Actions

Work Header

The Bell Backward

Work Text:

We shall not cease from exploration
And the end of all our exploring
Will be to arrive where we started
And know the place for the first time.
-TS Eliot

 

It’s raining in Lawrence. Micah is sitting in his desk at school, watching as it washes lazily down the window, filling his head with white noise. He hasn't slept well in close to a week now.

When the chatter in the classroom rises high enough to drown out the tinny sound of rain hitting glass, Micah hunches in on himself. Shoes squeak as everyone else files in from the downpour; all it means to Micah is that the river is going to be higher on his walk back from school, and he's going to come home damp because he didn't bring an umbrella this morning.

The good thing about his name being at the top of the alphabet is that he gets his Here! out of the way and then has a good two minutes to settle into his desk and wake up a little while Mr. Preston finishes roll call. His head's fuzzy today, like part of him is still back in bed, so he zones out.

The teacher has to call Billy's name three times, waiting patiently between each call. Billy's here, of course, sitting in the desk next to Micah like he has every day since first grade. He's been insisting lately that everyone start to call him Will ("It sounds older, we're not kids anymore!") and refuses to respond to anything else. It's not taking, though; everyone keeps calling him Billy. Force of habit. Finally he sighs, mumbles here under his breath and slumps down in his seat.

Micah kicks the leg of his chair. "Give it up, Will," he says, and Billy says "Fuck off," but he smiles.

"We have one more to add to the roster today," Mr. Preston says, and that brings everyone's attention to the front. Preston nods to someone in the back corner, beckoning with his hands, and everyone watches an unfamiliar boy trudge his way up to the front.

It's rare enough for someone to transfer in and rarer still that they do so in their sophomore year, so all eyes turn to watch him curiously.

"Class, can you welcome Lucas, please?"

The class mutters unintelligibly, a mixture of hellos and welcomes. "Lucas, would you like to tell everyone a little about yourself?"

"Um," Lucas says, but he keeps his eyes facing forward. They meet Micah's briefly, who tries to smile back a little. Nobody feels comfortable on the spot like that. "We moved from up north. My mom—uh, well we moved down here for work."

Lucas nods to himself and that's the end of it. He shuffles his feet in the awkward seconds after he's finished speaking and before Mr. Preston excuses him back to his seat, but that's his only outward sign of nervousness. He's so quiet for the rest of the day that it's easy to forget he's even there.

Micah doesn't forget, sneaking glances Lucas's way every now and then. He's just curious, is all; there are so few new people coming through the older parts of Lawrence. Lucas catches him looking once and Micah tries for another smile. He doesn't smile back but he doesn't look away either, the way most people do when they accidentally catch eyes with someone else.

Micah looks away first, down at his notes, tunes back in to the lecture.

-

He's right about the river. Its banks have overflown, grassy edges soaked and squishy under Micah's boots on the walk home.

It isn't really a river, of course, not in the way that Big Miss is a river. Micah supposes it's a stream, probably a tributary of Big Miss herself. In any case, the stream isn't big enough or important enough to be labeled on the big map in the school library. Micah checked. It's just his river, then.

He doesn't stop today, opts to head straight home and get out of the rain. His socks are squishy. Micah drags his feet so that he doesn't have to feel the wet squelch every time he puts his foot down. He opens the front door to the house, swinging his backpack off his shoulder, and shuffles right through the salt line.

Micah drops his bag, kicking the rock salt back into place. He pats it all down evenly with the toe of his boot before reaching over to pull it off, letting it flip into the floor, followed by his other boot and then his socks.

"Mom? I'm home," he calls.

His mom appears in the entryway to the kitchen when Micah is halfway down the hallway, like she's come from nowhere. Micah jumps a little. "Hey, bud," she says on a laugh, and then glances over his shoulder and frowns.

"Nuh-uh, you're not leaving your boots in the hall." She shoves gently on Micah's shoulder. He's nearly as tall as she is now, but he feels small like he always does. Maybe his head is even with her chin, but Micah's still lean, feet too big and hands too big and none of it nearly as strong as he feels.

Around everyone but his mother, of course. Micah sighs, put upon, and she swats the back of his shoulder. "No whining."

He's outside wringing the water out of his socks, muddy boots on the step below him, when he sees Lucas again. He's has already walked past Micah's house, headed through the gap in the trees where Micah knows a gravel road picks up on its way into the neighboring subdivision.

"So," he says on his way back into the kitchen, "there's a new kid in school."

"Oh yeah?" his mom answers distractedly. She's standing by the table with a mug of tea in one hand and a stack of papers in the other, and Micah wonders why she doesn't just sit down. He pulls out a chair for her, crosses to the fridge and roots around for something to eat.

"Yep. Lucas, I think."

"Huh," his mother says. She crosses something out on one of the papers, taps the end of the pencil against the table. "I did hear someone say there was a professor at LCC. What was his name? Something kind of Biblical, I think."

Biblial, of course. The neighborhood Lucas had been heading to houses most of the Christians. Now he understands why his introduction that morning had been so short: his mom probably transferred the family down to be closer to the new church that had been built here last summer.

"He was kind of quiet," Micah says. Mostly to himself, but his mom jumps in with "He's new, he just needs some time to adjust so be nice, okay?"

"Mom," Micah grins, shutting the fridge, "I'm always nice."

"I know you are, honey." Micah finds it hard to ignore the sincerity in her voice.

He digs his thumbnail into the soft peel of an orange he found in the crisper, only one dark patchy bruise on it. The citrus smell curls around them as he drops chunks of peel into the sink.

He figures, if Lucas' family had to move anywhere, Lawrence would be it. There's the Catholic school on the other end of town though, so he's not sure why he ended up at North Lawrence High. But it's not like Micah knows very much about the Judeo-Christian religions anyway, so who knows.

It just doesn't make sense to him. Haven't the hunters proven what the Gospels say? Micah can't even remember how young he was when he started learning about the end of days—they still call it the apocalypse, even though it was stopped before the angels' plans could be carried out.

Still, Lucifer had wreaked havoc for seven months. Natural disasters were just the start; then, in the midst of cleanup, there was corruption in the world's infrastructures, demons revealing themselves at every turn. More than half a century later, the pieces of the destruction are still being put back together, and still there are non-believers.

Admittedly, Micah doesn't know what a Catholic family like Lucas' learned when they were children. He's in a public school, though, so it's likely that he learned the same thing about the apocalypse—as far as Micah can tell, most other religions just don't believe the cause of it. The Winchesters, the angels and demons, the Prophet—some people believe they're just stories.

Micah wonders if that would be any different if they knew how the story ended. As it stands, the Gospels end with the brothers rejecting the idea of meeting Lucifer in Detroit and leaving to look for another way, taking Castiel with them, and then disappearing from history altogether.

There's one thing they do know—it ended here, in Lawrence. That's where the bodies were found, and that's when the apocalypse as the world knew it finally came to an end.

He thinks that's why there's such a mix of religious beliefs in Lawrence today, the little town that was once one of the largest cities in America. There aren't many very large cities anymore, but at least this can claim diversity. No matter what your beliefs are, something happened here, something that changed the fate of the world, whether you believe the Winchesters had anything to do with it or not.

Micah is still thinking about it when he gets into bed, touching the spines of his copy of the Gospels. He wonders what it's like, living in a world where the supernatural is as real as the everyday, trying to reconcile the differences between what can be proven and what can't.

-

When he wakes up, it isn't a gradual thing, or even that abrupt I'm-late-for-school kind of waking, where you sit straight up in bed with your heart pounding. It's more like falling asleep backwards: one second he's dreaming, the next, he's looking at his ceiling and the house is quiet, save for the rain rolling down the windows. He thinks it's the tail-end of a storm, thunder rolling off in the distance. He knows from experience that there's no point in trying to get back to sleep, at least not until his brain stops yammering at him, so he gets up and paces out into the hallway.

He thinks about raiding the fridge, but his feet move him right past the kitchen once, twice, three times as he paces the halls.

He hears his name, barely a whisper, and rounds the corner to see his mother standing at the foot of the stairs, arms folded across her chest. She doesn't need to be quiet; Micah's father won't be back home for another few weeks at the least. Micah doesn't say anything back, just smiles a little apologetically. Something about the middle of the night makes it seem like he needs to be quiet, too.

Micah stretches his toes in his socks and holds back a yawn, too sleepy to protest as his mother ruffles up the fringe of his hair, smooths a palm gently down his cheek. She's searching for something but she isn't sure what, and Micah thinks that if he can hold a small smile long enough he can convince her that it's okay. Just another sleepless night, the stress of school, the persistent rain wearing down his nerves: anything but the truth. Sam Winchester has been visiting him in his dreams for two weeks now, and he can't tell a soul.

-

Here's the thing about stories: they don't have beginnings. They've got a starting point, sure, but think about taking the first step down a road, any road. You've got to step right in the middle of it. You head north, but what stretches out behind you? South is where you're coming from, even if you haven't been there. South is where another story ended, and before the road, there's an empty field, and before the field, there's seed. Where did it come from, then, that seed?

Micah relates every story to the Gospels. It begins, he knows, on the night of Sam Winchester's half-birthday, but that's not the start.

He knows all of this, and still, Micah's story sneaks up on him.

He doesn't remember much about the first dream, probably because he didn't see any point in remembering it, not then. Most of what he remembers about it is probably just his mind filling in gaps now that he knows what Sam looks like and how it feels when he dreams about him. Like he's smaller on the inside, like his skin fits better and he has no room left for anything else. Just him. Just Sam.

That's what scares him the most.

They just talk. It doesn't feel like any other dream, where crazy shit happens that isn't logical in the first place but your brain just believes it. Not that Micah doesn't dream of crazy shit, but those dreams are probably what he gets for reading the Gospels late at night instead of doing his homework.

Sam seems content to just listen to Micah talk. He smiles a lot. It feels warm beneath Micah's ribcage and he places that information somewhere safe. He thinks of Sam smiling all the time, even when he's awake, like it's a favorite memory.

"Why are you here?" he had asked on the fifth night, because it was the first time he had thought to even ask.

A frown had tugged at Sam's mouth, but then he'd shaken his head and shrugged. "You're special," he'd said, grinning at him like it was a joke.

It didn't feel like a joke, it felt terrifying. If this was real, if Sam Winchester was really visiting Micah, like visions of the Mother Mary from the First Testament or Mohammad in the sky, there must be a reason.

"Nobody would believe me," he'd said, and Sam had flattened his mouth in apology.

"I know. And trust me, this will make sense later. I'm... sorry, Micah, I honestly can't explain how sorry I am."

It should have been frustrating, but Sam is easy to forgive. He reminds Micah of a puppy dog, all patient eyes and shaggy hair.

At first Sam wanted to know everything, absolutely everything. He wanted to know about Micah's parents, his school, what it was like growing up, who his friends are and if he's happy. Sam had been nervous about this one, not quite meeting Micah's eyes as he asked it, brows knit together in concern.

Yeah, Micah had said. He's happy. There isn't much to complain about except maybe for homework, or for his dad's work taking him away from home. For the rain.

Sam had been intrigued about that one. It started raining that first night and hasn't stopped since then, a realization that chilled Micah straight to the bone, even in though he was dreaming. It's not a heavy rain, not really, but it hasn't really stopped either.

"Is it a clue?" he'd asked, and Sam had surprised him by laughing, huge and warm, until Micah had forgotten to be uncomfortable about the situation. The dreams always made him feel buzzed with anxiety, like he's forgotten something—something on the tip of his tongue that he can't remember or name.

In the daylight, he wonders if he's really gone crazy. He can recall the dreams in exact detail, but that doesn't prove anything.

Micah has only seen a few photos of the Winchesters on the old desktop in the school library, on those rare occasions when the networks are online. They don't look much like the illustrations on the covers of the original Gospel series, drawn to be comically sexualized and clichéd under the heading Supernatural - as if there is anything unreal about those stories.

He thinks that it should have pissed off the Winchesters. It pisses Micah off, anyway, and he has to remind himself that the world was different back then. More afraid, probably; so afraid that they didn't want to believe any of the horrors in the world were even real. Scared makes you stupid. It feels like that should be common sense.

The brothers, though, the real Winchester brothers, look in photos exactly how they feel in the Gospel. There aren't many pictures of them. It's said that most of the records of Sam and Dean's existence went wherever the Impala went, that box from the basement of their Kansas home shoved into the trunk along with the weapons cache and whatever else the brothers had on them when they left it.

Micah balances himself on the back legs of the chair, looking at the thin strip of forest out his window as if the car could be hiding in there. Somewhere.

It's all theory though, myth; legends spinning themselves out of truth. If the car really does exist somewhere, it's probably just a rusted out husk, almost everything inside of it lost to the animals or the weather or whatever.

But it makes sense that they would put her in a safe place. Micah can't imagine Dean just letting her go like that, or Sam agreeing to it. Unless they had to leave her in a hurry, of course. The thought twists something in Micah's gut. Either the car is long gone or it exists in a safe place, it's the only way he can think about it without feeling sick to his stomach.

And anyway, most people are less concerned about the car itself and more concerned about what they think was probably in it—John Winchester's journal, a gold mine of information. Probably Sam's journal as well, and maybe even the amulet, if you believe that Sam still had it. The journal, though. Just thinking about it has Micah's heart kicking. Sure, most of what's in there is information that can be gleaned from the rest of the Gospel or from information gathered by other hunters, but hunting is not all John wrote about.

Micah's got it backwards, probably. Most people are more interested the practical information, not whether or not John detailed his sons' childhoods.

Aside from rumors and legends, though, there are records of them. Micah drops the chair back onto all fours and trots down the stairs.

"Going to the library!" he calls, grabbing his bag and skipping over the salt line, the door slamming shut behind him with his shout still ringing in his ears. He hears his mother's okay! while he's pulling on his boots and it makes him grin a little, backpack dangling by one strap as he heads back into town.

-

It's his lucky day. Micah taps impatiently on the counter as he waits for Isaac to get back with his wireless passcode. Issac is something like nineteen or twenty, Micah's not really sure, but he's probably the coolest guy he knows who spends all his time in a library. (It's not like Micah's one to talk, though, he just saves reading for the privacy of his bedroom, like some sort of guilty pleasure.) Isaac's the kind of guy who doesn't ask those annoyingly polite questions like the senior librarians do about what project he's working on and how they can help him find resources, which is good because Micah doesn't have to explain why he needs internet access.

Isaac's grinning sort of crazily when he returns and Micah grins back. Connectivity is rare and it's like their secret, the library slow this close to dinnertime. He expects that it will be full by the time night falls, everyone eager to check their email or try connecting to spotty video chat with family and friends elsewhere.

"Have fun," Isaac says, handing Micah the passcode written on a slip of paper.

"Thanks, man."

Micah is still giddy with the feeling that he's gotten away with something until the search page loads and the photo results hit him like a kick of cold water to the belly.

Amid dozens of cover scans from the first set of Supernatural are the few surviving photographs of the real Winchester brothers. He's seen them before, of course, but it's not like they're ingrained into his memory. Too much exposure to the Gospel warps their images in his head, but that version is not the one that Micah remembers from his dreams.

There are multiple images kept from government documents: their license photos, mug shots, security camera photos from Hendrickson's manhunt. Even the composite sketch of the shapeshifter in St. Louis is there, the one who stole Dean's face in Skin.

There are a few others, photos that are rarely printed but are some of Micah's favorites. Some have surfaced from Sam's time at Stanford, photos taken at parties by friends who recognized him in the days after the apocalypse, when the Winchester's names and faces were broadcast everywhere: the brothers who saved the world. The brothers who stopped the devil.

In one of them, Sam sits on a couch in a dorm lounge next to a girl with long blonde hair. Jessica. They're both smiling sleepily for the camera, hair mussed and clothes rumpled like they'd spent the night on the couch. There are paper coffee mugs on the low table in front of them. Sam looks relaxed, a simple happiness, leaning close to Jess, whose smile is friendly and radiant.

Sam is much younger here than the way he looks in Micah's dreams, but something about the photo strikes him. It reminds him of the years Dean spent without Sam, coming up with excuses to find hunts out west just so he could check up on Sam now and then. And make sure not to be seen, because if this made Sammy happy, Dean wasn't going to interfere. He has to click away.

Pictures of Dean are even rarer. The Winchesters had been experts in flying under the radar, so that's no surprise. Nearly all of the photos of Dean that weren't government property were pictures taken from the last cell phone Sam had used, one he left behind with Bobby Singer in what was, according to the Gospels, the last time Bobby saw either of them alive.

(It's a scene that has stuck with Micah—the last published book, Two Minutes to Midnight, has been analyzed by scholars so that every line of every page bleeds out critical thought, theories and conclusions about how the apocalypse finally ended, but nothing is conclusive. The apocalypse didn't end for months after the final Gospel was written, and as far as Micah is concerned, anything could have happened.

But one thing does seem certain: when Sam and Dean said their goodbyes and left Bobby, they knew it would be their last road trip. Bobby had hugged them both, hands shaking as he scrubbed at his eyes, and when Castiel—newly human—had asked what his tears meant, Bobby had turned to him and said, "No father should have to bury his sons.)

The cell phone photos are grainy from being taken in low-light. Sam had taken pictures of Bobby's house, Dean apparently captured in the photos by virtue of living there. There's one of him staring at a coffee pot in the kitchen, bent over the counter; another of Dean at the desk, littered with dismantled guns in the midst of being cleaned, and one photo taken in the upstairs hallway, Dean hanging out of a doorway with a half-mocking expression on his face, lips twisted in amusement.

And then there's Micah's favorite, taken outdoors in the sunlight. It looks like they're loading up the car, trunk open and a few bags at Dean's feet. He's looking at the camera again, at Sam, but this time he's wearing a patient expression despite the dark circles under his eyes. He looks more relaxed than the mental image Micah has of him, a Dean so weary by the end that Micah can only imagine a heavy, lined face.

This picture of him is different, and Micah stares at it for a long time. He's seen it before of course, and most people are under the general agreement that at this point in time, whatever it was the Winchesters were going to do after they disappeared from the Prophet's sight was all planned out, and the rest of it left to fate.

Micah knows better than to think Dean believed in fate. His guess, Dean was just glad that it was all going to be over, one way or the other.

His pulse is still moving too quickly when he eventually clicks out of the browser. Micah shoulders his bag and heads home, hoping that he doesn't dream tonight.

-

The school is mostly empty when he gets there. Micah has been one of the first people to show up nowadays, beating even a few of the teachers. The first few days after he'd started having the dreams and waking up in the middle of the night, he'd stayed stubbornly in bed waiting for his alarm. Now he doesn't even pretend that he's sleeping anymore. He sits bleary-eyed in his seat and ignores the way Mr. Preston scrutinizes him, chewing absently on the inside of his cheek.

The school had once been an apartment building, back before the apocalypse. Schools had been among the first to be captured or destroyed, and only a few in Lawrence had survived enough for restoration. Now there are only five public school buildings—one elementary and high school each for the east and west sides of the town, and the college, which Lawrence is lucky enough to have in the first place. The Catholic school was built once the student body became too large for the church.

During restoration they knocked down walls and tore out some of the heating and plumbing, but each classroom still has a bathroom. This one has wainscoting along the walls and the front of the classroom is still hardwood floors even though the rest of it has been covered over with linoleum. On part of the walls below the ceiling, there's still an intricate detail of painted scroll. Micah has had enough time to think about this year's classroom hard enough that he has to wonder who lived there, whose walls were custom painted. What their life was like.

Last night, he had dreamed of Bobby's house. The frail bedframes in the upstairs bedroom, worn cotton sheets and the dusty light from down the hallway swirling lazily through a window. Curious, Micah had wandered out and down the hallway and run straight into Sam.

But not his Sam, not at first. And when the dream shifted, the real Sam had seemed exhausted.

"Why are you doing this?" Micah had asked, and Sam had frowned.

"Not now. A little longer, okay?"

Being early has the added bonus of getting to watch everyone else show up, one by one at first, and then groups of people pile in after meeting at lockers in the hall. He doesn't miss it then when Lucas walks in. He's one of the loners.

According to the rumor mill, Lucas has younger sisters that go to the Catholic school on the other side of town. Micah wonders why he's here then, why on earth he would want to go to public school instead.

"Hey, sleeping beauty."

