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[personal profile] blue_wonderer
Title: The Stand
Disclaimer: do not own
Words: 4, 468
Rating: PG
Genre: Gen
Note: So, I had this GREAT image in my head of Dean as a hunter who adapted to Purgatory: dressed in the hides of monsters so that he almost looks like a monster himself. He’s facing off with Sam, who’s dressed in Lucifer’s chains, and one of his eyes is black and one is green and human. And, it’s a cool art idea, except for the fact that I can’t draw. So I tried to write it. It mostly came out as mad rambling.
Note 2: Pretty canon-divergent. Sam is in the Cage and Dean is somehow still in Purgatory at the same time. How did this happen, you ask? The world may never know.
Summary: They’ve never been further apart. But if he has to, Dean will tear down the very fabric of reality to find his brother.
- - -

When the Ragged One finally, finally finds the little tear in reality that he’s been searching for, he’s long forgotten why he was looking for it in the first place. He just crouches before it, a slim nothingness in the skin of the world, and wipes blood from his face while ignoring the animal cries of the monster dying behind him. He tilts his head to the side because in the air before him isn't a door or a crack or a hole. It's a flicker of candle light, smoke in the wind and, looking at it, he feels his skin tingle like he's about to plummet into sleep and into his nightmares.

Sulfur emanates from the not-quite door, suffocating and polluting the thick, wild air of Purgatory. The Ragged One sneezes in disgust, shaking his head against the painpainpain that flashes like familiarity in the back of his head—that tickles infuriatingly like a memory.

But he doesn't have memories. He doesn’t remember much except how to track, hunt, trap, and kill. He doesn’t even remember his own name.

“Abominaton,” a lumped form hisses from the shadows beneath him. He glances out of the corner of his eye, sees the whole ground around him writhe with hunched and disfigured beings—monsters with a collective consciousness and without a name, parasites that follow him and gorge themselves on the macabre remains of his battles, living in a sick symbiosis with him. “Poison,” it garbles in between the moans and clicks and shrieks of it’s own unintelligible language. "We do not cross it, we do not look at it."

The Ragged One tilts his head the other way, observes where the not-quite door has curled the dense grasses and caused the surrounding trees to blacken and bend in on themselves. “Hellfire,” the thing at his feet spits, gnarled hands coming to grasp at the heavy monster hides that hang from the Ragged One’s shoulders. "Burning, cold dead things that don't know they're dead."

He ignores the entreaty of the symbiotic body of little monsters. It is old, old enough to have no name, but it is cowardly (which, he supposes, is how it's come to live so long in a place like Purgatory). “I’ve been looking for this,” the Ragged One says out loud, his voice as gnarled and monstrous and wild as the world he walks.

The little things moan pitifully, but his mind is already made up. Long has he searched, long has “Find a way, find a way, must find a way” kept him up at night, kept him moving deeper and deeper into the heart of Purgatory, where the predators thicken like the trees and their strengths deepen like the shadows. He doesn’t know why he was looking for a way to that other place, but he’s found it now. His skin is tingling with excitement like it only does now in the heat of battle, the pounding of his heart actually startles him—he had forgotten it was there, that it could beat faster than the rhythm of “live, survive, live, find a way”.

And he has survived for a long, long time. He adjusts the hides he wraps around himself—scraps of the dried out flesh of his enemies. Thick fur, silky reptilian skins, and other hides made out of shadows and fear and other things not quite tangible but nonetheless real and visible in a place like Purgatory. He checks to make sure his two hunting weapons are there—razor sharp machetes he formed out of the bones of his prey. He’s survived; he’s blended in. However, he’s not sure that he’s been living. He thinks he might be able to start, though, if he finds whatever it is he’s looking for.

So the Ragged One walks out of the shadows of Purgatory, through the not-quite door, and into the closed air of another reality.

