Either Kings or Pawns
Summary: The plan to raise Lucifer won't work if Sam Winchester gets himself killed before his brother breaks in Hell.
A/N: AU set during Dean's time in Hell, minus Ruby, and mostly just an excuse to torture Sam, as usual. Part one of two.
Sam knows before he opens his eyes that he is, as Dean would say... as Dean would have said, royally screwed.
For one thing, a thin band of metal is squeezing his left wrist and he's been in handcuffs too many times to not recognise the feeling. For another, his head is pounding and the tacky sensation on the side of his face, along with the nauseatingly thick scent of copper, lets him know that he's bleeding, though he can't be sure how much of his headache can be attributed to the injury and how much is on account of the shots he half-remembers downing. Whiskey or bourbon, he thinks, not that it's important. What is important is the last thing he does remember, before the world disappeared in a flash of pain and a shower of shattered glass, is the bartenders eyes turning black.
His shoulder is aching, his arm pulled awkwardly above his head by the handcuffs, and once the world stops spinning Sam is definitely going to shift so his weight isn't adding to the strain, but for now he plays possum, maybe more through necessity than strategy, and tries to assess his situation.
He doesn't need to open his eyes to know that his boots and jacket are missing, and he doesn't need to check to know that the demons will have relieved him of his weaponry as well, not that he was carrying much. He was out drinking, not hunting.
The vague throb of music tells him he's still in the bar, maybe in a back room or bathroom. The noise was what drew him in to the run-down establishment in the first place. It was the kind of loud, messy place a person could lose themselves in, thumping with reckless energy, full of dancing girls with eyes too wide and sparkly, and calloused men on the look out for an excuse to throw a punch, and Sam has done a lot of trying to lose himself since Dean...
The last few months are whiskey-soaked and turbulent in his memory, a tumble of failed dealings with demons and daring hunts that maybe more than bordered on suicidal, dodging Bobby's calls, violent bar fights, booze and hangovers, everything empty and hollow and pointless without Dean. He'd known his recklessness would catch up with him eventually. He'd just been hoping that, when the end came, it would be quick.
Sam squints his eyes open, then slams them shut against the fluorescent lighting that seems to stab into his brain. He has to rally himself before he tries again. Tiles and pipes. The bathroom then. His hand is cuffed to a rusted pipe beneath the sink. He's shoeless and weapon-less (and Dean-less) and trapped in a crappy bar with at least one demon, most likely more, lurking somewhere nearby. He should probably come up with a plan.
Sam throws up.
It's pretty pathetic, really. He can imagine the 'gross, bro, seriously?' expression that would quirk Dean's eyebrow and crinkle the bridge of his nose if his brother could see him but Dean is gone and Sam is hungover as hell and probably concussed to boot. His stomach is roiling, his head pulsing with pain, and he never wanted to be the last Winchester standing anyway so it's easier to just stay down.
He doesn't notice the bartender until he's spitting stomach acid, shaking and blinking sweaty strands of hair out of his eyes. He catches a shift of movement in his peripheral vision as he wipes his mouth on his sleeve and looks up to see the demon standing by the door, arms folded across the broad chest of a man in his thirties, solid with muscle and an easy match for Sam in height, wearing an expression of boredom as he watches Sam wordlessly.
For a long moment, Sam simply squints at the man, bemused. His eyes feel raw and bloodshot and his brain is thick and sludgy from the days of drinking that preceded him stumbling into this bar, but he knows that the demons have been ignoring him for weeks. At first, they'd been amused by his desperate attempts at deals, stringing him along only to laugh in his face, but they'd grown tired of this game quickly – especially after more than one had ended up with Ruby's knife embedded in it's guts – and stopped showing up entirely at any crossroads at which Sam tried his increasingly reckless negotiations. The few he's managed to track down had been steadfast in their refusal to talk to him about anything useful and it seemed that word had gotten round that demons should stay away from Sam Winchester.
The bartender speaks first, raising a disdainful eyebrow. “Trying to get yourself killed, Winchester?”
