Title: Hell Is Empty
Characters: Dean, Sam, Crowley
Summary: Tag to 9.23, Do You Believe In Miracles. There's no pill quite as bitter as regret. Two brothers realize the impact of choices made and words said in the heat of the moment when their future lies broken and bleeding before them.
Disclaimer/Warning: They're not mine. More's the pity. Title and opening quote come from Shakespeare's The Tempest. Also, this tag deals with death, though if you've seen Episode 9.23, you're pretty much already dealing.Hell Is Empty, Part 1
This wasn't right.
He was dead, he knew that much.
Dean remembered dying. He remembered the pain that ripped through him, indescribable, unimaginable. He remembered Sam holding him up, the desperation and panic in his brother's eyes. He remembered the frightening knowledge of breath – his last breath – escaping him.
And then darkness. He could deal with darkness. He expected darkness.
He didn't expect this.
He wasn't supposed to be here. He was supposed to be in Hell. Or Purgatory for the monster he'd become. But not…here.
Everything around him was faded, a pale reflection of what it had been in life. The air was saturated with forgotten spirits, like cobwebs in the corners of an abandoned house. He couldn't distinguish one from another, but he felt them all. He felt them brush against him, felt their sorrow, their anger, their confusion and pain.
He didn't really sense his body; he could see himself, move his limbs, but he lacked the sensation he was accustomed to. He clenched his fists but couldn't feel his fingers against the palm of his hand. He rubbed his face but couldn't feel the stubble of his scruff against his hand. He was displaced, out of sync.
Heaven was closed, he remembered. Besides, he'd seen Heaven once. And since he hadn't killed Metatron, he wasn't all that put out by not being rewarded. If that's what it would have been.
Hell was complicated, Crowley had said. Still, Dean knew he deserved to be there. Ruler of the rack. Torturer or souls. It was the thing he was good at and he was prepared to embrace that fate. An endless existence of darkness seemed to be the appropriate penance for the mistakes he'd made in life.
The one thing he'd done right was to die.
But, now he was here – a spirit of the Earth, but not on it – and he wasn't sure what to do.
When he saw Sam, he felt a jolt shiver through him. He didn't think he was supposed to be able to feel such a pang of longing; spirits were echoes of emotion, not emotion itself. But he did. He felt. And oh, how it hurt.
He watched Sam carry his body into the bunker, his brother's eyes swollen and red-rimmed from tears. He stepped aside as Sam moved past, his long hair shading his face as his head hung low. His steps were heavy, bearing a weight he should never have had to carry. Dean kept his eyes pinned on Sam's face, noticing when Sam glanced, as he always did, at the space where Kevin had died. He followed Sam into his room and watched his brother lay his body on the bed with more gentleness than he'd ever shown him in life.
Sam's hand lingered on Dean's chest, his breath hitching slightly with barely-suppressed emotion.
"Aw, dammit, Sammy," Dean whispered, watching pain etch lines on his brother's face.
He stood next to his bed, resolutely not looking down at his body, knowing it was a mess, and watched his brother grieve.
"What am I supposed to do now, man?" Sam asked. The air. The universe. Him.
"Live your damn life," Dean said. Or at least he thought he did. He didn't really register his mouth moving. "Leave all of this shit behind you. Burn it down and walk away."
Sam took a shaking, shuddering breath and started to turn away, pausing as he caught sight of something on Dean's dresser. Whatever he saw there caused his shoulders to tighten and he stalked out of the room like he'd just been scolded.
Frowning, Dean moved over to where Sam had been standing, unable to remember what he'd kept there that would have triggered such a reaction from his brother. When he saw the pictures, he sighed.
"Hi, Mom," he whispered. "Kinda thought I'd at least be able to see you again."
He looked down at his ethereal self, confused by the blood that stained the shirt he still wore, thinking that death should be different. He'd made the right choice, he was sure of it. So why could he still feel a phantom pain from the wound? Why could he feel sorrow like a rock in his chest? Why could he still feel at all?
"Your brother, bless his soul, is summoning me as I speak."
Dean jerked at the sound of the voice, stumbling backwards. He would have crashed into the dresser if his being had any substance to it. As it was he drifted, filtering to nothing then coalescing once again. He stood next to himself, staring at Crowley's shadowed figure with disgust and hatred turning his heart to lava. If he didn't know better, he'd imagine it was glowing red in the center of his chest.
"Make a deal. Bring you back. It's exactly what I was talking about wasn't it? It's all become so... expected."
