Michael fumed while Lucifer raised his eyebrow expectantly, waiting for Dean to say something. Instead, he ran towards him, gripping Michael’s sword tightly. He slashed at him, but instead of aiming for his chest or head, he cut at his legs. Lucifer jumped back, but Dean was able to scratch his armor. Lucifer frowned.
“Now I’ll have to get this polished again,” he whined, but unlike Michael, Dean didn’t wait for Lucifer to finish his commentary. He attacked again, this time aiming for the cracks between the armor. Lucifer blocked him.
“If you hurt me, you hurt Sammy too,” he said. Dean responded by slamming the hilt of Michael’s sword into Lucifer’s skull. He stumbled back, wincing in pain. Dean didn’t back down. He charged again, this time kneeing Lucifer in the gut, causing him to drop his sword. He bent over, gasping for breath. Sam’s hair fell over his face.
“Sammy, I know you’re in there and I know you can hear me,” Dean said, knocking Lucifer on the side of his head again. “Keeping fighting.”
Lucifer growled and lashed out, but Dean dodged him. He slammed his head into the ground. Dean punched him in the face.
“I’ve lost you once, I’m not losing you again” Dean said, continuing to punch Lucifer. “You’re going to take back control and shove this douche out of your head!”
Lucifer’s face twitched uncomfortably, his smile long gone. A faint light flickered behind his eyes. Then he frowned, and darkness swallowed the light.
Dean as swung his fist down again, Lucifer raised his hand. As if he’d been punched by air, Dean was thrown back. Lucifer stood up, wiping blood from his lips.
“Impressive, but that’s not going to get dear little Sammy back,” he hissed. Dean moved to get up, but Lucifer pressed his foot onto his neck. He slowly applied more force, crushing his windpipe.
“Your brother is gone. And it’s your fault,” he said, leaning over Dean. He cocked his head to the side. “You can have all of eternity to fathom the fact that your brother is now my meat puppet while you’re locked away with Michael.”
Dean gagged underneath his foot. He leaned down further.
“Maybe if I’m in a really good mood, I’ll even visit you once in a while. It’ll be a fun little family reunion for everyone!” He laughed, and gave Dean on last kick on the side of his head. His eye was swollen, and blood saturated his hair.
“One down, one to go,” Lucifer said. He looked expectantly towards the pedestal encompassed in light. Walking towards it, he slowed down as the light enveloped him, giving Sam’s hair an ethereal halo. Narrowing his eyes, he brushed his hands across the smooth marble surface. His eye twitched, and he slammed his hands down on it, cracking it in half. He turned, spreading a cold anger through the clearing.
“Where is it?” He asked, gliding over to Michael.
“It’s not there?” Michael asked, confused. Lucifer gave him a frigid look of frustration.
“No…” He said, returning to Dean. He grabbed him by his neck, his hands fitting onto the purple bruises already there like puzzle pieces.
“Hand it over, Deanie,” he said.
“I wouldn’t give it to you even if I had it,” he growled. Lucifer shoved him to the ground and scanned the clearing. His eyes rested on Castiel’s limp body. Dean tensed as Lucifer kicked Castiel over. He moaned in pain.
“I’m surprised you’re still alive, Castiel…” Lucifer said, tilting his head in contemplation, “tell me, how do you like being shunned and marked as a traitor by your family?”
Castiel didn’t answer. Lucifer sneered.
“Not to good, huh?” He said. He leaned down, forcing his face into Cas’s. Dean watched the scene angrily. “But it’s not too late to redeem yourself. Give me the ring and together we can save Heaven from itself.”
“No,” Cas said, curling his upper lip.
“Don’t be foolish,” Lucifer said. more force behind his words, the friendly outward tone fading away. “Just give me the Ring.”
“I don’t have it,” Cas said.
“Someone has to have it…” he muttered and walked back to Dean, who had been crawling towards Michael’s sword. Lucifer picked it up, grabbed Dean by his blood splattered hair, and held the blade against his neck. Cas struggled to pick himself up, but his arms collapsed beneath him.
“Whoever has my ring is going to give it to me,” Lucifer said. He eyed Dean eagerly. “Or the Winchester loses his life...again.”
Cas’s eyes were wide and rimmed with fear. Michael glared, his nostrils flaring.
“Need I remind you, Michael, that without a vessel you can’t leave Purgatory?” he said.
“Brother,” Michael said jadedly, “don’t you think that if I had the Ring I would do more than just lie here helplessly?”
Lucifer scowled, “Your flawless logic perseveres...as usual.”
“Sam, I know you’re still in there,” Dean pleaded. Lucifer cracked a smile.
“Still trying? I’ll give you credit, you sure are stubborn.” he said.
Cas cried out as Lucifer’s arm moved to cut Dean’s throat. His muscles tensed, but his hand froze. His eyebrows scrunched together in confusion.
“You’ve got to be kidding me,” Lucifer groaned.