He enters into a world that’s darker than the deepest night of Purgatory, darker than the eyes of the predators that sometimes haunt his steps, darker than the blood of a beast that still decorates his face. Lightning flashes, illuminating a bare and rocky terrain and fires that give no light but freeze and burn to the bone with a single lick of flame (the Ragged One already knows this somehow, even before he feels the icy heat on his face).

He creeps forward, sticking beneath ledges, slithering from rock to rock, moving with the stealth of a monster that has slaughtered his way to the heart of Purgatory at the sacrifice of his memory and identity and soul.

But this isn’t Purgatory, this is Other, this is Evil and Hatred and Wrong and Hopelessness. It seeps into his skin almost immediately, burdens his bones and curdles his determination until it’s a disgusting ball of fear lodged in his belly. Purgatory is saturated with blood, but it isn’t outright malicious—it’s survival of the fittest, it’s creation at it’s most primal. Purgatory made the Ragged One scarred, made him forget who he might have been Before, but he thrills and excels in that world.

Here, it’s eternal death. Here, he stands out with his rawness, with the smell of wildness and life that clings to his skin.

They find him only minutes after he’s entered, before he even has the time to try to remember why he’s here, why he spent so much time and effort finding a way here to this miserable place. The Things that attack him are at once twisted and beautiful, black eyes and bloody teeth and nails but naked, sinuous bodies that mesmerize him until it’s almost too late, until they’re upon him with cruel teeth and claws, slashing into his skin.

The Ragged One, however, is a champion of Purgatory, and rolls away just as the first blood is drawn, brandishing his two bone machetes. He cuts into one, a demon his mind supplies, and is surprised at how easily the flesh gives away. There are monsters in Purgatory with skin as hard as diamonds, but blood sprays from the being before him easily.

But the demon doesn't fall away, doesn't cry out and collapse. It laughs. It laughs and laughs.

They howl at him and he laughs manically back because he knows this, he knows this exhilaration of fighting for your life and cutting down your enemies. The more he fights the more he feels the hopelessness of this place ebbing into the background like a slow bleed, the more he feels Hell protest and send more demons his way.

He hears and ignores the hissed, “Winchester”, because he doesn’t know what the demons mean by that, or by the mocking laughter. “He’s our plaything now—he always was,” they say, but he doesn’t know who they could be talking about. "Our pretty little brother, his lovely little screams will be our music for many more centuries. And you’ll be ours again, ours again,” they sing. “Ours to play with, ours to break, and you’ll never find him. You’ll be sorry you left your haven, Little Monster.”

Eventually, he grows tired and their number grows too great. They’re driving him to a corner, and paralyzing fear is threatening to course through him—he doesn’t know why, he’s never experienced this kind of fear during a fight, and he thinks it has something to do with the itch in his subconscious that feels conspicuously like a memory (like he’s been here before, oh, God, it never ends, please, please help him, get him out of herehelphelphelp, Sam—)

He’s disarmed in the blink of an eye and just as the horde swarms upon him there’s a flash of light, a shriek, followed by another and another. The Ragged One doesn’t care, reaches for his weapons once again, and slices into the sides of five more demons before they’re scattering.

Another is left in their wake, tall and graceful like the others, but without the claws and teeth. In fact, his face is smooth and he has lips and straight teeth and eyes like the Ragged One (who thought he was the only other monster of his kind, since no other in the world looked anything like he did). This one is taller than the Ragged One by a little, thinner, with brown hair that hangs about his shoulders.

And his eyes are more different than the Ragged One first thought. The left eye is black, a deep pool of bleakness like the other demons. But this demon’s right eye looks more like his own, except it’s pale green like the clear pools of Purgatory, and sweeter than any patch of light the Ragged One has spied in long years. He’s heard a lot about souls, and he thinks that this must be what souls look like—bright and colorful, full of something more than primal creation, full of something that means more than day-to-day survival.

Where the Ragged One is dressed in the skins of his conquests and the scars of his battles beneath that, the demon (or maybe something not yet demon) is all smooth, bare skin clothed only in chains that hang off of his shoulders like a joke of a princely robe and wrap around his hips and ankles like a leash. The chains stretch out behind him, the ends disappearing into the reaches of Hell, farther than the eye can see.

