Actions

Work Header

Dies Irae, or Something

Chapter Text

This is how it goes down, okay? It starts with headaches, and it ends in a clusterfuck. Dean remains of the opinion that God must have been on some truly perilous substances to come up with it.

But, in the beginning, as it were: The apocalypse isn’t really going well.

Not that it could, not without stopping of course, but it isn’t going well in any sense of the term; they aren’t making progress on how to stop Lucifer, and Ellen and Jo hang over them like spectres no matter how thoroughly they’d been salted and burned in the inferno of their heroic end. There are too many casualties with not enough vengeance, and that’s enough to make the whole thing look like it’s crumbling into dust and sifting through their fingers.

The Winchesters have been holed up for a week now, trying to gather some semblance of knowledge or strength, but so far they've only managed to track a laundry list of destruction on the nightly news that lay as testament to both how cruel and how petty Lucifer is being. The attacks are unpredictable, both in scale and location, leaving the hunters rudderless. Barring a miracle, Dean really doesn’t know how they’ll even begin to take action again.

And then on top of that are the headaches.

They’d started about four days after Death rose. They hadn’t come on gradually either; one evening Dean had been just peachy, and the next he can’t sleep it hurts so much. Painkillers do practically nothing, and while a fifth of Jack can knock him out for a few scarce hours, the ensuing hangover, if anything, exacerbates the problem. Sam had started looking for curses online that could explain it, and Bobby’d begun a preliminary search his in library, but it was to no effect whatsoever, and eventually Dean just told them to stop and concentrate on what was more important—namely, Lucifer and why the goddamn Colt didn’t work on him.

Dean's just going to have to get used to the feeling of several daggers making exact incisions into his frontal lobe. Hell, at least he’s had practice with that, both literally and figuratively.

He’s standing on the porch, nursing a beer and staring at the graveyard of cars when a shadow falls across him, blocking the lamp on the porch. He turns and finds Sam leaning in the doorway. He looks worn, his posture even worse than usual. “Um. Bobby’s making some dinner, if you’d like some,” he says. His voice sounds scratchy, like he hasn’t been using it for a while.

Dean could eat, especially if it’s Bobby’s cooking. “Yeah, sure,” he says. He follows his brother inside, where Bobby is puttering around in his wheelchair. He’s now grown adept at both getting around the first floor of the house and clotheslining anyone who gets in his way. They eat in relative silence, both out of discouragement and respect for the awesomeness of Bobby’s limited but effective cuisine. Dean notices that his brother has kept the lights in the house low, which he appreciates. Bright lights and stabbing pains in his head don’t really mix.

After they’d sat back from the table and started gathering dishes, Bobby says, “So having gone through my entire library, a task I’m not keen on repeatin’ ever again, I might add, I’m thinking that Michael’s sword is the only thing that’s gonna kill Lucifer. It’s the only thing more powerful than the Colt on this plane.”

“Thought I was the sword, Bobby,” Dean says, plucking another beer out of the fridge, his first long before cast into the recycling bin. Maybe this one would numb him enough.

“Zachariah might’ve been over-interpreting,” Sam says, raising a cloud of suds in the sink as he scrubs a pan formerly filled with casserole. The pan hits the sink with a clunk, and Dean winces. Sam looks over his shoulder at him, and takes on the expression of a wounded puppy. “Sorry, Dean.”

Dean shrugs, waves a hand for him to continue, and sits gingerly on the edge of the sofa. They have enough things to feel guilty about without apologizing for the small stuff as well. Even though said small stuff is currently drilling resounding echoes into his temple.

Sam says, “The sword is known as an object, generally, not a person. But, y’know, the line between objects and people seem to get a bit blurred with him.”

“Tell me about it.”

“The problem’s finding it,” he continues. “Michael’s sword hasn’t been heard from since Enoch. It could be buried in Israel for all we know.”

“The location doesn’t matter, once we know it,” Dean says. “Cas’d get us there, so long as his angel mojo holds out.”

“Yeah. But then we probably have to pass the measures taken to protect it. If it really exists on this plane, it’s been sheltered enough for even some of the archangels not to know about it.” He dropped the pan into the drying rack and started on another. “I imagine Michael’d know where it is,” he adds dryly. “We could always ask him.”

“And I think I can predict what he’d say,” Dean snorts, “’Why sure, I’ll tell you where it is, once you let me play puppet master in your meat suit!’”

“Yep, sounds about right.”

“How ‘bout some useful suggestions, boys?” Bobby cuts in. “Just for variety’s sake.”

Sam sighs. “I got nothing. I’ve been trying to track the thing down for days now, but the lore is too wrapped up in biblical nonsense and contradictions to actually be useful.”

“Yeah, I imagine there’re a number of things lost in translation,” Dean says briefly. He heads back out to the porch to drink and avoid the sharp sounds of dishes being put away.

Michael remains on his mind. It isn’t like he’s rethinking the whole vessel deal. He’ll keep saying no until he’s blue in the face. He’s damn tired of being pushed around by celestial beings, and if this one thing is in his power to control, then he is going to exercise that fucking power as much as he can. But something Sam’d said remains on his mind. Michael’s knowledge, if not his probable douchebaggery, would be awfully valuable to have.

The slight huff of the sudden displacement of air at his side makes him blink slowly. He waits for Castiel to say something, and when he doesn’t, he shrugs.

“How’s the search for God going?” he says.

“Slowly. I am ashamed to admit that my progress has been very limited.”

Cas has been in and out of Bobby’s since he’d dumped the Winchesters there after their encounter with Lucifer. Each time he returns he has less news to offer, his powers dwindling slowly but surely, his eyes standing out ever more blue against the darkening shadows beneath them. Dean doesn’t like watching the slow hollowing of the angel’s features, and feels a vague sort of directionless rage at a God who would cause it in the most faithful of his flock. “It’s all right, Cas,” he says gruffly. “You’re doing your best.”

“My best is not as good as it once was.”

“I hear that.” Dean looks back out at the sky. “Did you know him?” he asks, turning to look at the angel.

Castiel has perched himself on the railing in what looks like a seriously uncomfortable position, but which he apparently handles with ease. He looks over at his charge, expression customarily inscrutable.

“To whom are you referring?” he asks in turn.

“Michael. Did you know him. I mean, was he a cool dude? Would he take my body and screw around with it and leave me a drooling mess like Raphael’s vessel, or would he actually show some respect?”

“It’s not a matter of respect, Dean,” Castiel answers. “It’s more a matter of what he needs to do at the time. And how strong the vessel is. Archangels must have specific hosts. If they take others who cannot bear the burden, they will be damaged.”

“So I’m built for abuse. At least that’s nothing new.”

“You are strong, Dean. My father has made you strong.”

“You stopped me from becoming Michael’s vessel, though. Even though I was apparently made for it.”

Castiel exhales, and it’s a deliberate thing, an expression of exasperation more than any physical need to expel air from his lungs. “I did. You are a righteous man, Dean, and for that it pains me to see you occupied by another, no matter how powerful he can be within you. And if Michael should take Zachariah’s view of the war, then I cannot allow him in good conscience, as you well know, to take any vessel at all.”

Dean says, “You say the sweetest things, Cas.”

Castiel listens to the ensuing silence, and says into it, “I haven’t seen Michael since the last war.”

Dean rubs his temples, and it doesn’t help. “The last…? You mean, Satan’s war?”

The angel turns to look at him. “Yes. I do not know what he is like now. Whether he has changed. For all that the garrison knows of the archangels, he could be like Gabriel now.” He can’t hide the bitterness in his tone. “If he is, then we are lost.”

Dean spares a passing thought to Gabriel, now long gone from the ring of holy fire, probably still being a massive coward and doing his trickster thing. His lip curls in disgust at the thought.

“I didn’t say this before, but I think it bears observation,” Castiel continues, after a long moment, “That while Gabriel may be right in stating that the similarities between your family circle and mine—Michael’s, that is—you are not as similar to Michael himself as he made out. Michael is a strategist, a war commander; his plans are flawless and bloodless. You are not so cold. And because you are not, things will not be so…inevitable, while you still remain in control of your actions.”

“Well, they’re certainly feeling pretty inevitable right now, Cas,” Dean replies, and takes another swig of his beer. “But thanks anyway.”

After that, they don’t say anything else for a while. Dean digests the info Cas has given him with a little more intensity than usual. Something is itching to come together in his mind, but it isn’t quite fitting. The drilling going on in his head is making it hard to think. Castiel suddenly turns to him. “You’re in pain,” he observes, frowning. “You did not tell me.”

No point in denying it. “It’s a new thing, apparently. Know anything about it?”

“No,” he says slowly. “What you are experiencing is unusual and I do not know its origin. May I…?” he holds up two fingers towards Dean’s head. Dean automatically shrinks back, just a little.

“Depends on what you’re gonna do, man.”

“I will attempt to read your soul. If something is amiss, it will show.”

Dean raises an eyebrow. “That sounds pretty fuckin’ invasive.”

Castiel merely cocks his head. “Dean, I have seen your soul bleeding and broken in the pits of hell,” he says in a tone he could have used to discuss the weather, “There is nothing about you that I have not seen, and thus any desire to hide yourself now would be redundant.”

And wow, Dean has never felt so simultaneously shamed and warmed. He ducks his head. “Right,” he says finally, though his voice comes out strained and low. “Yeah, all right. Do it, then.”

Castiel leans forward a bit so he can catch Dean’s down turned gaze. It’s a strangely human gesture, strangely sensitive as well, which makes Dean follow it in surprise. It isn’t until they’re in full eye contact that Castiel places the requisite two fingers on his brow and frowns in concentration.

Dean waits. Castiel’s fingers are cool against his brow, and he feels the slight static jolt of the angel’s presence passing between them in a sizzling moment.

Then suddenly the connection snaps, and Castiel pulls back suddenly, as if burned. “Dean,” he says, and is that worry in his voice? “There is something inside you.”

Dean feels all of the muscles in his body tense. “What, like a possession?” he asks sharply.

“No. Not that, nor a creature, nor anything else. But Dean,” and here he reaches out as if to touch Dean again, but then thinks better of it at the last moment, “It is bright. It shines in you like it’s bursting to get out. It is…” He shrugs helplessly, and Dean doesn’t think he’s ever seen an angel lost for words. It’s not particularly comforting.

So he says, “Wow, no bursting please, thanks. How ‘bout you tell me what it actually is?”

“I cannot say,” Castiel replies, shaking his head. “It does not want to yet be known.”

“Well fuck that, I’m not waiting around for it to be ready,” he stomps up the last two steps of the porch and heads inside. “Bobby! What shines super bright and gives a host body bitchtastic migraines?”

“The hell’re you talking about, boy?” Bobby grumbles, rolling himself into view. He looks over Dean’s shoulder, and snorts. “Oh, it’s you. D’you have something to do with this, angel?”

“I certainly do not,” Castiel answers, stepping inside behind Dean, hovering at his shoulder. “I would never do anything to harm Dean. I merely gave my impressions of what may be causing his pain.”

“Right, and he says it’s bright and shiny and bursting and I do not like that last adjective,” Dean snaps. “What’ve you got?”

“Technically that was a verb,” Sam says, looking up from his laptop.

“Shut up, not helpful,” Dean says without looking at him. Bobby rolls his eyes and then his self over to the bookshelves.

“If you’re so damn eager all of a sudden, do it yourself. Here,” he tosses an old and slightly mouldering tome in Dean’s direction. “You can start with that.”

“Didn’t you look in there when you were first offering to look?”

“Yeah, but maybe you’ll find something I missed.”

“Bobby, I’m running on empty and my head feels like it’s been cracked open like an egg. Twice. What makes you think I’ll be able to even read for more than two pages?”

Bobby huffs and heads off into the other room for another beer.

“We could find a psychic,” Sam offers. “Have Missouri take a look at you, if you’re up to the trip.”

“She would be unable to sense anything more than what I already have,” Castiel says. He looks carefully at Dean. “Dean. How long has this been occurring?”

“’Bout a week, now.”

“And it is worsening?”

Dean winces, and realizes that he’s less willing to lie to Cas than he is to Sam. “Yeah, I guess.”

“You never said that before,” Sam says worriedly. “You said it’s been the same ever since it popped up.”

“No point in stating it if there’s nothing to be done about it,” Dean growls.

“Dean, we cannot allow this to go on, if we are to be in solidarity against Lucifer when the time comes,” Castiel says. He pauses, and then says slowly. “Barring interactions with powerful demons, the only beings that could provide greater help than I would be those that outrank me.”

“Archangels?” Dean snorts. “Yeah, great idea. Because we get along so well with all of them.”

A knock sounds on the open door. They all turn.

“I believe that’s my cue,” Gabriel says, smirking, leaning in the jamb like he belongs there. He lifts an eyebrow. “Can I come in?”

Chapter Text

Dean cannot take much more of this. “The fuck are you doing here?” he asks. “I distinctly remember telling you to go screw yourself.”

“So you did,” Gabriel agrees. “But you also called me a coward, and here I am, not being a coward.”

“How d’you figure that?” Sam asks.

“Well, I’m here to offer my services,” and here a sharp glint in the archangel’s gaze gives a quick and biting reminder of the gravity behind his flippant prose, “And seeing as you guys are going to totally end up the ones with your asses handed to you, I’d say I’m being, in fact, the very antithesis of a coward by joining your merry band.”

“Oh good, so glad your inner jackass is still intact,” Dean bites back. “I thought for a moment you’d lost it.”

“Inner? Why that’s practically complimentary, coming from you.”

“Did I say inner? I meant omnipresent.”

“If you girls are finished?” Sam says, raising an eyebrow.

Gabriel sighs as if he weren’t just engaging in a bitchfight with a mortal. “May I please come in now?”

“Dunno. Bobby!” Dean shouts. “There’s an archangel at the door who may or may not be trying to stop the apocalypse! Do you want him in or out?”

Bobby wheels himself back into sight, and gives Gabriel the most judgmental of once-overs. “You’re awful short for an archangel,” he observes after a long moment. “For a Trickster it wasn’t so bad, but this—“

“Do you want a chair with square wheels, monkey?” Gabriel asks acidly.

Bobby chuckles. “Let him come in, boys. Worst comes to worst, ya’ll can call Zachariah down to pick him up.”

“Don’t think we won’t do it,” Dean says to the archangel as Sam steps back to let Gabriel enter. “The guy’s a dick, but I’m guessing he has way more against your absence than he does against ours. At least we have the excuse of being stupid humans, or whatever.”

“Oh, fuck you,” Gabriel grumbles. “I offer my extremely substantial help, and I get threats and insults. You’re not exactly convincing me that this whole no-apocalypse thing is a good idea.”

“Thought you’d have already made your mind up about that if you’re coming to see us,” Sam comments.

Gabriel pauses, and his glance at Sam lingers oddly. “I’m trying your side on a trial basis.”

“Well thanks for that lovely vote of confidence,” Dean says with a sneering grin. “Beer?”

***

Gabriel refuses a beer, and mojos in a bottle of Bailey’s instead.

“The way I figure it, Zachariah’s shitting in my playground by bringing the Morningstar back around,” he says expansively. “Lucifer’s got his prerogative, and honestly, at least he’s being consistent about it, but Zach’s just…fickle. Always has been. Hot and cold for millennia on the whole Earth thing, just like that fucking Katy Perry song.”

Dean’s just waiting for him to get carried away and conjure some tequila into existence, because until that moment happens he won’t be sold on the idea of having the archangel around. Meanwhile, Sam is simply…assessing. Gabriel’s kicking back at the kitchen table, glass half full of Bailey’s and constantly refilling with both liquor and the appropriate amount of ice, but what’s catching his eye is how every once in a while Gabriel will get carried away with a gesture and suddenly the shadows of a truly epic wingspan grace the walls of Bobby’s house and fuck, Sam wonders if this is how Dean felt when he’d first met Castiel. It was clear that even when he’d been beached in that ring of holy fire he’d been holding back his, well, angel-ness and now that he isn’t, his presence filled the room something fierce. Dean and Bobby don’t seem all that affected, but Sam is dizzy with it. He tries to brush it off as owing to too many beers and too much ingrained religious awe.

“So basically, you’re saying that you’re only with us because the other options all suck more?” he says, trying to clear his head.

“Pretty much,” Gabriel says cheerfully, his smirk dimpling his cheeks, and Sam could swear he feels feathers brush against his shoulder. He feels his face heat up. Gabriel’s smile broadens.

“I don’t believe you,” Dean says flatly, now holding his beer to his head. He’s settled on one of the wooden kitchen chairs, straddling it and clutching the back like it was holding him up bodily. Castiel has been hovering behind him, looking like he feels distinctly outclassed, which Sam figures he is.

“Look, it’s not like I can actually tolerate you most of the time,” Gabriel snaps. “You’re overwhelmingly self-righteous, and that’s saying something, coming from an archangel. At least Sam’s got some proper humility.”

“Thanks,” Sam mutters, looking down at the table. Gabriel glances at him, but then continues, “It’s just that your side is the only one that actually involves a massive ‘fuck you’ to all and sundry. And if that’s not the side I’ve been on all along, I don’t know what is.”

“That’s true, I guess,” Sam says.

There’s a pause, in which Gabriel looks up, spots Castiel hovering at Dean’s side, and all of a sudden they seem to be having a private conversation. Dean looks between them with an expectant expression, but surprisingly manages to stay quiet through the whole exchange. Eventually Gabriel purses his lips.

“Hm. All right, then. Also,” he says, more slowly this time, as if he was taking great care to filter his words, “I think there’s reason to believe that this may not be the losing side anymore.”

“Dude, you had better be more specific, because that kind of good news does not happen to us,” Dean says.

Gabriel looks distressingly grave and bitter all of a sudden, like he had when he had spoken of the war between his brothers. Then he turns to look at Sam and Bobby. “Cover your ears,” he says. “Both of you.”

“Gabriel, what are you doing?” Castiel asks, eyes narrowing.

“I’m trying something,” Gabriel replies, sitting forward with his elbows now resting on his knees. His eyes are fixed on Dean’s, searching them. Dean lets him search, his expression set on defiant. “Yeah,” the archangel says lowly. “Yeah, it makes sense. You monkeys were right, by the way. For once. You do need Michael’s sword to defeat Lucifer. And Michael’s the only one who knows where to find it.”

“So what are we going to do about that?” Sam asks.

“I thought I told you to cover your ears,” Gabriel shoots back. “Do it now.”

Sam makes a severe bitchface, but puts his hands carefully over his ears. Bobby does the same, but not without rolling his eyes. Satisfied, Gabriel turns back around to look at Dean.

When he opens his mouth next, the house shakes. And Dean…blinks.

He remembers when Castiel had first tried to talk to him at that abandoned gas station. How the windows blew out and the television shouted static along with the radios. How he’d thought his mind was about to cave in from that massive and cutting blast of sound that seemed never ending against his eardrums. And he could tell that that was happening now, though perhaps at a lesser degree—no glass breaking, but the lights flicker and he can hear the static of the radio from the other room. But the high-pitched whine of immeasurable frequency is gone. In its place, a voice both intelligible and inhuman that makes his spine tremble resonates from what feels like the inside of his heart.

So Michael,” Gabriel says, his eyes boring into Dean, but it is as if Dean is saying it with him in his mind. “Where the hell did you stash that thing?”

The words are like the roar of a tidal wave. But Dean feels fine.

Then Gabriel shuts his mouth, and the world steadies. Sam coughs and exhales, pulling bloody hands from his ears as Bobby groans. Castiel’s hand has made its way to Dean’s shoulder, gripping it hard.

And the answer comes to Dean’s lips unbidden. “South Africa,” he says, his own very human voice a rasping whisper. “It’s in South Africa.”

Castiel says, “Dean?” Staring at him as if the world is ending right now, as opposed to in stages.

Only Gabriel, of course, looks unfazed. “Don’t worry, little brother,” he says tautly. “That’s still Dean. Except he apparently has a very useful hanger-on in there.”

There's a brief silence. Then Sam raises his hand.

“Um, can I be the first one to say ‘what the fuck?’”

Chapter Text

“I don’t think anyone really thought it was possible,” Gabriel says, now nibbling idly at a Snickers bar that never actually seems to get any smaller. “Especially an archangel. Someone like Castiel could perhaps pull it off, but it would have been an extremely taxing experience, and by the time something had to be done he would have been useless. But really, it’s the perfect plan. Lucifer would never suspect something like this—it’s a devil’s sort of work, not an angel’s. Michael’s never played the long con before. But he did this time.”

“But I’m not Michael. I’m Dean,” says Dean, his expression inscrutable. He’s been utterly still since Gabriel had resumed his human speaking levels and Bobby had broken out the paper towels to deal with the mess he and Sam had made of their ear canals. Castiel is pacing now, shooting glances at his brother and at Dean.

“I would have sensed him,” he says to Gabriel. “I would have known immediately. Michael’s presence would be—“

“—Overwhelming, undeniable, unflinching. Yes,” Gabriel replies. Then he quirks a smile. “I could hide as a Trickster for years, though. And Michael…” he drifts off, and almost looks wistful. “Michael was always better.”

“Then why isn’t he riding my body like a pony right now?” Dean says. “Isn’t that his job?”

“Not necessarily,” Sam says quietly. His ears are still ringing from Gabriel’s voice, so he’s making an effort not to shout. “If he’s still taking orders directly from God, then he might have the right agenda.”

“See, that would imply that he knows where God is, and if Cas hasn’t been able to find him—“

“Dean, I have never stood in His presence,” Castiel cuts in. “Michael’s contact with our Father has been far more extensive. It would not be surprising if he knew of God’s location and had spoken to Him in the past.”

“That isn’t fair,” Dean says, suddenly fierce.

“It is the way that we were made.”

“It would have to have been way in the past, though,” Gabriel interrupts. “Believe me, I haven’t sensed Him in a very long time. It’d be before your birth. Because since then he’s been sitting inside of you. Watching you. Becoming you.”

“Dude, you’re making him sound like a Stepford wife,” Sam says in disgust.

Gabriel snorts. “I mean, I would never do it. But I guess Michael is enough of a true believer to actually commit to something like this. I wouldn’t have believed it, though. Not until I’d seen it.”

“Are you going to tell me what ‘this’ is, or am I going to have to beat it out of you?” Dean says.

Gabriel says, “Listen. You say that the angels are currently encouraging Armageddon without God’s endorsement, yeah? But the only way they’re going to win properly—and when I say properly, I mean Paradise-on-Earth properly—is with Michael on their side. Michael calling the shots, Michael calling for the destruction of all sinners. So if God’s not into that…then He’s got to have Michael on His side, not on the side of the Host. He has to make Michael love mankind more than he does the idea of Paradise.” He looks resigned. “And what better way to do that than let him live as the righteous man? Keep him deep inside, taking no action, just feeling everything that Dean feels, knowing everything that has made him.”

“And the headaches…” Castiel begins.

Gabriel finishes. “And Michael shall be strengthened during the Battle of Armageddon.

“Enoch,” Sam says. “53:6.”

The archangel nods. “Michael is becoming too strong to keep himself tamped down anymore. It’s why you can endure my Voice. Castiel’s too, if you want. But you’re in pain, Dean, because he’s desperately trying not to take you as his vessel.”

Dean frowns. “Why?”

“Because he knows you,” Castiel says, and there’s a strange sympathy in his tone. “And he doesn’t want to lose you.”

Dean looks up sharply at him, and they hold contact for a long moment, appraising.

Sam looks at Gabriel, and says quietly, “Dean spent forty years in Hell. Did Michael—?”

Gabriel shakes his head. “He would have had to flee, or he would have been seen by Alistair and everything would have gone to shit. He still experiences it though. Every night in your brother’s head.”

Sam closes his eyes, only opens them when Dean speaks. “So basically,” he says. “I’m not Michael. But Michael is, like, living me.”

Gabriel nods.

“This is a trick, isn’t it?” Dean says, his expression so still, and yet when Sam finally takes his eyes off Gabriel he can see that the storm in his eyes has been building for some time. “This is a trick to make me say yes to Michael. To do Armageddon the angel’s way.”

Gabriel rolls his eyes. “First of all, how many times do I have to say that I’m not endorsing the celebrity death match anymore? This is me, trying to be a non-team player. Secondly, how could you possibly withstand my true voice if I was lying? Or tell me without hesitation where the sword is when I asked?”

“You’re the goddamn Trickster,” Dean growls. “You tell me.”

“I can’t. Because I don’t know how the hell Michael’s managed to stay in a vessel and not immediately burn him from the inside out. But you can ask him.”

“How?”

“Take a dream walk. He’ll be there, now that he can’t fold himself away completely anymore. I can send you there.”

Dean stares at him for a long moment, and then looks at Sam. Sam shrugs. This is out of both their leagues. So he looks at Castiel. “The laws you guys hold about permission,” he says. “They hold to the point where you’d fall if you disobeyed?”

“We wouldn’t even be able to succeed,” Castiel replies. “We cannot force what is against our natures.”

“Right,” Dean says. “Good.” He says to Sam, “I want you here for this. If something goes wrong, I need you to fix it.”

“You got it,” Sam says. He’s already pulling his chair closer to Dean’s, watching him like a hawk. Gabriel stands to begin, but Dean cuts him off.

“If anyone is gonna do this, it’s going to be Cas.”

Castiel looks vaguely uncomfortable. “Dean, I don’t know if I’m still capable—“

“But you can try, right?” Dean gazes intently at him. “Because if Mike’s hanging out in my brain for real, then I want you picking the territory where we’re gonna meet.”

Castiel blinks slowly, and Dean knows instinctively that it’s the equivalent of biting his lip in consternation. “I will try, then,” the angel says eventually.

“’Kay. Do it.”

And before Sam or Bobby can object, Castiel places two fingers feather soft on Dean’s brow, and the hunter slides bonelessly into unconsciousness. The angel catches him as he slumps off the chair.

“Sam, can you please clear the couch? This may take him some time,” Castiel says.

Sam stares blankly at him, eyes flickering in confusion between his brother’s prone body and the way Castiel is cradling his bulk apparently without much effort, lifting him off the chair.

“Move yer ass, boy,” Bobby huffs. “Or your brother’s gonna continue looking like a newlywed.”

“Right, sorry,” Sam says hurriedly, flushing. “I’ll just…” and he goes into the living room and clears the sofa, propping up a pillow at the end for Dean’s head. Castiel lowers him perfunctorily, and then weirdly takes the time to arrange his limbs into some semblance of comfort. Sam really needs to start wondering about this, because the small things are adding up and beginning to drive him mildly insane.

Gabriel has to make it worse, of course, by watching the whole scene with a sort of detached amusement and then saying, “You are in deep, little brother.”

“I don’t know what you’re talking about,” Castiel answers, his eyes lowered.

Gabriel snorts, and claps his hands together.

“Right! I want pancakes. Any takers?”

***

Dean almost laughs when he sees where Cas has sent him. Same park bench, same time of day. Same kids playing. Cas must have watched hundreds of scenes like this in his millennial life, and yet he apparently can’t be bothered to show some creativity.

“Dean.”

Dean squints as he looks up. The sun isn’t in his eyes—it’s all Michael. He stands before Dean, hands in the pockets of his black dress pants, white oxford left open slightly at the collar. He is handsome to the point of it being unsettling—his nose is too straight, cheekbones too high, eyes too catlike to be real. And then there’s the glow around him like the corona of the sun, seeping through his pores it seems, and just like Cas said, bursting to escape. Dean works some saliva into his mouth. Even Lucifer hadn’t awed him quite this much, trapped as he was in his limited human vessel. This half-conscious projection, however, told so much more, and it made him want to shrink into nothing in its presence. This, however, more than Castiel’s power ever did, makes resentment surge up in response to his own cowardice.

“So I guess Gabriel wasn’t lying,” he says roughly.

Michael regards him for a long moment, and then says, “My brother is a Trickster, not a liar. But you knew that.”

Dean frowns. Michael looks—regretful. His broad shoulders look shrunken under his crisp shirt. But frankly, he’s a bit too angry to give a shit at this point. “No, I really didn’t,” he says, “But I gotta say, the kind of shit he pulls? Is nothing compared to this.”

Michael exhales, the corona of his being expanding suddenly before he regains control. For a second, Dean thinks he’s actually going to do it, actually break all the rules and just take over, but instead he does the unthinkable—he kneels in front of Dean, and bows his head. Dean leans back into the bench in alarm.

But Michael just says, “I beg your forgiveness,” and his voice even in apology is rumbling and bright like a solar flare. “No apology I can offer can atone for the betrayal of your trust.”

“You’re goddamn right, it can’t,” Dean says. But then he thinks. “Wait. What betrayal?”

“If you wish me to leave, I will,” Michael says.

“Well then dude, get the hell—“

Dean stops. He can’t see the archangel’s expression, but there was something in the way he had made the offer that… “Wait,” he says. “You’d do that? Just leave, even when you could take over and wear me right now? Smite Lucifer, put everything right? Have your little Apocalypse?”

Michael looks up at him finally, his expression weirdly childlike now, and he says, “Dean. I have lived your life, every moment of it, from the second of your birth.”

“Living it is not the same as feeling it,” Dean replies.

“No, but—“ Michael seems to struggle for a moment. “Dean. The possible consequences of taking you as my vessel…are not worth Samuel seeing his brother’s body as a shell.”

Dean feels like he’s been kicked in the chest. That’s just about the last reason he expected Michael to give him. But it’s the first reason he would have given to himself.

He would be creeped out if he weren’t so shocked.

“No, it wouldn’t,” he manages. “It would make his place as Lucifer’s vessel seem even more inevitable.”

Michael nods. Dean shoots him a glance. Looks as though Gabriel was right about a bunch of things. “Er, you don’t have to…that is, you can sit, if you want. Groveling isn’t really a good look for you.”

“I apologize,” Michael says. He gets to his feet fluidly, and then sits next to Dean, but keeps his distance somewhat. Dean wonders why. He says, “You’ve really been here? All this time, all my life?”

Michael nods again. “I have watched the world through your eyes.”

“And you couldn’t have just, you know, helped out a bit when things got rough?” Dean says, cocking an eyebrow. Michael cocks one right back.

“You think I haven’t? Don’t you think it’s a bit odd that you heal just a little faster than Sam does?”

“I’m very resilient,” Dean says defensively. But then he remembers the hospital after Alistair, how after Castiel had finally left he’d felt things knit back together with a weird itching, tickling sensation. He’d been able to leave in three days, rather than the projected five. He says, “So why can’t I exorcise demons with my mind, and stuff? You’re not giving me any of your perks, man.”

“This life, this body, is yours,” Michael answers gently. “It has never been my right to shape it or affect it. Would you really feel better if I told you I’d been changing the course of things every time you got into trouble?”

“No, it’d be fucking obnoxious,” Dean replies automatically. Then he listens to himself. He looks sidelong at the archangel. “So being irritating really does run in the family.”

“We don’t really live to please.”

Dean snorts. But then he asks, “You said you betrayed me. When? I mean, if you’ve been here all this time, how could you?”

Michael looks as if there is not one question he would like to answer less. “I…Gabriel told you that I left, when you were sent to Perdition.”

“Yeah. Way to cop out, man.”

“I’m sorry. I would have stayed and given you strength, if I could.”

Dean doesn’t really believe him, but he nods anyway. Michael continues.

“I couldn’t...After being with you for so long, I couldn’t bear…it pained me, more than I could say to see you in that place. To see you suffer, after all that you had already suffered. I did not do what you would want. I urged you, in whatever ways I could, to do what you could to ease your suffering. I—I urged you to break.”

Dean stares at him for a long time. He can’t actually tell what he’s feeling. He only has one conviction—that Michael is taking a burden that he shouldn’t. And so he says, “You. You think that your advice to me, emailed to the Pit, had any more impact than all that Alistair said to me?”

“I gave you Divine absolution for it. I forgave you even before you left the rack. I begged you, Dean.” Michael looked pleading, and no archangel looking like some sort of Calvin Klein model should be able to pull puppy dog eyes. “I wanted you to break the first Seal, because I couldn’t bear another moment of seeing you in that place.”

