In my hands (is a promise, a lie)
The skies were gray, and he found himself looking down (up?) at the ashen clouds, lips curled in derision. The sky was supposed to be blue, a vibrant cerulean that was as breathtaking as the first moment Father had painted the blank canvas with His colors. (A ridiculous human metaphor, but if there was one thing that humanity had created that even came close to divinity, it was their art, so he forgave himself for the sullying of his tongue with their language.)
[when neither sun nor stars appeared for many days, and no small tempest lay on us, all hope of our being saved was at last abandoned.]
The sky was never meant to be stormy.
You looked up, and Dean was staring at the road, fingers drumming steadily on the steering wheel, but there was that little crease in his brow that either meant he was tired, or he was gearing up for one of those talks he insisted he didn’t want but always seemed to initiate as often as he could- and considering Dean had slept a good six hours the night before, he couldn’t possibly be tired. That left only one option, and Dean would give up on what was probably his attempt at supportive silence in a second and say-
You would have rolled your eyes, but Dean’s eyes flicked away from the road to look over at you, and there was worry in that glance. You shrugged. Ran a hand through your hair, pushing limp strands away from where they hung over your eyes. “I’m fine. Just tired.”
“You should get some sleep. You look like shit.”
“I’m good. It’s too bright.”
Dean sighed, a deep heavy exhale that weighed the world and everything that came close to destroying it. It seemed all the heavier these days, like the still-wet trenchcoat he'd tucked away in the trunk dragged his shoulders down with every breath he took.
“At least close your eyes. We’re almost there, it’ll be darker.”
And that was it. Dean looked back to the road, but one hand reached over to the back seat, coming back with one of his jackets, the green army one that was a rough kind of soft that came from being well-used, shoving it at you in that gruff manner that looked so distant on your dad but so affectionate on Dean.
You spread the jacket out over your lap, smoothing away the creases before winding your fingers through the sleeves. You leaned against the door, rested your head on the window, watched condensation roll down the cool glass.
You closed your eyes and blocked out visions of gray skies and too much pain. You thought of Jess instead. Jess, and the way Castiel's hands felt as they reached inside you and tore your mind apart.
It rained for forty days and forty nights.
[for behold, i will bring a flood of waters upon the earth to destroy all flesh in which is the breath of life under heaven. everything that is on the earth shall die.]
It was fitting, he thought. A new leader for a broken world, and the first thing he does to save it is drown it in its own flaws.
A pitiful little black-eyed creature snivelled at his feet, and he glared at it until it shifted away and cowered in the mud. “Please, my lord,” it said, trembling, “I only wish to join your cause. To worship you.”
He sighed. “I’m not meant to be worshipped.”
The creature looked up, alarm twisting its scarred maw. “But, my lord, of course you are.”
Anger pulsed through frozen veins, and the abomination’s neck bruised under his fingers. He pressed down until the rattle of the beast’s lungs grew faint. “I’m not to be worshipped. I am not God, I am His son. I’m just trying to fix what He gave me.”
The creature fell to the ground, unseeing eyes inky and burnt out with hate, dirt splattered across its pale face.
[for he knows our frame; he remembers that we are dust.]
Blood rained down from the skies.
You’d packed your bags with the speed and ease that came from a lifetime of hightailing out of a town at three in the morning. Or, well, Dean had packed your bags with that speed and ease and maybe a little bit of panic that had him flitting from one end of the room to another in a bizarre parody of a bee’s dance; while you sat on the bed furthest from the door, a canister of salt in your hands, staring at the sliver of grimy window peeking through lopsided blinds. Uselessness was a weakness, Dad had said too many summers ago, as was inactivity. You couldn’t bring yourself to care.
You’d barely managed to settle yourself down in the passenger seat in a position that didn’t leave the set of gashes torn into your chest -courtesy of rabid-monster claws- in total agony, before Dean pressed down on the accelerator, driving like the hounds of hell were after you. And really, considering everything that had happened to you, what was a little game of tag with a bunch of demonic dogs that’d love to use you as chew toys? It wouldn’t be the first time, really.
