much more urgent. Sam’s meetings with Ruby became exercises in how far he could push himself in one night. If he hadn’t given himself a skull-splitting headache and several nosebleeds by the end of their lesson, he hadn’t pushed himself hard enough.
Sam could kill five demons at a time now, but the ones they took down weren't anything close to Lilith's level. He hardly felt any pride anymore when some of the hosts survived. Lilith could still win.
“Bobby got a lead. We know where Lilith is.”
Sam could hear Ruby suck in a surprised breath on the other end of the line. She met him at a gas station along the way, but her typical confident smirk was nowhere to be found. "You’d better fuel up,” she said, without preamble, pulling back her sleeve.
Sam drank deep, as quickly as he could, and no longer felt any revulsion at the taste, just the reverberation of it in his veins, amplifying all of his senses. He came up for air, breathless and lightheaded, but when he called on his power, coiled it up tight, sensing Ruby and her particular demonic dimensions, he knew it wasn’t enough to take down Lilith, the certainty sat like dread in his gut, “I need more.”
“You’re right. You’re going to need to drain another demon dry if you want to take down Lilith.”
Sam nodded. “Find another body. One without a soul.”
“Because those are so easy to come by.” She rolled her eyes, held up a hand before he could protest. “But I’ll do it.”
“What are we gonna do with this one?”
“I can bury her,” Sam said, “after.”
“Shame, I kinda got used to her," Ruby said, evenly. "But fine. See you in Indiana.”
Sam nodded, wiped at the corners of his mouth and headed back outside to Dean and Bobby.
The neighborhood where Lilith had been playing house was full of demons. Sam sensed them from miles away.
He took out six from inside the car, as soon as they were within striking distance, and a few more when they got out, as discreetly as he could. The rest of them took off, filling Sam with a wave of relief. He didn't want to use up all of his power just getting through the door—he still had to take on Lilith. And Ruby wasn't here yet. Dean looked at him oddly and Sam worried he'd let his guard down long enough for Dean to catch a glimpse of his eyes changing. But when he pulled on the binding, Dean's shoulders relaxed, and his expression changed to something else entirely: he was looking to Sam for reassurance. Sam nodded at him, even mustered a half-smile. "Do a perimeter check. I'll sweep the house. Wait for my signal."
Dean nodded, not even arguing with Sam giving orders. "Bobby, check the rest of the block. Lilith's gotta have guards around here somewhere." Bobby gave him a nod, and looked as calm and collected as always. But, Sam could feel his unease, he was scared shitless, too.
Sam jogged to the house, opened the unlocked door and sensed Ruby right as he stepped across the threshold.
She was waiting for him upstairs on the stairwell in a new body, free of a human soul; dark-haired and small. "Lilith's gone, but not far. She’ll be back."
Sam nodded. "The family?"
"Some of them are still alive."
"Let's get them out of here." Sam followed Ruby upstairs, got the daughter and mom to follow them down, and pulled the terrified father out of the closet, then herded the family out the back door. Bobby was waiting in the yard and gave Sam a nod. He'd get them to safety.
They shut the door, and Ruby used her dagger to slice open her carotid. Sam drank, as quickly as he could, until he was full to the brim with power. Ruby handed him the knife. "Save your strength. You'll need all of it."
Sam nodded, then flicked the light switch on and off and on again, a signal for Dean.
Moments later, Dean walked through the door, with Lilith behind him, in Ruby's old body.
"Dean!" Sam said, fear pounding in his ears. "That's not Ruby."
"What?" Dean's eyes went wide and he backed away from Lilith. "No wonder you look so damn ugly."
“Traitorous bitch!” Lilith sneered, stretching out her hand towards Ruby, and blasted her out of the way.
Ruby slammed against the wall with a thump; Sam flinched at the impact. He could've stopped it, but then he would've blown his cover.
"Still think you can save your brother?" Lilith asked, giving Sam a once-over.
"Yeah," Sam said, "I do."
The clock struck twelve. And Sam's heart leapt into his throat. Dean said his name; it was a plea and an apology and it broke what was left of Sam’s heart right down the middle.
"Let's find out." Lilith snarled. "Sic 'em, boys."
"Hellhounds," Dean said, eyes wide with fear.
Sam couldn’t see them, but he caught glimpses from Dean’s terror-filled mind—big as bears, curved yellow fangs and eyes the color of embers. No matter how much Sam tried though, he couldn’t get a hold on them. Couldn’t do a thing to stop them as they lunged towards his brother.
