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cyndrarae

Rebelling against Reality since 2003

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SPN: Sam S4 - sad face grey tshirt
cyndrarae

SPN fic: Of little faith (Gen, R, S5 AU, no spoilers)

Title: Of little faith
Summary
: Sam is desperate to get past everything that happened between him and Dean. But Dean is adamant about holding on to his grudges for eternity. Meanwhile the Devil decides to take advantage of a vulnerable Sam to solve some of his own brotherly issues. Castiel and Dean race to save Sam, before it's too late, before Dean loses Sam to the dark side again, this time for good. Post S4 finale. AU to S5, whatever it turns out to be.
Rating: Mild R (Gen)
Warnings: Violence, torture (not graphic), language, blatant misuse of angel-demon mythology, may also be viewed as blasphemy. All I can say in my defence is: Kripke started it.
Disclaimer: I don’t own these characters. They belong to Kripke and CW. Not for profit.
Author Notes: This came pouring out two nights ago. Purely coincidental that I’m posting this on the eve of the new season premiere. *shrugs*. And please don’t spoil me – I won’t be able to watch the new episode until next week. I am staying away from all news and promos too so please bear with me.
Word Count: 9000

***


Prologue

Dean stretches his aching legs out and puts them up on the table, leaning back in the old mahogany chair. The bartender throws him a disapproving glance from behind the safety of his bar. Dean of course ignores him.

“You’re making a habit out of this.”

A voice softly echoes by his side, Dean didn’t need to look up from his shot glass to know who it belongs to. “This being what?”

“Drinking alone?”

Dean downs his drink and licks his lips. “You’re just worried I’m not watching Sammy.”

“Well, that too. But mostly I’m just worried you’d be too busy attending AA meetings while the rest of us are fending off the apocalypse.”

Dean snorts. “That’s… that’s a good one. You’re getting better every day, Cas.”

Castiel looks around the bar, spots the nosey bartender staring at him, wondering where in hell the angel came from, and just smiles back.

“By the way, why is it the apocalypse hasn’t hit us already, huh?” Dean asks, a deep frown etched into his forehead as he narrows his eyes at Castiel. “It’s been a month. What is He waiting for anyway?”

“That’s what I’m trying to find out.”

“Maybe He doesn’t want to end the world after all? I mean, come on… what would He do – where will He find his daily dose of entertainment if He kills us all, huh?” Dean is only half-joking at this point, and in response Castiel just sighs and looks around the seedy little joint.

“According to the writings of Gregory of Nyssa, all sins may be redeemed after the passage of two ages. There are several interpretations of the text of course. But most of them agree the ‘ages’ here refers to the age of life itself. Every last living being on this planet, born and annihilated and re-born from the ashes. Only to be destroyed again. After which…”

“After which?”

“After which, they say God will give up on mankind for good, and the Devil and all the fallen angels will eventually be saved.”

Dean frowns. “That’s the most fucked up thing I’ve ever heard my whole life. One, your precious God’s already given up on us. And two, does He really expect to be forgiven after destroying life twice? Woah, wait a minute… why does the Devil want to be saved at all??”

Castiel smiles at him eerily. “Everyone seeks salvation and forgiveness from God, Dean. Even Lucifer. Word is, He’s been infinitely miserable since Father cast Him out of heaven. He misses him.”

“Tell Him to join the club.”

Castiel ignores the interruption. “Apart from the fact that His dearest brother, one they say He couldn’t be without, is now also turned dead against Him…”

Dean thinks about it, swishes it around in his mouth with his liquor, blinks once, and pours himself another shot of Jack. “Well, boo-hoo.” He throws it down in one go. “Brothers are so fucking overrated.”

Castiel shakes his head again. “You shouldn’t have left Sam alone.”

“Relax. He’s at the next bar.”

“You’re supposed to be watching him.”

Dean smiles, and it’s the first genuine expression he’s flashed Castiel with all night.

“When did I ever stop?”


*** A fool returneth to his folly ***

Castiel first appeared outside Rufus’ in the middle of a moonless night. Seven days after his vessel was torn to shreds, his essence snatched and banished to the dark oppressiveness of the Limbo of the Partiarchs.

Remnants of a long-suffering scream still clung to his vessel’s tonsils, and Castiel could only apologize profusely, over and over again, to the human he possessed. The pain he suffered, the agony of being ripped apart and put back together again – no human could survive, but Jimmy Novak did. Because he wanted to.

Castiel isn’t sure that’s necessarily a good thing.

Anna was there to greet him, hug him, and pull his still trembling form inside the ramshackle house she’d herself sought refuge from both sides in. Ever since the Rising, as they’d taken to call it.

They let him rest for all of four earth hours, which were nowhere near enough. But that was all he was afforded, before Anna came to him with extraordinary news.

“We have Naburus.”

“How?”

“Lucifer ordered his first Legion to come after all hunters first. Rufus being Rufus, caught him in a Devil’s trap instead. He’s upstairs.”

Naburus had chosen a drop-dead gorgeous vessel to possess, platinum blond, high cheekbones, one that sat bloody and restrained to a hardbacked chair in the middle of the kitchen. At first he didn’t cooperate, of course. But Rufus didn’t have a fierce and infallible reputation second only to the late John Winchester for nothing. He broke Naburus down and once he started singing, he just wouldn’t stop.

“He weeps,” the demon whispered, his head lowered all the way into his lap with his hands bound behind his back, almost as if he were talking to himself. “He weeps a lot.”

Castiel frowned even though it hurt to do so, understanding and not yet ready to believe it yet. It was supposed to be like one of those… what Dean would call an urban legend. None of God’s creations is supposed to have known as much pain and agony as Lucifer did. Still does.

“The first three days all He did was cry until His tears were red with His meatsuit’s blood.”

“…”

“He went through at least a hundred different bodies, both men and women, like clothes. Putting one on and scrutinizing Himself in the mirror. If He didn’t like it, He gutted and discarded it immediately. Others got worn for longer, until He got bored and tore them open to shreds, only to find another one.”

“Vanity,” Anna shook her head. “He hasn’t changed one bit.”

“What is He planning to do next?” Rufus fired.

Shockingly, it was infinitely harder to have the Devil out free and quiet, than have Him raging and wreaking havoc like everyone expected Him to. There was no killing the Devil, this much they all knew. It just wasn’t… possible. All they could hope to achieve was somehow put Him back to sleep for another two thousand years. Mankind would very likely end up blowing themselves and this planet up all on their own before that anyway. Of course that particular problem was out of scope for the moment.

