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Sam slams Nick into the wall, wanting him to hurt, wanting to feel like the whole world isn't crashing down on him again.

Nick is still wearing the apron with the flowers, and Sam tries not to think of all the times Lucifer played a wolf in sheep's clothing to make every torture in Hell worse.

--OR--

Jack doesn't hesitate, when it comes to things concerning this, and walks into the room where Nick spouts violence and nonsense and mentions Lucifer like a shield.

When it comes to protecting Sam, or Donatello (or keeping Sam from facing the face of the man who let the monster Sam knew in), he doesn't give ground.

Sam shouldn't have to interrogate Nick, not when it's clear just how much he'd rather not look at him.

(Not when he's half angry and half something else, like it's not Nick he's angry at but himself.)

When Jack's head slams into Nick's, and Jack bleeds, Nick only smiles, and says, "I did love you, you know."

Then there's two hands, free of restraints, and a syringe being pressed into Jack's neck. Nick's breath smells like grace and dead men as he unspools Jack's grace from inside him like a leech, taking and taking and taking...

Lucifer red beams out from beneath blue irises.

"Thanks, son. Don't worry, you won't miss it."

-- OR--

"It's nice that we're finally alone," Nick mumbles, and Sam can't help but glance back in the rearview mirror to keep an eye on him. "I feel like I never get a chance to talk to you anymore."

And then there's a flash of red shining back at him, and Sam's mouth is covered by rough hands that are too strong, and he's being pressed back against the seat, Lucifer whispering in his ear.

"Surprise, Sammy!" Lucifer whispers, and there's too cold breaths mouthing at the corner of Sam's ear before he's being flown the Devil-knows-where.

--OR--

"Prophets are kinda like Old CB radios. You boost the power, you mess with the frequency, mm..."

"CB radio?" Sam stutters, holding the gun higher with steady hands. "You trying to communicate with someone...? Who?"

But when all he sees is the thin, wide smile, Sam knows it's not Nick staring back.

You already know.

"Search your feelings, Sammy." Lucifer answers.

And then Sam's gun is ripped out of his hand and there's a hand wrapped around his throat and Sam is kicking feebly as he's slammed against metal and glass.

"No one stays dead anymore, Sam. You know that." Lucifer answers.

And then Sam is flown away. He'll make a good bargaining chip with Jack, if Sam doesn't cave first.

--OR--

Nick is choking Sam out on the ground, and when Sam fights, his head gets half bashed in with the nearest rock.

Nick laughs, and brushes his fingers over Sam's temple, bending over too closely to draw sigils in blood and snow.

It's too familiar, too much like every time Sam has found himself on the ground and pinned, and Sam keeps wriggling but Nick strikes the match and lights the Enochian carved into Sam's ribs, a name Sam has never been able to escape, come Heaven, Hell, Leviathan, or the power of lacking a soul. Lucifer had made a nest there, carved them up down in the Cage deep and over and over into Sam's soul, so no one could rip his claim out.

"All we needed was your blood, Sammy." Nick gasps. "And the grace left inside you, well, we'll draw him back from the empty like he never even left."

Black, bubbling nothing opens next to them, and when the Brightest Angel holds out his prying hand, Nick tips his head back, says the dreaded words, and the Devil crawls down his throat.

--OR--

Nick offers himself up, but before Lucifer can nest inside, Lucifer instead curls around Sam's bound form, caressing his face like a breeze Sam didn't ask for. The monster he'd promised himself was dead unsticks frozen wings clear of the Empty.

"Nick, you've done well, so well." Lucifer sings, "But if we want to do this right, we need to get all of our ducks in a row... Can't have the Winchesters unite and kill us all over again. But our parting will be brief, I promise."

Then there's ice sliding down Sam's shoulderblades and he screws his eyes shut. This can't be happening, it can't-

It is.

"Sammy, don't be so cold. Or I'll tear my son to pieces. And your brother, and your goody-two-shoes angel on your shoulder, and mother dearest... It'll be just like all we used to do downstairs. And I know, I know, it's not the same. But I still have sonny's grace inside me. I can do whatever I want."

"No." Sam grits out. Nick pulls Sam's head back by the roots of his hair, but Lucifer halts him, wheels tighter and tighter against Sam's throat.

"Don't be like that. C'mon, I can help you, Sam. You can't kill me. Not really. And if you want to get Jack back, the real boy, not this husk of himself, well... I can help. It's only fair, seeing as you drove yourselves down this road in the first place."

Sam shakes his head and can't stop and Nick holds his chin, Lucifer gliding over his skin like permafrost, like he'd never be warm ever again.

"You want to play it that way? Fine. But Nick was right about one thing, Sammy. You still are my perfect vessel, made to hold me in every way. And thanks to Nick, I've still got a body if you call it quits, so... You decide, Bunk Buddy. Hey. No checking out on me. One little word, and I promise, I'll leave Dean and Cas and Jack and Mother Mary alone. But if you keep on saying your favorite monosyllable... I'll climb inside Nick and I'll make you watch everything that follows, Sammy, everything you get for saying no, just like the good old days. So what do you say?"

Chapter Text

When Lucifer speaks through another's mouth, it feels almost like he is alive and walking once more. So close, carefully walking the line to freedom, just as it was when Azazel broke the first lock.

Nick is his willing disciple, eager to please, like Azazel, and if Lucifer didn't need Nick for an altogether different purpose- if Nick wasn't as much his now as his family had been, if Nick hadn't been reborn into a new shape fit for an Archangel- he'd twist Nick into a demon so powerful as a reward for all his faithful service. True, it would almost be a waste when Lucifer finally wipes the slate of all the messes he'd yet to clean up. But Lucifer still thinks it almost a fitting tribute. Nick had been beneath his notice once, a makeshift half-measure, but now, after all the time they've spent stuck together, after all the tinkering things that made Nick's body the house to hold Lucifer proper... The Devil would never claim to be sentimental, not when Nick is still so very human, but he'd like to think he's rubbed off enough that Nick has ascended beyond the confines of his species. (Sam had been that, once, until he'd failed him, but it didn't change the fact they had completed each other, that their entwined soul and grace had been something Lucifer would never let go of, and Lucifer likes to think he's sanded and flayed Sam's rebellious soul enough that all that human weakness has only become something to worship from afar, to show just how much Sam has always belonged to him).

“It won't be easy. You'll have to prove yourself.” The Devil murmurs, and Nick hangs on to every word, a quick fix to an addiction his human mind will never quite be over. “The Winchesters will be a problem. But you can use that, twist it…"

There's an unspoken covenant there: Sam was easily to crack open, headspace split into old, worn ridges and capillaries and memories that still outlasted all his time on earth. All Nick needs to do is take all he's lived of Lucifer, all the ways his grace has buried and sung inside his soul, however imperfect a fit, and Sam will bow before the false imprint of the Devil not yet nested back inside the one host that hadn't disappointed him.

"Find a way to get to my son. His blood. You need his blood.”

Blood calls to blood, and blood shall will out, after all.

Inside the Empty, Lucifer waits once again. Patience might not have been his strongest trait once free of the Cage, but now that he’s back in a place that’s good as, old habits have returned with a vengeance.

He doesn’t tell Nick the more pertinent details, however. As much as he plans on fortifying and occupying this loyal vessel that’s grown old and worn and attached under his bright ministrations, it doesn’t change the fact that they’ll need to be logical about this, and going to Nick out of the gate is out of the question.

And aside from getting out of the Empty, the truth is, Sam and Jack need to pay for their disobedience, and that can only be achieved once they cannot rebel against their own familial ties. As for Dean… Dean deserved a special kind of dispensation to get him out of the way, seeing how he’d been responsible for the setback that got them here in the first place.

No, Nick doesn’t have to understand when the time comes. Nick isn’t Sam, who always understood without sanction for all the vengeance Lucifer would wreak upon the world. Nick just has to follow, to accept his role, like he always does, and everything will be as was promised.

Lucifer would have his family. Lucifer would have what was his, one way or another, and nothing, not even death, would stop him from coming to claim what is due.

