Michael wakes to sensation, a hand on his cheek, a touch so ethereal and transcendent and impossible that he knows who it is before he opens his eyes. His father is light and peace, and Michael feels a warmth swell inside him that he hasn't in millennia. Sadness is not only a human emotion. Tears were heavenly before Earth ever existed. Michael feels them sting his eyes as he looks upon his father. Words are caught in his throat. He can think of nothing to say. God touches his cheek and smiles.
"Father," he says, more feeling than sound.
"Michael," God responds, strength and love all-encompassing in his voice.
The hand drops from his face and Michael looks around, but this isn't a place he recognizes. This isn't a piece of Heaven that he's seen before. The last thing he remembers is falling. "How did I get here?"
"You were never meant to join your brother in his prison," God says gently. "I intervened."
Michael frowns. "The boy?"
"Adam is safe," God says. "He is with his mother."
Michael nods, comforted though he isn't sure why. "And the other? Sam Winchester?"
God hums thoughtfully. "Sam remains with my Light Bringer, as he will for eighteen Earth months."
Michael is a soldier. Michael is a good son. He doesn't ask 'why'.
"Very little blame falls upon you, my son," God says. "Nonetheless, misinterpretation has wrought damage to my creations. To my angels, and my men. Mankind is not meant to suffer an end of days. Not for a very long time."
"We had no instruction," Michael says, betrayal and fear and pain thrumming inside him. "We had only what was written. You communicated more with them before you left. We could only assume that you meant—"
"I know," God says. "I understand. You do not need to explain yourself to me. Now is not the time for blame, Michael. Now is the time for action. It is time to heal."
"You will return to Heaven?"
"Not entirely," God says, and disappointment and resignation tightens Michael's chest, but then that hand is on him again, gripping his chin, and Michael feels warmth and light and safety spread through him again. "I will be here. I will be watching, and I will always be available to you."
Michael nods. "What would you have me do, my Lord?"
"You will restore order in Heaven. Raphael will be dealt with. My healer has overstepped boundaries. You will work with the angel Castiel to regain the allegiance of your brothers and sisters."
"I will," Michael says. It's what he's done since his father left. He expected to do nothing else.
"You will delegate. Anna, Balthazar, and Rachel. Gabriel will return, I will see to it. He will take your place."
Michael looks up at his father, eyes wide, shocked. "He will replace me?"
"On a temporary basis," God explains. "I have work for you."
Michael shakes his head, confused, wondering, worried. His father has ever been an enigma. "Work?"
"On Earth. In twenty-three human months, you will join Castiel on his assignment."
"The Winchesters?" Michael asks.
"One of them," God says. "Dean is Castiel's assignment. Sam will be yours."
"Your actions led directly to Sam Winchester's demise. It is possible that your actions may directly lead him into healing, as well."
The feeling of betrayal is back, and even his father's touch cannot ease it. He takes a step back and bows his head for a moment, trying to calm himself. When he lifts his eyes his father is watching him with fondness.
"I am your first," Michael says softly. "I am the first entity created by your hand. I have lived every moment of time and space for you. I have done everything in my power to follow your orders. And you are asking me to live with humans? You are punishing me?"
His father's expression is soft with understanding. "I am asking you to open your mind, Michael, to one of them."
"Why?" Michael asks. "What has Sam Winchester done to deserve this attention from you? You wish me to save him? To heal him? He is—"
"He is flawed, and mine, as are you. This is not for his benefit alone, my son. I do this for you."
Michael's fists clench at his sides. "I don't understand," he says, the words less than a bare whisper.
"You will," his father says. "You have my word, Michael. You will."
Michael wants to argue. He wants to yell and scream, like Lucifer did so long ago.
But Michael is a good son.
He nods, his jaw clenched, and takes a soft breath of light. "Yes, father."
Crowley has an inexplicable fondness for Sam and Dean Winchester.
It's nothing he really understands, beyond the fact that they are, generally speaking, a demon's wet dream. One destined for exaltation, the other destined for damnation. But soul mates, of course, so fate is just SOL itself because it's impossible to separate them forever, on any level. They're both so damaged they're hardly human anymore. Sam's veins pulse with demon blood, Dean's with alcohol. They're debilitatingly co-dependent in every aspect of their relationship, willing to sell their souls for each other at the drop of a hat and forever at least a little bit in love with each other. Sam is the chosen vessel of Satan himself, whether Lucifer is in the cage or not, and Dean's not only told the head honchos upstairs to go and fuck themselves, he's actually bagged himself an angel of his own that shares his bed. They're like demon Christmas, without the religious connotations, of course.
Crowley likes them. They're an experiment in the human psyche. They're funny. They're entertaining. They're determined and they're capable, still standing after the shit-filled cesspool that's been their lives. He's never been so impressed by two humans before.