This demon is familiar to the Ragged One, he knows this like he knows how to breathe and knows how to make weapons of bones even though no one in his memory ever taught him such things. He knows this demon, somehow, from Before.

The demon tilts his head to mirror the Ragged One, pushing his jaw out in thought. He approaches, hardly noticing the burning, jagged ground beneath his bare feet. Muscles stretch and contract beneath supple, pale skin while the chains clink with each step.

The Ragged One doesn’t move, just grips the hilt of his machetes tighter, eyes calculating, zeroing in on his first striking point: the tender ribs peeking in between the chains.

And then the demon is before him, black eye and green eye focused on him. The demon reaches up, long spidery fingers shaking, and touches the shredded hood around the Ragged One’s head—the remaining piece of the last wraith he killed, meant to hide his conspicuous face from the other residents in Purgatory. Fingers enclose delicately on the dark material, hesitate, before ripping the hood back with a sharp breath of trepidation.

The Ragged One allows his face to be revealed, feeling the hot (freezing) breath of Hell on his cheeks (he remembers this, from a dream, he remembers hot breath on his face and laughter in his years and, please, Sa—Samm—!)

A bright flash of lightning shows tears running just from the demon’s green eye. His breath is shaky as his hand reaches out and touches the smooth skin beneath the monster mask, wide lips twitching into a quivering, elated smile (the Ragged One feels the whole of Hell groan, because such a pure smile, though small, is a blight on a landscape like this).

“Dean,” the demon murmurs, voice low and painful in a way the Ragged One didn't think was possible. “Dean.”

The Ragged One quivers, his knees weak while his headache spikes unbearably. He looks up to the demon in confusion, even as he pushes his head further into the tentative touch.

“It’s you,” the demon answers his unspoken question. “It’s your name. Dean.”

Dean doesn’t remember dropping his weapons and wrapping his arms around the demon, but all of a sudden his face is buried in the demon’s hair, smelling sulfur and remembering lifetimes ago when the hair smelled soft with baby shampoo.

“I found you, Sammy,” he says, voice shredded from disuse. He laughs in between the sobs, triumphant, because this is why he’s been searching for so long—how could he have forgotten about Sammy? About his brother?

“Sammy,” Sam tests to himself and then he smiles wider at Dean—Dean can’t see, but he feels the imprint of it on his shoulder. “I’d forgotten. He calls me everything else but my name. I’d actually forgotten.”

Images flash in Dean’s waking soul, of a rotting face with eyes of frost, of the look of muted terror Sam gives him before he falls into the Pit. Immediately, Dean starts tugging at the chains wrapped around Sam’s body, cursing with disgust at them. “Sam, I’ll get you out, don’t you—these chains, I’ll get them off and you can get out of here, Sammy—“ he breaks from his useless tugging to throw his arms around Sam again, gripping him close, and laughs deliriously when he feels Sam’s long, stupid arms return the embrace.

“Dean,” Sam repeats. “Dean, I don’t think—“

“Shut up, Sam,” he snaps, leaning back, eyes studying his little brother’s face for the first time in a couple of eternities. Sam returns the scrutiny, his right eye dancing, but when he sees Dean focus on his left eye—on his black demon eye—he ducks his head in shame, sweaty curls falling in his face.

Dean reaches out and brushes his thumb beneath Sam’s black eye, evidence that his soul has been irreparably stained from his time in the Cage. He doesn’t feel the reproof, the judgment that Sam is expecting to see in his face. Just feels hatred, hatred for Lucifer, hatred for Hell, hatred for anything and everything that ever stood between him and his brother. He hates himself, he should have stopped this, should have done something to prevent this good kid from—

“Stop it,” Sam is whispering, human eye intense as he stares through Dean to his thoughts (he’ll think about that later, when he gets Sam out, he’ll think about the presence brushing against his mind and the knowing look on Sam’s face). “You’re here now.”