Sam, on some level, should know that. Once you pop the lockbox open, there’s really no way to keep a lid on it.

Lucifer had bled the words on Sam's mouth and kissed his soul with his name, and after eight thousand years of forced confined spaces, Sam should know better than to think he'll ever, ever be free.

Love never lets you go, not when it's real. Love only lets go when it means to abandon you, and Lucifer would never suffer being abandoned again.

--

“Out of the car! Get out of the car!” Sam bellows, brandishing the gun with as much violent restraint as he can manage.

“All right, all right, all right." Nick's drags his feet and his words together, false exclamations of worry a bit too manufactured for comfort. "Whoa. Whoa! Was that Mamabear?”

There's a smile hiding behind blue eyes, and Sam wants to pull the trigger.

But he doesn't.

“There was never any poison." Sam snarls. "You injected Donatello with angel grace. Why?” Sam demands the answer with the same rage he felt when Lucifer breathed life back into him long after Sam had thought the archangel had given up, and beneath the shaking words, Sam's true fear bleeds through.

If Nick had angel grace to spare, whose to say he didn't take some of his own?

Nick's lip curls, and then he lets the smile loose.

When he speaks, though, his tone is gentle, patient, in all the ways Lucifer liked to rub the bitter truth in.

“Wow. She figured it out. That's good.” 

Sam steps forward, gets up in his space, and grips the gun like it's the only lifeline keeping everything from unraveling.

“Talk!” He commands, shouting out with all of the force he's ever felt, without Heaven and Hell screaming and boiling in his blood.

Nick shrugs, gives Sam an easy once-over, still talking with the tortoise-like patience of an angel that Sam could not scrub out the afterimage of.

“Prophets are sort of like old CB radios." Nick mulls, chewing over each word like candy, like watching Sam's skittering fears play out over the jumping pulse in his jaw is something mesmerizing yet equally mundane and routine. Nick shifts from foot to foot, eyeing side to side like he hasn't a care in the world, like this is a conversation between old friends and not the prelude to something Sam can feel coiling like a viper in his gut. "-You boost their power or you mess with their frequency...” 

“CB radio?" Sam stutters, "Y-You're trying to communicate with someone? Who?”

Ah, denial. Nick's forehead crinkles with mirth, from the predictable little cogs whirring in Sam's overloaded mind and the familiar dance they've been playing from the very start, every inch of his face wearing the mask of someone Sam pretends is not suffocating every dull thud of what he knows he's been running from. Because he knows Nick, knows that look, knows the truth, only it's too terrible to be voiced aloud, like the action itself will summon the Devil and give him permission to swallow Sam whole all over again.

Nick grants Sam a horrible, sympathetic look of pure pity, glazed over eyes revealing all the fractured horrors he has been waiting to unleash since he called Lucifer out and bled the world for his yes to be answered.

“Search your feelings, Sam.” Nick says, too softly, too kindly, and the old, worn words from his mouth are not his but another's, and Sam's grip on the gun turns slick and clammy even as he tries to hold it steady.

Search your feelings, Sammy. You've always known the truth. You could never run from me, not really.

“No. No." Sam's words are barely audible, drowned in half-swallows and gritted teeth until he finds his courage again, "Lucifer's dead. He's in the Empty.” 

Oh, but I could never die forever, baby. I still live inside you, inside every breath you take.

Sam's mouth tics, and his feet re-center over the crackling gravel as the gun sharply gestures, side to side, even though Sam can't stop staring at the vile joy slowly blossoming over Nick's bloody, bruised face.

“Yeah," Nick says, rolling his eyes, not one for indulging Sam's denial with sick fascination, the way Lucifer always preferred, "And he's awake…" Nick watches Sam's face fall, and the open-close gasp of his mouth and blink of eyelids that he knows all too well, savoring the pain, the crushed hope, the ingrained memory he knows is playing on backlog, "And with the help of your little prophet friend, I was able to have a convo with him, and he told me how to..." And then Nick pauses, goes still, easily stealing the air from Sam's lungs, "Bring him back.”

Sam can't keep still, can't keep the gun steady anymore, eyes flicking down and back as he tries to keep a hold on what's real and what's not, on the celestial arms and pinions of wings smothering his face, and he can feel noose he can feel already tightening around his throat.

“Come on, Sam. Nobody stays dead anymore. You know that." Nick's words slide off his tongue like silver, the toothy grin even worse now that his eyes are hooded, eyeing Sam like a meal. "All you need is a little elbow grease, some new friends..." When Sam levels the gun back at Nick's chest, he keeps the pace of the words even, conversational, too light and too casual and his voice makes Sam wonder if the gun will do anything at all.

He should shoot him, right now.

He's worried if he does, it won't be Nick looking back at him. And he's talking, chewing the scenery like Lucifer always loved, and Sam knows it's to throw him off balance, but any information he can get, that has to count for something, Sam has to see if he'll reveal his hand and give some kind of way out through hubris, the only way Lucifer ever did, so sure about everything-

"Where you think I got that angel grace?" Nick trails off, letting the words fester, rapt with watching every frantic thought skitter through Sam's head as the ugly truth worms it's way in. "Who do you think hid me after I carved up that cop?" Nick breathes, hanging on to every word, and he knows he's got Sam caught on loop, knows that Sam is assessing all the little unspoken things they keep between the three of them, in the house the Devil built. "Demons. Yeah. They want Lucifer back almost as much as me. So, thanks.” Nick's voice cracks, unable to hide his glee at twisting the knife, of the weight of all Sam's collective guilt and how Nick orchestrated Sam's own role in falling to meet the Devil again, and with everything left to lose, Sam finally finds the strength to move.

“Dean!” Sam yells, both a warning and a plea.

One shot rings out.

It lodges in Nick's shoulder, unheeded, as handcuffs fall to the tarmac, and Sam's second-worst fears are realized when he knows Nick took some of Lucifer's grace for himself, to give himself a fighting chance against all the extra years of conditioning Sam has on him.

Nick grabs the gun, wrenches it out of Sam's hands, and Sam tries to tackle Nick against the side of the car.

And Nick punches Sam in the face, twice, and Sam dodges only to flinch again as they trade blows. Each anticipates the other's ploys, locked in orbit with thousands of years of memories to compensate.

Sam fights like his life depends on it, a cornered animal driving Nick back, fist catching him in the stomach.

Nick topples to the ground, Lucifer's grace a ghost of a song humming between them.

Sam punches him, over and over, blood pouring from Nick's nose and mouth.

Sam wraps his fingers around Nick's neck with all the ferocity Lucifer reserved for Sam all those times he raged and raged and raged wearing Sam's stolen face in the deepest corners of Hell.

Except when he wore Jess, instead, and pulled Sam closer-

Sam constricts, tighter and tighter, and holds on for dear life.

Nick grasps for Sam's neck, tries to pry off his hands, and Sam chokes him harder until he hears bones compressing and vertebrae popping.

It's too cold, there is snow melting on Sam's eyelashes, and every breath he takes is like a physical punch to the gut.

But miraculously, the monster under him, the angel in all it's glory, no, not him, not that-

Nick, his eyes go glassy, roll upwards, and Sam can't feel a pulse, but then the hiss of grace burns in his chest, uncoils from Nick's throat, and Sam's lizard brain catches up to autopilot hands as Sam remembers every time Lucifer told him to take a swing, to get it all out, to take a punch and then two for good cheer, only to roll Sam over and wrap his wings around him and burn his eyelids as the Devil shredded and kissed and crawled his way back down Sam's throat. Sam freezes, twitching, frozen, shuddering, choking on encroaching wings and multitudes of hands and eyes and teeth and liquid, frozen suns that would make Sam heave and shudder and lay him out over the ground, and it is all too solid, all too real-

Sam.

Nick, conscious again, heaves in oxygen like it's Lucifer instead, hands scrabbling over the pavement until it finds something heavy and hard and cold.

The rock bashes into Sam's temple, breaking skin and downing him into snow and dirt.

Sam's vision blurs.

