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Dean offered to go with Sam when he went to get his anti-possession tattoo back, but Sam decided this was something he had to do alone. Besides, he didn’t want his brother there, and if Castiel had offered to go with him he would’ve turned him down too. He knew it was stupid, but they were part of the reason why he had to get the tattoo again, so having them with him just didn’t feel right. But before he’d left to go to the tattoo parlor Dean had let him know that he was glad he was finally getting it back. Sam was glad too.

It’d been about two weeks since he’d been tortured by Toni, and Castiel hadn’t called in with any updates on Lucifer’s whereabouts, so he figured he had some time. His recent experiences with Toni, and Lucifer being free again, each played a part in his decision to get the tattoo back. He knew it wouldn’t do anything against either of them, but it didn’t matter. He was sick of being violated, and he decided he was ready to face the fact that he wasn’t protected against demonic possession, so there he sat in the back of the tattoo parlor, just wanting this to be over with.

Sam winced as the needles first pricked his skin, but he was able to ignore the pain, even as it turned into a burning sting and seemed to burrow deeper. It was nothing compared to what he’d been forced to suffer through.

He felt so stupid for not having done this earlier, felt so stupid for even needing to have it done in the first place. Surely it was his fault that Gadreel had possessed him, that Kevin was dead, that Castiel had had to burn his tattoo off, that Crowley had had to possess him. He knew that, logically, he hadn’t given true consent, but according to whatever rulebook angels had, it’d been consent enough.

This was his fault.

It was all his fault.

His mind traveled back to Toni. He was in bed with her again. She was trying to get information out of him, all while tracing her finger in a circle over his chest, right where his tattoo had been.

The nail on her pointer finger turned into a claw and she dug it into him. The needles felt like they were digging deeper. He knew they weren’t, but they burned and scraped and stung. Sam tried to take deep breaths as a more intense burning came to life in his right foot. And it was like he could feel Toni’s gaze on him, approving of his pain.

In his sudden fear he looked to the door that led out to the front of the tattoo parlor, just waiting for Toni to walk through it and shoot him, all so she could have him to play with.

The tattoo artist must’ve noticed some change in him because he asked in a voice that was surprisingly quiet for a man his size, “You okay? We can take a break if you like.”

“I’m fine,” Sam answered. Then he assured himself in a whisper, “I’m fine.”

As the burning in his chest dulled into a numb pressure he was back in the Cage with Lucifer, when he’d been sending him visions the year before. The Devil caressed his cheek and smiled at him.

Sam knew he was still in the chair, getting the anti-possession tattoo back, but the pain he suddenly felt in his lower abdomen felt very real, like there were chains going through him. Lucifer’s cold laugh sounded in his head, and he shivered.

The tattoo artist gave him a questioning look, and Sam just gave him a nod to tell him to continue.

By now his chest was aching incessantly, like someone was hitting him over and over again. And then he was back in a very different chair, restrained, spikes in his head. Gadreel was in him, Crowley was in him, his tattoo was gone and he was completely vulnerable and helpless. There was shame and horror and grief and a deep sense of wrongness. They weren’t supposed to be in him. Crowley shouldn’t have been able to possess him.

Castiel. It was his fault.

No, it wasn’t. He’d done it to help him. But he remembered the few seconds of agony as his protection was seared from him. And then he’d been violated again.

But it’d been to cast out Gadreel. He remembered the angel not wanting to leave, acting like he’d owned him. No one owned him. No one but himself.

The ache turned into stabs which was joined by throbbing and burning.

He remembered light, the scent of burning flesh, and Kevin’s body falling to the floor, his eyes burned out. He remembered feeling like he was being torn apart, his body dying, failing him. More light, Dean, and then… and then Gadreel had possessed him.

The tattoo hadn’t done anything against him.

Hadn’t done anything against Lucifer.

Maybe this was all pointless. Even with it it was just a matter of time before someone hurt him again, before someone violated him again. The tattoo couldn’t stop everything, and it hadn’t. Someone could just burn it off like Castiel had. And there were entities that weren’t affected by it, powerful entities that just needed his consent, consent that he could be tricked into giving.

And then there was Lucifer. Sam would never say yes to him ever again, but he’d done it once. The tattoo hadn’t been able to save him then. And his consent hadn’t kept him safe from Lucifer, hadn’t made him fulfill his promises of making him happy. He’d hurt and violated him too, just like all the others.

His face felt wet, and Sam blinked a few times, clearing his vision.

He turned his head away and wiped at his tears with his right hand, hoping the tattoo artist didn’t see. Shame, rather than strength, entered him along with the black ink, laying its mark on his chest.

But this mark had to mean something. It worked for Dean, it meant something to him. So surely it could mean something to him too.

If only he’d gotten it sooner in his life, before Meg had been able to possess him. But he hadn’t. He hadn’t know back then just what it was like to have his body taken over, to have his mind scoured through, to have to watch as he killed innocent people, unable to do anything.

He was done being helpless, done being taken advantage of, done with all of it. And this tattoo could be the start. It had to be.

Strength poured itself into the shame, attempting to obliterate it. It stayed, but now the black ink marking his skin didn’t hurt him so much. It was necessary. It was one step towards getting control, one step to being the sole owner of himself, of his body, of his mind.

Sam had been so wrapped up in his own thoughts that he was surprised when the tattoo artist was wiping his chest down and giving him instructions to make sure he didn’t get an infection. Sam barely listened, already knowing the drill.

And then he walked out, the soreness on his chest feeling good. It was pain he’d decided to go through, pain he’d needed to go through. And now he was just a little bit safer from what lived out there in the dark.

The ink on his chest in the shape of a pentagram told him one thing, and it was all he needed for now: Sam was himself, and that was going to have to be enough.