Billy's backpack thuds to the floor. Micah jumps, realizing that he's been staring.

"Um. What?"

"Did you do the math? Because I swear to you, I swear I paid attention yesterday, but none of the problems made sense to me. I mean, why can't Preston just do it the way the book does?"

Micah tunes him out, eyes drifting back to the corner. Lucas is sitting with his backpack open, books and folders pulling the front flap down to the floor, but he makes no move to pull them back in. He looks like he might be as tired as Micah is, if the way his head is listing to the side is any indication—like he's going to fall asleep or fall over, one of the two.

Then Billy starts rooting through Micah's bag for his math book, and Micah's too focused on pretending like he did the homework to wonder about Lucas anymore, at least for the rest of the school day.

-

The sun comes out for about twenty minutes that afternoon, long enough that Micah has to shade his eyes on the way home. The clouded sun makes the brightness almost unbearable, especially through the steady drizzle that never seems to go away, so he's confused at first when he sees someone standing at the bank of the river. There's no path down this way, so the banks are usually free and clear.

It's Lucas. Micah recognizes the dark raincoat he wears, one with wide lapels and a sash tie around the middle. It's only the coat that gives him away, because the hood is pulled so far over his head that Micah can't see his face, or the dark hair that Micah is sort of startled to find is familiar to him by now.

Lucas turns when Micah squelches up to him.

"Hey!" Micah miles. "What are you doing down here?"

Lucas smiles back, biting the inside of his cheek. "I just... I heard it through the trees," he says, waving a hand vaguely towards the tree line and the pathway on the other side of it. "Is it okay? It's not, um, off-limits or something, is it?"

"What? No! No, I just meant..." Micah shakes his head. "Nevermind, I was just... hi."

Lucas digs his hands into his pockets. "Hi. Micah, right?"

"Yeah. And you're Lucas, the new kid," Micah says, grinning a little. Lucas flashes a smile, shrugging and nodding at the same time.

Micah watches the river for a second, hoping he hasn't scared him off and scrambling for something else to say.

But Lucas says, "Why are you here, then?"

"Oh, I'm always here," Micah says, shrugging.

"Yeah? Hey, does it always rain?"

"Not always. I swear we have more than just a rainy season."

The idea of summer seems so far off, like it happened to someone else. The past few years have gone by so quickly it seems, and the summers when he was younger have all blurred into one in his memory. He used to take his bike over every inch of Lawrence, disappearing with Billy and coming back at nightfall covered in summer sweat and flushed from exertion.

This fall has been neverending.

"It's." Micah suddenly wants the new kid to like it here, is struck with fear that he won't. He knows that Lawrence isn't all that it used to be, but it's his home. "It's nice in the summer. The woods are all green around here. And dry."

"Dry is good."

Micah laughs. Summer is probably hotter and wetter than he makes it sound, but in his memory, it's so much brighter. It's only been weeks since the summer ended, but it feels longer. Micah wonders if they'll ever make it through the winter and onto the other side.

"You like it though, you think?" Micah asks. He means for it to come out more casually than it does.

"Sure. Moving is hard, but I've got my family, you know?"

"Yeah," Micas says, and then hesitantly offers, "I've lived here my whole life. It's mostly just me and my mom though, my dad works on one of the transportation barges on Big Miss. He's gone for most of the year."

Lucas takes his hands out of his pockets, pulling the cuff of his raincoat over his fingers. "Must be hard."

Micah shrugs, feeling a bit like he's experiencing déjà vu. Sam had asked him nearly the same thing. "We're okay," he says honestly, exactly what he told Sam.

In the ensuing silence Micah wonders if he overstepped some sort of taking-to-strangers boundary, but then Lucas asks, "Do you live close by?"

"Yep. I know a shortcut, come on," he says, heading off. Lucas falls into step behind him.

It's less of a shortcut and more of a pathway through the woods, what was probably a deer path to begin with, but widened and cleared over the years as Micah walked it to school and back every day. Lucas says nothing, but he does take on a look of surprise when they step out of the trees only a few feet from the footpath.

"It's not that impressive," he laughs, and Lucas says "It is if you just moved here last week," looking between the path and the thick treeline. "And if you tripped over nettles to get to the river in the first place."

Micah tries not to feel too proud of himself. It's only a deer path, after all. "Now you know."

They split up at the crossroads, Lucas waving shyly, heading down the path to the next line of trees, his home waiting somewhere on the other side.

-

Mr. Preston lets them split up into groups to work on math problems on Friday. Billy is technically Micah's partner, but he can only listen to Billy talk through the problems out loud for so long before he's dozing in his seat. He doesn't feel too badly about it; apparently you can't be an engineer unless you're good at math, so Billy's mostly doing the work for his own benefit anyway.

Sam had seemed ecstatic to learn that he'd begun talking to Lucas. He's not sure if he can say they're proper friends yet, despite Sam insisting that it's "a good friendship, he sounds like a keeper." His interest was baffling.

Micah had told him that they don't really talk, they just meet after school by the river and take the shortcut through the woods. Micah's never had a hard time getting along with people, but then again, he's had the same classmates since they were in diapers, so it's hard to tell.

Lucas hasn't really mentioned any friends he might have left behind. He mostly talks about his sisters, and Micah gathers that he probably spent most of his time watching them while his parents were at work. Micah has never had a sibling, so he doesn't mind hearing Lucas' stories.

He shifts in his seat, glancing to the back corner. Lucas' desk is one that's been pushed into a circle of three other desks around him—mostly everyone was too lazy to actually swap seats, so the classroom is a mess of desks and chairs shoved hastily across the floor.

Lucas' group aren't even doing the math, they're just talking and fiddling with their calculators. Lucas is staring down at his packet, head tilted in apparent confusion. There's a look of concentration on his face. Micah frowns.

It's only because he's looking in their direction that he hears the word Winchester, and it drags his attention away from Lucas.

"I call my sister a freak all the time, you think she's gonna go crazy and wake the devil?"

"Exactly," says the girl whose back faces Micah. It's Penny Rosen, who was never in Micah's circle of friends growing up, so he doesn't know much about her aside from the basics. "Sam's not some moral story about bullying, he was messed up."

"Hey," Micah says sharply, anger bubbling over. The group turns to look at him. "Don't say those things unless you know what you're talking about."

Penny bristles. "You don't know any more than I do, you're just ignoring the truth."

"I'm not ignoring anything, you just see what you want to see."

"Dude," says Ryan Burgess, the guy who thinks it's funny to call his sister a freak. "Sam betrayed Dean, what are you defending him for?"

"But he was manipulated, wasn't he?"

Lucas. Everyone else seems as surprised as Micah does to hear him jump into the argument, and they all stare at him for a second. He swallows.

"Sam thought Dean had abandoned him, right? The angels interfered. Isn't the point of the story supposed to be trust and forgiveness?"

Nobody says a word.

"Doesn't matter what it supposed to mean," Ryan mutters darkly, "he still broke the last seal."

Micah shakes his head. "If it weren't for Sam, we probably wouldn't even be here."

"All right!" Mr. Preston claps his hands from the front of the classroom. "If we're having philosophical debates, we're not doing math."

It's loud enough in the classroom with people moving around and desks shifting back into place that Micah can barely hear Penny whispering to Ryan under her breath. "If it weren't for Sam, we wouldn't be living in this shithole either," she says petulantly, but she won't meet Micah's eye when he tries to catch it.

Neither does Lucas, but he's walking down the riverbank after school just like always, so Micah catches up to him.

"So," he begins awkwardly. He has to nearly shout to be heard over the sound of the rain, this afternoon's storm showering down onto the leaves above. "Have you read them, then?"

Micah almost bumps into him when Lucas stops on the narrow path, crowding himself up against a tree for shelter. Lucas pulls off his hood. "You mean the Winchester gospels?"

"Yeah. I thought—I mean, I just didn't expect it."

Lucas shrugs. "I know the big plots. They're interesting. It's everywhere in Lawrence, you know? I'd never pick up on anyone's references."

That makes Micah grin, and Lucas smiles back even though he's still hunched in on himself, arms folded protectively across his chest. "It's cool. I'm glad—I mean. Thanks for earlier."
"You're welcome."

That seems to be all Lucas is willing to say, but Micah thinks he can probably tell Sam tonight that he was right. Lucas is a pretty good friend to have.

At first, he thinks he's woken up. It's dark and Micah's eyes struggle to adjust, and when his vision clears Sam is there and he knows it's a dream.

Sam smiles crookedly at him, nervous. Micah has never known him to be nervous, and it immediately sets him on edge.

"Sam?"

"Sorry, I'll just—"

"You say that a lot," Micah murmurs, but then there's a ripple of awareness, a radio tuning in to the correct channel; his surroundings familiarize.

Too familiar—they're in the woods. Micah's woods, but summertime woods, with soft grass and dappled sunlight, bright in the clearing.

"I have to tell you the truth now, Micah, but please—"

"The truth?"

Sam holds his hand out, palm up. "Please listen, alright?

Micah's throat is tight, suddenly fearful. He nods.

"I—okay, I should probably be more tactful about this, but I've had enough arguments with you about the appropriate time for bluntness to know that you think it's pretty much all the time."

He scans his memory and comes up with no arguments. Micah's pulse is fluttering around his throat, and he suddenly knows that he doesn't want to hear this, he's not ready for this. "Sam?"

"Micah." Sam kneels down in front of him, eyes wide and reassuring, but what he says just sends another hot spike of panic up his chest. "You know more than you should, right? You've been having moments that aren't yours."

Yes. He’d been ignoring them so well that he’d very nearly forgotten: the way he knew about Dean shadowing Sam at Stanford to make sure he was safe, the details he could swear he remembers reading in the Gospels that aren’t there. He can’t tear his eyes away from Sam’s; Sam nods knowingly.

"You ever wonder how ghosts die?" Sam asks, and it's so out of the blue that Micah can only keep staring at him blankly, frozen panic. Sam sighs. "Well, think of it like this: everyone has a soul. Sometimes they're new souls. Sometimes they aren't."

Micah swallows thickly. "I don't know what you're saying."

"Vengeful spirits can get a second chance, if they want it. And regular spirits, too. Your soul isn't new."

"You said you'd tell me the truth," Micah says angrily, sick of dancing around this. "You said you'd be blunt."

"Do you want the truth about why you're here or the truth about why I'm here?"

"They're the same thing!" Micah shouts, and Sam sets his jaw.

"They're two different questions, Dean," he says shortly.

It works. Suddenly there's the Sam Micah knows and the Sam Dean knows, and this one's the latter. Micah just stares at him, mouth agape. "'Dean,'" he echoes.

"Yes. Dean."

"That's not possible."

Sam knits his eyebrows together sympathetically. "You know it is."

"Why?" It comes out as a whisper.

"You wanted to. It's... more complicated than that, but one thing at a time, okay?"

Micah looks up. "Why are you telling me this, then? What about you, what's the second part?"

Sam's shoulders drop and he passes a hand over his face, suddenly looking incredibly weary. Distantly, Micah thinks that's unfair; if Sam's soul belongs to heaven, then why does he still look like he's carrying the weight of guilt? "That's even more complicated, but I swear, I wish I didn't have to be here at all. I wish you could just..."

Just what? Micah thinks, but there's a sudden thunderclap of understanding and he has no idea where it comes from. "It's Raphael, isn't it? He's got something up his sleeve, and he's going to ruin this for us. Goddamnit, Sammy."

"... Huh," Sam says, and laughs shortly. "Hey, Dean."

But that's it, that's too much, and the next thing he knows Micah is waking up gasping, thrashing in his bedclothes. Then it stops. Panic seeps clean out of his bones, leaving them so heavy he doesn't think he can lift them, some sort of coping mechanism forcing his body and blood and bone into calmness.

He lies in bed, staring at the dark ceiling, and soon enough he's drifting back to sleep, this time dark and dreamless.

-

Micah squeezes himself into the narrow bathroom off the upstairs hallway and flicks on the light switch. What he sees in the mirror is what he's always seen, brown eyes, blonde hair that crinkles into curls at the end when it's too long like it is now. He's hated it, always hated when his hair does that, but right now it's done something to calm the frenetic thrum of panic that he can't keep down. It's just him there, just Micah.

How can he be something else? He's never—he's had moments, he guesses, like what would it be like if I were Billy or what if I had been born in New Dehli, just dumb thoughts like that sometimes. He hasn't exactly wondered What if I'm Dean Winchester, reborn? to himself. Not even when the dreams started.

He doesn't know how long he stands there trying to piece Dean Winchester's face out of his own, even though he knows that would be crazy, but he feels calmer, a little more still in the center of him when he leaves, plods downstairs for breakfast.

He stands there in the kitchen doorway. His mom is sitting there at the table with the paper in one hand and a cup of coffee in the other, just like every day, but it slams into Micah now, the way air does when your lungs are starving.

"Mom," he says, and is startled when it comes out like a sob. She looks up from the paper and he doesn't have to say anything more; she just pushes her chair out and holds out her arms. Micah goes, folding his head under her chin, wrapping his arms around her and the chair both—she's so small, so much smaller than she was the last time he needed her like this, and he has to kneel on the floor in order to fit. He wants to crawl into her lap and leave wet sobs on her shoulder like when he was a kid, but he doesn't cry, just sucks in air and tries to ground himself while she rubs her hands down his back, through his fringe, and says nothing, just his name. It sounds so sad when she says it.

"Don't, don't be sad," he says, voice crushed tight, "don't ever be sad."

She doesn't ask about it later, after Micah's hiccupping breath settles down, after he stands up and kisses her hair, slinks back upstairs and under the covers. She doesn't bother him to go to school either, and he listens to her as she moves through the house, safe sounds against the backdrop of rain. Constant, constant rain.

It lulls him back to sleep, but it's light, fitful; he's afraid to dream again. The house is quiet when he resurfaces, his mom having gone to work. Micah stares at his ceiling, feeling strange, but calm.

He doesn't have anything better to do, so he wanders down to the river again, the rain light enough that he doesn't get too wet so long as he stays out from under the trees, where wind scatters the water from their leaves and dumps it on his head like a personal rain storm.

The banks are so high now. Micah toes at the edge of it, sinks his boot into the mud until it starts to feel tacky and stuck, then pulls it out again, flings mud off his toe so that it splashes back into the water.

He catches a flash of something out of the corner of his eye and looks to see a small hunched figure about a hundred feet down the bank. He squints at it, starts moving.

"Lucas?" he calls, and the figure raises his hand. He's wearing that dark raincoat again.

"Hey. You weren't in school, I thought you might be down here."

Micah stares at him until he has to blink away rainwater. "Did you ditch? You did, didn't you?"

Lucas shrugs. "I was worried."

Micah laughs and Lucas smiles at him, small but pleased.

"Sorry, sorry," Micah says, feeling suddenly light and wide open, "I didn't mean—I'm sorry you worried, I'm not laughing at you, just, I can't believe you ditched, man."

"I told Mr. Preston I wasn't feeling well."

"Still."

Lucas pushes his hands into his pockets. "So? Are you... okay?"

Micah shrugs and hopes it looks normal. He wished Lucas hadn't asked. "I don't—I didn't feel up to school this morning, but I'm...."

Better now, he wants to say, but that would be a lie, so he doesn't. He wonders if Sam would be angry he told someone about—last night. About Dean. If anyone, Lucas would be the one to listen. Micah's pulse quickens, hands suddenly clammy, even in the rain.

"Hey Lucas, can I tell you something?" he says. It comes out weak, like a whisper. Lucas takes a quick step towards him, then checks himself, nodding.

"Anything."

Micah smiles a little gratefully with the corner of his mouth, both of them willing to acknowledge but otherwise ignore the strangeness of the way this works, this friendship or whatever it is between the two of them, and in such a short time.

He has Lucas follow him back to his house, away from the rain. They pull off their muddy boots and leave them on the front stoop; Micah takes Lucas' raincoat from him and drops it onto the warm vent, hanging his own coat on its hook. His mom would be proud of him for that one, but maybe not about Lucas' wet coat all over the hardwood floors. Still, what is he supposed to do when everyone and everything comes back into the house wet these days? He rubs his damp hands onto his jeans, trying to force himself to focus.

"We have one of these in our house," Lucas says, pointing with his socked toes at the shallow groove in front of the door, filled with salt. "We don't use it."

"Yeah, most houses here are pretty well protected."

Lucas nods, peering around the front hall. His eyes linger on the devil's trap inlaid into the ceiling.

"C'mon," Micah murmurs, and Lucas nods again as if he's agreeing to something, squaring his shoulders. He looks more confident than he ever has, and he follows Micah up the stairs wordlessly.

Micah pulls out his desk chair and spins it around to face the foot of the bed, nodding jerkily at it for Lucas to sit down. He straddles his chair backwards, drumming his fingers nervously on the back of the rails.

"Will you—Promise not to laugh, okay?"

"I won't laugh at you."

"Promise?"

"Yes, I promise. I'm not—I would never."

Micah nods, sucking in a breath. He stares at his hands, wrapped tight around the bars. Might as well jump right in the pool, get this over with. "I've been having dreams about Sam Winchester. I mean dreams with Sam Winchester. He's been visiting me."

Lucas says nothing for long enough that Micah has to force himself to look up. He's still, wide-eyed, and when he sees Micah watching his mouth tightens at the corners, just slightly.

"I'm not laughing, okay, but you're not—you know I'm Catholic, right? Are you messing with me?"

"No! No, Luke, I swear I'm not messing with you. God, I wouldn't. I know you don't believe in the Gospels, but can you just." Micah drops his head, scrubbing a hand through his hair quickly.

"Can you please try to believe me? For just this once?"

"Okay," Lucas says, but it's not an answer. He pulls his legs onto the bed, crossing them, leans forward on his elbows. "Whatever's going on, whatever you've got to say, just tell me. I can listen, yeah?"

He can listen, but he doesn't have to believe. That's fine. That's enough. So Micah runs through the basics with him, about the dreams and about the pictures in the library, how he thought he was going crazy and how it was better to just accept it. And then he pauses, thinking about the dark squeeze of his bathroom that morning, looking at himself in the mirror.

It doesn't feel real anymore, not as real as it had this morning, but it's true. He knows it is, feels it somewhere in him, that alien truth.

"Micah."

He looks up. Lucas is still there, Lucas with his patient face, his cautious eyes. It's suddenly so deeply familiar, like déjà vu.

"There's something else," Micah says. "He says I'm-"

His voice chokes up in his throat; he swallows thickly once, twice, but it only hurts. "Sam told me the reason he's been visiting me. That I'm, apparently, that my soul is his brother's. Dean's. In another life, I was Dean Winchester. Me. Lucas,"—and here is when his voice breaks for good, high and wet with all the tears that were stoppered up this morning, and through them he says, "how can it be me?"

After that he's not really sure what happens. He remembers Lucas shushing him quietly, his hands hesitant on Micah's bicep, tugging; they end up on the bed somehow, Micah hiding his face in Lucas' neck, nose up against the wet skin, hiccupping apologies.

He wakes up some time later. It's still early afternoon; the light coming in his windows is the bright grey of an afterstorm. His while body feels wrung out. Lucas' heat beside him is massively comforting for about ten seconds before the embarrassment sets in and he rolls away, rubbing at the raw skin around his eyes. He dislodges Lucas' fingers from his hair as he goes, trying not to look as the two of them sit up, even though he can feel Lucas' eyes on him, quiet.

"God, I'm sorry. I didn't mean to dump all this on you and then leave you to deal with it."

Lucas shakes his head. "Don't, it's okay."

"Is it?" Micah asks, trying for a teasing grin. "I just grossly cried all over you."

But Lucas just shrugs solemnly. Micah rubs his eyes again, even though they're sore and puffy. They must be bright red. He hasn't cried in front of anybody since he was nine and his dad was leaving for work again.

"It's a lot. That has to be a lot."

"So you believe me?"

Lucas shifts uncomfortably. "I had some time to think about it while you were asleep."

"Sorry," Micah says again reflexively. Lucas dismisses it with a shake of his head.

"Faith isn't about believing what you see. I know you disagree. Your salt lines and devils traps work, and that's proof enough about what's out there. But your gospels were written by a prophet, just like mine, and your prophet had to believe that he was Seeing for a reason, even though he didn't have any proof. If you believe it's the real Sam you're dreaming about, if you believe what he tells you, then so can I. If I can have faith in God, Micah, I can have faith in you."