“Where is He headed? Why are demons congregating in Wisconsin? Is that where He is?” Rufus continued, as Naburus coughed up more blood, spilling it down his chin and neck.

“No… I don’t know. Something about a… a brother, maybe, I don’t know…”

They didn’t get anything else out of him that night. Castiel could no longer aspire to stretch his aching form out on that blessed human contraption they call ‘bed’. There was so much work to do – even if he had no idea what exactly it was.

Anna stopped him before he could teleport to go find the Winchesters. She assured him they were fine, that she’d gotten them out just in time. But he wanted to go check on Dean for himself anyway.

“It’s not like Lucifer seemed in any big hurry to pick a fight, anyway.”

“Huh. Bet Dean must have been disappointed.”

Anna smiled. “Of course.”

She took a step closer. “Castiel? There’s something else…”

“What is it?”

“When you see Dean, perhaps you should give him this.”

She held out her hand and dropped something onto Castiel’s open palm. It was a silver cross, with a sparkling blue sapphire embellished into the center.

“It was a gift… blessed by Gabriel himself, back when he and I were on talking terms. Dean is going to need it.”

On the seventh night after the Rising, Castiel returned to Dean.



*** Though he slay me, yet I will trust in him ***

The first night, Dean opened the door to the panic room, pushed it aside and waited. Sam walked in willingly. If he’d known what was going to follow, he never would have gone in, not without a fight.

Like before, they left him on his own for six nights. They brought him food and water and clothes to change into. Blankets when he got so cold he could hear his teeth rattling, ice packs when he got so hot he thought his skin was on fire. Bobby spent more time inside with him than on the outside, and Sam quietly hoped Dean would come in instead, even as he knew that was the last thing Dean wanted to do.

On the seventh night though, Dean came.

Together with Bobby, he strapped Sam to the bed and only when they were sure he couldn’t get away, did he start explaining things to him. They weren’t exactly asking for his consent, but it would be nice to have it, of course. That was the night it started. Sam was as brave as he could be for as long as he could. By the time the tenth night rolled in though, and they laid him down and strapped him in, Sam couldn’t bear it anymore.

“Bobby, please, tell him to stop,” he pleaded but the old man just looked away with his suspiciously limpid eyes. “I need a break. Just for a day, Dean, please…”

Dean sighed heavily, held Sam’s face in both his hands and hissed. “Trust me. Just… for once, please just trust me.”

Sam couldn’t not laugh at the fucking irony of it. If only he’d trusted Dean instead of Ruby, he wouldn’t be in this situation at all. He turned his face away to cry, and it was taken by the other two men as indicative consent. Dean pulled a nearby trolley to himself that held a glass bowl filled with water to the brim and a couple of cloth rags by its side. Dean dipped one into the water and brought the wet rag over to Sam’s bed. Sam saw it coming and panicked, starting to writhe and struggle in vain. Bobby held him down as Dean held the rag over Sam’s forehead and squeezed.

The liquid splashed across his face, and it felt like the skin was being burnt right off. Sam smelt the pungent, hallucinatory charring of flesh, hot gushes of steam clouded his vision of the silver chain hanging off the rim of the bowl and the majestic silver cross lying at the bottom. Sam heard the angry sizzling of holy water as it made its way across the bridge of his nose, into his screaming mouth and down the exposed column of his throat. Worst of all, he felt it. The sheer agony was… unbearable, indescribable, insurmountable. Sam wondered if this was how Dean felt every single day of the thirty years he spent on the rack. He wondered how his brother could have possibly held out that long. He couldn’t take it another fucking second.

Through half shut and possibly scalded eyelids, he watched Dean’s face wincing and dissolving into tears himself. But that didn’t stop him from dipping the second rag into the bowl of damned holy water. This one he stuffed down Sam’s throat, at once gagging and amplifying Sam’s screams with it. Dean held one hand over his mouth, keeping the burning fabric in him, forcing him to swallow down the antidote that his poisoned body was refusing to accept.

Through the haze of fire and pain he felt his big brother press his forehead against his, whispering over and over…

“Trust me, Sammy, please just trust me…”

**

Eighteenth night, Dean stepped in through the door with a fresh set of clothes for Sam. The younger Winchester was curled up in an old eighteenth century ironcast bath tub that was dragged downstairs as part of the cleansing ritual two weeks ago.

It was all calm and quiet tonight. Sam’s eyes were closed, his gangly forearms hung off the sides and pale white knees jutted out of the water where he’d folded his legs to fit into the confines of the tub. Dean smirked and shook his head.

“Even as a kid, you were always falling asleep in bath tubs.”

Sam stirred, pulled out of imminent drowsiness by the sound of his brother’s voice and opened his eyes.

“It’s a miracle how you never managed to drown yourself.”

Sam closed his eyes again. “That’s because you were always watching out for me,” he murmured quietly, half hoping Dean wouldn’t actually hear him. His big brother never responded well to mushy sentimental confessions.

Sam heard Dean clear his throat and slowly approach the bath tub. He opened his eyes, not knowing what to expect and painfully aware of his new instinctive need to immediately flinch away . He could see in Dean’s eyes that he knew it too but as always, Dean forged on anyway.

Dean carefully kneeled beside the tub and rolled up his right arm’s sleeve, making a big slow show out of it to make sure Sam knew what he was about to do. Then without asking for permission or even looking at Sam, he put his hand into the bath water, pulling the silver chain and cross out of the water. He jerked it slightly to shake off excess water and stood up, still not looking at Sam.

“Water’s cold, get out before you catch pneumonia or something. Then come up for dinner, whenever you’re ready.”

Sam started. “Are… are you sure?”

Dean was willingly letting him step outside the demon-proof zone?

“Yeah,” he shrugged almost carelessly. Then Dean headed back up the stairs, leaving Sam in a confused but heightened state of relief and anxiety behind him.

**

Dean walked up to the attic and punched in the security code to the room. The door buzzed open and he slipped inside, closing it quickly behind him. Bobby turned from his seat at the controls and stood up with a long, tired sigh.

“You want me to start unhooking all this equipment?” He asked casually.

“Let it be.”

Bobby didn’t get it. “I don’t understand. What do you need surveillance all over my house for, now?”

