I Hear The Voices When I’m Dreaming
When Dean was seventeen, he started hearing voices.
They were quiet enough at first, little whispers at the edges of his hearing, fleeting and easily dismissed, so that Dean could ignore them or tell himself he was imagining things.
He was a hunter, still in school but a hunter all the same, with the responsibility of watching his father’s back and looking after his younger brother. He couldn’t afford shit like hearing whispers every time things were quiet.
The voices didn’t stay quiet and easily ignored, though.
As time passed they grew louder, clearer, and Dean had more and more trouble paying attention to the real world over the sound of them.
Eventually, Dean could no longer hide the fact that something was badly wrong.
John Winchester took it well enough, at first.
He assumed that his son had run foul of something supernatural, and that as soon as they worked out what, Dean would go back to normal.
But the more he searched for an answer, the more the list of possibilities dwindled, and Dean grew more and more disconnected from everything else as the voices started to drown out the rest of the world.
In the end, John took Dean to a psychiatrist, despite his reluctance to do so. If it wasn’t a supernatural problem – if something was genuinely wrong with Dean – well, he needed to hand it over to someone else to solve. All Dean’s protestations that the voices were real, dammit! fell on deaf ears.
That was how Dean ended up locked in a psychiatric hospital and drugged up to the eyeballs for the rest of his life, left alone with nothing but the voices in his head, distant and cold and pitiless.
Yeah. Dean’s Dad was always kind of a dick. Abandonment was sort of his M.O.
Late at night, Dean liked to sit on his bed and stare out the window.
It was quiet, for one thing. During the day half the other patients spent their time yelling or hitting the walls, but at night most of them tended to sleep, leaving Dean alone with the silence. There were no annoying, obnoxious, cheerfully patronising nurses, either. Just Dean, left in peace to stare at the sliver of world outside.
There were bars on his window, of course – even then, some people clawed at the bars and tried to escape no matter how futile the effort was, and had to be put into rooms without windows, but Dean had given up trying to escape a decade ago, and was pretty well-behaved, if withdrawn – but Dean could see past them, to the landscape beyond the hospital.
The view wasn’t much during the daytime, but at night Dean liked the way the dark sky contrasted with the light from the cars and traffic lights up on the main road at the top of the hill, dazzling and bright and cheerful.
Sometimes he’d sit for hours, watching the line of traffic snaking down the side of the hill, listening to the faint and distant sound of horns blaring. It was weirdly comforting, and as bored and drugged out of his mind as he was, the traffic was relatively interesting.
He’d spent the last thirteen years locked in a white room. At this point, practically anything was interesting by comparison.
Dean had been sitting there for a while – he had no way of telling how long, and his time sense had been all messed up since they first started feeding him drugs – when he suddenly had a strong feeling that he was no longer alone.
Dean turned his head to see a man standing in the middle of the room.
He had dark hair and was wearing a trenchcoat, but the shadows of the room swallowed him up, blurring or hiding most other details.
Dean stared at him curiously. There was no way that anyone could have entered without Dean hearing the door, and no one came in at this time of night anyway, but there the guy was, standing perfectly still in front of him.
Maybe Dean had progressed to hallucinations. That would be a nice break from the blank white monotony of his existence. Or maybe the hospital was haunted.
That was possible, Dean thought vaguely.
After a while, Dean spoke, mostly to see what would happen.
“Hey,” he greeted the apparition. “Are you a hallucination?”
“No,” the man replied calmly.
His voice rasped when he spoke, low and gravelly. It was a Batman voice. Dean approved.
“Okay.” Dean accepted the man at his word. “Are you a ghost?”
“No,” the stranger said again. He tilted his head, and even though the dude’s face was too shadowed to make out, Dean could feel the gaze boring into him.
Dean tried to think past the fuzzy forgetfulness of his brain for another suggestion.
“I am an angel,” the man interrupted.
Dean scowled at him.
“Dude. I wanted to guess,” he complained. “Do you know how boring it is in here? Trying to guess was the most interesting thing I’ve done in like, three years. You ruined it.”
The strange guy regarded him invisibly from the darkness. Dean could feel it.
“Your mental acuity is being impaired,” he observed, as though Dean might not have realised.
Dean nodded seriously.
There was silence. It was vaguely thoughtful.
“I can feel you frowning,” Dean offered. “You’re frowning, over there, in the dark. I can feel it.”
Dean’s chorus of voices called urgent things to one another with unusual agitation. They’d been doing that lately. Dean ignored them. If he tried hard enough not to listen, the voices blurred into indistinct cries, instead of words. It was easier to ignore it all when they weren’t words.
Dean closed his eyes for a second, appreciating the silence around him. The silence made it easier, too. So much easier.
When he opened his eyes again, the mysterious stranger was gone.
The next night, Dean was trying to remember enough of Heat of the Moment to hum it to himself, when a figure suddenly winked into existence. It was the dude in the trenchcoat again.
“Hi,” Dean told him. “That was cool.”
This time, the man was close enough that the light from the window fell across his face.
He stared at Dean blankly.
“The teleporting,” Dean explained. “That was cool. You should do it again.”
The guy stared some more. He didn’t seem to be big on conversation.
“I’m Dean,” said Dean.
“I am Castiel, angel of the Lord,” the other man said gravely.
Dean considered him.
Tax-accountant get-up, stubble, hair that stuck up a bit on top, and big frowning eyes. He didn’t look much like an angel.
“If you’re an angel, you’ve got to have wings,” Dean said. “Right? I want to see wings.”
Castiel’s frown deepened, but suddenly the light changed and the shadows shifted, and two enormous wing-shaped shadows spread out across the walls and ceiling. Castiel never blinked.
Dean was impressed.
“Wow. That was awesome.”
The wings vanished, and the shadows went back to being shadows. Dean was a little disappointed, but hey. Wings. Awesome.
“Your thoughts make no sense,” said the angel.
“You can read my thoughts?”
“Yes,” Castiel confirmed.
In response to this, Dean pictured a large purple chicken.
“What am I thinking about? Guess.”
Castiel looked at Dean like he was insane.
Well, there was a reason Dean was in a psychiatric hospital. Although he still thought it was pretty shitty that his Dad believed in ghosts and spirits and stuff, but couldn’t believe that Dean’s voices were real. That sucked, big-time.
“This would be easier if you were not so heavily drugged,” Castiel said disapprovingly, like the whole thing was Dean’s fault.
Dean nodded sagely.
“It would,” he said sympathetically, even though he had no idea what the guy was talking about.
“I will return,” Castiel informed him.
Oh, so he was leaving.
“Bye, Cas,” Dean said, sad, but accepting.
Castiel frowned at Dean in what seemed to be confusion, before teleporting out.
It was amazing how many different emotions Castiel could express through a frown.
Dean decided that he liked the guy, strange or not.
The next morning, when the nurse came around with Dean’s medication, it was different.
He blinked down at the single pill.
“This isn’t my medicine,” Dean told the nurse. He didn’t normally talk to anyone, but he figured that getting the wrong medication would be even worse than getting the stuff he usually got.
She looked completely surprised by Dean’s words, but smiled at him.
“Your prescription has been changed, Dean,” she said warmly. “This is your new medicine.”
Dean looked at it a bit dubiously, but took it like a good boy, like he had every day for the last ten years.
It tasted, Dean noted thoughtfully, like sugar.
The new medication continued for the next two weeks. As the days passed, Dean found himself thinking more clearly and his memory improving markedly, and instead of sitting in an emotionally undisturbed haze, he actually began feeling things for the first time in years – frustration and anger, mostly, as his body slowly began getting rid of the years worth of drugs in his system, and his mind came to fully appreciate the terrible situation he had been in for the last thirteen years. It felt like Dean had spent all that time being smothered under a grey blanket that left him apathetic and stupid, and now he was finally free of it.
Bluntly, it left him feeling furious. Almost half his life had been spent in an institution – he should have been out there doing things, hunting monsters, picking up girls – God, he didn’t even know, but instead he’d had everything taken away from him. His Dad had stuck him here and forgotten about him, pretty much left him to rot, and Sam –
Well. Sam had visited, like, maybe half a dozen times in as many years. The last time he’d come by, it had been to tell Dean that their Dad was dead. Dean… still didn’t know what to do with that.
But Sam had left him here, without even trying to find out the truth of what was going on, without even considering that maybe, given the weird shit they dealt with, it was possible that Dean really was hearing something real, and wasn’t just nuts. Dean loved his little brother, had spent most of his free years looking after him, but he wasn’t sure he could forgive Sam for that.
In between all the other issues Dean was dealing with, he found himself incredibly disturbed by Castiel. Here was some kind of monster, teleporting into his room at night, apparently just to chat, claiming to be an angel, and no one had even noticed his presence. And if the thing’s words had been any indication, Castiel was the one responsible for Dean’s new, more-or-less drug-free state.
Dean had no idea what the guy really was or what he was after, but he was definitely kind of freaked.
The next time that Castiel appeared, Dean lost no time in backing away from him. The so-called angel didn’t move, just watched as Dean moved further away.
“What the hell are you really?” Dean barked out.
Castiel tilted his head in confusion.
“As I told you, I am an angel.”
“Bullshit!” Dean snapped. “There’s no such thing as angels. I don’t know what the hell your game is, but I’m not playing along.”
Castiel sent Dean a stern glare, like maybe Dean had hurt his feelings and Castiel was mad about it.
“I don’t understand why you are being so uncooperative.”
Dean snorted in scorn.
“Dude, have you met me?”
Castiel looked confused again.
Dean gave him an incredulous stare, but Castiel just gave him a bewildered stare back, like he didn’t understand why Dean was asking questions he already knew the answer to.
“Shit, you’re serious,” Dean observed, in slowly-dawning realisation.
Castiel looked vaguely irritated.
“This is too weird,” Dean decided. “How the hell do I know you’re an angel?”
“You saw proof,” said Castiel.
“I saw a nice little trick with light and shadows,” Dean retorted. “Doesn’t mean you’re an angel.”
Castiel looked frustrated.
“You are infuriatingly stubborn.”
“Buddy, you have no idea,” Dean scoffed.
“Why is it so hard for you to believe that there are angels?” Castiel asked, in what was clearly his reasonable tone of voice.
Dean glared back.
“If there are angels, then why the hell is the world such a mess? Monsters, murderers, kiddie-fiddlers, all that shit? If there are angels watching over us, why do bad things happen to good people?”
“It is not our job to interfere,” said Castiel. He looked solemn. “We’re supposed to respect free will.”
He looked so earnest right then that reflexive responses aside, Dean couldn’t help but believe him. It was infuriating, but Dean’s gut instinct – the only thing he relied on these days – told him that the weird dude was telling the truth, impossible as it seemed. He certainly believed he was an angel, whether it was true or not.
“Fine,” Dean snapped. “So if you’re some hotshot angel–” Castiel’s brow furrowed at that, but he didn’t interrupt, “–then why are you here?”
For a long, silent moment, Castiel’s expression was impenetrable.
“Your brother is in trouble,” he said finally.
He was pretty mad at Sammy, for refusing to see that their Dad might be wrong or even contemplate the idea that Dean might not belong in an asylum, but Sam was still Dean’s little brother, freakishly tall or not.
“What’s wrong with Sam?” Dean asked quietly, doing his best to keep his voice steady.
“He has begun the apocalypse.”
It took Dean a second to find his voice.
Castiel regarded him with a piercing stare.
“It’s a long story. Are you willing to listen without interruption?”
Dean set his teeth.
“Yes,” he ground out.