You stared at the dashboard, watching the needle move, touching numbers that normally would have left Dean bitching about the wear on the tires, and then watching as the needle moved even further along the dial.
Dean was cussing at the stupid rain pelting down on the roads, at the goddamned water-slicked blacktop, at the fucking gas-guzzling piece of shit Impala. You thought that maybe that last one was a good enough reason in itself to put a hold on the whole being-totally-catatonic thing, but, well. Apathy had slithered into your blood. Dispassion numbed your thoughts.
All you could feel was the chill in your bones, and the empty buzz in your head.
The bushes flourished.
They shouldn’t have, it was the middle of a snowless winter, and he never did like twisting the miracles his Father presented him with any more than he had to. And yet, they flourished.
The leaves were viridescent, the petals a velvet damask. They burgeoned from the dirt and mud, thorny branches bright in the blurry gray that was the world after it ended. Because the world had ended and everything had been leached of its color, and then there was this bush, growing like it had every right to be joyous and healthy and alive.
He ran a fingertip over the bristles, and blood welled up over tanned skin, washed-out in watery light. He couldn’t find it in himself to fix the wound- a scratch, not even an itch- with his dark smoky sullied Grace that was more familiar with hurting than it was with healing.
(forward march soldier, attention soldier, chin up soldier, fight maim kill you’re not good enough soldier)
Lassitude was a soldier’s natural state.
[so, because you are lukewarm, and neither hot nor cold, i will spit you out of my mouth.]
You didn’t know who started up the unspoken litany of we’reokay we’reokay we’reokay we’reokay, but the words hummed and buzzed along the space between you (too far too close not enough) and the Impala was jolting with it, shaking and trembling like so many rattlesnakes hissing and spitting and clattering at an intruder.
Or maybe it was you doing the trembling. Maybe it was you that was full of tremors and quakes, shivering and convulsing.
“I’m cold.” you said. It was as much a statement of fact from a twenty-something man (give or take a couple thousand years of screaming and an endless plain of ice and frost and toomuchtoolittle starlight) with premature laughter lines as it was a whine from the mouth of a four year old floppy-haired snot-nosed kid that wanted to cuddle with his big brother.
Dean just nodded, not even taking his eyes off the road. “I know, I know. It’ll get warmer soon.”
“I’m always cold.” It would’ve been a grumble that meant absolutely nothing, should have been, but you both knew that it wasn’t.
Dean pretended it was anyway, and his answering smile was strained.
In the depths of sleepless nights, when the motel beds creaked the least and the roads were silent through paper-thin walls, you thought it was sad that Dean’s default setting was denial. But then, it was your natural state of existence too, so you figured you didn’t really have any right to be judging anybody.
“Of course you’re cold.” Dean said, “You’re the idiot that decided to not wear his jacket in Maine. Moron.”
You pulled your lips up into a faint shadow of a smile, and shrugged, shaking your hair back into your face.
(hide little one, run and hide and never look back)
The cold snaked its fingers under your sleeves.
[but now, o lord, you are our father; we are the clay, and you are our potter; we are all the work of your hand.]
It should never have been possible for a once-archangel to be inclined to walk around in a pottery shop in a ghost town in some corner of what might have been Missouri at some point.
And yet, here he was. Ceramic cracking under his weight, terracotta dust staining everything dusky red.
The shelves were broken, hung askew from teetering walls, paint peeling off wooden boards. Statues and slabs of once-intricate carvings lay in shatters on the ground. He ignored all of it in favor of making his way to a back room, determined to discover the one perfect piece.
He found it, tucked away in a corner under a tattered sheet, surrounded by other pieces, childish and yet so refined. Thoughtful.
He brushed a finger over the fired clay- the barest of touches- and he was struck by the image of a young child, floppy-haired and wide-eyed, looking up at his big brother. Pleading.
'Can't we keep it?'
'You know we can't, Sammy. Dad said there was no way that wouldn't break in the car.'