Dean sat down in the chair vacated by Bobby, looking at the low-resolution video footage from the panic room. He watched as Sam pulled on a gray sweater over his favorite blue jeans and ran his fingers through his wet unkempt hair, gazing at the open door with uncertainty. He could tell his little brother was nervous.

“He’s all okay, son. You can quit your worryin’ now.”

“I’m not worried.”

“What is it then?”

Dean swallowed around the lump in his throat. “I just don’t trust him.”

Bobby froze mid-step. “Dean?”

“Just. Not yet.”


*** He is at hand that doth betray me ***

After making sure the chimeras were fried to a crisp, Dean picked up his sawed off and machete and starting stalking off to the car. Sam gulped down his anger and followed, resolving to talk this out once and for all. He couldn’t carry on like this.

“Dean, you switched to Plan B without waiting for me or even letting me know.”

“…”

Again. This is the second time you’ve left me hanging on a job, man. What the hell??”

When Dean still didn’t respond, Sam broke into a jog unti he’d overtaken Dean, then turned around and halted right in Dean’s face, forcing the older man to stop as well.

“Stop it, man! I’m trying to talk to you!!”

“What the fuck do you want from me, Sammy?”

“Admit it! You still don’t trust me, do you?”

Dean, who’d handled a taxing hunt pretty much all on his own and was still riding the wave of adrenaline, couldn’t seem to stop the rush of words tumbling out of his mouth. “Can you blame me if I don’t?”

Sam froze, eyes wide with hurt so beyond words he couldn’t possibly articulate it. But he tried anyway, his voice low and shaking uncontrollably.

“I’ve been trying, Dean. I do everything you say! What else do I need to do to prove myself?”

Dean nearly shouted out his response but neither the words nor the high volume helped any. “I don’t know, alright?”

“…”

“Look, let’s just go find a room and get some sleep. I’m ready to drop dead right now. We’ll talk in the morning, alright?”

Sam didn’t reply. Mutely he followed as they marched steadily back to the Impala waiting a few hundred yards away. The distance gave the brothers the time to introspect, and regret, but not enough guts to voice their festering feelings.

Dean opened the boot and started to stack their weaponry back in its place, when he noticed Sam grab his duffel bag and start to stalk off towards the highway.

“What the – where you going?”

Sam didn’t respond. He’d hardly taken a few steps away from the car when Dean tackled him from behind. The duffel bag slipped off his shoulder and Sam was hurled back and against the car, with Dean’s hands a stanglehold around his collar.

“This is why I can’t trust you, Sam. Because I never know when you’ll give in to your inner selfish brat and take off on me again.”

The coldness in Dean’s eyes was deeper and more frightening than the bitterness of his words. Sam blinked back the hotness in his own and didn’t even try to get away. It had been nearly a month and Dean’d hardly touched him since the day he was let out of the panic room at Bobby’s, so this violence was in a way, almost as comforting as it was disturbing.

“Why don’t you just let me leave? Spare us both the fucking trouble?”

Dean sneered and let him go at last. “Sorry if you don’t wanna hear this, little brother, but I have to watch you, precisely because I don’t trust you. Hunter, remember?”

Sam closed his eyes, feeling his heart shatter to pieces again. The last time this happened, the last time he’d heard those words and felt this pain, he was hallucinating thanks to the demon blood withdrawal symptoms. But this time, there was no excuse – this time it was for real.

“Don’t even think of trying to run. I’m only going to track you down, you know that.”

Dean’s voice shook with a strange mix of pain and anger that Sam could almost empathise with.

“Get in the car.”

**

Sam waited until Dean showered and changed and headed out to find the nearest place where he could get a hard drink. Then five minutes later, he slipped into his jacket and shoes and strode over to the nearest crossroads where he could find a demon.

“Well, well. Look who’s back for another hit.”

The woman wore black, as usual, snake-like figure slithering out from the dark at his summoning. The conversation that followed was full of the standard demon clichés – To be commander of hell’s armies that wasn’t, after all. It was the frame-up of the millenium and Sam Winchester was the butt of the joke, alright. Yeah yeah, heard it, killed it.

It wasn’t difficult to lure her into a devil’s trap. And even though he didn’t have the super-strength of Azazael’s blood or even his own muscle density from a year ago, Sam grabbed and spun the demon bitch around, strangling her from behind and Ruby’s knife one-sixths way into the side of her throat already – ready to rip it apart.

“Once a junkie, always a junkie. Right, Sammy?”

He could smell the blood now, the rich addictive stink of iron and rust and Sam licked his lips subconsciously. It’d be so easy to just… give in. After all wasn’t that what Dean expected him to do sooner or later anyway?

Dean.

Sam couldn’t help but remember the crushed look on his big brother’s face from last year – every time he lied to Dean and Dean saw right through it , every time Sam lashed out at him physically or emotionally, every time Dean held him against his own chest, tight and immobile, while Bobby hosed them both down with holy water. Sam remembered the words Dean’d flung out not few minutes ago.

“What’s the matter?” It said, “Not drunk enough to get it up?”

Sam raised the knife above his head, giving the demon enough time. It saw it coming and tore out of the possessed dietician’s mouth in a cloud of black smoke, disappearing into the ether. The woman came to a second later, and asked pathetically where she was. Sam raised a still shaking hand and pointed in the direction of the nearest gas station.

Then he turned around and started walking, away from the motel.



*** And the land shall mourn, every family apart ***

Countless shots of Jack later, Dean was still stone cold sober. He cursed some more at his little brother and by midnight, he figured he might as well give it up and go get some sleep. Unfortunately, sleep was the last thing he was going to get for the next two days.

By the time he got back to their motel room, Sam and his duffel bag were gone.

If he were honest to himself, Dean couldn’t say he was surprised. The confrontation earlier that evening couldn’t have gone worse if they’d tried. True Dean hadn’t been able to completely forgive Sam yet. True he still wasn’t able to blindly trust his brother the way he once did, before last year that is. But why the hell did he have to be so brutally honest about it?

Tracking the trail down was easy as pie, and Dean soon discovered Sam wasn’t even trying. Almost like, he wasn’t actually running away for good. Just – getting away for a while, maybe? By the break of dawn it was obvious where he was headed.

Dean rolled his eyes in exasperation almost as much as relief as he charted a course for Bobby’s junkyard two hours away.

“Hey Bobby,” he greeted when the older hunter picked up his phone. “Sammy there yet?”

“Kinda.”

“Kinda?”

“What did you idjits fight about this time?”