There's a body rising up, the body of the one who loved him and who destroyed him and who was going to tear him apart like he always did, a looming shadow of thousands of years come to claim Sam all over again, getting closer and closer, until he's almost straddling him, leaning over, closing off every escape, and Sam can't let Lucifer have him, can't let him invade and pin him to the ground and fill him up, not again-

Sam's knee kicks out on reflex, even if it's will do nothing but stave off the inevitable, only this time, when his leg connects the body stumbles back-

And Sam rolls on his side, has to get upright as hands converge on his again, gripping his arm too tight as he tries to wrench out of the grip, and gets slammed into the side door of the Impala.

Sam falls, head ringing, every sharp breathe like fire puncturing his lungs as Sam's legs keep crumbling out from under him. But Sam pulls at the grill of the car with one hand, digging into the mental to hauls himself upright, tears in his eyes-

Lucifer, blurry and standing tall, advances on him, angry, so angry-

“Lucifer's perfect vessel. Not so perfect now, are ya?” The voice of Sam's nightmares hisses.

Only then Sam's head connects with the words, vision still swimming, and it didn't fit the puzzle, it doesn't make sense-

Perfect, you're perfect, you're mine, you'll always be mine, Sammy. Look what you do to me, baby. Don't you see we're made to fit, you and me?

Agony explodes across Sam's head, and Sam staggers.

Nick drops the rock, hands wrapped around Sam's throat with all the fury, all the hate Lucifer held when trying to punch Dean into the metal until all there was left was dust, with Sam taking his place as sacrifice, like he did over and over again.

And Sam doesn't recognize the grinning teeth, the narrow eyes, and the lack of glee and laughter, Lucifer's rapt attention switched to something less than what Sam knows because when Lucifer hurt him, his expression never slipped, intense focus always the blank, inhuman fire of an Archangel underneath the snarl.

Sam claws at his throat, then slams into Nick's arm with enough force that would break anyone else's radius, only it doesn't, and it's Lucifer, Sam is wrong, always wrong-

Sam punches, lashes out on instinct, not caring if it breaks his hand.

Lucifer staggers back, throwing Sam off balance, and Sam thumbs open the passenger door, squirming as he crawls inside-

There is no keeping Lucifer out. There never was any keeping Lucifer out, not now, he'll drag him back, like he always does-

But Sam slams the car door, not daring to question how he's fast enough to stop Lucifer from dragging him by the ankles and laying him out on the ground.

Lucifer is toying with him, having his fun.

“Come on, Sam."

But the words and face don't fit, not exactly, nor do the fingers glued to the window full of rage that isn't bored, isn't betrayed, isn't filled with patient anticipation like Lucifer always let Sam see, once he was caught, once there was nowhere to run-

Sam heaves in air and shivers. Confused, disoriented, pain still lacing and throbbing over his eyelid and through his skull. The memory of a whisper licks against his ear, with wisps of grace seeping through the windowpane to shove and press Sam against the leather.

Come on, Sammy.

And in the last dredges of Sam's memories, of survival surface as he repeats the mantra of it's Nick, not him, not the crackling lightning and icicles with seizing claws and mouths, not him-

Only Nick sees the switch flick in Sam's brain, and has his answer.

"Hit play, baby." He says, too softly, eyes too flat, face too slack, too empty, the only thing that is missing is the red gleam brimming with eons of waiting and patient, patient need.

Come out, baby, you know I'd never break you, not forever, come out and show all the love you have for me -

And Sam shivers, cowers, crawls backwards as far as he can.

He always liked to take him here, in the one place Sam could be reminded he chose this, chose Hell forever, to be Lucifer's-

But Nick can't keep himself from showing through, all the rough, threadbare, jagged human edges of jealousy flickering before he sees Sam flinch and goes in for the kill.

"Come on, Sam! Come on!” Lucifer screams, his fists banging against the glass, face a rictus animal thing that Sam remembers from the worst days, from all the times Lucifer wore a human face to hide his fury instead of the true light shining beneath.

And Sam drags himself to the front seat, slams his hand on the car horn as hard as he can, over and over-

“Dean!" Sam yells, then wails, "Dean!”

A window breaks, and then there's arms around Sam's neck, and his head is being slammed into the dashboard and broken glass, Lucifer snarling in his ear.

"Big brother's not coming for you, Sammy. Not this time. Not until we have what we came for."

And then the car door slams wide open, and Sam is being dragged out, back to the Devil like he always is-

And there's a weight on top of him, a hand smothering his mouth, but instead of being ripped apart, or his clothes being unzipped and torn and too-cold hands reaching where they shouldn't, with knees pinning Sam to the earth, there's a sharp pinching jab in his neck-

Red, only red, swims across Sam's vision, and there's sparks lighting up Sam's ribcage, grace weaving and spinning it's web under Sam's bones and in his saliva and shocking his heart, until everything goes grey.

--

Nick doesn't have to hotwire the Impala. He takes the skeleton key he'd copied one night while wandering the Bunker's halls and jams it into the ignition, then peels out down the road as fast as he can, Sam passed out and bloodied, half-draped over his knees. If it was up to him, he'd let Sam die here and now, no grace to fill in all the wounds Nick enjoyed leaving. There's still that edge Nick can't shake, the envy of thousands of years stolen with Sam having Lucifer to himself, and if Sam is damaged enough then Lucifer would have to take Nick back. But Lucifer needs Sam alive, as leverage, and Nick, for all his failings, is loyal to what Lucifer wants.

One of them has to be.

--

Sam's consciousness flickers, in and out, like a dying lightbulb.

There's a familiar engine rumbling under the seats, humming in his ears, and a hand in his hair that soon presses against his pulse.

It's not Dean. But Sam can't move, spit lolling from his mouth and dried blood keeping his jaw stuck to the leather seat.

"Sit tight, Sammy. We're almost there, almost home-"

Lucifer's hand moves to Sam's bended knee, warmer than usual, and there's a hum under Sam's skin, laughter prickling against his inner eardrums.

Soon, baby, soon, going with me someday soon.

Sam's vision blinks out again. 

--

When he wakes again, he's on a wood floor, Nick crouching over a salt circle and a bowl. There's blood dripping down his fingers, unlit fire ready for the spark.

"Hey, there's the man of the hour. See, Sam, I'd love to rip you apart, I really would. You don't deserve us. But Luci, see, he deserves to break you again. He's better at it than me, you know? And who am I to deprive him, after you've stolen so much from us?"

Chapter Text

“Lucifer. I'm here. I'm ready. Your vessel. Your perfect vessel. Make me strong again. Make me you.” Nick breathes a prayer as the flame burns into dust, holding his hand out to the malformed, tarry shadow substance of the empty that shields him from Lucifer's True Form and keeps it from burning his eyes out.

But Lucifer doesn't take him up on the offer.

At least, not yet.

(Nick was too much of a moron to say the damn yes Lucifer needs right out the gate, but Lucifer makes note to overlook it, because he's so, so close to getting what he wants again- that, and Nick did bring him back. The poor sop might not be the sharpest knife the drawer, but really, he never was, and Lucifer doesn't need him for his brains, just the rugged flesh so Lucifer can touch outside of just soul and grace again.)

Speaking of-

Sam gasps, feeling like his insides are cold all over again, like there's a phantom hand clasped over his mouth.

But Lucifer's imprint of invisible grace fades just as quickly, drawn to another more promising vessel, bound to him by more than just carefully orchestrated strings of fate and the confines of human soul and skin.

Sam was his, yes.

But he wasn't his alone anymore.

--

Jack keels over.

“I feel..." He rasps, clutching his stomach, "It feels like my blood's burning. He has it.” 

“This was about you, Jack. All of it. He needed your blood.” Mary answers, cradling his arms.

But Jack isn't listening.

It's so cold...

“I feel it. I can feel him.”

And Jack's golden eyes start to burn red, his frayed soul bound in a human body and angelic grace, and all the holes Lucifer had left when he ripped out Jack's grace being filled up again by what was stolen from him- and a little more besides.

Hello, son. Ready to pay daddy dearest a visit?

And with a whisper, Jack isn't riding shotgun in his own head anymore.