"Dean!" Sam cried out and threw Ruby's knife to him. Dean caught it a split second before the first hound crashed into him. The impact sent him slamming to the floor, sides of his shirt tearing open as the hellhound raked him open"No!" Sam shouted, and he reached out for the hound with his power, but couldn’t grab hold—the hound slipped through his grasp, its whole being existing on Earth and in Hell simultaneously. Dean screamed as the hellhound dug into him again and Sam instinctively reached for their binding, silver cords growing stronger as he poured his power into them. The hellhound became more tangible, its growls gone muted as it reared back from Dean, like the binding itself was repelling it, giving Dean just enough room to stab it in the chest. Its eyes flickered gold and then it fell, dead, to the floor, disintegrating into ash.
"Dean," Sam said, horrified by the blood oozing from his brother's side. The hellhound had left him with deep gashes, but—if they were lucky—hadn't hit any vital organs. He had to get rid of Lilith first before he could tend to Dean's wounds. Pulling harder on their binding, Sam shoved Dean down into unconsciousness. "It'll be okay, Dean. I swear."
Lilith laughed, high and cruel. "You think you can protect him from me?"
Sam stared her down. He could see her true form writhing underneath her borrowed skin, ancient, powerful and completely inhuman.
"With blood magic?" Lilith looked over to where Ruby had fallen. "She taught you. Ever wonder who taught her?"
"I don't care," Sam said. He wasn't falling for her bait.
"Dean's soul is still mine, Sam. I’m collecting my due.” Lilith took a step towards him, eyes gone solid white. “Now get out of my way.”
“No.” Sam kept his eyes locked on hers until he saw the second hellhound bounding at him, a black blur of teeth and sinew. He grabbed hold of it with his mind, imagined closing a giant fist around the beast, crushing it in his grip. The hellhound’s growls turned to pained yelping as its ribcage snapped, bone-crunching pops filling the room. Sam squeezed harder until black ooze fell to the floor, sizzling where it hit the wood. And then with one last push, it died. Sam felt its fire go out, its red eyes go dark, and he let its mangled body drop. It landed with a heavy thump on the floor and disintegrated.
Lilith narrowed her eyes, staring at Sam. "What have you done to yourself?"
"Want to find out?" Sam asked, voice wavering only a little.
“You killed my puppies.” Her expression was steely, but Sam could tell she was bluffing. He’d scared her.
“Let Dean out of his contract. Right now,” Sam said, rolling his shoulders back. Taking out the hellhound had been more work than any other demon he’d killed before, and Lilith would be harder. But he still had fuel to burn. A lot more.
Lilith stretched her hand out towards him. "I don't think so." A bright, burning light filled the room, unforgiving and cold. The air itself hummed with Lilith's power and Sam could feel it zeroing in on him, pushing against him. He didn't have the slightest idea how to defend himself against this kind of attack, but he brought his hands in front of his face anyway, a protective, if futile, gesture. The pressure grew and grew and Sam's ears felt like they were popping, like he was free-falling a thousand miles straight down.
With herculean effort, Sam straightened his arms, reaching out psychically for Lilith and grabbed hold of her, encasing her in his power.
"No!" she growled and redoubled her efforts, the pressure becoming even more intense.
Sam forced his eyes open and could barely see her with so much power clogging the air. All he could see were her glowing white eyes in a haze of angry light. He curled his fingers into fists, crushing her essence like he had the hellhound's. She railed against him, trying to break free, and it was like trying to keep a hurricane from escaping his grip. But Dean's soul was at stake, and Sam kept on, even when he felt vessels rupturing in his eyes, when blood trickled from his nose, his ears. He kept going, past the pounding in his head, until he swore something inside his skull popped. It didn't matter if he made it through this, as long as he saved Dean first.
Lilith screamed an unearthly, blood-curdling sound, and then fell still. The unholy light around them faded, Lilith's eyes flashed gold and then went dark. The empty body—that had belonged to Ruby and before that to a woman whose name Sam would never know—collapsed to the ground, dead.
Sam ran to Dean's side, gently peeled back his shirt to look at the wounds. They were deep, but Dean'd had worse. He was still breathing. He was still alive. Sam laid his hand over Dean’s wound, reciting a healing spell Ruby had taught him, but it sputtered out—he barely had an ounce of power left to give. He’d used all of it killing Lilith.
"The queen is dead," Ruby said from behind him. "Long live the king."