Dean didn’t want to reply, but apparently Bobby didn’t actually need an answer anyway. “Where is he?”

“Downstairs. In the panic room.”

Dean frowned, not sure what to make of that. “What is he doing there?”

There was a short pause, after which Bobby’s worry crackled sharply over the line. “Dean, you better get here quick. I don’t know how to handle this.”

Dean hung up and stepped on it.

He pulled into the backyard and jumped out of the Impala to run into the house. His first instinct was to run upstairs to the attic first. And sure enough, that was where he found Bobby, sitting on a swivel chair in front of the multiple security monitors. Thank God Bobby hadn’t dismantled the equipment yet. Dean pulled in a hurried breath and walked up closer, only to find Bobby staring blankly away at a – an equally blank room on the grainy, black and white screen.

Dean frowned and looked around at other screens as well, multiple cameras fitted at different places trained at different parts of the room. All empty.

“Where is he?”

This time Bobby’s the one who refused to reply. Dean let out a frustrated grunt and adjusted the camera angles, only to find some more of absolutely nothing. He was ready to snap at the old man by this point, and sensing this, Bobby calmly reached for the volume control, and turned it up to maximum.

That was when Dean heard it.

Sam used to do this until he was about nine. Every time John yelled, he would run to Dean and let his little temper tantrums fly before his big brother, who would take it all in patiently with long suffering sighs but listen to him and hug him and swing him around a bit until little Sammy was suitably distracted. Every time Sam got angry at Dad, he would just scream and yell which in turn made Dad mad and yell back and once again he came running to Dean with his complaints, needing for Dean to make it all okay. Every time Sam got mad at Dean, which was often as a matter of fact what with Dean forced to be the de facto parent, imposing rules and boundaries on his playtime and shit, Sam would once again choose Dean as the honorary recipient of his whining and fit-throwing.

But then there were times when Dean himself would get mad at Sam. Sam didn’t know what to do then, who to go to with his wails. Dean getting mad, though admittedly rare, basically meant “Give me a break, Sam. Just… leave me alone okay?” and he would stalk off to find a spot far far away from Sam where he could vent his frustrations in peace. Those were times when Sam was the one left alone, feeling lost and guilty, and more scared than he’d ever been in his short, innocent life. That’s when he would do this.

Dean strode down to the panic room, opened the door as gently as he could. Not like it helped – the door was a giant-ass old, consecrated iron thing, compelled to make a loud screeching noise every time someone so much as touched it by design. The breathless but silent sniveling inside suddenly stopped and it became deathly silent. Dean wondered how Sam had managed to maneuver and curl his Sasquatchian self up under the freakishly low bunk bed at all. Some childhood instincts just never went away, he guessed.

He pulled a chair next to the bed, sat down on it heavily. Rested his elbows on his knees and leaned forward, rubbing his brows with tired hands and unable to think of a single thing to say. He was supposed to be good at this. He’d always managed to talk Sam out of his standard hiding place. Sure he was a little out of practice, like by about eighteen years, but surely his childhood instinct had stood the test of time just as well as Sam’s had?

Minutes ticked by, maybe hours, and he still couldn’t think of anything.

What could he possibly say to fix this? Should he just lie? Tell Sammy he was sorry for saying the things he said? And really the bigger question was - did he even want to?

Dean sat there in chokehold silence for another few minutes, ignoring the constricting of his chest now rising up all the way to his throat. The sniveling from under the bed was completely gone by now, replaced only by Sam’s soft raspless breathing, heavy still but steady.

Dean got up then and left, leaving the panic room door open behind him.



*** The Devil, as a roaring lion, walketh about ***


This is why hunters never play in broad daylight. Or in public. Or on Friday nights. Because some skeptical smart ass who thinks he’s doing the world a favor, always calls the cops on them.

Sam tested the cuffs holding his wrists together behind his back discretely. Defeated, he looked around hoping to catch a glimpse of a familiar dark blond in the crowd. He didn’t find it.

Two men in NYPD uniforms shoved him roughly into the blue and white sedan and took off immediately. No paperwork, no reading his rights, nothing. The driver was a tall, muscular young man with dark olive skin that glistened in the moonlight and a shiny bald head, sharp impressive jawline and long, elegant hands that gripped the steering wheel with vengeance. The other one was even taller, taller than Sam or maybe the same height. He was well-built but leaner, with neatly cropped golden hair and pure white alabaster complexion.

And He was the one with a voice as smooth as the finest single malt, slithering its way through Sam’s senses, sending little sparks of fear coursing up and down his spine.

Well, they sure knew how to pick meatsuits alright.

“What do you want?”

“Straight to the point! I quite admire that quality in you hunters, blasé as it may be.”

Sam tried not to shake too visibly as the man riding shotgun turned to him and trained His unnaturally beautiful blue eyes at Sam.

“Easy, child.” He smirked. “And let us run with patience the race that is set before us, looking unto Jesus, the author and yaddi yaddi yadda… pardon my memory, I must be slipping in my old age…”

Sam scoffed. “Yeah, right.”

A perfect blond eyebrow rose up to meet the equally perfect hairline. “Excuse me?”

“No one knows the Bible better than you. Word for word, semi colon for semi colon.”

The cop smiled, his accent morphing from New York to what Sam could only identify as old world Anglo-Saxony English. “So you know who I am? Why, I’m flattered.”

Sam looked away and out of his window, staring anxiously at the ominous line of trees rushing past him. How long would it take for Dean to realize Sam wasn’t salting and burning a poltergeist in the next bar anymore?

“Something’s different about you today.”

Sam gulped, refusing to be provoked.

“You were shaking like a leaf the last time we met. Hiding behind your big brother, holding on to his sleeve for your dear, pathetic life.”

Sam swallowed hard, resisting the urge to glare into the back of the possessed cop’s head with silent eyes.

“I see,” the cop drawled. “How can you still trust him? After everything that’s happened? After everything he’s said and done?”

Still Sam wouldn’t reply. Soft laughter followed, seductive and almost melodious in sound, creepily so.

“Ah, the ignorance of young, human innocence.” The stress on the word human making Sam feel atrociously ashamed for some strange reason. “After the life you’ve had, frankly I’m surprised you have any left at all, Sammy.”

“It’s Sam,” he ground out, before he could stop himself.

He turned to look at Sam then. Cold eyes piercing through the hunter’s very soul even as that perfect mouth turned up into a vaguely amused smile.