Crowley moved into the room, stepping from the shadows and sitting heavily on the chair next to Dean's empty desk. Dean was slightly surprised to see what appeared to be…regret…lining the demon's features.
"Crowley, you son of a bitch," Dean growled as Crowley stared with closeted eyes at the body on the bed. "You stay the fuck away from Sam."
"You have to believe me," Crowley continued, completely unfazed by Dean's empty, silent threats. "When I suggested you take on the Mark of Cain I didn't know this was going to happen. Not really."
"Sure," Dean scoffed. "You were hoping, though. Gambling I'd get myself killed before I took your damn head from your shoulders."
"I mean I might not have told you the entire truth." Crowley leaned forward, addressing Dean's body with complete focus. "But I never lied. I never lied, Dean. That's important. It's fundamental."
Dean scowled, feeling something pull at his heart, the hairs on the back of his neck – if he had one – standing up. He moved slightly closer to the body on the bed as if in protection, but never took his eyes from Crowley.
"But, there is one story about Cain that I might have forgotten to tell you. Apparently he, too, was willing to accept death rather than becoming the killer the Mark wanted him to be. So he took his own life with the Blade. He died. Except as rumor has it, the Mark never quite let go. You can understand why I never spoke of this. Why set hearts aflutter with mere speculation?"
Dean felt his spirit shudder as Crowley stood up, drawing from the depths of his ever-present black coat the one thing Dean never wanted to see again: the First Blade.
"It wasn't until you summoned me…no it wasn't truly 'til you left the cheeseburger uneaten...," Dean backed away, watching in horror as Crowley put the Blade in the limp hand of the body on the bed, "that I began to let myself believe. Maybe miracles do come true."
Tearing his eyes from his own battered body, Dean stared at Crowley, seeing the gleeful light that began to shine in the demon's eyes as he lifted the hand holding the Blade and rested it on a bloody, broken chest.
Dean shivered again, but this time it wasn't with horror, or with pain, but with anticipation. Something was happening. The cobwebbed spirits at the periphery of his perception were retreating and the world was suddenly sharpening into bright focus. He wanted to take a breath and found he couldn't.
"Listen to me Dean Winchester," Crowley said, his voice suddenly a command, strong and determined. "What you're feeling right now is not death; it's life. A new kind of life."
Dean shook his head. No. Not this. This wasn't right. He'd died. He'd died and he'd been ready. He'd been ready, dammit!
"NO!" Dean shouted, his cry tearing the seam of the world around him, shaking him from whatever precarious hold he had over death and sending him somersaulting away from peace.
"Open your eyes Dean. See what I see; feel what I feel. Let's go take a howl at that moon."
For a moment there was nothing. No breath. No sound. No sensation.
Then Dean opened his eyes.
And the world changed.
Gone were the spirit webs and softened edges. Gone was anything remotely recognizable. He was staring at the ceiling and could also see the floor. Every corner, every edge of the room was brought into stark focus without his having to move his eyes. It was as if he were seeing it in 3D, accented by neon colors and black-light effects.
"I knew it," he heard Crowley whisper.
He tried to breathe and felt himself choking. He blinked rapidly, disoriented as his vision shifted, retreating to a recognizable normal. He was dying all over again, unable to drag air in through his broken lungs.
"Easy," a voice crooned. "Take it easy."
"You don't need to," Crowley informed him. "There's a difference. You can. You simply don't require breath any longer."
Dean swallowed, instantly calming, and blinked up at Crowley who stood over his bed like a doting father. He commanded his lungs to inflate, relief rushing through him as they obeyed. He realized as air filled and released that he felt no difference between the two.
"What the hell'd you do to me?" Dean growled, pushing slowly up in the bed. His body was clumsy, barely responsive.
He could feel the wound on his chest, but as if from a distance. It was like the sensation of watching a violent movie. He knew it should hurt, but couldn't quite connect to the pain. He touched the edge of the ragged hole through his torn shirt with the tips of his fingers.
"I expect that will close in time," Crowley said, straightening away from him and clasping his hands behind his back. "You're something of an…anomaly."
"Is that what you call this?" Dean shoved himself further up in the bed, away from Crowley, trying to get feeling back in his legs. Everything felt numb, awkward. As if he were trying to move someone else's body. "What am I? A zombie?"
Crowley tilted his head. "Wouldn't that be interesting?"
Dean tightened his grip on the hilt of the Blade and watched as Crowley's eyes darted to the weapon, then back to his face.
"Answer me, dammit!" Dean managed to lift the Blade slightly off the bed.
"No, Dean," Crowley said mildly. "You're a demon."
"The hell you say," Dean growled, once more feeling that odd detachment.