Micah stares at him, tongue dry.

"Thanks, Luke," he manages.

"Micah," Lucas says, shifting on the bed. His fingers twist the fabric of the comforter. "I have something to—confess. I have a secret, too. I thought I was going crazy."

This last he whispers, harsh and desperate, and then he says the last thing Micah ever expected him to say. "I've been hearing the angels in my head."

It sends a chill down Micah's back at the same time that it thrills him. The idea that he's not the only one experiencing something so insane; it's a kind of relief that has him feeling guilty, because he knows what it's like to keep a secret like this. He kind of hates that Lucas has felt it too, but god, god¸ Lucas. He wants to say something comforting, but it's like seeing him for the first time, hyper-real, as if everything that's come before was a dull sort of play-act.

His mouth doesn't really check back with his brain, and so he says, "What, um, what are they saying?"

Lucas shrugs, eyes still downcast. "Nothing. Not to me, anyway. And I can't really understand it. It's more like I can get a sense of what they're saying and not what the words actually mean, you know?"

"Enochian."

Lucas nods. "I.... yeah, probably."

There's a roaring sound in his ears. Belatedly, he realizes that the sound is his heartbeat; he takes a deep breath. Now that he thinks about it, Micah remembers seeing Lucas zoning out in class, head slightly tilted. Listening. He was listening. "How long has this been going on?"

"It started not long after we moved here. I thought maybe it was just the stress of the move..." He trails off, shrugging again.

"But why? What do you think it means?"

"I've been trying not to think about it much." Lucas laughs nervously, fake and derisive. "It scares me. Micah, it terrifies me."

"I know, okay, yeah." He feels guilty about it, but somehow Lucas' fear lightens his own burden and Micah feels it like a rush of comfort. "I couldn't tell anyone, and now that I have, I find out that he's as crazy as I am."

Micah throws out his best grin and it teases a small, wobbly smile out of Lucas. It looks good on him. He should smile more; he should smile always. He's got angels singing in his ear, and Micah knows that angels are just as dangerous, just as manipulative as demons, but right now it just means that neither of them are alone.

He thinks suddenly of Sam, and it sends a shock through him. Sammy. How could I leave you alone?

"I'll ask Sam, okay? Tonight. He might know something. I mean he's closer to the angels than we are, right? And there's gotta be a reason for this." Micah quietens. "He kept saying he was sorry."

"Sorry? For what?"

Micah swallows. "Guess we'll find out, huh?"

"Ask him for me okay? Ask him to tell the angels to shut the hell up."

It shocks a laugh out of him, and Lucas grins full and wide.

"Okay, Luke. You got it."

They lie on the bed for a while after that. Micah thinks about pulling out his homework, maybe going back to school and asking for the assignments he missed, but each thought is fleeting, idle. They pass the time this way, dozing, with the occasional idle chatter—

("Are the angels taking right now?"

"No."

"Okay." A pause. "How about now?"

"No!," and then Lucas socks him in the gut with a pillow and Micah doubles over to protect himself, both of them laughing)—

Micah doesn't think he's ever felt more comfortable lying around with another person, doing nothing. Except for Sam. Yeah, maybe Sam.

His mom comes home from work and knocks on the door, smiling a warm hello at Lucas. He ends up staying for dinner for no other reason than because he's been asked to. Micah stands with him out in the hallway when he calls his parents—yes mom, no, I'll be home before dark, promise—raising his eyebrows in question when Lucas hangs up, even though he knows the answer.

His mom seems to enjoy cooking for three again, doesn't pry or ask any questions beyond the basics, Lucas answering shyly. She leaves them the dishes to do because she's the one who cooked, and what did the boys do all day but lie around, anyway?

Micah hugs her exaggeratedly when she goes to leave the kitchen, leaving a smacking kiss on her cheek. She rolls her eyes but pats his shoulder fondly; Micah might spend forever trying to convince her that he's okay, even when he's not.

Lucas does leave before sundown, stepping gingerly across the overflowing salt line, thanking Micah's mom with all of his politeness and accidental charm.

"Promise?" is all he says to Micah, and he nods back, sending him off with a mock-salute and a grin.

-

But he doesn’t dream of Sam that night. He wakes up confused and tries not to feel abandoned. Sam had looked stressed last time, or maybe he’s trying to give Micah time to adjust.

He doesn’t go to school early. Instead he sits on his front stoop and waits until Lucas comes down the path.

“Hey,” Lucas says, faint color on his cheeks. It’s not fully raining yet, just a dampness in the air and a few drops blown by the wind. Micah smiles tightly, suddenly nervous. Lucas’s face falls.

“What’s wrong?”

“He didn’t show up.”

Lucas scuffs his boot. “Oh. What does that mean?”

“I know you were waiting to hear what he had to say, but –”

“I believe you, Micah. What do you think it means, that he wasn’t there? Is this the first time?”

Micah glances around reflexively, but there are only a few people far enough down the path into town that they couldn’t possibly listen in.

“Yeah. I think he’s been, I don’t know, busy?”

“Okay. Yeah, you’re probably right.”

Micah chews on his bottom lip. “I’m sorry.”

Lucas shakes his head, hair settling in his eyes. He pushes it away. “Tonight then, right?”

“Right.”

It’s an uneasy walk, wordless. Halfway down the river path, Lucas drifts close enough that his knuckles brush against the back of Micah’s hand. They linger long enough for him to be sure it’s not an accident, and it’s a relief to know that he didn’t just ruin Lucas’s trust, but they still continue on in silence.

The first vivid memory hits him in the middle of a lecture on the effects of the Treaty of Paris. The world shifts suddenly and he stands up, bumping the edge of his desk so that it squeals horribly as it moves. Mr. Preston stops speaking.

“Excuse me,” Micah says, gripping he edge of his desk. “I’m not feeling well, I’ll just—” and he hurries out of the classroom without even asking permission.

It’s just school. Micah pushes into the bathroom and slumps against the wall; he’s both here and in Texas, pulling Sam out of a class, claiming that their dad had called for an emergency and that they were needed home right away.

Dad hadn’t called the school, of course, he was three hours away finishing a hunt. He needed them to be packed up and ready to leave by the time he pulled up to the rental house because the cops had done a background check and found out that he wasn’t really a fed.

“Dude, can I at least say goodbye to my friends?” Sam asks.

“And say what, ‘Have a nice life?’ You’re not gonna see them again, Sammy,” Dean says. Sam is so pissed that he acts petulantly and refuses to talk to Dean for two days.

When the memory resolves, Micah has to take a second to find his bearings. Once he’s sure he can stand he edges back into the classroom, hoping that he won’t be an interruption again but Mr. Preston turns to look when the door opens. Micah is half expecting to see a glare of disappointment, but instead there’s concern.

“Micah, if you’re still not feeling well you can go see the nurse,” he says.

“I’m okay.” He hopes that if anyone can see the shaking of his hands, they’ll chalk it up to sickness.

He glances at the back corner as he makes his way back to his desk. Lucas is watching him, wide-eyed. Micah nods minutely, hoping to convey I’m all right to him somehow.

It’s not the only time it happens, but at least the others are less severe, just snatches of memory that settle in his head like they belong, like they’re being stitched into a spot that was always meant to be filled. He doesn’t think he retains a word of what he’s supposed to be learning, but at least he knows he won’t be blacking out all the time. He’d run out of excuses fast.

Lucas waits until they’re on the deer path in the woods before he asks, listening silently, eyebrows raised.

“How long do you think it will take?”

“Will what take?”

“Well, you’ll get all of Dean’s memories now, won’t you?”

He hadn’t really thought of it like that. He just shrugs, but he spends the rest of the night wondering where he stops and where Dean begins.

He makes it nearly all the way through dinner. His mom had brought home fresh trout from one of the girls she works with who takes day trips down to Big Miss, and she makes Micah fry them, because “Nobody else can cook like you, honey.” (“Oh, so that’s why you keep me around?” he’d said, which had earned him a halfhearted swat on the head and a kiss there immediately after, Micah grinning the whole time.)

He wonders if there’s even a point in trying to hide things from his mom, but when his head starts to swim, Micah claims he has homework and hightails it up to his room.

Micah relaxes into it, for once letting his memories and Dean’s overlap, shifting and sliding around one another. The low-lying panic he’s had for two days finally dies down, and all of his senses feel muffled.

Then it hits him, and he sits up in bed like a shot. On the opposite wall is his map of town and Micah gets off his bed, crosses the room to peer sideways at the map, like it will be easier to understand with that tilt of his head. He knows exactly what he’s looking for, though. He traces the thin line on the map, the unnamed tributary that runs parallel to the edge of town.

Lucas.

He ends up barely sleeping at all, and doesn’t remember dreaming, Sam or no. He needs to talk to Lucas and wonders briefly if he might be able to convince him to skip school again, but the chances are slim. He settles for grabbing Lucas at the elbow before the morning bell rings.

“Come to my house after school, okay? Come right over, I have something to show you.”

Lucas nods, his wide eyes alarmed. Micah flashes him a grin that’s meant to be reassuring.

“Are you okay?” Lucas asks lowly. “Did you remember something?”

Micah shakes his head, biting down on his grin. “Not really, but I think I might have some answers,” and he taps Lucas on the side of his head, resisting the urge to laugh at his bewildered expression.

Neither of them mention that morning until they’re in Micah’s room.

“So what’s this all about, Micah?” Lucas asks. There’s a note of worry in his voice, and the sound of it twists something guilty in Micah’s gut for having put it there.

“I think I know why you’ve been hearing the angels,” he says. Lucas says nothing, just chews on the inside of his cheek and waits for Micah to go on.

“Here,” Micah says, pulling a pile of maps off his desk and onto the bed, spreading them out on the space between them when Lucas sits. “My family has lived in Lawrence forever, so we have a lot of old family heirlooms and stuff, like these maps. This one –“ he unfolds the map that he’d taken off his wall last night, after digging around in the basement for the others—“is the most recent.”

“Okay…”

“Now look. This line is the river, here. But on this map,” and he pulls out an older map, one dated a few years before he was born, “there’s nothing.”

Lucas leans forward to peer at the maps, dark hair hiding them from Micah’s view. He meets Micah’s eyes when he sits back. “You’re right. It must have been too small to be on the map or something, right?”

“Maybe. But I always assumed that the river – creek, whatever it is – must be just an offshoot of some larger stream and that it ties back into Big Miss somewhere, right?”

“Makes sense.”

“But it doesn’t. Tie back into Big Miss, I mean. That doesn’t make sense.”

Micah unfolds another map, this one even older and much larger, covering the whole state. There are rivers marked there, all of them emptying into the wide Kansas River or else heading east towards the Mississippi Waterway. He’d checked them against county maps, the detailed and delicately painted ones that someone in his family must have liked to collect, and couldn’t find where this stream of his came from.

“It just showed up on this map, and it’s like nobody even questioned it.”

Lucas pauses in his perusal of the maps now spread everywhere and raises his eyebrows at Micah. “So why are you questioning it, then? What does this have to do with the angels?”

Micah grins again, still high on his discovery. Well, theory, at this point. “Do you know the story of Anna?”

Lucas gives a half-hearted shrug. He’s pulled the edges of his sleeves over his hands and Micah resists the urge to push them back, twist Luke’s hands up with his own as reassurance.

“She’s the fallen angel, right?”

“Yep. She cut out her grace and became human.”

“She denied God,” Lucas deadpans. “That’s what I know about her. That she was jealous of humanity and tried to change God’s plan.”

“Well, I guess, but that’s not exactly – look, it isn’t the point. When she cut out her grace, it fell to Earth. On the same day she was born, a tree grew. Out of nowhere. And not like a regular tree, but one that was near a hundred years old.”

Lucas says nothing, mouth slightly agape.

“Here,” Micah says, adrenaline in his fingertips, finding his Gospels where they always sit on his bookshelf. His fingers tug out Volume IV, Book 10, and he carries it back to the bed, flipping through its pages until he finds the passage he’s looking for.

“They had to find it to keep it safe, so Sam did some research. Here, this is what he says: ‘In '85, there was an empty field outside of town. Six months later, there was a full-grown oak. They say it looks a century old at least,’ ” Micah reads. “’Dean turns to Anna for answers. “What do you think?” “The grace,” Anna says, confirming their suspicions, “Where it hit, it could have done something like that, easy.’ See? Creation. Something that gives life, like a tree, like a river.”

 

“And –“ Lucas swallows, eyes wide but unfocused. “And Anna, did she hear voices? Angels in her head?”

“Yes.”

“Like me.”
“Just like you. And this river doesn’t show up on any of the maps made before I was born, before you were born, but suddenly here it is. Luke, it can’t be a coincidence. You must – I mean do you think, I mean you have to be¬¬—”

“Can we stop?”

It’s barely a whisper, shaky. Micah does stop, words dying at the top of his throat. Lucas has hidden his face behind his hands, and Micah watches them tremble.

“Luke.” Micah doesn’t bother to resist this time and places his palms to the back of Lucas’ hands, wrapping his fingers around to press lightly at the center of Lucas’ palms. “Hey.”

He lowers his hands, twisting them in Micah’s hold. “I didn’t want to believe it,” he murmurs, eyes still shut tight.

“You… did you know?”

Finally he looks at Micah, shaking his head. “No, but I thought… something, I… like, maybe I was a vessel.” He looks down at their hands. “Two days ago I didn’t believe in any of this. And now I find out that I’m not – I’m not even me.”

Micah is suddenly, forcefully exhausted, all of his adrenaline run dry. He doesn’t know what to say. He hasn’t figured any of this out yet either.

Gently, Lucas loosens his grasp and pulls his hands back into himself. They sit in silence, maps spread out around them like fallen leaves, until Micah’s mom comes home and the front door slams shut, startling them both.

“Here,” Micah says as Lucas turns to leave. He slides another book off the shelf, Volume IV, Book I, and hands it over. “Read this, okay? Castiel is – he’s—”

“Okay. Thank you.” Luke takes the book and tucks it under his arm, hesitates only a moment, and disappears down the staircase.

He can’t stop thinking about what Lucas said. Micah lies awake when he’s meant to be sleeping, thinking about how he has to fight to remember himself, and by the time he falls asleep, he’s terrified about what his dreams might tell him.

-

The first thing Sam does when he finally returns is give an apology.

“I shouldn’t have left you alone with this, but I didn’t have a choice,” he says, and Micah should demand to know what he’s talking about, but it’s not the first thing on his mind right now.

“He’s Castiel, isn’t he?” he blurts, and Sam freezes with his mouth open. “Lucas,” Micah adds. He doesn’t have much of a reason to be angry, but anger doesn’t follow logic anyway.

“I think so, yes.” Sam says.

“Why.”

Sam runs a hand through his hair. “I told you that. You wanted to. You both did.”

“That’s not an explanation.”

Sam shakes his head, but he’s smiling. “Yeah, I know. But why else? You had the choice. You wanted something simple and happy for once, and Cas wanted to be human.”

“He wanted to be human?” That doesn’t fit in with anything that Micah knows, not from the Gospels and not from Dean’s memories. Castiel was proud of who he was. Castiel believed, for a time, that even God was proud.

“Yeah, that was your reaction when he told you,” Sam says, grinning now so widely that his dimples cut deep into his cheeks. “But he wanted to be with you in a way he never could.”

“Did he stop to think about what the consequences might be?”

Sam creases his brow, standing up straighter. “I thought you wanted to know. And I thought this is what you wanted, so what is this all about, Dean?”

Micah.

“Right. You’re Micah. I’m not trying to deny it.”

“It’s not very fair, is it? I mean, for Dean, sure. But don’t you think it’s selfish? I’m not, I never thought I was just some sort of… vessel. For Dean’s soul. I thought that when I died, I’d be me.”

Sam knits his brows at that. “I don’t follow.”

Me!” Micah says, angry now. “What about me, do I just… go away? Live out my life and then Dean gets you back when it’s over, like, ‘oh what a great time I had, now let’s get back to being Dean-fucking-Winchester?’”

“I don’t think it works that way,” Sam says calmly, and Micah wants to hit him, wants to make him understand because he’s fucking, fucking terrified. “There aren’t two of you. You’re Dean. And Micah. You’re both.”

“What does that even mean? Do you remember your ‘past lives’?

He spits it out like it’s an insult, but Sam just shrugs.

“Well… yeah.”

“You… you do?”

“Sort of. That’s what’s always so sad about the spirits.”

Micah has no idea what he’s talking about.

“Even you said that,” Sam continues, eyes far away. “Ghosts stuck on earth were stuck in one life, just one part of the soul, isolated from the rest. It’s why they seem so lost, so much less human. It’s the worst kind of misery. Just like the demons, souls all twisted up because of one life, one.. aspect of the self. Not very fair, is it?”

Micah breathes in ragged, feeling very empty now. He thinks about the odd moments where he has felt like both himself and like Dean, and wonders if that’s what Sam is talking about. Being everybody at once. Being really you, like every experience is a building block.

“But I… I don’t want to lose myself,” he says, and Sam snaps back to attention.

“You won’t. It’s not like you have to choose; you don’t feel any loss.”

“What about my mom?”

Sam’s eyes widen and he seems to take in a hitching breath, eyes taking on that thousand-yard stare again. Whatever it is, it makes Micah angry with himself, like if Sam is upset, he must be doing something wrong.

“That’s kind of why I’m here,” Sam says. Micah sits up straighter, heart thumping.

“It is? How? Sam, tell me, please.”

“You don’t remember your first visit in heaven?” It’s not a question, but Micah shakes his head in verification.

“It was awful. You know the angels, how jealous they were of us. You’ve read it. They took away from us something vital, something so important, the point of existence.”

“…The meaning of life?”

Sam gives a short laugh, shaking his head. “Nobody knows that. I’m talking about separate heavens. Sure, it seems nice, all perfection, all paradise, but it’s empty. It’s catered to one perspective, one life, as you’d say. But it cuts us all off from one another.

If heaven were still to be like that when you died – you, the Micah part of you – then we’d be cut off. You, me, everyone we knew. Everyone Dean knew.”

“So it would be just me, and nobody else. Not mom or dad.”

“Nope. And not your other parents, either. Or your other other parents. Your friends, your husbands and wives, your children. They are the point, you see? Each soul is the sum of all the others. All the people we know, knew, will know. That’s how the angels sought to punish us for what God had done to them; by separating us from the foundation of our existence. From each other.”

Micah’s mind is reeling, struggling to understand at the same time that he understands implicitly as if the secret is being revealed and he knew it all along, the answer to a riddle.

And out of all that, he plucks just one thing.

“God?”

“God. He gave creation to us. Not the result of creation, but creation itself, you know? We create one another, because God has given us those tools.”

(Later, when Micah relays all of this to Lucas, Lucas will look at him and say We are all God’s children -- not like a prayer, or like a teaching, but like a revelation.)

“But the angels didn’t understand. They thought they loved God best, but they had only one experience, they had only themselves. But taking it away from humanity wasn’t the solution. God removed himself from the equation because he wanted the angels to understand. They were supposed to learn from us, learn to become individuals, stop taking all of their orders from God. That was His mistake when He created the angels, and He wanted to fix it.

But they took His abandonment the wrong way, started self-governing, started corrupting their own system right at the top. They were actually punishing other angels for doing exactly what God wanted them to do – to learn to love us. Learn to love us so much that the act of rebellion was an act of righteousness, a way to free themselves from obedience, to make their own decisions and become closer to humanity that way. But any angel who devoted themselves to humanity was a blasphemer in the eyes of the archangels and they were destroyed for it.”

Sam stops, takes in a breath. Then turns to Micah and smiles. “And that’s the answer to your question.”

Micah can’t remember. “Which question?”

“The first question you asked, dude,” Sam teases, and his tone is so warm, so familiar. “You wanted to know why Castiel would want to be human. Think about it.”

“He did it,” Micah begins, startling himself with the swell of pride he gets when he starts putting two and two together. “He rebelled, starting with you and me. He made his own choices. He chose to love us.”

Micah pauses, suddenly lightheaded. “He chose to love me. He fell, so he could be human. So he would be one of us. So he would never have to lose us.”

Sam nods along “Aren’t you lucky, Dean,” he says quietly, teasingly.