“I’m here now,” Dean repeats, tugging on Sam’s chains with renewed vigor even as a dim memory flutters, of chubby cheeks stained with tear tracks, Dean kissing little Sammy’s fevered forehead long after the kid is asleep, and whispering, “don’t worry, big brother is here, don’t cry”.

Sam is showing a distressing unconcern for the chains that seem for all of Hell like they’re tightening around him, despite Dean’s best efforts. Instead Sam’s hands are skimming over the hides that cover every inch of Dean’s skin. “I thought you were a creature that took a wrong turn. You looked like a monster, like you were born in Purgatory.”

“That’s the point,” Dean grumbles between his teeth even as he thinks, I am a monster now, I think I’ve always been one.

And then all of Hell falls silent and still. The fires freeze in mid-motion, the lightning flashes bright and doesn’t wink out again, illuminating every corner like a search light. The screams and sobs in the background, an ongoing cacophony of static and chaos, halt altogether so suddenly Dean worries he's gone deaf.

“BRING HIM BACK TO ME.” A voice, deep and gorgeous, vibrates beneath Dean’s feet. “DRAG HIM BACK.” Threats didn’t have to be articulated, Dean felt the dread in the pit of his stomach, felt his throat tighten and his muscles seize involuntarily, felt tears prick at the back of his eyes.

“Christ,” Dean breathes, the closest to a prayer that he’s ever come.

The picture Sam makes is worse. His shoulders tremble as he seems to fight the urge to fall to his knees and curl in on himself and disappear inside his head as the voice of the Fallen Angel echoes in their bones. Dean tries not to think about Sam’s demon eye and wonders if it allows Lucifer to control him, if it allows Lucifer to twist and madden Sam even more. Sam suddenly looks even smaller in his chains, lips pale and quivering, human and demon eye alike widened in a terror Dean will never comprehend.

Pounding feet approach them like a crashing wave—a horde of demons, screeching as they advance. Long howls crash against their ears, far behind the demons, but they both know the Hounds will soon overtake the demons and be the first upon them.

The chains that stretch impossibly behind Sam (like the fingers of night, like freezing black water) give a jerk, the metal singing a small solo in the midst of the renewed sounds of Hell. For a moment Dean’s wide eyes mirror Sam’s. And then the chains pull completely taught, and Sam stumbles backwards one-two-three steps.

Sam doesn’t hide the panic, and Dean doesn’t muffle the “NO!” he screams in defiance of Lucifer himself. He throws his arms around Sam and Sam grips onto him and Dean pulls with everything he is.

He’s not enough.

The chains—Lucifer, Hell, death—pull back like Sam is the rope in a game of tug-of-war. Like meat in the jaws of two feuding monsters. Dean hears the chains tighten, hears Sam’s breath leave him, hears the bones of his brother groan and then crack beneath the pressure. Sam makes a clicking sound in the back of his throat—he doesn’t have enough breath for a sob—and his knees give out.

Dean holds on to him all the way to the ground. Holds on to him as the chains start to slowly drag them both.

“Don’t,” Sam wheezes, eyes wide and unseeing.

“I’m going with you,” Dean vows. “I should have done it from the start.”

“You went to Hell for me before,” Sam chokes as they inch slowly across Hell, sharp rocks and hot ground cutting and searing into their skin. “You can’t—not again. Not this, not him, not you.” He shakes his head, hair fanning about his head, and Dean remembers dimly the picture of a college student standing outside his burning apartment, the flames reflecting off of the tear streaks on his cheeks.

“You, always,” Dean hisses fiercely. “You’re my brother.”

The chains tighten, Sam throws his head back and lets out a wordless scream. Every corner of Hell echoes with sick, joyous applause at the sound like it's music and not his little brother breaking into pieces.