“Not for long.”

Sam frowned, wondering what in hell that was supposed to mean, but too terrified to ask. All he could do was hold on to his faith and wait.

Dean will come for him. He will. He has to.

Least that was what he told himself over and over again.



*** For whom I have suffered the loss of all things ***

Dean nearly crashed the Impala into the parked cop car in his hurry. He came to a skidding halt inches away and stepped out to run into the Camino bar. Only to be intercepted by an angry cop he’d just about rammed into.

“Where do you think you’re going, pal?”

“Oh hey, uh, Officer, I’m looking for my brother. He’s ye high, long brown girly hair, blue checked shirt and brown jacket with tattered je–“

“Sir, your brother has been taken into custody for assault, battery, drunken and disorderly, and attempted arson,” the officer roted, interrupting Dean’s tirade.

“Sam? No way! He wouldn’t hurt a fly!”

The cop ignored him pointedly. “He’s been taken downtown to the 52nd precinct. You should take a lawyer with you. And if you want my advice, he’s going to need a psychiatric assessment asap.”

Then he turned away to document another eyewitness account with no further words for Dean. Dean ground his teeth behind his pursed lips, getting more and more pissed off at his brother for taking off like he did again.

Sam had taken to wrapping up small-time jobs on his own these days and Dean hadn’t had a good reason to object. But see, this was why he should have. Every time Sam got away from him, he managed to get himself into a whole new level of trouble. The last time Dean let Sam slip away, he raised the fucking Devil out of the ground.

“Sonofabitch.”

Dean fumed and got into the Impala, then gunned it for the address the cop gave him, cursing at the top of his lungs all the way.

It kept him from worrying, at least for a little while.

**

The sedan slid gently to a stop and Sam opened his eyes to see why they were stopping. That’s when he realized they weren’t in New York anymore. Literally. Sam looked around, first out one window then the next to try and place his surroundings.

The blond cop turned back to him and smirked. “Michigan. What can I say – I have a weakness for lakes. And wolverines. Fascinating beasts – one of my personal favorites.”

Sam knocked the back of his head against the leather headrest a couple times and stared out the window. Obviously He could teleport them from one place to another in the blink of an eye, like Castiel could. And obviously He could read minds too, duh.

Strangely enough though, He seemed in no hurry to get anywhere. There was almost a calm, gentleman-like quality to His behavior. The air of unquestioned and absolute authority, and unadulterated evil notwithstanding, Sam could actually see elements of ‘angel‘ in there – in His beauty, His composure, in His all-knowing smirk that was so annoying yet so fucking mesmerizing at the same time. No wonder, He was the master of all temptations after all. Couldn’t possibly do it if He wasn’t such a seductive charmer now, could He?

“Why, thank you!”

Sam instructed his mind to shut up and writhed in his bonds again, to no avail. “Why are we still in this stupid car? Can’t you like just… apparate out or something?”

Lucifer sighed in exasperation. “Remind me to gut this Rowling woman next time we’re on the other landmass, Cain, will you?”

The driver smirked. “Be my pleasure.”

Sam winced almost guiltily, just as Lucifer carried on. “Such amazing inventions – these automobiles. You didn’t have any the last time I was here, you know. Let’s just say I’m taking my time to appreciate the wonders of this brave new world you’ve built while I was gone, before I annihilate it.”

Cain chuckled and Lucifer smirked with all His malevolence glowing in His eyes, eyes that Sam would catch a glimpse of every now and then in the rearview mirror and shiver.

“Sorry I left in such a hurry the last time we met. I must always dress for the occasion, you see, especially one as important as finally coming face to face with my… so very handsome saviour.”

Sam ignored the painful reminder of the impending disaster he’s going to be held solely responsible for in years to come. So much for the Gospel of fucking Winchester.

“An NYPD cop? Is that the best you could do?”

“Only the truly previleged, the truly special are chosen to be possessed. They have to be strong enough, and yet susceptible enough. Pure enough with just the perfect dash of sin to make them snug but comfortable for long-term wear. You see?”

Sam gulped a fresh bout of panic down, things starting to fall into place with an ominous click. “What do you want from me?”

No one responded.

“You can’t possess my body. I havea protec–“

“– your brother sealed you shut against demonic possession. I know. But he forgot to angel-proof you, didn't he?”

Silence reigned for another few seconds.

“I-I don’t have demon blood in me anymore. I-If that’s what you’re after.”

“Says who?” The cop smirked, posing the question with the innocence of an, well, not-fallen angel. “You will always have demon blood in you, Sammy. That is your destiny.“

Sam shuddered. No, he thought vehemently. No, no, no…

Lucifer simply laughed. “Ah yes, the heavy duty cleansing ritual! I heard about that. After everything old Azazel went through to groom you to become his first human successor. Such a shame your brother and that no-good Castiel undid it all. Fortunately, Sammy, I happen to have friends in high places. I can fix you right up. Again.”

“Why? Why me?”

The cop turned to him, fixing him with a look that sent fresh shudders down Sam’s spine. “Are you afraid now?”

Sam’s tongue froze up in his mouth. Lucifer shook His head, and tsked him.

“Sam. Sam. Look what you’ve done. You lost faith in the only person who ever truly loved you for you, selflessly. Who kept you safe, and would have continued to do so if you hadn’t given in to your sinful greed for power.”

I didn’t do it for power, Sam thought. I just wanted to keep him safe for a change…

“Did you really?”

“He… he was di-different when he got out of h-hell …”

“Does that help you sleep at night, then?”

Sam looked away, unable to hold the burning gaze anymore.

“I know what it feels like, Sammy… I’ve been there, on both sides of that age-old family tradition. The betrayer, and the betrayed.”

Surely that wasn’t pain Sam imagined in the softly echoing rumble of the cop’s voice?

Trust, like all of your other disgusting human failings – love, hate, respect – is nothing more than an exercise in futility if unrequited. All it gets you is pain. I had – have – a little brother too, you know. He let me down, just like you let Dean down. But I’m a strong believer in good old American family values, you see. Get that from my Father’s side.”

Cain sniggered and Lucifer smiled at him adoringly, caressing the side of his chiseled black jaw with elegantly long fingers.

“So the plan is this – I’m going to get my little brother back, punish the hell out of him until he can’t walk straight, and then forgive him. And I’ll keep him close to me for eternity. But guess what – your big brother – Dean? He’s not even going to try.”
`
Sam’s eyes burned, a trail of tears threatening to embarrass him and he looked away, already starting to hyperventilate. Lucifer laughed then, a melodious ringing laughter that filled the closed confines of the car with terror and foreboding.

