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Fic: Devil's Arcade (9/14)

oooooooooooooo

Well the heart that hurts is a heart that beats
Can you hear the drummer slowing?
--U2, "One Step Closer"

oooooooooooooo

Why am I so stupid? Sam berated himself. Why did I have to tell them they had nothing on me when Dean's here to be tortured in my place?

Not that they had "nothing" on him, exactly: the knife at his throat was the same one that had earlier sliced his forearm, and even though it was barely touching his skin, Sam could feel that it was honed to a fine, sharp edge. The grip on his hair was firm and the hand holding the knife was steady, and it occurred to him that this was not the first time these men had interrogated humans. You couldn't get so close to a demon or a spirit without putting yourself in danger, no matter how many charms or sigils you used, so they couldn't have gotten their experience that way. These guys knew what they were doing, and the fear that had been burning through Sam's veins all night flared a little bit brighter.

He couldn't tell them what they wanted to know. He couldn't admit what he'd tried to do in order to bring Dean back: not to his brother and certainly not to these hunters. One quick motion with that knife was all it would take to slit his throat, and he had no doubt that they'd do it once they heard what he had to say.

Of course, by that point, Dean would probably never want to speak to him again either, so maybe his life might as well be over.

His internal battle was cut short as Harry hauled on the rope, straining against Dean's weight but still managing to lift him up so that Dean had to stretch himself as tall as he could, rising on to his toes to try and keep his weight off the rope. But one more tug from the lanky young man would send Dean swinging.

And then Harry wrapped the slack rope around his hands and gave a sharp pull.

"All right!"

Sam's shout rang out in the building, and the room suddenly went still. Dean let out a strangled croak, and Harry instantly let go of the rope, sending Dean crashing into a pile on the floor. Sam had to fight his automatic response of lunging forward, cursing yet again at the sharp blade against his neck.

"All right, what?" came Tom's menacing response.

Sam flicked his eyes downward meaningfully. Tom nodded grudgingly, and the knife was removed from his throat. He hastily looked over at Dean, who was doggedly struggling to sit upright, pushing himself up with his bound hands and tilting his head back as he sucked in air. Sam let his eyes linger over him for a moment, aware that what he was about to say might change everything between them.

Not that he had much of a choice.

"I tried to make a deal," he said steadily. "That's what you wanted to know, right?"

Tom lowered himself back into the extra chair facing Sam. "Go on," he drawled.

Licking his parched lips, Sam lowered his eyes to the ground. "I summoned a crossroads demon. Two weeks after…" After I buried my brother. He still couldn't say it aloud, even all these months later.

"Sam, no," Dean rasped out.

Sam briefly looked over at him, not sure if Dean was objecting to what he was hearing or the fact that Sam was saying anything at all. He gave a tiny, apologetic shrug and went on, "It wasn't one I'd met before, but she knew who I was."

"So what'd you offer?" asked Joe from behind him. "The usual?"

The usual. Sam couldn't help the twitch of his lips. Would that be the offer that his father and brother had made, or the one that his mother had? God, we are a messed-up family. "No," he said. "I'd already tried that, and it didn't work."

"They didn't want a soul like yours?" came the reply, one hand grabbing the back of his head by the hair.

Sam grunted, afraid the knife was coming back. On the floor, Dean started to rise, but Harry grabbed the rope that was still around his neck and yanked it, sending him off balance and collapsing back down.

"Damn it, lay off!" Sam called out angrily. Then, figuring the best thing he could do for Dean was to go on with his explanation, he said, "No, it wasn't enough." He grimaced, remembering what had happened the previous night, the outright refusal to deal from the demon in the business suit who'd told Sam they had everything exactly how they wanted it. After Ruby's unexpected defection to his side and him kicking her out of the car when she told him she couldn't help, he'd decided to give it one more shot.

"God, Sam, what did you do?"

The raspy question from Dean hurt his ears, but he had to answer it. He licked his lips again and looked down at the blood-spattered floor at his feet. "I made her another offer."

"C'mon, get on with it." Tom's voice was shading towards menacing.

Sam took a deep breath and opened his mouth. Then he closed it again, shaking his head. He'd sworn he would never tell a soul what he had offered up to the petite blonde demon who laughed at him underneath the bright moonlight at an Indiana crossroads. He sure as hell wasn't going to tell Dean what he'd been willing to do. His brother would never speak to him again.

"Harry." Tom's voice broke the silence, and he gestured with a thumb towards Dean, who'd managed to make it to his knees.

A second later, Harry had pulled hard on the rope in his hands, and Dean's eyes bulged as he scrambled to his feet to try and reduce the pressure around his neck. But as Sam watched in horror, Harry pulled the rope tighter, until Dean was being lifted off the ground.

"Stop!" Sam shouted frantically. "Stop, damn it!"