Dean; Micah. And Lucas, the angel who fell so that he could rise. He looks at Sam. “Yes.”

That’s when he wakes up.

-

In the light of day it’s almost too much. Lucas draws patterns on Micah’ comforter with his fingertips, listening quietly. He only interrupts a couple of times, and when Micah is finished, stops fidgeting altogether.

He takes a few minutes to process, and then says, “Let’s get out of here.”

It’s so far from what Micah was expecting that he just nods dumbly and follows Lucas out of the house. He knows where they’re going immediately, and together they walk down to the river, heads bowed against the rainfall.

Lucas wanders to the edge, stopping short of where the grass is dead and waterlogged. Then he just lies down, careful to keep his feet out of the mud. He shifts his back a little, finding a comfortable spot, and then looks up at Micah upside down, eyebrows raised expectantly. Micah lies down.

And that’s all. The sky is still a clouded gray, but every now and then they pass by just long enough to let the sun dry up Micah’s face.

“You were right,” Lucas says eventually. Micah stirs, realizing that he’d almost fallen asleep, and blinks at him.

“Castiel. He’s not like the other angels.”

“No,” Micah laughs. “The other angels were dicks.”

“That’s one of the largest blasphemies,” Luke says. “How can the Winchester gospel be true when it denies so many of the others? But Cas isn’t like that. Cas is devoted.”

Micah doesn’t know what to say. He’s so much more than that, and Lucas has to know it by now, but he’s not going say anything that might shake off Luke’s confidence, not right now.

“’I’m the one who gripped you tight and raised you from perdition,’” Lucas quotes, curling a hand around Micah’s left bicep. “That’s what Castiel said.”

Micah squeezes his eyes shut. Lucas’ hand is warm against the fabric of his sleeve, damp from the rain; when neither of them move, he opens his eyes again, cautiously turns his head to catch Lucas’ expression.

Lucas is looking at his own hand on Micah’s arm, brow furrowed.

Cas,” Micah breathes, barely a whisper. It brings Lucas’ eyes up to meet his, mouth slightly open.

“I did that.” His voice is so quiet that Micah strains to hear, even inches away. “I saved you. Micah, you’d be there still.”

Micah just nods, afraid to move too suddenly. Lucas is right, of course he’s right, but it’s a kind of wonder that Micah has had sitting in his bones since he was a kid and he heard the story for the first time. His chest tightens suddenly, a pang of something unknown that isn’t really his, and then it resolves itself into this: months, years spent telling himself over and over that he wasn’t saved because he deserved it. That he had been just a pawn, not worthy of redemption at all.

And then the knowledge, huge and terrifying, worse even than the self-doubt: the knowledge that Castiel had believed he deserved it; that Dean himself was something so worthy that an angel would rebel –

He lets that thought go, like a fish escaping the line.

“Did we…?” Lucas asks, still inescapably close, “Did Dean and Cas, were they…?”

Micah shakes his head. “I don’t know. Could be.” He fights the urge to fidget under Lucas’ scrutiny. The hand slides off his arm and Lucas shifts away, onto his back once again, closer now than he was before. Micah closes his eyes against the sunlight.

Only a moment later he feels a hesitant touch to the back of his hand, the brush of Lucas’ fingers. Wordlessly, Micah twists his palm open to the sky. Lucas’s wrist brushes across his, fitting their hands together, a dry, heavy weight.

They lie like that until the rain starts again, gentler this time, and Micah sits up reluctantly, gripping Lucas’ hand tighter to pull him to his feet. They pick their way back through the trees, close enough to brush shoulders. Out of the corner of his eye Micah can see Lucas’ smile, soft and private, and finds himself matching it, the both of them silent all the way home.

-

Lucas follows him home pretty much every day now, so often that when his mom gets home she just shouts “Hey, boys!” up the stairs. Micah starts keeping a notebook – a journal, like John had and like Sam had. Theirs had been leather-bound and sturdy, but he can’t really afford one of those so he buys a steno pad and keeps it next to his bed, writing down things from the dreams or memories that he can’t fit into a time frame.

In some ways, it’s like he’s just reading more of the Gospels, but there are times when he can’t remember who he is, has to shut his eyes and breathe, open them to catalogue his surroundings. Sometimes they are vivid like the first one; other times, he just knows, can pull up memories and references like they’ve always been a part of him.

Once, he locks himself in his room alone and tries to think of hell. He comes up blank, nothing at all to recall, and is flooded with relief. Sam thinks that he’s just too far removed; his memories of heaven are rare and fleeting, like an afterimage, and he’s pretty sure that’s only because he was with Sam in heaven – a complete experience.

Lucas reads. Sometimes he takes the books of Micah’s shelf at random, but for the most part he starts at the beginning, lying wherever there’s a clean space in Micah’s room with a book in hand. He takes them home sometimes, usually because he’s so close to the end that he doesn’t want to wait, and slips them into Micah’s backpack on the walk to school in the morning.

They switch houses a few times. Micah has yet to meet either of Lucas’ parents because they only go over when Lucas needs to babysit. The first time he walks though their front door, a little girl barrels into his legs.

“Nina, manners,” Lucas scolds.

His other sister comes into the hall. She shares Lucas’ wide brown eyes and stares at him like a startled rabbit. “This is Carrie, she’s nine. Carrie, say hi to Micah, okay?”

She waves. Nina, who is seven, refuses to let go of his legs until Lucas physically pries her arms away.

Micah follows him up the stairs, waving a little at Nina. “They go to Sacred Heart, right?”

“Yeah.”

“Why don’t you?”

Lucas shrugs. “There wasn’t a Catholic school in Lansing, so I went to public school. No reason to switch when I’m graduating in a few years, right?”

But they’re at Micah’s this afternoon. He’s telling himself that he’s doing his homework but he can’t focus, so he just lies on the bed, history book at his side. He’d remembered his first time driving the Impala this morning and keeps replaying the memory.

From downstairs comes the sound of the front door opening and closing, his mom calling out her greeting. Neither of them moves, although this is usually the unspoken signal for Lucas to head home as well. Micah abruptly wants to ask him to stay, heart suddenly pounding like he’s forgotten something, like he’s run out of time. He wonders if Lucas can feel it too, an odd heaviness settled over the room.

“I should go,” Lucas says eventually. Micah nods, hair rubbing against the bedspread, and watches Lucas’ legs as he gets to his feet, hand dipping back down into view when he lifts his backpack off the floor. “See you.”

Micah rolls his head lazily to the side so he can see Lucas at the door. “’Kay.”

Lucas holds up the book he’s still holding and gives it a little shake, eyebrows raised, and Micah nods as permission to take it with him. He slips out the door and after a moment, Micah can hear him exchanging hello, goodbye with his mom, and then the sound of the door shutting again.

He knows he’ll have to ask Sam tonight what the point of all this is, and he’s not sure if he’s ready for the answer.

-

Cruelly, it’s raining in his dream when Sam arrives.

“Where’ve you been?” he asks, trying to keep his tone politely curious.

Sam smiles wryly. “I know, I know, but I’ve been busy.”

“Doing what?”

“Looking for Crowley.”

Micah frowns. “Crowley? But… why?”

“He’s kind of important.” Sam glances over his shoulder quickly, almost too smooth of a motion for Micah to catch, but he does. His eyes narrow.

“He’s the King of the Crossroads, how is that important for where you are?”

Sam heaves a sigh. “He’s King of Hell now, that’s why. He’s like our… liaison, so to speak. He takes the twisted souls, we try to figure out how to get them back up here.”

“That seems very…”

“Diplomatic? Yeah. But it’s the way thing are supposed to go.”

“And Crowley just goes along with it?”

“Why not? He doesn’t care about souls, he only wants power.” Sam flaps a hand as if this is unimportant, despite having flipped everything Micah thinks he knows about demons and the nature of hell on its head.

“Listen, Dean,” Sam continues. “Micah. I haven’t got a lot of time, okay? Raphael is suspicious, and if he can find me, he can find you.”

Raphael. He remembers that, remembers being taken over completely for a moment by Dean, so much at once that it had literally kicked him out of this plane of consciousness.

“Why does Raphael want to find me?” he asks, settling on a question he thinks will get him the most answers. Sam has never been so difficult to parse before; it’s like he’s playing chess, and Dean had never been very good at chess.

“He doesn’t, not yet. But if –when- his angels find out that we’re communicating, they’re going to be suspicious.”

“And… they’ll know because, because you and me, we’re—”

“Soulmates, yes,” Sam confirms, and smiles simply. “How do you think I can be here in the first place?”
mouth forms a silent oh, and Sam is smiling at him like he hasn’t since the beginning, since before Micah found out he was Dean.

“What?” he says, petulant.

Sam shakes his head, smiling wider still. “Nothing.”

“So let me guess, even in heaven, we’re still hunting.”

Sam schools his features. “Something like that. We’re kind of tangled up in angel business, you and I. And work, it seems is never finished. With Michael and the grand apocalypse scheme out of the picture, souls aren’t here captive anymore. You remember what we talked about?”

“Separate heavens versus the real point of the afterlife, yes.”

“Okay. Okay, you’ve got that. So Raphael was supposed to be second in command under Michael, right? Second in command over human souls. And now he thinks he has a real manifest destiny. He’s trying to assume power.”

“Over what?”

“Over heaven. Over human existence.”
Micah clenches his jaw. And he thought Lucifer had been bad; the angels don’t want to corrupt humanity, they want it gone altogether. “So that’s what this is. I’m supposed to… what? What can I do, I’m just… I’m…”

“Human? Exactly,”
Sam concludes, then freezes.

“Sam? What, that does that mean? Why are you here?”

“I have to go. I’m sorry, I can’t risk them finding you, Micah, don’t go anywhere, okay? Not yet.”

“Not yet?” he echoes. It doesn’t sit well, like curdled cream in coffee, realization blooming sickly. “We’re going to have to leave, aren’t we? Whatever you need, it’s not in Lawrence.”

“No,” Sam admits, mouth pinched and unhappy. “I’m not sending you back to that life, okay? No matter what happens, Dean, I swear to you that you won’t have to hunt. Promse me.”

“I don’t know what I’m promising –”

You have to promise me.
Micah snaps his mouth shut. “Okay,” he says, voice small. “Okay, I won’t.”

“It’s not what you wanted.”

“And this is? You sending me and Cas on some sort of crusade?”

“It’s not a crusade.”

“Don’t mess with me, Sammy.”

“I’m not! I’m not messing with you, this is serious, okay? It’s going to be tempting, I think, but it’s necessary.”

What is? Where are you sending us?”

“I can’t tell you that. I can’t risk it.”

Micah grinds his teeth in frustration, pulling at the hair curling at his nape. He knows, logically, that Sam is doing the best he can, but it doesn’t feel that way.

“Well, what happens when you send me away? Won’t the Raphael notice when my soul and Castiel’s human form just up and disappear?”

“Oh, don’t worry about the angels,” Sam smiles. “We’ve got them distracted.”

Micah opens his mouth to ask why Sam is being so cautious, then, but instead he wakes up, sucking in breath.

Kicked out. He’s been kicked out of his own dream, and just when he was starting to get answers.

-

He relays this to Luke after school, watching his eagerly collect every word like they’re pieces of a puzzle. Maybe, in a way, they are.

“Is Heaven still like that?” Lucas asks. Micah twists sideways a little to peer over the edge of the bed; Lucas is lying with his back on the floor, his open book resting flat on his chest. On the cover is a large, silvery moon, the Impala gliding towards it on a dark glimmering highway. The Dark Side of the Moon.

He can’t remember it. Micah skims the story in his head, hoping for Dean’s memories to overtake them, but there’s nothing.

“I don’t know,” he says. “I don’t think so. Sam seems pretty intent on keeping Raphael out of the picture, so maybe he’s trying to keep it all from going back to the way it was under Michael.”

“Has Sam ever mentioned seeing anyone else?”

“No.” When he thinks about it, all he comes up with is the image of Sam’s small, contented smile when Micah had asked, once, how he could stand staying behind. I have my reasons.

“What about you? What do you remember?”

Lucas looks away.

“I don’t. There’s nothing.”

“Have you tried?”

“Micah.”

Micah sits up. He knows that Lucas remembers some things, he can see it on his face every now and then, and he listens when he can hear the other angels, too. But he won’t talk about it.

“I know it’s scary, but it stops being so overwhelming after a while.”

“I thought this was… less than ideal,” Lucas says, frowning. He sets the book aside and pushes himself to his feet. “We weren’t supposed to know, it wasn’t supposed to be like this, right?”

“Well, no. But it is, so we might as well, I don’t know, learn to live with it? Make the best of it?”

“I can’t.

“It’ll be okay, it – Sam needs us anyway.”

“I can’t! Did you ever stop to think about – about --!”

“Lucas, woah, calm –”

“No!”

Micah stares up at him, agape. He’s awed into silence, a little afraid of the expression on Lucas’s face.

“No, Micah, what are you asking me for, huh? It’s not like you, okay, Castiel isn’t human. Don’t you get it?”

“I’m – I –”

“What if I can’t even handle it? I’m just a person, I don’t have any grace, I don’t think I can physically handle thousands of years of memories so please, please Micah, stop asking me.”

Micah takes in a breath. “What do you expect is going to happen, then, when Sam asks us to-”

“To what? To completely lose ourselves? Look, you’re going to be fine, right, but what happens to me? The same thing that happened to Anna? I don’t want to lose myself. I don’t want to be Castiel, do you understand now?”

“Luke, just sit down, okay?”

“I have to go.”

“What?”

“I have to – go,” and he strides across the room, yanking the door open. Then he stops, turns, and pulls one of the books off of Micah’s bookshelf, slamming the door behind him.

Micah has no idea what to do except sit there and wish that Lucas would come back. He doesn’t.

-

He doesn’t expect Lucas to walk with him to school in the morning, but also doesn’t expect Lucas to be completely absent from school. He lets it worry him through the beginning of class, but he has no reason to feel guilty. None. He’s not the only one in this situation, he’s not the only one who is going to have to take responsibility for it.

At least this is what he tells himself, but Lucas is back at school the next day, and the fact that he’s ignoring Micah is like a vice around his gut. He wants to talk to him, to apologize and maybe they can work something out. Whenever Sam decides to show up in his head again, Micah is going to get the real answers out of him, have something to offer Lucas when he realizes that Micah is not the enemy.

There’s hollowness in his gut when he gets to the river after school and Lucas isn’t there to walk with him. He hadn’t realized that he’d let his hopes get so high until they were taken away from him.

He sits at the kitchen table to do his homework, flipping through a book he’s supposed to be reading when his mom comes home.

“Hey, Mikey,” she says, hanging up her coat. “Where’s Lucas?”

Something must show on his face, because she says “Oh, honey,” and then wraps him in a hug – the mirror image of when this all began, when his life became something bigger than this town and this house and this family, something he didn’t ask for.

“Micah, I want you to listen to me. That boy, what you two have, is special. I’m not going to ask what happened, okay? But you’re both reasonable young men, and you’ll have to learn how to talk things out. All right?”

He nods mutely. It’s not the response he expected, and there’s nothing he can really say to correct her, no part of the truth that she would actually believe right now.

She kisses his forehead and Micah remembers telling Sam he did it for us, so he would never lose us, and has to believe that it’s going to be all right.

-

It goes on this way for another two days. He tells himself he’s being patient, but he sits on his bed sick with the worry that he screwed everything up. Well, worry under the guise of doing homework, but his math book is a mess of numbers and the pencil is starting to chafe at the insides of his fingers from the way he’s been spinning it.

He hears the doorbell and it ratchets his heard into his throat. Micah freezes, listening. His mom answers the door and yep, that’s Lucas on the other side. I’m here for Micah? Lucas says, and his mom laughs and says Of course you are, go right up.

Micah swings his legs over the edge of the bed. He can hear the thumping of Lucas’ bare feet on the stairs and then he’s bursting through the door without knocking.

He stops when he sees Micah on the bed, face flushed and eyes fever-bright. “Hey,” he says, like he’s just remembered manners.

“Hey.”

“Look I, I have a theory, I think I know what we’re up against.”

Micah’s limbs feel oddly as though they’re filled with sand as he gets to his feet. He’s never seen Lucas like this, and all his idle expectations about what would happen when the silence broke have left him in a rush. He crosses the room and reaches around Lucas to grab the doorknob and pull it shut.

“Okay.” He nods his go-ahead and Lucas’ flush deepens, but Micah’s not about to scold him for being careless.

“Remember what you said? About – Crowley?”

Micah shrugs numbly with one shoulder.

“You said he didn’t care about the souls. You said he only wanted power. Micah.” Lucas plants his hands on Micah’s shoulders, fingers stronger than he would have imagined. “How do you make a heaven out of hell?

“I don’t – Luke, I don’t know what you’re trying to say.”

Lucas falls silent, eyes flicking between Micah’s. From this close he can see the muscles in his jaw work, like he’s steeling himself.

“I remembered something,” he finally says, voice giving like a rusty lock. Micah’s hands come up automatically to wrap around Lucas’ wrists. “I remembered finding you, Dean.”

At first he pictures the painted walls of an old farmhouse, Castiel coming to find him. The bursting lights, Bobby on the floor, the clean knife Cas had pulled out of his chest – those are things he only half-remembers, details that his memory gives up perfunctorily; it’s Castiel’s unwavering concentration that sticks with him, his you don’t believe you deserve to be saved.

But that’s not what Lucas means. Micah has been grateful, his soul too far removed from Hell that he can’t remember it, not really – just the feeling the weight of it on Dean those last few years of his life has been bad enough. He never thought to be afraid for Lucas, too.

“Luke,” he chokes out, but Lucas is shaking his head, shoulders relaxed and curved forward like a bow under Micah’s hold. “It’s okay, it’s not very clear. Just – you. My grace, I think... yeah. Too bright. But Crowley –”

“What does Crowley have to do with anything?”

“He fell.”

Micah blinks. “You mean… he fell fell? He was an angel?”

“Was, yeah,” Lucas says wryly. “I heard them talking about it.”

“When was this?”

“Now, just now, that’s why I came over here.”

In the face of Lucas’ frenzy their fight had slunk off into the back of Micah’s mind, but he sees it now cowering in the corner. The thought makes him loosen his grip; Lucas’s hands slide off his shoulders and drop to his sides. Micah watches his fingers grab at the hem of his sleeves and wrap themselves in them.

“Micah –”

“No, I’m sorry. I shouldn’t have pushed you.” He tries for a small smile, but Lucas is searching the floor. Micah squares his shoulders.

“So why did Crowley fall?”

This animates him. “I can’t know for sure, they didn’t say. But I guess – if I had to guess – I’d say he wanted to be like us. I thought of Uriel, you know how he hated humanity for being God’s favorite? And, well, Lucifer. But instead of challenging God-“

“He decided to take matters into his own hands.”

Lucas nods. “It makes sense. But he didn’t make such a good human after all.”

“I bet he regretted that decision. I mean, obviously he didn’t even like people very much.”

How do you make a heaven out of hell?

There’s silence for the longest moment. Out in the hall, they used to have a clock that chimed every hour. Micah would hear the chimes in the middle of the night and count out the time, but that’s not what kept him awake. It had been the ticking. Without it, silence is endless.

“He wants it back,” Lucas whispers. Micah nods mutely.

Crowley’s grace.

“But it’s gone, isn’t it?”

Lucas nods. Then he shakes his head. “It’s there, but it’s twisted. Somewhere dead. That’s probably not a direct translation, but that’s what I heard.”

“What good would it do him, then?”

“None,” Lucas says, heavy.

Oh. Oh, no – “He can’t. Can he? Can he do that?”

His stomach is turning. Would it even be possible to take another angel’s grace? And what would happen to Cas if Crowley…?

“But it doesn’t make sense. Sam says that Crowley wants this, he has control. Why would he want to go back to following orders?”

He doesn’t really know Crowley’s motivations. He doubts anybody truly knows, but it makes Lucas breathe out, ease off some of the stress.