--

Lucifer flexes Jack's hand, gives Mary a patronizing salute, nabbing her as he flies off to greet his true vessel good and proper.

Truthfully, Lucifer has found a use for Nick. But he'd be lying if getting Sam back wasn't tempting. That's the problem, really- he's too tempting for his own good, and it keeps him from holding back. Keeps giving Sam all these little openings to abuse the little accommodations Lucifer sometimes allows.

The only question is how to ensure continual cooperation this time, and making sure it sticks, considering Sam's penchant for wriggling out of his grip. Which is why all hands are on deck, even if Cas and Dean aren't exactly present as hostages- but Jack and Mary will have to suffice.

For now.

Thanks for the ride.

Jack does his best to fight him, but he has no real defenses, or any experience having to push back so hard to keep things out of his head. He's used to overwhelming with brute force all too easily (like his father, Lucifer will admit that much, even if his son has failed him, too), and not being able to rely on his powers when it comes to supernatural intervention doesn't play in his favor. Lucifer's grace merges easily within his own, drawn from the same well, stitched from the same cloth, and all the rips and tears leaving the rest of him in tatters means there isn't much left to fight back with...

Not when his soul is so frayed it is barely there to stay.

So all in all, flying back to the cabin where Sam is still struggling without much luck is all too easy. Sammy hasn't even managed to budge from being trussed up, thanks to Nick's careful micromanagement. No use letting Sam dig a deeper hole for himself by trying to get away...

Sam's body is all too full of the remnants of Lucifer's own native grace, more than Nick could ever envy enough to possess, even if Nick still had echoed leftovers of Jack's and Lucifer's angelic essence as a consolation prize. Scraps, really. But Lucifer maintains he could still be grateful for even that, considering how he'd taken so long to prove better than the best damn fit Lucifer could ever ask for.

All that aside, Sam's penchant for being made just right still hasn't quelled his rebellious streak, or his raw paternal need to fight Lucifer tooth and nail on the one thing Sam hasn't yet conceded as something Lucifer would own eventually, because when fighting for their son, all that carefully cultivated sense Lucifer has beaten through his skull throughout the years all goes right out the window, turning instead to futile and useless bravado.

"Get out of him!" Sam snarls, straining where he is bound on the floor where Nick stowed him to use his blood and to try and pull Lucifer out from the Empty.

He can see Jack isn't himself, since Lucifer's trademark flare of power is native to him as breathing.

"Is that an offer, kiddo?" Lucifer taunts. With a wave, he tosses Mary to the ground next to her son, bound and gagged by undulating golden chords of grace that link so tight around her throat, she soon falls unconscious.

We finally getting into the thick of it, now that you've stopped dragging your feet right out the gate?

Sam can barely pay it attention, even though his panicked, stuttering heart speaks for itself. But he's got his own kid to worry about, even if Mary isn't awake enough to extend him the same courtesy.

It's worse, seeing Jack's face wearing that shit-eating grin. Knowing what Lucifer could be doing to keep him subdued where no one else was watching.

Go to Hell.

"Now, Sammy, don't be like that. Or Jack here will get to see some of our tamer greatest hits, front row seats and everything. You following?"

I will kill you, I swear-

You sure it's gonna stick?

Sam doesn't really say words, more like hisses something primal, promising bloodshed that they both know won't stick and won't even land, not while he's inside heir son. Lucifer likes that look on him, seeing as he knows how it will get him nowhere, just as he knows it will fade to fear and submission eventually. Like it always would, the moment Sam's mounting horror gave way to the truth- that Lucifer wasn't staying dead and buried, no matter how hard he tried to kid himself.

After all, Sam knows all too well what Lucifer is willing to get to finally get a win, after so many things have been stolen... After Sam stole so many home runs that he never had a right to even think he could keep.

I will break you-

Brave words, considering we all know I'll get there first.

Yet for all his frustration, Lucifer tries next for placating. He knows it won't get far, but there's a familiarity to it. A formality, really, of giving Sam more leeway than he actually deserves. But he can be generous, accommodating- and if Sam doesn't want to make this worse, he'll play it smart and realize a net loss is a loss, all the same. He won some battles but not the war.

The denial has got to dry up, eventually. (Although, deep down, Lucifer doesn't quite feel relief- Sam has said no too many times, clung to his obstinate human hopes and thrown it all back in his face).

"Look. Let's put the nastiness aside, just for a second, and talk about the welfare of our son. Common ground, you know, and fact is, it's awful roomy in here. Maybe you could try seeing the bright side, Sammy. I can help fix up Jack's precious soul, if you cooperate-"

"Pass."

Sam would never trust it. Never trust anything Lucifer pretends is out of the goodness of his heart, and certainly not when he orchestrated the situation that led them down this path to begin with.

Unless Lucifer can make the consequences worse, or rub Sam's own incompetence in. There is always that option.

"See, you say that now, but you are such a bad liar. You want the kid safe and sound and whole. I can help, Samuel-"

"You're the one who did this to him-" Sam growls, voice breaking.

Jack's hands settle on his hips, and then that gameplan is dropped as his voice turns to quiet poison.

"Sure. But I didn't bring him back wrong, Sammy. That was all you."

That's what you do without even trying. Break things. That's why you need me.

Lucifer gesticulates wildly, rolls his shoulders and then rolls up Jack's floppy sleeves from where they hang too long over his thumbs, mouth scrunching up as he eyes the hand-me-down flannel with wry, amused distaste.

"Not that I'd say this is a downgrade. Maybe we'll actually have better luck connecting now that the pathetic human part of him is out of the picture. What do you think?"

Sam's incandescent rage is so overpowering he can't even quite answer aloud, and Lucifer feels it simmer under the surface, sees it ground out in every flare of his nostrils and peeled back grin of his teeth and the way Sam struggles to grasp latent powers he hasn't used in years to try and break free, even if he knows it's nothing next to Lucifer and the power he's brimming with from both Jack and his own grace.

He was dying because of you!

Gee, well, maybe if junior was a little more loyal to his roots, he wouldn't have to learn the hard way that betraying me isn't the smartest choice. But let's not kid ourselves here.  He got it all from you. See, I can face the music: our Jackie is yours. He chose to be yours, to trace your footsteps. He follows you like a duckling follows it's mother. But he's still mine, just as much as you always have been, always will be. And we all know that no Winchesters stay dead for long, even if the resurrection is shoddy. You know how it goes, Sammy. You know how easy you are, how many times we've done that dance over your grave and brought you back home-

And then Lucifer falls like his strings are cut, Jack's body slumping forward.

"No, no, stop!" Jack is huddled on the floor, hands clutched to his forehead. "Stop it!"

"Jack-"

"Dad-" Jack cries out, eyes screwed shut. "Help-"

"Jack, I'm right here, it's going to be okay, we're gonna get him out-" Sam's words trip over each other, and Sam would hug Jack close if he could but his hands are still too tightly bound behind his back but he's straining towards him anyway, over-extended so that he almost falls over on his side.

"Sam-" Jack gasps. "Sam, there's too much-"

His voice cuts out.

"Jack-" Sam yells.

A look of pain crosses over Jack's face as he doubles over.

"JACK!" The walls shake as Sam's powers go haywire, crackling through the very foundations. 

When he looks back up, Jack's normally wide eyes are narrow, his face pinched and promising torments Sam doesn't want to remember.

When Lucifer speaks, his tone is flat.

"Relax, Sam. All I did was put our son to sleep. Past his bedtime, and the adults need some time to chat about things that don't concern him. Archangel to man, bunkmate to bitch... You understand? No need to let the kid on what happens behind closed doors. Hell, Dean might've given him the talk about the birds and the bees, but no one wants to know what their parents get up to."

When Sam doesn't have anything to add, he huffs, and continues, "I will say this, Sam. He's very, very attached. Enough that even when I've got more of his soul than he does, he's still going to bat for you and playing favorites-"

Lucifer turns on a dime, and a sneakered foot swims in Sam's vision before a swift kick connects with Sam's nose, staining the white velcro with red spatter as blood trickles down Sam's mouth and chin.