Castiel paused for a moment, as though deciding where to begin.
“I assume that you are familiar with the story of how Lucifer rebelled, and was cast out.”
“I’ve heard the story,” Dean conceded. He wasn’t sure what this had to do with his brother, but as a beginning it was pretty ominous.
“Lucifer was imprisoned in a cage in the depths of Hell,” said Castiel evenly. “In order to release him, sixty-six seals had to be broken. Some time ago, the denizens of Hell began the process of breaking those seals. While the garrisons of Earth attempted to prevent them from doing so, the seals were too numerous to be adequately guarded.”
“What’s this got to do with Sam?” Dean blurted.
Castiel gave him the evil eye, and Dean remembered that he’d promised not to interrupt the angel.
“I am getting to that. After the death of your father your brother fell into the company of a demon who managed to convince him that its motives were somewhat pure. As a child, Sam was fed demon blood by the demon that killed your mother–”
Dean heard himself make a kind of horrified, strangled sound. Castiel simply carried on talking, while Dean was still reeling under this revelation.
“–and his demonic companion succeeded in persuaded your brother that by consuming demon blood on a regular basis he could develop psychokinetic abilities, which he could then use to do good.”
“Oh, Sammy, no,” Dean groaned, unable to believe that his genius baby brother could be so goddamn stupid. “God. Let me guess, it was a hot chick, wasn’t it?”
Castiel’s head tilted in a way that clearly meant that he didn’t understand, but he replied,
“I believe that the demon’s host was female, yes.”
Dean let out a wobbly breath and ran a hand over his face. He found he was believing everything Castiel said, despite his earlier doubts.
“Fuck it. What next?”
“The demon talked your brother into pursuing one particular demon of seniority and great power. What Sam didn’t know was that the death of this demon, in the right place at the right time was the final seal of Lucifer’s cage.”
“Oh, God,” Dean breathed out. He wanted to be sick. It wasn’t hard to guess what had happened after that. “He did it, didn’t he? Sam broke the final seal.”
“And unleashed Lucifer from Hell,” Castiel grimly summed up.
Dean tried to process what he’d just heard, but the idea stubbornly refused to sink in. It was Sam. Sam, the goofy kid who always did all his homework and fell over his own feet in hilarious ways and who wanted to save the whales, and who wanted to be a lawyer so he could help people who needed it.
How could Sam have caused Armageddon?
And that might not even be the worst of it.
“You said,” Dean said slowly, trying to focus, “that Sam is in trouble. Is. Which means there’s more you haven’t told me, isn’t there?”
Castiel nodded slightly, looking solemn.
“Angels,” he explained seriously, “are not capable of walking the Earth in our true forms. We’re too destructive. In order to visit Earth, it is necessary for us to take vessels.”
Dean stared for a moment in incomprehension. Then he got it.
“Dude, you freaking possess people?!”
“The experience is fully consensual, Dean,” Castiel chided, frowning at him. Hs words didn’t make Dean feel much better. “I only tell you this so that you understand that in order to conquer and destroy the Earth, Lucifer requires a vessel with the capacity to withstand the damaging effect of his true form.”
Try as he might, Dean couldn’t see where Castiel was going with this.
“What are you saying?”
“Sam Winchester is Lucifer’s vessel,” Castiel finished, quite calmly.
For a long moment Dean simply stared at Castiel, like his brain had come across such a huge, impossible idea that it had simply shut down.
“Get out!” Dean snarled, balling his hands into fists. “Get out of here!”
“Out!” Dean howled, and probably there’d be nurses bursting in any second, but he didn’t care.
Castiel inclined his head.
He vanished, and Dean punched the wall, hissing in pain as he injured his hand.
A couple of male nurses opened the door a few minutes later, but Dean just sat in a scowling huddle at the end of his bed, and refused to say a word.
Dean brooded over Castiel’s words a lot over the next couple of days. As much as he wanted to, he couldn’t bring himself to believe that the angel was lying, which meant that everything he’d said was probably true.
Sam had demonic powers, and had been drinking down demon blood to make them work. Sam had palled up with a demon. Sam had started the apocalypse. Sam was, apparently, Lucifer’s party suit of choice.
It made Dean want to yell and hurt something.
Instead he sang Metallica and AC/DC songs at the top of his lungs until they came in and made him stop, and punched his mattress multiple times with his uninjured hand, because his knuckles were all purple and split from punching the wall after Castiel vanished and he didn’t think doing that again would be a good idea.
It wasn’t really a surprise to Dean when at the end of the two days Castiel appeared again.
“Denial will not help,” Castiel said, in lieu of greeting, because apparently he was Dean’s private psychologist now.
Dean decided that angels were dicks.
“How can I help my brother?” he demanded.
Because obviously, at the end of the day, no matter what might have happened or not happened, that was always the most important thing.
How can I help my dumbass, know-it-all little brother out of this stupid, stupid hole?
“Lucifer cannot take your brother as a vessel without consent,” Castiel said gravely. “Unfortunately, he will use any means available to him in order to convince Sam to say yes.”
“You’re not answering my question,” Dean growled.
“The only one able to deal with Lucifer is Michael,” Castiel continued with composure. “But as with all angels, in order to walk the Earth he requires the consent of his vessel.”
Castiel stared at Dean hard as he said that part.
Oh, hell no. Dude couldn’t be saying what Dean thought he was saying. Just no.
Dean had such a bad feeling that he knew what Castiel was going to say next.
He asked the obvious question anyway.
“Who’s his vessel?”
Castiel didn’t blink or look away.
“Fuck,” Dean swore. He hated it when he was right. Castiel didn’t even look awkward or anything, either, which made Dean feel irrationally angry at him.
“Fuck,” Dean said again. “Let me get this straight. You’re saying the only way to protect Sam and stop Lucifer from wearing him to the prom is if I say yes to Michael?”
Again, Castiel was completely oblivious to any kind of tact.
“That is correct.”
Dean put a hand over his face and tried to concentrate on his breathing.
“And what do you think of this idea?” he asked, because obviously Castiel was going to be all for it, but who knew, maybe something he had to say would help Dean work out how he felt about the whole situation. Besides, it wasn’t like Dean actually had to listen to everything Castiel said.
To his surprise, there was silence.
Dean pulled his hand away from his face to stare at Castiel.
The angel looked… well, the only real way to describe it was shifty.
“Castiel?” Dean asked, suspicion leaking into his tone, eyes narrowing. “Castiel, you do think this is a good idea, right? I mean, you’re an angel.”
Castiel avoided his gaze.
“Michael is the only one able to deal with Lucifer.”
Not only did he suddenly sound really unconvincing, for the first time, Dean noted, but he had worded that very carefully.
There was still no response. Dean tried a different tack.
“Uh, okay, Cas, why don’t you tell me what you don’t like about the plan?”
Castiel turned vaguely desperate eyes on Dean, looking distinctly trapped.
Dean just stood there stonily and stared unflinchingly at the angel.
Castiel’s whole body seemed to slump.
“The fact that any confrontation between Michael and Lucifer will inevitably result in the destruction of the Earth,” said Castiel, his tone flat and miserable.
Dean said nothing for a few seconds.
“Okay. I think I need to sit down.”
The way Castiel explained it was this.
Angels were not the kind, loving beings portrayed in popular culture.
Rather, they were scary, unfeeling badasses who had never forgiven humanity for being Daddy’s favourite. It turned out that unbeknownst to the lower-order angels who had tried to stop the seals being broken, Heaven’s upper management had been working towards the apocalypse the entire time, so that they could gank Lucifer, wipe the Earth clean of what was left of humanity and turn the planet into their own private playground. Castiel had found this out by accident and wasn’t sure what to do with it.
The entire plan depended on both Lucifer and Michael’s vessels – Sam and Dean – giving consent, though, and so Castiel had been sent to do the whole P.R. thing and basically sell Dean the idea that being a vessel was a good decision all round.
“So why are you telling me all this?” Dean asked at last.
Castiel turned troubled eyes on him, wide and blue, and Dean couldn’t help feeling sorry for the poor guy. The whole thing was a shitstorm of epic proportions, and from the sound of it Castiel was too low on the totem pole to do a thing about it. And Dean got the impression that angels who argued with the boss didn’t just get fired over it.
“Because I harbour grave misgivings, Dean,” Castiel said flatly. “I cannot help but think that this course of action is not what our Father would wish.”
Because, of course, to top it all off, God had apparently gone M.I.A. a while back, leaving the angels in charge without any idea what to do next.
Dean let out a long sigh, and tried to think this through. He wanted to protect his brother, who had Lucifer wanting to wear him. Dean didn’t want to say yes to Michael, because the Earth would be destroyed if he did (and Sam would probably end up Lucifer’s vessel anyway), but if he didn’t say yes, the Earth would still be destroyed, and again, Sam would probably end up Lucifer’s vessel.
Dean had spent the last thirteen years in the nuthouse, for God’s sake. This shouldn’t be his responsibility.
“Okay, how about this,” Dean proposed wearily. “You tell your bosses that I’m thinking about their proposition, but my big weakness is Sam, so you’re going to break me out and take me to him, just to reinforce how much I want to keep him safe so that I’ll say yes for his sake. And after you’ve done that, we can… shit, I don’t know, we’ll work something out from there.”
Castiel didn’t move. Not even to blink. It was seriously creepy.
“You want me to engage in outright rebellion.”
“Not outright, Cas,” Dean argued. “More like sneaky, disguised rebellion.”
Castiel stared at him.
Dean let out an explosive sound of frustration.
“Oh, come on! You don’t approve of what they’re up to, you don’t think God’s going to approve of what they’re up to – you really planning to just go along with it?”
Castiel stood there and looked conflicted. Which, fair enough, it was a big thing. But still, he couldn’t just ignore what was happening, right? Sure, angels weren’t turning out to be at all like Dean had expected, but – he couldn’t, could he?
“I need to think about this,” Castiel said, sounding kind of perturbed.
“Cas–” Dean started.
But Castiel disappeared before he could get another word out.
Dean let out a growl of frustration.
Why the hell was he the one dealing with all this bullshit? Seriously, what had he ever done to deserve this? The world was ending and it was up to Dean to find an out? Hell, he couldn’t even get the angel on his side to commit to helping out.
“We are all so fucked,” Dean said aloud. That seemed to sum up the situation. “I’m going to kick Sam’s ass next time I see him.”
He felt a little better after saying both those things, which made no sense, but fuck it, whatever. Without Castiel, Dean had no idea what he was supposed to do; hell, he couldn’t even break out of this hellhole without him.
The next day, though, Castiel reappeared, looking grim and determined.
“Let’s go,” he said to Dean without preamble, reaching for him.
Dean stepped back a space. A moment ago the angel hadn’t even been there, and now he was demanding they go someplace?
“You were right,” Castiel said reluctantly. “I cannot stand by and watch Heaven carry out their plans without interfering. This isn’t right.”
“Well, awesome,” Dean tried, a grin breaking across his face. Castiel glared at him, like he thought Dean didn’t understand how serious the situation was.
Dean raised his hands in a ‘whoa, peace’ gesture.
“Look, I get that it’s serious,” he hurriedly assured Castiel. “I’m just glad you’re on our side, that’s all.”
Castiel looked mildly appeased.
He reached for Dean again, and again Dean stepped back out of range.
“Whoah, hold up,” he told the angel, who looked annoyed again. “You can’t just zap me out wearing this, I need clothes.”
“You have clothes,” said Castiel, glaring.
“Hospital clothes,” Dean protested. “Not real clothes! Come on, dude, can’t you get me something decent from somewhere?”