“And you think I wanted to be there?” Dean asks lowly. “You think I didn’t make the choice myself? Listen buddy, you may know me, probably better than most, but if you weren’t there puppeting me down there, then it was just me making the choice. No one else. So don’t go around thinking you made me take up the knife. That was me. Just me.”

“And nothing made me happier,” Michael said. His eyes were troubled. “There was a time when my sword would have sought you out. When I would have dealt you justice for all of the things you have done. But I cannot do that now. Dean, I cannot, now that I know you.”

Dean has a sudden moment of clarity. “And would you afford that same leniency to the rest of the human race?”

“If I could,” Michael says, and he takes a deep breath before he finishes, “I would.”

For the first time in a very long time, Dean smiles. “Now that? That’s something I can work with.”

***

“How long is it going to be, you think?” Sam asks, looking sidelong at Dean’s prone body.

“I cannot say,” Castiel says. He is hovering around the table where they have all retreated to (Gabriel with some entirely new highly alcoholic and chocolate-y beverage: ‘Prelude to the pancakes! What?’), but he keeps glancing over at Dean’s prone form. Bobby looks at him, and sighs.

“Go and sit with him, for God’s sake. You’re making me nervous.”

“Do not say the Lord’s name in vain,” Castiel says, but he looks relieved.

“I wasn’t. Go.”

Castiel goes to perch himself along the edge of the couch.

Gabriel smirks.

Sam sighs.

“Okay, what the hell is going on between them?” he asks.

“If you haven’t figured that out,” Gabriel says, “Then you haven’t been paying attention.”

***

Dean is having trouble believing that he’s actually talking an archangel out of leaving his body and residing elsewhere.

“You would better serve the cause without my occupying you,” Michael insists.

“Do you see me arguing with that? No,” Dean replies. “But burning through some other poor guy like Lucifer is doing? Also not a legitimate option. We’ve lost enough already.”

“I miss Ellen and Jo,” Michael says, and it totally weirds Dean out that he genuinely means it. “They were, in some ways, the best of us.”

“You could have saved them,” he says, because let’s face it: it needs saying. “You were right there. You could have taken on Lucifer before he raised Death.”

“Not without your permission,” Michael answers sadly. “Not without my sword.”

It’s frustratingly convenient, but that doesn’t make it false. Dean swallows down the bile he’s very tempted to spew in the archangel’s general direction. After a moment, he says, “So we gotta think of some other way of doing this.”

“Short of leaving and attempting to sway the host, I don’t know what I can do,” Michael says. “Many would be happy to join our side, but so long as the battle is fought on this plane and not that of Heaven or Hell, I must have a vessel. And you, as the Righteous Man, must be there to end it.”

Dean blinks. “Um.”

Michael looks at him. “You have an idea. It might be a good one.”

Dean looks back at him sidelong. “Is there some way we could, I dunno, compromise?”

“How do you mean?” Michael asks, though his raised eyebrow suggests he’s beginning to already know.

Dean smirks slightly. Michael reads him for a moment, and then chuckles.

“You would like that, wouldn’t you?” he says. “But you must let me take the lead at times. This will be a very delicate thing, and you will need all of my extensive knowledge to do it right.”

There’s a note of haughtiness in his tone that Dean knows is all Michael, but it’s the low and brash amusement running beneath it that he knows Michael picked up from years, hell, decades living with him. And that’s what makes his smirk turn feral.

“All right,” he says. “Let’s rock this.”

***

Sam and Bobby are still sitting at the table now awkwardly watching Gabriel put away an epic amount of pancakes while Castiel perches beside Dean when suddenly both angels give a start, Gabriel enough to drop his fork with a clatter.

“What--?” Castiel asks faintly.

“Holy shit,” Gabriel says. He turns to the living room, and Sam and Bobby follow his gaze. Castiel has his hands up as if in surrender, and Dean is just…

“What the fuck?” Sam asks, standing up. “Where is Dean?”

“Right here,” Dean says, appearing standing behind Castiel, who jumps. He grins. “That’s to make up for scaring the crap out of me all those times. Hey Sammy! Check out this motherfucker!”

He tosses a very large object at Sam, who luckily realizes that oh holy shit it’s a sword and manages to catch it handle first and not cut his hand off. “Is this--?” he asks.

“Yeah. Down a mineshaft in South Africa, outside Johannesburg. Dude,” he turns to Castiel, “If Jimmy’s still in there, let him ride side car and not dragged along behind, because the way Mike and I are working this it is awesome.”

Castiel stares at him. “Michael?” he asks, cocking his head.

“He’s here. Damn proud of you,” Dean/Michael claps him on the shoulder; Dean lets it linger there. Then he turns, and his face lights in a way that Sam has never seen before. “You too, Gabriel. Even though: Pagan? Really?”

Sam looks at Gabriel, who suddenly looks both irritated and fond. It’s the look of a younger brother. Sam knows it well. “Shut up,” he says. “The pagans are more fun.”

“Will someone please explain what the hell is going on?” Bobby demands. “Because all of the revelations around here are starting to chafe.”

“Don’t worry, Bobby, I didn’t get high off the pain or something,” Dean says, and his somewhat manic grin softens into beatific understanding that is not his at all. “I may be fucked up, but that’s never really been my thing.”

***

Dean/Michael talks for a good fifteen minutes. Sam is fascinated, and his fascination overwhelms his alarm. If this is truly God’s plan, a last ditch effort to set both Heaven and Hell straight and slap them into shape, it’s a surprisingly good one. Dean’s voice is still his own—the intensity of his convictions are still there, as is the sardonic tilt of his mouth and the dark weariness of his gaze. But filling his frame is now something entirely alien, a vastness that rolls off of him as it does Gabriel. It shows in the way his legs don’t bow so much and the way he occasionally opts for more formal phrasing.

“Zachariah and every member of the Host that follows him will resist this,” Dean/Michael says, his voice smoothing as Michael speaks more freely. “I may outrank him, but I’ve also abandoned them and consorted with humans for the past century.”

“Century?” Sam asks. “What the hell were you doing before Dean?”

“Practicing,” Michael says, and Sam knows it’s all him now because flecks of gold show up in Dean’s eyes and his voice smoothes and goes up in pitch by a mellow fourth. “I had to learn how to seal off my Grace, and hold it within a vessel without damaging it or taking control of it.” He turns slightly and suddenly, as if listening to something on his left, and then adds, “Dean asks that I add that I have not found our Father, Castiel. I am sorry. I would like to think that what I have done was his true intent, but I am acting of my own volition.”

“So have we all,” Castiel replies, but he keeps looking at Michael with a strange expression of distress. Michael catches him, and looks at Gabriel. Gabriel rolls his eyes. Dean resurfaces. “What?” he asks.

“Nothing,” Gabriel says smoothly. “How is this arrangement with Michael going to work?”

“We time-share,” Dean says. “It’s the best we can do without him burning out some other poor shmuck or putting me offline while he goes off and plays hero. If he did, the hunters wouldn’t trust him, and we need their help. He’s powerful enough to keep himself in check, and I’m being generous enough to let him have the reins when he needs them.”

“So…we actually have a plan?” Sam asks, almost too shocked to move.

“That’s right, Sammy. We have a plan.” He glances at Castiel, and his gaze warms. “Feels weird, doesn’t it?”

Chapter Text

They go to bed. Or rather, Sam and Bobby go to bed; Gabriel buggers off somewhere to take care of ‘important things’, which is probably a euphemism for chocolate orgies and maybe a trip to Vegas, and Dean sits with Castiel in the living room, shifting restlessly as he tries to get used to sharing headspace with Michael. It’s sort of like the mental equivalent of being stuck in a very small closet with him, both of them trying to look through a single keyhole and pushing each other aside to get a turn. Or something. Dean’s head is a very confusing place at the moment, is his point. It doesn’t hurt anymore, though, and that’s what really matters to him. Michael had explained that by letting him occupy more space in Dean’s body, he essentially had given Michael a pressure valve, so he isn’t bursting at the seams to get out anymore. So, no more migraines. Dean is in favor of that.

Castiel just keeps staring at him, his head almost parallel to the floor now, it’s cocked so severely. Dean looks at him, and says, “Dude, you’re going to give yourself spinal damage if you stay like that much longer.”

Castiel straightens, but not without looking like he doesn’t entirely trust the safety of doing so. “I am trying to understand,” he says. “It is…confusing for me, to see you like this, at once my brother and my charge.”

“Listen,” Dean starts, but all of a sudden he’s Michael, who says, “You need not fear for us, Castiel. This…arrangement, while unorthodox, will work—you can trust me on that.” He places a hand on Castiel’s shoulder, “I would not do anything to harm him. For him, for myself, and for you.”

Castiel startles at that, and Michael smiles in an understanding that looks utterly alien on Dean’s face. “What do you mean by that?” Castiel asks quietly.

“I mean,” Michael says, “That I have seen you through his eyes, and know. I’ll protect him, you have my word.”

Dean shoves himself bodily back into control; Castiel can see it in the way his expression and the set of his shoulders abruptly shifts. “What the hell?” he asks, peering into the angel’s face. “What is he talking about, Cas?”

“Nothing,” Castiel answers, readily enough, because he is not entirely sure either. “Nothing at all.”

“Right. Well, we’re just gonna sit here for a while and figure out the terms of use, so you don’t have to stick around if you don’t want to.”

“It’s fine,” Castiel says. “I’ll stay.”

He does, through the night even when Dean proclaims he’s had enough of discussion and needs to sleep. He stays, because he knows that Dean is the one sleeping, not Michael.

***

Things move fast after that.

Michael wakes early, heading downstairs where Bobby is making coffee. “Good morning,” he says formally. “May I have a cup of that?”

Bobby grunts, raising an eyebrow at the archangel. “You take it the same as Dean?”

“Yes, though a bit of milk wouldn’t go amiss.”

Bobby complies. Michael eyes him. “I can get you out of that wheelchair, if you like,” he offers quietly.

Bobby startles—there’s no other word for it. “Miracles this early in the mornin’?” he asks dryly. “Surely that’s a bit out of your jurisdiction.”

“I don’t see why not. The shepherds of old rose and slept with the sun. Sunrise was nearly an hour ago. Not so early, really.”

“And you can do what Castiel can’t?”

“Castiel has been separated purposefully from the Host. I never was. Though they do not know where I am, they have never denied me access to the power of my Grace.”

Bobby thinks for a long second. “I’d be messing with fate, wouldn’t I,” he says eventually. “Doin’ things not intended.”

“I’ve been doing that for that past thirty years,” Michael responds. “The Host have been for at least a century.”

“Yeah, and they started the Apocalypse.”

“Bad example, I admit. But still, I…you’re practically Dean’s father. And I’d like to acknowledge that by doing this.”

The hunter exhales slowly.

***

When Sam comes down the stairs wiping sleep out of his eyes he nearly walks into a chair and falls on his ass. He stares at Bobby, slack-jawed.

Bobby’s leaning up against the counter, back straight, legs stretched out and crossed at the ankles, supporting his weight with little to no effort. Michael is sipping coffee and making the same faintly inappropriate sounds Dean makes over it. Castiel has appeared at some point as well, and is watching Michael intently. Sam looks back and forth between all of them, piecing it slowly together.

“Thanks,” he says hoarsely to Michael.

Michael smiles and nods. Castiel looks, for a moment, vaguely content.

Gabriel ruins the moment (probably on purpose) by appearing on the counter, sitting and swinging his legs, banging them against the cabinets like a five year old. “So children, what’s on the docket today?” he asks cheerfully.

Michael eyes him. “You smell of booze and women,” he says matter-of-factly. “And pixie stix.”

Gabriel cocks an eyebrow. “You’re living in Dean’s body,” he replies primly. “Pot, meet kettle.”

“Dean doesn’t like pixie stix,” Castiel says.

Both archangels stare at him, but his face remains impassive. Sam wonders how the hell Castiel knows about that. Then Michael clears his throat.

“We need reinforcements.”

“I’ll call the other hunters I know,” Bobby says, “Get the word out.”

“Good. I’ll contact members of the Host. At least, those discreet enough not to go to Zachariah,” Michael says. He turns to Gabriel. “I know it’s been a while for you, but…Aziraphale?”

“What about him?” Gabriel says, looking amused. “He’s hardly the warrior you need. The boy is living in a bookshop in the middle of England.”

“At least he won’t be offended by you going native,” Michael shoots back. “What I want him for is to get in contact with Crowley.”

“Crowley?” Sam echoes. “The demon who had the Colt?”

“Among other things,” Gabriel says. He grins. “Old Crawly’s fun. I like him.”

“You like a demon,” Bobby states.

The archangel shrugs. “He has good taste in cars. Though I must admit, his choice of music can be a bit monotonous.”

“The point is, he’ll be interested in helping us, however indirectly,” Michael says. Then suddenly he stills, and cocks his head. And then equally suddenly, he’s Dean. “Uh,” Dean says eloquently, looking around with widening eyes at the figures around him. “Sorry. Just woke up. Am I interrupting something?”

“Good morning, Dean,” Castiel says, and Sam wants to know why he looks pained all of a sudden. “Michael was just laying out a plan of action. We’re amassing allies.”

“That sounds good,” Dean says. He feels somewhat left out, and also like he’s just woken up from the craziest sleepwalk ever, but he’s not about to say so. “Um, should I let you get back to it?” Though before anyone can answer, he seems to hold a conference with himself, which Sam supposes he actually is, which is still weird beyond belief, and then he’s straightening again and looking at Castiel snorting. “Dude, there’s seriously some angel just hanging out in England dealing rare books? I thought you were the nerdiest angel!”

Castiel…flushes slightly. It’s barely noticeable, but Sam sees it, and dammit, what?

Gabriel grins. “Seraphim, I’m telling you,” he says. “Warriors of God by day, bibliophiles by night. All right, if that’s settled I’m off to see an angel about a demon.”

He blinks out. Sam shakes his head.

“Dean, our lives are getting too weird.”

“Tell me about it. Uh, listen, Michael’s gotta go talk to—“

“—the Host, yeah I know,” Sam says, and now he’s pinching the bridge of his nose with his fingers. “Go ahead.”

Dean nods, more to himself than anyone else, and then he looks at Castiel. “Want to come with?” he asks.

Castiel seems to shrink into himself slightly. “I don’t know if I’d be welcome.”

“Dude. You’d be with Michael. Your big brother will kick the asses of anyone being mean to you on the playground.” Then his smile softens just a bit. “Come on. It’ll be nice for me to actually fly with you for once without you bamfing me all over the place. Michael won’t mind either.”

Castiel nods jerkily. “Very well.”

Dean grins at Sam. “Catch you later, Sammy. You can work on figuring out where Lucifer’s gonna pop up next, yeah?”

“Sure, Dean. See you.”

And just like that, Dean and Cas are gone in a puff of displaced air.

“All this popping in and out of the ground is starting to get on my nerves,” Bobby observes.

Sam sighs. “Tell me about it.”

***

Dean is being entirely honest when he tells Cas it’d be fun to fly with him, rather than getting dragged along behind. Sharing his body with Michael means that he appreciates the way the angels bend space and time around themselves, entire continents whipping past them in a rush of air and light and yet not seeming to move that fast at all. It is like getting whiplash while walking through a doorway—makes no real reasonable sense, and yet hey, you end up in a totally different place at the end of it, and that’s that.

The first they see is Anna, and since Michael’s in the lead for this job she recognizes him immediately and her face clouds over with anger. “You let him go right now, Michael,” she growls, stalking towards them. “If you’ve hurt him—“

Michael raises his hands, and Castiel puts a hand on her arm to stop her. “Wait, Anna,” he says, “Dean is all right.”

And Michael slips aside for a moment so that Dean can come forward and as he looks out fully through his own eyes he sees her stop abruptly and become utterly gobsmacked. “Dean?” she says, eyes wide. “That’s really…?”

“Hey, Anna,” he says awkwardly. “I’m fine. We’ve sort of made an arrangement.”

Her smile, when it slowly creeps onto her face, is crooked but warm. “I can see that.”

They explain the new situation. At the end of it, Anna’s glowing.

“Michael,” she says, shaking her head. “You planned this since 1908. And you told no one?”

“It was not for the noble intentions that have since been revealed,” Michael says. He spares a glance at Castiel. “I simply knew that Dean Winchester would be of great importance as we all did, and I wanted to understand why. Fully and completely. But when I had finally succeeded in inserting myself next his soul, I…found that I wished to stay.”

“Then Castiel is right,” Anna says. “Our Father is still here.”

“Or he set measures into place to give his true followers hope in his absence,” Michael shrugs. “Either way, it would simply be ungrateful not to take Him up on it, yes?”

Together, the trio (quartet? Dean is still not used to it) takes flight.

***

Castiel is watching Michael as he flies. It is bizarre and alien how much like Dean living within him has changed him. Castiel has not seen Michael for millennia, just as he said—even among the Host, Michael was always a world apart from the garrisons, overseeing but rarely interacting, speaking only to the other archangels. But he remembers back then, at the beginning of the First War, how Michael had been wrought with divine love and fury, a force more than an entity, almost unbearable even for the other angels to behold. The Morningstar had been almost the same, his love misplaced but still there in his twisted righteousness.

They had both been larger than even angelic life could appear to be. All of the archangels had been, in their way.

Castiel remembers what he told Dean, about how Michael was nothing like him. He is both relieved and sorry that he was wrong. Michael inhabits Dean’s body in a way Castiel knows he could never do with Jimmy’s. There is, in his movements, the comfort of knowing the person he is sharing space with inside and out, and agreeing with him. Dean may beg to differ, but he and the archangel were in a harmonious relationship, like twins between species. And it’s strange, because Castiel finds himself wishing suddenly for privacy, for a conversation between himself and Dean that doesn’t have Michael waiting in the wings, seeing through the hunter’s eyes. He should be joyous for the presence of his strongest brother, but what vague feelings he does experience are firmly of the mixed persuasion. And he knows that it’s because Michael is in Dean, specifically, but he cannot understand why. Dean is the closest thing he has to a friend, it is true, but that should not make him somehow proprietary over him.

Then again, Dean bears his mark. Michael does not. Castiel clings to this as he travels miles in milliseconds, the greatest of his brethren beside him, and a slowly growing garrison behind them both.

***

Sam is fairly certain he’s going to get a heart attack in the near future. There’s really no other way things could turn out, what with not one, but three damn angels apparating in and out like Harry frigging Potter and not even having the wizarding decency to make a warning sound while doing it. Which is precisely why Sam makes a very undignified squeaky noise when Gabriel appears directly in front of his computer with Crowley and a very English, very effete blond man in tweeds and a faintly confused expression in tow.

“Hiya, Sammy,” Gabriel says. “You remember Crowley?”

Sam makes a concerted effort to slow his heart rate. “Yeah. Um. Hi.”

Crowley looks around. “Nice place you got here. Trailer trash chic is in, I hear.”

“You could have told us the Colt wouldn’t work on Lucifer,” Sam snaps, bristling on behalf of Bobby.

“Fuck off, I didn’t know,” Crowley snipes, finally looking at Sam and putting his hands up defensively. “If I had, I wouldn’t have given it to you.”

“You’re so believable.”

“Sam,” Gabriel cuts in. “My brother, Aziraphale.” He gestures at the young man to Crowley’s left. Sam looks at him.

“You’re an angel too?”

“Indeed,” Aziraphale answers, tugging at his cuffs. “It’s a pleasure. Sam Winchester, is it? I’ve read quite a bit about you.”

“You’ve read the Gospels?” Sam asks, suddenly acutely uncomfortable.

“Quite so. I happen to collect prophetic works.” But Aziraphale looks about as embarrassed as Sam feels. “It’s a bit of a hobby.”

Sam raises an eyebrow at Gabriel. Gabriel shrugs.

Aziraphale looks at the archangel anxiously. “Gabriel, I don’t really see how much use I’ll be to you. I’m hardly suited to this type of work.”

“You can take over for Sam with research,” Gabriel says with a smile. “Sam’s a hunter, after all. We can use him elsewhere.”

“Oh! Oh, I see. I must say, Crowley, it’s a bit of a relief to know we’re not the only ones not so keen on this whole Apocalypse business.”

“Told you,” says Crowley smugly. Sam watches him exchange a glance with Aziraphale, and his eyes widen at the odd sort of affable friendship between the angel and demon. Apparently they really are more civilized in England, or something.

“And what’s Crowley going to do?” he asks Gabriel.

“Help Aziraphale. They’ve worked together for a long time, now—their combined knowledge along with Bobby’s library will be very useful. And you and I have got a job to do anyway.”

Sam does not like where this is going. “What’s that?” he asks warily.

Gabriel throws down a copy of the New York Times. It’s opened on the international section.

“’Inexplicable Rising of North Atlantic Seabed Confounds Scientists,’” he reads. He looks up at Gabriel. “What does that mean?”

Gabriel’s smile is razor sharp and predatory. “It means the Leviathan has risen. Fun times are afoot.”

“You’ve talked to Michael about this?”

“He’s not the boss of me,” Gabriel says, and the tone is playful but there’s an echo of how he’d said much of the same back in TV land. Then he adds, “I’m being proactive. You should be patting me on the head and rewarding me with cookies.”

“So you’re basically equating yourself to a German Shepherd,” Sam supplies. Gabriel draws himself up, and still manages to remain impressively short. Sam wonders how a force of nature like an archangel can fold himself inside a vessel like that.

“I’m merely pointing out that I should be praised rather than criticized at the moment,” Gabriel retorts.

Sam seriously considers actually standing up and patting him on the head, and then thinks better of it. No point in tempting fate, after all, especially when fate in this case can magic a piano out of thin air specifically to fall on you.

“So, you want me to go gallivanting off with you to kill some monstrous sea beast, without telling Dean?” he says, raising his eyebrows. “Hell no. We have enough trust issues as it is.”

“But we don’t know when he’ll be back with Michael!” Gabriel protests.

“We’ll just have to wait then,” Sam replies primly.

Gabriel throws up his hands. Aziraphale looks between them, and says, “We could perhaps use your help in the meantime, Gabriel. Tracking Lucifer down is no small thing.”

“Small or no, it’s boring,” Gabriel replies. “I’m going back to Vegas.” He turns to Sam, and grins. “I wouldn’t be averse to company. But seeing as you’re being a good little brother—“

“Have fun,” Sam cuts him off. And the weird thing is that Gabriel looks a bit…disappointed. Huh.

“Fine,” the archangel says, shrugging, the look totally gone, and then he disappears.

Sam turns to look at Crowley and Aziraphale. “So,” he says, a tad awkwardly. “Where do you guys want to start?”

Chapter Text

Castiel flies close, Dean notices, like Michael will shake him off if he doesn’t. He’s not really sure why, but he knows that every time he tries to come through and ask Michael shushes him—gently, but firmly enough to make it clear that this is not to be discussed. They pick up Seraphim and Grigori, who look at Michael within his true vessel and yet doing no harm to it, and believe in God’s intentions.

They speak to Jophiel the archangel, however, to no avail. He and Michael speak softly, so that not even Castiel can overhear, but their words are heated, and Castiel can feel and see the crackling storms of their wings as they outstretch and snap in a duel of wills. Eventually Jophiel just disappears, and when Michael turns back, he is Dean.

Dean is furious. “That fucker deserves to get his ass kicked. What a pompous douche.” He looks at Castiel, and then at the assemblage of angels who are waiting nervously behind him. “Um, sorry. Michael’s a little frustrated, so he’s taking backseat for a second. Cas, is there a way we can use the angel network to call on these guys without alerting Zach’s friends? I don't think we're going to be swaying any more archangels this way.”

Castiel thinks for a moment, mulling over his knowledge. “There is a possible ritual which we could perform,” he says eventually, “Which can create such privacy through a sigil marked on those who follow Michael. We would not be able to communicate amongst each other, but Michael could speak to them discreetly.”

Dean nods. “That’s a start. Could I talk to them, too?”

“I don’t know. Given the unique nature of your situation, we would have to wait and see.”

Dean looks out over the garrison. “Okay. Where do we have to do this ritual?”

“Anywhere. But I will need supplies.”

“Right. So, Bobby’s?”

Castiel nods. They fly.

***

Gabriel reappears with a rustle of wings that Sam is starting to slowly become accustomed to, whether he wants to or not. Maybe it’s because Gabriel’s an archangel, but his appearances and disappearances are a bit more subtle than Castiel’s, or even Aziraphale’s. He raises an eyebrow. “Back so soon?” he asks.

“Michael’s coming. He’s bringing friends,” Gabriel replies.

“Oh dear,” Aziraphale says faintly. Crowley snorts.

“Why are you nervous? These are your buddies, not mine.”

Aziraphale just continues to look discomfited. “They are colleagues, not buddies, as you say. And as you well know, our agreement has not always made me as productive in their eyes as I could be.”

Sam rolls his eyes. They had explained their arrangement to him as they worked, and Sam has no idea how heaven managed to keep anything straight, considering their shenanigans. Gabriel sits down next to Sam and puts his feet up on the table. “Any progress?” he asks idly.

“We’re trying to work out a weather pattern that Lucifer might be causing as he moves,” Sam says, and pushes his laptop to face Gabriel. Gabriel eyes the chart briefly.

“The Morningstar is sort of like a black hole, sometimes,” he says. “He sucks the air from a place. We used to attribute it to his beauty, but then, you know, shit happened, and I’m pretty sure it’s just his general bitterness now. So, look for low pressure areas.”

Dean appears with Castiel alongside. “Hey, Sammy.”

“Hey. How’s Michael doing?”

“Doing his thing. Raphael sucks. Oh, and there are about fifty angels hanging out outside, waiting to get Michael’s autograph so that he can talk to them on a private line. Do you think you could help Castiel do the ritual for it?”

“He’s busy,” Gabriel cuts in, before Sam can say anything.

Dean stares at him blankly.

“Excuse me?”

“He wants me to go kill the Leviathan with him,” Sam says, and braces himself for a hissy fit. But instead of Dean yelling, he gets Michael sliding in.

“Are you still not over that, Gabriel?” he asks, crossing his arms. It’s a weirdly feminine gesture, and it looks hysterical on Dean. Sam finds himself biting the inside of his cheek as Gabriel bristles in response.

“I just don’t like leaving a job undone. So sue me.”

Michael cocks his head, and gets a very strange, knowing expression on his face. “And you’re taking Sam with you?” he asks.

“May I? Pretty-please?” Gabriel says coyly. Michael seems to take a moment for serious thought—or is it Dean, now? Eventually he looks at Sam.

“Do you want to do this?” he asks, and now it’s definitely Dean. He seems to still be mulling over something else, which, maybe Michael told him something important? Sam can’t really tell these days, but apparently he’s still intent upon listening to Sam first. “If you don’t wanna go, Sammy, just say the word,” he says, and his tone is about as proprietary as Dad’s was when Dean would ask permission to take girls out.

In fact, Sam notices all of a sudden how serious this question is. It’s the first time since Dean called him back from their separation that he’s actually considering letting Sam out of his sight, and out of the established safety zone. Sam still isn’t sure what had got him to make that initial phone call of reconciliation, but he has been acutely aware of how Dean has been watching him ever more closely, in what seems to be both worry and defiance. Yet another thing on the to-do list: Ask Dean what the hell happened while he was gone.

In the meantime, though, he’ll respect the choice Dean’s giving him, and considers his options. On the one hand, Gabriel’s a goddamn Trickster, archangel or no, and that’s both worrying and encouraging; worrying because hello? trust issues much? and encouraging because Gabriel’s probably the most powerful ally he could get, barring Michael, so if he could actually bring himself to trust Gabriel farther than he could throw him, he could say with relative certainty that even this potential fight with some unholy monstrosity could leave him unscathed. And finally, well, he’s honestly felt a bit left out of the game recently, what with Dean gallivanting off with Cas and Michael to go do epic things with angels. So eventually he says, “Sure, I’ll go. It’ll be nice to go and kill something instead of staying back with the books for once.”

“All right.” And…huh. Sam’s seen that expression before, and it’s the one Dean wore every time Ruby was around. It’s righteous, possessive, and totally what he would have worn if Jess had lived long enough for Sam to propose to her. Which makes no sense at all, given the context.

“But you let him get hurt,” Dean growls at Gabriel. “And Michael and I will end you. Done and done, you hear?”

“You’re no fun at all,” Gabriel admonishes, unfazed. “No fun at all. Besides, what does Michael care?”

Michael flares through, and Sam gets a flash of his wings. Woah. “I care,” he says, very distinctly. Gabriel raises his eyebrows.

“All right. Jeez. I’ll make sure the kid gets back in good shape.”

“’Kay. Be careful then. And Sammy? If Gabriel here gives you crap, you call me.”

“Dean. I can take care of myself.”

“Actually, that was Michael,” Dean slides in, with a crooked smile. “Looks like you have two protective big brothers now.”

Sam sighs. “Great.”

***

So while Michael and Castiel create a private angel radio for their garrison, Gabriel takes Sam to Iceland.

The Leviathan is massive. It’s now only a league beneath the surface at best, and it moves and billows like the magma that rises from underwater faults in the earth. Sam can only see its shape vaguely, whale-like in its general build of blackened rotundity, but its fins alone stretch a quarter mile, and the tail gives its wickedly sharp impression to the south of them. It snorts, and the waves that result look like the cresting of orcas in and of themselves.

Sam looks blankly out at it from the coast and says, “What the shit are we supposed to do about that?”

Gabriel cocks his head from side to side, then lifts a finger in a considering manner. Then a great many things happen in very quick succession, many of which are Sam seriously thinking that holy shit he is going to die right the fuck now.

It goes like this: Gabriel’s little gesture results in a fifteen foot-long spear materializing from nothing, wickedly sharp at its point and forged from what looks like solid platinum. “Um,” Sam observes eloquently.

“Right. See, last time I tried this I was alone, and Lucifer was making a hell of a racket,” Gabriel says casually. “But since Big Bad’s all busy trying to track you down in bumfuck nowhere America to make you his bitch, I figure he’s not really paying attention to his sea monster portion of the show this time around. So we should be fine.”

Then he hands the spear over to Sam. It’s heavy, but not as heavy as it should be, considering. Sam hefts it with a certain amount of curiousity.

“I’m even letting you use my awesome spear of awesome,” Gabriel adds. “I made it myself. Be proud.”

“How am I supposed to use a weapon that’s twice as tall as I am?” Sam asks. Gabriel’s cool must be rubbing off on him, because his voice is steady as a rock. Or maybe taking on a sea monster the size of a small island with a fucking spear is just too far beyond his powers of comprehension for him to be anything but calm. Either way, his hands aren’t even shaking.

“Well, I’m going to pull this fucker up out of the water enough for you to climb over him. Then I suggest you aim for the eyes,” Gabriel says, pointedly not answering his question. “The thing about massive creatures of destruction? Ridiculously slow. Impossible to beat unless you’ve got the right weapon, too, but hey guess what? We got that. So, stay light on your feet, try not to fall off, and if you deliver a proper coup de grace I’ll be very impressed. Sound good?”

“Um,” Sam says again. Then Gabriel takes off.

And what he said? Is exactly what they do.

The skin of the Leviathan is slippery, but its scales provide a certain amount of traction, so Sam goes with it. The Leviathan can barely feel his footsteps, and tries to shake him off like a horse would a fly, but Sam uses its intermittent spines to hold himself upright. He is reminded vaguely of the wildest of haunted houses he’s been into, the way the ground beneath him bucks, and the dark flesh rolls back to try and get a grip on its attacker and in doing so blocks out the sun, sending Sam’s world into temporary midnight. He gets tossed and thrown like a ragdoll, and at one point a massive, clawed fin rises over him and comes down like the goddamn Berlin wall on his ankle, but he makes his way like he’s crossing the Golden Gate Bridge in the middle of an earthquake as Gabriel shoves and goads and strikes like a cobra at the Leviathan’s head, drawing it upwards with both taunting and the sheer force of his will.

