“Castiel? What is wrong?”
Sariel curls around him like a lover, their feathers splitting and dissolving into hyperspectral waves of light. Her touch grounds him. It lifts him from the tangled earth and the salty seas, back to heaven, back before the assembled angels that had chosen to stand with him against Archangel Raphael.
He lets out a breath, a sense of failure tying a hard knot in his belly.
“I must go.”
Dean has his back against a wall, beneath a window with the moon hung high against its still. He is a shadow at the periphery of his vision, inconspicuous but for the halo of light that has been with him since his rebirth. He is bruised, wrists torn and knuckles bloodied. But these are the least of the damages the angel sees as he kneels, sparing Sam not a glance as he places a palm over the man’s arm.
His handprint flares to life at his touch, the invisible lines flushing with blood. Castiel leans close, inquisitive like a feline. He can feel the man’s soul fragmenting, struggling to sever its mortal bounds. Hairline fractures race across its multifaceted brilliance—he is too late, the righteous man is breaking once again.
“Dean! Dean, Look at me.” Dean flinches in surprise, uncomfortable at the close proximity and heat. Slivers of raw power seep through his pores and it burns like glass and fire. Castiel cups the side of his face, his hand spasming against the clammy skin. Dean swallows air like a drowning man, his fist clenched in the lapels of Castiel’s trench. The edges of his sclera are glowing, gold-flecked pupils blown wide into disks of jade. “Dean—” The angel calls but the hunter is no longer listening.
“No...!” Castiel presses a thumb over the space between the unseeing eyes, his fingers spreading flush across the freckled cheek. Dean’s mouth he covers with his own, his grace passing between them, spilling past their lips and down the man’s throat like lava. He desperately smoothes the jagged edges back into place, reminding Dean that all was not lost and he only had to ask.
And for a moment there is peace. Castiel trembles as his grace is returned twofold, a strange gift presented to him out of love and filial duty. He makes a small sound at the back of his throat. His wings spread heavy like smoke, low in submission. But he cannot move from his place between Dean’s knees, pressed against the length of the man’s body. Dean blinks and tentatively maps the planes of the angel’s face, the pads of his fingers lingering curiously over the three-day stubble and the frustrated crease between his eyes.
His brother wears Dean’s face and wears it well. He bows his head, a glimmer of mischief held in the curve of his jaw as he whispers torments against the younger angel’s temple.
“Fitting is it not? Michael’s sword with Michael’s shield. Had Zachariah succeeded, you would not be here little brother—lost.”
Castiel licks his lips, his mouth suddenly dry.
“I... I have no regrets.”
“Is that what you tell yourself when you kill our brothers?”
“My reason does not become yours Michael.” Castiel answers evenly and Michael laughs, his voice oddly hollow and disconnected as though he is not quite fully in control of his vessel.
“I had always wondered,” he murmurs, “If I would be missed had I simply left like Gabriel did so long ago.” He curls his hair into black ringlets around his fingers. “None of you even noticed...”
“But you were missed. All of us in heaven longed to hear your voice, for you to lead us once more. But you had already gone, like our father before you, you abandoned us to our fate.”
Dean’s—Michael’s—embrace is warm, all-encompassing as though he is the only one that matters. “Never” Castiel is crushed against the man’s chest, against the deep tandem of his heartbeat. The sound is both thrilling and terrifying to his ears. He does not yet know what it means for Michael to be there, inside Dean’s soul, especially when the man has never given his express permission.
He throws himself backwards, missing the warmth, hating his need and how Michael’s eyes flicker with familiar hurt. “Hear me little brother I have never left, I have and always will be there for you.”
“You lie,” Castiel stumbles to his feet, hand repelling Michael’s attempts to approach. “If not you are clearly incapable of speaking the truth.” Uriel’s sword slides out from inside his sleeve. The angel killing sword shines like mercury in the moonlight. “Leave”
Michael stands, his four wings clearly visible.
“I cannot.” His eyes burn white before dimming, the façade of a human soul spilling across the archangel’s grace. “He is me and I am him. We are one, we are whole. It is inevitable. He will be me and I him.”
“Then in his cage...”
“My sword,” Michael drawls, eyes half-mast and lazy. “The sword that cast our brothers from heaven and quelled legions of demons beneath its blade. The sword that calls for the blood of war and the end of all things, the sword I left near the throne of God—the sword you followed so willingly in my name.”
He falls to his knees.
“Because I am the good son. It is our father’s will and thus my will and that of the heavenly host.” The archangel’s will and grace are dissipating, the enormous emerald wings folding, the fire in his eyes fading. Dean’s soul is barely a disguise now, so tattered and ruined that he can finally see for what it is, a mask, no more. The man he had pulled from hell had never existed and in its place is Michael who is more than a man but less than an angel. “And soon, it will be yours.”
Michael lowers his eyes, his head offered in benediction.
Castiel says hoarsely—“Amen”