Castiel gave Dean a look that suggested that he thought that Dean was being difficult and obstructive on purpose, but beamed himself out.
When he returned he was holding a bundle of clothing, which Dean accepted happily.
Unfolding them, Dean was surprised to see that he recognised the clothes that Castiel had brought.
“Wait, you brought some of my old clothes?”
Dean would know that Zeppelin shirt anywhere, and the jeans he was holding were the pair that Sam had spilled paint on in eleventh grade.
“Yes,” said Castiel, like, of course. “I retrieved them.”
“Right. Okay. Well, thanks, man.”
He waited, but Castiel stood there staring at him. Awkward.
“Um. Could you turn your back? While I change?”
Castiel looked confused, but obediently turned his back to Dean.
With a sigh, Dean stripped off the hospital outfit and changed into the clothes Castiel had brought.
Dean had filled out a fair bit since he was seventeen, and the t-shirt was maybe a little too tight, while the pants were definitely a little too tight. Still, he’d live.
It felt weird, wearing normal clothing again.
“Okay, Cas, I’m good. Let’s go,” said Dean.
This time he stayed put when Castiel went to grab him, and the two of them blinked out of existence to leave Dean’s room empty of people.
“What the fuck was that?” Dean shouted, as they blinked in somewhere else. He struggled not to heave.
Castiel tilted his head in puzzlement, and Dean was pretty sure the angel thought he was a huge drama queen.
“I used angelic methods of flight to transport us here.”
“Well, you could have warned me! I feel like my stomach turned upside down. Man, that sucked.”
“I apologise,” said Castiel. “I wasn’t aware that the experience of flight might be unpleasant for you. I have never transported a human before.”
Dean stilled, and slowly turned to face the angel.
“Never?” he asked warily.
Castiel’s expression didn’t change.
“Wow, I guess I should stop complaining and be glad I made it in one piece, then.”
Castiel went stiffer than before, and looked unmistakeably offended.
“I am not incompetent, Dean.”
Dean decided that this argument was going nowhere, and looked around the carpark.
“Your brother has a room in this motel,” Castiel explained. “I will lead you to him.”
“You couldn’t have just, like, popped us in there?” Dean asked.
“Last time I did so, he shot me,” Castiel explained matter-of-factly, without bothering to look at Dean. “I thought it best to avoid any chance of him doing the same to you.”
“Okay then. Thanks for that.”
Dean followed Castiel as he strode into the motel, trenchcoat flapping slightly as he walked. The two of them stopped outside one of the doors, and Castiel touched the lock. There was an audible click.
“You will find your brother here,” said Castiel.
Dean nodded, feeling nervous. He took a deep breath, and opened the door to step into the motel room.
Dean had a second to take in his surroundings. A kinda skeevy hotel room, with a laptop computer on the small table, a duffel on the end of the bed – and a tall, long-limbed figure with ridiculous hair sitting on the side of the bed with his elbows on his knees and his face in his hands, hair falling forward to partially obscure Dean’s view of his face.
At the sound of the door opening and Dean’s footsteps, his head shot up and he jumped to his feet, shouting,
“I told you I won’t say–” before his eyes landed on Dean.
Sam’s words abruptly cut off and his eyes went huge. He just stood there, looking completely stunned and sort of lost, a giant 6’3” goofball with an expression like a crushed kitten.
“Dean?” Sam’s voice came out broken and small.
“Hey, Sammy,” Dean said gently, and despite the situation, despite all the prickly history of the last thirteen years still between them he couldn’t restrain his enormous grin. “Good to see you, dude.”
Sam just stared at Dean, looking like he might actually cry.
“This is Cas, by the way,” Dean added awkwardly, desperately hoping to avert any actual tears, because he just could not handle a giant crying brother.
It worked, but not the way Dean expected. Sam’s eyes flashed.
“I know who he is!” Sam flung at Dean, turning sharply away, and flouncing away from him and Cas like a twelve year old girl.
Dean stared, and glanced back at Castiel, who stared solemnly back with a faint wrinkle between his eyebrows.
“What is he doing here, anyway?” Sam snapped petulantly. “What are you doing here? Come to tell me I should be saying yes, too?” His tone was very bitter.
Bewildered, Dean exchanged another glance with Castiel, who still looked vaguely worried (by Castiel standards, at least), and then folded his arms and glared.
“Okay, look, princess, I don’t know what the hell has gotten into you to turn you into a giant twelve year old girl in the thirteen years since we last had a proper conversation, but I’m not here to join in the pity party, so you can just suck it up and deal with it!”
At the first sound of Dean’s angry, no-nonsense tone of voice Sam whipped around to stare at him, startled, and when Dean finished Sam just stood there and gaped at him.
That always had been Sam’s problem, sometimes. He got so caught up in what was going on in his own head that he forgot that there was an actual world going on outside it which didn’t necessarily line up with his perspective.
“So,” Dean continued, just as loudly, but with a lot less belligerence, “this is Cas. He’s decided to join Team Screw the Apocalypse.”
“I have decided to oppose Heaven’s plans to bring about the apocalypse,” Castiel explained, after a moment, when Dean looked at him expectantly. “Dean was correct. I cannot stand by and allow this to take place when I know it is not right.”
Sam stared at them both.
“You…” He looked at Dean. “You convinced him to help stop the apocalypse? How?” he asked desperately.
“I’m just that awesome,” Dean smirked, and Sam sent him a look like he didn’t know whether he wanted to laugh at Dean, or strangle him. “Look, all he needed was a push, that was all.”
“A push,” Sam repeated faintly. He buried his head in his hands for a second. “I think – I think I need a moment. Alone.”
Dean looked at Castiel, and shrugged.
“I guess we should give him a few minutes. You want to beam me somewhere interesting?”
Castiel looked at him. Dean had a moment of alarm as it occurred to him that he and Castiel might have hugely-differing definitions of the word ‘interesting’, but before he could really panic Castiel reached for him, there was a moment of terrible disorientation, and then they were standing in some kind of giant fancy flower garden.
“Uh.” Dean looked around. “This is nice, I guess. Where are we?”
“Osaka, Japan,” Castiel supplied. “This is the Osaka Prefectural Flower Garden.” There was a thoughtful pause. “I find it… restful.”
Dean could see that: the place had this air of like, tranquillity or whatever. Castiel fit in surprisingly well. It was the stillness: no human was normally that still. It made Castiel seem like an unusually human-shaped rock, or something.
“You come here often?” he asked curiously.
“Sometimes,” Castiel agreed. His eyes were wandering around, taking in the flowers and greenery. Dean looked around as well. The garden was ordered to within an inch of its life – no doubt tended lovingly by obsessive Japanese gardeners – but it was so different to the white sterility that Dean had become used to over the last decade.
“You know,” he said suddenly, startling himself, “I can’t remember the last time I saw this much colour.”
Castiel’s head turned slightly towards him, and although Dean hadn’t meant to say anything, he found himself continuing.
“I was seventeen when they locked me away, you know.” He stared at the bright flowers. “They had, like, a gym, for anyone who wasn’t going to…” Dean made a fist and shook it slightly, “beat up the equipment or other people or themselves, you know, made us do exercise a few times a week, but the rest of the time…”
When he closed his eyes, Dean could still picture his room so clearly. It was more real in his mind than anything. Everything else was faded in his mind, from time and drugs, and the only things that still shone brightly were well-worn memories that Dean would recall over and over again, when there was nothing else to occupy him and the weight of what his life had turned into was too much.
“I was stuck there,” Dean finished, hoarsely. “There was just my room and the mess hall and the exercise room, and that was my life for thirteen years, and I can’t remember the last time I was outside before you busted me out. It’s kind of hard to believe that any of this is real.” He gestured at the open expanse of grass and flowers.
He could feel the weight of Castiel’s eyes on him, and could see Castiel’s pensive gaze out of the corner of his eye, but didn’t look around.
“I’m sorry that happened to you, Dean,” Castiel said, after a moment’s silence. “I am glad that I was able to help you.”
Dean glanced at the angel. As usual, Castiel looked entirely serious, and right now he had this earnest expression, like he wanted Dean to understand how sincere he was.
“Yeah. Me too,” Dean told him. “Thanks.”
They stood in the garden and looked at the flowers for about another ten minutes, before Dean sighed, and turned to Castiel.
“I think Sam’s probably getting a handle on his freak-out by now. Take us back?”
Castiel nodded, and placed a hand on Dean’s shoulder to transport them back to Sam’s motel room.
“So,” said Sam, “just to clarify, Castiel broke you out of the psychiatric hospital so you could help save the world? You do realise you were in there in the first place for a reason.”
Dean’s temper flared, and with his momentary lapse in control came a burst of bright voices that he quickly worked to suppress, concentrating on reducing them to a babble of background noise.
“I assure you, Sam, that Dean is perfectly sane,” said Castiel, before Dean could say anything angry, and probably start a fight. “The care he was receiving was doing him more harm than good.”
Sam deflated, but only slightly.
“Fine. But we’re still talking about all of Heaven and Hell, here. What do you propose we do about it? Because I don’t see any way out of this situation Dean, I really don’t.”
“Wow. So you’re just giving up?”
“I didn’t say that,” Sam snapped.
“It sure sounded like it,” Dean snapped back, “considering you just tried to shoot down the ‘prevent the apocalypse’ plan before it even got anywhere.”
Sam gave an ugly laugh.
“Is that what you think, Dean? That I haven’t been trying to stop this? Maybe your new angel buddy didn’t tell you, but my trying to stop it, is what got us into this mess in the first place.”
Dean turned to Castiel.
“I told you about the demon,” said Castiel.
It took Dean a moment, but then he remembered Castiel telling him about the seals keeping Lucifer caged, and how Sam had been tricked into breaking the last one.
“Oh, right, the thing with the seal,” Dean recalled. “Seriously, Sam, trusting a demon? You didn’t think that that was going to work out badly for you?”
A muscle in Sam’s jaw flexed, but he didn’t say anything.
“Maybe we don’t have much of a chance,” Dean told his brother doggedly, “but I’m sure as hell not going to let that stop me from trying. Right, Cas?”
“Indeed.” Castiel sounded resolved.
Dean grinned at him, and looked back at Sam. His brother still didn’t look all that convinced, but he did seem a little more hopeful, and that was something.
“Okay then,” Dean announced. “Obviously, since I’ve been out of the loop, you guys know more about this whole thing than I do. Any ideas where to start?”
It took them several days, but eventually Dean, Castiel, and Sam worked out something that could be broadly termed a plan.
Castiel was moderately sure that if Lucifer was out of the picture, Heaven would no longer be so gung-ho about taking over the Earth. Their excuse, after all, was that the Earth would be destroyed after Lucifer and Michael’s boss fight, and the angels would be needed to restore it. There was a long leap from ‘claiming Earth after everything is destroyed’ to ‘destroying God’s creation ourselves,’ though, so if the fight never took place, hopefully the angels would leave the planet alone.
Both Heaven and Hell were gunning for the apocalypse, which meant that once people clued into the fact that Dean, Sam, and Castiel were genuinely attempting to stop it from happening, they’d be dealing with both angels and demons as opponents. Demons Dean and Sam knew how to deal with; angels, on the other hand, were a lot harder. They had a bunch of different powers, and could only be killed by another angel. However, Castiel knew sigils and stuff that would help keep angels away, and promised to teach them some.