Sam stares at him, unsure how to answer. The demon sounds almost disapproving, like a long-suffering parent chastising his hungover teen about the dangers of drinking. It makes Sam acutely and embarrassingly aware of how crappy he must look. Aside from his most recent injuries, he's not entirely sure when he last showered or changed his clothes and he can smell liquor on himself. His sleeve is torn and darkened with blood from a fight with a poltergeist a few days ago, the result of airborne cutlery and sloppy reflexes. He might have had a few too many drinks beforehand. Trying to get yourself killed? Maybe.
“What do you care?” he spits out finally. They've left him alone until now. Something must have happened to change their minds.
The demon curls the lip of the man it's wearing into a sneer, infuriatingly pleased with whatever knowledge it's withholding. “You're no use to us dead, Demon King.”
Sam is pretty sure his heart skips a beat. Dread pulses through his veins. It's probably the worst answer. A quick death would be too much to ask from demons; something drawn out and painful was more along the lines of what he'd been expecting. But to be used in another demonic plan, like Azazel's death match, it's... more horrifying than anything else Sam can imagine.
“What do you want me for?” he demands.
The demon tuts, back in the disapproving parent role. “You're not looking too hot, Winchester. There's been some concern that you're going to wind up on the wrong end of a bad hunt if someone doesn't step in and stop it. And since big brother isn't here-”
“Don't talk about my brother,” Sam snaps, a surge of fury dampening some of the fear. How dare this thing talk about Dean, about Dean being gone, so casually? Like it's nothing, like it's amusing. “I'll fucking kill you.”
The demon rolls it's eyes and the Dean in Sam's memory chimes in with 'Not very imaginative, bro', which is true, Dean would've come up with something much more creative to threaten the creature with, but Sam isn't Dean and Dean isn't here and that fact crushes him every moment of every day; being witty isn't high on his priority list, especially when the demon starts towards him.
Sam tenses, bracing himself against the wall, ready to strike out as best he can. He already knows it won't be enough – he has no salt, no holy water, no weapons – but fighting is ingrained and maybe if he's lucky, he can goad the demon into ending things quickly. As plans go, it's probably not his best, but it's got to be better than whatever the demons have in mind for him.
“Since big brother isn't here,” the demon reiterates tauntingly, “and since we aren't done with you yet, we decided that that someone would have to be us.”
“Don't touch me,” Sam spits.
“I'm real scared,” the demon teases, faking a shudder, and then it lunges, throwing the bartender's stolen body forward.
Sam swings with his free hand but the demon dodges his fist and drops to straddle him, shoving one meaty arm against his throat and cutting off his air, the bartender's bulk pressing him hard against the wall. He tries to buck, tries to drag the arm from his neck, clawing desperately as his lungs begin to burn, but the demon only presses harder, until Sam is sure his larynx is going to collapse and the world starts to disappear behind bright splotches of light, the edges beginning to grey, fading away like fraying cloth...
The weight shifts and Sam chokes on the sudden rush of air, gasping and coughing, his head spinning in dizzying circles. The band of metal around his wrist is gone and he only realizes that the demon has pulled him to his feet when he starts to fall. Staggering and light-headed, the bathroom is a blur, but when hands try to clamp onto his arms, he attacks anyway, with all the ferocity he can muster, kicking and clawing and biting like a wild and cornered animal. He feels his blows make contact but the demon is undaunted. He may as well be fighting a brick wall. The bartender is solid, unmoveable muscle, probably a formidable force even before being infested by Hell-spawn..
A thick hand clenches in Sam's shirt, whirling him around and sending him flying. He gets a glimpse of taps and porcelain rushing towards him before he slams into the sink with enough force that it tears from the wall, shattering on the tile. A spray of cold water bursts from the broken pipe and rains down on him as he lands amongst the broken pieces. Drenched and bleeding and curling around what feels like two or three broken ribs, he's choking again but this time it's pain that takes his breath away. Water puddles on the floor, blood swirling as it spreads across the tile. There are shards of porcelain embedded in his palms, a grotesque, jagged forest of them, and this is the part where Dean is meant to appear, knife-first, where Dean is meant to take out the bad guy with a quick one-liner and pull Sam to his feet and drag him out of danger, probably while calling him a damsel in distress and keeping up a running commentary of reasons Sam should appreciate his totally awesome big brother more, which would make Sam simultaneously want to deck him and hug him.