So finally, when Sam reaches its cresting head, slipping on seawater and blood, he grips fast onto the gasping gills on its snorting head and doesn’t hesitate—straight and true, he drives the spear into the eye of the Leviathan as Gabriel himself drags it up from the deep, causing massive tidal waves along the coasts of Europe and North America. The Leviathan rears up in its agony, throwing Sam off its body, and for a long moment Sam feels both weightless and broken in the air, and then he’s slammed onto shore with a snap of Gabriel’s fingers while the archangel throws the felled creature to ground. The waves crash up and around, soaking everything in its path, nearly dragging Sam back down into the ocean, but he clings brokenly to the rocks, feeling the shudders of the earth as it gives way to the Leviathan’s tumbling bulk, and then suddenly everything is so silent, so still.

When the world steadies, Sam sits on the shoreline, a jagged outcropping of rock that gives way to a cliff face, at the bottom of which lies what looks like an island made of black sand and obsidian rocks, except for how it heaves with laboured breaths that are giving way slowly to a death rattle. His broken leg is extended in front of him looking sickeningly crooked, and he cradles his limp arm carefully. He can’t remember when precisely the dislocation happened, and can’t quite understand how he managed to heft Gabriel’s spear despite it, but he’s willing to take what he can get at this point. The spear, now broken in several places, lies on the rocks beside him. There is a soft fluttering of wings, nearly lost to the crashing of the ocean waves.

“So…that was awesome.”

Sam grits his teeth. “Yeah. About that.”

Gabriel looks down at him and frowns. Sam can’t really tell whether it's with worry or disapproval at his inability to remain uninjured in the face of Satan’s version of a boss fight, because the next thing he knows Gabriel snaps his fingers, and he screams as his bones jolt back into their proper configuration with a sickening procession of sounds. He glares at the angel behind him. “No way you could have made that a bit less painful?” he asks bitterly.

“Not really,” Gabriel shrugs. “Not without putting a mind-whammy on you.”

“I would have appreciated it, in this case.”

“Really? Something tells me you wouldn’t. Not after everything I’ve put you through.”

Sam startles. “Is that…is that an apology, I’m hearing?”

“Nope,” Gabriel says, too casually. “I don’t apologize.”

Sam exhales harshly. “I guess you’re not forgiven, then.”

The Leviathan groans, a deep, final exhale, and goes still.

Gabriel says, “In that day the Lord with his sore and great and strong sword shall punish the leviathan the piercing serpent, even leviathan that crooked serpent; and he shall slay the dragon that is in the sea. Isaiah 27:3."

“Except the Lord didn’t,” Sam points out, massaging his shoulder. His ankle tingles, but feels okay. “We did. Also, it looked more like a whale than a serpent.”

“Yeah, well, I was also supposed to kill it centuries ago, so what can you do?” Gabriel shrugs. “We’re just eschewing prophecy left and right, yo.”

“If you ever attempt ghetto-speak again, I will do everything in my power to destroy you.”

“That is the least threatening thing I’ve ever heard.”

Sam sighs. There’s really nothing to be done about archangels. “Take me home, for Chrissakes.”

“Lucifer will not be pleased, you know,” Gabriel points out. “We’ve just thwarted him pretty hard.”

“He’s still destroying things across the globe.”

“Yeah, but now he has one less pet. I feel good about that.”

Sam rolls his eyes. They blink out of sight.

Chapter Text

They reappear in Bobby’s backyard, from which most of the angels have already dispersed. It’s dusk now, and the remaining ones cluster around the lamps near the house, and where they’ve jumpstarted some of the junk cars so that their headlights give them some light to see by. They’re in every variety of vessels, but all of them hold themselves sternly and radiate alienness like it’s their job.

There are hunters around too. Not that many—the rising of the Witnesses was all too effective in that regard—but enough. Sam sees their parked vans and mobile homes and pickup trucks scattered in with the junkers in Bobby’s lot, and many of them are leaning against the hunks of metal. The majority seems torn between trying to act casual and feeling highly suspicious. Sam doesn’t recognize most of them, though he thinks for a second that he sees Cassie talking to some guy by a pile of rusted engine parts. Some of them are oiling guns, sharpening knives, hunched over their work. Others are drinking beer and making quiet and uncomfortable small talk, watching as the angels process around like they’re landed gentry among the peasants. It’s a bizarre dynamic, but a part of Sam is grateful it won’t all be angels, all the time. After all, they’re fighting for humanity, not for heaven.

And of course, Michael is at the center of them, along with Castiel, who is drawing and redrawing sigils in the dirt and on the skin of the vessels, reciting Aramaic softly under his breath. The whole scene looks like some sort of bizarre military draft, which Sam supposes it is, really. The hunters watch Michael most of all, and Sam thinks he sees one hunter he recognizes vaguely from a job probably years and years back looking back and forth between an old tome and the symbols Castiel is printing into the ground, trying to identify the shape and purpose. Sam sort of wants to just go over there and explain it.

Gabriel, in contrast, looks immediately uncomfortable at the crowd, and heads in towards the house without even a glance in Sam’s direction. Sam realizes that he is still sitting on the ground, so he hauls himself up on shaky feet and begins to head toward Michael.

“Sam? Hey, Sam!”

Sam pauses, blinks. “Chuck?”

The prophet looks up at him with bruised looking eyes. He has a beer in one hand. “Yeah. Woo. Just your friendly neighborhood prophet.”

“What are you doing here?” Sam asks. He never could really wrap his head around the whole prophet thing, and knowing that some random dude apparently knows his entire life story inside and out just makes him feel awkward. “Isn’t Raphael going to be looking for you?”

“Well, no. At least, not so far as I know. After all, apparently I’m in the presence of another archangel, so they think I’m safe, or something. And wow, Dean’s really rocking the vessel thing, huh? I sort of didn’t believe it until I saw it, and hell, I wrote about it before it even happened.”

“You come in with the other hunters?” Sam says, looking around. He notices that the crowd is watching them carefully now, assessing. Even the angels seem to have turned their attention somewhat.

“Yeah. Anna stopped by my place with a bunch of them all in this crazy caravan and introduced me to a bunch of them. As if my world couldn’t get surreal enough, right?” Chuck laughs feebly. He looks over his shoulder, and then hunches a bit under the attention. “Um. So. Glad to see you’re still with us, and not, you know, Lucifer-y. I was sort of worried when we arrived and you weren’t here.”

“Yeah, no,” Sam says, rubbing his shoulder. It was still a bit sore, and he can feel it tightening with dread. “I’m still around. And me. Um. Do they know that I--?”

“—raised the Devil? No,” Chuck shakes his head. “I figured it best they don’t know. Last thing we need around here is dissention, right?”

Sam nods. Chuck seems to squirm slightly, and then touches Sam very briefly on the arm before immediately snatching his hand back.

“Um. So I’ve sort of become the spokesperson to the hunters—you know, telling them what’s going on, why the hell they’re hanging out with angels, and so forth. You mind telling me what Dean—I mean, Michael—is doing right now? Because they really want to know. It’s sorta freaking them out.”

“Oh. Uh, yeah. I mean, I could go over there with you, if you want.”

“Would you?” The prophet looks infinitely relieved. “Because I don’t do so well with crowds.”

“Yeah, I sort of noticed.”

So Sam goes over to the group with Chuck, and tells the hunters what little he knows. One of them immediately says, “You’re Sam Winchester? John’s son?”

He nods.

“And that’s Dean over there?”

Sam cocks his head. There’s an air of accusation and disbelief that he doesn’t like. He sees it in all of them, now, and he’s almost surprised they haven’t already all turned tail and run for it. Or taken a pot-shot at Dean.

He looks over his shoulder. Michael is looking intently at one of the angels, seeming to bless him with a sort of gravity and otherness that Dean could never even hope to affect. “Well, not quite,” he says. “At least, not right now.”

“I tried explaining that part,” Chuck murmured, “But they didn’t believe me.”

So Sam explains. He finds himself gesturing widely at Castiel as he explains how vessels usually work, and how Dean’s situation with Michael is different. He jerks a thumb at the house to indicate where Michael’s flaming sword now resides. He tells them on no uncertain terms that Dean’s got everyone’s back, and it’s only for that reason that Michael does too. And he recounts how, before he left to go after the Leviathan, he’d seen the shadow of Michael’s wings stretch in earnest across the rafters of Bobby’s kitchen ceiling even as Dean was the one doing the talking.

“And watcha do after that, Sammy? Wanna tell them how much of a badass you are, too?”

Sam turns, and smiles. “Well. I figure I gotta have something for myself after singing your praises all over the place.”

Dean grins as he saunters over, and looks at the crowd. “Hey guys. Sorry I couldn’t talk earlier, we’ve been a bit crazy around here. Thanks for coming, in any case.” But he turns right back to Sam. “So I take it the Leviathan is no more?”

“We took care of it,” Sam confirms. The small crowd has immediately begun to dissipate after acknowledging Dean with brief, slightly strained nods and hellos, and he wonders briefly if Dean is so hard to be around after all. He’s gotten used to the bigger, more terrifying presence lingering under the skin of his brother, but he figures that strangers probably don’t want to deal with it much, friendly power or no. He’s suddenly intensely glad Chuck asked him over to talk to all of them, maybe smooth some ruffled feathers.

Dean’s grin is sharp, with a bit of Michael’s hawklike focus. He has eyes only for Sam.

“Dude. Leviathan,” he says. “It’s really too bad we can’t put this shit on our resumes, because after all this is over, if you put, ‘has slain the motherfucking Leviathan’ on your transcript, Stanford would be morally obligated to just give you your degree immediately.”

“Or morally obligated to commit me,” Sam grins back. “How’s it going over here?”

“Workin’ on our network. It’s pretty slow, but Cas says it’ll be worth it, and I believe him. So give me the blow-by-blow, Sammy. What’d take to bring down a monster of literally Biblical proportions?”

Sam can’t help it—he’s exhausted and sore and more than ever wants to just go in and sleep, but instead, just like he did with the hunters, he tells every single detail. And this time, he enjoys the act of telling. He can’t remember the last time he’s seen Dean so open to him, so willing to take his word at face value. They’re so damaged, by each other and others, that this simple act of listening and telling is of ridiculous importance, so that Sam finds himself scrounging for anything he can remember, adding jokes to keep it as entertaining as he can—anything to keep that shine in his big brother’s eyes and the approving tilt to his mouth.

When he mentions the spear, though, Michael suddenly pushes through and splutters.

“So Gabriel really let you use his spear?” he says, blinking rapidly.

“Uh, yeah,” Sam says, taken aback. He’s a little offended that Michael would cut in on what was clearly some important sibling bonding time, but the way Michael’s looking at him now, hawk-like and yet deeply amused, has him waiting for answers. “Why?” he asks.

“That spear…” Michael puts his hands together as if he’s about to pray, but instead he just brings them to his lips to choose his words. “The spear was forged specifically by Gabriel with the blessing of our Father, for the singular task of killing the Leviathan.”

“Right. The awesome spear of awesome.”

Michael snorts. “Oh, is that what he called it? The point is, though, that it’s never been handled by a mortal in all its long existence.”

“Oh,” Sam says, and suddenly feels intensely guilty that he left it broken on the cliffs of Iceland.

“There was a prophet in Troy,” Michael continues, and now his eyes are practically glowing with mirth, “Cassandra. A cursed but quite wonderful girl. I was one of the few to heed her foresight. She once said that the only way the great beast of the sea could be slain was when the spear was given to Man with love, to be wielded well and true in a time of reckoning.”

Sam stares at the archangel, not really processing. “Oh?” he says blankly. “So, it’s okay that I used it?”

“Sure,” Dean says, and now it’s Dean again and he looks like a cat that just got cream, or a brother who just got some serious mockery material, “So long as it was given to you with luuurve.”

Sam cringes and shakes his head rapidly, “It wasn’t like that! He just wanted help, and I—“

“Took the spear that would slay the beast, yeah, sure buddy,” Dean grins. “Just keep telling yourself that.”

“Man, you should talk, you’ve got an angel who practically fell for you,” Sam retorts. But then he listens to what he just said and freezes. Oh. Oh. That’s what Gabriel was talking about. A whole lot of things are making sense now. Unfortunately, Dean’s never-before-until-now-questionable sexuality is not one of them.

“He didn’t—I mean, I didn’t—shut the fuck up,” Dean says, darting a glance laced with guilt back at Castiel. Castiel, however, seems absorbed in his work, and so he relaxes, though only marginally.

Sam recovers as best he can, filing his thoughts away for later, and says, “Yeah, exactly. So don’t give me crap for what Gabriel may or may not have done.”

Though yes, Sam is definitely going to be asking him about that, because what the hell, for serious. Bad enough that one of them is apparently beating around the bush with a celestial being, but both? That’s just sloppy symmetry, and Sam does not approve. Especially since that would mean he’s stuck with the annoying one who apparently sees gallivanting off to foreign countries to slay massive Satanic creatures as romantic. At least Castiel acts like Dean is the Second Coming.

…Which he apparently kind of is. Fuck.

Dean shifts in discomfort. “So you killed the Leviathan with a spear. That’s pretty epic. Now what? Gabriel got any more plans for you?”

“I think he’s avoiding the crowd,” Sam says. “So I don’t know.”

“All right. Well, I’ve gotta finish up here, but then I’m guessing we have a lot to do. Michael’s thinking that since we’ve had War and Death come up already, Pestilence or Famine is next. We should probably get ready for them.”

“’Kay,” Sam says. He’s still feeling pretty good about the whole Leviathan thing, recently healed injuries notwithstanding, so he just nods and goes with it. That seems to be what they do nowadays, anyway, except for when it comes to the heavies of Heaven and Hell, respectively. “Then I’m gonna head in. Get some dinner and sleep for a couple of years.”

“You get hurt?” Dean asks immediately, worry forming on his brow.

“A bit banged up. Nothing serious.” Sam pointedly doesn’t mention to what extent, or Gabriel fixing him up. No sense in adding to fuel to the fire.

Dean nods but his mood has clearly darkened, but he doesn’t get a chance to say anything because then Michael’s sliding back into focus. “I’ll be finished with this in a few hours,” he says. “Tomorrow, we’ll organize the hunters.”

Sam acknowledges it, and goes into the house. Michael looks over at Castiel, who is finishing another series of sigils.

“How many more are there?”

“Five,” he answers, and looks up at the next angel in line. “Kalaziel. It is good to see you again.”

Kalaziel bears the vessel of a young woman, college age perhaps with dark features and darker clothes. She smiles peaceably. “Castiel. It’s been a while. Michael,” she acknowledges with a slight bow. “I had almost believed you had left us.”

“It was really dependent on who ‘us’ was at the time,” Michael says, his mouth quirked, but there are millennia in his eyes. “I’m glad you’re here. We’ll have need of you, soon enough.”

He rests a hand lightly against the back of Kalaziel’s neck while Castiel recites the incantation once more. When it is finished and he pulls away, there is a dark sigil imprinted onto her skin. They move on.

When the angels have all gone, left to continue the battles they left and the tasks assigned, Michael turns to Castiel. “Does a third party need to recite the words for you?” he asks. “In order for the sigil to imprint properly?”

Castiel pauses, and looks upon his elder brother. “No…I should be able to say them myself, as usual.”

Michael narrows his eyes. “You seem doubtful.”

“The Enochian sigils on Dean are overturned by yours for the other angels, but for the one who carved them…” Castiel says, hesitatingly.

Michael studies him. “You think they may interfere. Too many layers of connection and disconnection between you two.”

“It seems likely,” Castiel agrees.

The archangel thinks for a moment. “Perhaps the issue should be addressed on Dean’s side, then?”

Castiel says nothing.

“You don’t want to bear any mark but his.” Michael ventures suddenly.

Castiel freezes. “I only suggest that it may be a more certain connection.”

Michael shakes his head, and pats Castiel on the shoulder. “Be careful, brother.”

Castiel watches as Michael gives way to Dean, who is looking at his own hand on the angel’s shoulder in deep consternation. “Cas?” he asks uncertainly.

“I have marked you,” Castiel replies evenly, firmly putting Michael’s caution out of his mind. “You need only mark me back, and I believe a channel such as what Michael has formed with his subjects can be forged, despite the sigils carved into your bones.”

“Yeah, but, shouldn’t you have one of his marks? I mean, he’s the real leader here.”

“What makes you think that?” Castiel asks, too sharply, and suddenly Dean is frowning, his eyes narrowed.

“Dude. He’s Michael. I mean, I know we’re all buddy-buddy now; hell, that’s what made me say yes to him in the first place, but he’s the archangel, not me.”

“Michael won’t stop this fight. That is not his place.”

Dean stares at him. “Come again?” he asks, voice dangerously low.

Castiel steps forward, looking intently into Dean’s face. “You are the righteous man, Dean. Not Michael. You will be the one to end it. Michael may give you the force you need, but you will be the one to lead this charge. Do not forget that.”

For the past day or so, Dean had been on the verge of ebullient. Now, Castiel watches his shoulders re-tighten, bracing for a fight. “I’m not a leader, Cas. I’m a soldier.”

“You are the righteous man.”

“Stop saying that!” Dean stands up and backs up a few paces. “For Chrissakes, what’s it gonna take to make you understand that I’m the opposite of righteous! That’s why Michael’s gotta do his part, isn’t it?”

Something in Castiel breaks, though he can’t really identify what, except that it’s been building in him ever since Michael emerged from hiding in Dean’s body. Either way, he grabs Dean’s wrist hard enough for Dean to flinch. “Never say that,” he snarls. “Never tell me, I who know you so well, so blatant a lie.”

Dean stares at him, and feels the hard pulse of blood through the compressed veins in his wrist, warm and uncomfortable in Castiel’s grip.

“You have an archangel living inside of you, yes,” Castiel says to him, voice low and fierce and guileless. “Of course he will bear some of the burden of this war. But how could he exist there if you were not worthy of him? How can I make you believe that you are worth his belief, and worth my allegiance?”

Dean shudders. “Your allegiance,” he echoes, “Jesus, Cas.”

“Mine. To you. Given freely and with full knowledge of the consequences,” Castiel says, and the words feel like blows to Dean.

He can’t speak.

Castiel tells him, “Let your mark reside on me, as mine does on you. It’s only fair, you know.”

Dean laughs, and it’s more of a choking cough than anything else. Slowly, he raises his opposite hand and rests it on the back of Castiel’s neck. His hand is heavy there, his thumb tight against the sensitive skin behind the angel’s ear. “Say the incantation,” he says quietly.

Castiel nods. Recites. Feels the prickling burn of a symbol being etched into his vessel’s skin. But it goes deeper than that. He feels it on the surface of his Grace, embedding itself in his essence, just as Dean’s soul bears the print of his hand.

Can you hear me now? Dean asks, a smile quirking at his mouth. He doesn't make a sound.

Yes, Dean, Castiel replies back, and something deep inside him thrums. Perfectly.

Chapter Text

Sam glares for a long time at the bed in front of him. One full stomach later and he’s even more tired than he was earlier, the blood of the Leviathan still on his hands. But he just stands there instead.

“What’d that bed ever do to you?”

Sam turns, but only slightly. Enough to see Gabriel in the doorway. “You’re still here,” he says.

“Thank you, Captain Obvious. You are astoundingly correct.”

Sam is tired. He sits on the edge of the bed. “What do you want, Gabriel?”

“Lucifer’s been hijacking your dreams, I hear.” The archangel leans against the doorjamb.

“Who’d you hear it from? Or are you just reading my mind?”

“Didn’t need to. You forget—I know the Morningstar. His style’s pretty predictable.”

“I don’t really want to talk about it.”

“Too bad. You’re going to give your location away soon enough, and we can’t have that.”

“I won’t,” Sam snaps. “I only tell him one thing, and that’s no. I’m not going to betray Dean or Bobby that way. Not again.”

“See, I may be on your side now, but I still don’t entirely believe you won’t,” Gabriel says conversationally.

“Oh, thanks. Thanks a lot for that.”

Sam feels like punching him, and almost does until he remembers how Dean had described his punch-up with Castiel in the green room (“He chose to roll with it, Sammy. He rolled with it, and it still felt like punching goddamn concrete”). So he gets up to slam the door in Gabriel’s smug face.

Instead of just blocking the door though, Gabriel grabs his shoulder and steers him forcibly back down onto the bed. And Sam? Sam is not used to being manhandled. Archangel or not, physically Gabriel’s fucking tiny compared to Sam, and yet here he is sitting him down like Sam’s six years old again and Dad’s about to give him a lecture.

“What the fuck are you doing?” Sam hisses as his ass hits the bed, and he’s now forced to look up at Gabriel as he stands in front of him, Sam’s shoulder still in his vise-like grip. Gabriel just studies him, ignoring his glower, instead just staring, unblinking, into Sam’s closed face.

“I won’t help you unless you ask for it,” he says, finally. And hell, Sam’s never really acknowledged the gravity in Gabriel’s voice, even without his full angelic power behind it, buried deep beneath all the smarm and levity. He’s an archangel, and it’s so easy to forget that sometimes, but now he is large and unforgiving and such a disappointment to the innocent faith of Sam’s youth. But such angels that he imagined as a boy would never take company with him. This is bigger, more terrifying, and far more real.

“I don’t need help,” he whispers, but his heart’s not in it.

Gabriel’s grip tightens until it hurts. “See, that? That’s why I don’t trust you,” he says, steely and harsh. “That’s why I don’t trust that you won’t say no. You have faith, and hope, and everything else your brother doesn’t have, that I don’t even fucking have, but it’s all couched in this belief that you know, instinctively, what’s right. You took on the Leviathan today, kid. And it was good. But this is a whole different ballgame. And you still think you can handle it, after everything that’s happened. That’s pride. Need I tell you what Lucifer’s greatest sin was?”

Sam looks away, looks down, anywhere but into Gabriel’s implacable eyes that seem to rub him raw every time he meets them with his own. “The last person I asked for help from was Ruby,” he says.

Gabriel takes his hand away; Sam’s pretty sure it’s left bruises. “So you have crap taste in friends,” he says, and all of a sudden he’s just the Trickster again: petty, abrasive, and obnoxious. “You need help, don’t go chasing after demons to give it to you. Jesus, even your dear old dad knew that, even if he didn’t always follow his own advice.”

“And so I should ask you, is what you’re saying,” Sam replies. There’s something sticking in his throat—he tries to swallow it down.

“Hellooo? What have I just been saying, bucko?”

“It’s a sad state of affairs when crap taste in friends doesn’t apply to a Trickster,” Sam points out.

“Yeah, well it’s a crazy world out there. Are you gonna ask me something, or do I have to wait until you fuck up again for you to actually get your head out your ass?”

Sam winces, and studies his hands.

“If Lucifer pays me a visit, could you give me some back up?” he asks, after a long moment. His voice comes out small.

“Sure thing, wuss,” Gabriel says, and he pulls up a chair by Sam’s bed and puts his feet up on the bedside table.

There’s a long silence, in which Sam tries to get comfortable and fails, knowing Gabriel’s eyes are on him. Then the archangel says quietly, “How’s your shoulder?”

Sam shifts. “It’s okay. Thanks.”

“The leg?”

“Fine.”

Gabriel nods, more to himself than to Sam, and Sam shifts one last time, and then sleeps.

***

As soon as Dean’s eyes close, and he feels that weird shift that isn’t just into sleep, it’s also into that strange apparently accessible part of his dream state, he asks, “Is it true?”

He looks over at Michael, who glows as he ever does. They’re again sitting as Dean and Castiel once had, what feels like eons ago. On their separate park benches, lines drawn.

“That you are the righteous man? Of course,” Michael says.

“But that I have to end it. You’re not the colonel—I am.”

Michael shifts. “You don’t need to worry about that. Things will happen as they are meant to.”

“Oh, that is bullshit. That’s something Zachariah could have cooked up,” Dean snaps. “Tell me the truth.”

“You’ll deal the killing blow, because I…I can’t,” Michael says, but there’s an edge to it now, an edge that Dean doesn’t trust. He doesn’t explain himself either. “But you know nothing of spiritual warfare, nothing of the struggle angels and demons have on the ground. I will lead those. You need me for those.”

“Yeah. Yeah, I probably do. But the way Cas was talking today, I got to thinking that I’ve been riding a little high lately.”

“It is always heartening to have allies,” Michael shrugs with a smile. He is being altogether too mild for Dean’s taste.

“Sure, sure. But I think I should make it clear, just in case it wasn’t before,” he says, eyes narrowed at Michael’s visage. “I may be playing my role, but the script’s mine. I’m in control. Got that?”

Michael snorts. “You can’t really have it both ways, Dean,” he says.

Dean snaps, “Hell yeah, I can. That’s why you only have partial control over my body. You may pop in from time to time, but you’re not burning me out.”

“I would never—“

“Yeah, ‘cause you like me so much.” Dean looks out at the playground. “You know, I was almost ready to let you run things. Today? Today felt good. Gathering up forces, setting up the angel radio on the right frequencies—I have no problem with you doing that. But push comes to shove, I’m gonna be the one to take the wheel. Cas reminded me of that.”

“I thought you didn’t want all this responsibility,” Michael says lightly. “Hasn’t it been your dream to be left alone?”

“Only if it’s not just me being left alone, it’s the entire earth, flaws and all,” Dean replies. “And if I truly believed that you people could deal with your shit off of my turf, believe me, I’d be happy to kick back and let you smoke Lucifer and whatever, prophecy be damned. But this is my backyard you’re playing in, and my people that are all dying around me, so whether I want this responsibility or not, I’m taking it.”

“Lucifer is my brother,” Michael says, but now there’s an edge belying his implacable expression. “Not yours.”

Dean is not cowed—they have set the terms on their agreement, and no amount of thrashing on Michael’s part will cause him to renege on them. This power over the archangel gives him a vague sort of brutal satisfaction. So he says, “Too bad, dude. Your fight plus my planet equals my fight. I may not be good at math, but I can calculate that just fine.”

Michael nods, slowly. “We’ll see, I suppose.” Then he smiles. “You remind me of someone I know well.”

Dean dreams no more.

***

The next day brings Aziraphale knocking on Dean’s door just as the sun is about to get fierce. “Pardon me,” he says, when Dean blearily opens the door, “But I do believe we have a problem.”

Dean looks down, and sees that the angel is wringing his hands mightily. A lead weight settles in his stomach. “What sort of problem?” he asks.

“You’d…” Aziraphale looks like he would really like to be pulling his hair out. “You had better come down and see for yourself.”

Dean nods, feels Michael slide tentatively forward, and after a moment’s hesitation, he lets him in. He feels like he should probably go a little easy on the guy, considering how their conversation went last night. So Michael goes downstairs with Aziraphale, and finds Crowley drumming his hands on the kitchen counter. He suppresses the impulse to smite.

“What is it?” he asks.

Sam is already awake. Gabriel and Castiel are with him. So is Chuck, along with a couple of the hunters. Chuck immediately winces and goes over. “Dean! I’m so sorry man, my whole sight thing hasn’t been working that great recently, what with you guys going off book, otherwise I would have…Dean?”

Sam turns, and his lips are pressed into a thin line of recognition. “Michael.”

Michael nods assent. He looks at Chuck. “If we’re still off book, then it’s likely we’re doing it right,” he says. “Did you see anything at all?”

“Well…bits of this,” Chuck flails nervously at the window. “But only minutes before it happened, and by then it was already going down, so I just grabbed Drew and Taylor here,” he gestures at the two discomfited hunters, “and made a run for it. I’m sorry, I tried—“

“You need to be safe,” Michael cut in smoothly, “Or you would have brought Raphael to our door. You did rightly. Now what is out there?”

“Right. I’m thinking Lucifer’s found us.”

“Is he here?” Michael asks sharply.

“No. But Meg is,” Sam says, and looks back out the window. “And she brought a friend.”

Michael finally steps towards them and looks out. “Oh hell,” he says, quite literally.

Meg stands outside, brown hair soft around her shoulders, and she’s leaning casually on…something. Sam can’t quite pinpoint what it is, it seems to shift in the light, at once hard and sinuous, sensual. It is large, as tall as a giraffe at least, and iridescent, but not in the way oil slicks are; instead, it shifts color like it wants to speak, it yearns. And it is the most beautiful thing Sam has ever seen. He can barely tear his eyes away.

“So I’m thinking that’s the Dragon,” Gabriel says conversationally.

Michael nods. “That would be the Dragon.” He looks at Castiel. “Do you still have enough power to make the humans see truth?” he asks.

Castiel seems to swallow, but then he nods. Michael says, “Okay. Chuck, get Drew and Taylor here into the panic room. Sam, I need you and Castiel to get all of the hunters inside. Now. Gabriel and I can set up a line of protection in the walls, but not much farther—the Dragon is too strong for that.”

Sam nods, heads for the door, his eyes glued on the creature outside. “Wait,” Gabriel says, “You’ll need these.” He snaps his fingers. A pair of what appear to be tinted aviator sunglasses form in his hand.

Sam tears his gaze away to look incredulously at the archangel. “What, do I need to look like Top Gun for this, or something?”

“The Dragon is an idol,” Michael says, though he’s eyeing Gabriel’s glasses with some skepticism. “He seduces men into worship. You made them into aviators?”

“And aviators will stop me from worshipping?”

“Put them on,” Gabriel snaps. He looks at Michael. “What, defensive magic can’t look cool anymore?”

Sam does, albeit reluctantly. And then he sees, etched on the inside of the glass, endless miniscule inscriptions, most of which he can’t read for them being too close to his eyes. He looks back out at the window, expecting to see the Dragon in all its glory once more, but when he looks, he makes a retching noise, and squeezes his eyes shut. “Oh god. I think I just threw up in my mouth a bit,” he coughs, when he feels stable enough to open his mouth again. “Is that--?”

“The true appearance of the Dragon,” Gabriel nods. “Not exactly pretty, am I right?”

“Christ,” Sam says fervently.

“Use them to convince the others to come inside.” Gabriel reaches up and lays a hand across his forehead. Sam feels a jolt of warmth beneath his eyelids. “Now you don’t need them yourself. Go.”

Sam heads out the door, clutching the glasses to him. Meg watches him as he comes forward.

“Sammy! I was wondering when you’d come out and play,” Meg says, smiling. “Is Deano in there too? He shouldn’t hide like that. Or is he just sending you out to do his dirty work?”

She doesn’t bother hiding the black of her eyes, and Sam wonders whether that’s just him seeing her form properly through the glasses, or if she’s really just that confident.

It seems she has a right to be, though. Some of the hunters are awake, and they’re looking at the Dragon with slow-growing awe. Sam looks at them. “Hey,” he says cautiously to them. “You guys need to get inside the house. You’re experiencing a glamour, and believe me, you do not want to get any closer.”

Some of them turn. Sam pulls one of them, a bearded, weedy looking guy towards him. “Put these on, just for a second,” he says, handing over the aviators. “And then look.”

There’s a long hesitation, and then the hunter does it. He immediately rips the glasses back off and slaps them back into Sam’s hand. “What the fuck?” he says angrily. “What is that?!”

“Get others inside,” Sam growls. “Do it now.”

“Now now, Sammy,” Meg says in disappointment. “That’s just cheating. I don’t like cheaters.”

Castiel is approaching the hunters from behind, laying hands on their foreheads gently one at a time, moving on once they begin to gasp and cringe back. Now he looks over his shoulder. “Sam, look out!” he shouts.

Sam attempts to dodge, and is thrown thirty feet backwards into a truck for his effort. He hears his ribs creak, and curses. “Rude, Meg,” he snarls, pulling himself out of the bed of the truck, “To what do we owe the pleasure, anyway?”

“Oh, you know, just saying hi,” Meg answers, smiling pleasantly. “You never write. Also…” she steps back, and the Dragon moves with her. Behind him, at least twenty hunters are kneeling, looking up at the beast. Their faces are all the same, Sam realizes with a sickening jolt. They are the faces of adoration, of the kind one sees on the faces of the healed on televangelist shows. They are faces of mindless rapture. “No,” Sam whispers.

Meg looks over at the kneeling figures. She strokes a hand down the seething dragon’s flank. She speaks in the kindly voice of a kindergarten teacher. “If you love him truly,” she says to them, tossing her hair. “You’ll break the line.”