And then it hits him. If Sam is able to get to him, then wouldn’t the angels want to get to Lucas? Luke might believe in the good in angels, but Micah has no reason to trust anyone but Cas. Either the angels are lying, or --

“It’s a diversion!” Micah goes around to grab the journal off his nightstand, lightheaded with relief. He flips a few pages back to the last dream, squinting at his own hurried, middle-of-the-night scrawl: “’ But won’t Raphael be onto us?’ ” he reads, “’Oh, don’t worry about the angels, we’ve got them distracted.’ They won’t even be paying attention, they’ll be off looking for the remains of Crowley’s grace!”

He snaps the book shut triumphantly. Lucas drifts over to sit on the end of the bed, eyes faraway.

“It’s good, though,” Micah says, sitting next to him. “I’m glad you heard it, at least we know it’s working.”

Lucas shakes his head. “No, it’s okay, that’s not – it gave me an idea.”

Micah lifts his eyebrows. From underneath the collar of his shirt, Lucas fishes out a necklace of some sort – it’s a small, empty cologne vial, no bigger than his pinky and twice as thick around. There are two tiny arms like handles on either side of the top, just below a tiny metal screw-on lid, and threaded through them is a thin piece of twine in lieu of a chain. Lucas flips it over in his palm.

“I think I know how to stop the rain.”

-

Micah knows where they’re going the second they step off his front stoop, Lucas angling off the path and towards the trees. The rain is falling steadily, plinking constantly off the fabric of Lucas’ raincoat and soaking into the hat Micah had pulled over his ears. Lucas’ head is bare, rainwater plastering his hair to the side of his face, but he doesn’t seem to notice.

The river is higher now than it was last week. Lucas stops short, hesitating – Micah suspects that he hasn’t been back here since he realized what, exactly, the river was there for and what it held.

Oh. It clicks into place then, the vial and the river and Lucas taking his copies of the Gospels back home with him even though he’s already read the story. Something like this – getting his grace back – is in the details.

“Luke,” he says, voice strange, “are you sure?”

“No,” Lucas says honestly, shrugging a little. “I mean, I was sure about it earlier, when I thought Crowley might show up, but. Well. D’you think I should?”

Micah looks at his drawn brows and the anxious set of his mouth and is sorry, for a moment, that he even brought it up – but then he gets another little revelation and almost has to laugh this time at how neatly the pieces are falling together now. “I think you do, though, actually – Sam told me the other night, I mean I told him about our fight and he said he was sorry but he told me we were going to have to make up because. Apparently I can’t do this without you?”

He doesn’t mean it uncertainly, smiles shyly at the truth of it. Lucas just blinks at him.

“I can’t,” Micah repeats, schooling his face back to seriousness. “Do this without you. But Sam meant something else. I think he was probably going to ask you to get your grace anyway.”

“Oh.” Lucas squares his jaw. “I’m not going to be an angel again, though. I won’t. I’ll carry the grace and I’ll remember what I can but Micah, can you tell Sam for me that I refuse?”

Micah nods mutely, struck dumb by the hardness of Lucas’ face, his absolute resolve. It dawns on him that he’s been thinking a little selfishly about this, that maybe Castiel hadn’t just fallen for Dean. He’d done it for himself, too, and of course Lucas wouldn’t want to give that up. Not when he could help it, not like Micah and how remembering wasn’t really a choice after all.

He sets that aside with some difficulty, blinking into the rain. Lucas moves closer to the river, watching it run.

“Didn’t anybody notice when it just appeared? I mean, it’s always just kind of been here for me, but d’you think it was smaller when you were born? ‘Cause I can’t imagine that –”

Shh.

Micah shuts up. Lucas is holding a palm out towards him to keep him silent, but he’s still looking out across the river. His eyes are unfocused, mouth fallen slightly open, and Micah watches.

Finally Lucas lowers his hand, curling it into a loose fist. He swallows thickly.

“Angels?”

“Yeah. They’re – rejoicing.” Lucas smiles a small, pleased smile.

“Good,” Micah nods. They should be. “Good, are you ready?”

Frowning, Lucas scrambles to tug the twine from around his neck, tiny glass vial dangling at the end. “I’m not sure what to do.”

“They didn’t say?”

“No, I don’t think so. I still can’t really understand the language; I just get a sense of things. You know?”

Micah shrugs. Lucas shakes off his distraction and turns to look at him. “Whatever happens, just don’t leave me, okay?”

“I would never,” Micah begins, shaking his head exaggeratedly back and forth, like he can’t even entertain the notion.

“- And I think you should probably close your eyes.”

He claps his hand over his eyes quick as a soldier at attention and then grins, hearing Lucas laugh.

“Don’t, you know what I mean.”

Micah slides his hand off his face.

“Hey tell, um, if this goes wrong, tell my mom I love her? And Carrie and Nina, too.”

“’Course,” Micah agrees easily, noticing for the first time how scared Lucas must be. His hands shake as he twists the metal cap off the vial, and then he ties his coat shut.

The river is moving high and fast enough that it’s probably not safe for Lucas to wade in, so he drops to his knees in the mud and gets as close to the edge as he can. He hesitates, and Micah has no idea what to say because he has no idea what is meant to be happening. Then Lucas closes his eyes and reaches out with his free hand. His face relaxes, warm as if he’s soaking up sunlight even through the gloom of the cloud cover – like he’s receiving a blessing. Micah closes his eyes.

He doesn’t know what happens. Probably Lucas doesn’t even know, but the only thing that changes from Micah’s perspective is that it suddenly gets a lot brighter, a whiteout behind his eyelids that forces him to tuck his face into his shoulder. Then it flashes out again, like lightning in reverse. Something else seems to bleed away from the world, something like the opposite of thunder happening, too.

Micah can’t put his finger on it. It’s too distracting now, seeing Lucas on the riverbank; he’s still kneeling, the hand he’d been holding over the water now sunk into the mud by his side. He’s holding the vial, which glowing brightly.

Too bright, almost. Micah can’t keep focused on it for more than a few moments, gaze automatically skittering past that spot in the world. It’s like trying to look at nothing, a pure absence of color -- although it’s not nothing, it’s just something human eyes were never meant to see.

But Lucas can. It lights up his face.

“It worked.”

The words jolt Lucas out of his trance and he looks at Micah, breaking out into a smile and scrambling back to his feet. “It did! The, it, Castiel’s – my grace, it was like – oh.”

He stops, swaying a little on his feet. “Micah,” he says faintly, pressing the back of his hand to his forehead.

“You okay? Luke, hey, are you all right?” Micah darts forward, reaching up to pry Lucas’ hand off his forehead, ducking his head to try for eye-contact.

“’M okay,” Lucas says vaguely, squeezing his eyes shut tight and then opening them again, seeming a little dazed. “It’s just – like I’m closer.”

“To what?”

Lucas brings his eyes up to Micah’s. He shrugs.

They stare at each other in silence. What words could you use to describe it?

That’s it, the silence – it’s what washed over everything once the brightness was gone. Silence. It’s not raining.

He repeats it out loud. “It stopped. It stopped raining, Lucas! You were right!”

Lucas just laughs, and Micah is pretty sure he’s laughing at him, because he’d already told Micah that would happen and besides, the end of the rain is probably the least remarkable thing that has happened to Lucas in the last ten minutes. He looks tired and happy not that the initial shock of it over with, but Micah knows how exhausting soul-deep revelations can be.

“God, you should, you should go rest or something,” he says around a smile. Lucas nods and slips the vial around his neck, tucking it down beneath the collar oh his shirt.

“I’m kind of exhausted,” he admits wryly. “But I’m here.”

“Yeah, you are.”

Lucas looks at him, suddenly serious, and says, “I’m sorry, I should have listened.”

“It doesn’t matter. Just, no more with the silent treatment, okay? I’ve gotten used to having you around.”

“Okay,” he agrees, laughing again.

“Bye, Cas,” Micah says. Lucas’ smile widens, creasing at his eyes. It’s an unexpected relief for Micah to see him respond like the name is finally a part of him, rather than a fate he wants to escape.

“Dean,” Lucas returns, and Micah feels abruptly warm. Lucas must feel it too, because his eyes wander Micah’s face and then he swallows, still smiling, and reaches out to touch his fingertips at Micah’s jawline.

Then he leans forward and presses their mouths gently together, easy as anything.

He feels a little guilty about it later, but Micah’s first thought is of Sara Westmore. He’d kissed her on her birthday last year, his only comparison. It’s pretty much the same: warm, dry, just enough to make his skin feel like it’s humming.

But Sara had pulled back, quick and happy, and had said don’t make this special, tugging on his hair as she thanked him.

He doesn’t want Lucas to pull away. Micah tightens his fingers around the lapels of his raincoat, trying to pull the warmth of the kiss right through him.

They pull apart for a breath and hesitate for a second – just a fraction of a moment and Micah doesn’t want that, doesn’t want Lucas to be unsure of anything, least of all him, because he’d been scared for so long. No, Dean had been scared. Micah kisses back open-mouthed to the corner of Lucas’ mouth, a hint of wetness. Then it’s Micah pulling Lucas’ bottom lip between his own, Lucas pressing back, soft and warm and Micah has to pull away this time, letting out a slow breath.

God, ” he says, and this makes them both laugh, the giddy feeling from before swooping back in.

Lucas ruins the next kiss by smiling into it. He pulls back laughing. Micah tightens his fingers around the lapels of his coat, trying to keep him close while he catches his breath.

“You should go,” Micah says, voice thick with amusement. “Go now, or we’ll never make it back home.

“Okay, okay. Bye, Micah.”

“Later, Cas,” and Lucas flashes him another grin, face flushed as he turns and trots off down the path.

Micah takes his time, playing kick-the-pebble as he goes. He feels certain now that they’re going to be okay, they’ll be just fine, and he lets that carry him into the house.

He’s halfway up the stars when he hears his mom call his name. Micah stops dead in his tracks, half on one step and half on the other.

“Yeah?” he calls back, and his mother appears at the stairwell. His heart is still pounding.

“I have good news,” she says, smiling. “Your father will be back in a few days.”

For a moment, everything else flies out of Micah’s head. “He will?”

She nods. “He’s going to be back for at least a month. At least.

Her grin is infectious. Micah suddenly misses his dad like an ache – he doesn’t think he’d be able to confide his secret, but just having his dad around had everything making so much more sense. He wants to show him how well he’s taking care of mom, how well he’s doing –er, was – in school, and he wants to introduce him to Lucas.

The thought sends a thrill through him. Lucas, Lucas; the way he’d called him Dean and then – oh –

He has to excuse himself. His mom’s face falls just slightly, worried, but Micah assures her he’s fine and trips back up the stairs, locking himself in his room.

He leans heavily against the closed door. He’s had fleeing memories of John before, but none of them hit him as strongly as this. He’s with Sammy, both of them young, having just got off the phone – Dad’s coming back, and for real this time; he’s not just saying it to appease Sam’s questions.

It’s joy mingled with fear. He hadn’t sound hurt on the phone, but what would he be like when he got here? High off another hunt, or sullen and low? It’s nearly impossible to tell. At the very least, Sam is doing well, and if Sam is okay, than Dad knows Dean has been doing his job.

And then Sam again, much older, and this Micah recognizes, can compare to the story he already knows: coming to get Sam from Stanford. The memory is accompanied by a weary sense of dread and excitement. He’d spent days worrying about Dad, days convincing himself that it’s actually in all of their best interests to go get Sam, and not just the selfish want he’s been squashing down for four years straight.

He’s standing in Sam’s apartment and Jessica Moore is there, more beautiful even than Micah imagined. This is it, he knows, this is what kicks everything off. The layers of this are almost too much and Micah sinks to the floor with it, covering his eyes with his forearm as if the darkness were enough to temper the feeling. Dean, in the present, so happy to see Sam and weary from worry; Dean’s later memory of the incident, laden with sorrow and a hint of regret – regret in no way strong enough to overcome the selfish desire to have Sam with him again; and Micah, reconciling this with the story he’s knows since before he could read, trying to make sense of it all.

It’s about all he can take. He’s roused sometime later by his mother calling him down for supper, drowsy but thankful.

 

Micah is pulled into the next dream a roughly as he was taken out of the last. It’s too abrupt, his body robbed of gradual sleep, and it leaves him reeling.

“Dean,” Sam says, urgency in his voice. He doesn’t wait for him to get his bearings. “Micah. I don’t have a lot of time, all right? They know, as soon as Castiel took his grace they knew something was up, we don’t have a lot of time.”

Micah’s heartbeat ratchets up. “Now? You mean we’re going to have to leave now?”

“As soon as you can get away. The longer they have to look for Crowley, the longer they’ll leave you alone.”

“Where?”

“Not far. I can’t, I can’t really tell you. It’s too dangerous, I’m sorry –”

Sam reaches out and presses a palm to Micah’s shoulder. He’s never touched him before, and Micah knows why in an instant; a searing pain, like an open wound or an exposed wire.

Sam is murmuring I’m sorry, I’m sorry, when it ends, face stricken.” I knew that would happen, but I had to, I’m so sorry.”

He thinks he tells him it’s okay, Sammy, you didn’t mean to, but he can’t be sure; he’s still reeling. His head is crowded; he squeezes his eyes shut and shakes his head.

A map. It’s a map in his head – not a visual thing with roads and boundaries, but like a familiar route has been branded into his memory, a route he’s driven before sketching across his mind.

“Go there,” Sam explains. “You’ll know why, I promise. Go, get what you need, and then call up Crowley, okay? He’ll know why.”

“I trust you. But I – what if I-- you’re not worried?” he asks, voice small.

Sam smiles. “No, I’m not worried. You were always there for me. I have no reason to believe you’d stop now.”

-

Micah waits until breakfast is cleared before he calls. On the weekends he and his mom like to go all out, eggs and bacon and pancakes from scratch. He feels bad for rushing her through it today, but she just heaves an exaggerated, put-upon sigh when Micah runs up the steps to the hall phone.

It picks up on the first ring.

“Hi!” says the voice on the other end. “This is Nina, how may I help you?”

“Hi Nina, can I talk to Lucas please?”

“May I ask who’s calling?”

“It’s Micah, silly.”

She giggles. “I knew that. I’ve got to ask, mom says. Wait one moment please!”

He can hear her running up the steps and her muffled voice as she says It’s Micah, is he coming over today?

He doesn’t catch the response and then he has Lucas loud and clear.

“Hey,” is all he says, but it’s warm and makes Micah smile stupidly into the phone before he remembers why he called.

“Hey, can you come over? I have something I need to tell you. It’s really important.”

“Yeah, of course, give me five minutes.”

It takes ten, and Micah is pacing in front of the door when the bell rings.

“Mom!” Micah shouts, letting Lucas in. “Luke’s here, we’ll be in my room!”

She shouts something back but he can’t hear it, already halfway up the stairs. Lucas shuts the door to his room behind them, gently leaning against it until it clicks into the frame.

“Hi,” he says.

“Hey.” Micah takes one step closer to him than he really should, but it just makes Lucas smile wider. He can’t look at him and not think of yesterday, a memory bright and clear and all his. “Can I…?”

“Please.”

This is really, really not what he was thinking when he called his over, but there’s so much less nervousness today, and Lucas’s kiss is incredibly, impossibly soft.

Not to mention, there’s also the absence of bulky raincoats. Luke hadn’t even had to wear one on the way over; all he’s got on today is a sweater, soft and thick under Micah’s hands.

They kiss against the door for who knows how long, but Micah finds he doesn’t care. Lucas’s hands anchor themselves on the back of Micah’s neck, fingers carding through the hair that curls there at his nape. He keeps forgetting to breathe, pulling back to suck air in comically, but at least he’s not the only one with aching lungs.

He doesn’t know what he does, how the angle of their mouths change or when, but whatever it is pulls a soft sound from Lucas and it goes straight to his head.

“What,” he starts, wants to know what he did, what he can do, but Lucas just says “Yeah, come on,” and ducks his head to suck a kiss under Micah’s jaw, the tiny, shocking hint of his tongue tasting skin.

“Oh my — god,” he starts, “Cas,” and Lucas freezes.

They both stare at one another, frozen still with confusion. For the first time, Micah feels an unfair, creeping doubt.

“Lucas,” Lucas mutters, not accusatory; he’s just saying what they’re both thinking. “’M Lucas, not, not… right?”

Anger takes Micah completely by surprise, white flashing at the corners of his sight and he has to step backwards to the bed and sit down. He wants to lock the door and pull Lucas down onto the bed, he wants Cas, he wants them to be one and the same. But there’s not going to be time to figure it out, every second rushing forward to something bigger, something — supposedly — more.

This wasn’t the plan. The part of him that’s Dean is seething, remembering going to new school after new school and distancing himself from everyone else because there was no point in getting to know them, no real point in joining a team or going to a party unless it was to get drunk and forget about the fact that he’s got to leave in a month, that he’s got to make Sammy say goodbye to his friends, because Dean never had the heart to teach him not to get attached.

And that, even that, oh — he can’t even be angry on his own behalf. He gets to feel sorry for Sam missing out on a normal kid life, he doesn’t have time to worry about his own self. And when Sam’s gone, too, off at Stanford getting to take those things for himself, Dean’s the one who breaks his own rules, gives in, and pays for his mistake when he has to pull himself away from Cassie because giving in, letting go, had been worse than holding back.

And now that’s he’s finally given himself a chance, that fucks up, too. He created an inescapable fate for himself this time, like he’s never going to be allowed to just be.

He feels the bed dip, Lucas’ breath still harsh and panting against the side of his face. “Hey,” he says, but he doesn’t touch him, and Micah doesn’t look over.

He presses his fists into his eyes and falls back onto the bed, willing Dean out of his head. Not helping, not helping, he repeats, and lies there even after Lucas has pulled away with a wet apology.

Micah is sorry, too. And this is why what they’re about to do is important: he has to fix this. He can, they can, he knows it, and then they’re free. They’ll never have to choose Dean or Micah, Cas, or Luke; they can have this life they’d wanted, uncomplicated.

Slowly, he pulls his hands away and lets his eyes adjust. Lucas is sitting at his desk, staring at the floor between his feet.

“I’m sorry,” Micah says. Lucas looks up; he’s bitten his lip red, or maybe it’s still swollen from before.

“Can you just… forget about Dean for a while? Can you just be Micah? For now?”

He wants to say yes, but he can’t. “I don’t know. I can’t really control it.”

Lucas looks down at his hands. “Can you try?”

Maybe. He closes his eyes again and tests the boundaries, tries to bury Dean somewhere but after this morning he’s everywhere. He takes in a deep breath to steady himself.

Lucas gets up again after a minute, kneels hesitantly on the edge of the bed.

“It’s okay,” Micah says, cracking an eye open, “I’m sorry about before. I wasn’t…” I wasn’t myself, he wants to say, but that’s obvious and only halfway true.

Lucas shakes off his apology, sliding onto the bed. Micah leans onto his side to make room, deliberates for a moment and then settles for pushing Lucas’ hair off his face. The strands slip back over his eyes.

“Didn’t you have something to tell me?”

“Yeah.” Micah turns his face into Lucas’s shoulder and breathes in for a minute. “We have to leave.”

Lucas props himself up on his elbows. “What?”

“Here.” Micah sits up reluctantly, reaching across Lucas to grapple for his notebook.

Lucas reads the pages with some trepidation, lip caught between his teeth.

“He didn’t even say where we’re going?”

“He gave me a… an image. Like a map, but in my head.”

Micah has rarely been out of the town limits, never had much reason to leave. He vaguely remembers taking the train to pick his dad up from the docks when he was very small, back before they had the car.

“That’s it,” he murmurs, and Lucas looks at him quizzically. “Sam said he we had to go as soon as we could. My dad comes home on Tuesday.”

“And?”

“And he has a truck.”

“He’ll let us use it?”

Micah frowns. “Well, no. But we can’t really tell him where we’re going anyway, right? Nobody is going to believe us.”

Lucas stares at him for a second, then settles slowly back down onto the bed.

“My parents are never going to expect me to run away,” is what he says, and Micah’s guts twist guiltily.

“I know, I’m sorry. I don’t want to leave, either.”

“Not your fault,” Lucas mutters. “If Sam says he needs us, then he needs us.”

Micah nods, mostly to himself. He wanted answers; he just hopes this is the beginning of the end and not the beginning of his troubles.

-

On Sunday, he steals from the library. It’s just the map of Kansas torn out of an atlas and he’s pretty sure that the greater good outweighs this tiny theft, but he’s still nervous and guilty as he folds it up and slips it into another book, one that he actually checks out.