The biggest part of the whole apocalypse problem, the thing the whole apocalypse relied on, was of course Lucifer. As an archangel he was super-powerful, and like all angels could only be killed by another angel and even then probably only another archangel, because of his power and skills. It was Sam who suggested that the Colt – a legendary gun capable of killing demons – might also be able to kill angels.
Castiel had no idea whether it could or not, but said that it was possible. The only way to find out, was to get hold of the Colt and examine it themselves. According to him, the Colt was most likely in the hands of a demon named Crowley.
For the moment, Dean and Sam would try and track down the weapon, while Castiel kept up his act of being the loyal and obedient angel Heaven thought he still was.
The next day Sam made frustrated noises about the ‘wi-fi’ for his laptop computer not working, but apparently the Starbucks in town had some for free, so Sam was going to go there. Dean had no idea why a coffeeshop had a computer thing or why it was being offered for free – unless it was to lure in nerds like Sam and seduce them into buying coffee, in which case, good move – but asked Sam to drop him somewhere he could buy some new clothes. Sam had bought him a couple of changes of clothes that first night, but the style was totally different from anything Dean would have chosen, and he needed some extra clothing anyway.
Sam looked conflicted at Dean’s request, but when Dean pointed out that he needed some stuff Sam plucked several notes from his wallet for Dean to buy stuff with, and wrote down his cell phone number so Dean could call him when he was done.
“That’s a phone?” Dean asked, when Sam pulled it out to ‘change the settings’ whatever that was about.
As Dean watched dubiously, the thing opened up kind of like a tiny laptop computer, to display what looked like a tiny flat keyboard and an equally tiny screen showing a picture of a smiling blonde woman. Dean stared as the tiny screen was suddenly full of colourful little symbols and text.
“You sure that’s not a tiny computer?” Dean asked suspiciously. Sam snorted a laugh.
“No, you’re going to love this actually; it’s a video phone.”
“Bullshit,” Dean said immediately.
Sam chuckled, tapped a few buttons, and showed Dean the screen.
The name Bobby Singer was on the screen. As Dean watched, Sam pressed another button, and a little list popped up in front of it.
Make call , said the first item on the list, but make video call was right below it.
“No one actually uses them to make video calls, though,” Sam added, “because it’s really expensive. Mostly they use the camera to take pictures.”
He held the phone up in front of Dean, and there was a shutter-click noise. When Sam turned the phone so that Dean could see the screen again, a miniature photo of his own gobsmacked face stared back at him.
“Wow,” said Dean, after a moment. Sam grinned and stuck the phone back in his bag.
“So, you talk to Bobby?” Dean asked tentatively, once he’d gotten past most of his amazement over the phone.
“What? Oh. Yeah, since a while back,” Sam explained, glancing at him. “Apparently it was never us he had a problem with, just Dad.”
“Sounds about right,” Dean agreed.
“Anyway,” Sam asked, grabbing his bag, “you ready to go?”
There was a bit of a delay when Dean discovered, to his utter delight, that Sam had inherited the Impala.
“Oh, God,” Sam groaned.
“Oh baby, I’ve missed you,” Dean crooned, running a hand over her hood.
“Come on, Dean, do we really need to do this now?” Sam tried, huffing with exasperation.
Dean ignored him, and continued checking the Impala over. Her condition wasn’t too bad, considering that Sam owned her and he didn’t know shit about cars, but Dean couldn’t wait to give her a proper going-over, get her back into top condition.
“Did you miss me, girl?” Dean asked fondly.
“I can’t believe I forgot about how much you obsess over the goddamn car,” Sam said behind him.
“Don’t try and interfere with the bond between a man and his car, Sammy,” Dean shot over his shoulder.
“You’re insane,” he heard Sam mutter, barely audible, and felt a sharp prickle of irritation at his brother’s words, which he had to tamp down. They hadn’t talked about it – yet – but Dean knew that in spite of what Castiel had said Sam still kind of thought Dean should still be locked up with the looney-tunes.
Dean was doing his best to keep the voices in the background as long as Sam was around, but it was exhausting, and so far Dean kept needing to take naps all the time to keep it up. It was just a matter of time before he had one of his space-out attacks, and then Sam would start in on him again about it. The only thing that kept Dean from freaking out about the whole thing was the fact that he was pretty sure Castiel would do something about it if Sam actually tried to institutionalise him again, but nothing stopped the deep well of anger Dean felt over Sam’s attitude.
Dean gave the Impala one last affectionate pat, and straightened.
“Okay, I’m done, bitch. Jeez.”
Sam spluttered at the insult, his expression hilariously strange, caught somewhere between outrage and pained nostalgia, but Dean just got in the damn car and ignored Sam’s ire.
The short drive into town was awkward for the first couple of minutes, but then Sam turned the radio on to diffuse some of the tension, and Dean’s attention had a new target.
“What the fuck,” Dean swore, listening to the music playing on the radio in complete disgust and horror. “Shit, and I thought nineties music was bad.”
Sam rolled his eyes.
“It’s not that bad, Dean.”
“Yes it is.” Dean listened to the lyrics for a few seconds. “I’ll follow you until you love me? Seriously, man, what the fuck is this?”
“Lady Gaga, I think,” Sam offered.
“Lady Gaga,” Dean repeated, incredulous. “What the hell is the world coming to?”
Dean continued to complain about current music until Sam dropped him off outside Target, but Sam’s face, when Dean glanced at him, seemed more amused than anything.
“Don’t forget to ring me when you’re finished,” Sam leaned out the driver’s side window to call out, as Dean approached the store. “Oh, and things probably cost a lot more than you’re expecting, so don’t worry about it.”
Somehow Dean managed to restrain himself from giving Sam the finger.
“Yeah, yeah,” Dean grumbled under his breath. “Grown-ass man here, Sam. I can buy some goddamn clothes by myself.”
Fifteen minutes later, he’d picked out some underwear and a Batman t-shirt, and was browsing the aisles. He was going to need a decent pair of boots – he’d have to find out if there was an army surplus store anywhere in this town – some decent changes of clothing, as well as a couple of jackets.
“Jesus!” Dean yelped and bounded forward a couple of feet as Castiel’s voice spoke right behind him. He turned, a hand on his chest as though to calm his suddenly-racing heart, to see the angel watching him with a slightly puzzled expression.
“Oh man, you’ve got to give me some warning, Cas,” Dean exhaled, a hand still over his heart. “You scared the crap out of me, dude.”
“My apologies. It was not my intention to startle you.”
“Yeah, well, no harm done,” Dean told him. “Just don’t sneak up on me like that next time, okay?”
Castiel nodded in acknowledgement, so hopefully that was the last time Dean was going to have the life scared out of him like that.
“So what’s up, Cas? Something wrong?”
“Nothing’s wrong,” Castiel assured him. “I merely came to inform you that my superiors believe that I am faithfully following their instructions.”
“Well, that’s good.”
“I have also convinced them that sending other angels to deal with you and your brothers would be unwise,” Castiel continued. “Sam has not shown reserve in his hostility towards us, and I have told them that you feel there is a bond between us as a result of my role in freeing you from the institution where you were being held, and therefore are more inclined to trust me than you would another angel.”
Reading Castiel’s expression was getting easier the more he saw of the angel, and Dean figured he’d gotten the hang of it well enough to guess that the angel looked proud of himself for coming up with that one.
Dean thought about it.
“Well,” he said, “you do know it’s not exactly a lie, don’t you?”
Castiel’s face didn’t change much, but Dean could tell from something around his eyes that Castiel was surprised and pleased.
“I mean, come on,” Dean nudged him slightly, “you did get me out of there, and now you’re helping us – why the hell wouldn’t I?”
Castiel looked at him, still with that faint expression of surprised pleasure, and Dean got the feeling that friendly emotions weren’t something he was used to having directed at him.
“Thank you,” Castiel said, at last. “I… appreciate your faith in me, Dean.”
“Sure,” Dean said, a little awkward in the face of Castiel’s gratitude for such a simple thing. “So, tell me what’s up between you and Sam? Because he seemed seriously pissed to see you.”
Castiel’s gaze shifted, and moved to the side.
“I was one of the angels sent to convince him to agree to becoming Lucifer’s vessel,” he said quietly. It took Dean a second to properly absorb that.
“Okay. I can see why he doesn’t like you.”
Castiel looked at him, troubled and a little guilty, Dean thought, and Dean couldn’t help but feel for the guy. Sam clearly had his own issues, but he was a grown man capable of saying no. Castiel, on the other hand… Dean didn’t get the impression that ‘no’ was usually an option for him.
“Hey, cheer up,” Dean told him. “Sam’ll get over it. He’s a big boy.”
Castiel still had that vaguely worried frown.
“I am not so sure. What I did is a lot to get over, Dean.”
“Well, I think you’re okay, dude,” Dean said firmly, which earned him a slight lightening in Castiel’s expression. “Anyway, I need to pick out some more clothes. You want to come with me?”
The result of this question was that Castiel followed Dean silently around the store as Dean looked for appropriate clothing. Dean commented on some of the clothes, offering approval or denouncing them, and Castiel listened to him with a calmly intent look as though everything Dean said was of grave importance. It was kind of nice.
Afterwards Dean gave Sam a call on the nearest payphone, and fifteen minutes later the Impala pulled up in the carpark. Sam rolled the window down and gave Dean a constipated, disbelieving look.
“What is he doing here?” Sam asked, as Dean dumped his stuff in the backseat and got in the front passenger seat.
“Chill, Sam,” Dean recommended. “Cas was just stopping by to say that his superiors believe everything he told them, and then he was keeping me company, right, Cas?”
“Indeed,” Cas agreed.
Sam raised a skeptical eyebrow.
“He was keeping you company.” His voice was full of doubt.
Dean turned to where Cas stood next to the car.
“Hey, Cas, who’s the coolest superhero?”
Castiel blinked once.
“Batman,” he responded seriously, and Dean couldn’t help himself from giving Sam a triumphant grin.
“Oh, God,” Sam said, “You’re indoctrinating the angel.”
Dean just kept grinning.
“Okay, whatever,” Sam sighed. “Just – is he coming with us?”
Dean looked at Cas expectantly. It took Castiel a moment to realise that this was apparently his cue, but after a moment’s silence he clued in and answered, “I should return to my duties.”
“Later then, Cas,” Dean called out, as Sam began to move the car forward. Castiel didn’t respond, but just disappeared in his usual abrupt way.
As he drove Sam kept glancing at Dean, and Dean finally got sick of it.
“What?” he demanded.
“Nothing,” said Sam. A few minutes passed in silence, then he added, “You just seem pretty chummy with the guy, that’s all.”
“What, you jealous?” Dean jibed. Sam’s mouth firmed into a thin line, and he didn’t respond, so Dean wrote it off as more of Sam’s dislike for the angel.
“Come on, you’ve got to cut him a break,” Dean told his brother bluntly. “I get that he was a dick to you, but the guy was in a shitty situation, Sam. Whatever they do to angels who disobey, I get the feeling it isn’t good.”
“I don’t have to do anything,” Sam said shortly, a mulish look on his face, and Dean gave it up for now.
A few days later Dean and Sam stood at a set of crossroads, Dean holding a small box, Sam holding a shovel.
“I’m still not convinced this is the best idea,” Sam muttered.
“Yeah, well, I’m open to anything you want to come up with, Sam, but right now, this is the only plan we’ve got,” Dean pointed out. Sam huffed a little.
“Fine,” he said resignedly, and started to dig. Once they had a small hole, Dean put the box in it, and Sam shovelled all the soil back into place. Then they waited.
“Well, well,” purred a voice. “What have we here?”