But Dean doesn't appear because Dean is gone. The hands that haul him up belong to the possessed bartender and Sam can hardly bare to stand, let alone fight. His chest is on fire, each breath a crunch of agony. The demon holds him by the front of his shirt – Sam hears buttons plink into the growing puddle of water at his feet – and breathes sulphur in his face. Sam's stomach turns.
“I got orders to keep you alive, Demon King. No one said anything about keeping you pretty. You want to fight? I can do this all day.” The bartender gives Sam a shake that wrenches a scream from his lips. He sags towards the floor, held up only by the demon's fists, eyes rolling, as bone grinds against bone inside his chest. That grey fuzz is back at the edges of his vision, pressing in on him, but unconsciousness doesn't come, teetering just out of reach.
The bartender pushes him towards the door and Sam struggles to stay on his feet, arms wrapped around his ribcage. Blood runs down his fingers, warm and sticky.
The door opens to an explosion of noise. Like a roiling wave, it crashes into him, envelops him in it's churning wildness, and Sam is shoved into a bar room full of people – no, not people, demons; black eyes and rotten eggs – who cheer and hoot and grab at him as the music thumps and swirls chaotically, a writhing mass of victory. There are so many and it's so loud and so sudden and Sam can't do anything other than allow the crowd to carry him along, slapping uselessly at the hands that reach for him. Water drips into his eyes, or maybe it's blood, and his soaked socks slip and slide on the wooden floor, each stumble a jolt of agony to his ribs. He can't see anything other than the sea of jeering faces, black eyes and reaching hands, but he can tell that he's being herded somewhere. The crowd swallows him, shoving him onwards, until, through the crush of bodies, he catches sight of twisted metal, out of place amongst the rickety bar stools and crackled leather booths. An ornate chair, all sharp lines and jagged spikes stretching, like fire, towards the ceiling, silvery chains dangling from the armrests, waits upon the band stand. Sam hears the bartender's derisive voice calling him 'demon king' and realises with a sinking horror that he's being pushed towards a mocking mimicry of a throne.
His feet turn wooden as a rush of numbing panic floods his bloodstream. In a daze, he tries to draw away but there's no where to go but back into the roiling mass of hell-spawn. A press of hands shove him forward. He shakes his head desperately and the demons laugh to each other. One grabs his shirt and yanks him forward so hard that the fabric tears at the collar, chaffing roughly against the back of his neck and jarring his ribs so badly that he can't stop himself from crying out, even though it makes the demons roar in approval. The world flashes red, bright and angry, and he feels himself crumbling towards the floor, feels dozens of hands reach out to pull him up, fingers digging into flesh and fabric and hair alike, and when his legs refuse to carry him, the demons take over, passing him from one to the next in a dizzying whirl of black eyes, bared teeth, and pain, until he's being pushes down instead of forward.
The throne is hard and unyielding, cold through his soaked clothes. Sam bucks and twists and throws some sloppy punches but his fists are caught and pinned and the chains move like snakes, alive and coiling around his wrists.
The excitement in the bar is so strong that the air is prickly and electric, tense with expectation. The hulking bartender looms before the throne, grinning, and Sam's heart is racing, beating violently in his chest, and it only becomes more frantic when the demon raises something up for the crowd to see. Sam tilts his head back against the throne, squinting through the dust motes and cigarette smoke that dance in the dim lighting.
It's a golden band, inlaid with small, wine-red stones, and scratched with some sort of etchings. Sam doesn't need a translation to know that they mean he's screwed. The crown is more than a mockery; dark magic shivers across it's surface, a curse forged into it's being. The black eyes that surround him glitter with glee.
“Don't!” Sam gasps, automatically recoiling. He pulls at his bonds, tosses his head, tries impossibly to get away. The pain in his ribs throbs with every ragged breath, spikes and stabs with every struggle – maybe if he's lucky, a jagged bone will pierce a lung and he can drown in blood – and his head hasn't stopped pounding since he woke up, the music and the shouts and laughter from the crowd overwhelmingly loud and pressing at his brain, the foul odour of booze and sweat, smoke and sulphur turning his stomach, and Dean is gone and that is still the worst part of all of this.
Hands hold Sam still, fingers twisting in his hair, digging into his face, and the creature infesting the bartender leers triumphantly as it lowers the crown.
“All hail the King,” the demon laughs.