The image Sam gave him isn’t going to match up to the map exactly, but it’ll be close enough that he’s sure he can figure it out if he gets lost. Not many new roadways have been built, but there are plenty collapsed or otherwise destroyed paths and he doesn’t want to run into any danger.

After his library thievery, Micah knocks on Lucas’s front door , bracing himself to be tackled by an enthusiastic seven-year-old. But it’s an enthusiastic Lucas who answers, barely even stopping to say hi before he’s out the door, shouting a “Bye, mom!” over his shoulder.

It’s a pretty simple plan, actually. Neither of them know what to expect, so they just plan to take the bare minimum in clothes and grab any sort of protection that they have.

Micah opens his notebook and sketches out the map in his head. He wonders if the route is going to come naturally to him or not, like muscle memory, but to be safe, he draws out his own map over the top of the atlas page. That way, he’ll have both on-hand.

As simple of a task as it is, it takes him all afternoon. Lucas keeps looking up from his books on angel lore to ask him questions — some that he can answer himself after talking it out, some that Micah doesn’t even know.

And then there’s the distraction of Lucas’s hands, which he can’t seem to keep to himself. He traces over the lines Micah is drawing with his fingertips, asking questions about it and keeping closer than he really should; he gets up to go to the bathroom and taps Micah on the knee to let him know “I’ll be back in a second,” and he’s so close that he has to lean in to kiss him goodbye, too.

“It’s just the bathroom,” Micah says, but he kisses back.

After the third time this happens, Lucas comes back with sandwiches and chips, two bottles of water tucked under his arm.

“Your mom,” he explains. “She wanted to know why I kept walking around up here and decided we were hungry.”

“Decided to be a snoop, you mean!” Micah shouts so she can hear, but he laughs anyway and they sprawl out on his bed to eat.

He thinks it should be harder than this. In two days, his dad will be home; in three, he’ll be gone. He just doesn’t see any point in spending that time dreading Tuesday night.

Lucas doesn’t stay for dinner. “I have to be home,” he apologizes. “Nina might want a bedtime story.”

“It’s okay. It’s your family.”

Lucas nods, fingers fluttering at the straps of his backpack. Micah touches him lightly on the ribcage, going in for an actual kiss goodbye. It’s slow and unhurried, because he doesn’t know if they’ll have time for this later, so he’s going to make the most of it while he can, safe in his house in Lawrence.

-

“Here,” he says on the way to school Monday morning, holding out a hand. Lucas shifts his backpack onto both shoulders, offering his palm curiously.

“What?”

Micah drops a pendant into his palm, silver chain coiling after it. Lucas looks at him with his eyebrows raised and Micah nods, tipping his chin towards his hand. It’s just an anti-possession charm, part of the basic protection that he’s learned since he was old enough to know what possession meant. This pendant matches his own: Saint Benedict on one side, a Latin prayer of exorcism on the other, along with prayers for peace and happy death.

“I thought it would be one you could wear without getting asked too many questions about your faith. Saint Benedict and the cross, right?”

“As a reminder of God’s power, yes,” Lucas says, holding the pendant like it’s precious. “But I don’t mind believing in this charm.”

Micah’s not entirely sure about the significance of that, but Lucas is smiling softly at him as he puts the chain around his neck. “Thank you,” he says sincerely, and Micah shrugs, more overwhelmed by this reaction than he was expecting.

He does think about I can have faith in you, though, the familiar feel of his own charm somehow warm underneath his shirt, against his chest, where it always is.

-

Lucas follows him home on Tuesday even though they have literally nothing left to plan. Micah’s bag is already packed and he assumes Lucas’s is as well; the rest of it is just a waiting game.

Once in his room, Lucas pulls Two Minutes to Midnight off the shelf for what must be the thousandth time, but he looks at the same page for five straight minutes without turning it. They quickly go over the (pretty simple) plan one last time, but otherwise can’t seem to keep conversation going. It’s just nerves, but Micah finds himself wondering where their easy conversation has gone to why it has abandoned them in their time of need.

It’s just dark enough for the street lights to flick on outside when something catches Micah’s attention.

“Shh,” Micah he says, holding his hand up. Lucas looks up from the book, brow furrowed, but dutifully stays quiet. Out of the silence they hear the low rumble of an engine.

“That’s Dad’s truck.” Micah grins. “C’mon.”

He flings open the door and is halfway down the stairs when the front door opens. His mom is already there, and Micah’s dad doesn’t even hesitate to wrap her in his arms.

Micah waits, Lucas only a step behind at his shoulder.

“Hey,” his dad says, face halfway buried in his mom’s blonde hair, and it sounds amused. She’s smiling when she pulls back and says “Welcome home.” Something about it makes them both laugh, but Micah doesn’t know what the joke is.

His dad always holds his mom like she’s the only reason his feet are still rooted to the ground. Amy grew up in the next county and they met through some mutual friends — in Micah’s mind it was a summer fling that never ended, but to them it’s more like a movie that you watch over and over, trying to capture and keep it with you: his dad was always leaving to spend months at a time on the river, and his mom was always there when he stepped off the boat. Those were the most important moments, and whatever else that went on when they were apart were restless and useless days.

He knows that he’s romanticizing it, that it’s much more difficult than all that. Especially now that overlaying his parents’ story are Dean’s memories of John always leaving: feeling tied to someone absent, worried every moment that you’re going to change on them, be a different person when they come back. (An angrier person, a sadder person, a stronger person, all of them the same fear under the thumb of John’s absence.)

Still he watches them with a half-smile on his face like he always does, only now he’s acutely aware of Lucas standing behind him. If he shifts his weight just slightly Lucas’s arm will brush up against his, warm. He does, and it’s almost like they’re sharing the same space, the same thoughts. Micah swallows thickly.

“Did you miss me?” says his dad, finally turning towards the stairs. He sees Lucas immediately but just nods a hello, eyes sliding back to Micah’s face. Micah nods.

“Hey, Dad.”

“Well?” his dad says, and Micah is not too proud to trot down the rest of the stairs for a hug from his father.

He turns to Lucas when they pull away. “Who’s this?”

“I’m Lucas, sir, we’re friends from school,” Lucas says, still from his spot on the steps.

His father’s eyebrows tick up. “Sir? Oh no, Micah, how did you find a polite one?” he says, and Lucas has to finally come down the stairs to shake the hand that is extended to him.

“Dad, really?” Micah says, glancing sidelong at his mom. She just shrugs, but he knows she’s told him about how much time Lucas spends here, and he also knows that she can read him like a book.

“Just Russ,” his dad says to Lucas, ignoring Micah. Lucas nods, although Micah is pretty sure he’ll never call his parents by their first names.

“It was nice meeting you, but I should get home,” Lucas says. “For dinner.”

“Lucas, you know you’re always welcome to stay,” Micah’s mom says, but Lucas shakes his head.

“Thanks, but I don’t want to intrude. I’ll see you tomorrow, Micah,” and he leaves.

“He seems nice,” Dad says into the ensuing silence, but Micah distracts him with questions about the barge and he launches into a story about nearly side-swiping a fishing boat that had lost communications.

It’s like this every time he comes home for the first night: the three of them settle in the living room, eating sandwiches for dinner off paper plates and listening to stories about life on the river. Micah takes a spot next to his dad on the couch tonight, trying not to lean in too close, trying not to let silence give him away.

And then his dad is yawning and saying he’s had a long day, and Micah isn’t ready for this, not yet. He nearly gives himself away, hugging both his parents for a little bit too long before saying goodnight. He catches them exchange a glance as he heads up the stairs and hopes they just chalk his behavior up to growing pains.

He doesn’t sleep. At two, he slips off the covers and grabs his bag from underneath his bed, picking his way slowly around the creaky part of the floor and the staircase.

His dad has left his keys on the front counter next to the toaster, just like he always has. Micah replaces it with the note he wrote, hovering a hand over the paper like he might snatch it away and forget the whole thing.

He doesn’t. The note promises a few things — that he loves them, that they won’t understand now but someday he’ll be able to tell them. That he is not, under any circumstances, running away to become a hunter, that Lucas is with him, and lastly, that he’ll be back. He will.

He steps lightly over the salt line and shuts the front door quietly behind him.

Lucas is already waiting for him, a dark shadow leaning against the cab of Micah’s father’s truck. He stand up, shouldering a duffel bag.

“Hey,” Micah whispers. “Are you ready?”

“No.”

“Yeah, neither am I.”

He unlocks the cab as quietly as possible and they drop their bags behind the seats.

“Are you sure this is safe?” Micah can barely hear Lucas’s voice, much less see him in the dark — it’s just an impression of him, ghostly.

“It’ll be fine,” he says, hopping into the front seat. He puts the keys in the ignition and sets the truck to neutral, both doors still wide open. The truck rocks forward slowly, and he leans out the side to signal Lucas to push.

“What’s going on out here?”

Micah freezes. On the other side of the street is the last problem he expected: Sylvia, Billy’s older sister, who shouldn’t even be living at home anymore.

He slides guiltily out of the cab and meets Lucas’s wide eyes.

“Please,” Micah says to Sylvia, “please, don’t say anything.”

She’s standing in the middle of the street in her pajama pants and a robe, her arms folded across her chest. “About what? What do you think you’re doing?”

“Just trust me.” Right about now, Micah wishes he had bothered to ever ask Sam how to get that earnest, trustworthy look on his face.

“We have to,” Lucas cuts in. “We have to go. We can’t explain it now, but it’s important, just trust us.”

Lucas, on the other hand, has an earnest, kind demeanor by default. Sylvia glances between the two of them and the truck.

“How long?” she says.

“We don’t know.”

“No, I mean, how long to you expect me to cover for you?”

Relief floods him. “Just until the morning,” Micah says. “Just long enough that they won’t be able to find us and convince us to come back.”

Sylvia chews on the inside of her cheek.

“All right,” she says finally. “But I’m only doing this because you kicked Rob Nuys in the shins when he wouldn’t leave me alone in fifth grade.”

Micah laughs, then claps a hand over his mouth immediately. “Thank you,” he says, muffled.

“What the hell am I supposed to tell Billy?”

Micah thinks about it, stepping back into the cab and driver’s seat. “Tell him he sucks at math.”

It’s obvious that Sylvia has no idea what he’s talking about, but she shrugs and agrees to it anyway, and then — to both their surprises — walks around the back of the cab to help Lucas push.

With her help, they have just enough push to get the truck really rolling down the gently sloping path. He pulls his door shut as quietly as he can once he can feel the car really moving under him and Lucas sprints to the front, grabbing onto the open passenger side door.

“C’mon!” Micah says, reaching over the console. Lucas grabs him by the wrist and Micah pulls as hard as he can. Lucas hops once, twice, three times beside the open cab before he makes it, slumping into his seat and hauling the door shut after him, laughing breathlessly.

They wave to Sylvia in the rearview, watching as she shakes her head and moves back off the path and towards home.

As soon as the truck starts to slow, Micah squeezes his eyes shut and turns the ignition. It goes without a fuss, the truck louder that he would like. But nobody comes running out of their houses, and so few people have cars anyway that the chances of being followed are slim, unless someone calls the police.

But nobody does. Still, Micah doesn’t relax until they’re halfway out of town.

From the passenger seat, Lucas rests his head against the window at such an angle that he can watch the trees pass by, the river on the other side of them. Neither one of them says a word. They’re out of the town limits in less than twenty minutes.

-
The thing about the prairielands are that they’re flat and dull, acres of farmland passing on either side of them. Micah is shocked at the number of closed roads, places where the earth had leapt up and scarred the surface during the worst days of the apocalypse. The lands there are useless, dead soil in which nothing grows, and they look eerie and dangerous in the moonlight.

Lucas eventually curls up in his seat and naps. Their composite map is spread out over the dashboard and it’s not like there’s much traffic around, so Micah can navigate pretty well without his help. There are long stretches of road where all he does is think. He hadn’t realized before how much time he needed to just adjust, to let himself be two people at once, narratives of his own life shifting but comfortable.

His own life, the Winchester gospels. This must be why he’s always been so fascinated.

Only twice does he look over, surprised to see Lucas instead of Sam.

Lucas stirs when the sun comes up and they stop on the side of the road, looking at the map and trying to figure out where there’s a service station. Micah’d had to fill up with the emergency gas can in the truck’s cab, and he wants to be sure that it’s always full when they need it.

They roll into a station around seven, Micah yawning hugely and digging around in his bag for enough change to buy coffee. His life savings hadn’t been much and Lucas wasn’t in better shape, so they were going to have to be careful until they could figure out how to get more money.

Legally, of course.

“Where’d you learn how to drive?” Lucas asks once they’re back on the road, gas station breakfast tucked away.

“I didn’t. I mean Dad showed me how to turn it on and change gears and stuff a couple summers ago, but.” He shrugs. “Dean knows.”

The sound of the road passing is all they hear for a minute. Micah tries to imagine the Impala’s steering wheel under his hands, the feel of her gliding across the road and the rumble of the ignition. It’s surprisingly easy.

“Will you show me?” Lucas asks. “Then we can switch off, you know?”

“Sure! Yeah, sure, good idea.”

So they spend the early afternoon with Lucas behind the wheel, learning the controls patiently while Micah tries to translate what he knows intrinsically into words. After the first bumpy hour,

(“It’s going too fast.”

“No, you’re fine.”

“It’s too fast! Don’t, why are you laughing, don’t laugh at me!”

“I’m not laughing!”)

Lucas becomes comfortable enough driving down the nearly empty farm roads by himself, and Micah finally lets himself drift off to sleep, lulled under by the lullaby sounds of the road.

-

The truck rolls over the bumpy closed road that’s the last route in Micah’s mental map, the only place they can’t take a detour around because at the end of this one, X marks the spot.

By the looks of the map, there’s nothing there. The image in Micah’s head is of an outbuilding and a dirt road, but that’s been long overgrown, and the atlas page is not much of a help at this point.

 

They’d been careful about it, parking at the mouth of the road and going in on foot to scout out the path. About a mile in the dirt road disappears completely into prairieland, like the grasses had reached out tiny hands and pulled the manmade path under.

They turn back when the sun starts to dip, sending their shadows stretching out in front of them, and climb back into the truck.
Still, it’s easy to find. He just… knows.

They’re not anywhere near Stull Cemetery, that’s for sure. He doesn’t know what he was expecting, but it’s not a depilated steel-frame building struggling to stay standing in the middle of nowhere.

“This is it?” Lucas asks, eyeing the large steel sliding door with trepidation.

“Yep. Give me a hand?”

Between the two of them, they get the rusted wheels moving again, squealing loud enough that they’ve probably scared of the wildlife for miles.

It takes a long time for his eyes to adjust. From the looks of it, sunlight hasn’t touched this place in decades; there aren’t even any plants growing through the seams of the building or winding their way around the framework.

It’s just dark, and dusty, and then out of the gloom his eyes pick out the shape of a car. He steps forward.

It’s her. Micah knows it instantly — to anyone else she would be unrecognizable.

He forces his eyes to adjust. Lucas isn’t so lucky, gripping the back of Micah’s hood as he follows him into the building, rubbing at his eyes.

“Oh,” Micah says, reaching out gingerly to touch the steel frame of what was once her hood. Rust crumbles under his fingertips, the steel frail and threatening to break off along with it. Micah snatches his hand back, clenching a fist at his side.

Lucas looks from Micah to the car and back again. “It’s… is this really it?”

“We gave her a proper hunter’s funeral,” Micah explains, like he’s known all along. Technically he has. “It’s what she deserved.”

“Yeah, she did. Micah?”

He hears it as if from far away, stumbling sideways. The Impala gives out plaintive shriek of metal and Lucas shouts something over the sound, but Micah can’t make any sense of it. He can see the car as she once was — sitting in the backseat, a tiny Sam asleep on his lap; an older Sam sitting next to him in the passenger seat; the trunkful of weapons; leaning back on her hood, Sam beside him; then Sam again, and again, framed always by the passenger seat, long-limbed and laden with maps and snacks and flashlights; and then once, briefly, he gets the image of Castiel as seen from the rearview mirror, asleep under his tan trench coat in the back seat.

He feels rather than sees Lucas catch him, palms wrapping firmly around his upper ribcage. Micah sinks down despite him, but Lucas follows. Micah is safe under his hands, safe with his back up against his car, and he lets the flickering filter of memory click-slide into place.

-

It takes four bags of rock salt, two gallons of petrol, and two gallons of diesel fuel. The two of them work silently, dumping salt on every surface, dousing her with gas. Sam shuffles away when his cans are empty but Dean stands next to the Impala for as long as possible, stinking of gas, touching the smooth surface of her side. After a moment, Sam joins him: he runs a hand down her flank, jaw clenching, then catches Dean’s sleeve and tugs him gently away.

It’s Sam who flicks Dad’s old Zippo lighter open, but he hands it over to Dean. Dean holds the flame in his hands and takes a deep breath. “See you on the other side, Baby,” he says, and Sam makes a wordless sound of assent just before Dean tosses the lighter through the car’s lowered windows with a flick of his wrist.

The sound of the small metal casing hitting the leather seats is swallowed up by the whoosh of flame, accompanied by the acrid smell of burning leather.

It’s not long before smoke is billowing out of the windows, out from underneath the seam of the hood and the trunk, out from between the metal window trim and the shining black body of the car, and they have to hide their faces and duck away from the building.

Dean tries to block out the last image in his head of black paint bubbling under the heat; it reminds him of Nick’s skin, rotting away from the festering invasion of Lucifer’s grace. They lean against the side of the building and listen to the crackle of flame. When Dean looks, he can see Sam’s shining eyes, the muscles working in his jaw, and knows that he’s wearing a matching expression.

“Ridiculous,” he laughs, voice rough from smoke. He rubs a hand over his face. “Crying over a car.”

Sam cracks a grin at that and Dean can’t even hate him for it; it’s the worst lie he’s ever tried to tell in lieu of admitting actual emotion.

There’s a report like gunfire from inside the building: the sound of the tires as they burst. Their grins fade abruptly.

It’s disconcerting how quickly she burns. She was theirs for longer than either of them have been alive, built not only from steel and leather, but from hours of repair, sweat from skin and from beer bottles, a lifetime on the road and countless nights as shelter, as home — and all of that, gone in ten minutes.

When they peer back inside the building, only the rubber of her tires still burns. In the darkness, she looks like a sleeping dragon: fire in her belly, ready to ignite if disturbed.

“That’s one badass death scene,” Dean remarks, but he feels like he’s missing a limb. Sam makes a choked sound of protest, and Dean knows that if he wasn’t overwhelmed himself, he’d be scolding Dean for being irreverent.

“You think that stuff’s safe?” Sam says, and Dean follows his gaze to the car sitting down the road. Cas had opted to let them have their privacy after scrawling symbols and muttering prayers and incantations over the trunk of the car.

He’d been exhausted afterward. It had taken literally everything he had left, but that’s how Dean knows that it’s going to be fine. Cas wouldn’t let them down, human or angel, that he’s sure of.

“Yeah,” he says, then turns his back deliberately on the building. “Let’s go.”

Sam rolls the outbuilding’s door shut, hesitating before patting the edge of it, like he’s giving his blessing, sealing it the Impala’ corpse inside.

From here on out, none of them will feel completely safe for as long as they live.

__

Lucas is sitting beside him when he comes back from it, propped against the car, and the first thing Micah thinks is that Luke is getting rust all over his sweater.

He clears his throat. “Hey.”

Lucas looks up from where he’s been examining the tiny, bright bottle on the end of the chain around his neck.

“Hey!” He drops the chain, bottle thumping gently against his chest. “You okay? Do you —” He cuts himself off with a frustrated sound.

“Yeah, the car was a bit much. I saw some more.” Micah smiles weakly. “Of the end of the story.”

“You wanna write it down?”

Micah lets his head thump back against the car, cracking the corner of his mouth in an apologetic smile. “’M kind of tired.”

“Okay, yeah,” Lucas says, stuffing the bottle back under the neckline of his sweater. He braces himself against the decaying frame of what was once the Impala’s working driver’s side door. Flakes of metal shake off with the movement when he stands, extending a hand. Micah winces involuntarily at the further destruction of the car, but he hopes Lucas just thinks he’s muscle sore when he takes his hand and lets himself be hauled to his feet.