Wordlessly, the hunters move to the point where Sam knows Bobby has buried salt and iron six feet down. “Shit,” he says. He starts to run. “Castiel! Get as many as you can inside now! We need to put them all in the panic room if we can fit them!”

Castiel nods. Sam ducks and dodges to get back to where the hunters have mostly camped, and begins ushering inside as many as he can. He hears the door of the house slam open and Bobby’s voice shouting. “Get in here! Follow me, people, and don’t fucking look back!”

"There's an easy way of changing their fates, Sam!" Meg calls. "Say yes to Lucifer, and all of them see the truth of the Dragon!"

"No chance in hell!" Sam shouts, grabbing another hunter and spinning him around, pressing the glasses onto his face until he shrieks in realization. He pushes him towards the house. "I'm never saying it, Meg! What makes you think you're asking will be anymore effective than his?"

"Well I have so much leverage, now don't I?" she replies, raising a hand. Sam feels the power surge before he experiences it, throws himself to the side. "All these people, ready to lay down and die for their beautiful new god, Sam! All I have to do is say the word, and they turn their guns on themselves, you know."

Sam ignores her, he has to. He thinks of Gabriel inside, writing sigils across the walls in his own blood, and pushes more of the hunters into the house.

They get about ten inside, and then Sam grabs a blond woman in plaid and ratty jeans to spin her around and put the glasses on her, and instead of taking his lead, she swings wildly and catches him square in the jaw. “No!” She shouts, eyes ablaze. “Get back from me, blasphemer!”

“It’s not real, get inside!” Sam yells. He grapples with her, but she squirms away and runs for the salt line. The others left are doing the same, all of them falling to their knees, crawling towards the Dragon to lay themselves prostrate at its feet. Sam looks on them all, freezing in horror.

“It’s too late for her. Get back in the house, it’s over!” Castiel seizes his wrist, and all of a sudden they’re back in the living room, Sam still running; Gabriel catches him.

“You go beyond these walls now and Meg will kill you,” he hisses. “There’s nothing else we can do.”

Sam shakes his head, unable to look away at the figures now digging away with their bare hands at the salt line. He looks over his shoulder. "Dean?”

It’s Michael who turns, but his hands are shaking. “You must let me finish!” he says, and Sam can’t tell whether he’s speaking to him or to Dean inside him. “You let me finish the protection of this house, or else we’re all dead.”

The shaking subsides. Looking pained and grim, Michael finishes a series of sigils in blood across the walls, but as soon as his hand drops he’s Dean, and he’s kicking over a table. “Son of a bitch!” he shouts. “What the fuck happened out there?”

“She must have come during the night and brought the people on watch to her first,” Gabriel says, eyes fierce. “There’s nothing we could have done.”

“And so what, now we’re just gonna leave them there, doing the bidding of that hideous…thing?!”

“To try and heal them at this point would be to erase the mark of Satan from their souls, it cannot be done without time and resources we do not have,” Castiel says, touching Dean’s shoulder. Dean shrugs him off.

“This is bullshit. There has to be something we can do.”

“Well, why don’t you just ask Mike, then?” Gabriel snaps. “Oh wait, you were too busy throwing a tantrum to do anything of the kind.”

Dean lurches forward, and Sam makes a decision. He catches his brother’s arm before he swings. “We can’t do this right now, Dean,” he says urgently, before Dean can break away. “We have to plan. Okay? We’ll go back for them, but there’s other stuff to do now, okay?”

Dean looks at him slowly, and then grabs his wrist back. “Fine,” he says tersely. And then he’s Michael.

Michael is unnerved. He shakes his head slowly, and Sam can feel instinctively that he’s shaking out his wings as well, from the way the air in the room shifts slightly. “I’m sorry,” he says, and again, it was probably to Dean more than anyone else. He turns slowly to Bobby. “The hunters are all in the panic room?”

Bobby nods. “They’ll be safe as long as they’re down there.”

“Unfortunately, that won’t be for long, because we need them,” Michael says. Sam is reminded suddenly of Napoleon, the way the archangel is leaning over the table as if it depicts a battlefield. His eyes are flickering, calculating in the strange, bloodless way that would never be Dean’s even on his most ruthless days. He suddenly misses his brother intensely.

“The two other horsemen,” Michael says eventually. “Have we located them?”

“We’ve got a lock on Pestilence,” Crowley replies. “We think he’s in Nebraska, having his way with the crops. News says they’re turning black. Also, a shit-ton of locusts.”

“Right,” Michael nods. “We need to send some people to take care of that. I think the hunters can do it even with their depleted numbers, if they can find the point of his power’s concentration. They can look for a handkerchief, probably. Something that he can hold daintily up to his nose.”

“Seriously?” Crowley asks, raising an eyebrow. “That’s pretty gay.”

“Crowley, please,” Aziraphale says with disapproval. “That’s no way to speak of one of the Four.”

“Fair point, but they can’t hear me in here, can they?” Crowley pointed out. Then under his breath, “Creepy buggers.”

“To be fair, Pestilence always was strangely effeminate,” Michael says lightly, but his throat is tight. “That doesn’t make him any less dangerous though. If Kalaziel will agree to accompany the hunters, they should be able to overpower him. She’ll need to mark them for protection as well. Tribes of Israel or not, they need to be spared.”

“Shall I fetch them?” Aziraphale offers.

Michael nods, and then looks out into middle space as he sends out a request to Kalaziel. Dean, pushed down and deep in his anger and Michael’s firm request, feels the words thrum through him and out into the ozone, as if his whole body is being played like a cello. It wasn’t like that when he’d set up the link with Castiel, but he figures it’s because he’s speaking in English, not Angel, or whatever. He feels like he’s pacing, even though his body isn’t. Taut and bound, he sends out a message of his own. Cas?

Castiel looks sharply at Michael; Michael doesn’t notice.

Yes, Dean. He replies silently.

Are we doing the right thing now?

Castiel takes a long breath. I think…that this is the most right thing that we can do.

You’re sure.

No.

Castiel feels Dean withdraw from him, and his jaw tightens.

Dean looks out from his place in the back of currently-Michael’s eyes and feels a vague relief that Cas stays at his side, the very definition of an immovable object. He doesn’t attach any particular meaning to the feeling, still seething with guilt and rage that he presses viciously to the back of Michael’s consciousness. He notices with satisfaction that it makes the archangel’s hands tremble slightly.

“Aziraphale,” Michael says next. “What are the conditions at the Vatican?”

Aziraphale looked nervous. “Um. Mostly stable? At least, as stable it can be when the Pope dies.”

“Benedict is dead?” Michael raises his eyebrows. “Tell me, what’s the weather along the Mediterranean?”

“Um. Storm clouds. Lots of them. Possible chance of an electrical storm. Also, it’s over the entirety of the sea which…technically, shouldn’t be possible.”

Michael looks to his left, and Gabriel nods, disappears, and then reappears. He looks grim.

“Zachariah’s been busy. I think he’s trying to raise the Beast.”

“Isn’t Lucifer the Beast?” Sam asks.

“He’s been known as such at times,” Castiel says mildly, “But he is differentiated in Revelations from both the Beast and the Dragon, a text which, while highly inaccurate, does make a correct distinction in this case.”

“Both the Beast and the Dragon, I might add,” Aziraphale adds with some disdain, “Were supposed to rise before him.”

Gabriel waves a negligent hand. “You think any of this is gonna match up with what we expected? Hell no. This is what happens when everyone just gets tired of this shit and decides to get it over with. Mess with Divine Plan, and all of a sudden prophecy goes out the window.”

“I thought you were all about the prophecies,” Sam raises an eyebrow.

“Yeah, and you were supposed to be all about being Lucifer’s meat suit. Guess we’re both full of surprises.”

Michael clears his throat. “Which is why, Sam, we are going to Las Vegas.”

“Seriously? When I was just refusing to go with Gabriel?”

“Indeed,” Michael agrees. “Because Meg just raised the stakes, and we need to move. And could there be a better Babylon anywhere?”

“Dubai,” Crowley says immediately.

The angels all look at him blankly. He says, “What?”

“Dubai may be the epicenter of stupid buildings that no one needs,” Gabriel says eventually, looking longsuffering, “But definitely not one of false idols. So yeah, I get it. Lucifer will take his stand in Vegas. But why go now?”

“To mess up the order of things further. And to stop Zachariah before he can start,” Michael looks at all of them equally, and Sam knows that this is the game plan, the final one, and he tenses because he wasn’t expecting all of it so soon, wasn’t really expecting any of it. It’s still practically dawn, and they’ve lost two-thirds of their hunters, and the Dragon lies at the gate. Sam feels sick.

Michael says, with growing certainty, “If he’s raising the Beast and the Dragon is already here, then he’s counting on getting everything else going as well. If he can’t do it in the proper succession, he’s just going to dot all the i's and cross all the t’s and hope for the best. Which would work, probably, except for how I have no intention of casting Lucifer into any lakes of sulfur or any of that. We’ll put him down permanently along with the rest of what this ridiculous Apocalypse has to offer.”

“I don’t think I’ve ever actually heard the word ‘ridiculous’ as an adjective for the Apocalypse before,” Sam comments.

“Yeah well, that’s ‘cause you ain’t been hangin’ around the badasses of this group long enough.”

Sam nearly sighs in relief. Dean has reemerged, and his game face, while a bit fractured, is firmly on. “We’ll fix that soon enough, it seems," he says, and looks out the window at the morning sun. He laughs humorlessly.

“Vegas. Sweet.”

Chapter Text

Sam wonders when his life became a Stephen King novel. Specifically, The Stand. Once they worked out where they needed to be, parts of Michael’s garrison along with Aziraphale and Crowley picked up Chuck and the remaining hunters and headed for Nebraska or Mexico (apparently that’s where Famine was due to touch down). Meg, it seemed, had made her point as well, as she’d taken the converted hunters and the Dragon off somewhere else, presumably to amass more worshippers who didn’t have the protection of panic rooms and angels. Dean nearly threw a fit at that, but Castiel managed to talk him down. There are still hunters on the warpath, and that’s all they can really ask for.

So now it’s Sam, Dean, Castiel, and Gabriel all packed into the Impala and headed for Vegas across some seriously fucked up wastelands. Michael’s there too obviously, but Dean won’t let him drive. The archangels had offered to just bamf them all over, equipment and car and all, but Dean had looked at Sam and just shaken his head. If this is going to be when it all goes down, then they’re going to do it the Winchester way.

Michael doesn’t press the issue.

Lucifer’s been busy. They pass a couple of towns in Texas that were definitely torn apart by the Croatoan virus, and there are a few more with mass graves and slaughtered sacrificial goats strewn along the highway. Sam keeps expecting Randall Flagg to pop up, sauntering down the road in his run-down cowboy boots.

Even Gabriel keeps his peace for much of the drive. The crazy pendulum swing between hysterical levity and darkening awareness has begun to settle on the latter, and they all feel it. Sam suspects that even Michael does, in his strange, detached way. The archangel has been absent from the foreground ever since they set out from Bobby’s, where the older hunter had packed every inch of spare space in the Impala’s trunk with weapons, food, and books. He’d hugged Sam first, tight enough for Sam to feel his ribs creaking, and then looked at Michael hesitantly. Michael had given one of his vague, apologetic smiles, and withdrew gracefully before Dean could step forward and give his own goodbye.

“You’re gonna be under siege if you stay here, you know?” Dean said. “You’ll have to stay inside the house, where all the wards are, now that the salt line’s all dug up.”

“Don’t you worry about me, boy,” Bobby replied. “Hell, they’ll probably forget about me once you troublemakers are off my property.”

Dean nodded, his jaw clenched.

“Take care, y’hear?” Bobby said gruffly. “And come back when that sum’bitch is dead and buried.”

“We will,” Castiel said briefly.

Gabriel had grinned. “So, who gets shotgun?”

“Sammy does,” Dean said immediately, before Gabriel could get any ideas. Then he shot Sam a look. “So long as he doesn’t whine about the music.”

For once, Sam doesn’t. He listens to the same Metallica tapes over and over without complaint, already having memorized the places where they’re beginning to wear thin, but now he feels like he’s memorizing Dean all over again, because Michael’s letting him by staying back and inside. Michael is a puzzle that way, a cold emperor one moment, and then all mildness the next. Sam watches him, now more certain than ever that he and Dean aren’t always on the level, waiting, just waiting for when he oversteps.

And then there’s Castiel. He’s holding Michael’s sword carefully in his lap, which Sam had a feeling Michael would object to, but Dean had handed it back to him as they were all piling in the car. “Hold this, will you, Cas?” he’d said. “I don’t want to put it in the trunk.”

“Do you not want it closer to you?” Castiel had said, cocking his head. “Perhaps Sam can hold it in the front seat—“

“Front seat’s too cramped, dude,” Dean shook his head. “Just do me the favor, yeah? Thanks.”

There’s plenty of room in the front seat. Sam had briefly felt offended, but then he looked at how Castiel held the sword, all soft, familiar hands keeping the blade steady even as they went over rough roads, and understood. The sword wasn’t just Michael’s, it was Dean’s as well—they both retrieved it from Johannesburg, and instinct told Sam that Michael couldn’t actually wield it in his true form, not on this plane, at least. Plus, Zachariah hadn’t been so off in equating Dean-as-vessel with the sword; Sam had read up on it even more feverishly after Gabriel came into the picture, and it seemed like it was a real part of Michael—without it, he was an incomplete weapon. And that made it part of Dean, as well, which meant…

…which mean Dean was basically giving even more of himself over to Castiel by entrusting him with it, even if it was only for a car ride.

Jesus.

As he finished that particular thought process, he looked back at Gabriel, who seemed to (and probably did) read his mind. His smirk seemed to stretch full across his face.

“Oh Sam,” he said. “Isn’t it a joy being the smarter one?”

Dean made indignant and confused noises, and Sam had just shaken his head.

So now Castiel is there in the back, perfectly visible to Sam in the rearview mirror, and he’s ever more still, ever more quiet than even his usual enigmatic self. Sam hadn’t really made a note of it before, but now in close quarters he realizes how withdrawn the angel has become since Michael had come into the picture.

A part of him sort of hates Michael for it too, which comes as a surprise. Gabriel watches him too, he notices, in not precisely a judgmental way, but an honestly curious one, as if he’s taking notes.

Sam does not think about what this means. Hell, he doesn’t have room to, because there are more goddamn important things going on right now.

They stay in motel rooms they don’t need to pay for. Sam would like to be able to say it’s because they have angels mojoing all of it, but there’s no need—on the road they’re going, enough of them have been abandoned recently for them to still be in decent shape, just empty. They reheat the stuff Bobby’s packed them, and the angels watch Sam and Dean eat (technically Dean doesn’t have to, but he blanches at the mere mention of skipping a meal). Occasionally other angels stop in to report, and it’s the only time Michael emerges. When he does, he’s the general Castiel had known him as all those millennia ago. Gabriel breathes a little more shallowly in his presence. He stays closer to Sam too, which Sam doesn’t really know what to do with. He’s grateful for it, though, every time night falls.

Lucifer doesn’t visit him personally anymore. Instead, he just sends images—the newly idolatrous hunters committing seppuku on the bank of the Mississippi, blood running straight into the water, no seconds at their back to relieve their suffering, all of their faces rapturous and crimson. Meg on the back of the Dragon, leading children like a pied piper into mass graves. Croats sniping from rooftops. You could make it all stop, Sam.

You could ask God why you’ve had to suffer so.

You could see Jess again.

“He is impressively full of shit,” Gabriel remarks.

Sam opens his eyes, and realizing that his heart is palpitating, and there are tears at the corners of his eyes. He looks up at Gabriel, who’s perched on the headboard. Dean and Castiel are both sitting on the couch in front of the television, but Dean is looking over at him worriedly.

“You all right there, man?” he asks.

Sam props himself up on his elbows despite feeling like his whole torso is shaking, and nods. “Yeah. He’s just…you know.”

“Being the devil?”

“Just about.”

Sam doesn’t know that Michael has been clawing to come forward, that Dean is tamping him down, whispering, He doesn’t want us in his head, all right? I’m not going where he doesn’t want me to be. Let Gabriel do it. Let Gabriel, for chrissakes, ‘cause apparently he wants to, and it looks like Sam is letting him. It’s Sam’s choice, you got that?

And Dean doesn’t really know when that trust came back—no, scratch that, it’s not really trust yet, and when it comes down to it he’s not sure if it’ll ever be trust again—but he doesn’t know when this willingness to let Sam choose came back. It’s there, though. He wouldn’t have let him go gallivanting off with Gabriel if it wasn’t.

Gabriel seems to follow his thoughts, because he nods slightly at Dean before looking back at Sam. “Get some sleep, ‘kay?” he says. “Proper sleep, not this shit sleep Lucifer thinks you need. The Morningstar’s a pretty face, but he’s bad for your health.”

Sam snorts. “True fact.” He lies back down. The fingers on his forehead pass across his dreams feather-light.

Dean spares a glance for Castiel, who’s been watching them carefully. You’ve been awfully quiet, Dean observes silently. You all right?

“I am fine, Dean,” Castiel answers aloud, but now that Dean’s looking, he doesn’t really seem fine. The hollows of his features are cut deep by the illumination of the television, and his eyes are duller than Dean remembers.

“I’ll be back in the morning,” Gabriel says loudly, even though Dean knows it’s a lie—he’ll be back in an hour or so, because apparently with Sam the sleep mojo just doesn’t take sometimes and that’s the worst excuse Dean has ever heard in his life. Still, he waves off the archangel and turns back to Cas, this time with a frown.

“Talk to me, man. I know we’ve sort of diverted you from finding your Dad and all, and I hope that’s not what’s bothering you.”

“I know my place, Dean. It is here,” Castiel assures him. But then he looks at the flickering screen, and words resound in Dean’s head.

It is difficult seeing you as Michael.

Why? Dean asks. He watches Cas, his gaze steady. Castiel looks hunched in, and with a fragment of Michael’s sight Dean can see that his wings are folded around him, disappearing into the couch cushions, but mostly just pulled in close, protecting his shoulders.

Because I do not follow him. I follow you.

Cas…

And when we face Lucifer, I need to know that you are making the choices. Because that is the only way this won’t end in Paradise.

Dean shakes his head. “I can’t believe you, Cas. After all the mistakes I’ve made in my life, you’re gonna trust in my choices to stop the Apocalypse.” He says it like a statement though, not a question, and for that, Castiel smiles.

“I’m glad you at least believe me when I say it now,” he says.

“I believe you’re totally nuts, yeah, Cas.”

“There are worse fates.”

Dean snorts and nods. “I’m, uh, glad you’re here, you know,” he says, haltingly. “You’re probably not all that thrilled about traveling with two archangels and stuff—“

“—Who can do all that I can no longer do, and more?” Castiel finishes dryly. “It is not ideal, no.” But then he looks at Dean. “But I am not traveling with them. I’m traveling with you.”

“Yeah. And what I’m saying is, I’m glad you are.” Dean clears his throat. “Just…so you know.”

Castiel doesn’t say anything. Dean considers for a moment, and then his jaw juts forward, just slightly, his eyes narrowing. “And Cas.”

Castiel turns to look at him.

“You still have that angel-killing sword, don’t you?”

He senses more than sees the entirety of the angel’s frame lock up. Yes, is the reply in his head. It is hesitant, dreading.

Dean prays to whatever will hear him that Michael can’t listen on this line, this thin and implacable line carved and burned between them that’s private and not for anyone else. You use it, if you think I’m not there anymore. I’m not going to be a shell. I can’t, he thinks firmly. Promise me.

Castiel blinks so slowly. I promise. And Dean just about physically hurts at the current beneath those words. But he’s glad. Because angels don’t make promises they can’t keep. Not ones like these, anyway, and Dean doesn’t know whether he’s referring to the promises, or to Cas.

***

They get besieged by zombies their second day out. There’s a whole cluster of them surrounding the Impala. “Oh for fuck’s sake,” Dean growls, looking out through the blinds of the motel room. “Who does he think he is?”

“He thinks he’s Satan,” Gabriel says laconically. “Although who knows, maybe he thinks he’s Romero too.”

He’s back on the Bailey’s, and what’s more, he’s gotten Castiel to like it. Dean is thinking that the world is not going his way. It hasn’t in general, really, but especially not today. He glares. “Any chance you’ve got any anti-zombie mojo?”

“They are not demons, Dean,” Castiel says. “They are the undead.”

Dean rolls his eyes. “Thanks, Cas.”

“They also look like not the usual shuffling undead, either,” Sam points out. He’s watching more of them coming out of the woodwork. “These look like 28 Days Later-types.”

“Great. So, kill them with fire?”

“Well, yeah. But without blowing up the car.”

“Actually, blowing up the car would probably be a great way of getting rid of them, considering they’re all congregating around there,” Gabriel points out.

The glare Dean sends him could have felled the Leviathan if it wasn’t already making its peace in Iceland. Gabriel just shrugs and raises his eyebrows.

“What? I’d put it back afterwards. Fetch it from last night, bring it to now. No problem!”

“We are not blowing up the car,” Dean growls. “Any more talk of that, and I clip your goddamn wings.”

They settle on a flamethrower and machetes. The zombies are fucking fast, but apparently angel wings are excellent shields against blood spatter, so Sam stays in the shadow of Gabriel’s wingspan, and none of them manage to get themselves bitten or otherwise exposed on the way to the car. Dean screeches out of the parking lot, tires crunching over severed limbs.

“Man, what the shit, I thought we were hidden from Heaven and Hell! What good is all the Enochian on our ribcages if not for that?” he demands.

“They are still effective, of that I am certain,” Castiel says firmly. “It must have been something else that alerted Lucifer to our location. Possibly Michael, or Gabriel, given that Lucifer knows them well. But I would be very interested to know how he came to learn of their alliances with you and Sam. He should not even know that Michael is on this plane.”

 “Um,” Gabriel says, and everyone notices his sudden shift into ineloquence. Sam looks back at him.

“What?” he asks.

“Look, it could have happened to anyone!” Gabriel snaps.

Sam twists almost all the way around in his seat to peer at the archangel. “What did you do?”

“Look, I was just being helpful, all right? You wanted to sleep without Lucifer bugging you, so I just…”

“Got proprietary?” Michael asks sardonically. Sam turns to him.

“Dean’s letting you drive?”

“Just for a moment. Mostly because he’s laughing too hard to drive himself.”

Michael’s smirk is distinctly different from Dean’s—mostly indulgent, less irreverent, but just as self-satisfied. He looks into the backseat from the rearview mirror and shakes his head. “Gabriel. You didn’t.”

“I didn’t mean to,” Gabriel says petulantly.

“What did he do?” Sam demands.

“You don’t remember? You should. I would think it would be very memorable indeed.”

Sam looks at Michael blankly. Castiel clarifies diplomatically, “I think you will find the information you are looking for not in your conscious memories, but in your unconscious ones, Sam.”

Sam wracks his brain, staring between the three angels, their widely varying expressions a source of amusement in itself. Unconscious memories? That’d be dreams, then. He remembers the ones Lucifer sent him—hard to forget those—and then of course Gabriel had stepped in…

Oh.

Dean, who has barely managed to pull himself together enough to take back the wheel, looks over at Sam and correctly identifies Bitchface Number Twenty-Three: Oh No You Fucking Didn’t.

“You claimed me?” Sam squawks.

Michael has to take the wheel again. The car still swerves just a bit.

***

After that, there are just storms. They whip across the highway in whorls of near pitch black, a culmination of clouds and ash and rain that collects on the windshield of the Impala and stains the grass gunmetal gray. Dean peers at the road, hunched over the wheel while the wipers groan back and forth against the glass.

Michael and Gabriel consult with Castiel and slap together some hex bags to hide themselves from Lucifer’s eyes, and once that’s done, they mostly just drive. When Sam needs to sleep, he stretches out in the back, and Gabriel flies while Castiel sits shotgun. When Dean needs to sleep, they pull into a motel, and Michael emerges to keep watch with the other angels. Sam had thought their lives couldn’t get much more transient, but apparently they could. It won’t be long now, anyway. Vegas comes closer and closer.

“What do we do when we get there?” he asked, as they crossed the border of Nevada.

“Dunno. Probably summon Zach,” Dean says. “And before we even get a word out, he’ll start yelling about how there’s only one way of this going to end, but we know that that’s a load of crap, so we’ll tell him to shut his cakehole.”

“That’s a very colourful plan,” Gabriel observes. “I like it, except for how I don’t see how it really advances our own agenda.”

“Well, if we get him mad enough, he’ll probably try to bring some smiting down on us. But since we’re no longer two puny humans, we’re now two puny humans and three punk-ass angels, he’ll have to bring some friends. And then we’ll call Lucifer.”

“Oh? And how are we going to do that?”

Dean looks sidelong at Sam, who glowers.

“Oh great. So I’m bait now?” he bitches. “Thanks, Dean.”

“Don’t thank me. It was Mike’s idea.”

“Wow, I guess he really has taken after you, then.”

“You think I would have said yes otherwise?”

“I hate you.”

Dean puts on his best shit-eating grin. Gabriel just looks amused.

“So basically, what you’re hoping for is to get all of Lucifer’s troops, and all of Heaven mad enough to come crash the party in Vegas?” he says.

“Yup. Heaven without their super-trooper, and Lucifer without his proper vessel, both sides unprepared, and offered no choice but to fight on abandoned territory. And the more they have to fight, the more firepower they have to bring into battle, which means they’ll have to give up on all their other little efforts across the globe.”

“Spare the earth, destroy the Sodom and Gomorrah of the modern world,” Gabriel muses. “Normally, I’d be protesting because Vegas is fabulous and all that crap, but I think it’s a fair trade in this case.”

“It’s a good plan, Dean,” Castiel says quietly. “But it will take some delicate maneuvering.”

“Yeah, and you and I both know that subtlety is not my forte,” Dean agrees. “Lucky for you, we have Mike for that.”

They drive.

***

Sam picks up scattered wifi on his laptop when he can—satellites are on the fritz, so it’s fairly easy to start hacking into their signals. The news is unanimously bad—firestorms in South America, pandemics across Africa, dictators on the rise in most second and third world countries. The only good thing is that Kalaziel stops by at one point to report that Pestilence has been stopped, for the moment—his power pulled out from under him by the hunters and put under lock and key by the angels. Michael thanks her by kissing her gently on the forehead and seeing her off on the side of the highway, and even when he recedes back into Dean, Dean still looks just slightly more hopeful. When he gets back in the car, Gabriel nods to the road ahead. “We’ll be there by morning,” he says. “Where do we want to set up base?”

“Bellagio,” Dean says briefly. Sam shoots him a look. “What? It’s central, and the vault is a great fallback point if things really go to shit.”

“You only know that from Ocean’s Eleven,” Sam accuses.

“No, because then I’d say it was a shit fallback point, because it would be accessible by two other casinos.” Dean looks into the rearview mirror. “I know because Gabriel knows.”

“I know a lot about casinos,” Gabriel admits.

“Plus, the Bellagio is classy,” Dean says. “And if we’re gonna have our little mini-Apocalypse, we ought to do it in style.”

Sam still suspects something. He says, “Open bar?”

Dean grins. “Open bar.”

***

They enter Las Vegas and it’s a ghost town. They aren’t surprised—the water supply had turned to blood and then dried up a week or so back, so now it’s just a bunch of really fancy buildings in the middle of the desert. Evacuation had happened fairly quickly, and since it’s Vegas, the government response had been thorough. There are still a few corpses of homeless people around, but they’re indoors, moved into abandoned areas, so they aren’t visible from the Impala.

The electricity is still going, too, which somehow makes it creepier. All of the lights, none of the excitement that’s supposed to accompany it. They pull into the front drive of the Bellagio, and leave the Impala parked under lights that make her hood gleam. Dean feels like she’s being shown off, which he’s okay with.

“Right. I know exactly where we need to be,” Gabriel grins. He snaps his fingers.

Sam looks around at the ridiculously opulent room they’ve materialized in. Castiel cocks his head. “The penthouse suite?” he inquires.

“I like the view,” Gabriel replies. “You need to learn how to indulge, little brother.”

“Dean, can I talk to you?” Sam says suddenly.

Dean shrugs and nods. While Gabriel flops himself down onto one of the ridiculous king sized beds and Castiel looks around, the two brothers go onto the balcony.

“What is it, Sam?” Dean asks, as Sam shuts the door behind him. He leans on the railing.

“You’re serious? About this plan?”

“As a heart attack. Why?”

“So you want me to…”

Dean looks gravely at him. “Sammy. There are a very limited number of ways how we can make this clusterfuck happen.”

Sam feels every muscle in his body lock and grow cold. “Yeah,” he manages.

“And the only reason he could possibly want to come here is to get you.”

“I’m not saying yes to him, Dean.”

“I know. I know you’re not.” Dean pushes himself off the railing. His movements are careful, controlled. Sam remembers when Dean had told him that he couldn’t be trusted, how his voice had broken and stuff had just bubbled to the surface like it just couldn’t stay hidden anymore. This isn’t like that. Not in the least. And it scares him, because it doesn’t feel like Dean, but it definitely isn’t Michael either. Dean looks at him and says, “You’re gonna have to act like you might, though. You’re gonna have to let him work you, just enough to get his forces here. Then we’ll lock it down.”

Sam swallows. “You’re trusting me to do this.”

“It’s the only way, at this point.”

“Yeah, but you’re—“

“Shut up, Sam. Just take it for what it is.”

What it is. Sam knows exactly what it is. It’s what he thought he’d never have again in his life. He feels like crying.

“Can you do it, Sam?” Dean asks him.

Sam nods. “Yeah. Yeah, I can do it.”

Dean goes to open the door. Sam grabs his arm but then he can’t think of anything to say, so he just says, “I’ll just…I’ll be there in a minute.”

Dean looks him over and sees his baby brother and a soldier all at once. He claps a hand over Sam’s, and goes inside.

“Michael wants to lay down a perimeter,” Dean announces. “Gabriel, Cas—you’re coming with.”

By the time Sam gets back inside, they’re gone.

He looks around the room for a long moment. Then, with a soft breath, he gets ready for bed.

***

“I could have stayed with Sam,” Castiel says, in mild puzzlement. “You and Gabriel have this more than in hand.”

Dean emerges from Michael’s stiffer posture. “Sometimes, Sam needs proper alone time. Best to give it to him in smaller doses, so he doesn’t up and leave for Stanford all of a sudden or something.”

Castiel frowns. Gabriel just looks at him measuringly.

***

“Samuel.”

Sam turns, just slightly. He is sitting in a dark and deep leather armchair with the sort of brass studs that speak old money. It smells of warmth and faintly of cedar. Books line the walls, all first editions, some looking on the verge of crumbling. 

“Long time no see,” he says quietly.

Lucifer is sitting on the window seat, leaning back on one palm, and resting his opposite arm on his upraised knee. His suit is linen, a strange pale yellow that should look sickly, but instead looks like summer dawn. Daylight catches it through the glass and bleaches it almost into unreality. Sam is reminded of the old photographs of Oscar Wilde’s young lover, Bosie. He has the same youth and romanticism in his gaze that seems forever locked on the middle distance. His hair is light, waved and curled and just slightly too long. His pose is languid, unfocused, and intensely beautiful. He slides his gaze over to Sam.

“You’ve brought no friends with you into your slumber,” he says. He looks faintly puzzled, and maybe hopeful.

“No,” Sam agrees.

“Why?”

“They were busy. And I was tired.”

“Tired and in need of sleep? Or tired of them coddling you?”

Sam grits his teeth. “Maybe both.”

“I understand. Gabriel can be…overzealous, at times.”

Sam snorts. “He has no claim on me.”

“He wishes he did,” Lucifer says with a small smile. “And I must admit that I understand the appeal.”

“Tell me,” Sam says, his eyes on the juncture between the wall and the floor. “Why would God let you get this far?”