“Oh, don’t fret so, little one. You’re mine to keep safe now. I’m taking you to a place where no one trusts no one, so you’ll fit right in! See?”

Sam let his head fall back on the seat and prayed for Dean to come find him soon.



*** In tongues of men and angels ***


“Cas!! I need you, man!! They’ve got him. They’ve got Sammy! CASTIEL you SONOFABITCH!!”

Dean had screamed himself hoarse by the time the angel appeared. And once he did, all Dean wanted to do was charge the supernatural being for being late and beat the holy shit out of him.

“About time you fucking bas–“

“The profanities can wait. We have to go now.”

Dean frowned, hated how the angel seemed so calm and composed, so well put together. He’d give anything to see that ‘Dude, I’m so conflicted for an angel it’s not funny’ frown from last year on Castiel’s face.

“Where are we going?”

“Where I think He is going, with your brother.”

“Where’s that?”

In response, the angel transported them both to a familiar, decrepit looking living room of a two storey house. Dean looked around and it took him a second to place it.

“Chuck’s? Man, can’t we just get past the Prophet already? What does Lucifer want him for?”

“It’s not the Prophet Lucifer wants.”

“Then what? Who?”

Castiel didn’t respond, simply glanced up to the top of the stairs, where sure enough, Chuck the alleged Prophet stood, having just emerged out of his bedroom barefoot, in a ragged bath robe hanging over an equally tattered looking pair of jammies.

“I take it you were expecting us?” Dean sighed.

Chuck simply shrugged and started to walk down the stairs towards them. The past few months had been harder on the poor writer than Dean or Sam realized. There was now a quiet air of acceptance, and resignation surrounding the once hyperactive and rather twitchy young man.

“I knew you were coming, but I don’t know why,” he offered, genuinely confused.

“Dean,” Castiel turned to the hunter. “Take out your gun and shoot the Prophet.”

Dean stayed silent for all of three seconds and strangely enough, or maybe not, so did Chuck.

“Man. They screwed up something in your head when they pieced you back together, didn’t they?”

“Trust me. It’s the only way to get your brother back. Before it’s too late.”

“You have to do better than that, Cas. The days of me trusting you blindly are long gone.”

Castiel snorted. “Did you ever?” But it was a rhetoric, and he huffed softly before turning away from Dean and looking up directly at Chuck. “The brother I told you about, one Lucifer misses like a limb…”

Dean frowned, putting two and two together. “Michael? The Arch Angel Michael? What – what does he want to do? And what does he need Sam for?”

“We couldn’t spy on the entire conversation without getting caught. But from what I heard, I think he’s going to use Sam as a vessel to trap Michael in.”

“But, why?”

Castiel winced as he still refused to look back at Dean. “To… to corrupt him, I suppose. You can’t do that to an angel in his or her true form, unless it’s by will. His eventual motive is to – perhaps – cause Michael’s downfall? So He could be with His brother again.”

“And by ‘corrupt’ you mean…”

“…”

“Like… I corrupt chicks?”

“A lot more. Please don’t ask for details.”

Chuck looked from Dean to Castiel and back. Then Dean’s face hardered and he nodded, immediately drawing his revolver from behind his jacket and taking aim. Chuck, the Prophet, stared back blankly.

“Seriously, Cas.” He said, not missing the slight irritation on Dean’s face – no one got to call the angel Cas except Dean. “You sure you want to do this again?”

Castiel shrugged his shoulders, and it was a strange sight to behold – the angel sure had started to pick up human gestures and habits. “What can I say, I must be a closet masochist.”

Sense of humor too. Dean was impressed. “What am I doing here again?”

“Threatening the Prophet’s life. But you’re not doing a very good job of it.”

Chuck rolled his eyes. “Oh c’mon Dean, I know you’re not really going to kill– ”

Dean fired a shot that whizzed two inches past the bearded man’s right ear. The bullet buried itself in the north wall just behind him.

“Shit! Watch that…” Chuck didn’t get to finish this sentence either. The second bullet left a two-way hole in his left leg’s pajama pants just missing the flesh. The third time, Dean pointed his gun bang in the middle of Chuck’s eyes.

That was when Chuck really started to fear for his life. “Alright! Alright! Stop it, you made your point!” he screamed, covering his own ears and wincing his eyes shut, shaking visibly.

They waited a couple of seconds.

Dean raised an eyebrow. “Maybe he’s out of range.”

Chuck tried to slink away back upstairs, so not interested in getting caught in the middle of another angel-angel showdown, only for Dean to shoot a bullet past his left ear. He yelped, and that’s when the house started to rattle and shake. A searing white light grew out of nothing in the middle of the living room right behind him and they turned. Dean noticed Castiel take a step back from it, almost unwittingly, so he followed suit.

Castiel muttered under his breath. “Here we go again.”

The bright fountain of light suddenly vanished right in front of their eyes, leaving utterly confused frowns on all three faces. Dean turned to the angel, about to pip in with a sarcastic comment and ask Castiel what just happened, when a strange new voice interrupted him. He spun around toward the source, the very spot where the white hot light had appeared before.

The Arch angel Michael returned to the place where he’d been summoned, wearing an office clerk from a nearby law firm. He couldn’t have chosen a more ordinary looking human vessel if he’d had another year to look for one.

“You again.”

The surreal voice addressed Castiel directly, echoing entrancingly within the four walls of the Propher’s dwelling. Chuck crouched on the last step, exhausted already to stand for this ‘third time’s a charm’ visit. Dean shifted his weight from one foot to the next.

“Let me guess,you’ve discovered you have a thing for pain.”

Ha. Dean wanted to smirk, except admittedly he was too scared to.

“Surely you don’t want me to rip your traitorous form to little shreds again?”

“I would prefer you don’t, brother,” Castiel at last found in himself the courage to step forward then.

“This time, you will listen to me first. And smite later.”



*** My rock, my fortess, my deliverer ***


“Resorting to silent treatment then, are we?”

Sam refused to give in to the provocation again. But he’d been thinking. And he knew Lucifer could hear him thinking. They’d just travelled about a thousand miles inside an hour. All that farther away from Dean, was all he could focus on right then.

“So now we’re in Wisconsin.”

“Nice work, Holmes.”