He wanted to feel enraged, disgusted. Horrified. He wanted to feel the urge to silence Crowley for good. But all he felt was…heavy.
"Admittedly, you haven't gone through the typical…transformation." Crowley shrugged, moving to lean against the wall next to Dean's dresser. "It usually takes a soul centuries to burn the humanity from them. But…," his lips twisted in an amused smirk, "they haven't got what you've got, now, have they?"
Dean glanced down at his arm, the Mark covered by his sleeve, and realized that for the first time since Cain had branded him, he didn't feel it, either. For months it had sat like a hook in his flesh, digging slowly deeper as it sucked away his heart, his compassion, leaving him feeling hollowed out, a husk of his former self.
And when coupled with the blade, the rush of raw power that had surged through his system had been addictive, sending Dean's senses spiraling, his body trembling with the need to kill, to use the power to kill. But now…his arm felt like lead. Heavy and unmanageable, no power, no rush. Simply a lump of flesh on a body.
"The Mark brought you back, Dean," Crowley said, smiling slightly.
Dean slowly swung his legs over the edge of the bed, looking at the floor, feeling as though he'd lost something. Something vital. Not just the need to breathe, but need entirely. This wasn't right. It wasn't natural.
Dad brought me back, Bobby…. I'm not even supposed to be here!
Dean swallowed, looking at the Blade still resting in his hand.
"A thank you wouldn't be out of line, y'know," Crowley grumbled.
"I don't believe you," Dean said dully.
"How else do you explain the fact that you're sitting there talking to me now with that gaping hole in your chest?"
"I'm in Hell."
"Not my Hell," Crowley scoffed.
Dean growled, surging to his feet, but the room swayed around him, sending him stumbling to the side. He reached out to grab his dresser, desperate to balancing himself.
At least this way something good can come out of it. My life can mean something!
He lifted his eyes, looking at himself in the mirror above his dresser, the pictures of his family tucked safely in the corners of the glass. Bruises marked his features, but he couldn't feel them. A cut was open above his eye, but the wound didn't bleed. His eyes looked normal – large, green, desperate and alone. It was the expression he'd seen too many times staring back at him over the last few months.
"You are something new, Dean," Crowley crooned, stepping close to him.
As Dean stared at his reflection, Crowley put a hand on the back of his neck, his face near Dean's shoulder.
"You are special."
"I'm dead," Dean muttered.
"Not any more than I am," Crowley countered. "As a human you were unable to contain the power of the Mark and its Blade, but this…."
Dean shook his head. No. It wasn't right. He'd died. He'd felt himself die. He'd watched Sam fade from him and let the breath leave his body. He'd chosen death rather than become…this.
You're gonna die, Dean! And this is what you're gonna become!
He was numb. He could feel nothing. Not even pain. Not even grief. He'd felt more as a spirit than he did now inside his own body. It should have been terrifying, but instead it was, he realized, a relief.
I wish I couldn't feel anything, Sammy. I wish I couldn't feel a damn thing.
"You are going to put order to chaos," Crowley said, gripping Dean's neck as if in camaraderie. "You are going to help me un-complicate Hell and together we will take control of Heaven, give those pussy angels someone to foll—"
Dean roared, turning and grabbing Crowley by the jacket and shoving him against the wall with such force that the impact rattled the dresser, sending it sideways. As he pressed the blade against Crowley's throat, Dean suddenly realized that he could see everything. He could see every corner of the room at once without tearing his murderous gaze from Crowley's hideous, demonized face. Everything was illuminated, accented by sharp outlines.
What's more, he could feel. He could feel everything.
He could feel the blood flowing in his dormant body, the rush of it pounding in his ears. He could feel the stir of the air around him, moving the fine hairs on his cheeks and neck. He could feel the wounds, the cuts, the bruises on his body and he drew on the pain to fuel the most overwhelming sensation, the purest emotion he could identify at the moment: rage.
Pressing the blade against Crowley's throat, he felt alive.
"Yes," Crowley whispered, his chin up, eyes gleaming. "Embrace this part of you, Dean. You are powerful. Don't fight it."
"I'm gonna kill you, you smug bastard," Dean growled.
"If you were going to, you would have done it already," Crowley said, reaching up to press Dean's hand slowly away from his throat. "You need me."
"The fuck I do," Dean yelled, surging forward once more, the edge of the blade drawing blood as the noise in his head amplified and his arms trembled with power.
He wanted to kill and Crowley was as good a place to start as any.
He froze. That voice. He knew that voice. Sam was standing in the doorway. He could see him without even turning his head.