Lucifer’s eyes soften; he raises himself from the window seat, and sits silently on the footrest in front of Sam’s chair. He leans forward very slowly, studying Sam’s face, and then reaches with delicate hesitation before pushing a stray lock of hair behind Sam’s ear. The touch is diffident, kind, almost like a breath more than a press of fingers.

“Oh Sam,” he says, radiating aching compassion, “Would you like to ask Him?”

Chapter Text

Michael stands with Castiel and Gabriel on either side of him. They’re all looking up.

“You know, I realize Lucifer is the one picking the territory here, even if we got here first,” Michael says, “But he really does has excellent taste.”

“As if you didn’t know,” Gabriel scoffs.

“This will do nicely,” Castiel agrees. In tandem, they walk into the wide base of the Luxor pyramid.

“Basement,” Gabriel says briefly. Michael presses a hand against the bolted security door and it gives way in silence. They make their way down.

“What will you say to Zachariah?” Castiel asks.

“I won’t say anything,” Michael replies, readily enough. “He doesn’t know I’m here. I’ll fold myself away again—it’ll hurt Dean, but better that I remain a trump card for him in the long run. And we know that he can function perfectly well even under trying circumstances.”

Castiel doesn’t allow the slight grimace he feels twitching at his human skin to show. Gabriel snaps his fingers, and suddenly there’s a goat in the middle of the room, standing next to a brass brazier. It looks at them with beady eyes, and looks distinctly out of place amidst the concrete and metal piping of the hotel’s lower level. Gabriel smirks. “I love the old ways,” he says brightly.

“I should have known you’d go pagan from the start,” Michael grumbles. “I suppose you’d like to do the honors?”

“No way. These things were done for me.”

“Castiel?”

“Very well.” He is a soldier, after all.

He lets his sword drop from the sleeve of his trench coat and steps forward. A moment later, the goat is bleeding out in a limp crumple, Castiel effortlessly holding it up by its hind legs, its lifesblood flowing neatly from its slit throat into the brazier. The blood is pointedly splattering nowhere but in the confines of the receptacle. Castiel raises an eyebrow at Gabriel, who looks incredulous.

“What? I don’t like mess. Not permanent mess, at least, and goat’s blood totally stains.”

Michael shakes his head. “The Aztecs would have hated you.” Bending forward, he dips his hand deep into the basin of blood. “Let’s get to work.”

***

Sam wakes, and takes a deep, deep breath. He doesn’t really want to get out of bed—he’s pretty sure the sheets are a thousand thread count, and the mattress has practically consumed him. Nevertheless, he rolls out of its embrace and stumbles towards the kitchenette, which has miraculously been stocked with everything he could want. He suspects it’s actually not that miraculous.

“Instinct tells me you like the process of cooking as well as the actually eating, so I left it to you.”

Sam smiles slightly. “You’d be right.”

Lucifer looks far less impressive outside of his dreams. His vessel is crumbling severely, and it doesn’t suit him. He looks uncomfortable and unshaven and generally even more rumpled than Cas on his worst days. Sam rather appreciates that he’s stopped appearing as Jess, though.

He goes about making scrambled eggs, content to let the devil watch him work. “Do you want anything?” he asks eventually. Then he adds, “Other than the obvious.”

Lucifer smiles, just slightly. “Perhaps some coffee.”

“I’m pretty sure there’s an espresso machine around here.”

“You spoil me.”

Sam snorts. He’d worked in a coffee shop once, at Stanford, a lifetime ago. He rifles through the kitchenette until he finds what he needs.

“Why are you doing this, Sam? You must admit it’s a change of pace from your usual.”

“Yes, well, I’m tired of you showing me everyone dying left and right. I don’t trust you, let me make that clear,” Sam jabs a spatula at him for emphasis, “But I thought that maybe if I was civilized about this, you would return the favor.”

“Hm, yes. I suppose I have been appealing to your baser instincts of late. I’m sorry if that offended you.”

“It sorta did. I mean, scare tactics? That’s what Zach used on me and Dean. Come on.”

Lucifer narrows his eyes. “What did Zachariah do?”

“Well, he gave Dean stomach cancer, and he took away my lungs for a bit. He just wanted Dean to play ball. It was overkill.”

“Zachariah is a blunt instrument,” Lucifer snarls. “He doesn’t know the meaning of proportionate response.”

“So it seems.”

“Then my apology is two-fold. For my behavior, and for my wayward brother’s.”

Sam quirks a smile. “’Wayward’?”

Lucifer waves a dismissive hand. “Relatively speaking.”

Sam goes over to the table, and hands him an espresso. Lucifer closes a hand delicately over Sam’s wrist before he can withdraw. “May I?” he asks.

Sam pauses, and purses his lips. “No,” he says carefully.

Lucifer looks briefly disappointed, but then nods. “Very well. Thank you for telling me where you are, at least.”

“It’s where you were going to be anyway.”

He smiles. “I suppose, yes. It’s an improvement on the Babylon of old. John could never have imagined it, even with his prophetic sight. Some things just have to be seen to be believed.”

“And Vegas is one of them,” Sam snorts.

“It will burn, Samuel,” Lucifer says, and strokes a soft line across Sam’s wrist before releasing it. “It will burn, and I don’t want you to burn with it.”

Sam lets out a breath he didn’t know he was holding. “Thanks, I think. But won’t I burn anyway, if we do things your way?”

“Hm. It’s likely. But I offer benefits.”

“Oh?” Sam raises and eyebrow.

“You would be venerated in Hell. I wouldn’t let your soul languish.”

“I’d still be in Hell,” Sam points out.

Lucifer takes a sip of his espresso, and makes a small noise of appreciation. Then he looks back up at Sam, and his whole expression goes soft. “Sam. You want to do right by yourself, and by others. I respect that; it’s what I do as well, really. But what makes you think that after all is said and done, even if I am cast back into Perdition and you remain standing, that you won’t be joining me soon enough?”

Sam freezes. Lucifer sets his cup down, and stands. He’s slightly shorter than Sam, and so he looks up into his face in both regret and surety. “You started the Apocalypse, Sam. You drank the blood of demons. There is only one place you’re going to go when this is all over. But I reign supreme in Hell. And you will be punished, as justice demands. But after your punishment…I can give you forgiveness.”

Sam takes a shuddering breath. He feels slim fingers caress his cheek, cup his chin and then withdraw.

When he looks up, Lucifer is gone.

***

 Castiel looks around him, studying the dark lines and suspended hex bags along the pipes. “Yes,” he says eventually. “This should do it.”

“How many do we have to tap, do you think?” Gabriel asks.

“Hundreds,” Michael answers. “As many as the Host can spare.”

“And they’ll agree to that?”

Michael smiles thinly. “They don’t have to.”

***

When the angels return, Sam is reading on the bed. He looks up at the chorus of wing beats. “How’s it going?” he asks.

Dean shrugs off Michael like a coat. “Not bad. But I need to wash my hands. I feel like they’re still covered in goat blood.” He heads towards the bathroom, and after a moment of conflict, Castiel follows.

“I love mankind’s ability to create useful things without having any idea they could be useful,” Gabriel says, apparently at random. Then he sniffs, and pauses. “Did…?”

“Yes,” Sam says shortly. He doesn’t look directly at the archangel, but he can just about predict the expression on his face—that same hard intensity that made the air crackle with disapproval.

“So how is he?” Gabriel asks, deceptively light.

“He put food in the fridge. I made him coffee.”

“That didn’t answer my question.”

“What do you want me to say?” Sam says, looking up finally. “He’s Satan. I told him where we were so that he could come say hi whenever he wants. He likes espresso. He has a kind face. I don’t know.”

Gabriel goes over and sits down on the bed. “What did you talk about?”

“I told him about Zachariah. He didn’t like it.”

“Of course not. The Morningstar is terribly civilized, when it comes down to it. Zachariah’s a blunt instrument.”

Sam shifts and looks at him sharply. “That’s what he said.”

Gabriel shrugs. “The thing about Lucifer? He’s right about a lot of things. When he tells you that he wants justice, that he wants equality…he sort of does. And that in itself isn’t wrong. The problem only arises when he conflates justice with vengeance, something he’s had millennia to do. Do you see?”

“I don’t really know if I do,” Sam says honestly.

Gabriel shifts, and now he’s lying on his belly next to Sam, their shoulders almost touching. Sam can feel the heat of him through his shirt, and it makes him swallow slightly.

“Lucifer started a holy war,” Gabriel says quietly. “And you can’t do that, especially when you’re an angel, without full and complete conviction and belief. So to try to change his dogma, logic him out of it…it’s not gonna work, Sam. You can throw your Stanford-sized brain at him as long as you like, and he’ll never break—more likely, he’ll break you.”

“Then what do I do?” Sam asks. He hates the desperation in his own tone, hates the fact that Dean trusted him with this, and he’s still slipping, still finding the devil logical, right, present and correct. He keeps saying no, sure, but he can’t even tell if it’s with his heart, and it’s only been a day, a dream and a pleasant breakfast, so far. How can he—

“Stop,” Gabriel says. He’s sharp, like a whipcrack, and it reins Sam in. “First of all, as long as you keep saying no, it doesn’t matter. You say no, he can’t take you. That’s the rules. And second of all, just stop.” He leans his head further, so that he can look at Sam’s face. “That’s not what this is about,” he says, after a pause. “What did he tell you?”

Sam wants to bury himself in the thick cotton bedding and never see the light of day again. He takes a long, deep breath. “He told me…” he chokes, swallows, tries again. “He said there was only one place I was going to. When this is done.”

“Sam,” Gabriel says.

Suddenly, Sam feels…warm. Covered. He turns his head slightly, and it feels like he’s laid his cheek against a revving motor. It’s a vibration of electrical energy against smooth, metallic surfaces, shifting like mercury, thrumming against his head and his shoulders. He looks at Gabriel, whose eyes are ringed with gold, and thinks, that’s his wing. He’s covering me with his wing.

Gabriel speaks, and he isn’t the Trickster any longer.

“Sam, you are broken, and wrong, and I still have my doubts about you. But I’m not in charge of who goes up and who goes down. That’s my Father’s job. And while I thought I’d be the last person to say this to you, it bears saying—my Father’s mercy is infinite. All you have to do is ask for it.”

“And Lucifer never asked,” Sam murmurs.

“Lucifer will never ask,” Gabriel replies with a slow nod. “And that’s why he doesn’t know. But you? You ask forgiveness every day. I hear you. And if God isn’t dead or gone, He hears you as well. And He’ll listen. Lucifer won’t.”

“Thank you,” Sam says hoarsely. It’s all he can say. The words echo in his head. I hear you. He hadn’t known. He hadn’t known that Gabriel would hear those most private thoughts, even though he knew he screamed them in his head every night. He hadn’t known how much it would mean to him either. Now, though? Now it fills him. And he doesn’t want to bury himself in the endless duvet, he just wants to stay like this, beneath the wings of an archangel, the crackling discomfort of their sheer power arching over his back, reminding him that he’s allowed to choose, always allowed.

Gabriel just watches him, grave and stern but also close, warm.

***

They fall into a rhythm, after that. By day, the angels leave Sam in the hotel room, and Lucifer comes by. Sam makes him coffee, and it continues to be the most surreal thing he’s ever done in his life, which really is saying something. And Lucifer talks. He never raises his voice; it remains gravelly, soft, hypnotic. Sam poses questions, receives answers that too often satisfy. But he doesn’t say yes. And when night falls, the angels return, and Dean eats with Sam and they bicker like always, redrawing the lines of their brotherhood as assurance and insurance while Gabriel cracks jokes and Castiel hovers. Then Sam waits until Dean goes to bed and Gabriel perches himself on his bed.

And they talk. Sam recounts what Lucifer told him, and Gabriel answers, counter-argues. Sam watches him and listens, and can see the angel remembering his old role more and more, rediscovering that untainted, tamped down righteousness that he embodied beneath the pagan cloak. He sees his wings more and more, phantom shadows on the walls and occasionally twitching against Sam’s shoulder, his hands. He wishes he could see them for real. And he forgets about Lucifer, for a short time.

He doesn’t ask about what the angels do during the day. The chance of him getting read by Lucifer is too big, so he just asks if it’s going well. Sometimes Michael answers, and sometimes Dean does. It’s always the same: “We hope.”

Four days later, demons start to appear. Some take hold of the corpses left in town, others come by car, and bus. They pour into the city, settle on the Strip. Michael watches them from the windows of the penthouse. “Not long now,” he says. He moves Dean’s hands in slow, winding patterns. The city moves accordingly, as slow as continental drift, so large as to be almost invisible.

Lucifer works on Sam in earnest. Sam considers. He says, “I want to be on the winning side,” and Lucifer replies, “I can’t guarantee anything. But I know whose forces are outside. And they aren’t Heaven’s.”

***

Six days, and the hunters appear in the lobby of the Bellagio, Anna, Kalaziel, and Ruman in tow. Michael is there to greet them.

“Make yourselves at home,” he says, with a wry smile. “And rest. For you will need it.”

The rest of his garrison begins to filter in, enough for Lucifer to notice. “Who is leading them?” he asks Sam curiously, espresso held delicately between his fingers.

“Gabriel,” Sam replies. “Gabriel and Dean.”

“Gabriel has no sway with the angels any longer,” Lucifer scoffs. “He lost that privilege a long time ago.”

“Why do you think Zachariah’s still being so accommodating to you?” Sam counters. He’s sitting at the table with the angel now, legs stretched out in front of him. He’s begun to adopt the lazy intensity of his adversary. “There weren’t that many who would listen. Dean helped, but there’s only so much he can do from the ground.”

“And yet you’re still rooting for him. Even after all I’ve told you.”

Sam looks at him steadily. “He’s my brother.”

“Hm.”

***

When Zachariah finally shows, he has Raphael in tow. Most of the hunters are hanging around the dining room in the Bellagio, and all of them immediately stand up at the appearance of the angels. Jefferson is the one to step forward. He’d been late to the game—picked up by Anna after the Dragon had wreaked havoc at Bobby’s, but he knows the score. His hand is already wet with blood and he’s moving towards the bar closest to the door, where they all know the sigil to cast out has been drawn.

“Can we help you gentlemen?” he says, sending a prayer up to the penthouse. Dean will have to come down the normal way, if Michael’s going to keep tucked away.

“I have nothing in particular to say to you, no,” Zachariah sneers. “But I’d very much like to speak to whoever’s in charge.”

“That’d be us,” Dean says. Zachariah turns slowly on his heel to face him.

Dean stands solidly, hands in his pockets, flanked by Gabriel and Castiel on one side, and Sam on the other. Only Sam knows that the straight set of his shoulders aren’t a result of defiance, but of excruciating pain. It had taken Michael a long time to fold himself in far enough so as to not be sensed by the Host. Zachariah glances between them with narrowing eyes. He finally settles on Gabriel.

Brother?” He says it like a curse.

“Zach,” Gabriel nods. “It’s been a while. How’s it hanging, little bro?”

“You would taint yourself with these—“

“Newsflash,” Gabriel cuts in. “I’ve been slumming it for a thousand years. Don’t act so surprised.”

“Actually, I was going to say, ‘with these two cretins’,” Zachariah finishes, nodding at the Winchesters with disgust. “Sully yourself with humanity, if you must be the unloved middle child who acts out just to get attention, but your discernment truly leaves something to be desired.”

“We’re an acquired taste,” Dean quips.

Gabriel isn’t tolerating such levity, however. Sam senses his wings arch upward aggressively. “You forget your place,” the archangel says to Zachariah.

“You gave up yours!”

“And yet, here I am, on the battlefield a week before you,” Gabriel snaps. “I would accuse you of playing both sides if I didn’t already know the laundry list of your woefully bad ideas since taking over management. What do you have to say about this anyway, Raphael? Did he clip your wings?”

“I do not follow him,” Raphael growls. “I follow the Word.”

“Oh, and you think this is it?” Dean asks. “Because it seems to me like if this is how the Apocalypse is supposed to go, things would be going a lot more to plan than they are.”

“And whose fault is that?” Zachariah spits. “Your limited and petty refusals were tiresome months ago, and they become exponentially more so by the day. You can’t stop this. It is written, and so it shall be.”

“And yet, I think we’ve been doing a bang-up job of fucking it up,” Dean comments. “I feel like if your God wasn’t okay with us messing with the plan, He would have struck us down long ago.”

Raphael speaks, his Voice nearly surfacing with the whine of electricity and static. “God isn’t here anymore. But we are keepers of His Word, and His Word is Law.”

The static subsides. Sam says, “That was a lot of capitalization.”

Gabriel murmurs agreement.

Dean has a sudden idea. “So tell me, Zach,” he says, shrugging his shoulders and tilting his head. He looks like a kid with a bad attitude in front of his high school principal. “You still want me to say yes to Mike, right?”

“It is the only way you’re going to defeat Lucifer,” Zachariah snaps. “If you could get that through your sorry excuse for a brain, maybe—“

“—So he’s just waiting, up there, for my says so?” Dean cuts in. He raises his eyebrows.

And suddenly, the angel looks slightly constipated. Given angels, Dean figures it’s the equivalent of blanching.

“Obviously,” he says. “Where else would he be?”

“Well, that’s a pretty good question. One that I think I’d be just as curious to know the answer to as you do. Because what, precisely, would happen, if I say yes right now, and nothing happens?”

And here he steps closer, gets right up in Zachariah’s face and spits, “What happens if you find out your big brother doesn’t like what you’re doing to the house while Dad’s away?”

Zachariah is silent fury. Raphael too, though the lights are flickering and Sam won’t be surprised if his wings don’t snap out and start arc lightening around the room.

Dean says, “You had better be ready to fight this battle without him, because the demons are here now, and Lucifer’s drawn the line. And tomorrow…I’m gonna break the Seventh Seal.”

“You wouldn’t,” Raphael hisses.

“That’s impossible,” Zachariah cuts in, “You don’t have the means, and none of the consequences of such a thing are yet prepared.”

“Well, precisely,” Dean smiles. “I mean, I don’t really want plagues and rains of hellfire and all that crap. But you know what is ready? The army of Heaven, and the army of Hell. You’ll have to go to war, whether you want to or not. So you’d better get the Host off their asses and headed to the church on time, because Lucifer’s not gonna wait around, I reckon.”

He steps back, and gives an insolent shrug.

“After all…so it was Written, and so it must Be. Bitch.”

He looks at Gabriel and Sam. “Make sure they don’t do anything stupid to the hunters. Cas and I are gonna go lock down the penthouse. Sam, keep everyone calm, and tell them what’s going on. Last thing we need’s a panic.”

Sam nods.

Zachariah spins on his heel. “We’re going to stop you,” he seethes, “And we’re going to put things right. You think you can withstand the wrath of Heaven alone, Gabriel? You of all people?”

“Of course not,” Gabriel replies, cocking his head. “But I’m not too lonely, now am I?”

With a crack of self-righteousness, the two visiting angels can do nothing but fly off.

Gabriel walks over to stand next to Jefferson. “So,” he says, casually. “How’s it look from over here?”

Jefferson grins. “Looks like a Winchester just handed an archangel his ass, is what it looks like.”

***

Up in the penthouse, Castiel looks down at the dining room table. On it, seven battered trumpets lie in a line. They look plain, worn, of the type that gets loaned out to middle school band students. Castiel is afraid to touch them.

“Which one will start the battle?” he asks.

Michael unerringly points to one of tarnished silver. “The others will bring destruction upon mankind,” he says, “But only if the angels are prepared to mete it out. And we now know that they aren’t. And so the trumpets shall blow silent. All but the last.”

Chapter Text

They sleep only in snatches that night. Sam takes a brief nap in the early evening, in which he ends up telling Lucifer “wait until the trumpet, and I’ll come to you”, which Dean glares at him for when he reports it.

“What?” Sam demands. “You want me to tell him to fuck off, now that we’ve got him on the line?”

“No, I just—“

“Trust me, Dean. You said you would.”

“I did nothing of the kind,” Dean grumbles. Sam wonders if his brother has noticed that little bits of Michael’s speech patterns are starting to bleed into his. “Fuckin’ ow, Cas!”

Castiel is unperturbed. “You need to hold still, or this won’t work.”

Dean is lying on his stomach on the dining table, hugging a pillow beneath his chin. Castiel is sitting on him. On the table beside them, there’s an inkwell and a number of different sizes of needles. Castiel is applying a tattoo gun liberally to Dean’s shoulder blades.

“Why not just let Michael order Zachariah to do things our way, anyway?” Sam asks.

“Because if Zachariah finds out that Michael’s around, he won’t bother calling all the troops here,” Gabriel says. “And did you see his defiance when Dean asked about the possibility of Michael’s disapproval? We push him from that angle, and he’s just going to push back harder. Michael’s word is nothing against the belief in The Word. Raphael’s testament to that.”

“Fundamentalists, the lot of you,” Dean mutters. “Crazy, evangelical—“

Castiel digs in with the needle; Dean winces and subsides. A knock sounds on the door, and Sam goes to answer it. Jefferson stands in the doorway.

“Hey. We’ve set up posts around the major points of the spell matrix. The demons have been quiet, just waiting around, basically. Do you need anything else done?”

Sam looks at Dean, who shakes his head, so he turns back and says, “No, you’re done for the night. Try and get some sleep. Make everyone else do so as well, if you can. The garrison will keep guard.”

“Righto.” Jefferson chews his lip, and then looks measuringly at Sam. “How sure are we of this plan?”

Sam stares at him for a minute, and then says, “Pfft. Who knows?”

Jefferson looks enraged for a moment, and then laughs. “Oh, fuck you. I’m going downstairs to tell everyone that we’re screwed now.”

“Hey, it’s the Apocalypse, what do you expect?” Sam retorts. He closes the door on Jefferson’s retreating back.

“That did not sound to me like a recipe for high morale, Sam,” Castiel says, somewhat reprovingly.

“Nah. Morale isn’t what hunters need,” Dean says, his voice somewhat muffled by the pillow he’s leaning on. “They need gallows humor and a kick in the pants. Sam did right.”

“So can I see it yet?” Sam asks, meandering forward.

“It’s not done yet,” Castiel says. “But you can look at what’s been covered so far.”

Sam looks over Castiel’s shoulder to look at his brother’s back. “Jesus. This is pretty thorough.”

Winding outward from the arcs of muscle around Dean’s back and the outside of his spine are a vast array of black, calligraphic symbols. They interlock and shift from raised outlines to contrasting reliefs, stretching across his shoulders to grip across his upper arms in scrolls and curls. They look like wings, and they look like tribal war paint.

“It is what we would do for any angel about to sound the trumpets,” Castiel says briefly. “Though it has never been applied to a corporeal form. We have never done battle on earth, you see.”

“So this is gonna be an adventure,” Dean finishes.

“Where did you even find all of them?” Sam asks.

“Everywhere,” Gabriel says, popping M&M’s into his mouth. “They were folded into to time and space, waiting for the right moment. Normally they would have stayed hidden until all of the conditions Zachariah wants to instigate were met, but Michael’s always been very persuasive with the more ancient tools of the trade.”

“They know him,” Dean says, oddly solemn. “They recognized him from the Beginning.”

Gabriel nods.

“How long is this gonna take, Cas?” Dean asks. He’s finding that he’s keenly aware of Castiel’s weight on his lower back, which should be weird and uncomfortable, but mostly doesn’t bother him. The sting of the tattoo gun mostly distracts from it, and the angel’s hands are warm.

“Another few hours. Do you need to rest?”

“Nah, I’m good. Michael’s helping out.”

Black lines formed slowly across his back, chasing the contours of his ribs. Castiel’s hands remain steady and clinical, but Dean’s eyes drift closed. Sam looks away.

Gabriel makes a small noise, and gets up to go to the window. “Death is here,” he says, after a moment.

“It’s to be expected,” Castiel says. “He is the only truly eternal one of the Four.”

“And Lucifer called him here,” Gabriel says. He looks at Sam, “You told him about the Seventh Seal?”

Sam nods. “He said he’ll be awaiting its call. I’ll have to be with him when it sounds.”

Gabriel looks briefly distressed at that, but doesn’t say anything.

The evening is filled with the low buzz of the tattoo gun, and Sam flipping pages in a Vonnegut. The silence is more comfortable than it should be—Sam feels like there should be wrought tension, on the night before the world might end. But the quiet is easy, hypnotic. He sinks into it, letting words on the page take him away, cushioned on the sumptuous surrounds of the Bellagio’s amenities.

Hours later, the buzz ceases, and all of a sudden, it’s far too silent. Dean shifts, groans slightly at the pull of wounded skin. Castiel places a hand between his shoulder blades, wet with holy water.

In nomine Patri et Filii et Spiritus Sancti, in tempus belli et patientia eum corpum benedicto. In dies irae in tubum Genesa et potentiam Angeli advoco. Sanctus est unus tubum quisnam sanus. Beatus exsisto qui refero.Sed signifer sanctus Michael repraesentet eas in bellum sanctam.”

“Good improvisation,” Gabriel says with a raised eyebrow. “Think it’ll pass muster?”

“It will have to,” Castiel answers, taking his hand away. Dean shivers slightly at the release of contact. “Though perhaps you should do it, given my current status.”

Dean and Gabriel look at each other, and Gabriel shakes his head. “Nah, I think you got it.”

Dean gingerly lifts himself off the table, already feeling Michael pushing health over his skin and letting it scar over at a rapid pace. He chucks the pillow he’s been holding at Sam’s face. Sam splutters.

“The fuck, dude! I…woah.”

“What? Does it look cool?”

Sam stares. “Um. I can…”

 “What?”

“You just…look different.”

The tattoos shine and slide like mercury to Sam’s eyes. They look like they could jump off Dean’s skin at any moment and become wings of their own.

“Ah,” Gabriel says, identifying Sam’s expression. “A side effect of the blessing.”

“What is it?” Dean asks.

“Those markings were never really meant to be worn by a vessel,” Gabriel explains. “Michael can wear them in his pure form, but on you…it’s like a direct portal to him inside you. He’s…well, he’s showing through, is what’s happening. Enough so Sam can see it.”

“So I’m guessing next time Zach sees me, he’s gonna know Michael’s around?” he says, after a second.

“Probably. I hadn’t counted on that,” Castiel says, somewhat apologetically.

“All right. We can deal. It won’t really matter much anyway, right? I mean, we blow the horn at dawn.”

“Zachariah will try to stop you. And if he sees you before that, he can order the Host back to their positions.”

“No. That at least, we can prevent.” Michael slips forward, and he adjusts his shoulders, feeling the weight of the tattoo. “We’ll need to start the flow through the streets. Gabriel, can you lead a small faction of the garrison?”

“Sure thing,” Gabriel nods. “We’ll go at half speed, really work it over.”

“If you can even get some of the demons to follow you, it should be quite potent. In the meantime, though, there are still a few hours to rest. Castiel, may I have a word?”

Castiel gives a brief nod, and they go out onto the balcony. Sam watches them go.

“Do you think he’ll—?”

“What? Hit your brother with a clue-bat?” Gabriel smirks, sitting on the bed next to Sam.

Sam rolls his eyes. “I was going to say, let Dean go, after all of this is done. I mean, if we make it through.”

“That’s a big ‘if’, first of all,” the archangel replies. “But if this thing works? Yeah, he will. We’ll all be going home, I imagine.”

Sam looks at him sharply. Gabriel is looking away from him, his face unreadable.

“You’d go home? After all this time?”

Gabriel shifts, and for a long moment stays deep in thought. Sam waits, and finally he speaks.

“I’m not a god, Sam,” he says, still turned away. “I never was. I know Him, I have spoken to him and basked in his presence. And I still walked away. I don’t really regret it—hell, the fun I had messing with you and your brother alone was worth it—but…I don’t want to be the estranged son anymore.”

And Jesus, can Sam relate to that. But it’s too late for him and John, and has been for far longer than a few short years. For Gabriel, though…he could go back. And Sam wants that for him. In fact, he’s shocked at how much he wants that for Gabriel, even though the thought of him leaving permanently also sort of makes his chest hurt at the same time.

…Oh Christ. He knows that feeling. He remembers it. Fuckin’ literary symmetry. He feels like somehow he can blame this on Chuck. And he’s totally going to, if he lives long enough to tell the prophet so. He takes a breath.

“You won’t be,” he says. “Your Father’s mercy is infinite, remember?”

“Yeah,” Gabriel huffs a laugh. “I’ve probably tried his patience, though.”

“You and me both, then,” Sam replies absently. He’s tallying now, all of the things that have happened since the Trickster entered his life and began wreaking havoc, counting up little signs and angles, the time they’ve been spending together this past week, all of the words Gabriel has given to him and shielded him with and the way they’ve saved him from Lucifer. And suddenly they all add up to the Leviathan that huge fucking spear of destiny or whatever and holy shit, if that’s not Freudian then Sam doesn’t know what is.

Let it never be said that Sam is a wishy-washy decision-maker. Even when he has the fleeting and vivid thought that if he does this, it may make everything hurt that much more in the long run. But hey, what long run, really? It’s the Apocalypse. Maybe, just maybe, he can even out his track record against Ruby this one last time.

“Look on the bright side,” he says tentatively. “At this point, one or two more small transgressions on your part probably wouldn’t even register.”

Finally, Gabriel turns, and quirks an eyebrow. “That’s true.”

He tries to keep it light, aims for cheesy. “So it’s the last night of the world, maybe. What do you want to do?”

But Gabriel seems to stiffen slightly, for once in his life not taking the joke, his wings pulling close. “A great many things, I imagine,” he murmurs.

Sam can feel the crackling of the archangel’s energy at his side, and he wants to reach out and touch it.

And okay, fine, if that’s how he’s going to play, fuck it. Dean may be verbally challenged, but Sam’s not. Sam’s the one who broaches the sensitive subjects, who decides when they need to talk. Right now there needs to be straightforward talking, followed hopefully by some equally straightforward action. Sam coughs, embraces the awkward and the ridiculous tremble of nervousness in his lungs, and says in a rush,

“So, if given the choice between putting me to bed for a few hours or taking me to bed—“

Gabriel chokes, and it looks like all of the muscles in his body have locked up entirely. “Samuel?”

“What, you thought Michael wasn’t going to tell me about the specific nature of your awesome spear of awesome?” Sam retorts, gaining momentum. Because Gabriel looks like he’s about to run, and he can’t, not when Sam’s in the middle of something so important, so he rambles on as fast as he can, “Because that was a pretty big gesture there, but clearly you weren’t going to actually let me know that it was, because maybe you thought I wouldn’t like it or something, but apparently I really would, considering I’m the one putting up with you most of the time and you’ve beaten me and fixed me and fucking claimed me in a dream and somehow made me better and oof—!”

Catlike, Gabriel cuts him off by landing heavily and yet rather bonelessly in his lap. Sam looks up at him, the wind completely gone out of his sails. “Um,” he starts, but his hands automatically find the juncture of the archangel’s hips, drawn to the heat of him.

“I have seen the world turn and experience billions of sunrises, billions of sunsets,” Gabriel says, and despite his languid posture his expression is that of a bird of prey. “I have seen empires rise and fall, and I have seen the limitless cruelty and heroism of mankind, Heaven and Hell alike. And even now, low as I am, I create what I want, when I want it. But you are something I cannot recreate. Do you understand?”

Sam exhales, eyes wide. “I think…maybe I do?”

Gabriel’s arms are resting on his shoulders, but now he brings up a hand to brush across his throat. Sam thinks about how easily the archangel could throttle him, how even now his touch is firm, unforgiving. And he thinks that he needs that coiling power to break him and put him back together correctly for once in his goddamn life, and not twist him more like the last time.

“You are what I would have been, had my faith been choice, and not breeding,” Gabriel says to him, eyes dark with growing fire. “You are what makes your kind my Father’s most beloved and his most blasphemous. You are what proves humanity is flawed, and what proves that you’re all worth it anyway. And you are not his best loved son…but neither am I. You would have me, as we are?” 

If Sam was expecting anything (and he should know by now, really, that one could not expect anything from Gabriel without counting on being proved wrong) this wasn’t it. But he doesn’t recoil; his grip grows ever tighter, bruising. He doesn’t know if he’s ready for this, if he’s ready for anything, really, but everything inside him from top to toe is screaming one thing, one feeling, one conclusion. And so the answer comes from him unbidden.