Sam tries to swallow it down, but the pulse of it still makes his head ache.

"-Hates seeing you all beaten and bloody and sad. And I'm not knocking it, I'm not- it's great..." Something in Lucifer's voice turns even flatter and the sneer on his face is enough to make Sam look away but he's grabbing his chin and making him look at him, adding, "He is our son, and he loves you, loves the perfect bitch that brought him into the world. But if he doesn't get with the program..." Lucifer waves a hand, eyeing the joints and knuckles with a concentrated crinkle of Jack's forehead that Sam knows too well even if it's playing out on the wrong face. "Up to this point, I've been remarkably understanding. He disowned me. And you... You tried to keep him from me. You tried to lock me away again. And then you tried to kill me. So I'm sorry, but if you don't do what you do best and fall into line and say that one word we both know you'll roll over and let loose before the end of the day, then I'm going to have to dish out some well-earned punishment. What do you think, Sammy?" Lucifer hisses, and he starts to grip Jack's wrist, "Should I start with his fingers or his teeth?"

Sam shouts as loud as he can manage, garbled voice breaking past the globs of blood in his throat with a thin, nasal desperation.

"Lucifer, please, please don't! Please-"

Lucifer snaps, and Sam bites his tongue, drawing more blood all on his own, but nothing else lands.

Just a threat, then, but it doesn't make it any easier, the price for Sam's bought silence.

"Took you long enough." Lucifer says, too mild, and then he shifts so one hand keeps cradling Jack's middle digits of the other, his head tilted and pupils blown wide in the kind of curious, disconnected fury Sam grew used to buried in Hell.  "But I'm not hearing anything that's going to move us along, Bunk Buddy."

When Sam stays silent, he sighs, and crouches down to eye-level, humming, "You know, I get it, I do. It's been all brawn and little precious bribery, not enough to get you going, but I would think your basic instincts to preserve the safety of the people you love," And Lucifer's voice grows louder again, gets the edge it did right before he took Jack's grace the first time, "When you know exactly what they are in for if you don't start giving some concessions here-"

"If I let you possess me, it's all over, anyway." Sam rasps, and the sounds swallows like cotton in his aching throat.

That gets a gleam in Lucifer's eye. Something to pick apart. Something to latch on to and stay latched on to until the bitter end.

"So that's what's got you so shy. Guess I'll sweeten the pot. But before we talk perks, let me make this absolutely clear, Sam. If you don't bite, I will do things that will make the Cage look tame. Things you can't even imagine. Things that will haunt your every waking moment. And I'll do them to Dean, and to Mary, to little Castiel, to Rowena until she cracks. And if you push me hard enough, Jack will get a taste, too. I don't want that, Sam. Don't let this get out of control. Because guess what, now that I'm back good and proper, if you push too hard, if Jack plays this game a little too fast and loose- I'm not pulling my punches. And hey, if you don't bite, and you don't want him dead again and to have it stick, or to have him be a drooling vegetable when I finally vacate the premises, then the two of you will just have to accept some hard truths. Otherwise, once I get Nick back, we can just try again. Have another go. You do look good barefoot and pregnant, if I do say so myself."

Sam flinches and can't meet his eyes.

Lucifer's voice softens, turns into the half-crooning stuff of Sam's nightmares as he kneels down next to him and brushes the hair from his face, "But you have the power to stop it. You can change my mind. You have all the power to say that one, little word, and all of this gets forgotten. They all get to avoid my undivided attentions- because then it will all be back on you, where it rightfully belongs. Barring some payback, of course, and if you want Dean safe, I'm going to need a little more participation from you, for starters-"

"I don't mean to interrupt." Nick interrupts, easily forgotten where he stands off to the side. "But, Lucifer-"

Something more potent that just annoyance rocks the false, placid serenity that has stolen over Lucifer's borrowed face, but it passes, turns as emotionless as the ocean with all the rippling undercurrents ready to pull the legs out from underneath anyone too stupid too think it's truly safe.

"Nick, I know you are eager to be reunited-" Lucifer says, tone weighty and low and just as soft as it had been in Sam's dreams during the apocalypse, and Lucifer turns to try and cup Nick's face, much like he's done with Meg, although both Sam and Nick can tell there's a thin veneer of rage at being distracted when he's trying to close the hard sell, and that having his hands too close to your neck means he's just as likely to take liberties with your breathing than an actual attempt at consolation.

Nick, for once, isn't cowed. (It might be because to reach him, Lucifer has to strain on Jack's tiptoes, which ruins the effect just enough to let him be a bit more daring.)

That, and he's just a little bit furious, a little more antsy. He's been doing all the legwork here, and what does he get to show for it?

Lucifer keeps talking, seeing as he can't try for one hard sell when there's persistent interference buzzing like a fly around his head.

"-And we will be. You remained loyal, Nick. I have not forgotten it. I am doing this so we never have be apart, just like you wanted-" 

But Nick doesn't let him finish.

"I waited for you, and I brought you back, and we both know you could keep Sam hostage and drain Jack's powers and find some other way to make this work-"

"With his luck? Nick, we both know our hands are tied-"

"Don't make excuses!"

Only Lucifer isn't feeling too charitable. Nick knows how this goes. He should know better than to challenge him, when he knows it's a far better bet to follow his lead.

Lucifer's face stays blank, but his eyes turn colder, focusing more of the thing behind the mask than usual.

"Nick, you, out of all my vessels, know your rightful place. Do not presume to test my patience."

"Your patience?" Nick hisses. "I have never asked for anything other than to be yours. And you are more concerned with getting precious Sammy back when we both know he's not going to say yes, even if you don't want to admit you don't have enough leverage and you never have because he doesn't want you, not like I do-"

That makes Lucifer's eyes flash, and that, more than anything, was the wrong thing to say. Nick, normally, knows better, but he hasn't been the bastion of rational thought, not with this. It's an opening, a slim one, but Sam will take what he can get.

He does not envy Nick what might follow, even if he deserves it.

And with Lucifer's power momentarily focused on someone else, Mary comes to, pushing back against the slightly hazier, less focused power flickering over her.

Sam meets her eyes, and they hold a silent conversation while Lucifer manhandles Nick against the other wall, hand to his throat-

"Nick, I have been remarkably considerate. Do not pretend that my kindness means that I will allow any more resistance, not from Sam, and certainly not from you. Jealousy is a waste of your time."

"I'm the only one willing to say yes!" Nick chokes. "Can't you see that? You need me-"

"I allow you to be worthy of me." Lucifer snarls his answer, trying to keep a lid on the rage but not quite managing it. "So exercise that intellect we both know you possess and let it go-"

"No-" Nick spits, and that makes Lucifer go still, the hair on the back of Sam's neck rising in spite of himself-

"No?" Lucifer says, too softly. "We don't say no in this house, Nick. I won't have that from you, not when Sam gives me enough grief already, and not when we both know the only reason I haven't taken you up on your offer is that I don't feel like being stabbed again. You following?" Lucifer shakes him like a ragdoll, poking at the remnants of a wound that never fully healed. "Hmm? Nicky-boy, you remember how that felt? You want to feel it again? Because Sam and Jack are just this shy of stupid enough to go for it, and if Michael gets in the way then... For Dad's sake, I don't need to justify myself to you. You just need to settle in, and quiet down, and listen. I am doing this to keep you safe. Because you are valuable, and irreplaceable. You are the only one willing to see sense, Nick. Don't throw it away because of your human vices. Face the facts. We can't rush into things and allow any screw-ups this time. So. Don't get in my way, don't challenge my vision, and don't interrupt me with petty inconvenient demands for attention when I am getting Sam to see the only option on the table-"

It's not much of a distraction, and it won't last long, but if Mary can draw a sigil or get Sam's arms free-

They might not be able to banish Lucifer (not without endangering Jack), but they could bind him. Something temporary. Something that would buy time.

And if one of them gets free, they can bullrush and incapacitate Nick easily once Lucifer is contained...

Mary rolls over, worms herself closer Sam with pointed slowness, until her foot is inches from Sam's hand.