Dean struggled for air for a second longer until the rope slackened, though not enough to send him to the ground again. He was stuck there with the noose around his neck, swaying on his feet, his eyes locked on Sam with a desperate plea in them. And if Sam knew his brother, it was a plea for him to keep his mouth shut.

I'm sorry, Sam said with his eyes. Then he looked away, fixing his gaze on the worn boards of the wall of the barn. There was no way he could say this while looking at Dean. He would simply come undone.

"When I was six months old," he began, "the yellow-eyed demon came to me." He distantly heard Dean try to tell him to stop, but he plunged on. "He did something so that when I turned twenty-two, I started to have visions." This was nothing the hunters wouldn't already know, and he really didn't want to talk about the blood dripping into his infant mouth. "There were a bunch of us, I later found out, all marked the same way." Sam swallowed. "We, uh, we were brought to this ghost town and told we had to fight it out amongst ourselves."

"Go on," the older man drawled, the light in his eyes not exactly reassuring.

Sam's gaze shifted back to the wall, feeling Dean's eyes boring into him from the side. "Whoever won was supposed to be the leader of an army, a human who had the power to command demons." He took one more breath, living his last moments before rocking the world on its axis for his brother. Then he went on. "I thought that even if the yellow-eyed demon was gone, there might still be an army to lead."

Maybe he wouldn’t have to come out and say it. Maybe they could all connect the dots themselves.

"Go on," came the repeated command more insistently.

Sam closed his eyes. So much for wishful thinking. "So that was my offer."

There was dead silence. Sam waited behind the darkness of his eyelids, unable to face anyone in the room, least of all the person who meant most to him in the world.

Then Dean broke the silence like the shattering of glass. "You did what?" The voice was barely recognizable as his, not only from the hoarseness brought on by his near-strangulation, but the cold mixture of fury and disbelief that was pretty much exactly how Sam had heard it in his head whenever he'd toyed with the idea of telling Dean the truth.

"Let me get this straight, boy." Tom leaned forward, forearms on his thighs, his voice deceptively calm. "You told a demon that you would lead a freakin' army of their kind? You would turn your back on the human race and lead them against us?"

"I didn't mean it." Sam winced even as he spoke the words, knowing how stupid they would sound.

Sure enough, Dean pounced. "You didn't mean it? What the hell, Sam? How can that possibly make a frickin' bit of difference? Demons don't care what you mean, they care what you say. And you said you'd—" He stopped abruptly, apparently unable to repeat Sam's words.

Sam finally opened his eyes and faced his brother. "I didn't say how long I would lead them for, I didn't say what I would do, I didn't say anything like that. It would have been perfectly within the bounds of agreement to lead them around in circles and right back down into Hell."

"You do know you never actually made it into law school, right, Sam?" The words were cutting, but Dean wasn't exactly trying to spare his feelings. "You can't make a deal like that and expect it to stick. You didn't think she could see right through your little offer and twist it around however she wanted? What the hell were you thinking?"

"I was thinking about you!" Sam exploded. "I was thinking about what she was telling me they were doing to you. What they'd already done and what they were planning next and how many years it was going to take and how it was never, ever, ever going to stop. I was thinking about you, Dean." The last was said nearly in a whisper, his eyes locked on his brother's as if they were the only two people in the room, as if their lives weren't hanging in the balance.

The voice in front of him soon shattered that illusion. "So when does it start?"

Sam tore his gaze away. "What?"

"When does it start? The invasion?"

He stared at Tom for a moment uncomprehendingly until it kicked in, and he shook his head. "There is no invasion."

Suddenly his head was yanked back and the knife was at his throat again. Sam felt his breath speed up and heard Dean trying to yell off on the side, but his attention was overwhelmingly taken up by the sharp bite of metal just over his jugular. A fraction of an inch closer, and his lifeblood would spill all over the floor.

"There's no invasion," he ground out past his clenched jaw. "She wouldn't make the deal."

For a moment, the only thing Sam could hear was his own quick breathing whistling through his clenched teeth. Then the knife moved away and his head was shoved forward. "The hell you talking about?" the man behind him barked. "Your brother's alive, isn't he?"

"Not because of me," Sam muttered, feeling shame and helplessness spreading through him as quickly as the line of blood trickling down towards his collarbone.

"Wait a minute here." The slow cadence of Tom's voice was almost like Bobby's, and Sam's head shot up at the sound. "You offered your services as a leader of demons to an actual demon, she turned you down, and yet your brother is still standing here?" When Sam nodded, he went on, "Then what else did you offer?"

Sam shook his head, tensing as he anticipated another threat to himself or his brother. "There was nothing else to offer," he said bitterly.

"Come on, if you were willing to trade your abilities for your brother's life, surely you could have offered something else."

Sam couldn't help the snort that escaped him. "You've got it wrong," he said.