“Yes. As long as you want me,” and his heart nearly stops at how much he means it.

He feels the charge of supernatural wings folding around him, humming and electric and full. When Gabriel leans forward, he meets him.

***

Michael raises an eyebrow, and looks back at the closed doors to the balcony. Castiel waits.

“You wanted to speak to me?” he prompts, after a time.

Michael seems to come back to himself, and nods. “Yes. I…this plan. I believe that it will work. It must; I have never conceived anything stronger, and yet…Lucifer is ever unpredictable. And his traces upon Sam…disturb me. There is uncertainty in this battle that I do not like.”

“What do you wish me to do, then?” Castiel asks, and instinct somehow makes him lock up in waiting.

“The second trumpet. It shall bring destruction upon this earth,” Michael says, and he says the words like they are distasteful to him. Castiel suspects that the disapproval is Dean’s and not Michael’s, however.  “It shall wipe out every demon that has every existed upon this plane, and every man that has sinned. If all is lost, and you are still standing…I entrust it to you.”

“I am not marked as a trumpeter,” Castiel points out, but he is stalling. Michael narrows his eyes.

“I can mark you as such. There is time.”

Castiel takes a deep breath. He remembers Dean telling him to do so when he was gearing up for something, and indeed he feels the tremors of his human body focus slightly, and lessen. “I…I would request that you do not ask this of me,” he says finally. He can’t look at Michael’s—Dean’s—face.

Michael cocks his head. “Why?”

“Because I cannot be responsible for the destruction of mankind.”

“There would be many still alive—“

“144,000,” Castiel retorts, and chances a glance up. Michael is standing stiffly now, holding Dean’s body in a way Dean never would. “That is the number written, is it not?”

“It is not exact. John had no concept of population inflation, after all. The Industrial Revolution alone has—“

“Michael. I cannot. Dean does not want us to.”

Michael studies him for a long moment, and Castiel feels stripped bare under the impossible presence of his brother. But then Michael just sighs.

“I will find another in the garrison.”

“I will try to stop them.”

Michael’s wings flare in anger, but then he reins himself in. “That is your prerogative.”

Just before he disappears, Castiel thinks he sees a flash of Dean, a flash of pride, and he lets it fortify him.

Chapter Text

The hour before dawn is dull with ash. Dean can barely see it through the smog. It sucks to breathe, too, so rather than watch it on the balcony, he’s inside looking out from the living room. Sam emerges from one of the bedrooms, and Dean does a double-take.

“Dude. Dude. Did you--?”

“Shut up,” Sam says.

“Where is he now?”

“Starting the run. I’ll have to go soon.”

“Yeah,” Dean nods. He looks back out the window. “Auspicious day, huh?”

“What we’ve been waiting for,” Sam agrees. He looks at Dean. “You ready?”

“Born ready, bitch.”

“Jerk. Where’s Castiel?”

“Out. Putting the last touches on the Luxor.”

“You haven’t talked to him?”

Dean swallows. “No. Michael had a word. We…disagree on some things.”

“Is that gonna be a problem?”

“Nah. Cas’s got my back.”

Sam huffs. “You should talk to him. Before this all goes down.”

“And say what, precisely?” Dean shoots back. “I’m sorry I asked you to defy your brother again, thanks for risking the wrath of the superior being hanging out inside me who can explode you even better than Raphael can?”

“It’s a good start, but you could tack on the part that would make it worth it for him, too,” Sam suggests.

Dean looks at him blankly. Sam throws his hands up in the air.

“Fucking hell…man up, Dean,” he snaps. “You know, I was all ready for this to happen in its own time, or whatever—“

“Wait, you were ready--?”

“Of course I was, Dean, I might be blind but I’m not that blind. My point is, you’ve just pushed it way farther than it ever had to be and I’m sick and tired of him looking at you like you’re going to leave and then somehow be happier without him, which we both know is fucking impossible—“

“Hey! Just because you and Gabriel can—”

“No, you need to tell him what the score is, because it’s not my job and it’s certainly not his, seeing as he’s the one who’s never done this before and doesn’t know how to even deal with what he’s feeling, let alone do something about it. It’s on you, okay? Jesus, you’re dense sometimes.”

Dean flinches a bit at that, and Sam should feel bad but he really doesn’t. Not when this could be solved so easily if Dean could just get over his qualms and take something for himself for once. If Gabriel’s taught him anything (and holy shit, there’s been a lot of teaching going around between them lately, which…never mind) it’s that Dean’s martyr complex goes far deeper than Sam’s ever will, and that it’s tied directly to a level of self-hatred that no one, but no one could think to mine in less than a lifetime.

Except, it seems, for Castiel, who went there the moment he fetched Dean out of Hell.

So yeah, Sam gets it now. And the fact that Dean doesn’t? Well, that’s just frustrating at this point.

Finally Dean takes a ragged breath and says, “Sam, he’s already falling, I can’t just…speed him along. I couldn’t do that to him. Not when we’re this close to putting everything right.”

“You just said it yourself,” Sam pinches the bridge of his nose. “He’s already falling. Soon enough, he’ll be fallen. It’s the Apocalypse. It may not even matter if--”

“No. Because if by some miracle we succeed…they can’t forgive him if he’s tainted. If I taint him. It’s his family, Sammy,” Dean glances over at him, tortured and resolute. Sam wants to shake him.

“Don’t you think it’s his choice then, Dean?” he asks.

“No. Because he’ll choose for me. And I’m not—“

“If you finish that sentence, I’ll kill you myself,” Sam replies flatly. “Jesus, Dean, you’re the fucking Chosen One. How much more worthy can you get?”

“Right now the guy who chose me is being a douchebag, so I don’t think it counts,” Dean mutters.

“He’ll still have family, dude. If he didn’t, do you really think Michael and Gabriel would be letting all of your little chick-flick moments with him slide? Disagreement or not, they’ll stand by him. I’ll stand by him.”

Dean looks up sharply at that. Sam rolls his eyes.

“What, d’you think I wouldn’t? You’re my brother. He saved your life, and apparently loves you enough to explode for you. Of course I’m gonna approve.”

They both look at the sky. A haze of orange has begun to creep along the horizon.

“It’s too late now, anyway,” Dean says, eyes too blank. “Time to fight.”

Sam shudders, just slightly, but he can still feel the echo of Gabriel’s breath on his cheek, and it strengthens him. He puts a hand on his brother’s shoulder, and pulls him into a hug. “Then I guess…I’ll see you,” he says thickly.

“Yeah. Go be Lucy’s bitch one last time. And then you come back. You come back, all right?” Dean says fiercely, gripping tight to him. Everything he knows and feels inside of him is screaming to hold his brother, keep holding him back; but he doesn’t, and he knows that in a few moments, he’ll let go.

Of course it would only take the end of the world for them to start dealing with their codependence. If he ever gets to meet God, Dean's going to accuse him of being the worst psychotherapist ever.

Sam nods against his shoulder. “I promise.” He goes to the elevator. The doors close on him. It’s the last Dean sees of him before the end of the world.

Dean looks out. The world already looks war-torn from here. The ash is blowing in great gusts, now, Lucifer’s presence keeping the sunlight sickly and pale in its wake. There are fires burning in the west—California, probably. He works his jaw, feeling Michael buzzing inside him, the general, the commander, the Patriot of God, and pulls his shirt up over his head. The ink on his back burns like electrical circuitry coming to life.

He takes the silver trumpet from the table, its contours tarnished and battered, and steps towards the sliding door. There will only be a few seconds outside the wards before Zachariah comes down on his head and Michael’s.

He will take them.

“I can’t believe I’m going into the Apocalypse shirtless,” he mutters. “This is some Rambo shit right here.”

Michael laughs from inside him. It’s a low and grim sound in his gut. They go forward.

The trumpet is already at his lips as he opens the door. The breath is in his lungs, held, trembling.

He shoves the door open.

The sound. The sound.

The Seventh Seal is a call to arms, a call to battle, a choir of a thousand voices erupting from a single source, it is sound and motion and a thousand myriad of other things he cannot even understand, but he feels it in his chest, the vibrations of battle undeniable. He could breathe into the trumpet forever, suddenly addicted to the feel of the sound and the things coming to life because of it.

As it sounds, it is answered by a thousand invisible wingbeats. They catch the sound and keep it. Dean can feel them, all of them, and it’s not just Michael giving him that sense any longer. He blows the horn, shutting his eyes against the ash, feeling the call thrum in his ribcage, igniting him.

A hand materializes out of nowhere and closes around his throat. He chokes. The sound dies at the source, but its echo resonates, triples back against the buildings of Las Vegas. It does not fall silent.

“Shut up,” Zachariah roars, appearing in front of his face and squeezing hard. “Shut the fuck up!”

“Too late, Daddy-O,” Dean wheezes, and Michael flares his wings. “Big brother knows best.”

Zachariah’s eyes suddenly widen; he recoils as if burned. “No. That’s impossible.”

Your show now, Dean thinks, Just for now, but take it while you can.

Michael comes forward like an eagle swooping in for the kill. He burns like a supernova inside Dean’s eyes, flares through like sparks along the lines of the sigils imprinted on Dean’s back.

“You will stand aside, brother,” he spits, and Zachariah cringes. “Heed the cry of your Father’s voice and go to war. Or I shall send you down to the Pit with the Morningstar, and you will know the sting of sulfur like the lowest of us do.”

“You are saturated with humanity,” Zachariah growls. “You are tainted with their stench and their flaws. Take what you can of Dean Winchester’s sorry state but join us in what is right. We will bring Paradise to Earth, as it was always meant to be.”

“There will be a time when Paradise comes to Earth. But it will be when the good of humanity is dead and gone, and revelation comes from our Father, not from the voices of angels.” Michael steps forward and seizes Zachariah by his lapels, slamming him up against the edge of the balcony. “Now do your duty, and fight, or forever be called a traitor.”

He pushes. Zachariah flails back, and disappears off the edge of the balcony. There is no sound of impact; he takes wing far before that. Michael watches him wink out of sight.

One more time, Dean. So that all can hear.

Unhindered, Dean lifts the trumpet again and takes up the call.

***

Castiel stands at the peak of the Luxor pyramid, and for a brief moment closes his eyes. He can see Dean on the balcony, trumpet to his lips, making the earth tremble. He has orders, orders from Dean himself, and not his brother residing inside, but even now he wants to defy them and be there at the beginning of the end, if only because Dean is alone in body if not in spirit, and he shouldn’t be. But under Dean’s authority, Castiel is a good soldier.

He stands his ground.

***

“Show me,” Sam says, trying to look as enraptured as he can with Gabriel’s touch still resonating on his skin. He can’t possibly regret what happened last night though, not when it’s giving him the strength to withstand this level of temptation. “What will you do to win?”

Lucifer smiles, caresses his chin, and snaps his fingers.

***

Even at half speed, they are almost at the speed of light. Gabriel leads them, darting between buildings in the only formation possible in this changed city. Their wings pummel the air, sifting through pavement and glass, bursting the bulbs of show lights along the marquees as they go, leaving sparks for the demons to chase after. There are no intersections, just one long line of overpasses and underpasses, all of them chasing the same consequences—

--And with a force like Meg on their tails, the consequences should be locking into place quite soon. Gabriel looks back over his shoulder, sees her grinning face, and smiles right back. He’s going to have to thank Crowley for this little piece of genius, if they actually manage to live through the day.

The angels fly faster, and feel the power whipping up in their wake.

***

There is a clash of sounds in the wake of the trumpet—on the one side, the beat of wings, light and hard against the air, and then beneath them, the low buzz of black clouds rising from sewer grates and basements. Dean looks down on it all.

Time now? he asks. He feels almost clinical, at this point. The tattoos on his back burn, but it’s a satisfactory burn, like the flexing of new muscles.

Yes, Michael answers. Time now.

The sword materializes in their hand.

Without fear, he steps onto the balcony rails, and lets himself fall.

***

They meet on the strip, the central line that Michael has left unchanged in all of the cityscape. And it is unlike anything any hunter has seen in their lifetimes. On the ground, angels within their vessels materialize and draw swords, guns, maces. They are barely contained within their corporeal hosts; Dean can see light bleeding through their eyes and in flashes along their backs, wings all flared like falcons about to duel.

Amongst them, scattered in rendering any form of ranks obsolete, the demons gather, eyes black. Amongst them, hellhounds prowl, invisible claws clicking on the concrete. Alistair is among them, wearing a man with sunken cheekbones and bad teeth. He looks hungry, expectant. Angel and demon stand together, like light and shadow embodied.

Dean scans for Lucifer, and doesn’t find him. The echoes of the trumpet are still sustaining, but now it’s in stasis, unending, waiting for a signal. Dean’s not about to give it.

Then, below the trumpet call, undercutting the whispers of wings and the buzz of demonic anger, he hears it. He can’t see him in the crowd, but he’d know that low tone anywhere.

Sam’s disembodied voice amid the throng is quiet, and deathly serious. “No. Fight your war in the vessel you have.”

Dean smiles. His sword bursts into flame just as Lucifer’s roar of frustration rends the morning.

Mortal eyes see a gang war. Supernatural eyes see the clashing of Titans.

The demons try to break ranks, and find they can’t. Some of the angels, unsure of who to follow with Zachariah fallen silent, do the same. But they all reach the bounds of Las Vegas and can do nothing but pour themselves back into battle, the sigil built into the winding singular course of Las Vegas’s new road plan holding them more effectively than any devil’s trap or ring of holy fire when alight with the circuitry of six angels and a dozen demons traversing its contours.

And suddenly the battle is trench warfare at its most ruthless and cunning. Dean sort of hates it, in the way that makes him revel in it. He hadn’t known about the herd mentality of angels, but Michael had counted on it. Now as they battle they call their brothers into the fray, pulling them from India, Zaire, Madagascar, Germany, Australia. And when they arrive, they can’t leave. Demons pour out of the ground, no word but Lucifer’s last cry to the Pit to go on, and find themselves with no choice but to fight for their lives.

***

Sam whirls. Lucifer has disappeared, but there are about nine pissed off demons in his place. He bites his lip. Draws the Colt from the back of his jeans.

“Come on, then,” he says. “Fight for your boss’s honor.”

They lunge.

***

Above the ground, wretched swirls of tar clash with the massive streaks of lightning that are angels in the stratosphere. Together, they block out the sunrise and turn the sky into a study in contrasts like strobe lights in a pitch-black club.

Dean is surrounded. He’s never felt so claustrophobic, not even in crypts or sewers.

Michael’s wings erupt from his back. He feels them like the purr of the Impala against his back, and all of a sudden he feels right at home. “I’m really glad your sword lights up,” he comments, and brings it down in a singing arc.

Demons crackle in his wake.

***

Castiel ducks, dodges and swings, Ruby’s knife supple in his left hand, Lucifer’s in his right. Weakened as he knows he is, he is no mortal, and with that knowledge he cuts a path through the chaos of Heaven and Hell, and feels when he takes injury only in the most cursory ways.

He sees Dean/Michael half a mile down the strip, flanked by Sophiel and Barachiel, burning away the lesser demons and engaging the greater of them with blades. Sam is fighting tooth and nail along with Gabriel, who has broken off from the circuit of the road-sigil and burns with the righteousness of his forgotten faith.

It takes longer to find Lucifer. He weaves amongst the battling troops, seemingly unconcerned, wings tucked close to him, almost unknowable. Castiel only spots him when he bends to whisper in the ear of another angel, and she falters suddenly, looking wildly around for the source of her sudden doubt. She does not see the rusty stiletto Alistair plunges into her throat.

Castiel narrows his eyes, and presses forward.

Dean, he calls. He is sowing doubt. You must bring him to me.

And how the hell am I supposed to do that? Dean demands, and Castiel can almost feel the shudder that runs through him as he finally finds an opening and tears into the vessel of Belial, his sword scalding the crown prince of Hell into nothing.

I don’t know, but you must do it. Castiel plunges his knife into the jaw of a charging hellhound and tosses it yelping aside.

Dean growls. Belial had been persistent, and now his muscles are burning with strain, unused to handling a sword instead of bowie knives and shotguns. Michael restores him somewhat, but they are both tiring. And the greatest battle has yet to come.

Let me come forward, Michael prods. Lucifer will come for me.

“Fine, buddy. Better you than me,” Dean mutters. Slips backward.

Michael surges, leaving Sophiel and Barachiel behind in the crowd with a passing message. Dean’s body still strains around him, but he remembers the motions of blade combat, and he pulls that soul-deep muscle memory forward to aid him. He cuts his way forward.

***

Lucifer feels him before he sees him. He turns, sniffs at the air.

“Michael,” he breathes. “So you’ve come after all.”

For the first time since the break of dawn, he draws a thin sword from the air. He winks out of sight.

***

Coward,” Michael spits through Dean’s gritted teeth. He follows the trace of Lucifer’s blackened grace. Dean picks up on his thoughts, now projecting loudly in the archangel’s frustration and bloodlust.

Cas, he calls in the darkness. We can’t get him to you, not soon at least. We’ll get him there, but you’ll have to be ready.

I can still help my brothers, Castiel protests.

Then you had better be ready to bamf your sorry ass over at a moment’s notice, because that’s about all you’re going to have.

Fine. I will be ready.

Michael skids to a halt on the roof of the MGM Grand. Lucifer raises an eyebrow.

“Michael. I’m surprised. I thought Dean would never agree to this. How is Sam coping?”

Michael shrugs slightly. “Sam is fine, as I’m sure you’ve realized, given his resistance to your charms. He does, after all, still have his brother to rely on, among others.”

He nudges Dean forward, and soon Dean’s looking out from his own eyes comfortably. He slaps on a cocky grin, just to make sure Lucifer gets the point. “Heya, Lucy.”

Lucifer’s eyes widen slightly, but he collects himself disappointingly quickly.

“Dean,” he says, a bit sorrowfully. “You frustrate me.”

Dean shifts forward, and leans on his flaming sword, point resting on the concrete. “Why? Aren’t you glad to see your older brother again?”

“I always rejoice at the presence of my brother,” Lucifer nods, and indeed, when he looks at Dean, his gaze is not directed at Dean at all, but instead penetrates towards the light that bleeds through his skin. “But my frustration is not with you for taking him in. I’m merely disappointed that you haven’t been shredded in the process.”

“Mike’s accommodating like that,” Dean agrees. “He has this thing where he values people, which I’m sure you know nothing about.”

“He is merely doing his duty for his Father,” Lucifer says dismissively. “Always putting Daddy first, isn’t that right, Michael? Even when you and I could be masters of this place?”

“Well see, that’s the problem, isn’t it?” Dean counters. “He’s not, alright? This isn’t a duty. It isn’t for any of us. We’re doing it because we want to save people.”

“You’re not doing much to convince me, given how often Zachariah has attempted to turn tail this day,” Lucifer points out, raising an eyebrow.

“Zach’s…not with us, precisely,” Michael says, sidling forward. He quirks a tired smile at his brother. “You presume too much, Morningstar.”

Lucifer seems to relax slightly, which Dean doesn’t really get, except maybe there’s comfort to be found in angel-to-angel communication. Even when apparently in to-the-death face-offs. Whatever, angels are weird.

“What, is Heaven divided yet again?” he inquires. “I’ve heard no news of such, except for Gabriel and Castiel’s petty defection.”

“Their defection, and mine,” Michael says lightly, but Dean can feel his wings flexing in massive shadows. “Just a faction of those who believe that now is not the time for war.”

“The signs are right,” Lucifer points out, but unevenness has crept into his voice.

“We’ve manipulated the signs for millennia. Surely even you know that.”

“Doesn’t make them less true.”

“I should really think they would. Brother,” Michael takes a step forward. “You, and so many others, have overstepped their bounds this time. I cannot in good conscience—“

“—What? Let me live? Try then, brother,” and Lucifer raises one deteriorating hand still inflamed with power. “Try to do what you could not commit to when this all began.”

“He can’t,” Dean says, with a smile. “But I will.”

Their swords ring together like thunder.

Chapter Text

Even in his crumbling vessel, Lucifer’s reflexes are lightning fast; Dean pulls all of Michael’s battle training and all of his own bar brawl knowledge into the dance, itching to get close enough to land a punch. But instinctively, he also knows that he can’t even risk a scratch from Lucifer’s rapier—any further route under his skin to get to Michael would be too much of a temptation for him to simply reach in and pull the archangel right out. So he wields with both hands, limbs tucked close, muscles bunched and straining, his attacks short and abortive.

Lucifer has no such hang ups. He is careful with his vessel, but not overly so. It was flaking off like the feathers on a molting bird anyway. His wrist is loose as he handles his blade with all the elegance of a Victorian gentleman. But he remains irredeemably quick.

“You know,” he says, between blows. “I have to hand it to Sam. I knew I liked him for a reason. His lies were almost as believable as mine.”

“I thought you didn’t tell lies,” Dean says, landing a strike that should have shattered the devil’s sword, had it been a mortal instrument. Instead, the two weapons just slide off each other with the shriek of grinding steel.

“I don’t. Neither did Sam, really. It was why he managed to keep me here. Like I said, I more impressed with him than displeased. He won’t die by my hand, I think. At least, not yet.”

“Thanks, then,” Dean replies. He nearly loses his grip on his sword as Lucifer executes a grand gesture, but he manages to hold on.

“No need to thank me. It will cause him far more pain to see you die first.”

“Oh. Well, awesome. At least he has practice with that.”

Lucifer laughs, and it’s genuine with pleasure. It’s a bizarre contrast to the way he’s engaging in battle, but that seems to be his natural state—docile in mind, and savage in body. Dean’s growing accustomed to it, and he doesn’t really have time to think about what precisely that says about him. All he knows is that weirdly, the devil likes him, even though they’re locked in a death match, and it’s a fact both disarming and understandable.

It all comes down to family, after all. Family at war.

***

Sam looks up at the sky between shots. His ammo’s running low, but he’s managed to snag some useful weaponry from the fallen, including a set of brass knuckles inscribed with a level of holy vengeance that he really wishes he could have gotten his hands on sooner. He’s sticky with soot and blood and sulfur, and so are most of the soldiers on the ground. Up above their heads, though, darkness is beginning to overwhelm the flashes of angelic light, the sun dimming behind the growing demonic presence.

Gabriel is close at his side, but Sam can tell that he’s tiring. He can’t think of a sight more disturbing than an archangel faltering, and now Gabriel is covered in blood, and some of it is his. He grins though, when Sam glances at him.

“Haven’t done this in a while,” he says, and Sam knows a part of him is wishing to be anywhere but here. So he just raises an eyebrow, and puts his fist directly through a weakened demon’s solar plexus.

“Just rusty, then?” he inquires.

Gabriel shrugs. “Guess so.” It’s better than admitting the truth.

Come on, Dean,
Sam thinks, because his arms started feeling like lead long before Gabriel’s ever did.
Give us his head on a platter.

***

Jefferson doesn’t even flinch when Raphael appears at his side. Just empties rock salt rounds into the next bad motherfucker that takes a swing at him and says, “If you’re not gonna help, you’d better fuck off because I ain’t got time for you right now.”

Raphael regards him, expression wavering between aversion and thin amusement. He doesn’t even look away as he presses a palm flat to a demon’s head and illuminates the darkening day with a flash of burning sulfur.

“I have little choice, do I not?” he says, after a beat.

“Yup, can’t leave I hear, sorry about that.”

“It’s not that.” Jefferson feels the sudden parting of air, and then a choking sound as a demon that apparently had been breathing down his neck suddenly ceases to breathe at all under the archangel’s ministrations. He whirls around, and catches raised eyebrows.

“When the cause is righteous, do you think I have a choice to do anything but support it?” Raphael inquires.

Jefferson snorts.

“Well all right, then. Carry on.” He pumps his shotgun.

***

The demons are beginning to figure out the game. Kalaziel can feel it; more are breaking off from the circuit of the sigil. She would call to more of her brethren to strengthen the passage, but she knows they cannot spare anymore. She looks at Anna, whose eyes are set with determination.

“How many can we afford to lose?” she asks, the words almost getting lost in the slipstream.

“After the demons? Not many,” Anna answers. “Go faster. If we lose them, we’ll need to trace it faster, more.”

Kalaziel nods. But then she feels it. Her wings strain suddenly.

Meg grins savagely, her grip on the angel’s ankle vice-like. “I tire of this wild goose chase,” she snarls. “Let’s play, you and I.”

Kalaziel can spare only one last desperate look at Anna before Meg tears her down to the ground.

***

When Dean finally sees an opening he throws himself into it bodily, because he knows that already it’s taken too much time—the smothered sun is high in the sky now, and Michael cries out every time another angel dies, and it’s happened too many times now, and Dean is perversely thankful that he can’t feel it every time a hunter falls because his heart would have failed him long ago if he could. So he throws himself into the gap in Lucifer’s defenses, opening an almost surgical incision in the fallen angel’s sword hand and flinging the rapier out of his grasp.

Lucifer recoils, but only for a moment. Then he’s lunging for the roof’s edge.

Fuckin’ A, I hate heights,” Dean mutters, but he’s already in motion, feeling the marks of the trumpeter on his back shifting with Michael’s intent, propelling them forward.

As Lucifer swan dives off the MGM Grand, Dean launches himself after him, feeling Michael’s wings propelling him impossibly past the velocity of gravity to wrap bodily around Lucifer’s departing form.

“No, you don’t!” Dean hisses, and then silently, Now, Castiel, now! We’re on our way!

Then, locked in their falling embrace, the most righteous and most fallen angels are bending space and time together, and the city shudders in response.

***

Out of the corner of his eye, Sam sees it—the plummeting figures of his brother and Lucifer, the shadows of their wings pressed close like those of diving ospreys reflecting in the glass, and then suddenly tumbling away into nothingness. He grabs Gabriel’s shoulder.

“They’re going! Come on!” he shouts. He empties the Colt into the demons in front of him as Gabriel whips around and slaps a hand to his forehead. Then they’re hurtling towards the Luxor.

***

Lucifer is too close, and their flight is too frantic. Dean tries to pin down his wings, but it’s like trying to bind an electrical current with copper. So he just grips with all the force he can muster around Nick’s body and propels them across the strip.

“Where could you possibly take me where this will matter?” Lucifer asks over his shoulder as dimensions are reduced to molecules and shoved aside, face craning close to Dean’s enough for his breath to heat his skin. “You can leave this city no more than I can.”

Dean grits his teeth and doesn’t answer. Just aims and presses forward and prays for Cas like he never has in his life.

***

Sam staggers as he lands; Gabriel is already taking the hit from Alistair that was meant for the flinching form of one of the younger hunters. Tom is his name, Sam thinks disjointedly. He lurches towards him, staving off a hellhound with an abandoned sawed-off as he goes.

“Start it up!” he yells. “Do it now!”

The guy’s leg is in shreds—Sam can see its crooked wrongness from yards away. But he goes anyway, broken hand holding the handheld radio to his mouth and yelling into it as he presses his still whole palm into the hieroglyphics laid out in blood on the wall of the Luxor pyramid.

With a screech like screaming hoard of scarab beetles, light shoots up the slanting wall.

***

Cas has his fist upraised, Jimmy’s nose bleeding freely when the call comes. Without pause or a sound he withdraws, leaving a demon cringing from nothing, stilled long enough for Barachiel to slit it open fore and aft. But by then, Castiel is long gone.

He comes to a stop in the Luxor basement just as it begins to fall into tremors, the glasses and furniture in the upper floors shattering and fragmenting in tiny bursts of fractured light and sound. He hears it like echoes of the larger heaves of the earth beneath him that shifts and moves to accommodate one of the most powerful spells mankind has ever conceived.

As he opens yet another vein for the cause he believes in, Castiel feels a vague sort of pride that he had been there to guide those priests so many thousands of years ago.

Pride in his work. Yet another thing Dean has taught him. He begins painting the final sigils on the network of pipes above his head, following that essential junction that the architects of this den of decadence and vice could never have known was the perfect proportion of the crucifix. Another sign that Father is not gone from us, Castiel thinks.

He drags his fingers across the gash on his arm, and writes.

***

Sam sprints, his lungs heaving and burning, watching the ever dwindling guard of hunters on each side of the Luxor press their hands to the walls, seeing the light following them, spreading up to the peak of the pyramid like plague and fire.

At the fourth wall, he sees the one hunter left falter, hellhounds dragging him away from the wall, and without a thought he dives for the hieroglyphs, drawing his pocketknife from his ripped jeans and slashing across his palm.

He slams his hand into the gore-painted eye of Isis. Light follows, hurtling up to join with its brothers at the apex. And as they join, the whole pyramid quakes.

Sam pulls back, nursing his sliced hand. He thinks briefly that he should turn and guard his back, but he doesn’t need to. All eyes are on the Luxor as its walls go from white flame to nothing. The antithesis of light.

There’s a tremble in the ground. Sam thinks nonsensically that surely the Egyptians would have warned people about this, if they’d actually tested out this stupid thing before mapping it out on long forgotten papyrus. Then he thinks aloud.

“Oh shit.

The Luxor pyramid shakes, and sinks into the ground like a tectonic plate decided to break directly beneath its foundations. Sam’s still watching the earth crack in shock when Gabriel hits him like a linebacker, sweeping him out of ground zero.

“Dean—“ Sam says automatically, abortively flailing.

“He’s in there,” Gabriel answers, flinging them both towards the Bellagio once more. “So’s Lucifer. It’s his show now, buddy, but it’s time for us to fuckin’ go.”

“We should help him—“

“You think there’s any getting in there at this point? Believe me, Pepy II knew what he was doing. When he made a lock-down spell, he meant it.”

Gabriel catches him as they stop in the lobby of the Bellagio. Sam sags against him, pressing his nose into the archangel’s shoulder. Gabriel looks out at the demons beyond the doors who’ve now turned hungrily to their sudden appearance. He grimaces, but keeps his voice light.

“Their show now,” he murmurs, lips against Sam’s neck. “Have faith in your brother. He knows what he’s doing.”

“Dean never knows what he’s doing,” Sam laughs weakly. “He just knows what’s right.”

***

The landing is rough, a tumble that would have broken their wings had they been corporeal in any way at all. Lucifer shakes off their grip in the struggle, and takes in his surrounds far quicker than Dean would like.

“Castiel. Brother. What an unexpected pleasure.”

Castiel barely looks up, just rests his hand with finality on the juncture of two pipes, his blood dripping slowly into the sleeve of his suit jacket. His trench coat had gotten lost along the way, apparently, which Dean takes in with surprising trepidation. Of course he knew that Castiel was hardly the most powerful angel at this point, but to see him without that final layer of armor—

Lucifer saunters over to the wall of the Luxor, and presses gently. He sucks in a breath as he withdraws his hand.

“I like it,” he says, eventually. “You’re using your battleground well, Michael. Such a large step up from the usual straightforward smiting. Almost devious, really. I commend you.”

“I’m surprised you didn’t take the Luxor into account,” Dean says, cocking his head as he stumbles to his feet. Holding and directing Lucifer to where he wanted him had been more of a chore than he’d counted on. His joints feel watery, and Michael isn’t much help. They’re both exhausted now, and Dean can only hope that Lucifer is too.

But Lucifer’s the spry younger brother. And Dean can’t forget that either. He has a sickening flash of Sam leaving him on the floor of a shitty motel room, and suppresses it as soon as he can.

“Yes, I really should have thought of it,” Lucifer agrees. “But what need did I have of it, really? I wasn’t going to bind anything around here. I mean really, my hopes were really stemming from unleashing a great many things. And trapping you, brother? Hardly the end I would have liked for you.”

Dean can feel Michael make the equivalent of a deep, shaky exhale inside him, and lets him come forward. “You’ve always been considerate, Morningstar. No need to remind me of it, really.”

“Even as you lock me inside a mockery of the prisms of Old?” Lucifer counters. “Spare me. I forgive you; I truly do, but you must admit that your plans are always a bit more…base, than mine.”

Michael shakes his head. “You always misunderstand me, Morningstar. What you call base, I call honest.”