Now isn’t really a good time for them to be driving off in search of a place to stay, so they head back to the truck. Micah climbs into the backseat, stretching out on his back, resting his head against the cool, smooth surface of the window. He looks at Lucas, hovering just outside the door, and reaches out a hand.

So they settle that way, together on the backseat. It’s too small for them, but neither boy minds it. They angle their limbs as comfortably as possible, despite Lucas’ arm trapped between Micah and the backseat and Micah’s left leg dangling off the edge of the seat.

Lucas tucks his face into the side of his neck, chest expanding gently as he breathes.

“Okay?” Micah murmurs, bringing his arms around Lucas’ waist, securing them both gently.

Lucas hums in answer. The air outside the truck is cold enough to keep them comfortable in all of their warm clothes and combined body heat. Micah leans his head way back against the window, watching the sky. He feels like Dean’s memories are settling themselves somewhere out of the way, ready to sort themselves out in his sleep. His head feels too big for his body.

He looks away from the window, turning his head to nose against Lucas’ hair, closing his eyes. He times his breathing along with Lucas’ until he feels like he fits in his own skin again, lets the exhaustion take over, and drifts off.

__

Sam visits his dreams again.

“We found it,” Micah says by way of greeting.

“Is it safe?”

Micah’s not completely sure what he’s talking about, but he knows that Sam didn’t just send them there for a visit to the Impala’s final resting place.

“It’s okay,” Sam says, smiling sadly. “It’s okay, you’ll figure it out.”

Something about the way Sam is holding himself, the tone of his voice and the thick, hazy atmosphere has warning bells going off in Micah’s head. “What’s wrong?”

Sam heaves in a sigh. “This is it, I think.”

“What?”

“I told you, I didn’t want to do this to you in the first place. You can go back to your life, I promise you that.”

“You’re not coming back,” Micah says, deadpan. He knows he’s right. “And… and Dean? Will he go away, too?”

“I’m not sure. To an extent, maybe. You’ll always be who you are, Micah.”

He nods. Suddenly he doesn’t want to leave this place with Sam, this tiny dream space that’s not really a dream at all, but it’s the closest to the real thing that Micah’s human mind can come up with. Hyper-reality.

“And then what? Luke and I play out this life game, see where it takes us?”

“Sure. That’s what you wanted, isn’t it?”

Yeah, it is. What happens when you get everything you ever wanted? “But whether I live or die,” he tells Sam, “I know where I’ll end up.”

Sam shrugs. “Not necessarily.”

Micah chews on his lip, looks away. “There’s no point, anyway.”

“Yes there is,” Sam says quietly. “Living is the point, not dying, and not what comes after. Why do you think life keeps happening?”

“You’re not living, though.”

“Well,” Sam says, heaving a sigh. “I needed a rest.”

“Is that why you didn’t come with us?”

“Part of it, yeah. Micah, please don’t worry about me, okay? Things are different here. Time is different. You’ll both be back with me in an instant, and it’ll be like you never left. It’s the only way I could convince you to go in the first place.”

“This was your idea?”

“Mine and Castiel’s, yeah. Do you really think Dean would ever leave voluntarily? You know what you want, you just don’t always let it happen.

Let this happen, Micah. Don’t worry about me.”

Micah breathes in deep, a heavy sadness settling over him. “But I miss you.”

“Yes. You knew it would be harder without me. Only half of a whole. But you’ve got Cas, yeah?”

He thinks of Lucas sitting next to him in the truck, Lucas lying still while Micah cried into his shoulder, Lucas with his back on the grass and his eyes closed to the sun and the comfortable way he has of just being there. He closes his eyes.

“Yeah, I do.”

“Then enjoy it, okay?”

Out of practice, Micah senses the dream beginning to shift away from him, and he opens his eyes in a panic.

“Sam. Sam, don’t let Raphael win, okay? Promise me.”

Sam promises, smiling at him so fondly that his chest hurts. “I’ll see you soon, Micah, okay? We’re not going anywhere.”

“We?”

“We. Mom, Dad, Bobby. Ellen and Jo.”

“And Jess,” Micah says, the pieces fitting into place: Sam’s assurance that he wasn’t alone, that he had a reason to stay behind, that he wanted Dean to have this thing with Cas in the most uncomplicated way possible. He was happy on his own, and he wanted Dean to be happy, too.

“And Jess,” Sam confirms, and it’s his proud smile that Micah takes away from this dream, tucks into a safe place in his memory, waiting there for the times he knows are coming, when he misses his brother so much it hurts.

He forgets to tell him he loves him, but that’s all right. Micah wakes up crammed into the backseat of a trunk, every one of his limbs sore and aching, Lucas heavy against him, and feels lighter than he ever has.

__

 

Micah steps around the car cautiously, as if moving too fast will engage another episode. It’s not logical, but he feels better about the whole thing, anyway: he’s afraid that if he breathes too hard, the entire frame is going to scatter into a pile of rust and dust on the floor. He’s read about the old artifacts that were exposed to too much oxygen for too long, fallen into disrepair and eventually lost forever.

Lucas is less careful, peering in the windows.
He’d been silent as ever when Micah had relayed last night’s dream to him, save for a “I’m sorry, Dean,” when he told him it was the last time. Micah had been grateful to hear the name, needing to start separating Sam from himself. He’s someone Dean gets to miss, that’s all.

“He wanted to give something back to you, then,” Lucas had conclude. “I wanted — Cas wanted to be closer to you, and Sam wanted you to know that it was okay to want it back. Right?”

“Right,” Micah had echoed, smile huge.

“Find anything?” Micah calls now.

“Nowhere for anything to hide. Do you have a flashlight?”

Micah trots back to the bag he’d dumped just inside the door, pawing through it until he finds the flashlight. He hands it over to Lucas, watching the side of his face instead of the illumination of the flashlight. He looks so steady, so trusting, and for what? For some dreams Micah is having. He’s not going to look a gift horse in the mouth, though. Even if the mouth itself is… well, distracting. Micah tears his eyes away.

Lucas evidently finds nothing in the interior, so he steps back and sweeps the light over the entire car. To Micah, it just serves to highlight the destruction and deterioration even more; he’s not wracked with double-vision or sense memory, but the sight of the dead car still twists his gut up with guilt and loss.

When Lucas crosses behind the car, he halts. The light beam centers on the lip of the trunk lid, and Micah watches Lucas reach out a hand and brush gently over the spot — more gently than he’s treated the car’s remains thus far, anyway, and that’s what brings Micah back to his side.

“What?” The trunk looks exactly like the rest of the car, but Lucas rests his fingertips against it.

“You don’t see that?”

Micah shakes his head wordlessly and Lucas’ mouth thins into a line.

“It’s a symbol. It must be Enochian, right?”

Micah shrugs. “If I can’t see it but you can, then it stands to reason. Here, wait.”

He retrieves his notebook — his hunter’s journal, because he’s a hunter now, tehnically, and always has been — and hands it over. “Draw it.”

Lucas sketches out whatever it is he’s seeing on the car. Micah looks over his shoulder at it — he’s right, it really does look Enochian. And they probably don’t need a book to translate the meaning of it, either. It must be protection. Protection from harm, protection against intruders, or protection against the elements, though, he doesn’t know.

“Can we get the lid open, do you think?”

So the set their things down, each of them grabbing a corner of the lid, and begin to lift gently. The hinges must be rotten through, because the lid lifts easily, although Micah does wonder if it would have opened if he’d tried to do it alone. If that thought had crossed Lucas’ mind, he doesn’t mention it, so neither does Micah.

Whatever that symbol meant, it worked. The inside of the trunk isn’t entirely free from decay, and it’s clear that the flames got to it; Micah can see the metal sliders that once attached the false bottom to the large, wide trunk. Sitting in the middle of which is what Micah can only conclude is a hex box.

“Think we can open it, or is it cursed?”

“I don’t think they would have used black magic, no matter what it is,” Micah says. But Lucas is watching him, and it takes a second, but it dawns on him that the other boy had probably expected a real answer.

“I’m… sorry, I don’t remember that far, though. Or that far back, I guess. The memory wasn’t triggered yesterday, just the burning of the car and what came after.”

“You don’t have to apologize.” Lucas nods his head towards the box. “There’s more Enochian written on there, so whatever it is, it’s still protected. Don’t need black magic when you’ve got an angel on your side, huh?”

Micah isn’t sure what he expected, but the smug grin on Lucas’ face isn’t it. It makes him burst into laughter, apologizing through his giggles.

“See? Not such a bad fate, after all,” he says, and Lucas nods, but Micah doesn’t miss the way his posture slumps just infinitesimally at the reminder.

Micah reaches into the trunk and pulls the box toward him. “Here goes nothing,” he warns, then twists the latch and pulls. Nothing happens. He’s not surprised.

“You try.”

Lucas reaches in, rubbing a fingertip along the front edge of the box, and then lifts. The lid goes.

They’re both too distracted by what’s inside to really dwell on the confirmation that Lucas must be close enough to his grace to actually draw strength from it, and what that might mean.

Micah, to his embarrassment, is near tears. The part of him that is well and truly Dean recognizes the contents of the box immediately: on top is a leather journal, every bit of it intact, and the dual parts of Micah at this moment both leap: one with nostalgia, and the other with the pure joy that comes at the moment when you get everything you’ve ever wished for.

His hands tremble as he reaches for it. He opens the front cover gingerly, but the pages inside are all intact, like a miracle. It is a miracle, yes, it probably really is one, but that’ beside the point.

He gets caught up for a moment in just the journal — yes, John had written about his children; yes, there are pages in here with information about monsters and deities, rituals and charts that are unrecognizable: information never passed down, information hard-earned now by too many deaths.

Micah wonders how he’s going to get this information out into the world — not if, never if. It isn’t a question who this belongs to.

Beside him, Lucas is rifling through the box with careful hands.

“Look,” he says warmly, and drops a photo on top of the page Micah is reading. It’s the one described in Home: John, Dean and Sam in front of the Impala, young, smiling. Micah laughs, feeling something burst warm and bright in his chest. “There are more.”

Micah closes the journal in favor of taking the thin stack of photos from Lucas, flipping through them. He stops on this one: his parents — no, Dean’s parents, smiling in the front yard. This was Sam’s photo, edges still worn down from where it had been sitting in a frame for years, first in a dorm room and then shuffled among clothes in one of his duffles.

He’s still smiling at the old photographs when he hears Lucas suck in a sharp breath.

“Micah. Is that… ?” His voice rises at the end, something excited trembling in his voice.

It’s a wonder that Micah isn’t thrown back into memory the second he sees it. In Lucas’ hand is a strip of tartan fabric, probably a piece of old t-shirt that Lucas had unrolled. In the center of it is what Micah knows unmistakably to be the amulet.

The amulet. Not even Micah had ever been among those who thought the amulet might still exist somewhere. Yeah, maybe he silently entertained the idea that Sam might have dug it out of the garbage before leaving that motel, assuming only that Chuck hadn’t seen it. But it was a fringe idea, really. Until now.

The pendant is the only part of it that still exists now — Micah touches the nape of his neck, sense memory reminding him what the soft, worn leather cord had felt like (but now he feels only the sterling silver chain of his anti-possession pendant; it grounds him for a much-needed instant). The leather either hadn’t held up or had been removed at some point. Maybe even burned up along with the car, one last thing that the Winchester’s souls might have attached themselves to.

The cord seems rather silly in comparison to the amulet itself, which is when Micah remembers that Castiel must have worn it for a time.

It explains the hitch in Lucas’ breathing. Micah tears his eyes away from the tiny copper face of the amulet to look at Lucas, make sure he’s okay — he’s got the faraway look on his face that’s a telltale sign by now that he’s remembering something. Micah touches his arm tentatively and Lucas’ attention snaps back,

“Hold on to me, okay?” Micah asks. At Lucas’ nod, Micah sneaks his right arm around the other boys’ waist, fist clenching gently at the back of his shirt. Lucas smiles — this is a role he belongs in — and shifts his weight so that he might catch Micah, just in case he falls.

It should be embarrassing, really, but it’s anything but, and Micah takes no small comfort in being close to him, no matter the capacity.

Once they’re settled - and really, they should find a motel for this, but Micah doesn’t think he’d be able to tear himself away from this car for very long — he picks up his left hand and lets it hover over Lucas’s open hand.

“Gotcha,” Lucas says, and Micah grabs the amulet.

They’re right of course, and he doesn’t remember the rest of it, because the sense memory takes over and Micah loses himself in Dean, ready for answers.

-

They’re both laughing nervously — Cas is bewildered by it; the strange complex of human emotions is still new to him, but Dean notices him watching, like a child learning social cues. If Dean is laughing, then it’s okay for Cas to laugh, so Dean keeps making last-night-on-earth jokes, wistful and useless.

He’s gone on suicide missions before. He remembers following Sam and Ruby to Lilith’s hiding place, going through with their last-ditch efforts to save his soul even though Dean himself knew it was hopeless. This feels the same, in a way. There’s less certainty, but all he really needs to know is that this is it. This is really the last night, and no matter how long he wants to hold onto it, time keeps rushing forward.

“Hey Cas, don’t do anything stupid,” he says, and the humor leaves Castiel’s face.

“I always make well-informed decisions, Dean.”

“Well, don’t get all noble on me, okay?”

“’Noble’,” Cas mutters, and Dean doesn’t know what the tone of his voice is supposed to mean.

“It’s really it, this time.”

“I know.”

Cas,” Dean says, a little mortified to hear desperation in his voice. Cas isn’t used to the idea of life and death, beginning and end — but he’s human now, things are different. There’s no telling what would become of him if he were to die. Castiel merely lifts his chin in answer.

It’s possibly the bravest thing Dean has ever done, in a long line of stupid hero-complex courageous acts. It’s definitely the most selfish. He actually feels brave, and proud of himself for it, as he leans forward into Castiel’s space, pressing a kiss to the corner of his mouth.

Neither of them move. Dean just breathes in, letting his eyes close. Then Cas shifts, hands coming up to hover over Dean’s hips, then higher over his ribcage, fluttering with an uncertainty Dean isn’t used to from him. Cas finally settles on clasping his hands around the lapels on either side of Dean’s jacket. He ducks his head slightly away from the kiss so that Dean’s breath fans out over his cheekbone.

Castiel says his name, and it sounds just like it always has. But there’s something else there in his voice, something final, like he is trying to commit it to memory. Dean brings a hand to settle against the square of Cas’ jaw, holding him in place, because they deserve a proper goodbye. Then he leans in again, pressing his mouth first to Cas’s lower lip, then upper, the press of their kiss soft and dry.

He steps back, dropping his hand. Cas doesn’t let go of his jacket, looking at Dean they way he had the first time: unwavering, unapologetic.

And then Sam comes back, mercifully pretending like he doesn’t see the two of them so close together or the white-knuckled grip that Cas has on Dean’s jacket; like he doesn’t know what just happened, even though he must.

This is the last memory he has of Cas. Whatever happens after — he is sure there’s a road trip, which is also a last, but it doesn’t end up being important enough to remember in any kind of detail. So that’s it, Castiel clinging to his coat, which is ridiculous: as if Cas ever needed to hang onto Dean, as if it wasn’t always the other way around. Castiel was the one with the faith, after all.

And Sam, too. But with Sam begins selflessness; Dean’s hierarchy of needs has SAM written at the top in bold letters: Sam’s safety, Sam’s happiness, all of them dependent on Dean.

It’s this, that saves them.

Michael fails. Without their true vessels, strength of boy and strength of will don’t match. Maybe it’s the prophecy’s fault, promising Michael the true vessel, but Dean chooses to believe that he just lost a fight, plain and simple.

The alternative is too much. If he lost because Dean had failed to live up to prophecy and give his body over for the archangel’s use, then what happens in the months after is Dean’s fault entirely.

It’s Sam who comes up with the idea to end it. They spend months crowded around Bobby’s small TV, watching in horror as Lucifer’s reign begins. When the station finally cuts out, he knows he can’t sit here any longer.

“You can still end this,” Cas had said. Castiel, whose grace was so worn down that he was practically human; Castiel, who couldn’t do a thing himself to stop his own brothers from turning on each other, from swearing allegiance to Lucifer as soon as the tides turned in his favor.

But Sam is the one who sits down at Bobby’s workbench, eyes wild, and says “I have an idea.”

It was always going to be Sam, really, and Dean was always going to give in. One of the last places he ever expected to find them was in cooperation with the devil himself, but then again, Dean had once had an angel and a demon riding in the backseat of his car, so that tells you all you need to know about the way his life goes.

It takes longer to actually find Lucifer than it does for Dean to agree to Sam’s plan, Sam’s crazy plan to say yes to the devil and hope he’s strong enough to take control.

Once they figure this out, the three of them leave Bobby with whatever they can’t take with them, whatever might give them away, pack up the car, and leave.

In Kansas, there’s a cemetery. This is one of the things that the destiny got right: it ends here, at Stull. But everything else was backwards, read through the mirror the wrong way, or maybe just translated wrong somewhere down the line.

When Sam says yes, Lucifer takes control instantly. Dean has the rings ready, twisting them over and over in his pocket like it’s his last bartering chip, and Lucifer destroys them like child’s play and turns on Dean.

The thing about prophecies is that they’re keen on wordplay. The one who begins it is the one who must end it: Dean. Dean began it, Dean sacrificed himself for his brother, and Dean broke: not Michael. So why should Michael have thought he could take all the glory, anyway?

When Sam’s body turns to Dean, he’s ready. Here is the part of the story where love saves the world.

This is what humanity gets right, every damn time: love. Michael was told to love his brother and therefore believed that all of his own actions defined love, even the decision to cast Lucifer out of Heaven. But everyone — everyone -- deserves redemption. This is the point. This is the one place that the angels were tested in the eyes of God, and his favorite sons had failed him. Michael had failed him.

But not the human. Not Dean.

“Careful there, Lucy. Didn’t you think to check for the trick up my sleeve?” Dean says, sliding a small silver dagger out of his coat and twisting it in his hand. The angel sword.

Lucifer laughs. He grabs Dean by his coatsleeves, rears a hand back and swings and swings. But Dean doesn’t fight; Dean lets himself be beat to the ground, coughing, choking, saying Sammy Sammy I’m sorry, it’ll be all right, I promise.

Lucifer knows the best way to break a soul and keep it twisted: hide away its humanity, turn it into something defiled and unrecognizable, because if that soul remembers, even for a moment, a time of life where he was loved and felt love, then he would be saved. Redemption lies in every soul and every soul deserves it.

Sam had betrayed Dean, broken the seal and unleashed Lucifer from the cage, but Dean is the one who is standing here now, telling him that it’s going to be all right. That he was angry, but he would still end up doing the one thing that he was always truly destined to do: forgive him.

This is not what Lucifer bargained for. He wanted Sam’s soul, but he didn’t count on getting a two for one deal. Sam alone isn’t strong enough to win, but Lucifer isn’t ready to feel Sam the way Dean does. It’s something new, it’s something that Lucifer remembers from before the pit: what it’s like to be loved by his brother. Here is the moment, at last. Lucifer finally, finally knows what it’s like to be forgiven for his sins, and in the face of it, he lays down his arms.

Kneeling there in the bloody grass, the two bodies stop, breathing heavily. Dean picks himself up and pulls his brother close, his brother, who’s got the devil held captive. He raises the sword.

Dean echoes his earlier sentiment, his own kind of goodbye; says “See you on the other side,” with a small smile, and then kills his brother.

He doesn’t have to mourn for long. His body is tired, right down to his bones, and without Sam, what’s the point of fighting. He won, they won, and this is their reward. Dean has just enough strength to pull back the hilt of the sword and let it fall to the grass before he, too, follows.

-

Micah is on his back when he comes to, shoulder blades pressing into the hard floor beneath him. The ceiling seems so far away, hidden behind a dusty cloud of stale air, and he doesn’t know where he is for the longest time. He squints, blinks, and then scrambles to focus on the face suddenly blocking his view. Over Lucas’s shoulder, the long shapes of industrial ceiling fan blades begin to separate from the gloom.

“Are you all right?”

He sits up too quickly because his body feels very, very light. Micah sucks in a breath and presses the heel of his hand into his eye, all the blood rushing to his feet. There is darkness outside the window.