But he looked anyway and in heightened 3D saw Sam flinch, pulling back and away from the sight of his brother.
"Oh, God…your eyes…."
"Sammy…." Dean stepped away from Crowley and felt the heat drain from him, the strength retreat until his arms felt like lead weights once more.
He loosened his grip and let the Blade fall to the floor. The moment he did, his legs stopped working, his knees all-but disappearing as he crumbled to the floor, catching himself on the edge of the bed. Sam crossed to him, drawn by blood and habit and obligation, regardless of what he'd just seen.
Besides…Dean knew his brother had seen worse.
"What's…how…what happened, man?" Sam asked, gathering Dean up. "I didn't make a deal…I couldn't get him to—"
"No deals," Dean muttered, using Sam as leverage to get his body back on the edge of the bed. "No more deals, Sammy."
Sam's red-rimmed eyes were darting from Dean to Crowley, confusion and anxiety drawing question marks on his face. "What the hell, man?"
"I don't…," Dean shook his head.
"You were dead, Dean," Sam informed him. He stood from where he'd been crouched next to Dean and moved to the other end of the small room, one hand on his hip, the other gripping the back of his neck. "I watched you die. I held you…and…and felt your heart stop."
Dean nodded. "I know."
"Your eyes were black, Dean. Demon black."
Dean swallowed. "I know."
"So…," Sam lifted his chin, his face directed to Dean but his eyes on Crowley. "What. The. Hell?"
"The Mark," Dean and Crowley replied in unison.
"The…Mark?" Sam repeated slowly. "The Mark…what? Saved you? Brought you back?"
"It is the Mark of Cain, Moose."
"You shut up!" Dean snarled, wishing he didn't feel so weak. Not after he'd felt such power. "You don't get to talk to him like that. Not anymore."
Crowley pushed away from the wall and glared at Dean. "Oh, and why is that? Because he's been so willing to help you navigate this new power of yours all this time? Or because he volunteered to stop that freak show currently running Heaven? Oh, no, I've got it – it's because he forgave you so quickly for saving his bloody life."
Dean lifted tired eyes, leveling them on Crowley. "Because I fucking said so, that's why."
To Dean's surprise, Crowley closed his mouth, narrowed his eyes, and turned away.
Sam's voice sounded young. So very, very young.
Dean looked up at him.
"What's going on, man?"
Dean swallowed, thinking. Remembering. Knowing what he was capable of, what he'd done in Hell. In Purgatory. On Earth. He'd been deemed worthy to bear the Mark but it wasn't a reward. It was a curse. A curse that came with a price, a burden. He'd been warned, but he hadn't listened. Hadn't cared.
"Cain said the Mark came with a burden," Dean told his brother, his voice sounding like it was coming from far away, echoing inside his hollow body. He was the Tin Man. "I never asked what it was."
"So…immortality?" Sam looked so heartbreakingly hopeful that Dean almost felt something stir where his heart had been. He couldn't give Sam hope.
"Not exactly," Dean said, sighing. He stood, his legs wooden, and glanced at Crowley. "Will I still know him?" he asked.
Crowley's scowl deepened. "If you're asking me if you'll kill him as your true self, you're the only one who can answer that."
Dean swallowed, then bent over slowly and picked up the blade.
"You don't need that, Dean," Crowley informed him. "This is your true self. You only have to embrace it."
Frowning, Dean dropped the Blade onto the bed, then looked back at Sam.
Sam's question broke off with a gasp as Dean's perception shifted. He knew the moment his eyes went black. He felt like a predator: strong, powerful, virile, hungry. The world shifted to infrared. He could see Sam's heart, his body lit up like a beacon, heat all around him, drawing Dean closer. Dean forced himself to stay back, keeping himself in check, feeling his bones tremble with the effort.
"I was always headed this way," Dean told his brother, his voice a low growl. "Ever since I sold my soul at the crossroads."
"No, Dean." Sam shook his head and Dean was surprised he could see his brother's tears. They trembled on Sam's lashes like diamonds, a cool space in a world of heat. "That's not true. You…you're the best man I know! You were a vessel for an archangel; no way were you meant to be a demon! You're a hunter—"
"Was a hunter," Dean interrupted, the effort required to keep his power in check becoming almost overwhelming. He could feel so much; the world was trembling around him. "I killed things like me."
He couldn't – he didn't know how to – contain it. He wanted to explode, to rage. His body burned with the pain from his wounds, his chest throbbing. He closed his eyes, sagging for a moment and leaning heavily against the bed, a hand over the hole from the angel sword. If the wounds were going to close he wished they'd hurry the hell up.