'But I worked so hard to make it.'
'I know you did, buddy. Hey. How about we leave it here? It'll be our way of leaving a mark. -Sammy was here.-'
‘Awesome. C’mon. Let’s get you some ice-cream.’
Laughter echoed off the walls.
He picked up the lopsided clay pot, traced the 'S.W.' carved into the side in clumsy letters with a reverent touch.
It would make a good addition to his garden.
You’d woken up that morning, screaming, words you didn’t know tumbling from your lips, too loud and too warm and too holyunholy. Dean hadn’t even hesitated, just rolled out of his bed, pulled you close and held you until you stopped trying to talk and just breathed.
“It's getting worse, isn’t it?” Dean had asked.
You thought that you might have laughed.
(“The earliest memory I have is of staring at your face, laughing at the way you squinted and screwed up your lips. You had a spoon in one hand, a blob of half-dried macaroni in your hair. ‘C’mon, Sammy,’ you’d said, ‘eat the yummy pasta. Then you can grow all big and strong, like daddy.’”
“Remember when the worst we had to deal with was being stuck between hoping dad wouldn’t be gone too long, and hoping he’d take forever to get back, just so we wouldn’t have to leave?”
“The first time I saw Jess, I was sure I was going crazy, she was so perfect. She was wearing boots and an army jacket, blonde curls bouncing as she nodded along to music I couldn’t hear. She had a mole that I could almost pretend was a freckle, and her blue eyes looked so green. I saw her and I saw you. It eased the edges of the hole I ripped into my own chest when I walked away.”
“We’re just starting to be brothers again.”
“When dad died I wanted to curl up into a ball and close my eyes and never move again because what was the point? Dad was supposed to be the indestructible standard I was always to be held up to but could never reach. He wasn’t supposed to be gone. I broke, Dean. I broke into so many pieces I thought I'd never be whole again. Then I saw you, and I glued myself back together, just so you wouldn’t be alone. I couldn’t leave you. Not again.”
“When you were gone, all I could think of was the empty bed next to mine, because I never stopped booking doubles.”
“I wish you’d just get it over with already. You already said I’m a monster. Maybe if you’re the one pulling the trigger, he won’t be able to bring me back.”
“Put it back in me and I won’t be the same. I’ll have seen too much, I’ll be lost.”
“He’d pretend to be you, sometimes, when he got tired of being me or dad or mom or Jess, and he’d sing to me. It wasn’t so bad, then.”)
You laughed, hysterical, and shook your head. “Let’s just get out of here.”
“Too dark?” Dean had asked.
He shook out his wings, grimacing as the crooked feathers pulled and scraped at each other. He hadn’t groomed in years. He had been meticulous, back when Sam (beautiful, magnificent, glorious Sam) released him, and he had been wearing the wretched stretched-thin vessel he’d tricked into acceptance. He’d groomed his feathers, and sworn to never trick Sam that way.
As it was, he didn’t have to.
Sam had come to him, chin raised, brow broad and proud, mouth slanted in defiance. He looked almost arrogant, but for the tiredness in his shoulders, and the mourning in his eyes.
Dean doesn’t want me. Sam didn’t say it, but he had heard it anyway.
He’d sworn to snap Dean’s neck.
And then Sam said yes, and suddenly, he couldn’t groom his own wings anymore.
Suddenly, he craved the burning hands of an older brother, ethereal hands threading through Grace and straightening out feathers, a perpetually fond smile plastered across his lips.
He hadn’t seen Michael since that one time, three years ago, when being in Sam's body was still new and magnificent (always magnificent; such an exquisite creature, Sam was) and he stood in front of the miserly group of angels that dared call themselves a garrison. His gaze was caught and held by Michael in the frontlines, vessel-less, wings held up with tentative wariness. He’d laughed and laughed and laughed, and then he’d crooked a single finger and half their ranks fell to the earth, writhing in agony, keening in voices too high and too holy for mortal ears.
He released them (his brothers his sisters his family), and they ran.