“To-may-to, to-mah-to,” Lucifer shrugs. His gaze as he turns is laser-sharp, however, as he assesses his surrounds, regarding the arcing patterns of goat blood.

“What is this, brother?” he inquires. “What has your overactive imagination birthed?”

“Even some of the oldest of us cannot tell,” Michael answers.

“But you know,” Lucifer spits. “Father granted this knowledge to you, but not to his other children, is that it?”

Michael regards him levelly. “Yes.”

“Unbelievable. Father’s favoritism was always unbearable.”

“Are you forgetting that you were once Father’s favored son?”

“Once. Before He found smaller, more petty toys to play with.” Lucifer looks upon Dean’s body with distaste. “Corporeal and incomplete, like broken dolls, the lot of them. And yet loved, cherished. How can you stand it, Michael? How can you stand sharing space with a lowly creature like that?”

“Do not speak of Dean that way,” Castiel cuts in, before Michael can answer.

Lucifer shifts his attention, the small movement of his head serpentine and slow.

“Oh? You would request that, little brother?” he asks lowly.

Castiel looks down, stays silent. Lucifer looks between him and Michael.

“Look at you both. Brought low by these creatures of clay. I would place you among the stars as this world burns. You don’t know how much you hurt me with your choices.”

Michael bows his head, closing his eyes for a brief moment. His recession into Dean is almost unnoticeable.

And Dean moves.

But Lucifer is too quick.

***

Sam ends up shoulder to shoulder with Gabriel and Raphael, and goddamn that is some weird shit. As he steps back to reload in the shadow of their wings, he shouts, “Where the hell is Zachariah anyway?”

“Doing his duty as a soldier, I hope,” Raphael growls. His knife makes elaborate work of the oncoming demons, but the sky is still growing darker.

They’re still in the lobby of the Bellagio, but they’ve been overrun. Sam throws some altogether-too-heavy couches together as a front line, and now he and the two archangels crouch low to gain just a moment to breathe. Or whatever the breathing equivalent is for angels, Sam thinks.

He has no idea how many of them are left. It’s a weird sort of comfort that at least the din of battle is still close outside, and doesn’t ring with the despair of slaughter just yet. He can only hope there will remain enough, and that when the time comes they’ll have enough energy to power the madness.

He’s not really sure whether he’ll live to find out, though. Neither of his companions have the mojo left to bamf very far, and even if they did, there weren’t many places to go within the confines of Las Vegas where they would get any sort of cover. One very annoying flaw in Michael’s plan.

He looks at Gabriel, who shrugs tiredly. Then he looks back at Raphael. “You’re a bit cooler than we probably gave you credit for,” he says, shoving cartridges into place. He notices belatedly that his pinky and ring finger are broken. He waves them at Gabriel, who sighs and rights them with a small grunt of effort. Sam winces violently but continues, “So if we all die, then I’m sorry Dean called you a douchebag.”

“I suppose I’ll have to accept your apology in his stead,” Raphael replies snidely, but even as his wings judder with his effort to pull himself back into the fray, his eyes sparkle slightly.

Hell,
Sam thinks.
If we’re going out, we might as well go out in a good mood.

***

Dean has about a millisecond to freeze, but he seizes it so hard he can feel his entire abdomen almost lock into a charley horse. Even so, his sword is a bit overzealous, and the flames shoot forward. “Cas!” he shouts, involuntarily.

Castiel doesn’t move, just winces slightly as the fire scorches the side of his face before withdrawing. But any larger reaction would have ended with his head rolling on the floor.

Lucifer’s grip on him is crushing, unyielding, and Castiel can already feel a trickle of blood running from the pressure wound at his throat where a thin blade holds tight to his skin.

“Yes, Dean,” Lucifer says, altogether too calm, his clasp on Castiel sharp and growing sharper. “Slay the one that raised you from my prison.”

“Do it,” Castiel hisses. He clamps his hand over Lucifer’s, marking it with his own blood. And then, Do it now, do not think of me.

Michael shudders inside him. I can't do this for you, Dean. I cannot kill my brethren.

Lucifer just watches him, in tune with the hum of his brother even now. “Yes, no foisting these dirty deeds on Michael. There are only two murderers in this room, and they are you and I.”

And he looks directly at Michael, surpassing the bounds of Dean’s body completely. “You couldn’t do a single thing with that avenging sword of yours, I know it,” he says, his earnestness too sincere to be disbelieved. “You’re my brother. I love you too well for that. That is why Heaven is going to lose this war.”

Tell me you can gank this son of a bitch,
Dean growls.

Can you kill Castiel?
Michael counters fiercely.

No,
Dean answers, even though it shatters him,
But I’m the one who kills the ones he loves.

Dean can’t think. The marks on his back are burning with Michael’s despair and he can’t move, he just can’t. Cas is watching him, murmuring in his head I’m not worth it, just do this, Dean, this is what we fought for but he just can’t.

We can sound the last trumpet,
Michael says desperately inside him.
We can do that, when we’ve already lost so much—

We’ve lost. The rest of the world hasn’t yet,
Dean snaps, silencing the archangel.

Lucifer cocks his head, and the blood flows more freely from Castiel’s throat. “Your move, Dean,” he says softly.

“Cas,” Dean whispers, his voice a wreck. “How’s Jimmy?”

Castiel looks at him without fear. “Jimmy left this world as I was returned to it.”

Dean nods. Notices that even now, Cas has done right by him and this suicidal plan, the blood marking Lucifer putting the last link to the sigils in place.

“Dean,” Castiel says, even as Lucifer pulls his blade closer along his throat. “I trust you.”

You can’t kill your brother, but I can,
he says to Michael.
So be the defender. And I’ll be the sword.

“Castiel, you’ve learned to say the sweetest things,” Lucifer croons, watching Dean struggle with Michael. “Isn’t that right, Dean? I had no idea you two were so close.”

Dean ignores him. He can feel Michael’s dread shaking in his ribcage. No, Dean, you’ll—

Shut. Up. My call. Just…save him, okay?

He doesn’t give Michael a chance to respond. Just unlocks his body even as all of his overworked muscles scream protest, and lunges.

Castiel just watches him as he bears down. Dean can barely stand to look at him.

I’m sorry, Cas.

A thought like a freight train hits him, with the angel’s trademark growl.

Dean, don’t you fucking apologize.

More than light, more than anything, he feels the departure of Michael like his lungs being ripped from his chest. Michael unfurls from his back like wheels and wings and supernovae. And then it’s just Dean, just Dean with sword aflame and the terrible conviction of choice.

The last things he sees are impossible lights, and the grip of Michael’s incomprehensible hand reaching into Jimmy Novak and pulling, pulling back and away as flame and iron in Dean’s hands drive straight through Cas and into Lucifer’s crippled vessel.

After that there is white, endless white, and the feel of the hilt of his sword thudding slickly against Cas’s ribcage.

And Dean can only think, Please God let him live.

***

Gabriel feels it like a thunderclap. “Christ, it’s happening,” he murmurs, blaspheming without a thought.

“He did it?” Sam asks, coughing. Raphael’s gone, he doesn’t know where. They’ve made it to the fourth floor landing, and won’t make it farther, if the blood in his lungs has anything to say about it. Gabriel holds him tighter, sitting with his back against the fire door, wings pulled tight around them both.

“Yeah. You’re bro’s done good.”

Sam smiles weakly. “You gotta power up now?”

“Not if it means leaving you.”

“You fucker. Do it or I’m withholding sex for the next millennium.”

Gabriel laughs weakly. “Got it.”

He feels his grace swell like it hasn’t in centuries, and feels it ring with the echoes of his brethren.

***

Castiel struggles blindly in Michael’s grip, wings outstretched.

You have to let me go back, I have to shield him from what is to come—

You go back into that impaled body and you die!
Michael shouts.

Then remove it! Do something! You left him there to die!

He did this for you!

Castiel gives an almighty wrench, pulling the last of his waning grace out of Michael’s grasp. Help me, now, he beseeches.

Michael wavers.

***

Lucifer is screaming.

That much Dean can tell.

That, and the world is shaking to pieces around him.

He suspects his eyes are shut, but he really can’t tell.

He feels a pull, a disembodied clutch, and then suddenly he’s falling further, the sword sinking farther and Lucifer is shrieking, calling desperately to his brothers.

And then low in his battered ears, a gravelly voice so blessedly familiar Dean is pretty sure he cries.

“Let go, Dean. Let go.”

Dean peels his hands off the hilt, like his hands don’t actually know how anymore. He closes them over fabric. Whole, gloriously present trench coat fabric.

“Keep your eyes closed, Dean. I’ve got you.”

“Cas? Castiel?” he manages. “Is it--?”

“It’s started. Hold on.”

***

From the sky down to the ground, from everywhere an angel still lives, light explodes, connects, burns. Makes crackling passage to the apex of the sunken Luxor pyramid.

Sam holds tightly to Gabriel even as the archangel heaves, his grace spilling forward like lightning.

“Gabriel?” Sam puts a hand to his cheek, lifts his face. The light recedes, and Gabriel’s eyes slowly swim into focus.

“Stay close,” he says hoarsely.

***

All the light dies at once. And then explodes.

The force of three thousand angels and the most powerful spell known to the eldest of them all, condensed into a column firing from the top of the pyramid up into the Heavens. And in its wake, the shock waves.

God in heaven, the shock waves.

They are made of hurricanes and holocaust, and Castiel doesn’t have time to think, he just throws himself around Dean just as Gabriel does for Sam, and miles apart the brothers Winchester crouch within the protective walls of angelic embrace. And Dean shouldn’t open his eyes, he knows he shouldn’t…but he needs to see. Even if it’s the last thing.

He cracks his eyes open against the glare and thinks…fire and ice.

Cas’s wings are like the ice of an ancient glacier, blue in ways incomprehensible, crackling against the onslaught of Lucifer’s shrieking demise, folding and bending in around angel and man both like the trunks of palms in a hurricane. Dean bows his head and Castiel brings him close, cradling his head like he is a child looking for solace, and at any other time he would be pushing away, reasserting his masculinity, but this is just too big, too terrifying, and his relief that Cas is still alive is too palpable.

The angel is curving himself into Dean like a mother to her child, like the goddamn Pieta and it’s all Dean can do not to sob. He buries his head in Castiel’s chest and holds firm. He feels the angel’s lips against the top of his head and fingers curling in his hair. “It’s almost over now,” Castiel murmurs into his hair. “It’s almost done. Keep your eyes closed, Dean.”

“Cas…”

“Hush. It’s our turn to take care of things. You’ve done enough.”

The feathers of his wings, burning cold blue like the flames from a Bunsen burner and searing at the edges where the blast hits them, brush against Dean’s cheeks, along his shoulders, against his bent knees. They feel at once like silk and iron, holding him steady, creating an eye in the storm.

Dean closes his eyes and leans into it.

Chapter Text

The shockwaves die out after what seems an age of echoing blasts of heat and light. When they finally recede, Sam almost can’t bring himself to move. Gabriel is the one to shift, sliding a palm along his back.

“It’s done,” he says, and it takes Sam a moment to identify the emotions in his voice. Relief, awe, and fathomless grief.

“I’m sorry,” he says. Blood trickles out the side of his mouth.

Gabriel looks down at him, and when he wipes it away Sam can feel his lungs clear, but the pain doesn’t fade. Sam doubts any angel in a hundred mile radius has any more than the vestiges healing strength left to them. Gabriel himself looks utterly drained, his eyes dull and face gray. They stagger together as they rise.

“We have to get to Dean,” Sam says automatically.

“Yeah well, that may take some time,” Gabriel grumbles. “Either way, we’re taking the elevator.”

Sam laughs, his breath hitching high.

By the time they make it down to the strip, others have managed to pick themselves up. The sky has begun to clear, but the sun only manages to illuminate the fact that there are bodies everywhere, along with blood, bile, and sulfur in ashy pools. Several buildings are on fire as well, though most were fitted with sprinklers, so mainly they’re blackened and damp. Las Vegas is…well, it doesn’t really exist any longer. No map could possibly identify it as such. It is a self-contained circuit board of destruction, and it makes Sam want to retch.

He would too, except he knows just how pleasant doing that is with recently-ceased internal bleeding.

The demons who managed to escape the blast immediately sense the absence of their general, and erupt from their hosts as soon as they’re able, black smoke disappearing into the sky that Sam’s sure they’ll have to deal with sooner or later. Angels within hosts are brushing themselves off gingerly, suddenly having to cope with having no power left to heal immediately. Many are sitting down on blackened sidewalks next to the few hunters left who aren’t in complete shellshock. They look down on imprint upon imprint of broken wings.

Jefferson is standing next to Raphael, who is looking impatient. “Will you simply get it over with?” he asks through gritted teeth.

“Son, your mojo’s all used up so you’re gonna feel this like a human does. You’ve gotta loosen up or its just gonna hurt more.”

Raphael grumbles, but seems to comply. Jefferson braces himself.

“Right, I’m gonna count to three. One—“

Jefferson shoves the archangel’s shoulder back into its socket. Raphael curses a blue streak. “You are a liar. You did not count to three.”

“That’s the point. You can’t tense up for it, so I gotta catch you off guard.”

Raphael doesn’t appear to believe him, but then tilts his head. “It doesn’t hurt nearly as much anymore,” he notes. “Fascinating.”

Jefferson claps him on the back tiredly. “Welcome to the wonders of dislocations.”

Anna is curled in a blackened doorway. For a second Sam thinks she’s dead, but as he limps over she opens her eyes. She smiles weakly.

“Hey Sam,” she says, unmoving.

“You all right, there?” Sam asks, crouching gingerly, feeling joints pop.

“I’ve just flown approximately seven billion miles over the course of a day,” she replies. “I need a nap.”

Sam grasps her hand briefly, and leaves her to sleep. Rejoining Gabriel, they stumble towards the crater where the Luxor once stood.

***

Dean’s pretty sure he’s seeing sunspots. Which means that somehow, he’s not blind. Wahey.

His angel is still wrapped around him like an octopus, and no, he’s not thinking about that particular possessive pronoun. He’s also not making any effort to pull himself away. He just blinks, and waits (prays) for his vision to clear as he looks over Castiel’s shoulder.

When it does, his throat closes.

He can still see Cas’s wings. No longer sparking and glowing with the intense heat of the blast, they seem solid but altogether un-birdlike. Hell, they don’t even look organic. Halfway between biological and technological, the feathers are gunmetal gray, and they’re like leaves of platinum more than anything softer. They look almost mechanical, fanning out from structures as intricate as clockwork, folding and straining and winding as Cas breathes. Small electrical sparks run over the smooth surfaces, rolling blue and yellow and white. Dean finds himself tightening his hold on the angel’s lapels as he takes them in. Then he looks beyond the wings, and exhales suddenly.

Michael is still there. Or rather, a vague impression of him is there, drowned in light. He is nothing like Cas—they could well have been different species, though Dean’s certain that has a lot to do with Cas being in his vessel, and Michael being…well, himself. There are faint outlines of his hands, the profile of a Roman nose and brow ridges. Everything else is aflame, overwhelmed with white luminescence and the blue of electrical currents and sharp shards of metallic feathers curved from vast wings.

But that isn’t what gives Dean pause.

Even looking like a vaguely human-sized version of the sun, Dean can tell that the archangel is kneeling in the central binding seal, which now is smoking faintly. One crystalline hand rests flat and heavily on the ground. His head is bowed.

At his feet, are the only traces left of Lucifer.

Dean tears his gaze a way for a moment to lift a hand to Cas’s cheek. Castiel blinks and looks up at him.

“Dean,” he says quietly, “Please desist in sacrificing your life for mine. I do not like it.”

Dean tries to laugh, but it sounds a bit like a hacking cough. “No guarantees, buddy.”

They stand unsteadily, and Dean walks over to Michael. He looks down.

The dark burn of massive wings stretch their span across the seal, and something about the sooty silhouette immediately tells Dean that they had been once been of the most beautiful things in existence. But the body of Nick is entirely gone—vaporized, reduced to ash, atomized; it’s impossible to say. Michael’s sword is embedded deep in the concrete where he landed, but that is all. And instead of an outline, or even an impression of any sort of shape, is a single, blackened sigil at the center of the blood-soaked seal.

“What does it mean?” he asks, after a long moment.

The flame-like apparitions that seem to be Michael’s wings shudder. When the archangel speaks, it’s the sonorous roar of waves crashing, but all Dean can hear is anguish.

“It means that he did not die as Lucifer. He…Father let him die as he had begun. This,” his hand hovers, trembling, over the sigil, “is the sign of Sammael. His name is redeemed in death.”

Dean says slowly, “You mean…”

“Our Father was here,” Castiel says from behind him. When Dean turns, tears are running down his face.

Dean works his jaw, and looks down at the ground. “He isn’t going to be showing himself anytime soon, though.”

“He doesn’t need to,” Michael says. And then, whispered, “Sammael…”

And Dean realizes after about a minute of silent, directionless rage that he just…doesn’t give a shit. He can’t. For all he knows, when archangels die they leave their original names behind, even when they’ve turned into evil sons of bitches, and that’s just the way things are. All that matters right now is that it’s done. It’s done, and he needs to get the hell out of this damned pyramid.

When he walks back towards Cas, though, and looks up at his shifting and whirring wingspan, he smiles crookedly.

“So…I can see you,” he says.

Castiel cocks his head in a moment of confusion, and then looks awed.

“That would be because I…left a bit of myself behind,” Michael says absently, and Dean feels him like a brush of fire against his back. “I had to, given that you bear the mark of the trumpeter. Those sigils hold ties to my grace, and will for as long as the mark remains.”

Dean looks back into the glare of him. “How long will that be?”

Out of the light, even the shakiest of Michael’s smiles registers like a solar flare. “You can return it to me when you come home.”

It takes Dean a second to get it. And then suddenly his knees feel like water. Castiel cocks an eyebrow at him.

“Did you think you would be going anywhere else, if you saw this through, Dean?” he inquires.

Dean scrubs at his face, and says roughly, “Didn’t actually think that far.” He looks at Michael. “And Sam?”

“Something tells me you’ll dragging him bodily up yourself even if I said no,” the archangel says wryly. Dryness is tinged green, apparently—Dean sees a flicker of it crackle along the approximation of Michael’s throat to spark away from his arm.

Michael says, “I must go, now that I no longer have a vessel. I would not wish to blind anyone unnecessarily.”

“You can ride with me, if you want,” Dean offers. But Michael shakes his head.

“I have been away from the Host for a century, and clearly things were not run well in my absence. I must attend to the wounded among our brethren.” He looks around, lingering on the sword and the sigil beneath it. Then he murmurs, “This place is a tomb now. Let us go. I’ll take you both as far as I can.”

He turns to Dean just as he raises fiery wings. “It has been an honor, Dean,” he murmurs. “All your life, it has been an honor. I will see you again.”

Then he looks at Castiel, and they seem to have a silent discussion. Then Castiel bows his head.

And then they’re standing at the edge of the chasm in which the Luxor nestles, its apex now parallel with the buckled pavement.

Michael is gone.

Dean lets out a breath he doesn’t realize he was holding, and swallows.

“Dean? Dean!”

He turns, and he’s pretty sure relief is about to make a sap out of him. “Hey Sammy.”

He’s enveloped in a bear hug before his knees can give out, which he’s pretty happy about. Sam is sniffling into his shoulder, but then he says wetly, “Don’t hug me too hard, I’m pretty sure there was a shattered rib in my lung about an hour ago.”

“You’re hugging me hard enough for the both of us,” Dean chuckles, but fuck it, he’s willing to roll with the chick flick moments at this point. Sam’s right here, he’s whole and alive and Dean can’t quite believe it, so he holds on tightly but carefully and takes a second to listen to his baby brother breathe.

When Sam finally pulls away, Dean looks curiously past him at Gabriel. Once again, he’s different from Castiel—his eyes have a thin ring of fire around the irises, and while Dean can see through the incandescence of his wings to the metallic surfaces beneath, the currents look and feel different. Gabriel quirks an eyebrow at him.

“Whatcha lookin’ at, big shot?”

“Your wings,” Dean says matter-of-factly. Sam stares at him.

“Dude.”

Dean smirks at him. “Apparently I get a you-survived-the-Apocalypse parting gift from Michael.”

Sam makes a bitchface. “Dude, the world didn’t actually end. So technically, not an Apocalypse.”

“Yeah but…it was still apocalyptic.”

“Sure thing, but not actually an Apocalypse.”

“Right. Whatever. I get to see angels and shit.”

“Speaking of, where’s Michael?” Sam asks.

“Gone,” Gabriel fills in. He looks at Dean. “It’s his style, really. He always did cut and run in the aftermath. And I imagine he didn’t really want to stay where he was.”

Castiel takes a step forward at that. “Gabriel, there is something I must tell you.”

He draws the archangel aside, and Sam and Dean watch them speak quietly.

“What’s he saying?” Sam asks.

Dean explains as best and as briefly as he can. Sam bites his lip, shaking his head. “Do you think he asked for forgiveness, in the end?” he says lowly.

“I think if he had, he would have been Sammael again, and lived,” Dean replies. “But instead, he’s just a name. The right name, but still…nothing.”

They turn away as Castiel grasps Gabriel’s shoulder as the archangel closes his eyes tightly and a tremor of grief goes through his wings.

Sam says, “So that’s it? God’s just never gonna show?”

Dean gets another flare of bitterness, and he knows Sam’s feeling it too, probably ten-fold. “You said it yourself, Sammy,” he says, looking up at the sky, which still flashes with lightening every few minutes. “This wasn’t the real Apocalypse. Things probably went to plan, if you’re gonna believe in this predestination bullshit. Which I still don’t, by the way,” he adds. Then he sighs. “Hell, we always knew he was a hands-off sort of son of a bitch. But Mike seemed satisfied, at least. And considering he’s actually met the bastard, I guess that’s gotta be good enough for us.”

Sam works his jaw for a second, and then says fervently, “That is such bullshit.”

“Tell me about it, dude. But what are you gonna do?”

“I’m gonna have a hell of a time trying to pray, is what,” Sam mutters.

Dean snorts. “At least now you can be sure that he probably doesn’t give a shit if you cuss him out.”

Sam looks at him, studying. “You’re kinda different,” he says, after a moment. “Does it feel weird, having Michael out of you?”

Dean shrugs. “Dunno. I mean, for all intents and purposes, he wasn’t really there most of my life—or rather, he was, but he was tucked away so good it didn’t really count. So I guess…no?”

Dean is surprised that he doesn’t feel more bereft. Michael had been occupying his body his entire life, a constant of which he hadn’t even been conscious. But the faint warmth on his back from the writing following his ribs and shoulders makes him weirdly close, in a way. Maybe that’s why he’s been feeling so zen. Having an angel literally at your back can be comforting, if not also vaguely creepy.

He punches Sam (very lightly) on the arm. “Dude, we gotta find the Impala. If something bad’s happened to my baby, heads are gonna roll.”

***

The living leave the city fast on whatever wheels or wings will carry them. Most of them don’t really talk to the Winchesters—there’s not much to say, really. What’s the protocol for celebrating hamstringing an Apocalypse when the battlefield just seems to stretch for miles and miles? There aren’t that many actual people left to talk to anyway—the angels are mostly shaken but anxious to get off the ground and away from earth, particularly the ones who’d been pulled into Zachariah’s schemes. Those who can put the dead on pyres, but there are just so many. Too many vessels and hijacked bodies. Eventually the young hunter, Tom, pulls Sam aside.

“Listen,” he says, leaning heavily on a crutch that Dean had managed to rustle up from the abandoned ER, “This is a mess, and with the angels either incapacitated or gone and only eight of us really able to do anything…I don’t think any of us can take it much longer. But, I know a guy in the Defense Department.”

“The Defense Department?” Sam echoes.

“Yeah. Saved him and his wife from a vampire a couple years ago, so he knows that shit goes down. He can call this a terrorist attack or something. Get the government to clear this out.”

“I don’t think there’s any possible rational way we can explain the Luxor,” Sam says warily. “Or, you know, the giant sigil made out of the major roads.”

Tom shakes his head, eyes weary and too old for his gangly frame. “D’you think they can explain the plagues in Africa, or the rivers of blood in Taiwan? Strange shit has been going on for months now, and they’ve been spinning it fine. And listen—we don’t know who most of these people are. They’re just stolen husks of strangers. We get the government to do it, and they’ll do identifications, send out alerts. Because these people,” he waves at the broken corpses across the strip. “Their families should know. Not the truth, but at least that they’re gone.”

“Yeah. Yeah, you’re right,” Sam says, after a pause. “Make the call, then. I’ll tell people to start heading off before authorities start heading in.”

After that, things move faster, though more silently too. Without a social motivator like working to clean up, everyone’s instinct is to scatter, and Dean doesn’t begrudge them that. He raids the refrigerator and cupboards in the Bellagio penthouse one last time (pointedly not thinking about who had supplied them with said full refrigerator) and packs all the non-perishables into the Impala. The Impala herself, parked in the lower level of a garage beneath the Bellagio, had emerged unscathed except for a busted tail light from where the building had shaken enough to dislodge one of the hanging pipes from the ceiling. Dean had fretted, but not too much.

In the late evening, Tom announces to everyone still around that crews from the FBI would be arriving in five hours, and that they’d better be far away at that point if they didn’t want to answer some seriously awkward questions. Dean claps him on the back as he steps down.

“You gonna be all right, kid?” he asks.

Tom shrugs. “There’s a hospital in Mesquite that’ll take care of my leg and hand. Other than that, who will be?”

So they drive out of Las Vegas a week and a half after arriving, and only seventeen hours after the dawn had broken with the sound of a trumpet. When they pass that ubiquitous sign that proclaims, “Come Back Soon!” Sam starts to laugh. It becomes infectious and then hysterical, and Dean has to pull over to the side of the road before he has a full-on girly mascara-running breakdown at the wheel.

Sam and Castiel end up switching places in the car after that so that Sam can lie with his head in Gabriel’s lap in the back. Dean gives him shit about it. Gabriel gives him the finger in the rear view mirror.

Dean catches him several hours later combing fingers lightly through Sam’s hair. He doesn’t say anything.

Sam watches the news and tracks reports on the flooding of hospitals in California and Nevada, but nothing much comes up. The last tally they’d taken, only about twenty hunters were alive by the end, not that they’d started out with so many to begin with. Gabriel starts to fill in the angelic casualties, but Dean stops him. He already knows.

Las Vegas isn’t mentioned online or on the television, except in a passing report about an apparent spontaneous tornado that touched down. Dean scoffs, and blames the Smoking Man for silencing Mulder and Scully. Sam makes a mental note to call Tom and check up on him, and thank him for making what had to be the most awkward phone call in the history of telecommunications.

They drive until they can’t anymore, until the air smells different the weather feels crisp and cool and deserts give way to farmland. In two days they’re pulling into Bobby’s yard.

Bobby’s outside by the time they open the doors to the Impala, and there are tears in his eyes.

“Y’all did it right, then?” he says, his hands shaking.

Sam nods, and swallows. “Yeah. We did it right this time.”

Chapter Text

What follows is mostly impossibly quiet. It’s so empty Dean has trouble believing it’s over at all—ever since Lucifer’s entombment in the Luxor everything has just seemed like one endless anticlimax, and he doesn’t know what to do with it.

The first night they just drink. Break out the bottle of Don Julio that Bobby’s been hiding in his bedroom for ages and split it amongst the five of them, this bizarre core alliance that somehow managed to become the epicenter of global holocaust and emerge mostly unscathed.

“So what the hell did you boys actually do?” Bobby says finally.

We didn’t do much,” Dean says drily. “The angels powered everything.”

“We basically remade the sixty-six Seals,” Gabriel replies. “All at once, distributed over the world and dictated by terms established on the walls of the Luxor. An act of the Host that large hasn’t taken place since the war in Heaven. It’s all centered on the Luxor now, held together by Lucifer’s death on the final binding sigil.”

“Is that gonna be a problem later?” Bobby asks. “Having everything concentrated in one place?”

Gabriel shrugs. “Sure, next time someone wants to start an Apocalypse. But they’ll have to decrypt all of Michael’s writing, and track it down at the Luxor, which I understand is now buried under tons of cement, because it won’t be written anywhere else. And then they’ll have to start the process of seal-breaking all over again, and no one will have the wherewithall to do that for a long while. See, Hell has been ruled by one family since its conception, and now it’s faced with starting a new dynasty. And even the most powerful of fallen angels can’t hold a candle to how Sammael had been.”

“On the other hand, we just sealed up Hell,” Sam says. “Which means that while no demons can come up, all of the ones who are up already can’t go back down. Exorcizing is out. People will have no choice—either kill them, or get killed yourself. We’ve just made hunting an even more dangerous business.”

“Our work is never done,” Dean sighs. Castiel looks at him.

“Would you have it any other way, Dean?” he asks him.

Dean opens his mouth, then shuts it. Tries again. “I guess instead of giving ‘em hell, now we’ll just have to find something else.”

Bobby pours shots, and hands them around the table. “To Michael, then,” he says, leaning an elbow on the table to angle his shot glass at the rest of them around the table. “A real good general.”

“Who left me and the rest of the earth in one piece,” Dean adds. There are a thousand other small things they could say, but just like Gabriel said, they know Michael doesn’t want it. Dean has a feeling that Michael doesn’t want to think about much at all except maybe burying himself in the upheaval of upper management.

The archangel had left his sword, the warrior part of himself, buried in the cement of the Luxor.

Dean knows he’d probably do the same if his brother were gone for good.

They all down their shots, the three humans wincing slightly with the burn of the tequila, Gabriel and Castiel barely reacting. Sam eyes them.

“We’re gonna have to break out all the cheap stuff just to keep you guys the same level of wasted as us, aren’t we?”

Gabriel grins. “Don’t worry, I won’t drink Bobby out of house and home.” And then he’s holding a bottle of Godiva chocolate liqueur. He pours heavily for Castiel and himself. When he sets the bottle down he moves to toss his glass back, but Castiel stops him. 

The angel murmurs, “To our lost brethren.”

Something about the way he says it makes them all know he’s including Sammael. Sam looks vaguely uncomfortable with the idea; Bobby sort of looks hard at the angels, like he can’t really decide what to think. Dean breaks the silence, though.

“I’ll drink to that.”

He misses the surprised and grateful look Gabriel shoots him, but as he tips back his shot his eyes catch Castiel’s, and he feels like he’s made a good choice.

***

Then the first night becomes part of a series of nights, because numbness is infinitely preferable to thinking about, well, basically anything. Things build up in the day—Sam keeps tracking the little pieces of news, small shards of evidence that the really big things are subsiding, but the world is still going to shit in multiple ways. It’s hard to be happy about the Dragon finally getting slain in East Asia when very un-supernatural dictators in the Congo are still committing genocide. There isn’t closure, because it wasn’t the Apocalypse. It wasn’t the end, and it isn’t even a beginning.

It’s a goddamn joke, is what it is.

They’re also just waiting, Dean realizes, for a thousand small things. For the other shoe to drop, but most importantly, for news from the Host. Because for all intents and purposes, angels don’t need to be on earth any longer.

Gabriel seems fairly sure that the call is going to come soon, because he’s making the most of his time—his days are filled with chocolates and Bailey’s and his nights…dammit, Dean does not need to know about the nights. Judging by the way Sam seems to carry himself around in a haze, he really, really does not need to know. At all.

Jesus.

Cas, on the other hand, is just…quiet. Dean’s always known that the angel is wound tighter than a clock spring, but now it’s even more evident. Dean sighs. It’s not like he’d forgotten Sam’s ridiculous little speech, but he’d honestly not thought he would ever get a chance to react or even think about it. And this thing with Cas is just so…unshakeable, and yet so fragile at the same time. Hell, a small part of him is still trying to get his head around the whole ‘male vessel’ part of the equation. Sam must have experimented in college when Dean wasn’t looking or something, because the situation with Gabriel seems to not be phasing him all that much and it’s the first Dean’s heard of any sort of other-team-batting from his brother. But as for him, hell no. He’d maybe considered it once or twice when drunk off his ass, but he’d never actually done anything.