"What about me, huh?" Sam shouted, dragging a hand down his face and banishing the tears. "I was a…a thing once. You didn't kill me."
"Maybe this isn't about you, Moose!" Crowley shouted.
"Shut up!" the brothers yelled.
"No!" Crowley bellowed, stepping forward. "I will not be silenced by the angst of two denim-clad imbeciles who were too busy letting their damn pride choke them to death they never took the time to have caring and sharing hour while they were both alive!"
Dean blinked at Crowley in surprise, his vision dimming, returning to normal, his body sagging around him. He felt Sam instinctively shift closer to him.
"You lost your chance, Moose," Crowley snarled. "He's beyond you now."
"No—" Sam shook his head.
Crowley closed the distance between himself and Sam so quickly Dean didn't even register movement. The demon had Sam pressed against the wall, his hand at Sam's throat, breath suddenly a precious commodity.
"You lost your chance," Crowley was growling. "He's had this Mark for months and all you had to do was a little bit of research to find out that it was killing him. Slowly tearing him up from the inside out – not unlike your ridiculous angelic trials."
"Crowley," Dean snapped, moving forward, his body too heavy to do so quickly.
"You want to stop me, Squirrel, you know what you have to do," Crowley shot over his shoulder. He turned his attention back to Sam. "You let your brother die, Sam. Not by Metatron's blade, but slowly, every day. You let the Mark take him and you did nothing."
"Crowley! Let him go!" Dean yelled, seeing that the demon was no longer choking his brother, but unable to bear the tears in Sam's eyes.
He might not feel the pain of his wounds without his demon-self taking over, he might not be able to feel his own breath or his heartbeat, but Sam's tears unraveled him just as much dead as they had when he was alive.
"Your brother died in that warehouse," Crowley was saying to Sam, his voice cold and devoid of emotion. "What came back is mine, now. And only Cain himself can change that."
"Crowley!" Dean roared, feeling the world change around him once more as he grabbed Crowley's shoulder and ripped him away from Sam, throwing the demon across the room.
Crowley stood quickly, thrusting out his hands and sending Dean flying, his back connecting with the concrete wall of his bedroom. His wounds throbbed, sending liquid pain through his body and causing him to cry out. He channeled it, using it to fuel his rage. Strength and power surged through him and he mimicked what he'd seen Crowley do, thrusting the power outward from his fingertips and retaliating, Crowley's body cracking the wall itself as it hit.
"I knew you had it in you," Crowley gasped, climbing to his feet.
Dean pushed upright as well, pressing his hand to his chest to try to stave off the empty pain.
"You can end that, Dean," Crowley shouted. "Heal yourself!"
"What?" Dean muttered, confused, staring across the room at Crowley, seeing the man's true face, his demonic face, and wondering what his own face now looked like with demon sight. "What are you talking about?"
"Close the damn wounds!"
Dean saw Sam look at him in fear, his brother's being the only light in the room. He ripped open his shirt, and looked down at the ugly, gaping wound. It didn't seem possible, but neither did the fact that he was standing here. He willed the wound to close.
It felt as though he were being branded, a hot poker shoved into his chest. He cried out, his face folding in a grimace of pain, and he went to his knees. But as he watched, the wound shrank. He could feel the cut above his eye sealing as well and he clenched his teeth, groaning as the pain shifted from hot to cold, a fusion of human sensation and demonic power pulling his body back together.
It only took a few moments and when he was whole, he let the power retreat, lifting his eyes and staring at his brother in bewilderment. Sam was breathing hard, as if he'd just experienced the same level of pain and torment, and was staring back at him with wide eyes.
"Hell will fall at your feet." Crowley's voice was soft and filled with triumph. "No one will question my rule when you're done."
At that, Dean saw Sam's eyes harden and his mouth thin to a grim line. He looked over at Crowley and Dean knew then that his brother was going to try something really, really stupid. Pushing to his feet, Dean leapt over his bed and landed in a crouch next to Crowley, standing between the demon and Sam, and looked up at Crowley's smirking face.
"You can't rule anything if you're dead."
Crowley tilted his head, his expression mild. "You can't kill me, Dean. You need me. How else are you going to learn how to control these powers?"
Dean stood, clenching his fists, his hands trembling as he held himself in check, listening.
"Without me, you could kill someone you used to care about," Crowley darted a glance over Dean's shoulder. "Of course…then you wouldn't have to worry about that pesky weakness."