[are they not all ministering spirits, sent forth to minister for them who shall be heirs of salvation?]
Michael stayed behind. His eyes were sad.
“If I leave now,” he’d said, “I will not come back, Little Brother. I cannot return.”
Wings pulled tight against his back, he found himself craving one last chance to look into forgiving eyes, and apologize.
“I know.” he said, instead.
Michael’s Grace rasped against the viscous air, and he was gone.
[like a flower he comes forth and withers. he also flees like a shadow and does not remain.]
You knew that nobody ever escaped hell unscathed.
(a boy fell in a hole that day. down and down and down he fell, until, finally, an angel caught him. caught him and whispered, you are mine. mine. this is us.)
You saw the scars Dean had carved into his soul.
(get away from the dark get away from the cold get away. the sky’s too dark the air’s too cold save me dean. save me.)
You never mentioned it, never hinted that you noticed, because nothing clammed Dean up faster than letting on that you saw past his act.
(lucifer said he’d never hurt him. you trusted him. he snapped his neck anyway. you screamed, through smiling lips and a creased brow. you screamed. you screamed. you-)
You saw it anyway.
Dean woke up in the middle of the night, breathing heavy, mouth clamped down tight on a scream, sweat dripping through his shirt. He turned the rickety motel air conditioning as low as it would go, until droplets of water condensed on the windows and you were shivering under three layers of cotton and plaid. His hands trembled and shook around the gun-oil stained rag and shotgun shells for months after he got out.
(not because of you, never because of you, an angel had to save him, you failed, you failed, sam)
He had his scars.
You had your own.
Dean’s hell was blood under his nails, a battered soul beneath his blade.
Your hell was your lips twisted into a frosted smile, white suit crisp amongst roses.
The tears felt strange, foreign. He hadn’t cried in what felt like centuries (like millennia), and yet, here he was. Crying.
Sam was curled up before him, inside him, around him, with him, as him; mouth rasping around words that never came.
Dean. Sam called. Dean.
You killed him, Sam said, you killed my brother.
‘No’, he said, words syrup thick, dripping off his tongue, off Sam's tongue. ‘You did. That was all you, Sammy.’
No, Sam said, it was you. You broke his neck. You broke him.
‘You killed Dean.’
It was YOU, Sam said, IT WAS YOU.
‘Ah, but you forget, dear Sam, that you are me. It was your foot upon his neck, not mine.’
No, Sam said, no, I couldn’t have. Not- not Dean.
‘I’m sorry, Sam.’
[and the king will answer them, ‘truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.’]
You were young, maybe only five, only fourteen, only twenty two, only twenty nine, when you first dreamt of Him.
Long long fingers wrapped around your throat, so soft, so gentle, like feathers brushing against your skin.
Long long fingers pressing down tight, chasing away the whispers of air your lungs choked down, cold and frigid and barren.
Thin lips and ice-flecked eyes smiling a non-smile that seemed more joyful than anything you'd ever seen before.
Snow white teeth, vicious and abrupt like the endings in the fairy tale book you'd read in your uncle Bobby's library that summer when you were still shorter than your brother and your father and your dimples dug your cheeks in deeper, more often.
Sharp iron tang of blood and blood and blood and the acrid burn of fire and smoke and ash. It smelled of death, of sulphur. It smelled of capture, of escape. It smelled of redemption, of damnation.
Blossoms, bright red, edges dark and soft and perfect. Danger-tipped thorns. A garden, too empty, too full of roses and spikes and nothingness.
You are mine.
You woke up screaming, at five, at fourteen, at twenty two, at twenty nine. Dean woke up with you, knife in his hands, worry in his eyes.
'I dreamt of a snake' you said, still five, still fourteen, still twenty two, still twenty nine.
'I dreamt of a snake. He was cold and smelled of flowers, and he offered me an apple, he offered me the world.'