Sam didn't even turn to look at her, focused wholly on Dean. The spell hadn’t worked, but the binding strands were still full of their own soft light and that light coalesced over Dean’s wounds, pulling sinew, muscle and skin back together. Dean’s blood flowed back inside of him and his breathing evened out. Sam took a deep breath himself, relief flooding through him. "I'm no king.”
"You killed Lilith, you were Azazel's heir. Hell is yours, Sam." She paused, waiting for a response, and then added, "So are all the deals for all Hell-bound souls."
That got Sam's attention. He stood to face her. “Where are they?”
Ruby nodded at him and the air between them shimmered. A small, wooden lockbox appeared. Sam knew instantly what was inside. He took hold of it, marveling at how heavy it was for its size. The lock opened at his touch, and he carefully lifted the lid. There were thousands of paper-thin coins inside, made of bone, each of them imprinted with an intricate maze-like pattern, unique like fingerprints. He ran his hand through them, feeling a flash of knowledge from each one he touched, a sense of who they were and why they'd made a deal.
“All the souls whose deals are about to come due,” Ruby said.
“How do I break the deals?”
“Snap it in half, the soul goes back to where it belongs. No more deal.”
Sam ran his hand through the coins; each one his fingers brushed, he knew the details of—a soul for wealth, a soul for fame, a soul for the health of a child, a soul for the end of a war. Sam grabbed a handful of discs and closed his hand around them, breaking them—the light in them died out, snapped back to its origin. Sam could feel their paths, tendrils of light rushing back to their bodies, to the rest of their souls.
When he reached back into the box, Sam found Dean’s coin instantly. He knew it was Dean, could feel the coin thrum in his hand with warm familiarity. Dimmer than the rest, yet somehow twice as beautiful, its intricate pattern mirrored in Sam’s palm: the same sigil, the same swirls and strokes—Dean’s metaphysical name—which Sam had carved deep into his flesh, into his own soul.
He carefully picked up the coin and closed his fingers around it protectively, then shut the lid of the box, handing it to Ruby. “I’ll go through the rest of these later.”
She nodded, but her expression held an unspoken question. Looking at his closed hand, she said, “If you don’t break his deal, the binding will keep going.”
Sam considered for a beat, but in the end, it wasn't a difficult choice. He’d known what he’d do at this moment, for weeks. Sam tucked the coin in his pocket, and headed back to Dean, crouching by his side. It took little more than a gentle brush of power to wake him.
With a startled inhale of breath, Dean’s eyes snapped open. He looked around the room, for Lilith, for hellhounds. "Sam... Lilith, did you—?”
“She's dead.” Sam said, voice still shaky with adrenaline. “And you're not going to Hell.”
Dean blinked back tears, lips quavering before he threw his arms around Sam, and his hug was desperate relief, fierce joy, and exultation. It rolled through Sam in an intoxicating wave, filling him completely with Dean's light. Sam, drank it in with every cell of his body, and held Dean there, weaving him in closer with thousands of new silver threads, each one binding them more and more completely, until he felt the talisman in his pocket go totally dark. Dean had given him everything. Willingly. There was nothing left to give back.
"Thank you, Sam," Dean said, pulling back, his eyes glassy but hopeful. Grateful. “Good thing we had the knife, huh?” He looked at Ruby and added, "Thanks for that."
"Don't mention it," she said. Catching Sam’s gaze, she added, Congratulations. He’s all yours.
Sam smiled at her as he stood, pulling Dean up with him, quietly thrilled by how Dean wouldn't—couldn't—leave his side. Dean’s soul, safely inside Sam, held Dean to him—forever trapped in his orbit.
Dean stayed glued to him, let Sam drive them back to the hotel and patch his remaining wounds. Dean crawled into bed at Sam's side, curling close to him, seeking shelter. Sam trailed his fingers gently up and down Dean’s arm, lulling him into a deep sleep filled with blissful, empty dreams. Only then did Sam slip away, to take care of things below.
In Hell, Sam claimed his throne and crown, and drank in all the power it offered up. He'd need it to keep Dean safe. Sam held audience long enough to establish his new laws, and then returned above, where less than two hours had passed.
Without waking Dean, Sam slipped back into bed behind him, wrapped his arms around his brother and felt that glimmering soul stir in his chest, trapped by choice, by love, by devotion. Though he didn’t need to sleep anymore, Sam closed his eyes and listened to Dean’s steady breaths, his heart happily beating in time with Sam’s—to Sam’s rhythm, by his will, for him. Dean was his, completely.
And Sam wouldn't have it any other way.