Dean growled and launched himself once more at Crowley not registering that his power had automatically taken over. He grabbed the demon's coat and shoved him against the dresser, knocking it to the side, and plowed Crowley into the wall. Without missing a beat, Crowley pushed back, the force of his blast lifting and pushing Dean to the far corner of his small room.
The bed was shoved to the side, the desk flipped over, cracks crawling up the heavy cement walls as the two battled. Dean lost track of where Sam was, he lost track of where even he was. All he knew was that Crowley was to blame for all his pain, for the fact that he could no longer feel pain, for the fact that he was a demon. It didn't matter that he'd made the choice – that he'd practically asked for the Mark. If it weren't for Crowley, he wouldn't have even known about Cain, his Mark, or his damn Blade.
Crowley had him pinned into the top corner of the room; Dean's newly-healed face was once more bloody, and Crowley had a cut on his forehead.
"You have the chance to eliminate the demons who don't fall in line," Crowley was shouting. "Order to chaos, Dean. Think of it! We would control Hell."
"You think I want that? You think I give a damn what happens to Hell?"
"Yes!" Crowley blasted Dean across the room, staggering back as Dean slammed into a wall. "Yes, I do. Because you care about them." He pointed toward where Sam was standing just outside of the doorway. "You care, Dean. That is why you are an anomaly. Not because you were demonized outside of Hell, but because you maintain your humanity."
Dean pushed himself to his feet, spitting blood from his mouth and wiping the back of his hand across his lips.
"Humanity made you weak."
"Yes, well. I was a weak human," Crowley replied, straightening his coat and smoothing his hair now that he was safely on the other side of the room from Dean. "You were not."
"What do you expect me to do, huh?" Dean snarled. "Fight 'em all?"
"Of course not," Crowley sighed, shaking his head with an air of schooling a small child.
He kicked at something on the floor at his feet and Dean saw that it was the First Blade. Lifting it on the toe of his boot like it was a soccer ball, Crowley tossed it across the room.
Dean instinctively opened his hand and called the Blade to him. He closed his fingers around the hilt as it found its home. He looked back at Crowley with his human eyes, feeling the distinct shift in his strength and power, his body once more leaden and numb.
"I, as you should know by now, have a plan," Crowley continued. "You follow that plan, and we can live like kings." He tugged at the lapel of his coat. "With me being High King, of course."
Dean looked down at the Blade in his hand, forcing himself to take a breath because it seemed like the natural thing to do.
"Dean, no…." Sam whispered.
Dean had almost forgotten about him. He looked over at his brother and swallowed. Sam looked like a kicked puppy, staring at Dean with large, frightened eyes.
"You two clearly have things to talk about," Crowley said, eyes darting between the brothers. "I'll be waiting outside." He started to turn away, then paused, looking back at Dean. "This is your life, now, Dean. The longer you resist it, the harder it will be and until one day it consumes you. Think about who you want in the blast zone."
With those parting words, Crowley vanished.
Sam stepped into the wreckage of a room, pushing the bed to the side with his leg so that he was standing near Dean. He looked down at the Blade in Dean's hand, then back at his brother. Very deliberately, he put his hand over Dean's, covering the hilt of the Blade, and lifted it up so that the sharp edge of the jawbone was pressed gently against his chest.
"What are you doing?" Dean asked, hearing a ragged edge of need and fear quaking at the end of his words.
"You won't kill me, Dean," Sam said quietly, confidence stamping his words on the air.
"You spent your life keeping me safe."
Dean huffed out a humorless laugh. "And you hated me for it."
"I don't hate you," Sam whispered.
Dean tightened his grip on the Blade and felt Sam do the same over his hand. "You could."
Sam shook his head. "I won't."
With a sigh, Dean released the Blade, letting his brother toss it behind them on the bed.
"Crowley's right, though," Dean said, turning slightly away from his brother. "I need him."
"The hell you do."
"I don't know how to…to use this, Sammy."
Dean stared at his brother. There was no way he could explain what it was like – how he felt nothing except for when he allowed the power to take over. His true self, as Crowley put it. How he could feel everything then. How the rush was different now; it didn't shame him, didn't overwhelm him. It enhanced him. It felt right…good.
With Sam's eyes on him, Dean willed the cut on his cheekbone and split lip from Crowley's attack to heal, grimacing only slightly from the quick, searing pain, and forcing himself not to flinch from Sam's recoil at seeing his eyes go black.
"This isn't a magic wand, man," Dean said quietly. "It's not something I can just set down or put away. It's me." He forced Sam to meet his eyes. "I. Am. A. Demon."
Sam shook his head. "You're my brother."