“We’re only willing to deal with Crowley,” Dean told the demon firmly. “No one else.”
“The King of the Crossroads?” the demon asked lightly. “You boys do think a lot of yourselves. Why should I?”
“Because we’re Sam and Dean Winchester,” Sam said with finality, and the demon’s eyes bloomed black.
“Wait here.” The demon vanished.
“Again, really don’t like this plan,” Sam murmured.
“Shut it, bitch,” Dean murmured back. They waited.
When Crowley did turn up, he turned out to be wearing a guy in a smart suit, with knowing eyes and a smooth smile.
“I hear you want to speak to me,” he offered, eyeing them speculatively.
“We hear you have the Colt,” Sam returned coldly.
Crowley raised an eyebrow.
“Interesting. How did that piece of information end up on the grapevine? I don’t suppose you’d care to share?”
Dean and Sam said nothing. Crowley sighed.
“Fine. Don’t tell me. So, you want the Colt.”
“That’s what we said,” Dean snapped. Crowley held up his hands, still looking speculative.
“Easy there. Tell you what. Since I hear the elder Winchester’s soul has already been earmarked by Heaven, and Hell getting hold of your soul,” he nodded at Sam, “would be bad for all of us, why don’t I just give it to you? As a gift.”
Dean and Sam exchanged wary glances.
“What’s in it for you?” Sam asked suspiciously. Crowley looked at him.
“Between you and me,” he confided, “I want you to take this thing to Lucifer and empty it into his face.”
“Why?” Dean asked.
“Survival,” Crowley said simply.
“Survival?” Sam echoed. Crowley rolled his eyes.
“Lucifer isn't a demon, remember? He's an angel. An angel famous for his hatred of humankind. To him, you're just filthy bags of pus. If that's the way he feels about you, what can he think about us? To him, we're just servants. Cannon fodder. If Lucifer manages to exterminate humankind, we're next. So, help me, huh? Let's all go back to simpler, better times, back to when we could all follow our natures. I'm in sales, dammit! So what do you say if I give you this thing, and you go kill the devil?”
Dean looked at Sam. Sam looked back, like this was your idea, genius. So Dean shrugged, and said, “Okay.”
“I expected that to be harder. Well. Here.” He pulled a gun out of his jacket and handed it to Dean, butt-first. Dean took it.
“Of course, you’re going to need ammunition,” Crowley added smoothly. He threw a small bag at Sam, who caught it reflexively.
“Excuse me for asking,” Dean asked, “but aren't you kind of signing your own death warrant? I mean, what happens to you if we go up against the devil and lose?” Sam nodded agreement, never taking his eyes from Crowley.
“Number one, he's going to wipe us all out anyway. Two, after you leave here, I go on an extended vacation to all points nowhere. And three, how about you don't miss, okay!” Crowley snapped. “Morons!”
Without another word, the demon vanished.
Dean looked at the gun he was holding, and then at Sam.
“Is this it?” He held the gun out to Sam.
Sam took it, and examined it.
“Looks like.” His expression soured. “Do you have any way of getting hold of Castiel?”
Dean shook his head.
“Dude tends to just show up whenever he wants.”
“Great,” Sam sighed. “I guess we should see if there’s any hunts in the area, then, until he shows up. Just because it’s the end of the world doesn’t mean we shouldn’t help people.”
“Thanks for the optimism, Sam,” Dean groused. Sam just made a face at him, and shoved the Colt into his pocket. They walked back to the car.
“Hey, how about I drive, this time?” Dean asked.
“Dean, you haven’t driven in years, and more importantly, you don’t have a license,” Sam pointed out, giving Dean a look.
“You suck, man,” Dean complained, but got in the passenger side.
The next day they drove to the next town, after reports of what sounded like a vampire attack. On the way Sam stopped for gas, and Dean took the opportunity to stock up on junk food.
As Dean approached the gas station counter, something bright and poppy started playing on the radio, and the guy at the counter made a face of disgust.
“Damn Britney Spears,” the guy at the counter muttered, changing the station.
“Who’s Britney Spears?” Dean asked, paying for his armload of snacks. He realised he’d said something wrong when the dude shot him a frankly disbelieving look.
“You’re kidding me, right? You know. Britney Spears. Baby one more time. Toxic. Womanizer. Right up there with Madonna and Michael Jackson as a music icon. You been living under a rock for like, the last decade?”
“Something like that.” He took the change the guy offered him.
“Well I wish I had,” the guy said. “Can’t stand her.”
“Right,” Dean muttered, and returned with his armful of snacks to the car.
He’d been trying to focus on the positive stuff since Castiel had rescued him, but to be honest, Dean found it hard to settle into his new, post-asylum life. Sam was so much older, and practically a different person, and the world wasn’t the way he’d left it. Little things like the music on the radio or the cars people drove leapt out at Dean, and he was reminded all over again of how much time had passed, every time it happened. He’d been doing a pretty good job of ignoring it, until just now.
“You okay?” Sam asked, after they’d been driving a while. “You’re kind of quiet.”
“Fine,” Dean replied briefly. To forestall any kind of feelings-talk he turned the radio on as a distraction, but again, all the stations seemed to be playing songs he didn’t know. After a few channel changes Dean found one playing a Madonna song, and with a mental sigh of resignation, decided that he wasn’t going to find anything better.
“You’re listening to Madonna?” Sam asked, with an air of amused disbelief that annoyed the hell out of Dean. “Why? I mean, you used to hate her stuff.”
“Maybe because I know who the fuck she is, Sam,” Dean said, with awful sarcasm.
Sam looked taken-aback, and Dean turned away, looking out the passenger side window.
“Sorry,” Sam muttered, after a moment. “I keep forgetting how much you’ve missed.”
Dean set his jaw and didn’t respond, and the rest of the drive was made in silence.
The hunt went without incident, even though it had been years since Dean had last been on a hunt. But the feel of a weapon was familiar in his hands, as was the grapple-and-strike routine with the vampires. Dean turned away from decapitating the last vampire to see Castiel standing a short distance away, watching him. Despite the condition he and Sam were in, Dean grinned in welcome.
“Hey, man. Good to see you.”
Castiel’s expression warmed a little, and he walked closer.
“I took care not to startle you,” he said in greeting.
“Yeah, I appreciate it,” Dean said. “You almost gave me a heart attack last time, popping up like that. Also,” he gestured to the axe he was holding, “now wouldn’t be a good time to startle me, if you know what I mean.” He grinned.
Castiel’s mouth twitched up a tiny bit at the corners, which was the closest thing to a smile that Dean had seen so far.
“We have the Colt,” Sam interrupted tersely, joining the two of them, and Dean frowned at him. Castiel’s face went back to the usual impassive expression. “What now?”
“There have been rumours about Lucifer’s movements,” said Castiel. “It seems likely that he intends to bind Death.”
“Bind Death?” Dean repeated.
“The entity responsible for reaping and collecting souls,” Castiel explained. “In the ordinary way of things, he is a natural part of the universe, only reaping those whose circumstances require it, but if Lucifer succeeds in binding him, he can cause the deaths of thousands of people, perhaps more.”
It was a grim picture. Sam, Dean saw, looked a little sick, but otherwise unaffected. Dean himself felt horrified.
“So what’s that got to do with us?” Dean asked, swallowing.
“It seems that he intends to bind Death sometime soon,” said Castiel. “When he does, we can move in and you can use the Colt and, hopefully, kill him.”
“Any idea where he’s going to be?” Sam asked, while Dean was contemplating the enormity of something like killing the Devil.
“There have been large numbers of reapers sighted in Missouri,” Castiel replied. “It seems likely that Lucifer will be there sometime soon.”
Dean looked at Sam. Sam looked back, and Dean could tell that they were on the same page. He looked back at Castiel.
“Give us a few hours to catch up on sleep, and we’ll be there,” said Dean. “Will you come with us?”
“I can’t. If Heaven finds out that I was with you, and that I was part of this plan… their reaction will not be pleasant. If you need me, pray to me, and I will come to you, but I can promise nothing else. I am sorry, Dean.”
“Hey.” Dean gripped Castiel’s arm until the angel met his eyes again. “It’s okay. We don’t want you risking your cover, Cas. Alright? I promise, I’ll only call you if we’re in trouble.”
“You are very understanding,” said Castiel. “Thank you.”
Dean smiled at him, and Castiel looked back with an earnest expression.
“Um,” said Sam.
Dean let go of Castiel’s arm and glanced inquiringly at his brother, who had a weird look on his face. When Dean looked back, Castiel was gone.
“You really like him, don’t you?” Sam asked quietly. There was something wistful and a little bitter in his voice.
“Yeah,” Dean admitted. “He’s a good guy, you know? A bit weird, but I don’t know if that’s just because he’s an angel.”
“Just because he hasn’t let you down so far, doesn’t mean he won’t,” said Sam.
Dean scowled at him, because Sam really, really couldn’t talk.
“Dean, wait,” Sam said, as Dean started to walk away. “I don’t – I’m not trying to be a dick, here. I just don’t want to see you hurt, if it turns out you can’t trust him. I mean, he was part of the God Squad until you showed up. How do you know this isn’t just a ruse to gain your trust and suck you in?”
“Because Cas isn’t like that,” Dean said staunchly. He knew that logically, Sam had a point, but Sam hadn’t seen in Castiel what Dean had. The angel wanted to do the right thing; he’d just needed the push. Dean firmly believed that.
Sam looked worried, and unconvinced, but didn’t say anything to contradict Dean, which was enough for now. Sam just needed time, that was all.
“So,” said Dean, as they walked to the car, “killing Satan. That’s… a tall order.”
“Having second thoughts?” Sam asked, glancing at him.
“Hell yeah,” Dean said immediately. “Are you kidding me? I’d have to be completely insane not to be. But the way I see it, we don’t have much of a choice.”
“Yeah,” Sam agreed, and they walked back to the car. “This is pretty much our only option, as far as I can tell. I’m just… worried.”
“As long as we get it done, that’s what matters,” Dean told him.
“I know,” said Sam. “It’s just… Lucifer. He’s been visiting me in my dreams, trying to get me to say yes to him. If this doesn’t work…”
“It’ll work,” Dean said, trying to sound more confident than he felt.
“I hope so,” said Sam, and the two of them fell into silence.
Sam rang Bobby after they’d had a chance to shower and sleep, and after some research, he was able to offer Sam some more information. Between the two of them, Sam and Bobby narrowed down Lucifer’s most likely location to an old farm. With the Colt in Dean’s pocket and a plan of action in mind, the two of them packed the Impala and hit the road.
When they got to Carthage, driving through the town centre made it clear that Lucifer had already been there. The town was spookily, suspiciously empty, and driving through it was like visiting a ghost town.
“This is creepy,” Dean muttered, as they drove down yet another deserted street. The shops and buildings around them were totally empty, not a single person in sight.
“Yeah,” Sam muttered, keeping a wary eye out for anything that might spell trouble. But the town was as empty as it seemed, and nothing tried to stop them as they drove towards the old Jasper farm property.
They parked some distance from the farm, and walked the rest of the way, sneaking through bushes and cutting through a field that was filled with men standing to attention, their gazes fixed on something in the distance.
Dean’s heart was beating rapidly, his hands feeling sweaty and clammy as he and Sam headed in the direction of the stares.
There was a man, dressed in jeans and a casual shirt, digging a hole. He looked like he could have been anyone, but Sam sucked in a sharp breath at the sight of him.
“It’s him,” he told Dean, and Dean could hear the fear in his voice beneath the hostility.