He took a breath and held it in his lungs. Tasting the air, his brothers had called it, teasing him, the first time he did it, and he never told them how right they had been . His first vessel had been particularly adept at cataloguing flavors, and he'd savored every breath he stole through his lungs, caught on his tongue. He'd flown across plains and forests and deserts, where the air was rich and fresh and lush and dry.
This air was acrid, tasted of despair and decay. Tasted of 'development' of 'advancement' of 'the betterment of human lives'.
It tasted like ruin.
[and i brought you into a plentiful land to enjoy its fruits and its good things. but when you came in, you defiled my land and made my heritage an abomination.]
His garden, however. His garden tasted of wild grass and wet earth and honeybee nectar and sweet sweet roses. Always of roses.
His garden tasted like hope.
You curled your fingers and dug your nails into your palms, left shallow too-deep crescents in your skin. You welcomed them, welcomed the five-point half curves of pain and clarity and real this is real.
Dean’s hands wrapped around yours, and pulled, pulled them up and tucked them together against your chest, tight and hot and warm. His hands were rough and they scraped and dragged against your skin, grounded you.
“It’s okay,” he said, words desperate and sincere in the way only lies ever were, “you’re okay. Just breathe. Come on, breathe, Sam.”
You tried. Breathed in, damp and wet and shallow, not enough never enough, I can’t breathe Dean help me.
And suddenly you were pressed up against Dean’s chest, lungs heaving, struggling to match with the steady inandoutSammycomeon of his breaths. Air was slick like water and sand and balloon strings, slipping away from you.
Dean held on tighter.
You inhaled. Held it in. Counted to three. Exhaled.
Pretended you couldn’t feel frostbitten fingers cup the back of your neck alongside Dean’s too warm hands.
Samuel, the ice called, you can’t run from me.
Dean’s arms were long and broad and they wrapped around you like that blanket you’d carried around for years before dad had decided you were getting too old to take comfort in a scrap of felt. Dean had held you then too, when you cried and cried and couldn’t sleep at night.
You can hide, but I will always get you back. Won’t you scream so pretty for me?
“I remember too much,” you said, instead, “I remember the way your bones felt when they broke under my hands, remember the way Bobby’s neck sounded when it snapped and the satisfaction I felt when I- when he- killed Cas. I remember letting you get turned and almost killing Bobby and praying and praying to Cas and feeling nothing when he never answered and feeling relief whenever I saw you with Lisa or Ben and I remember too much, Dean.”
Dean’s eyes were red and his hands trembled against your neck, twisted into your hair. “Sammy, you don’t-” he choked on the words, “You don’t have to-”
“No,” you said, and you buried your face in his jacket and thought about breathing so you wouldn’t think about the singsong aww does poor Sammy-boy need to cry, “I need to- he- You should know.”
“It hurt, when I got my soul back. It felt like years and years and years of knives and fire and pain was shoved back inside me, and I couldn’t remember it until Cas broke the Wall.”
You paused then, breathed in slow, let it out in a rush.
“It’s not so bad, sometimes, remembering. You said that it felt like time was faster down there? It was. Much faster. I spent centuries, centuries, with nobody but Lucifer as company in my head. I listened to his thoughts and saw things through his eyes. He showed me Creation, Dean. I saw the first atom, heard the first vacuum, tasted the first fruits. He showed me beautiful things but he was so hurt, so angry.”
“‘You’ve made my mistakes, Sam,’ he told me, ‘now you get to suffer my punishment.’ He spent a hundred years sticking me full of all the sharp things he could think of. When he ran out of sharp things, he pulled them all out and stretched my skin so far, so thin, I could feel myself collapsing. He shoved me in a box so small there was no space between one part of me and the next. He burned so so cold, he turned my blood to ice, stopped my heart and crushed my lungs and trapped me in the cold for years. And all that? That was nothing.”
“The worst torture only lasted five years. For five years, I thought I'd failed to save the world. ”
The sky was never meant to be stormy. Humanity had leached the color away from the Earth with their Greed.
It would be alright, though. He would fix it.
He and Sam would fix it.
[i can do all things through him who strengthens me.]