Sam tries to pull the knife from her boot, and when he fumbles, it clatters out of his reach without much noise on Sam's ripped flannel, both of them not daring to breathe-

Mary tries to kick it closer, so Sam can make a cut, draw something fast-

Only Lucifer notices the moment, goes still, and turns with a tilt of his head and the rise of his upturned fingertips...

And Nick glances back at the same time, mirroring the same ruffled expression on Jack's borrowed face.

Lucifer waves a hand.

Mary crumples into the other wall, winded, likely just as concussed as Sam had been until Lucifer patched up the damage from the rock.

Nick leaps over to her and half-drags her by the hair, cradling her neck and shoulderblades while he binds her wrists to the radiator, while Lucifer strides over to Sam, melting the blade, power crackling. The temperature in the room dropping another 20 degrees.

Lucifer levels a quick kick to Sam's ribcage, and when he snaps, Mary's head jolts back, and Lucifer snaps her spine for good measure. Sam recognizes the sound, the way Mary crumples and slumps, pain sharp and then gone as she whistles in air, her eyelids fluttering.

"No-"

"Sam." Lucifer's voice is soft, not nasal or cajoling, just pure danger, all smokescreens fallen away and all patience near-exhausted. "You say the wrong syllable word one more time, and you won't like what happens."

Sam gulps. Tastes more copper, thanks to the new injuries.

Lucifer sits down next to Sam's prone form, one leg bent, the other out, and then pulls Sam closer, dragging him by the ankle. The cold seeps through Sam's jeans, enough to make him shiver and break out in a cold sweat from all the bleed-through of old memories, only Sam can't let those connect with the body Lucifer has taken, and with a hazy, indistinct wooziness, Sam lets himself drift and try not to lose it completely.

Lucifer sighs.

"Look. Work with me here, Sammy. I've been real nice, all things considered. Vanilla and far too tame, really, when you think back to our standard spats. The least you can do is meet me halfway. Give some feedback, if you want some time to get used to the idea of us back together again. And look, it won't even be permanent. I prefer Nick- I do, he makes reaching out so simple..." Lucifer's voice turns into a low whisper, one hand ghosting the back of Sam's neck. But then the feeling recedes and Sam can't stop squirming anyway and Lucifer clasps his hands together like a benediction, a prayer for some kind of tranquility he'd break out of boredom all too quickly, and then his voice levels out again. "But until I get guaranteed asylum or a spell or something so I know you won't find a way to break him, he's benched and off the table. In the meantime, who should I ask that pesky yes from if you won't bite, hmm? I can't stay in Jack like this. Really, baby, I don't like it any more than you do. So. Any ideas? Any preferences?"

Or you know, you could suck it up and just say yes already. We both know what you're missing.

Sam flinches as a hand, one he's so used to holding and guiding along or patching up when Jack didn't know how to keep himself from getting beat up, so small, places itself in his, too cold and familiar but in all the ways that make Sam want to close his eyes and disappear into the ground and take Lucifer with him, if it means Jack is spared.

If it means he doesn't have to suffer another second of this.

But Sam still can't say yes.

For all his talk, Sam knows the moment he does, Lucifer wouldn't leave, and Sam's not sure he'd have the strength to cast him out. Not because it was impossible, but because Lucifer had too much ammunition, and they both know that now there's a way to leave the door open...

He'd dangle that over Sam forever. That he could just slip back in and take up residence even if Sam let him out again.

Or worse, he'd threaten Jack with the same, seeing as Sam knows that's what happened, because he knows Jack didn't say yes. He would never.

And there's no other way that Lucifer found a way in.

Lucifer keeps talking, his words sounding blurry and underwater until they aren't and Sam refocuses, but if Lucifer wanted Sam paying attention, he'd have broken his fingers by now. He knows Sam is working out probabilities and real motives and all the unsaid things they haven't talked about.

That Sam is weighing the price for not saying yes, and all the horrible things that will happen if he does or doesn't play.

Either way, Lucifer gets what he wants. It's all a matter of seeing how Sam breaks, and seeing how long he has to keep up the pressure to make Sam make a damn decision already.

And Sam can't ask this of anyone else. It's not permanent, and all it would do is be another way for Lucifer to hurt everyone else in ways Sam knows too well, in ways Sam can't let them suffer-

"I mean, sure, maybe we could ask little Red if she'd be willing to play house for a tic, but honestly, I think we both would all prefer other arrangements. You don't want to ask that of her, do you? I mean, she's pretty enough, not the worst option out there, seeing as she won't have any issue climbing you like a tree, and while she's got nothing on me, I know you like someone experienced who knows what they're doing, so we could take you for a ride, easy. But I doubt she'd feel right having me ride her and you, or vice versa. You're adorably monogamous, and quite frankly Nick and I don't enjoy sharing-"

Don't you fucking dare-

Mouthy, Sam. Try to keep it polite, for Jack's sake, would you?

To drive the lesson home, Lucifer breaks Sam's foot, one tiny hand clasping over his mouth to muffle the scream, the other digging into the rift where the bone peaks through to keep the pain from letting Sam think too much.

He waits a minute. Two.

Then snaps, and Sam is good as new.

Lucifer continues, too used to the pauses and the ebb and flow of these kinds of negotiations.

Just as much as Sam is.

"Then, there's the other rub- she'd still be a temporary measure. Just because her little power-ups let her house the other Michael doesn't mean I wouldn't ride her out and wear her through all too easily. She's got stamina, don't get me wrong, but she's getting on in years and she's not as spry as she'd like to think, even if she's pushing the limits of her humanity a bit thin these days-"

Don't you dare talk about her like that, you obscene-

A fist rams into Sam's eye.

Someone likes pushing the envelope today. Count your blessings, kiddo. I could make this a lot messier. Be a lot less kind. Up to you.

"Fact is, she's not made for me like you. Not to mention, we all know Dean would have no problem shutting her in a hole and leaving her to rot at the bottom of the Pacific. Which is also, coincidentally, why we should get a move on, champ." Lucifer rises to his feet, stretches, all too conversational as he throws the final bait into the ring. "See, Dean's out of the way right now-"

What did you do to him, what did you DO-

Cool your jets, kiddo. Or I will make this unpleasant. You don't want this to get unpleasant, do you, Sammy? There's so many things Jack shouldn't have to suffer, and you push too hard, well...

Lucifer levels another kick, this time to Sam's abdomen. His arms hover out slightly so he doesn't lose his balance, thanks to this temporary stopgap body and all it's unfamiliarity. Even if Lucifer helped make it, it doesn't match him at all.

"-But we all know that won't last, and once that happens we all know he'd have no qualms trying to bury sweet little soulless Jackie here in the ground in the name of your honor. And we don't want that, now, do we?"

And he just keeps talking, chilly as ever, Sam's rage and horror something he's all too used to brushing off.

Then he turns to look at the limp form by the window, blonde hair falling into Mary's eyes, her shoulders still askew and unsettled from where her spine isn't quite working.

"And Mary, if you're offering, you would last a lot longer, once I fix you up. And I won't lie and pretend Sammy didn't inherit some of his looks from you, but fact of the matter is, while I know Sammy and your darling firstborn wouldn't be able to kill you, either, it just wouldn't feel right, you know? Too oedipal for me. No fun whatsoever. And Cas- let's not get started on that one, I don't think I could stomach sharing space in that body again, it wasn't fun the first time and I know the second time, Cassie would just be unbearable, getting all up in our business when he needs to keep his trap shut." Lucifer kneels down next to Sam's head, petting his hair, and Sam tries to lurch away. "Not to mention that I'm not exactly thrilled with the idea of possessing either of them. We were close, Sam, so close, once, and I can't show you all the ways I miss that, not while I'm inside any of them. You get all distant and quite frankly, it's a silent killer in the bedroom. No chemistry at all. And I know, I know, words were said, we all tried to kill each other, goes both ways, and Dean's gonna get his dues one day for what he pulled, but you know I never mean it, Sammy. Not forever. You're mine, and my son is mine, and everyone you love is mine, now, too, just because you had to be so uncooperative. Sammy, you tried to steal our son without any hesitation, tried to rip him away, when you both know half the reason he's yours is because you're both mine. And even after all that, after all your lack of gratitude, after every betrayal- even what we had in Hell, that was unbreakable, too. Speaking of Hell, it's not like I want to be taking up residence in my son, Sam. Not exactly my first choice, or my fifth. But I have to work with what I got, and while I'd love to nip right back into Nick and set things to rights, we all know he'd last a grand total of two seconds before you or Cassie or Saint Dean tried to skewer him and throw him in the Pit or worse. And I've had enough of that rough treatment. So either you can play ball... Or I'll be forced to improvise. And I don't really feel like putting in all the effort here. You could try a little harder. Make a guy feel wanted, when we both know you need me whether you like it or not."