“Seems you aren’t as strong as you thought,” Michael japed, clearly taking pleasure in his brother’s failure.
Lucifer’s hand released the sword, and his eyes steamed red as it clattered to the ground. He clenched his fist and unclenched his fist until it became effortless to do once again. He rolled his neck and pushed back his shoulders.
“Sorry about that folks, back to our regularly scheduled program,” he said.
“I simply hate to interrupt you, terribly rude of me,” a Southern voice rolled from the outskirts of the clearing. “But I’m afraid I can’t let you hurt him or my angel friends anymore.”
Lucifer curled his lip at the vampire leaning against the tree nonchalantly, as if he was sipping lemonade with old friends on a sunny, humid Louisiana afternoon, not challenging the devil himself while armed with little more than a knife.
“...And you are…?” Lucifer asked.
“Name’s Benny. And I already know you, you’ve done enough talking to make sure of that,” he said. Lucifer laughed, and started to slowly pace.
“Do you see your friends, who are all much more powerful than you, barely able to stand and close to death? You really think you’d have a better shot of fighting me than they did?”
“Oh no,” Benny laughed. “You misunderstand me. I know when I can’t win a fight, but I don’t intend to fight...I’m just here to help.”
Lucifer paused his pacing, now only a few feet between himself and the vampire. Even without his sword, his ego assured him of victory.
“And how exactly do you expect to help them?” He asked. Benny smiled, like a parent on Christmas morning finding joy in the looks of surprise and excitement on his children’s faces.
“Just a little trinket I found,” he said, toying with something in his hands. “Hey, Dean, what do you make of this?”
With a light flick of his wrist, he tossed it over Lucifer’s unsuspecting head like as easily as tossing a poker chip to a friend. Dean’s hand shot up and snatched the object from the air. He smiled at it in his hand, then glanced up merrily at Benny.
“Looks like dollar-store plastic if you ask me,” he said, then narrowed his eyes devilishly. “But I’m sure I’ll find some use for it.”
Dean slipped the Ring onto his finger. It glowed lightly, then shrunk to a perfect fit. Cas smiled, but Michael and Lucifer gawked at him.
“A human cannot possibly contain the Ring’s power,” Lucifer said.
“Dean, don’t be a fool!” Michael yelled. “You’ll incinerate yourself and trap me here forever!”
“That’s a chance I’m willing to take,” he said, picking up Michael’s sword. As he did, the light spread to it and it heated up in his hand. The ruby repaired itself. Dean felt a magnetic pull from it. Letting the light pull him forever, he guided it to its target. The sword slashed across Lucifer’s pitch-black armor, leaving a streak of light. He stumbled back and gaped at the hit to his armor.
The sword refused to rest, and Dean gladly swung at Lucifer again. He pushed it away, but didn’t have time to strike back. The blade seemed to accelerate after each strike, and Lucifer’s confidence teetered as he found himself sweating to keep up. Finally, an attack hit its mark as Dean sliced across Lucifer’s shoulder. A thin sheet of blood streamed out.
Dean raised his sword to swing again, but Lucifer raised his hand. Dean felt his sword yanked from his grasp, tearing through the force intertwining the sword and ring. He reached for it, but an invisible force flung it across the clearing. Dean turned to Lucifer.
Lucifer raised his hand again, and aimed his unseen force at Dean. It blasted against him, but the light from the Ring spread to Dean’s feet like roots extending from a tree. Rapid wind scraped his face and tried to lift him into the air, but he held his ground. When it passed, Lucifer stared at him with a look of confusion and disgust.
Dean furrowed his brow and punched the air. The force slammed into Lucifer, successfully supplanting him. He tumbled through the air and landed with a crash. He looked up through Sam’s disheveled hair now imbued with grime. Dean planted his foot and channeled the power of the Ring, summoning it through his fingertips. He felt it extending from his hand to entangle Lucifer in its steely grip. Dean felt his brother’s soul smothered underneath spiritual layers created by Lucifer. Recalling his own approach to digging his way out of the Michael’s mental labyrinth, he reversed the way and plunged into Lucifer’s soul. This time, his guiding torch was Sam’s soul, calling out for help.
As the force stretched farther and farther while still having to repel the dark tendrils of Lucifer’s soul, Dean could feel it drawing more on his own energy. He felt his soul being pulled out of his body, being sucked into the darkness of Lucifer’s heart.
Just as the very last of his soul was being torn away by the Ring, someone grabbed his hand. It refused to let him slip away. It simultaneously acted as an anchor to stop his soul from being dragged out into the unknown and as a beacon, piercing through the darkness to guide his soul back to its proper place. Before he began the perilous journey home, Dean hooked Sam’s soul. Like pulling a rubber band taut until it snaps, Dean strained to pull both Sam and his own soul free. Finally, the last of the restraints broke. Dean’s soul clicked back into place, and he fell backwards, dark circles around his eyes.