Dean started to move around Sam, wanting to get away from this conversation. Sam grabbed his arm and stopped him, waiting until Dean looked up at him again.
"We're family," he said, tightening the grip on Dean's arm. "That's all that matters."
"What?" Sam's brows puckered in confusion, but Dean could see in his brother's eyes that Sam knew exactly what he meant. He saw the guilt there. The regret.
"Now family is all that matters. Few months ago, though, you wouldn't even call me brother."
"People change," Sam tried.
Dean rubbed at his chest where Metatron had stabbed him. "Yeah."
"Don't go with him, Dean," Sam pleaded. "We can figure this out. Together."
Turning Dean fully around to face him, Sam held up his palm, so close to his face Dean had no choice but to see exactly what Sam wanted him to: the scar. The scar Sam had given himself when Lucifer sat inside his head, turning him slowly crazy.
"You remember this? Stone number one, right?"
Dean nodded hesitantly.
"Why don't you let me in, Dean?"
"It's different, Sam," Dean said woodenly. He pulled away from Sam's grasp. "Always has been."
"Because you're not worth it, that it?"
Dean stepped back, tugging off his blood-stained, destroyed shirt, and dropped it in a pile on the floor next to his displaced bed. He shoved his furniture aside until he reached his dresser, tugging a drawer open and grabbing out a Henley and a T-shirt.
"I did what I had to do, Sammy," he said as he disrobed. "So did you. Everything you said to me…it was right. You were right. I took your choice away because…," he glanced over at his brother, not wanting to see the pain in Sam's eyes but needing his brother to feel it so that he would step away, "because I couldn't live with you dead. I caused all of this." He pulled the clean shirts over his head. "Everything happened the way it had to happen."
"I don't believe that," Sam snapped. "I don't believe you believe it, either."
Dean shrugged. "Some things are true whether you believe them or not."
"Listen," Dean rested his heavy hands on his hips, looking at his brother with as much sympathy as he could project, knowing it was a thin veneer of emotion. "I can actually do some good, y'know? All of this... My death might actually mean something. I mean, thinning out the demon population can't be a bad thing."
"But at what cost, Dean?" Sam shot back, his jaw tight, his eyes shining with unshed tears. "I'd just as soon live in a world of devils rather than lose you, man."
Dean looked down, addressing the floor. Even his head felt too heavy to lift. "You already lost me, Sammy."
"No, Dean." Sam's voice wavered and Dean looked up again. "I don't…I don't want that to be true."
Dean pressed his lips flat, searching for the right words to leave his brother with, knowing it may be a very long time until he saw him again.
"I need you, Dean," Sam confessed quietly.
"No you don't, Sam," Dean crossed to stand close to his brother, separated by barely an arm length. "You haven't needed me for a long time. You proved that over the last few months."
"I was wrong. I lied."
"So you said, but you still managed just fine." Dean forced his mouth into a half grin. "Your biggest problem was me."
"You're gonna be okay, Sam," Dean said, putting his hand on his brother's shoulder. To his surprise, Sam tilted his head, leaning close to Dean's hand. "I'm proud of you, man. I always have been."
"Please, don't do this."
"I gotta make…something good come out of this, Sammy. I chose the Mark. I chose death. Now…I just gotta figure out how to use those choices. Make this world a better place."
Sam stood quietly for a moment, his throat working furiously as he tried to quell his emotion. Dean dropped his hand from his brother's shoulder. Sam looked exhausted. And no wonder, the number of extreme emotions his brother had navigated over the past 24 hours. If Dean could feel, he wagered he'd be exhausted, too. He dropped his chin, leveling his eyes on his brother.
"I want you to take the Impala," Dean said.
"I don't…," Dean paused. This caught him. Even the thought of this burned. His last toe-hold on his regular life, released. "I don't need her anymore. Not like this. I want you to, uh…keep her safe. Okay?"
Sam nodded. "But, Dean," he tried once more. "There has to be a way. I mean, we have a whole bunker of information here! The-the Men of Letters! They cured a demon before! We could try it – just use my blood like we did with Crowley—"
"Sam, hey, hey!" Dean broke in, trying to quiet his brother's rushing words. "Those demons lost their humanity. You heard Crowley. You're lookin' at me. I still got mine."
"But killing is going to burn it out of you, Dean!"
Dean shrugged. "Hasn't so far."
Sam frowned, tilting his head in confusion.