"Excuse me?" The tone was definitely more menacing now.

"The offer," Sam replied. "It wasn't to bring Dean back to life." He looked over at his brother, swallowing hard at the shattered look on his face that said he'd probably completely destroyed the other man's view of him and their relationship in the balance. But if he could do one thing here, he had to try and at least get him to understand this, the lengths Sam was willing to go to in order to save him. He licked his lips and went on, "I couldn't get that much out of them. It was only to get him out of Hell."

Dean sucked in a sharp breath, his eyes widening. "Sammy," he said so quietly it was almost inaudible, his tone one of disbelief.

Sam felt moisture prickling his eyes, and he furiously blinked it away. Did Dean really not understand what he meant to him or what it had done to Sam to know the torments Dean was suffering on his behalf?

But then as he watched, the disbelief on his brother's face slowly changed to something like anger. "That was stupid, Sam," he rasped. "Really dumb move."

He blinked at Dean, dumbfounded. Before he could say anything, Tom spoke up, looking at Dean as he said, "Seems like we agree on something, boy." Then after a moment, he turned back to Sam. "So your deal failed. What else did you do?"

"I told you, nothing," Sam sullenly replied. He could feel the waves of anger coming off of his brother. Damn it, Dean, he thought. Why do you think you're so unworthy? Why do you think I could just leave you there to rot for eternity?

"Harry," Tom called out.

"Stop it!" Sam shouted, desperate to avert another round with the noose. "Damn it, I'm telling the truth! You don't need to hurt him any more."

"You're lying, boy," Tom snapped. "You want to know how I know?" Without waiting for an answer, he went on, "You know how the FBI pays attention to what people buy, makes a note in a file somewhere if there's a little too much fertilizer that comes off the shelves at one time, stuff like that?" He folded his arms across the back of the chair. "I got a friend who's like that. Makes it his business to track unusual sorts of purchases among the hunting community. Like, say, the amount of angelica most hunters might burn through in a couple of years being bought up all at once."

"So, what, there's no Costco for hunters?" Dean interjected, and Sam felt a flicker of relief at the familiar sarcastic tone. "No buying in bulk?"

"You know better than that, you idiot." It was Joe, shooting him a dark look before looming over Sam again. "Supplies don't keep forever. And since we know you don't need angelica to perform an exorcism," he said to Sam while nodding towards the dark stain on the floor, "you must have needed it for something else."

"What makes you think it was me?" Sam asked in a level voice, schooling his features into as blank a façade as he could manage. He clearly remembered making those purchases, buying out three different apothecaries over the course of a 500-mile drive to spread out the purchases and to obtain the large quantities he needed of some unusual items.

It had been the day before the Fourth of July, and he'd never felt less like celebrating a holiday in his entire life.

"Security camera at one store, descriptions at the other." Tom glared at him. "Then there was the consecrated silver-and-gold chalice stolen from a church two days earlier along that same route. A man can go to Hell for stealing from a church, you know."

Sam swallowed. He'd meant to return that once he had determined he didn't need it, but now he remembered that it was still buried in the trunk of the Impala. "Sounds like a lot of circumstantial evidence," he said, injecting more confidence into his voice than he really felt. "What exactly are you accusing me of?"

"This isn't a trial, boy," Joe retorted, holding his knife up in front of Sam's face as if to show him his own blood staining the blade. "You've already been convicted by a jury of your peers. But we need to know exactly how far you went."

"Convicted of what?" Dean demanded hoarsely.

"The chalice wasn't the only thing my friend heard about that went missing," Tom replied. "Right about the same time, one of the few complete copies of the Book of Eibon disappeared from a library in Baltimore."

Dean scoffed. "That doesn't even exist. H.P. Lovecraft made it up."

Sam didn't have time to wonder how his brother knew that, because Harry responded almost gleefully from his position at the wall, "That's what you think."

"Sam?" Dean asked, and the urgency of his tone said he was asking about more than the fictional status of a book of black magic.

It took more strength than Sam ever thought it could possibly take to raise his head and face his brother. "It's real," he said quietly.

Dean looked back at him, all of the fear that had been on his face after Sam's eviction of the demon shining through in his wide-open eyes and the grim set of his jaw. "What are you saying?" he whispered.

He looked back at Dean, willing him to hear him out before jumping to judgment. The hell with everyone else in the room—they had already made up their minds. All that mattered at this point was his brother.

"It's a real book," he began quietly. "It contains instructions for raising someone from the dead, bringing them back from Hell. Not as a revenant, but actually bringing them back to life." Sam licked his lips and went on, "It involves opening a Devil's Gate and summoning the one person you want while keeping every demon at bay. It's not easy, but it can be done."

Dean flinched, and Sam could see the doubt creeping into his face—doubt of Sam and what he was capable of.

And for the first time in his life, Sam knew his brother was afraid of him.