So when he pulled Sam out of the cage after it all went down, his intentions were completely altruistic. It didn't work out quite right—little Sammy came back without his soul, and Crowley's not one to pass up opportunity when it comes a-knockin', so he used him—but it was because he liked them that he did it.
He didn't formulate his plan until later, when civil war was threatening Heaven, and he knew that Dean's pet angel was getting desperate. He would have had him, too, would have had Castiel hook line and sinker, if only Big Brother Michael hadn't been sprung free from the cage by fuck knows who and put back on top, kicking ass and taking names, ending feuds with the allegiance of both factions..
Now Heaven is still and quiet and thriving, and good ol' Cas is a fulltime member of Team Free Will and he and Dean have finally given into the ridiculous sexual tension between them, and he and the Winchester's know too many details of Crowley's plans for Crowley's liking. He needs the souls in Purgatory before all of Hell collapses. Unfortunately, for all of them, Sam and Dean pose a real threat to that happening. If there's one thing Crowley's learned, it's not to underestimate these two boys.
He likes them, he really does, but he values himself far more. So it's with little reluctance and no hesitation and just a pinch of sadness in his cold black heart that he's here, swathed in shadow outside the diner the boys and their angel have hunkered down in for the evening.
He takes a final drag from his cigarette and flicks the butt onto the ground, pushing his hands into the pockets of his cashmere coat. It's cold out, snow just starting to fall. They're sitting in a booth by a window, Dean and Cas side by side, facing Sam across the table. Sam and Dean are smiling at something, and Cas looks confused as to why, his gaze darting between them curiously. Business as usual.
"Is that the one that was in the cage?" the demon next to him asks.
Crowley glances at him, wincing. Saren got himself one ugly-ass vessel, a giant wall of meat with features too big for his face and giant, bushy eyebrows. He's an exceptionally intelligent demon, which is why Crowley brought him along, but it's hard to believe looking at the suit he's gotten himself into. Saren perpetuates this by lifting his hand and waving his fingers around by his big ear. "With the longer hair?"
"That's him," Crowley answers, turning away because he doesn't want to look at the deformed son of a bitch anymore. "Sammy Winchester."
"Looks awfully well adjusted," Saren muses. "Heard he was there almost two hundred years. They talk about his screams in whispers downstairs, like they're praying."
"His brother got some help from Death," Crowley says. He chose Saren specifically because Saren has never been a big picture type of demon. He's loyal to Crowley because Crowley favors him, and he'd much rather live in the moment than devote himself to any over-arching schemes. He likes to cause chaos. He doesn't care what happens before or after. So he knows only what rumors he's heard from other demons. He didn't follow the battle religiously, and he sure as shite didn't participate. He doesn't know much about the Winchesters or the rebellious angel who never really Fell. Crowley doesn't mind explaining things to him. He's not impatient with him. A loyal dog who basks in ignorance is an invaluable ally to have.
"The one and only," Crowley says, lighting a cigar this time. Cuban. Sexy as hell. If only he had some brandy. "Death retrieved Sam's soul from the cage, put up a wall in his head to keep back the memories. Hence the fact that he's not a drooling mess in a mental ward."
"Ah," Saren says. "So are we killing them? Dealing with them? Both their souls are so damaged they're not worth much anymore, but a soul's a soul, I guess."
"We're not killing them," Crowley says, rolling his eyes. "We couldn't, even if we tried."
"Hm," Saren says, but he doesn't sound insulted. Crowley glances at him. Saren's tilting his giant head, eyes cut across to Castiel now, who is leaning back in the booth, his hands folded politely on the table. "That's the angel you were working with?"
"That's the angel I was going to work with," Crowley says, "before Michael showed up and ruined that. It doesn't matter, I don't really need him. Don't underestimate him, either."
"So what're we doing here then, Crowley?" Saren asks, mildly amused. "We're not killing, we're not dealing with them. Did we just come to watch?"
"We are disabling," Crowley says, "in a metaphorical sense. Tonight I'm going to shatter the wall in Sam's mind."
Saren offers a low whistle and shoves his hands in his pockets. "Harsh," he says. "I thought you didn't want them harmed. We had strict orders from you for a long time."
"I don't," Crowley says. "But necessity calls for it. I need them out of the way. This is the quickest way to take care of it."
"Are you going to fix it, later?"
"Nah," Crowley says, flicking ash onto the asphalt. "I can't construct something like that. It's a Death special. It's fragile, though. Will come down easy. Just need to get in his head a minute."
"It won't kill him?"
"No," Crowley says. "Might turn him into a bloody vegetable, but it won't kill him."