Sam knew it the moment they’d gotten off the I-80 highway. “We’re going to Chuck’s, aren’t we?”

“Maybe…”

“So that means this brother of yours is – ”

The NYPD car came to a sudden stop in the middle of the barren abandoned highway, the brakes screeching loudly, jerking Sam enough to give him a whiplash and wincing, he looked up.

“Is that…?” Cain started and stopped.

Lucifer and His minion sat literally petrified in their spots.

A simple, every day man stood in the dead center of their path, his hands balled into loose fists by his sides, his feet set solidly apart. There was absolutely nothing memorable or unique about him. He was short, middle-aged, pudgy, slightly balding, maybe a traveling salesman from the seventies. Maybe a telemarketer, or an office clerk.

“Michael…” Lucifer whispered, the cold syrupy, and possibly emotion-ridden voice once again encroaching over Sam’s senses painfully.

Huh, Sam mused. At least Castiel makes a hot tax accountant.

Lucifer got out of the car in a hurry and so did Cain. And they stared at the human vessel’s form before them for a while. It was the man who smiled first, and all of a sudden his face transformed into one of a being so utterly content and peaceful, Sam knew he couldn’t possibly be anything remotely human.

“Hello, little brother…” Lucifer’s voice was soft. So soft, it didn’t seem to be Lucifer’s at all. Of course a second later, it reverted back to steady state, overflowing with outright disgust.

“What in the name of hell are you wearing?”

Sam was, meanwhile, still craning to get a better view through the heavily barred glasses of the cop car when the right door swung open, pulled with brute force from outside. He started as Dean hopped in, pulling him into a strong, fervent hug.

Sam gave into a surprising rush of emotions – a relief, a sense of protectedness he hadn’t felt in a decade. He allowed himself to give in to the urge to sink into his brother’s arms, letting his dead-weight fall on to Dean’s strong shoulders to bear and carry ‘cause he was too tired to do it himself anymore. No more.

Unfortunately for him, that’s not what Dean had in mind at all.

The arms stretched around him weren’t trying to hug him. Instead there were hands behind his back, reaching for and picking open the cuffs on his wrists.

“Let’s go, Sammy,” Dean ordered gruffly, moving away as quickly as he could and tugging Sam by a now free arm out of the car.

Sam swallowed his dismay down and meekly obeyed, looking up once at the astounding scene unfolding in front of the car. Lucifer and Cain, in their magnificent and almost unnaturally perfect specimens for meatsuits, facing off against the Arch Angel of the Lord, in a polar-opposite vessel that was clearly irking the very hell out of the Master and Commander of everything vain and sinful. It was a historic moment alright, yet another in a string of historic moments the Winchesters had had the misfortune to witness.

“Sam!” Dean hissed when he turned to see that Sam wasn’t following him anymore. “Move your ass now!”

“What about…”

“Unresolved sexual tension you and I can do nothin’ about. Let’s go.”

Sam dragged his feet and Dean dragged Sam all the way to the Impala. He stepped on it and took himself and Sam far far away, leaving the angel and the demons to their momentous reunion slash Biblical stand-off.

**

Dean drove as fast as he could to get to the safe haven that is Rufus’ house. It was recently secured by some seriously serious angel mojo so the evil side wouldn’t know it even existed. Entering the boundaries of that house would be like falling off the demon-grid completely. He sure could have used Cas and his apparition skills right now, but the angel was too busy backing up Michael behind that state line he just whizzed past in a hurry.

“Why me?” Sam whispered, lost, confused, not really expecting an answer at all. “Why is it always me?”

Dean sighed heavily, not taking his eyes away from the road. Typical that his brainiac little brother would figure everything out, only to be in outright denial of the one thing he knew he’s not going to like. Dean had no choice, no way to put it so it wouldn’t hurt.

“Demon blood.”

Sam winced. He was never going to get past that, was he?

“Cas thinks it can be manipulated somehow to turns your body into a trap of sorts, for angels. Plus, I think he liked the way you look, or something…”

Sam didn’t react, which only made Dean nervous and he rushed to fill the awkward silence. “Let’s hope old Mike can talk some sense into the Bastard, make Him go back to sleep or something ‘cause if not, we’re screwed. This time for real.”

“The Devil’s a lost cause. At least, He’s supposed to be.”

“Well, He doesn’t seem to think so.”

“That’s the sad irony of it. He’s fighting his own destiny, a pointless battle He can’t win cause He’s not supposed to. That’s not the plan. That’s not the grand design. ”

“… Sam…”

Sam sighed, his head flopping back against the seat and he continued to stare out at the barren landscape fleeing away from him. Good move.

How could he explain it to Dean even if he tried? How could he possibly describe his overwhelming fear conflicting with the undeniable sympathy that he felt for someone who’s not supposed to deserve it? Too bad Dean couldn’t hear his thoughts like Lucifer could.

“Relax, Dean. I’m not going dark side again.”

Dean swallowed, taken aback by how clearly Sam could still read him, despite everything that’d happened between them over the last twelve months. Despite this wall of silence that stood between them and try as they might, they just couldn’t seem to get past.

“He screwed with your head, didn’t He? Don’t let Him get to you, Sam.”

“This is all your fault, you know.”

“…”

“Your’s and Dad’s.”

Dean gripped the steering wheel hard. But he doesn’t use any words.

“You should have let me burn when you had the chance.”

That’s when Dean hit the brakes, something he’d been raring to do for awhile now, and pulled over to the side of the road. “I have my share of regrets in life, man. God knows the list of things I should have or shouldn’t have done is longer than the Tolkien trilogy. But not once have I ever regretted you or anything to do with you.”

“…”

“I’d never give up on you. Never did. Not all of last year, and sure as hell not now.”

Sam gulped down the ebb of tears building up in the back of his throat. “But you don’t trust me anymore.”

It wasn’t a question, least it was not posed as one. Dean let loose a soft chuckle at that, lowering his head into his chest once before looking back up at his brother and giving him a sheepish little grin.

“I lied.”

“…”

“Sure I’ve been a little paranoid lately, but I never really lost faith in you, Sammy. Not even after all the things you said or did because I know it wasn’t you – it was the stupic Ruby-crack you were on. I get it now, but I was just… well, you know…”

Sam frowned. “No, I don’t know.”

Dean huffed almost petulantly. “Dude, you put us through hell, alright? No pun intended but, you know what I mean, man. I just… I was mad, alright?”