As they walked closer, Dean saw that the guy digging had a face covered in sores and peeling skin, like some sort of horrible disease.
“Hey!” Sam called out, reading his shotgun, and the dude looked up and stopped digging.
Dean swallowed. The guy might have looked human enough, but his eyes were something else altogether, and just looking at him gave Dean the heebie-jeebies.
“Oh, Sam,” said Lucifer, “you don’t need that gun here. You know I’d never hurt you. Not really.”
Dean realised, in a distant sort of way, that he was fucking terrified. But he wrapped his fingers around the Colt in his pocket and pulled it out, and somehow kept his hand steady as he took aim and fired.
Lucifer collapsed to the ground with a bullet-hole in his forehead.
Dean and Sam stared at him. He didn’t move.
“Is he… dead?” Dean asked hesitantly.
“Owww,” Lucifer said, and stood up, the hole in his forehead totally healed-over.
A quick glance at Sam showed that he was as fucking horrified by that as Dean was.
“Crap,” Dean blurted, scrambling backwards as Lucifer took a step towards him. He was pretty sure his utter terror was written all over his face, but right now he didn’t give a shit. Lucifer took another step, paused, and gave Dean a long, contemplative look.
For a moment Dean didn’t breathe as Lucifer just looked at him. Then, by some kind of miracle, Lucifer turned away from him and bent to pick up the shovel he’d dropped.
Dean’s breath whooshed out and he almost fainted on the spot from sheer relief.
Lucifer looked at Sam, who still looked aghast that their plan had failed.
“Don't feel too bad, Sam. There's only five things in all of creation that that gun can't kill, and I just happen to be one of them. But if you give me a minute, I'm almost done.” With that, Lucifer went back to digging.
Dear Castiel, Dean thought fervently, Sam and I could really use a rescue. Right now.
A second later a hand closed on Dean’s shoulder and he almost screamed, except that his stomach turned over and he was suddenly standing next to the Impala. He blinked, and when his eyes opened Sam was standing in front of him, Castiel standing next to him with a hand on Sam’s shoulder.
“You need to get out of here and as far away from Lucifer as possible,” Castiel ordered, but Dean had turned and thrown up all over the ground. Stomach heaving, he tried to compose himself. There was something about Lucifer that had terrified him and put him on edge, something he couldn’t explain, and the moment when he had been utterly convinced of his approaching mortality had been too much.
Straightening, Dean wiped at his mouth, feeling himself shake and trying to get a hold of himself. A few deep breaths, and the shaking stopped.
“Dean? Are you okay?” Sam asked urgently. Dean could tell that his brother was worried that Lucifer had done something to him. Dean shook his head, then nodded.
“That guy scared the crap out of me,” Dean said honestly. “Couldn’t you feel it? There was something about him, I don’t know what, but it was fucking terrifying.”
Castiel opened his mouth to respond, when Dean’s voices suddenly struck.
Lucifer has bound Death to his will! cried one, and the refrain was taken up by a multitude of voices until Dean’s head was ringing with it. He grabbed his head with both hands, eyes squeezed shut, willing the voices to shut up. With an effort he concentrated on shutting them out, until the volume dwindled to a point where Dean was no longer incapacitated. He let out a relieved breath, and opened his eyes.
Sam was looking at him with a kind of worried pity, which Dean did not appreciate, but Castiel was looking at Dean with sharp concern.
“Dean? What is it?”
“Nothing,” Dean said, trying to play it cool. “Just my voices, that’s all.”
“Voices?” Castiel repeated, frowning.
“Yeah, he hears voices,” Sam put in. “That’s why he was in the psychiatric hospital, Castiel. He hears voices that aren’t there.” The condescending pity in his voice made Dean scowl in resentment. Like Sam had any room to judge.
Castiel continued to frown, but Dean recognised it as his thinking-face.
“What did these voices say to you?”
“I don’t know, something about how Lucifer had bound Death to his will? Why do you ask?” Castiel’s face went slack with shock, which Dean guessed wasn’t a good sign. “What? What is it?”
Castiel met Dean’s eyes, and calmly dropped a bombshell.
“You are hearing the voices of angels.”
Dean was stunned speechless.
“What?” Sam stammered.
But Castiel was distracted, looking perturbed beneath the impassive mask. Dean got the impression that he was thinking furiously.
“Dean, this is very important,” the angel said urgently, meeting Dean’s eyes with grave earnestness. “You must not mention the voices to anyone, under any circumstances. No one must know that you are hearing my brothers. Understand?”
Dean nodded, a little taken-aback by the grim look on Castiel’s face, and kind of worried.
“Sam,” Castiel’s eyes snapped to Dean’s brother with an intense expression, “you must not tell anyone that Dean can hear angels. This is very important. For your brother’s safety, it must be kept a complete secret.”
“I – okay,” said Sam. He still looked completely thrown off his axis.
“Cas? What’s going on?” Dean asked.
“I do not know,” Castiel admitted, and vanished.
“Angels?” Sam repeated, looking lost. “Really? You were hearing – angels?”
“Yeah,” Dean agreed, with a flippancy that wasn’t genuine in the least. “All this time, I guess it turns out that the voices weren’t just in my head, after all.”
Sam flinched back, his face morphing into a look of horror as he realised that Dean had been deprived of his life, locked up and treated like a crazy person, for no reason at all.
“I don’t want to hear it, Sam,” Dean interrupted tersely. “I’ve gone through hell since I was seventeen because first Dad, then you didn’t believe me. Before Cas bailed me out, the last time I was outside was 1996, Sam. I don’t understand how anything works anymore, or any of the stuff people are talking about. I don’t know the bands on the radio anymore, or the shows on TV. Hell, I don’t even know how people listen to music anymore – I keep seeing people wandering around with little white things in their ears. So, there isn’t really anything you can say to magically make this all better. The world’s left me behind and I don’t belong anymore, Sam. I fit in about as much as Cas does.”
Sam just stood there looking incredibly stricken, like it had never occurred to him, before, all the things Dean had been missing.
Well, fuck him.
Dean stormed back to the car, and sat silently in the passenger seat until Sam got in as well.
“Dean?” Sam asked tentatively. He looked horrendously guilty. Well, good.
Dean stared stonily out the window and didn’t answer.
“Look, Dean, I’m really sorry. I honestly thought it was the best thing for you,” said Sam, because apparently he couldn’t take a hint. “If I’d known –”
Dean whipped his head around to glare at Sam.
“And how the hell would you have known, Sam?” he snapped. “I’ve barely even seen you since they locked me up! Thirteen years I was in there, and you visited, what, maybe half a dozen times in the last eight years? I’m not going to blame you for never coming to visit when you were still a kid, but once you were an adult? Come on, Sam! The entire place could have been full of demons or people torturing the inmates, for all you would have known!”
“Dean–” Sam tried desperately.
“I don’t know you any more, Sam,” Dean said with finality. “And you sure as hell don’t know me. And I don’t know if I can ever forgive you for keeping me locked up without even checking for yourself whether I really needed to be.”
He went back to staring out the window, and Sam quietly got into the car looking like a kicked puppy. He started the car without saying anything, and the rest of the drive was made in uneasy silence.
Dean wondered what it meant, that he was hearing angels.
He kept thinking about Lucifer standing there digging, with eyes like – like something Dean didn’t even have a word for. They’d struck a chord, familiar and frightening, hitting Dean on a deep, visceral level. Dean didn’t understand why, or why it was that Sam hadn’t been affected. Between the revelation that Dean was hearing angels, his fight with Sam and their little meeting with Lucifer, Dean had no idea what to feel right now.
So he stayed silent, his thought whirling, as he and Sam got the hell out of Dodge and put as much distance between them and Carthage as they could.
After a while Dean turned the radio on, changing channels until he hit a classic rock station.
The song playing was The Scorpions’ Send Me An Angel.
It seemed weirdly appropriate, and Dean wondered if it was some kind of omen.
“So,” Sam said, after a couple of hours silence. “I guess we need a new plan.”
Dean turned to stare at him.
“Like what? In case you didn’t notice, our one plan crashed and burned back there. You were the one who thought we didn’t have a chance. What makes you think any different now?”
Sam shrugged, looking determined.
“You were right, Dean. We can’t just give up. There has to be some way we can beat this – there has to be something we can do.”
Dean stared out the window into the darkness, and hoped that Sam was right.
They finally pulled into a motel a while later, and grabbed a room with two single beds. Now that he’d recovered from the adrenalin hit, Dean felt weary to the bone.
Somehow, he wasn’t surprised when there was a knock on the door. Sam grabbed the nearest gun, but Dean, his instincts telling him who it was likely to be, just opened the door and said, “Hey, Cas.”
“Dean,” said Castiel, and they sort of gazed at each other for a moment, Dean feeling oddly relieved by Castiel’s presence. It made sense, he supposed – it was hard not to feel reassured when your friendly neighbourhood angel was around to protect you.
“Come on in,” Dean said after a second or two, when Castiel did nothing but stand there. Castiel did so, and Dean closed the door behind him.
“So, our plan to shoot Lucifer with the Colt was a bust,” he said. “Any idea what we should try next?”
“We need to discuss what happened earlier,” said Castiel, instead of replying to the question Dean had actually asked.
“What, you mean the thing with Lucifer, or me hearing angels?” Dean asked. He and Sam looked at Castiel expectantly.
“How is that even possible?” Sam added. “I mean – most people don’t go around hearing angels. Why Dean?”
Castiel frowned, and his answer left Dean speechless.
“Because he’s a former angel.”
There was a short, dumbstruck silence. Sam recovered first.
“An angel? How the hell is Dean an angel?” Sam sputtered, torn between incredulity and hilarity, and Dean might have been offended except that he felt the same way.
But Castiel didn’t seem perturbed by how obviously not-an-angel Dean was.
“He is missing his Grace,” was all he said.
“My what now?” Dean wanted to know.
“It is what makes an angel an angel,” Castiel replied patiently. “It is possible for an angel to tear out their Grace, in which case they fall, and are reborn as humans. Like you.”
“I’m seriously an angel?” Dean asked, torn between consternation and amusement at the idea.
“How can you tell?” Dean asked curiously.
“Only angels and the fallen may hear the voices of the Heavenly Host,” Castiel said patiently.
“Yes, Dean. I am sure. There is no other explanation.”
“Really?” Sam asked, forehead crinkling in bewilderment. “But he’s… Dean.”
“He’s human,” Castiel said definitively. “If he still had his Grace, he would be different.”
“So what, more like you?” Dean questioned.
“Possibly,” Castiel hedged. “Or possibly more like my other brethren who support the apocalypse.”
“Oh. Well, great.”
“So why is it such a big deal that Dean is an angel?” Sam asked. “Why is it such a secret?”
“Because falling is a sin,” Castiel responded sombrely. “It is a rejection of everything Heaven stands for, everything we are. It is one of the gravest offences an angel can commit. If Heaven knew that Dean was a former angel, he would be destroyed, Michael’s vessel or not.”
“That’s… not good,” Sam stated the obvious.
“Hey Cas, if I’m an angel, why don’t I remember?” Dean asked.
“Angels are beings of perception far beyond the human ability to process, and our memories go back millions of years,” Castiel said bluntly. “It is too much for a human brain to deal with. All the angelic memories are suppressed, so that the human mind is able to function. To remember being an angel, while still human… the experience would be overwhelming, potentially debilitating.”
“Is there any way you can tell which angel he is?” Sam asked.