Behind him, Nick sulks. Silent, and massaging his bruised throat, all the mutiny not quite drained out of him even though Lucifer had gotten him back under his thumb.

Chapter Text

Being trapped with Nick in a small space, while Jack is still being used, and Dean's in trouble, while Mom and Cas are still in danger and Rowena is as good as screwed as the rest of them, pretty much makes today the worst day of Sam's life.

Honestly, Sam has had a lot of bad days in his life.

But Lucifer coming back from the dead and wearing Jack definitely makes it past almost everything else, even falling into the Cage. Even Jess burning on the ceiling. (Even if Lucifer had been Jess, so Sam should probably reclassify that one.)

(It's worse than everything outside of Jack's initial conception. But Sam won't think about that. Can't, not when he's trapped in a room and his worst nightmare has his son and Nick is hanging around like a dejected leech and if Sam is functional he has to embrace the fuzzy dissociation like a shock blanket and power through without letting history make him unresponsive.)

Sam needs a plan. A way out. Anything.

Absolutely anything at all. They should be able to work together, to do something-

If he can just get Cas and Mary and Rowena and Jack in a room, and get Dean free of whatever horrible trap he's fallen into...

Except Lucifer's rounding them up precisely because he knows just what Sam will do, and Sam doesn't know how to fix this.

They had already killed Lucifer once, and it hadn't done jack shit in the long run, and Jack could die again, or worse (there were too many worse things to consider, too many things Lucifer could do).

Fact is, Sam's terrified he's gonna bite, if only because he can't put Jack through this for long. It's already gone on too long.

But if he says yes...

If he says yes, it's as good as over. Even if Sam fights, even if he breaks control...

There's only 2 options. Kill Lucifer while he's inside, and get relegated to the Empty with him...

Or go back to confinement, to a Cage or something just like it, because death won't stick.

And Sam's not sure he can say yes to that. Not after living it already.

They need to get Lucifer inside Nick and find a way to fix it, so if Sam has any chance in Hell or outside it's looming fires, he's gotta stoke the only barbs he knows will hit.

He needs to play Nick as hard as Lucifer has ever played him, because even if Lucifer won't give Nick the time of day, it's the only chance Sam has.

(It's the only chance any of them have.)

Sam tries not to become too fatalistic, but the damage is already done.

"Must hurt, having him go off without you." Sam lets the words blurt out, not subtle at all. The concussion is thankfully gone (Lucifer hadn't been thrilled with that, not at all, and fixed it out of spite), so while Sam can't blame that, Sam knows that Nick knows that Sam is gunning for him, anyway, so he'll have to have some misdirection up his sleeve. But he's lived his whole life bluffing people to take their money, so he supposes he has more practice.

And the only way to trick him, when they know each other too well all thanks to Lucifer, is to be too obvious, and get under his skin some other way.

Nick scowls, crossing his arms, and stops pacing around the room.

"He's protecting us." He murmurs, and levels a baleful glare Sam's way, and Sam only feels a frission of anticipation, of electric devil-may-care adrenaline, because he's so taut with fear for the real Face of Lucifer that not even the echo of Nick's stolen body can phaze him.

"You keep telling yourself that." Sam grits out, straining against the bonds that still have him hog-tied to the bed. (Sam is tired of that, too, but it's so routine he can try not to let it get him.) "Pretend he actually gives a damn when you've only ever been expendable."

Nick grinds his teeth, muscle jumping in his jaw. Hides it even though they both know there's no smokescreens between them.

And Sam's honestly surprised he hasn't been gagged by now, either, but he supposes Lucifer wants that yes so bad he forbade Nick from even considering it. But if his mouth is free, he might as well do what he can to get under Nick's skin, and talking should do that. Sam knows Lucifer well enough to know what will stick. What will hurt. How to suss out all the things Nick doesn't want to consider, because Lucifer has done it to Sam too many times to count.

"Must hurt. Being less than second choice. Being immediately thrown out of the running, after everything you did to bring him back. To prove to yourself that you were special. That you meant something more than a convenient sack of meat. Not being good enough, second to me again, even after all the loyalty you've shown, and all the ways I've pissed him off-"

Nick straightens to his full height, and gets closer.

Sam tries not to flinch. He's needs him closer. He needs him within range to maybe break his bonds and knock him down and break free, some way, any way he can manage, because Nick is the weak link here and they all know it.

Which, Sam supposes, makes Nick all the more dangerous, because he knows there's little trust in his own capabilities.

But then the danger, oddly passes, and Nick gives Sam a tight smile, something promising Sam he doesn't want to see.

"It's because he loves you, Sam..." Nick starts in, crouching closer.

Sam blinks, and lets out a rasping, hysterical sound at the fact that this isn't what this is, not at all.

"Love. Right." But his voice goes flat, stuttering the moment Nick brushes a hand along Sam's arm.

Nick's voice gets the barest hint of a laugh too match, too soft, too patient, and damnit he's trying to play Sam, too, Sam knew it was coming he just hadn't expected his own words to hit so hard that Nick would go and resort to aping Lucifer just like that-

"You should know that by now." He says, with same horrible false sympathy Lucifer perfected so well, that haunted Sam even back when the Cage first opened wide and let the Devil out.

Sam wishes had holy fire or a sharp object or even a rod of metal beat Nick down and make him shut up. That he had something that would make the memory of Lucifer exploding into a conflagration of death throes and that it would feel permanent.

But it never is. He just keeps coming back.

Because Nick was still holding on.

And Sam was going to make them both pay for it.

Just like he's going to make Nick pay for the way he's started tracing a line up his arm and across his chest and up his neck just like Lucifer used to, like he would've been doing earlier if he hadn't been wearing Jack-

Nick leans over, inches from Sam's face.

"You know, Sam. I don't understand why you aren't making this easier on yourself. It's always 'the hard way' with you, even when you know it's useless."

And then Nick slides on the bed, lopes one leg over Sam's torso so he's straddling him.

Sam closes his eyes.

Forces himself to take a breath. Hold for four. Let out for eight, except if he doesn't open his eyes to see how very human and very out of control and seething Nick is he's just gonna hear Lucifer and feel those hands tracing his jaw, and he can't handle that.

Sam blinks his eyes open against, not having any words to say.

"Look, work with me, here." Nick holds his arms aloft like Lucifer liked to (likes to, and isn't that something Sam doesn't want to get used to), in the 'see how reasonable I am, I only want to help you' deception Sam could imitate in his sleep. "You want Lucifer inside you as much as I do, which is to say, not at all. We both want the same thing, so... Look, I'm not going to say, follow your best interests, Sammy. We both know you're pathetic at ever doing anything right for yourself. But you can just accept it. Go with the flow. Let me help you. What do you say?"

Fucker even has the gall to mimic his words, because he doesn't have any of his own material, because Lucifer's material works just fine, and damn it, Sam struck too fast and he needs to do something, needs to get the upper hand somehow...

But Nick can see his mind whirring. Smiles, because he knows the exact things Sam is trying to keep from making him shudder and heave and go still until he fights for dear life, a fight he's never really won, a battle he's never been able to stop from going into motion...