With Cas, though, it feels like inevitability, but also like frailty, and Dean realizes that he’s just not accustomed to feeling so much for someone other than Sam. And with an entirely different set of feelings, too.

And now Castiel looks at him with caution, as if he doesn’t know where they stand, even though he totally should because clearly Dean was ready to be ground zero for Lucifer’s final parting shot without Michael’s protection because he wanted Castiel safe. He needed him safe.

Dammit, he should not feel so goddamn protective of a being apparently half made out of metal who could tear him to pieces one-handed. It’s just not necessary.

Except when it is.

At least he’s sticking around for now. Dean had asked him.

“Everything will depend, no doubt, on Michael’s return to power in Heaven,” Castiel said, looking out at the yard from the porch. He was holding a beer, but wasn’t drinking it. “There will be trials and other measures taken for Zachariah and those who followed him. I may even be called for my own transgressions.”

“Dude, that happens, you call me and I will go up there and kick Michael’s ass myself,” Dean said flatly.

Castiel granted him the smallest of smiles. “Thank you, Dean. I doubt that will be necessary.”

“So, in the meantime…?”

“In the meantime I will stay here, if I may.”

“Absolutely, man. S’not like our job’s done yet. We’re just waiting out the aftermath before we start up again, I imagine.”

Castiel had nodded, seemingly satisfied, and then went quietly back to keeping his peace, which just made Dean more nervous than ever about when that call from Heaven would come.

Finally, after four days of hazy unawareness, spent doing a whole lot of nothing, Michael pays Dean a visit in a dream. He’s back in his Calvin Klein model form (though this time, with flaming and crackling wings), which makes Dean snort.

“So is that what you really look like, or are you just set on being the hottest guy in the room?”

Michael smirks slightly. “It’s the closest approximation of me without my light. Or would you prefer that I alight in your mind as, what was it you thought, a smaller version of the sun?”

“Nah. I’m happy with the whole no-blindness thing, don’t get me wrong, but it still stings a bit.”

They’re sitting on the dock this time, Dean in a fold-out chair and Michael leaning back against one of the posts. He looks out on the water, his face carefully serene.

Dean sees right through it. Michael may not have intended to, but he showed enough of himself in sharing Dean’s headspace for Dean to know what’s what.

“I’m sorry about Sammael,” he says. He’s not sorry about Lucifer.

Michael closes his eyes for a moment, then reopens them. “It was inevitable. Millions of years ago, right after he brought the first war down on our heads, I held the hope that one day he would ask forgiveness of our father, and that we would welcome him once more. But he…he was always so stubborn.”

“Still. He’s your brother.”

“Yes. Yes, he was.”

The ensuing silence is strangely companionable. Brothers-in-arms syndrome, Dean suspects. But he does feel a weird kinship with Michael, a measure of trust earned by Michael just being there, accepting his every action, probably judging but nonetheless still with him after a whole life of sinning and hard times.

Eventually Dean breaks the silence. “So are you just hanging out here for the night, or were you gonna tell me something?”

Michael sighs. “It’s honestly a welcome respite from the chaos of Heaven. We’ve been remiss for centuries.”

“Been doing housekeeping then?”

“A great deal of it. Not that there is a great deal I can do myself—we will remain directionless until Father chooses to grant us revelation once more.”

“Wait. So I heard about this before.” Dean sits forward. “Uriel once said something about revelation. You mean, he was making it up?”

Michael looks at him. “We have not received revelation for a thousand years.”

“Jesus. Sorry. So you’re still up shit creek without a paddle, basically?”

Michael grimaces. “You could say that. Things will be better now, I hope—there is no need for our presence on earth, so whatever problems that may arise won’t be taken to your door. But we’ve been left without purpose. Without orders. And that is…not how we were meant to live.”

“Yeah, I’ve sort of got that impression.”

Unexpectedly, Michael shifts, twisting himself over to dangle his legs over the side of the dock and then just jumps, landing on the surface like its glass. His wings make the water sizzle. He shoves his hands into his pants pockets.

“Wow. Did Jesus have to pick that trick up from you?” Dean snarks.

Michael grins, a bit delightedly. “Jesus could never do this. He was a man. I held his hand as he walked, and the people believed what they saw.” He looks back at Dean. “Jesus was human. He was like you. We should have remembered that—remembered the greatness of your kind. If we had, things perhaps would not have gotten so bad.”

Dean squirms slightly. “Then what are all of you going to do?”

“Many things. Some will be content to return to watching, but not many, now that they have been reminded of what they were created for. Some will fall.”

Dean chokes. “Seriously? After all of the ones you just lost?”

Michael drags one wing hissing across the water. “I think many will find it preferable to live and die as humans, forgetting briefly that their purpose is unknown, than bear the burden of knowledge.”

Dean mulls this over, and says, “So I’m not going to just be hunting demons anymore, am I? I’m gonna be taking in fallen angels when they all start tapping into angel radio and getting confused.”

“That is hardly a duty for you particularly, Dean. You will find, I imagine, that for all the friends you’ve lost in the past years, you’ll have gained many for what you did in Las Vegas.”

“And that is a sentence I didn’t expect to hear from anyone, ever.”

Michael considers this, and then laughs quietly.

“What’s gonna happen to Cas?” Dean asks. “He’s…well, I get the feeling he’s anxious. Gabriel too.”

“Gabriel I may have need of in the coming years, but I have already spoken to him about this. He is hardly the good example of how to cope with Father’s absence, but he is also not the worst. He and Aziraphale both have been resilient on Earth in ways the younger of us could learn from, and should. As for Castiel, he chose a righteous path long before anyone else did,” the archangel answers with a shrug. “If anything, he should be allowed to choose his own fate. His removal from the Host has been reversed, however he chooses. He should find that his grace is strengthening.”

“Good. That’s good.”

Michael gives him a long look. “Are you going to ask him to stay?”

Dean frowns. “No way, man. I’ve already asked more of him than I’ve asked of anyone else, ever.”

Michael just stares at him, then shakes his head. “Some things aren’t asked of someone. They are asked for.

And with that infuriatingly cryptic comment, he's gone. And Dean feels like an ass, but he doesn’t quite know why.

***

At breakfast the next morning, Dean relates the news. Sam nearly chokes on his coffee.

“Angels are going to choose to fall? Now?

“What could they possibly want in Heaven anymore?” Gabriel counters, a tad bitterly. “We’ve just proved ourselves incapable of functioning without proper leadership, and the only leadership we’re going to accept is our Father’s, or maybe Michael’s. And Michael is deferring power to God. We’re obsolete. We might as well tear ourselves down to earth.”

“But you’re here, and you haven’t fallen,” Sam counters.

“Yeah, and I get to live with knowing that my family’s still screwed up and Dad’s still gone. For the most part, the Host knew about the former, but not about the latter, because the archangels kept giving orders like everything was fine. Now? Everyone knows. And everyone’s seriously depressed, because apparently, we can’t be trusted anymore.”

“I do not want to deal with angelic psychotherapy,” Dean says. “Pretty sure we’re not qualified.”

“’Swhy I’ll be helping out sometimes,” Gabriel agrees.

Castiel doesn’t say anything. Dean starts to panic.

***

Finally he catches him after dinner the same day, this time on the roof, which means Dean has to clamber up through the attic window and grumble that he is just getting too old for this shit. Castiel watches him with measured amusement as he eases himself down on the shingles. The breeze catches the tails of the angel’s trenchcoat and the tips of his wings, which whir peaceably, small sparks standing out like fireflies against the night sky. “Good evening, Dean,” he says.

“Hi,” Dean says. And then he feels abruptly out of words, like the entire dictionary has just fallen out of his head irrevocably. He doesn’t even know what conversation he wants to start, let alone how to start it. After an awkward silence (and goddammit, it’s been a long time since they’ve had a truly awkward silence, and Dean’s fucked up again, hasn’t he?), he settles on the most straightforward.

“So, I didn’t tell you at breakfast…Michael says you can choose whether you stay here or you go. You’re welcome in Heaven again.”

“Yes,” Castiel agrees. “I can feel my grace returning.”

“Yeah. Can see it, too.” Dean nods towards his wings, which look brighter than they had in previously days.

The angel smiles slightly. “I am glad you can see them. Even though I know that the sight Michael has given you will allow you to see terrible things as well.”

“Yeah, I’ve been getting that.” Dean has. Little flickers of ghosts outside the property, small pockets of power in Bobby’s supply room. It’s damn distracting, but Dean has a feeling it will come in handy on the hunt.

Castiel studies him and says, “You’re sure that you’ll continue with the hunt, after all that’s happened?”

“What else am I gonna do?” Dean says. “There are demons out there now, way more than before, and they can’t even be exorcized, they have to be full out ganked. I can’t settle down and fix cars or something knowing that.”

“You told me once that you were tired.”

“I am. I mean…I’m tired of being important. I’m tired of being played like a fucking violin. But things are different now. We’re back to basics.”

“Saving people, hunting things?”

“Yeah,” Dean smiles. “Exactly.”

Castiel nods. “You seem happier now. Better.”

Dean grins. “Saving the world does that to a guy.”

But Castiel doesn’t look that happy about it—he just looks away, falling silent. Dean’s smile drops away. He says, “Cas. What I said before, about not wanting to be a head shrinker for angels? It um…that didn’t apply to you.”

Castiel looks back at him. “What do you mean?”

“I mean. Look, I’m really crappy at this, but if you want to talk about stuff you’re dealing with and everything, I’ll listen. Because I know you guys are sort of in a bad spot.”

“I’ve had more practice than many,” the angel shrugs. “I should be considered fortunate, that I questioned my faith first before it had a chance to destroy itself before my eyes.”

“Whoa, destroy, Cas? What about the sigils at the Luxor, with Sammael’s sign?”

 “I…I believe it was a true sign. But I can’t know.”

“What’d the pendant tell you?” Dean asks.

Castiel looks down, like he’s failed, which is just so many levels of ridiculous. “The only time it would have burned would have been the moment when Father let Lucifer die as Sammael. And at that point—“

“—our whole fuckin’ world was on fire,” Dean finishes. “I get it.” But then he leans over a bit to find Castiel’s gaze, seeking it out with the same persistence with which he usually avoids it. “But Cas, I guess what I’m asking is, is that enough? D’you feel like you can have faith, even with just that little sign?”

“I don’t know,” Castiel says.

And that shit’s just not gonna fly. Dean scoots tentatively closer, and then even closer when he notices that Cas lifts his wing slightly to accommodate him. “Cas,” he says, more quietly, “You were resurrected. I was. Sam was. Lucifer was forgiven as he fell.”

“Then what was the point?” Castiel asks fiercely, and Dean feels a crackle of static energy from the wing behind his back zing across metallic pinions. “What was the point of this whole exercise, if it only ended in the deaths of soldiers? Why would Father have let this get so out of hand and then give us the smallest of tools to make it right?”

“What, you think I know? I’m not the guy with intimate details of what goes on upstairs.” Dean moves again to face him. “But, do you want my opinion?”

When Castiel looks at him now, it’s with utter focus, and Dean feels scraped raw with it. “Yes, Dean. I do.”

Dean takes a breath, lets it out. “I think he’s giving you free will. He left you all alone, let you deal with your shit without dealing with him. It’s douchetastic—I mean, like, shittiest parenting ever—but that’s what I think. Because look where he stepped in: with you. You, Cas, the only angel who took free will and did something good with it. You’re his success. So’s Michael, and Gabriel, and all the others who decided that if things are worth saving, they should stop just waiting for orders that won’t come, get off their asses and save them already.”

Part of him is just thinking aloud, but another part of him is remembering the way Michael walked out onto the water for the whim of it, and not because there was purpose to the action. How he’d dipped his wing in the water just to watch the steam rise. How he’d never done anything before that, none of them had except for Gabriel, just because they wanted to. So Dean’s not really sure what Cas could possibly think, especially since he’s pretty sure he’s venturing into rambling territory at this point. But when he looks back over, his breath catches.

Castiel is looking at him with stunned awe, with reverence of which Dean feels like he has no business being on the receiving end.

“Dean,” Cas says, low and raspy, “Do you truly believe this?”

Dean considers, and then says, “Yeah. Yeah, I think I do.” And then, because he feels like he might not get another chance to, “You can choose to do whatever you want now. You could stay on Earth, even. That is, if you wanted to.”

Castiel seems to search him for a long moment, absorbing him, and then he looks down at his bent knees. “Why would I choose to stay here?” he asks, after a moment.

“Well, Heaven’s not sounding too appealing right now, given everyone’s running around with existential crises, or whatever,” Dean offers. But no, that’s really not good enough. So not good enough that even Sam, that ridiculous gigantic girl, told him to man up. So he adds on, “And I…that is, I’d like it if you stayed.”

“I would be able to help you on your hunts, now that my powers are returning,” Castiel says, and finally Dean starts to get it through his brain that the angel is giving him an out, an opportunity to just keep demanding things that he has no right to take without offering him anything in return. And that just…Dean can’t do that anymore, because he’s noticing now how it’s reducing Castiel, hurting him in some indefinable way, and it makes him clench and itch with the desire to fix, reaffirm. And he realizes that it’s because Castiel doesn’t know how to do this, he can’t fill in all the blanks Dean’s been leaving, and Dean is a complete idiot for not knowing that, because he did know, he just didn’t think.

He can’t believe he’s about to do this. But clearly words aren’t cutting it.

Like he’s about to handle a precious relic, he reaches carefully for Castiel, bringing his fingers up to brush along his jawline, up to curve against the back of his neck. “Cas,” he says, brushing his thumb in quiet circles beneath the angel’s ear, “Stay. Not just for the hunt, though.”

He turns Castiel’s face towards him, and Castiel lets him. So he moves closer, feeling the angel’s warmth and electricity, and presses his lips slanting across his mouth, lingering on the angel’s bottom lip, trying to pour the mess of affection and possessiveness and hope he’s inadvertently built up inside him over the past two years into the gentlest of touches. Cas doesn’t respond at first, holds himself still as if moving will make Dean leave. When Dean pulls back to look at him, though, his exhale is sudden, shaky. “Dean?”

It’s the look that finally brings the right words to him. Cas is looking at him with unabashed, disbelieving hope, of the sort where Dean really needs to figure out what the hell Cas has been reading in him all this time, because it was clearly very mistaken. But, first things first.

“Cas, you said before that you followed me. Is that still true? That is, would you want to…?”

“Dean.” Castiel stares at him, and then shifts so that his back is to Dean. He’s pulling his coat off, and then he says, “Look at the back of my neck.”

Bewildered, Dean moves forward, and eases the collar of Cas’s jacket and shirt back from his skin. Curving up in a sweep from beneath the collar up into the angel’s hair and further towards his jaw, beneath his ear, is a single sigil. It doesn’t take Michael’s encyclopedic knowledge for Dean to know what it is.

“That’s—“

“Your mark upon me. I am for you, Dean. I will be until I die.”

Dean, stunned, pulls him around to face him. He shakes his head. “Cas. You’ve, what, assumed that you’re only good as my lackey or something? You don’t deserve anything back? Cas, you pulled me from the Pit. I’ve been bearing your mark for years. I’ve been yours since I met you in Perdition.”

Cas looks away. “I could not possibly claim…not when Michael was there, and you are so important, Dean—“

“Didn’t I tell you I was tired of being important?” Dean cuts him off. He slides the hand he has on Cas’s shoulder up to the sigil, warming the skin beneath, pulling the angel’s magnetic gaze back to him, where he needs it.

And finally Cas responds, pulling Dean closer to him, framing his face with shaky fingers as if he’s not sure whether Dean is real. He says, “I don’t think I could leave if I wanted to.”

And Dean kisses him fully then, reveling finally in how not-fragile this suddenly is, how firm Castiel is in his grasp as he extends them both fully out on the roof, how vast clockwork wings are blocking out the sky around him leaving only him and Cas in the world after living and dying for one another in silence. They scrabble against shingles and move against each other, interlocking, pieces sliding together. Dean finds himself cupping the base of Cas’s wing, and it feels like silk stretched across steel, and it trembles at his touch, and he finds himself trembling equally as Castiel finds the dip of his lower back and unerringly presses the place where he’d blessed the marks of the trumpeter with words and holy water. It’s obscene and chaste, each of them reduced to whispered names, exchanged and kept in clandestine places.

It’s Dean taking, at last, and Cas doing the same even though he was never designed to, and it's Dean thinking yes, this is a world in which I am not cursed.

Chapter Text

So this is how it went down: It started with headaches, then turned into a clusterfuck, and now it’s just…it just is.

Sam doesn’t pretend to understand why. He doesn’t even pretend that he’s fixed now, or that anything is. He’s lying in bed, Gabriel curled around him with one leg thrown proprietarily over his thighs, staring at the ceiling. The sunshine is hazy through the curtains. Ash has been drifting in the air for days now. He says, “How long will you be gone?”

“Dunno,” Gabriel answers. “As long as it takes. But not all at once.”

Sam turns to study the archangel’s face. “So you’ll be around?”

“No getting rid of me.”

He snorts. “I suppose I can deal.”

He suspects, actually, that it couldn’t have turned out any other way. All his life, he’s imagined constancy as his dream, his escape from transience, but really, he meant what he had said to Adam, even now—the way he lives now, it’s become part of him in ways irreversible. But maybe the bottom line is that while this may be true, it’s possible that he can find happiness in this ever-shifting landscape.

Gabriel will be in and out of his life—unpredictable, still a Trickster because that instinct doesn’t just go away after a millenia--and Sam would never deny him his new role, a new purpose when Heaven has never been so purposeless.

Michael comes to visit in sparse moments, taking brief snatches of Dean’s unconscious and giving reports on what’s happening upstairs. It’s never much, mostly administrative arguing and a few harsh applications of traditional holy vengeance, but Dean is pretty pleased to hear of Zachariah’s banishment.

“Dude, how do you even banish an angel?” he asks, sitting on the dock with a beer in hand. Michael lounges next to him.

“Trap him in an animal vessel,” he answers matter-of-factly, “Then place him in Purgatory.”

“Badass.”

“Yep.” Michael steals Dean’s beer. Dean is fairly certain now that Michael just visits to get a breather. Heaven clearly is not agreeing with him, which Dean supposes is understandable, given that the archangel has spent the last thirty years indulging in Dean’s alternately horrifying and hedonistic life. Dean finds he doesn’t really mind. The dude gives him good dreams.

Dreams that include Zachariah trapped inside a goat.

Michael catches his thought and smirks. “Actually, I’m fairly certain Anna insisted on a platypus.”

Dean nearly spits beer all over himself.

After two weeks, Chuck comes by in a battered pickup truck. With him, is a manuscript. Looking exhausted, he sets it on Bobby’s kitchen table.

“The Winchester Gospels,” he says, scrubbing a hand over his face. “They’re finished.”

“How’d you even finish them?” Sam asked. “I thought you weren’t getting word from Heaven anymore.”

“I’m not. I mean, I’m not getting it before it happens. And at this point I’m not getting anything, now that the job’s finished, I guess. Do you have anything to drink?”

Gabriel decides to be obnoxious and conjures him O’Douls. Chuck looks at it in disgust, but drinks it anyway.

“See, I got it all after the fact. Soon as Lucifer died, all of it just flooded in. I thought I was gonna explode.”

You thought—?”

Castiel puts a hand on Dean’s shoulder, and Dean shuts up with a growl. Chuck looks vaguely terrified.

“I, um. I’m here because I thought you might want to read it. And, you know, cut out some things, as you see fit.”

“Why would we—”

“Uh,” Sam says, catching on and feeling like he’s just reached his embarrassment quotient for the next thousand years. “How personal does this one get, Chuck?”

Chuck looks like he wants to puke. “…Fairly? Um yeah…fairly personal. I couldn’t help it! It was just there in my head, and it doesn’t go away until I write it!”

“Oh for fuck’s sake. I am done with this full-frontal bullshit,” Dean says, and snatches the manuscript off the table. He starts flipping through it. Then he raises his eyebrows. “Chuck…”

“I know I’m sorry!”

Gabriel leers. “I bet it’s hot.”

Sam pinches the bridge of his nose. “When are you leaving, again?”

***

Sam tracks down Tom at the hospital in Mesquite. He’s been stuck there since he left Vegas, going through multiple surgeries and now on physical therapy, which is basically an even bigger anticlimax than what the Winchesters are experiencing. Jefferson’s with him though, apparently, along with Raphael.

“Wait, Raphael is hanging out with mudmonkeys?” Gabriel splutters. “Since when?”

“Since they became the ones with greater roles than ours.” Raphael’s booms sonorously over the speakerphone. Sam fleetingly wonders whether the archangel is actually making the effort to enhance the signal on the hospital phone just for dramatic effect. He hears Jefferson snort.

“I think we’re done with roles, actually,” Jefferson says dryly, his own voice as tinny as usual through the long distance wires. “I don’t know about you boys, but I’m about done with this Biblical crap.”

“Cram it, buddy,” Gabriel says. “We’re made of Biblical crap. Little harder for us to ignore it.”

“Dude, tell your brother that it’s not against the rules to do a laying of hands on my damn leg,” Tom shouts down the line.

“It’s his choice,” Gabriel replies. “Sorry.”

That wasn’t the whole of it, of course. Once again, Dean is pretty sure that God is either off dead in a ditch somewhere, or too occupied with some sort of millenium-long holy bender to consider the full consequences of this whole it’s-the-Apocalypse-oh-wait-just-kidding thing. Giving angels free will (or just cutting them loose, however you see it) is roughly the equivalent of letting a bunch of toddlers loose in Legoland, except for instead of playing with plastic bricks, they were potentially free to play with the entire world. With full knowledge of the scope of angelic power, Dean’s really not sure it’s a good idea; so at this point, he’s pretty glad to hear that Raphael’s taking the hands-off approach, even if he’s maybe taking it a bit too seriously.

It really is a good thing that angels were mostly built to be inherently moral. Sure, some fall and turn into demons and have to be dealt with, and some saunter vaguely downwards like Crowley, but for the most part, they’re jerks but not evil. And that keeps them from ruling the world. Dean has a feeling that there’s not much appeal for them in that anyway. Righteousness trumps power in their books, or something like that. Especially with Lucifer gone, and unable to seduce his brethren.

“Hey, Jefferson,” Sam says into the phone. “What’re your plans nowadays? Going back to hunting?”

“Sure, unless you got a better idea,” Jefferson replies. “Dunno what else I’m good for, seeing as Melissa’s gone.”

Melissa had been his wife. Sam looks at Dean, who nods. “How about being a resource, then? You did a lot for us back there. Kept people in line. You could do that, now.”

“How’d you figure?”

They offer him the Roadhouse. He’d known Ellen and Jo briefly, and pauses after they explain.

“If you think I’m good for it,” he says, after a second. “The Harvelles are a hard act to follow.”

Sam thinks back to how Jefferson had been the first on his feet when Zachariah busted into the Bellagio, how he’d held his ground against angels and demons with unusual tenacity, and the way the other hunters respected him. “You’ll be fine,” he says. “So long as you want it, you can have it. You know, if you’ve had enough of the road.”

Jefferson is smart, and more practical than the Winchesters in the most essential ways. So he knows when he’s being given a chance to move on, no strings attached. “Yeah. I’ll take it. So long as you make a point of stopping by every once in a while.”

“I think we can make that happen,” Dean says.

They hear the phone being passed over, and the speakerphone getting turned off. Then it’s just Tom. “Hey, guys?” he says tentatively. “What’s it gonna be like now?”

“Different,” Sam says.

“But mostly the same,” Dean finishes.

***

Bobby plays host for a month. Dean fixes cars, gets a new tail light for the Impala. Castiel stays close to him, always. Sam eventually notices.

“So,” he says, leaning against the hood of a beat up Pontiac. “You guys finally worked things out?”

Dean looks up at him, and then at Castiel, who is perched on a pile of cars about five yards away. His eyes are on the horizon, wings nearly aflame as the evening comes on. He had been closer, before, but Sam had put on his I-want-to-talk-to-you-seriously face on, so Dean had silently requested that he move. The whole telepathic link thing is turning out to be a real boon. Dean is plotting ways to use it against Sam indefinitely, if he can actually get Cas to go with it.

“Yeah. We’re good,” he says.

It’s been more than good. They’re sort of going about it backwards, in Dean’s mind at least—when they went to bed the first time, they were both too astonished, too awed by their luck to be anything but slow and gentle with each other, every movement a deliberate and cherished thing. As days went on, they’d moved on to more heated encounters, moving confident hands across responsive planes of skin. They're more like the encounters Dean is used to, even though they will never be like those in his past, not really, because everything they do seems to mean so much nowadays. But it's what they need at the moment--Cas with his battered faith, and Dean with his battered goddamn everything--they need meaning now, so they're shoving it onto each other as much as they can, with every touch and every word. It's hardly perfect, and maybe not even healthy, but it's something.

Dean blinks, and studies Sam’s face. His brother was clearly expecting more than that, so he scrapes for something else that isn’t going to be either sappy or TMI. “He’s staying. Permanently, that is.”

“Joining the hunt?” Sam asks.

“Yeah. That’s cool with you?”

Sam shrugs. “Could use some moments of divine intervention, sure.”

Dean throws a look at him. “Gabriel won’t always be there?”

“Yeah. We have an agreement.”

“An ‘agreement’? The hell?”

Sam smirks. He can’t help himself. “Yeah, Dean. It involves a safe word.”

Dean nearly knocks himself out on the Impala’s raised engine cover. “Dude. I hate you so much right now.”

“You totally deserve it.”

His brother looks seriously at him, though. “Sam. You’re okay?”

Sam just meets his eyes squarely. “Yeah. I’ll be fine.”

“Good. Because I think we’re beginning to wear out our welcome.”

They both turn to look at Bobby, who seems to be having an aggravated theological discussion with Gabriel, the both of them gesticulating wildly on the porch.

Sam nods, though he also smiles a bit.

“Feeling antsy?” he asks, still watching the frantic tableau.

“Just a bit,” Dean shrugs. “Though I dunno if we can top Vegas. You know, ever.”

“To be honest, I’d really rather not.”

“Yeah, very true.” He turns. “Hey, Cas.”

When Sam looks back, Castiel is at Dean’s shoulder, deep in his personal space. Dean doesn’t flinch anymore, though; he just leans back into it slightly, and glances up at what Sam can only assume are Cas’s wings.

“Yes, Dean?” Cas says calmly, his expression one that Sam can only describe as beatific.

“Any word on angel radio about a job we could take on? Something to get back in the game?”

They start trudging back towards the house. Castiel says, “There are a great many things to do, Dean. Or have you forgotten that there are now thousands of demons loose on Earth?”

“Right, thanks. You’re a regular ray of sunshine.” But Dean’s slinging an arm around the angel’s shoulders—Sam thinks he even catches a glimpse of his brother dipping his head down slightly to nose into the spiky black of Cas’s hair. Gabriel watches them approach.

“I’ve got a better idea,” he says, with a sly grin. “How do you feel about a cockatrice?”

“Dunno. Is it evil?” Dean asks.

“Mm, rather.”

“Can we kill it?” Sam asks.

“Sure thing.”

“It’s certainly a viable option,” Castiel affirms.

“You’re forgetting the part where it looks like a dragon and has to be viewed with mirrors if you don’t want to turn to stone,” Bobby says acidly. “Idjits.”

Dean looks at Sam. They both shrug.

There’s a lot to do. Starting with some ridiculous creature they know practically nothing about? Seems oddly appropriate. The losses they’ve racked up are tremendous—Biblical, one can now completely unironically say. Dean still feels the sting of it, and he knows that a part of him won’t be recovering from that any time soon, and really just shouldn’t anyway. But they’re standing on the porch of the closest place they've had to a home, the Impala's fully stocked and still purring with health, and for the first time in a while, he feels whole. They’re not puppets anymore. They’re just men trying to make good choices.

Men and angels, shadowboxing and flailing wildly around trying to save the world from random evil shit. He hopes God approves, but really, it doesn't matter. 

He looks at Cas, who meets his glance with uncanny understanding, who unbelievably, impossibly loves him with a fierceness he’s only beginning to discover. He says, “We can work with that.”

Cas nods.

 

Finis.

Chapter Text

“It’s a brave new world, my ass,” Dean says flatly. 

Sam snorts, and then grimaces. “I fucking hate slime demons.”

Dean hates that Sam has to know what slime demons are nowadays. It was one of the many things he’d managed to successfully repress after his stint in Hell, and now here they are, all up in their business. The Apocalypse had sort of sucked, but this, in some bizarre way, sucked harder. Mostly because they knew that this state of affairs is actually for keeps this time around. 

What bullshit.

Cas flicks his right wing to dislodge a bit of gunk from the metal pinions. A spike of electricity finishes the job, making the slime sizzle into nothingness. He looks at the Winchesters.

“That’s the last of them in this area,” he says. “We should leave.”

“We are putting towels down in the Impala,” Dean replies. “This shit is gross.”

***

The drive back to the motel is…sticky. Dean grumbles most of the way. When they manage to extricate themselves from the interior without sullying it with demon ectoplasm, they go to the door whilst still picking gobs of it off of themselves. Then Sam opens the door, and Dean looks up in time to see his brother’s face go soft.

“Oh, balls,” he says automatically.

“Hey,” Sam says quietly into the room. 

Gabriel smirks. His feet are up on the table, and he’s eating chocolate cheesecake. 

“Hi, boys. Miss me?”

***

“So how’s heaven?” Dean asks, setting his shotgun on the bedside table and making a beeline for the bottle of Jack. It’s really the only way he can stay reasonable with Gabriel in the room. It’s not like they hate each other—they’ve been through way too much for that to be the case. But dammit, Gabriel is annoying, and he’s fucking Sam, and the fact that he’s an improvement on Ruby really doesn’t go all that far towards swinging things back into his favor. 

But still, Dean tries. Mostly because Sam will sulk at him otherwise. Also, Castiel gives him these disappointed looks that he really can’t deal with, now that the angel’s happiness is sort of his prerogative. So yeah, he has to learn to deal.
And maybe occasionally cockblock. Because fuck it, his older brother prerogative outweighs his happy angel prerogative.

Which Castiel understands. Dean knows he does. He also suspects that Castiel is sort of amused by it. Which, well…whatever helps. 

“Heaven’s ridiculous,” Gabriel whines. “I had no idea our species had the capacity for emo that it does.”

“Dude. Heaven had Lucifer,” Dean points out. “He was, like…king of the emos.”

“Yeah, but at least he started a war about it. Now there’s just…complaining.”

“Sorry, dude,” Sam says, settling beside the archangel at the table. Dean pretends not to notice how they’re automatically all up in each other’s personal space. Jesus, the shit he has to put up with. 

“So what’s up?” he asks, “Any news on the front line?”

“Well, not really,” Gabriel replies. “Michael would have told you himself last night, but I was gonna come down here anyway, so I told him I’d let you all know.”

“You just like dramatic entrances,” Sam accuses.

“I am awfully good at them,” Gabriel preens. 

“So what is it?” Dean says, measuring out a decent amount of whiskey into one of the plastic motel cups.

"Five years," Gabriel says simply, but his eyes glow golden for a moment.

Sam cocks his head. "Five years...?"

"Since Sammael fell," Castiel says quietly.

Dean pauses for a moment, and then instead of downing his drink himself, he offers it to Gabriel. "Sounds like we all need a drink tonight, then," he says. 

Gabriel exhales, and Sam gives Dean a look of surprised gratefulness. Castiel wraps his wing around Dean's shoulder. 

"Tell Michael," Dean says carefully, "That he's welcome to stop by. He ought to be with us, and not up on his cloud."

"That's generous of you, Dean," Castiel says.

Gabriel smiles slightly, but genuinely. "I'll let him know."

Sam eyes the bottle of Jack Daniels. "That's...three angels, and two of us," he says. He cocks an eyebrow at Dean. "We're gonna need to buy out a liquor store."

Dean smirks. "Gabriel?"

The archangel spreads his hands and grins. "Consider it done."