"It's the only thing I've ever been good at, Sam." Dean offered his brother a small smile, not even having to force it this time. "Dad knew it. It's why he knew he could make me promise to kill you if I couldn't save you. Alistair knew it. Hell, even Cas knows it. It's why he let Uriel call me in to torture Alistair. It's why he had us question Ezra. I'm good at killing. I'm a weapon." He glanced at the Blade. "I just don't have to worry about a safety switch anymore."
"You listen to me," Dean said, pointing at Sam and narrowing his eyes, making sure he appeared as human as he possibly could. "You don't follow me. You don't look for me. No matter what you hear, no matter what anyone says to you. You stay as far away from me as you can. You hear me coming? You run the other way."
"Like hell." Sam's jaw tightened and his eyes went firm and stubborn.
"I don't want you in the blast zone, Sammy."
"You might not have a choice, Dean," Sam snapped, his voice hardening with determination. "Crowley said that Cain was the only one who could change this."
At that, Dean did react. He felt his perception flare hot and he knew his eyes flashed black from the way Sam involuntarily flinched.
"You stay the hell away from him, Sam."
"If he can help you—"
"He is a killer. The killer."
Sam squared his shoulders. Dean forgot how big his little brother could be when he wanted. "There is no way I'm not going to find a way to get you out of this, Dean."
"What if this is my choice, huh? What if this is what I want? You gonna take that away from me?" Dean challenged, knowing it was below the belt, but ready to do whatever he had to in order to keep Sam safe.
Sam brought his chin up, taking the blow, accepting the judgment. "Is it?" He volleyed. "Are you choosing this, Dean?"
Dean worked his jaw. "If Cain can help, I'll find him. He asked me to do something for him anyway."
Sam tilted his head. "You'll find him?"
"I'll find him."
Sam narrowed his eyes, still not believing. Before Dean could stop him, Sam bent and grabbed the First Blade from where it rested on the bed. He quickly drew the sharp blade across his scarred palm, drawing blood.
"What the hell are you—"
Sam grabbed Dean's wrist and sliced Dean's hand, then dropped the blade.
"Sam, have you lost your friggin' mind?"
"Promise me," Sam shouted, then slapped his bloody hand against Dean's wounded palm and gripped his brother tight.
Dean felt a strange sensation burn up his arm to the Mark as their blood mingled. It was like a limb coming to life, pins and needles pricking his hand, his arm, centering on the brand. Sam blinked rapidly, looking down at their clasped hands, blood running from their palms and slipping down their wrists.
"I promise," Dean whispered. "As long as you promise to stay away from him."
Sam swallowed, nodding. "I'll stay away from Cain…but I won't stop looking for a way to save you. I…," he frowned down at their hands, seeming to be unwilling to release Dean, "I owe you that much."
"You don't owe me a damn thing, Sammy."
"Just…don't go down without a fight," Sam said softly. "You…you died on your feet." He met Dean's unwavering gaze. "You died looking life in the eye. Don't just accept this. You're the best man I know. The best, Dean. I won't…I won't lose you to…to Crowley. You get me?"
Dean felt something clench inside of him, something echo in the hollow of his Tin Man chest. He felt the breath he didn't need catch in his throat. He felt his jaw tighten. He felt.
"I get you."
Sam nodded and released their hands, grabbing Dean's discarded shirt and wrapping it around his palm as a make-shift bandage until he could get to something better. Dean grabbed the First Blade from the bed, then picked up a jacket from the floor where it had fallen during his fight with Crowley. Pausing in the doorway of his room, he turned and looked back at his brother.
"Don't give up on me, Sammy."
Eyes bright with tears, mouth tight from holding back emotion, Sam shook his head. "Never."
Dean's mouth pulled up in a half smile without his even having to try. He turned away and headed out of the bunker, walking through the door to find Crowley standing in the road, waiting for him. Dean shrugged into his jacket as he crossed over to the demon king.
"You do realize you no longer need to use doors."
"Go to hell," Dean growled.
"Lead the way," Crowley replied smugly.
Dean narrowed his eyes, but didn't reply. He simply gripped the Blade tighter, his palm still smeared with Sam's blood. That was one wound he wouldn't heal. Not unless he was human again.
Crowley clapped a hand on Dean's shoulder. "Let's go be bad guys."
Dean closed his eyes, felt his world shift, and when he opened them again, a very familiar vista met his sight: Hell.
He raised the Blade; once a hunter of evil, now…an assassin.
a/n: Not an easy one to write, and I'm 99.9% sure Dean won't have this much of his humanity when we see him again in October. But I'm hopeful that there is some of our Dean inside. Hope this met at least part of the expectations of those who requested this tag.
I promise not to write anything else until I reply to each of the story reviews and Ramble comments! See ya'll later!