Even though he’d returned to his body, Dean wouldn’t let go of the hand. He knew its curves and calluses, and the familiar way it fit perfectly with his own like two puzzle pieces locking together. His vision was blurry, but he touched Cas’s face. His suspicions were confirmed by his scruff which rubbed against his hands like sandpaper.
Cas was looking away, and Dean followed his line of sight. Due to his hazy vision he was convinced that the two figures lying before him were no more than optical illusions. However, as the fuzziness cleared, the illusion remained.
With a sense of sureness, he limped forward and cradled his brother in his arms. Although he wasn’t moving, Dean knew he was alright because he had felt his soul and it had been whole. Pretty badly scratched up, but whole none the less.
“Sammy,” he said, without even a hint of worry in his voice. His words didn’t even seem directed at Sam, but rather just an assurance to the world that yes, this was his brother. His brother who traversed half of America with him while fighting demons, monsters, and even other humans. Who he had went through Heaven and Purgatory, and it certainly felt like, Hell for. Who he had given his life for once and who had almost returned the favor. Almost, but not yet.
“Dean,” Cas said earnestly, motioning towards Lucifer, who was lying motionless. Michael had managed to drag himself over to him, wincing with each step. He was shaking his arm fervently. Lucifer twitched.
“Nice job getting your brother back,” Benny said, “but maybe save the reunion for later?”
“Dean?” Sam moaned, starting to come to.
Cas and Dean lifted Sam up, and Dean assured him, “Don’t worry, we’ve got you.” They staggered out of the clearing. Benny rushed after them nervously, then cringed when he saw them.
“Let me help you with that,” he said, picking Sam up and draping him over his shoulder. Dean and Cas nodded gratefully. Somewhere behind them, a tree fell with a crash that sent a shudder through the forest. Cas, Dean and Benny looked at each other worriedly and increased their pace.
“There’s an exit close by,” Benny said, glancing back again. “If we can make it.”
“We’ll make it,” Dean said, glaring at the path in front of them as that would will them to move faster.
They increased their speed to an irregular run, staying determined even as the ground seemed to slope upwards. The top of the incline was in sight when the two angels appeared at the bottom.
“Dean, stop where you are!” Michael yelled, but was completely ignored.
When they reached the top, the group nearly collapsed, but they held on. Before them stood a door the complete negative of the one they’d arrived in. It was dark and had copper welding decorating it in a macabre style. Dean pulled against the handle, which had been frozen by disuse. As he worked the dust out of the hinges, Benny delicately handed Sam, who had regained most of his consciousness, over to Cas.
“You’re not coming with us?” Dean asked. Benny shook his head.
“I can’t. No human vessel,” he shrugged.
“We can find a way-” Cas began, but Benny held up his hand.
“Somebody’s got to keep an eye on those two,” he said. “So don’t either of you worry about me.”
Just then, Dean broke through the rust. He opened the door and faint tendrils of shadow drifted out of it.
“You can’t just leave us here,” an enraged voice said. They turned to see Lucifer and Michael standing angrily at the top of the hill. In their ire, they had fully expanded their wingspans, however it was clear they had been mutilated from their former elegant and breathtaking states. Now, Lucifer was missing half a wing on his great expanse of blackened feathers, many of which had fallen off and those that remained were frail and coarse. Michael’s once golden wings were now polluted with a mixture of blood, and mud. Many of the golden feathers faded into a smoky color, having been fried by Michael’s own holy lightning. Perhaps Dean should have felt pity, but the bloating on Cas’s face made him forget that.
“We’ll be trapped here forever,” Lucifer hissed.
“Heaven will collapse without us,” Michael spit.
“You poor souls,” Dean snapped. He handed Michael’s now weathered sword to Benny, giving him one last encouraging slap on his back. “Give ‘em hell for me.”
“My pleasure,” Benny said, taking the sword with a smile.
With that, Dean thrusted the door open. He vaguely heard yelling from Michael and Lucifer, and even saw a flash of light, but the darkness that swallowed him, Cas and Sam quickly blocked that out.
When it spit them out again, they fell onto a cold stone floor. Dean jumped up and locked the door with a satisfying click. They observed the strange monastery room they were in, and tried to pinpoint the source of the ambient red light leaking in through the windows. The door at the opposite end of the room opened. A short man in a black suit poked his head in.
“What’s all the racket in here?” he asked in an irritated Scottish accent.
“Where’s the exit?” Dean asked, too exhausted to answer questions. The British man raised his eyebrow and his frown deepened.
“It’s not that easy to get out of Hell,” he warned. Dean and Cas looked at each other with a glances of annoyance. The Ring that was still wrapped around Dean’s finger began to glow menacingly.
“Where’s the exit?” Dean repeated unblinkingly. The man shrunk away from the Ring and pointed towards a door down the hallway.
“Thanks,” Dean said as he, Sam and Cas walked out.