There's a hand pulling Sam's shirt out from his jeans, and the only thing stopping Nick from ripping his shirt off is that Lucifer would be pissed there was evidence Sam was touched at all without permission... The hand strays to Sam's fly, pulling it down slowly. Nick blinks down at him, slow and rapt, and Sam only notices because he knows he's trying not to blink at all and Sam tries to think of what he can do.

"What do you say, Sam? I keep the Devil from taking you the way he really wants, and we all get the perks we're gonna wring out from you, anyway."

Chapter Text

 

Only when Dean turns around, Donatello rushes him and tackles him.

What-

Dean can barely think, barely breath as he's choked out, but the blue light beaming out of Donatello's eyes and down Dean's throat as wings fan to their full span, crackling lightning and the rumbling earth shaking and taking the whole warehouse with them.

Backdoors go both ways. And the other one already left a path for me. Michael, their Michael, the Michael still cloaked in the memory of Sam dragging Adam's body with him trapped inside. The Michael who Dean was supposed to house, not the imitation, the pretender. The Michael who once looked Dean in the eye and promised it would be his hands who would kill their brothers.

And Dean, trapped inside his own mind again, tries to claw his way out.

Except this time, this Michael has all of the Cage at his disposal, so many memories to keep him drowned...

He would've stayed caged forever, had it not proven convenient.

Luckily, Nick and his younger brother had other plans, and the Cage didn't hold much these days. Particularly when there was no issue injecting more than one Archangel's grace into a host, after Nick re-absorbed the first round he'd injected into the Prophet's veins. It left the pathway open, just a hair.

Just enough to slip inside Dean's head, to make that slippery slope gain purchase so Michael can settle in.

It's a mess in here, after all, and he will not allow his true vessel to be occupied by a mere copy without punishment. Not when they have unfinished business. Not when Dean failed him.

Not when the most important thing is making sure Dean and his precious Sammy can't flip the script again.

Provided everything works out, this way, Michael will get his justice. He'll pay lip service to Lucifer, for now, provided they have common enemies.

And once that's out, well...

Michael isn't too sure what his plans are yet. But the world has been driven off course.

And that is entirely unacceptable.

Chapter Text

 

"Hello, brother. Nice to see you stopping in. Any particular occasion, or did you just feel like reconnecting?"

The venom in Lucifer's voice is still more than a little raw.

"Because I hate to be a buzzkill, but unless you have some very pressing business, I'm going to have to escort you off the premises. We can't leave you and my vessel anywhere within fifty feet of each other. You know how they get. Clingy and codependent in all the ways you never are."

--

"Yeah, Sam. Get it all out of your system now. See, Mikey here could beeline right into him. Great way to get Dean knocked down a peg and back out of the running, and if you really want to get him free, well, I've only ever asked you for one thing. And if you keep holding out, fine, I've got time, but as long as you stay stingy, well, Michael's wearing your brother until I can kick him out or convince him to leave. And we both know how very little I am able to convince my big brother of anything."

--

"Raphael and Gabriel are dead. It's just us. So if you want to start this whole deal up again, be Daddy's perfect little soldier, be my guest, but I have more important plans to worry about at the moment, so you'll just have to wait-"

"You freed me." Michael interrupts, glaring Lucifer down like he's not sure what he's looking for.

The intensity, for once, shuts Lucifer up, but he soon rolls his eyes, hand waving, as he brushes it off.

Jack's body, despite being worn all wrong, the angles and moments not matching, the stuff of Sam's worst nightmares made all too real, looks comically small beside Michael, even if the energy rolling off him gives a density and weight and frozen cold so deep Sam's breath mists up and it's nothing to counteract the thin wisp of heat Michael's grace keeps burning.

"So?"

"Why?" Michael demands, teeth bared.

Lucifer tilts his head, then sits next to Sam's splayed, still broken leg, gripping Sam's shoulder too tightly except it's not enough to dislocate it, not enough to tear the tendons and draw blood and Sam's tongue is still glued to the roof of his mouth.

"Why not." Lucifer says, too lightly, a non-answer he still begrudges anything he'd concede to his elder brother. The one who he felt abandoned him the most, even now.

"Lucifer-" There's something dangerous brimming behind Michael's words, the aching rage of the Cage and the thunderclap of resentment still burning bright, but then it fades into something soft and vulnerable and honest. "Please. I need to know. What do you gain from this?"

Lucifer raises his gaze to meet Michael's, expression empty, until something that is not quite a smile pulls at the edges of Jack's borrowed mouth, and wings that are not Jack's own reach out.

"Maybe I'm just a better brother than you."

--

"Are you saying you need me, Michael? Finally ready to admit that you know what you are doing as little as the rest of us-"

--

Sam knows that trying to play them against each other isn't going to end well, even if the wounds are still raw.

When it came to the two of them, sure, sometimes Lucifer would make Sam his weapon and use him against Michael, two against one. But that's because he felt like he and Sam were a unit. That Sam already belonged to him.

When it came to everyone else, even if Lucifer was going to rip Michael apart, Lucifer wouldn't let that rivalry get in the way of letting everyone else burn.

So if Sam is going to try and get this to work, he's going to have to be careful.

--

"I hate this body." Lucifer grumbles, bloody hands wiping past Jack's face, leaving red smears over his cheekbones and through his damp hair as he brushes it out of his eyes. "It's so... tiny. Don't get me wrong, it's real spacious inside. But when I wore you, there was so much room to reach out and touch and make people give me the respect I deserve. Now I've got to crane my neck up just to look at you good and proper... When you aren't on the ground like this, anyway. Why do you always have to make things so inconvenient, Sammy? Always making me work for it. An archangel has needs, too, you know."

--

Michael turns pensive, then mentions, "Castiel is looking for God again. That's why he hasn't been paying attention. He doesn't even know we're free."

"Are you saying you want to join him in the search?" Lucifer laughs.

Something in Michael's expression turns ugly, turns into the darkness Sam has seen grace Dean's face at his worst moments.

"I'm saying I want answers."

"Took you long enough."

--

"The other me... The one that was inside Dean before, he knew things. He questioned."

He killed you.

Michael does not say, but Sam and Lucifer and Nick all understand the implicit things left unsaid in the silence.

"And it didn't even matter. And father... Father left me down there. I never lost faith. I did everything he wanted... So why. Why... What was the point? Why should I keep faith, when I have no family left except for you? Even if you are a monster-"

"Michael, don't you dare-"

"You are, brother. But I do not know if I mean that as an insult, anymore. I am not sure anything but monsters survive Hell. Not after living it with you."

Chapter Text

It's cold, cold enough to have frost forming on the mirrors and doorknobs.

But not Lucifer cold. Not anything nearly close to that.

Most the time, Sam is generally prepared for most supernatural things. Comes with the job description.

But Sam can honestly say he was not expecting a vengeful ghost to materialize out of nowhere and to telekinetically hit Nick over the head with the crowbar he'd abandoned for his fists.

"That was for Teddy, you prick!" The ghost whispers.

And Sam has the vague idea he knows exactly what vengeful spirit Nick pissed off. Enough to even bind the ghost to him, and not it's final resting place.

Then Sarah's insubstantial form turns her attention to him.

"I know who you are, and we don't have much time before Lucifer comes back. So I'll help you out of here, if you promise me one thing- help me kick these bastards' asses, and then put me to rest."

Chapter Text

Sam pushes Nick into the pool, throwing all his weight into the motion. He almost slips on the edge, but catches himself with all the rote practice of grounded, planted feet in abandoned cemeteries, and still fast enough to tear himself away from the hand trying to drag him down by the now-ripped collar of his shirt. He flicks Jessica's lighter open, one metal edge digging into his skin deep enough to bruise as it remains clutched, white-knuckle-tight in his slippery, bloodstained palm.

Sam lights it up.

The holy oil that replaced all the drained, hotel-grade chlorine water crests in a miniature, neatly squared-off inferno.

Sam can see the charred shadow of Nick burning as Lucifer's true form tries to fly out of the blaze. His wings and True Face get badly singed in the process, and the Archangel screams, still reaching skyward, light and sound and echoes just barely breaching to break free of the rising smoke and tongues of flame.

Even if it won't kill him, the turnabout is worth it.