“It seems unlikely,” Castiel replied. “It’s possible that the date of Dean’s conception may correspond to the date of a particular angel’s fall–”
“–but otherwise, unless Dean encounters his Grace and returns to being an angel, there is no way of knowing who he was,” Castiel finished, as though Dean hadn’t interrupted.
“Cas, please tell me you don’t know the date of my conception,” Dean begged. Castiel frowned at him like why is this important to you? and Dean groaned. “Goddammit, you do, don’t you.”
“Can you try and find out, anyway?” Sam asked intently. “Who he is, I mean. If Dean’s an angel, that means that Michael can’t wear him, right?”
“That’s–” Castiel paused for half a second, a flash of some sort of realisation passing through his eyes, “–correct.”
“Cas?” Dean tried, suspicious of that look, but Castiel turned to him.
“I will return later,” he said without preamble. “There is something I must check.”
“Wait, Cas,” Dean started, but Castiel was already gone. “I wish he wouldn’t do that.”
“Yeah,” Sam said tiredly. “But you heard him, he’ll be back later. Let’s try and get some sleep, first. I don’t know about you, but I’m frigging exhausted.”
“Yeah,” Dean sighed.
Sam grabbed a change of clothes and shut himself in the bathroom, and Dean yawned, fighting to stay awake long enough to take a shower after Sam.
Oh, to hell with it. He could shower in the morning, Dean decided.
When Sam came out of the bathroom Dean pretended he was already asleep, keeping his eyes shut as Sam moved around the room, and finally turned out the lights.
Dean’s last thought was to wonder what Castiel was checking on.
Dean woke the next morning to Sam telling him he was going out to get breakfast. Dean mumbled a sleepy assent, and immediately drifted off again. The previous day had been exhausting, emotionally and physically.
Some time later he woke a second time, with the instant awareness that he was being watched. Tensing, Dean warily opened his eyes, only to see Castiel sitting at the end of Sam’s bed, watching him.
“Good morning, Dean.”
“Goddammit, Cas.” Dean let himself relax. “I hate to tell you this, but man, that’s really creepy.”
“I didn’t want to wake you,” Castiel explained.
“So you sat there like a creeper and watched me sleep instead? Dude, I don’t even know how to begin explaining what’s wrong with that.”
Castiel didn’t look like he particularly cared. Actually, he looked even more serious than usual.
“Why are you here, anyway?” Dean asked. “Does it have something to do with why you got that weird look before you vanished last night?”
Castiel nodded sombrely.
“I think I know which angel you are.”
“Fine. Hit me, Cas. Tell me who you think I am,” Dean added quickly, as Castiel looked confused about why Dean wanted to be hit.
Castiel’s answer was short, succinct, and staggering.
“Wait, you think I’m Michael? The Michael? As in, wear-me-to-the-prom-and-fight-Lucifer, that Michael?” Dean asked dazedly.
Castiel nodded. “Yes. It is the only possibility that makes sense, considering all the facts.”
“Okay.” Dean held up a hand for Castiel to stop, trying to absorb what he’d just heard. “So, you think I’m Michael with amnesia. Explain. How does this make sense, Cas, because let me tell you, right now it sounds pretty screwy to me.”
“Michael has been missing for exactly as long as you have been alive,” Castiel explained. “Exactly. It would explain why no one has been able to find him despite Heaven’s best efforts. The coincidence is too great, Dean.”
Dean thought about that.
“Michael,” he said again.
Castiel watched him gravely, no part of his demeanour indicating anything but belief in the idea.
“Well, damn,” Dean said finally. “So what now?”
“I have been searching for your Grace,” Castiel said. “It should not be too difficult to find, now that I know it is out there somewhere.”
“And then what?” Dean asked warily. “So you find my Grace. Then what’s the plan?”
Castiel looked Dean in the eyes, his expression earnest and resolved.
“You oppose what the angels are doing. You oppose it with every fibre of your soul,” said Castiel.
“Well, yeah,” Dean agreed, a bit lamely, because what was he supposed to say to that?
“I believe,” Castiel continued, still meeting Dean’s eyes, “that if you were reunited with your Grace, your views would carry on to Michael.”
“Wait, reunite with it?” Dean repeated. “What happens if I reunite with it?”
“You become Michael,” Castiel glanced away.
“Yeah? And what does that mean?” Dean retorted, his unease rising. Castiel looked back at him squarely.
“I don’t know. At best, it means that Michael retains your personality and opinions.”
“And at worst?”
“At worst, Dean Winchester ceases to exist entirely,” Castiel said heavily.
It took Dean a while to respond to that.
“But you don’t think that will happen.”
“You are strong, Dean.” Castiel’s gaze was serious, but warm. “Stronger than any soul I have ever seen. And you have conviction. I believe in you.”
“I don’t know, Cas, that seems like a pretty big risk. I don’t want to stop existing.”
Castiel just stared at him.
“It is this or Lucifer ends the world, Dean. Michael is our only hope.”
“Yeah,” Dean sighed, “I know. Just – don’t tell Sam, okay? Not until this is all over. He’ll freak out and try and stop us.”
Castiel nodded, taking Dean’s request as seriously as he did everything, and Dean felt a sudden, startling swell of affection. Castiel was pretty much the only person who hadn’t screwed Dean over, and if he believed things would work out, well, he hadn’t led Dean wrong yet.
“I understand,” Castiel agreed. “Sam will not wish you to risk sacrificing yourself.”
Dean gave him a crooked smile.
“If there was any other way–” Castiel began.
“I know, Cas.” Dean’s hand found Castiel’s shoulder and squeezed, and Castiel stood there. For a long moment they stared at each other, without saying anything.
“Well,” Dean said eventually, “I guess you should go looking for that missing Grace, Cas. Good luck.”
“Be careful,” Castiel said unexpectedly, and Dean nodded.
“I’ll do my best.”
Castiel gave him one last, long look, and disappeared with the faintest sound of wings.
Dean and Sam were arguing over whether or not to play the Asia cassette tape Dean had picked up at a second-hand store when an angel dropped into the back seat. The car swerved a little as Sam swore in surprise.
“Please don’t do that again,” he told Castiel.
“My apologies.” Castiel said, but he was staring at Dean. “I found it.”
“Found what?” Sam asked, frowning.
“Seriously?” Dean asked, twisting in his seat to turn and look at Castiel. “Does it belong to who you think it does?”
Castiel met his eyes.
“Yes. It does.”
“Oh. Wow.” Dean felt almost dizzy for a moment. “That’s… something.”
“What are you two talking about?” Sam demanded in irritation.
“Something that might help us with Lucifer,” said Dean. “Well, help me, anyway. Pull over a second.”
Sam pulled the car over at the side of the road.
“We should do this outside,” said Castiel, and was suddenly gone. Dean glanced around to see him standing a short distance away from the car, waiting. Dean got out of the car.
“What do you mean?” Sam asked, climbing out the driver’s side door and walking around to the passenger side. “What is it?”
But Castiel was already holding out a small vial to Dean. Dean took it, and held it up in front of his eyes. The thing was glowing with white light, and a sense of rightness gripped him as soon as he touched it.
“What do I do?” he asked Castiel.
“Break the glass,” the angel answered.
“Dean, what are you–” Sam began, sounding alarmed. Dean pulled his arm back, and threw the vial at the hard tarmac.
The vial shattered on impact, and the light began to rise from it. Castiel grabbed Sam and the two of them vanished, leaving Dean alone as the light rose and headed for his mouth and eyes.
It felt like every part of him was made of light and air and heat, strong and sure and enduring. Dean gasped, and it came out as a wave of heat, as his Grace settled inside his body, bringing with it memory and certainty and power.
Then his Grace settled, filling the entirety of its new vessel, and Michael stood there and breathed.
His mind was in a whirl, conflicted and confused, but after a while the mess resolved itself, and Michael’s mind sorted itself into order again, forming a new arrangement unlike what had been there before.
Michael wondered where Castiel had gone. He wondered how long it would be before he came back.
The Impala was still where Sam had parked it, its paintwork a little the worse for wear after being so close to raw Grace, so Michael restored the paint and seated himself on the hood, waiting for Castiel to return. As he sat there, the car’s cassette player turned itself on and began playing the cassette that Dean had inserted earlier.
After some time had passed, Castiel reappeared. To Michael’s knowing gaze he appeared nervous, but hopeful. Castiel hesitated, then inclined his head in a nod.
“Michael,” he acknowledged.
“Castiel,” Dean returned. “You were right.”
Castiel looked at him with naked hope, then, and Michael smiled, the crooked familiar grin that was all Dean Winchester.
“Dean,” Castiel breathed, and Michael’s smile widened.
“Kind of, yeah,” he agreed. “I’m different, and it’s weird, but… yeah. Dean is definitely still in here.”
He could hear all of his brothers, a steady symphony of background noise, now, instead of the uncontrolled bleed-through he had experienced as Dean. If he concentrated, he could pick out individual voices, but right now it was more comfortable to let them all blend together in harmony. It was beautiful, but a little uniform, now that Michael had experienced humanity.
“That is good,” said Castiel. He was carefully keeping his distance out of respect, but Dean… Castiel had been Dean’s friend, or something close enough. There had been a connection, and even now Michael still felt it. Also, now that Michael was an angel again and knew exactly how much Castiel had risked to help Dean against the apocalypse, he felt helplessly grateful – he didn’t know what in Dean Winchester had inspired Castiel to have such faith in him, but yeah, Michael was grateful for it.
“Cas? Thanks,” said Michael, awkward in a way that he hadn’t been before being human. “For getting me out of that hospital, for helping me, for believing in me, and everything. Just – thanks, man.” Castiel gave a tiny smile of pleasure at Michael’s gratitude. “We’re cool, aren’t we? I mean, I kind of like having you around, so… you’ll still visit me when you can, right?”
Castiel’s eyes widened in surprise, but he looked very pleased.
“If that is what you wish. You don’t intend to return to Heaven?”
“The way I figure it,” said Michael thoughtfully, “I’m about due for a vacation.”
“Angel’s don’t take vacations,” Castiel said in confusion. Michael grinned at him.
“So I’m about due for one, right?”
There was a short pause as Castiel processed that.
“I see.” Castiel still looked a little blank. “What will you do now? About Lucifer,” he added.
“It’s been a long time since Lucifer and I talked,” said Michael slowly. “I’ll try that first. Maybe Lucifer’s a bit more open to reason than he used to be. If he isn’t, I’ll see if I can stuff him back in his cage, but–” Michael shrugged, “whatever, no destroying the Earth, anyway.”
“And Sam?” Castiel asked. Michael considered the question.
“I’ll talk to him later,” he said at last. “When everything’s resolved one way or another. Will you tell him for me?”
“Of course,” Castiel agreed.
“Right,” said Michael. “Well, I guess I’d better go find Lucifer. And Cas, if anyone gives you any crap, tell them you were acting on my orders. That ought to shut them up.”
“I will do so,” Castiel promised seriously.
“Okay then. See you later, Cas.”
Michael took flight, leaving Earth behind and slipping out of his vessel. It was a relief to just be himself again, in a way he hadn’t expected.
Lucifer! he called out, across all wavelengths, knowing that there was no way his brother could not hear him. We need to talk. Meet me in an hour at the Grand Canyon.
Michael heard the susurrus of startlement and dismay among the other angels, but ignored them, returning to his vessel and Earth. If everything worked out, Lucifer would be there as expected, and maybe they could sort something out that didn’t end with death and destruction.
Either way, Michael was pretty sure Lucifer would be there, even if it was just to tell Michael that he was definitely going ahead with the apocalypse. Lucifer might be rebellious, but Michael knew him well enough to know that he didn’t like being on the outs with his brothers, irreconcilable differences or not.