Dean’s worn heart throbs in his throat and he can’t really squeeze any words around it (besides, he learned a lifetime ago that human words mean nothing in this place). He tries to tuck Sam’s head against his shoulder, like he did when Sammy was younger, and tries not to remember how Dean has long made things worse for his brother, not better.

But Sam grips the monster hides still clinging to Dean’s body, weakly pressing his lips against Dean’s ear. “I really thought—thought that you were one of them, a thing from Purgatory. You l-look like you’ve always been part of their world.”

“I am a monster.”

“Maybe. By one…” blood bubbles over Sam’s lips and runs down his chin. He coughs, or tries to but he can’t get enough air, and his brother’s blood splatters on Dean’s face. “…definition of many. Dean, Dean—“ he breaks off, crying silently as his bones crumble inside of him. Dean voices the scream for him.

“I—I don’t want—I can’t stay here, I can’t become—I’ve already started to and it hurts, it hurts like rotting from the inside out, and I hate it, I hate him.” His black eye gleams.

“I won’t let him! I’m here now, Sammy.”

Sam’s words are no longer audible. But Dean knows Sam, knows him even across lifetimes, and he can read his lips, can feel the puff of air that ghosts over his cheek with each whisper. Or maybe he hears it in his head.

“You can’t get me out if you’re trapped here with me.”

Dean shakes his head, heart back in his throat, feels wetness on his cheeks, and wonders if he’ll ever be able to breathe again beneath this tide of utter desperation.

“But I can’t let go.”

Sam clutches the skins of nameless monsters with the last of his failing strength, visibly trying to focus on Dean through the pain and horror and dread. Dean thinks about, “You’ve really become one of them. Part of their world,” and “I’m a monster,” and he understands.

“It’s impossible,” he grates out. Impossible like finding someone across both Purgatory and Hell.

“We’ve gotten good… at im-possible,” Sam tries to smile, but his teeth are stained with blood and he only looks like he’s dying in Dean’s arms once more.

“What if I forget again?” Dean asks, afraid of the Ragged One, afraid of the killing machine he’d become, afraid of being lost in minute-to-minute survival. Afraid to be hunted and alone once more. To be surviving but not alive.

Afraid he'll forget his name. Afraid he'll forget Sam's.

Sam coughs again and the hope in his green eye outshines the black one and makes all of Hell writhe in agony. “You found me, Dean. You never forgot.”

Sam bucks, letting out a precious breath of agony as he knees Dean unexpectedly, throwing his brother off. Sam slips out of his fingers, like so many times before. And Sam is gone into the shadows before Dean can blink, before he can promise his brother that he will come back for him.

He turns and retraces their steps, the gallop of Hellhounds thundering in his ears. He grabs his two machetes made of bones at tries not to think about how Sam’s screams could be joining in the cacophony of Hell at this very second.

Then the first Hellhound is upon him, claws as big as his head, maw gaping wide and brimstone on it’s breath. But Dean’s been in Purgatory, he squabbles with monsters bigger than this beast for breakfast, so he turns to meet the hound mid-leap, using it’s terrible momentum to impale it on one of his bone weapons. The hound’s wounded cry makes Dean’s skin crawl with exhileration. He can’t recover one weapon, the Hound’s body is too big and heavy to pull it back out, but with his other bone machete he hacks off it’s head.

Dean slips into the rift before the rest arrive, black blood and a pile of fetid flesh and stinking sulfur in his wake.

When he steps back into Purgatory the protests of Hell fade into static. Light hurts his eyes but he squints against it and breathes in the wild air.

The parasites that are many but still one are all still there, hunched and disfigured, shielding their eyes against the light of day. Dean suddenly realizes—or remembers—that in Purgatory there is bright light but no sun during the day and darkness but no moon during the night. He blinks back the stinging light to see bigger, older monsters in the shadows of the thick jungle, drawn to this place by Dean disturbing the fabric of Purgatory’s reality, curious to see the strange monster who dared to enter Hell.

Dean grins, feral as he puts the hood—his monster mask—back on. He holds up the Hound’s head, three times bigger than his own. His arm strains with the weight but he doesn’t show it (he can’t show any weakness, not now and not here).