“…”

“That’s really it, Sammy, I’m just… I’ve been… angry. Really, really angry. At myself, for leaving you alone and vulnerable for Ruby to manipulate you. At Bobby for not taking beter care of you. At you for not keeping your promise to me, lying to me, and worse of all – not trusting me…”

“…”

“That one really hurt, man.”

“I know. I’m sorry.”

They looked at each other, really looked at each other for what felt like the first time in… ever. Sam couldn’t believe what he was seeing – this sudden light in his big brother’s eyes had been missing for a while now.

A thousand tons of weight was lifted off his shoulders and Sam could finally raise his head and look up into the rising sun again. Dawn was breaking.

Sam wiped the tears off his face and sniveled. “And now?”

Dean turned to gaze toward the long winding road ahead.

“And now we fight.”

“Another losing battle?”

“Maybe. Maybe not. Where is your faith, heathen?”

Sam chuckled, sitting up in his seat at last as Dean revved the engine. “You realize we’re going to be fighting for the rest of our severely shortened lives, right?”

Dean grinned, his eyes twinkling with mirth that reminded Sam of a reckless and carefree twenty-one year old brother he once knew.

“When did we ever stop?”

Be on your guard; stand firm in the faith; be men of courage; be strong.


*** END ***


A/N: References and descriptions for the Gregory of Nyssa and Limbo of the Patriarchs are partly fictionalized. The Devil is based largely/loosely on John Milton's Paradise Lost. All the headers for chapters are Bible quotes. Naburus is a demon. And yes, I capitalized references to the Devil in this story, that was deliberate. I'd be grateful if you let me know what you think.

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Thank you so much sweetie *hugs*

I'd say YAY! but it's severely short.

Huh, Sam mused. At least Castiel makes a hot tax accountant. Sorry. I laughed. And I completely agree. Yum.

(can't spoil you in any way, I still hasn't finished the previous season)

It's short?? :) I thought 9000 words were too much to tell such a simple story actually hehe.. but I guess I should take it as a compliment huh :) Thank you so much for reading and reviewing hon. *hugs*

Uh, no, no, your fic isn't anywhere near short - my reaction to it, of happy happy glee, was short compared to all that could be said and squeed at you for your fic.
But... now that you said it, more 'Castiel-the-fallen' fic would always be good :D
*hugs you back*

(Deleted comment)
Thank you so so much sweetheart :) I'm glad you read and enjoyed this.. *hugs and kisses*

What an awesome take on post-S4 darling! I liked how your Dean has trouble trusting Sam, but at the first instance of him almost losing Sam, he remembers how much he still loves his little brother. And I also liked you don't actually resolve any issue neatly because obviously it won't be that easy will it? Loved it. Every word of it! Kudos again darling.

Thank you so much sweetie :) So glad you enjoyed reading this. Miss you so much girl.. where are you? *hugs*

I enjoyed this so much! The compexity of the situation and their emotions come across beautifully.
Favorite line: "But mostly I’m just worried you’d be too busy attending AA meetings while the rest of us are fending off the apocalypse.”
Gotta love Cas!

Thank you so much for reading and reviewing!! So glad you enjoyed this sweetie.

I'm soooo going to come back and read this :D!

I'm in a bit of a time contraint now but will definitely be back in days time!


I'm totally speechless by your take on the post S4! You portrayed the complexity of the brother's feelings toward each other and somehow reached a resolution with them being brothers again :). And your Lucifer was incredible. You see past through the vessel he's wearing and you see this seductive beauty and power that makes you fear it and be drawn to it at the very same time!

I also loved some of the comic reliefs like:

“Like… I corrupt chicks?”

“A lot more. Please don’t ask for details.”


or the part where Cas said that he's a closet mashochist xD

And another scene I adored but heartbreaking at the same time was Dean remembering how Sam acted when Dean turned his back to him from time to time when they were kids - hiding under his bed.

I probably don't make a lot of sense here but I was definitely awed by this :D.

Thank you for sharing honey!

P.S. Paradise Lost...is that by Dante? (I've never read it but I heard it on the movie Se7en if you'll believe it xD)


Thank you so much for coming back to read and review sweetie. So glad you enjoyed this. Paradise Lost is by John Milton actually, Dante wrote the Divine Comedy, also an interesting take on Hell.

You definitely made a lot of sense and your comment has totally made my day so much better hon. So thanks again :) *hugs*

Oh yeah... dear heavens, we should have sympathy for the devil. poor sod, really. Talking about the wrath of a woman scorned here, don't we? But yeah, the similarities to the Winchesters are uncanny teehhh-double-eeheee.
Cat

Thank you so much for reading and reviewing hon. It's.. yeah, one of many possible takes on Lucifer heh. *sheepish*

Edited at 2009-09-21 04:13 pm (UTC)

Well, not like I haven't got one of my own *g* Jeez, I've never written anything so fast, I tell you. Life's bliss when you got a deadline EHEHEHEhehe
Cat

:( :( Oh, gosh.

I was holding off on reading, because I just knew it was going to break me, and, well, it did.

God... just. :( Show is going to be the death of me, and I just want them to kiss and make up already, and I'm so afraid they won't. :(

That being said, it was simply gorgeous, like always. But it hurt so goddamn much, first because of the pain and separation that's so damn real, and then because I'm so scared the end won't be.

Hope you're doing okay, hon.

Thank you so much for reading and reviewing sweetie. I know exactly what you mean... the tension between the brothers this season is unbearable. And now I'm thinking I should have just overloaded this fic with tons of h/c (more) just for my own bloody reading satisfaction hehe :)

I'm glad you found the time to read this hon. It felt great to write SPN after such a long time.

I'm okay sweetie, thanks for asking. Some crazy shit going on in life that I'm not ready to talk about yet. I will PM you later if that's okay. And how are you doing hon? Hope everything's well with the family and school? And how's LA? :)

*hugs*

I can always find time to read your fics, silly dear - it's just screwing up my courage to read any fics set past S2 lately. (Not sure if you've been keeping up with the new season, but yeah.)

And you can PM me any time you need. I can't always give the best advice (lack of life experience and all) but that makes me an ideal person to vent to, also you know I'll pretty much always be on your side. :) I hope everything picks up for you, sweetheart, because you deserve it. ::hugs::

Things with the family are actually going better than they have in years. It's really strange, but kind of nice too. School is kicking my ass this semester, and LA's too, but we're both working around that as best we can. :)

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