Michael settled down to wait.
At the appointed time, Michael took flight, landing at the Grand Canyon. He felt his brother’s Grace immediately, some distance away. Michael relocated himself so that he was closer, and began to walk.
There was a crowd of demons surrounding Lucifer, Michael realised, and assumed that they were there to keep Lucifer company until Michael got there. Lucifer was weird that way – he hadn’t been able to stand his brothers company by the end, too angry at their continued devotion to their father and his aims, so instead Lucifer had created the demons as a sad substitute for angelic company so that he never had to be alone. Then Michael had helped their Father imprison Lucifer in the cage, and Lucifer had been on his own for millennia. Michael had no idea whether it might have given Lucifer time to reflect, or only made him more angry.
All in all, Michael thought that if he had to do it over, he’d try and find a different solution a second time around.
Michael approached the crowd of demons, none of them noticing that he was there, although he knew that Lucifer at least had to be aware that Michael was somewhere nearby.
“My lord,” Michael heard one of the demons say ingratiatingly, “is there really a point to this? After all –”
“Belial,” Lucifer said without turning around, “You aren’t telling me what to do, are you?”
The demon blanched.
“Good,” said Lucifer. “Because then I’d have to get angry.”
“And you wouldn’t like him when he’s angry,” Michael commented, strolling up to the group.
Lucifer turned, gladness lighting up his eyes.
“Lucifer,” Michael responded.
“Leave us,” Lucifer ordered the demons. They fled in haste.
Michael returned Lucifer’s scrutiny unconcernedly, waiting patiently.
“You were Dean Winchester,” Lucifer said, realisation dawning. Michael shrugged, and nodded.
“You were human,” Lucifer said, in disbelief. “Why would you choose to turn yourself into one of them?”
Michael decided to go with utter honesty.
“Because a human wasn’t expected to kill you.”
Lucifer went still.
Michael looked up at the sky.
“Look, I’ll be frank. I love this world, and I don’t want either of us stomping all over it. What good would it do you? A defiant gesture at a guy who took off and left ages ago and probably wouldn’t give a damn what happened anyway? I don’t see why we can’t just come to some kind of mutual agreement that suits us both. I think it’s time we both walked off the chessboard and made our own decisions, not out of spite or other people’s expectations but because of what we want.”
Michael paused to take a breath, and continued on.
“What I want is to keep the Earth, and reach some kind of reconciliation with you. Now, I don’t know if that’s feasible, but I’m going to try. What about you, Lucifer? What do you really want?”
Lucifer stared at his brother like he’d never seen him before. Michael waited kindly for him to reply, letting Lucifer think about the answer.
“I don’t know,” said Lucifer finally. “What is there for us, now Father’s gone and left us?” He sounded lost.
Michael sighed, and gave a faint grin.
“We have to find that out for ourselves. Harder than you’d think, right?”
Lucifer scowled at him.
“Look,” said Michael. “Some humans spend their entire lives trying to figure that out, and they were made for this. Admitting we’re lost is a pretty good first step, considering.”
“And you intend what, Michael?” Lucifer asked.
“Well, you know. Travel around. Hunt things. Troll Heaven occasionally. Teach one of my little brothers a few things about Earth. Maybe hang around with some of my other brothers now and again.” Michael raised his eyebrows at Lucifer.
“It isn’t that simple,” the other archangel argued, shaking his head.
“Pretty sure it is,” Michael disagreed amicably. “Fuck destiny. I’m tired of it. I’m going to do exactly what I want to for a few decades. Act human. Live a little. What do you say? Want to join me? Because brother, I do not want to fight you, and I don’t want you destroying the world, either. I’m sick of this destined bullshit.”
Lucifer was silent for a moment.
“Heaven will have kittens.” A small smile lurked around the edges of his mouth as he considered the idea.
“Ah, screw them,” Michael said breezily. “They need to learn to live a little too.”
“Humanity seems to have had a positive effect on you,” Lucifer observed curiously. Michael shrugged.
“If there’s one thing humans believe in, it’s being able to exercise their free will. What can I say, some of it stuck.”
Lucifer was silent for a long time. Michael didn’t push him.
“I suppose you’d object to me taking my destined vessel,” Lucifer said after a while.
“Damn straight. Sammy is off-limits,” Michael agreed firmly. “He might be human, but the kid is my little brother. He wouldn’t stand a chance without me looking out for him.”
Lucifer went silent again, turning things over in his head.
“I suppose I can try,” he said finally, and smirked. “Seeing Heaven all in a tizzy might be fun.”
“Amen to that.” Michel clapped Lucifer on the shoulder. Lucifer sent him a vaguely startled, fond look. “Do you think you can help me put down the Horsemen, though? Because that’s going to be a bitch.”
“I guess,” Lucifer conceded. “But I’m not releasing Death just yet. However,” he held up a finger, “I will, as a show of good faith, tell him to stop reaping human lives unnecessarily.”
“But let’s start with the Horsemen,” said Lucifer, and his grin was bloodthirsty and sly and so very, very him.
True to his word, Lucifer helped Michael put down each of the Horsemen, until the only one they were left with was Death. Lucifer summoned him, and Death gave both of them a distinctly unimpressed look.
“Rethought a few things, have you?” he sniffed in disdain. “Well. You’ve had enough time.”
“I didn’t call you here to hear your opinion,” Lucifer chided him, and Death looked more unimpressed than ever. “I want to rescind one of my orders. No human lives are to be reaped unnecessarily.”
“Is that all?” Death looked bored. Lucifer waved a hand magnanimously.
“You may go.”
Death promptly disappeared again.
“I suppose you have somewhere to go now, too,” Lucifer observed. Michael shrugged.
“I told you what I plan on doing.”
“Hunting things. Really,” Lucifer mused. “I suppose it sounds a little interesting. Somewhat lacking in creativity for beings of our talents, though. Did you know that humans think of me as a trickster, among other things?”
Michael raised his eyebrows.
“They believe that I trick the greedy and grasping into deals for their souls which backfire on them,” Lucifer continued, “and that I punish the wicked and those deserving of divine vengeance.” Lucifer smiled serenely, and spread his hands. “Perhaps I should start there, and see if it entertains me.”
Michael thought about it. The thing was, he could easily see it working.
“Well, good luck with that. I’ll try and pay you a visit sometime soon.”
Lucifer looked at him knowingly.
“Back to Sam, then, Michael? I’m surprised that you’ve grown so attached to him.”
Michael just shrugged, smiling ruefully.
“Like I said, some things stuck.”
“Then I suppose I’ll see you, when I see you,” Lucifer allowed.
“Yeah, I guess,” Michael agreed. “Hey, if you want to talk, or hang out, or anything at all–”
“I’ll find you,” Lucifer said dryly. Michael smiled at him, and disappeared.
It took him the merest instant to find Sam, and he reappeared in a motel room with both Sam and, Michael was pleased to see, Castiel. He wondered if Castiel had stayed with Sam the entire time he’d been with Lucifer. If so, he’d have to thank the other angel later.
“Dean!” Sam exclaimed, leaping to his feet. “Castiel says you’re Michael. Is it true?”
“Yeah,” said Michael. “It’s true.”
“Really?” Sam asked. “You’re Michael?” He looked like he was freaking out.
“Yeah, but Sam, it’s okay,” Michael tried to reassure him, stepping forward. Sam took a step backwards, and Michael stopped.
“How is it okay?” Sam demanded. “If you think I’m going to say yes–”
“No!” Michael was appalled. “What the hell, Sam! You’re my brother! You actually think I’d want that?”
“I don’t know what you want!” Sam looked and sounded agitated. “You’re an angel. How do I know you’re not exactly the same as the rest of those sons of bitches?”
“Sam, I swear to you I’m not.” Michael badly wanted to move closer, but didn’t want to spook Sam even more. “I care, okay? Just as much as I did when I was still human. Please, Sam. I know you don’t have any reason to trust me and I know everyone’s been screwing you around, but… please, just try. I’m still me, I promise.”
Sam looked at Michael with dark, suspicious eyes, but there was a glimmer of hope there, being ruthlessly squashed.
“It’s all going to be okay,” Michael said firmly. “I’ve talked to Lucifer, and we’ve… well, I guess you could say we’ve come to an agreement. He’s not going to come after you anymore or try and destroy the Earth, and I’m going to stick around for the next few decades instead of going back to Heaven.”
“Just like that?” Sam asked disbelievingly. “You expect me to believe he’d give up all his plans just because you talked to him?”
“Well, yeah. I mean, he’s my brother.”
Sam stared at him.
“Besides, he was mostly only doing it to spite Dad - God,” Michael added. “To be honest, I don’t think he had any real idea what he actually wants to do.”
“This can’t be real,” Sam said in a small voice. “It doesn’t work like this.”
“Why not, Sam?” Michael asked gently. “Because good things don’t happen to you anymore?” Sam flinched, and Michael knew he’d guessed right. “Well, maybe this is the universe trying to make up for its shit.”
Sam gave Michael a desperate sort of look.
“And I mean, there’s enough douche-y angels out there that it’s about time you ran into some decent ones, right?”
“And what if I trust you?” Sam demanded. “What if I trust you, and it all turns out to be a trick?”
Michael shrugged helplessly.
“It’s not a trick, Sam, I don’t know what to say to make you believe me.”
Sam hesitated, looking at Michael with a mixture of mistrust and longing.
“I want to believe you,” he admitted quietly.
“So try,” Michael told him. Sam looked at him a moment longer, and then slowly nodded.
“Okay. I’ll try.”
He still looked mistrustful, but there was hope there, as well. Michael told himself that all Sam needed was time.
There was silence for a moment.
“If Lucifer decides to start bugging you again, let me know, and I’ll take care of it,” Michael said seriously. Sam just nodded.
Michael turned to Castiel, who had watched the entire drama unfold with his usual impassive observation.
“Any trouble while I was chatting to Lucifer?” Michael wanted to know. Castiel shook his head.
“I went about my usual duties.”
“Okay, then.” Michael grinned at him. “Next time you report in, tell whoever’s in charge that I’m back, Lucifer’s called off the Apocalypse, and you’re acting on my orders. Tell them that if they want to know any more than that, they can come and talk to me themselves.”
“I will do so,” Castiel acknowledged, nodding.
“Uh-huh. Hey Cas, you ever tried pie before?”
Castiel’s brow furrowed.
“I have not.”
“Great.” Michael slung an arm around him. “Want to try some?”
Castiel looked torn between admitting to curiosity, and maintaining the usual angelic distance from human life. Then he gave Michael a long look, and said, “I’m agreeable.”
“Awesome!” Michael grinned. He looked at Sam. “Hey Sammy, want to go out for pie?”
Sam stared at him.
“Yeah,” Sam said slowly. “Sure.”
Michael gestured him close, until Sam was close enough that Michael could rest a hand on his shoulder. Then the three of them were gone, standing in front of a pie place Dean had seen a couple of days before.
Michael let go of his brother and Castiel, and walked into the pie shop. After a moment’s hesitation, both Sam and Castiel followed him inside.
“So this is what it’s going to be like?” Sam asked him skeptically. “You hanging around with Castiel and taking us places for pie?”
“Yeah,” Michael said thoughtfully. “I think so.” He grinned as he read the menu. “Hey, we should get Cas some of the angel food pie.”
“Angel food pie?” Castiel asked, frowning at Michael, who snickered. Sam rolled his eyes a little.
“You’ll love it,” Michael promised Castiel, and smiling, stepped forward to order.