"I didn't use it," Sam added quickly, wanting to erase that look from Dean's face. "I swear, I didn't."

"Then what did you get it for?" Dean asked, his voice scraping over his abused throat.

"I was desperate," he answered, leaning forward in the chair until the ropes held him back. "I obviously wasn't going to be able to make a deal, and I…I had to do something."

Two months of attempted demon-killing had only gone so far to assuage his guilt and sorrow, and Ruby had been right when she said she was going to be of no help getting him what he really wanted. Bobby had tried to watch his back for a while, until Sam had realized that he wasn't going to be able to get done what he needed to with the older man watching over his shoulder, and so he'd deliberately drifted away from him.

It was probably a good thing, too; Bobby might not have retained the same conviction Dean did that the younger Winchester wasn't going to go dark side at some point, given some of the things he was planning. Bobby might well have decided to carry out John's final wish.

Sam had no idea what would have happened then.

So he'd struck out on his own, not wanting Bobby or Ruby or anyone else to talk him out of it. He knew he could do it with some time and some very careful preparations. And up until the end, he'd been sure he could do it.

"Then what were ya doing in Wyoming?" Tom snarled. "With the book in hand and all those things you'd been stealing?"

Sam swallowed hard, remembering the hot July evening when he'd been back at the graveyard where he'd last seen his father and the yellow-eyed demon, ready to do something the former would have been horrified by and the latter would have watched with glee. He drew in a deep breath and went on, "I gathered everything I needed, but then I didn't go through with it."

"Lost your nerve?" Joe asked abruptly.

Sam grimaced, thinking of Ruby's sudden appearance in the graveyard and her graphic description of how if he was lucky, he'd blow himself up casting the spell—but if he was unlucky, things could get worse than he could possibly imagine. "I guess you could say that," he replied, not taking his eyes off his brother.

Damn it, but he'd never wanted to have this conversation, much less with three armed men listening to every word they said. He figured he was pretty much screwed at this point; given what they'd seen him do and heard him say, they weren't likely to let him go. But if he could get across to them that Dean had nothing to do with anything Sam might have done, or tried to do, then maybe at least his brother could get away.

Dean was scrutinizing his face, trying to read his expression. His eyes flickered to the two men standing guard behind Sam, then back to his face. Ruby? he mouthed.

Sam gave a tiny nod. Dean dropped his eyes to the ground, and Sam bit his lip. He could read Dean's expression as clearly as if he had spoken: Never thought I'd be grateful to that demon bitch for anything.

If you only knew, Dean, he thought.

"Where's the book?" Tom demanded.

"I burned it," Sam said, dragging his gaze away from his brother to focus on the older hunter.

"You did what?" Tom shot to his feet. "Do you have any idea how dangerous—"

"I did it the right way, okay? I know you can't just set a match to it," Sam snapped back. Bobby had told him what to do when Sam had explained that the book had happened to fall into his hands. He knew the older hunter hadn't believed the story of happenstance for a second, but since it was clear that the book hadn't actually been used, there was no harm done. "It's gone. That's all you need to know."

"That's all we need to know, huh?" Joe demanded, grabbing the top of Sam's head one more time and baring his throat. "Let us be the judge of that."

"I think he's right, Joe." Tom's voice was final, judgmental. "I think we've heard all we need to."

There was a horrible pause while Sam waited for Joe to bring the knife up to his throat and slice across it. He closed his eyes, not willing to let anyone else in the barn see the fear that must be shining through them. Just do it already, he thought, his mind casting back to a dingy motel room and a newly-risen Ruby holding her knife to his jaw. He'd been ready then, and he was ready now.

Because to some extent, he knew that he deserved this. He was a traitor of sorts—not entirely human, willing to use these demon-given powers of his when an emissary of God Himself had told him not to, willing to make horrible deals with the devil and damn the consequences. Maybe John Winchester's worst fears had already come true, not in an explosion of black-eyed violence, but more subtly, through the choices he'd made and the things he'd been willing to do. Maybe it was better for everyone if the man behind him sliced his throat and it was all over. At least he wouldn't have to fight temptation anymore, wouldn't have to worry about damning his own soul by doing what he thought was saving others.

At least Dean wouldn't have to worry about him going dark side anymore.

Suddenly, Joe let go of his hair and shoved his head forward before moving around to stand in front of him. Instead of cutting his throat, the sharp knife sliced through the ropes around his ankles, nicking his skin in the process and making him twitch away in reflex. When the ropes across his chest were cut as well, he didn't have time to flex his stiff muscles before a hand on his shoulder shoved him forward. Sam stumbled onto his knees, cursing his stiff legs for keeping him from springing to his feet as he wondered why he had been cut loose.

It wasn't until he felt the gun muzzle at the back of his head that he understood.

This was to be his execution.

(Chapter 10)

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