“Look!” he cries. “Hell can be hunted. Hell can be killed!”

A frenzied cry, like predators smelling the first drop of fresh blood, rises up somewhere in the shadows of the wilderness.

- - -

Time passes and Dean fails several times but he never forgets. The denizens of Purgatory won’t be formed into an army, there’s too much competition, too much independence to form a pack. That sets Dean back for the longest time. Until it dawns on him that monsters can be really, really good at chaos.

He doesn’t so much lead a military campaign but open the way for a full-on riot to spill like an avalanche into the heart of Hell. Vampires and werewolves clash with Hellhounds, a whirlwind of vicious teeth and claws and bellows that make Dean’s knees quiver. Monsters too ancient to be named cut through the first demons in the blink of an eye. The demons screech, a haunting sound that Dean feels mores than hears, and then the world is black with smoldering demon souls rendered without a body but still forever existing.

As Dean rounds the corner of the melee he sees a demon try to possess a monster—one of the ancient ones, maybe an Alpha. The monster doesn’t react like a human, he grunts and jerks and fights a mental battle Dean can’t even begin to imagine (but Sam can, Sam has, and Dean has to find his brother right now). That mental battle rips the ancient monster apart from the inside out.

Dean doesn’t stick around after that. He grips his bone machetes—one newly made—and runs blindly through the smog. Confused by the bloody din, feeling small like an insect dizzily crawling through a burning building.

Sam finds Dean just after the first demon surprises him and strikes him down. Dean’s got his blade in the demon’s thigh just as the demon starts to bring sharp claws down on Dean’s chest and then a chain flashes (it must give out it’s own light, Dean thinks blearily, because there’s certainly no light now in Hell) and wraps around the demons neck. Sam’s voice cries out, familiarity in the madness, and he breaks the demon’s neck.

It’s not a fix, not in a place where the greatest torture in this wasteland is the absence of Death, but the threat is gone for now and Sam is pulling him to his feet.

His little brother is still dressed in chains, but the ends are severed from the Cage, pooling at Sam’s bare, boney feet. And Sam’s flesh is scorched where the chains touch and Dean’s stomach curls not because he can smell the seared skin over the stench of war and pain in Hell but because his little brother’s skin is red and black and blistered from the burns and how is Sam even standing?

How is Sam even smiling? Big and wide like Dean never thought he’d see again.

Sam stands taller when he sees Dean’s horrified eyes on his ruined skin, face bright, green eye and demon eye alike dancing with unrestrained joy. “He tried to prevent me from escaping, but with his attention so diverted by you, he didn’t have the strength to keep me.” Sam grabs Dean’s wrist and runs back toward the fray, the chains chiming and slithering beneath their feet. “He’s not perfect, he’s not absolute. Hell is reminded of that.”

“But for how long?” Dean grunts, shoving Sam out of the way of two demons before he spins, his two blades eviscerating their enemies.

They keep running, Sam leaning heavier and heavier on Dean.

“Long enough. Where are we going?”

Dean can’t help the dark laugh that slips past his lips. “Purgatory, but we can’t stay there, either. I hadn’t planned past this.”

Then they approach the thick of the riot: black smoke and monster corpses as far as they can see. Dean gets that insect feeling again, like he’s looking at the boot that will crush him before he can get Sam safe. It’s all too big.

He’s pretty sure he didn’t say that out loud—he didn’t want Sam to hear the sudden hopelessness and doubt. But Sam bumps his shoulder with his own and when Dean looks to his little brother, Sam’s face is grim, his green eye is terrified but his black demon eye seems almost determined. Sam reaches out and takes one of Dean’s bone machetes. He visibly tries to smile, tries to reassure Dean, but he can’t bring himself to do it.

So, impossibly, Dean is the one who finds himself grinning, surprised to find that it's even genuine. The fabric of reality quakes all around them, and Sam laughs, both anxious and happy.

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