“How long was I out?”

Lucas looks troubled. “I, um. A while.” He glances nervously out the window, lips tight.

Yeah, that. Micah remembers the crisp mid-morning air, the way the sun had been lying about its warmth, bathing the warehouse in bright chill. But now it’s dark, and dry, and doesn’t feel like he’s been out for very long, but apparently he has.

“I was kind of worried,” Lucas admits, laughing faintly.

“Don’t – oh God, Lucas, I have to tell you, I have to write it down,” Micah says, picking himself up and coming away with dirty hands from the dusty floor. He wipes them on his pants impatiently, going for his pack and his notebook. On the page next to the sigil Lucas had drawn earlier, he starts to write.

“Micah, I can’t read that.”

Lucas is peering over his shoulder at, what Micah now realizes, is nothing more than chicken scratch. “Here, let me?” Lucas asks, and Micah hands over the pen wordlessly.

He doesn’t remember anything beyond the end. He remembers the ache, the loss of Sam as the vessel collapsed, unable to bear the weight of a broken angel, a grace in disrepair, but that’s where his memories end. He might know more, eventually, but for now it’s just darkness, and he misses Sam still.

Lucas, when he relays the story, widens his eyes so that he looks even younger than he is, the youngest; like a fawn, awed by the littlest, most fundamental graces of life. He grips the pen so tightly as he writes that his hand cramps up twice and they have to stop.

When he’s done, he drinks an entire bottle of their water until he can breathe again without the flaring burn of his throat.

“So that’s it?” Lucas asks, had bowed over the pages, editing in notes of clarification where he’d written too fast.

“What do you mean?”

“I mean – you left Cas behind, right? Me – me behind. You don’t….” he trails off.

“Lucas. Do you know? Do you remember? Because if you do, I think it’s probably important.”

He’s silent, eyes unfocused, closing his fingers around the vial resting on his chest. Concerned, Micah reaches up, tangling their fingers together. The vial is warm, still too bright for Micah to look at very long, and when he touches it, Lucas’s entire body seems to tense.

“Sorry, Luke, look at me, please,” Micah says, straining to pull back.

But Lucas shakes his head, squeezing his fingers even tighter around Micah’s, both of them now holding the vial. “I know what happened. I know. Dean, I’m sorry, I promised you I wouldn’t do anything rash.”

Micah’s breath stutters. “What? Cas, what did you do?”

-

They’re martyrs, in the end. Sam and Dean Winchester, martyrs of the human race, and the worst part is that they feel like they haven’t even done enough. Too long the apocalypse went on, and for them the journey is far from over.

But they’ve left one piece of the puzzle behind.

Cas promised he wouldn’t do anything stupid, but when he walks onto the battle-pure battlefield, he doesn’t think it’s stupid at all. He’s hoping to find what he does: Sam and Dean at rest at last, and Lucifer gone forever. The ground beneath Sam’s body is scorched with the echo of his wings.

And Dean, at rest. For all that he was hoping to find exactly this, he can’t look. For all the things that being human brought him, here it takes them away.

But this story couldn’t end without the prodigal son, and so it won’t.

It’s true that God has fixed Castiel where he hasn’t bothered with the others, and it’s true that in his actions, he threw that gift away: but Castiel is the child who earns it. He falls for humanity in the purest form possible, and for the purest of reasons: love itself, and so God restores him. God makes him better, with the purest grace, and bestows upon him a great honor.

With the binding rings of the horsemen gone, scattered by the Morningstar, Castiel is given the power they were originally meant for: the protection of free will, once twisted and contained by jealous angels, once used to punish and lock away souls instead of free them. He has the chance to close the gateway to hell forever, so that evil can’t ever claw its way out.

But he doesn’t. He can hear his brothers and sisters again, he can be with his friends again, and he has no interest in caging demons into their own personal hells.

Given the highest power he can ever imagine, Castiel does nothing with it. He gives every soul the chance to move freely, he takes his reward and turns it into a gift: no more prophecies, no more destiny. He chooses to protect the small, bright humans, the most loved, who were given free will and were punished for using it.

That will make Dean happy.

He delivers the bodies to Bobby as gently as he can, explains what happened, how they won, and that is his last deed on earth. Bobby thanks him, and Castiel goes back where he belongs: at Dean Winchester’s side.

-

Crossroads deals don’t have to be made at night, but their covert nature demands it. Micah and Lucas don’t mean to show up just after dusk, but it’s just the way things happen. Micah parks the truck with its lights on, which gives them more than enough light to see by, but it casts the trees and tall grasses on the roadside into shadow.

Like everything else in the trunk, time seems to have had no effect on the cigar box of grave dirt and cat bones. They found a bag of herbs stuffed inside and matches; tucked into the side of the box is a loose page from Sam’s journal, detailing how to summon Crowley directly. Sam had been right when he told them they would figure it out.

Lucas tells him that Cas had returned to the Impala to strengthen the weak spells he had used when he was still human, changed them so that only he had access to the trunk, the space that time forgot. The instructions Sam and Dean left behind had been meant in case their plan had failed, in case they could direct another to Crowley and appeal to his help.

None of that mattered then, but Castiel had a different purpose.

They bury the box – no need for photos, it seems, since the ritual itself requires blood – and Micah traces the symbol on the page into the dirt with the toe of his boot.

They don’t have anything else for the herbs, so Micah pours the bag carefully in the center of the symbol and hopes the loose dirt doesn’t swallow the tiny leaves.

He’s not making Lucas do a blood ritual. It only requires one drop, but Lucas’s voice had gone dry and nervous when he’d read the page aloud to him in the truck, so there had really been no question. All it takes is one quick jab with the tip of the pocket knife he had packed as protection.

The herbs curl and smoke when the match hits them, but they don’t alight. Micah sucks in a breath and holds his hand over the pile, then releases pressure off the wound.

The effect is instantaneous. In a second, the entire box erupts into flames that are gone just as quickly, and in their place is a man – a demon - with dark hair and deceptively kind eyes.

“Well,” Crowley says. “I haven’t had this warm of a welcome in a long while. Let me guess, you decided to dabble in an illustrious hunting career, got your pals killed, and are looking to fix your problems, right?”

Micah ignores this. “Sam Winchester sent me.”

Crowley laughs. When neither of them react, he looks from Micah to Lucas and back, eyes narrowed in suspicion.

“Oh, you’ve got to be kidding me. Just when you think you’ve gotten rid of the damn Winchesters once and for all, they start handing out your calling card.”

“We’re not looking to make a deal,” Micah says.

“Ah, of course you’re not. Still afraid of hellhounds, Dean?”

“How did you…?” Micah trails off, shocked that Crowley was able to figure it out this quickly.

“Rookie question. I can see through you, boy, right to the gooey, bitter center,” Crowley says, waving his hand in Micah’s direction. He shifts his eyes back to Lucas. “And you brought your little lap dog with you.”

Lucas narrows his eyes and squares his shoulders. He looks for once like the person Micah knows he is, the one who knows the true value of his self-worth. It always surprises him how tall he is, something Micah hadn’t even noticed until he’d had to tilt his head back to kiss him.

“I’m pretty sure you owe me more respect than that,” Lucas says. “Considering that I let you have dominion over your realm the way you wanted it.”

“Ooh, touchy fellow, aren’t we? What’s all this about then, looking to cash in, collect a debt?”

“I already told you,” Micah says, “We don’t make deals with demons.”

“Oh, I don’t know about that. You gave me something and now you want a favor in return. Sounds like a deal to me.”

“Not when it’s your own personal interest.”

Crowley sighs heavily, head tilted heavenward, which is an absurd notion. “Children. Does Sam know he sent me children?”

“We’re more than that,” Lucas says, and fishes the vial out from under his shirt.

“Ah, that’s why those damn angels have been snooping around. I don’t want to join your club!” he shouts skyward, loud enough that Micah jumps. “Honestly, if they think I want to plug back into the angel network, they’re flattering themselves.”

He flicks his eyes to Lucas’s and holds his gaze. “No offense,” he says, but he obviously does mean offence.

“Listen,” Micah says, impatient, “Sam told me you’d know how to stop Raphael from locking down heaven again and taking control; do you know, or don’t you?”
“Dean, Dean, Dean. I can always count on you to cut out the reindeer games.”

They wait. Crowley heaves a put upon sigh and accuses them of being humorless, then caves. “I don’t have power over anybody, I just have dominion over the corrupt. And you’re right, I quite like it that way, so don’t think I’m doing anyone a favor here but myself, you understand?”

“We never expected any different.”

“Why did Sam send us here, then,” Lucas asks, ignoring the both of them. “If you don’t have any power, then what—”

He freezes, then looks over at Micah wide-eyed. “The cage. I can – if I were him, you know, really Castiel I could –”

“Lock him in,” Micah finishes, and then laughs at the simplicity of it. “But how?”

Crowley looks up from examining his nails and strides over to Lucas. “You need a key,” he says patronizingly, and then reaches for the vial around Lucas’s neck.

Lucas stumbles back at the same time that Micah shouts “No!”

To their surprise, Crowley pauses, hand outstretched, an incredulous expression on his face. “Haven’t you been listening? Believe me, boys, you couldn’t give me that angel mojo for all the souls upstairs. You want this to work, you’re going to have to trust me.”

Everything in Micah immediately rejects the idea, wants to grab Lucas and leave, figure out how to do this without the help of a demon. But to his horror, Lucas is ducking his neck to pull the chain over his head.

“Cas,” he tries, but Lucas shakes his head. “It’s okay, Dean.”

Micah swallows, helpless, and curls his hands into fists at his side.

Crowley claps his hands. “Good lad! Now then, let’s get this over with; I’m a busy man, you know. Who’s got the key?”

They look at each other, confused. “Key?” Lucas offers.

“What, do I look like I have the four rings of the apocalypse on me? They’re gone, fellas, and you need to bind the spell to something.”

Something clicks into place. “Can it be anything?” Micah asks, and Crowley shrugs. “Okay. Okay, I’ll be right back,” he says, and trots back to the truck, boots scattering a shower of dirt and rock as he pulls open the cab.

“Here,” he says when he returns, and hold out a small, silver object: the key to the Impala.

Crowley raises an eyebrow. “Imaginative,” he drawls, but Micah is grinning. Let Baby’s legacy continue on.

And then Lucas just hands his grace over to the king of hell, and the severity of the situation falls around him again.

Micah is so captivated by what Crowley is doing with them – something intricate and softly glowing around the palm of his hand where the vial is pressed, his eyes swimming with the dark red color of blood – that he doesn’t notice Lucas’s discomfort at first.

He’s standing stock-still, like every muscle in his body is seized up, jaw clenching. Micah remembers what had happened when he had touched the vial; he can only imagine what this must be like. His mind casts back to the dream when Sam had touched him, soul to soul, and wonders if this is the same.

The best he can do is wrap his arms around Lucas completely, as if he could be a buffer or some sort. It doesn’t work, but after a minute Lucas relaxes his hands, gripping the back of Micah’s hoodie like it’s the only thing keeping him from flying apart.

Then it’s over. Crowley hardly pays any attention to them; he hands back the vial without meeting Lucas’s eyes, a grumpy curl to his mouth.

“Believe me, boy, that was more painful for me than it was for you.” He bounces the key in his hand. “But I got this out of the deal, so we’re even.”

“You – you’re going to open the cage, then? When the time comes?”

Crowley is striding off with his back to them, using his boot to wipe out the sigil from the dirt and scatter the herbs.

“I want nothing more than that numpty locked into the very hell he deserves,” he mutters, and then he’s gone between one instant and the next.

-

They walk back to the truck in silence, breaths misting in the night air. It’ll start snowing soon, and the roads will be much harder to travel.

The truck jumps to life and he turns the heat on in the cab, waiting for it to warm up his frozen fingers. Lucas slumps in his seat, eyes lidded.

“You okay?”

“Hm?” He stirs. “Yeah. Let’s not sleep in the truck again tonight though, okay?”

Micah’s whole body aches at the thought. He grabs the folded up road map that they bought this morning at the service station off the dash and flips through until he finds the nearest motel.

It’s still miles away, and Lucas falls asleep on the drive over. Micah leaves him sleeping in the parking lot and goes in to pay, feeling nervous at the same time as he is complacent, having both done this countless times before and not done this at all.

He doesn’t have an ID, so he pays a little extra of their cash so the clerk will let them a room. Lucas is awake when he gets back to the truck, stretching his limbs. They carry their bags into the room along with the box from the Impala’s trunk. Micah doesn’t really want to leave it out of his sight.

He lets Lucas have the first shower. He’s in there for a while, and Micah understands why as soon as he steps under the spray for his turn: the warm water prickles his chilled skin and melts the exhaustion clean out of him. He feels like a new person when he steps out, too grateful for the hot water to even be bothered when the humid air curls the ends of his hair furiously.

Lucas is sitting cross-legged on the bed when Micah leaves the bathroom. His skin is still flushed from his shower, damp hair soaking the collar on the back of his t-shirt. Both necklaces have escaped from underneath and clink together softly as they dangle, Lucas’s head bent over John’s journal.

“Hey,” he huffs out, dropping onto the bed to read over his shoulder.

“Hey,” Lucas returns, distracted. “Look at this, it’s amazing. All the details.” He runs a finger down the page he’s reading, John’s tight scrawl littered here and there with drawings and annotations.

“Yeah.” Micah is still in awe of it, even though if he dug deep enough he could probably recall every page of it from memory. How many times had Dean pored over the journal for answers?

Lucas turns a page slowly and Micah leaves him to it, slipping off the edge of the bed to grab the box from off the tiny wooden table, hardly big enough for one plate or a game of cards.

He hesitates before touching the amulet again, but nothing happens when he does. Gently, he threads the chain of his St. Benedict charm through the brass loop of the amulet, then re-clasps it around his neck.

“How much of this is new?” Lucas asks when Micah rejoins him on the bed.

“A lot of it, I think. There’s a lot of information in the Gospels, but Chuck glossed over most of the details. And the books don’t cover every hunt Sam and Dean went on, let alone the ones John went on.”

“We can’t keep this,” Lucas says, finally looing up.

“I know, but who’s going to believe us?”

“They will when it works. When people stop dying because they know how to protect themselves better.”

Micah wants anonymity desperately. He doesn’t think Lucas would want to be in the spotlight either, and he definitely doesn’t want to have to explain to anybody how they found the journal in the first place.

“What if we keep the journal a secret, but spread around the information?” he suggests.

Lucas makes a noise in the back of his throat. “I’m not really cut out to be a hunter.”

“I don’t know, you did pretty good back there,” Micah says, grinning. Lucas shrugs. In this moment Micah realizes that Lucas will follow him wherever he goes, defer to his judgment as often as possible; it’s in his very nature. Micah will have to change that, let Lucas know that he always has a choice.

Gently, Micah takes the journal from him and starts flipping through the pages. He’s half afraid with every page turn that a memory will trigger, but there’s nothing.

“I promised Sam I wouldn’t hunt.”

“No hunting,” Lucas agrees. “I put that in my note.”

“Me, too. Did you say when you’d be back?”

Lucas shakes his head.

Micah sighs, turning on the bed to face him. “What about this: what if we just pretend to be hunters?

Lucas tilts his head to the side, considering. “You mean, let people believe we know what we’re talking about?”

“Exactly. We make up stories about fighting this stuff, let the word spread. That’s how information was passed in the old days, wasn’t it?”

“Like the Roadhouse, almost.”

“The traveling roadhouse.”

Lucas laughs, nodding.

“So that’s it, then.”

Lucas looks down at his hands, toying with the hem of his pants. “Could be dangerous.”

“Could be.”

“We’d better keep this safe, then,” is all he says. Lucas reaches forward to take the journal from Micah’s lap, shutting it and sliding the leather closure into place. He sets it carefully on the nightstand.

Micah has no idea what the future is going to be like, but he isn’t scared. He wonders if Lucas is scared, but he’s too afraid to ask.

“Did we just pay for the night?” Lucas says conversationally, stifling a yawn.

“Just the night,” Micah says, voice coming out oddly choked. Lucas’s eyes snap to his, concerned.

“Hey,” he says, fingers catching at the middle of Micah’s shirt. He tugs him forward. “C’mere.”

They seem to keep doing this when he least expects it. Micah doesn’t object, would never, he just goes, lets Lucas kiss him like he’s going to be there always, like he’s going to be the only thing that makes sense in the world for a long while, because it’s true.

The angle’s off. He scoots forward and Lucas lies back, leaving Micah hovering uncertainly and a little taken by surprise.

Lucas laughs. “What are you waiting for, we’re kissing now,” he says, and Micah closes the distance to laugh into his mouth. Lucas muffles his grin in his shoulder, then forces himself back into seriousness, touching gently at the swell of Micah’s cheekbone.

So Micah has to kiss him again, suddenly shy.

They trade them back and forth, kisses on jawlines and between collarbones, fingers brushing warm, clean skin under the hems of their t-shirts, reminding themselves that this is just them, here, right now; there’s an urgency even in slow touches, searching kisses.

Micah transfers his mouth from the soft corner where Lucas’s lips meet to the junction of shoulder and chest, and Lucas breathes out a sigh even at that, Micah’s mouth not even on bare skin. He pulls away, rucks a hand under Luke’s shirt to drag a thumb along his flank. Lucas breathes in, eyelids heavy with exhaustion.

He thinks Lucas is the first one of them to fall asleep, mouths slack and puffy, tangled together on top of the motel’s thin comforter, but just as he’s drifting off he feels the press of lips at his temple. He slits his eyes open. Lucas’s eyes are shut lightly, his rising stomach warm under Micah’s arm. He doesn’t remember falling asleep.

-

The morning is clear. Micah half expects it to rain just for continuity’s sake, but the rain belonged to Lucas in the first place. Clear and cool, not even a breeze; just clouds lazy and far-off on the horizon. The rest of the sky is a dusty grey-blue, color dulled by the windshield, which probably needs a cleaning. Micah feels wide, wide awake.

The passenger door barely creaks when Lucas opens it. Micah doesn’t flinch away this time, even though part of him – a large part; exactly half – is always going to want it to be Sam beside him.

He wonders if Dean is going to fade from him. Memories do, although he knows now how easily they can be recalled if given the right motivation. He thinks it might be easier that way, just for the sake of easing the ache of not having Sam sharing the same plane.

But for now, he lets that part of him sink to the back, slumbering. He doesn’t remember exactly what it was like to just be Micah, anymore, but he also doesn’t feel the loss. He couldn’t possibly begrudge himself that, and anyway, it’s much easier being Dean Winchester this way that it ever was when he was only Dean.

So Lucas slides onto the passenger seat of Micah’s father’s truck, just the quiet sound of denim sliding over leather. Micah leans his head on the steering wheel, peering sideways at him.

“Hey,” he says, and Lucas rolls his eyes fondly.

“Morning.”

They could go back. Micah wants to go back, longs for it in a way that’s entirely new. Home had never been a physical place before, but he finds that he misses his house, the library, the river. Mom. He hopes she’s okay.

But he’d been fine before, so long as he had Sam.

“Cas,” he says.

“Yeah, Micah,” Lucas says, softly amused. The morning stillness makes every sound seem clear and quiet, like the words just drop off into a vacuum.

“We could go back. If we wanted.”

Lucas sighs, turning forward to look out the windshield. Micah looks at him, thinks about how home can be a person just as easily as it can be a place. He sits up, drumming his fingertips against the steering wheel.

“Nah,” Lucas says after a moment. “We will. Just… not now.”

That’s the thing about stories: they don’t have an end, either. Drive off into the sunset all you like, but the night is unpredictable, and the sun always rises. This is what he wants: an interlude. This is how Castiel will belong to him, always, and Lucas too.

Micah reaches forward and chases the line of chain around the nape of Lucas’s neck, feels him shiver. That’s everything, right there: the two pendants he’s keeping safe, one for Cas, one for Lucas; grace and protection.

“Okay,” Micah agrees, letting his fingers fall. Lucas’s hand reaches up, presses to the center of his chest where the pendants fall, checking to make sure they’re still there. Micah mimics the gesture, grinning when Lucas notices, and he gets a smile in response.

“Okay,” he repeats, and then turns the key in the ignition.

Pick a spot on the road, go, and keep on going.

fin