Crowley sighs softly, coughs unnecessarily and checks his watch. He's got a sting in there, a young demon named Rena who worships the ground he walks on. She's in a vessel right up Dean's ally, small and blonde and all tits. She catches Crowley's eye through the window as she approaches the Winchester's tables, but only for a moment. She smiles at Dean, and he smirks back, eyes lowering immediately to look at her cleavage when she bends down to hand out their drinks. Dean's is drugged to hell and back. Crowley watches him toss it back like water and smirks.
"That's one," Saren sing-songs, which is very in character for him but sounds strange coming in the dull, stupid voice of his vessel. "What about the angel?"
The banishing sigil has already been painted in human blood on the inside of the closet door in the motel room. "The angel won't be a problem. It's Dean we have to be careful of."
"Seriously?" Saren asks, incredulous.
Crowley winks. "Heaven hath no fury like an over-protective big brother."
Saren snorts softly. "I'll keep that in mind."
"I'm not joking," Crowley huffs. "Let's just hope this knocks him out cold like it should."
"Don't think it'll be an issue," Saren says, pointing, and Crowley follows his line of sight back into the diner.
Sam is talking, and Castiel is listening intently, his focus completely on Sam, and Sam is too busy smashing a few French fries into some ketchup to pay attention to Dean. Dean, who is already blinking slow and steady, listing to the side just a little.
"Jesus," Crowley rolls his eyes. "I wasn't expecting it to hit until they left. Boy can hold his liquor like no human I've ever seen before, but slip him a mickey and look at him."
Sam finally looks up, and his expression goes from calm and amused to concerned and frowning in seconds. Crowley sees his lips form the word 'Dean', and then Cas's attention is on Dean too, and Dean is waving them off lethargically.
"Let's get out of here," Crowley tells Saren. "They'll be out soon. Won't be long now."
Cas is reading a rather disturbing book about a gang of teenagers doing truly awful things with a strange Slavic-influenced banter when he hears his name, crystal clear inside his head, sent with a wave of warmth and peace and command. The voice is deep and transcendent and light, nearly overwhelming, something beyond him, and yet familiar enough that even though Cas has only been in his presence a few times in the millennia that he's been alive, he knows at once who it is.
Shock keeps him still for a moment, but curiosity and deep-seated submission to this particular voice has him moving seconds later. He closes his book and puts it down on the nightstand, and then reaches to touch Dean's shoulder. Dean and Sam are asleep, Dean next to him, buried under the covers on his side facing his brother. Sam is in the other bed, restless and in pain, his brow furrowed and expression tight even in sleep.
Dean wakes easily, eyes drawn to his brother, first, but then he turns his head to look over his shoulder at Cas. Cas can't help himself. He touches Dean's forehead and hair, the high cut of his cheekbone. Dean's eyes are sleepy and soft, with deep shadows like bruises beneath them. He desperately needs this sleep, but Cas won't leave without telling him.
"You okay?" he asks, voice sleep-rough and quiet so as not to disturb Sam.
"Yes," Cas says. "I need to leave for a while. I'll be back."
Dean yawns until his jaw pops and rolls onto his back. Cas strokes his fingers over Dean's neck and Dean tilts his head to bare more of it, cat-like.
"Work upstairs?" he asks. It's been a few months since Cas has had to return to Heaven, and then it was simply to be told that he was to remain on assignment with Dean. He's not sure what his elder brother is calling him for now, and it certainly isn't to Heaven, but Cas doesn't want to dwell on it with Dean just yet. Dean will only worry, and he has enough of that with Sam.
"Yes," he says. "I don't think it will take long."
"Kay," Dean says. He reaches up and chuffs under Cas's chin with the side of his index finger. "Be careful, huh?"
"I will," Cas agrees.
Dean turns back onto his side and burrows back under the covers, and Cas swings his legs over the side of the bed and steps into his shoes. he grabs his trench coat off the coat rack just inside the door, closes his eyes, and leaves.
Michael is standing at the top of Mount Fuji, overlooking the patches of land and water below. His vessel is tall, pale-skinned with a thick tangle of jet black hair and big, wise, dark hazel eyes. He's dressed in a pair of loose blue jeans and a dark green long-sleeved t-shirt and a pair of red high-tops. He still doesn't look human, though. He's too pristine, too beautiful. Power emanates from every part of him, even as he stands stationary with his hands in the pockets of his jeans and his eyes unfocused on the Earth below him.
Cas treads carefully, walks up beside him and follows his gaze. The wind doesn't seem to touch them here, everything still and quiet and soft, humbled in Michael's presence.
"Castiel," Michael says after a few minutes of silence, clearly pulling himself out of his thoughts.
"Sir," Cas bows his head respectively.
"You may dispense with the formalities," Michael says with a quiet smile that's nonetheless stunning. "We will be working closely together for the foreseeable future. We may as well become familiar with one another. I understand you go by 'Cas', now."
Curious, Cas tilts his head, studying his brother. "Yes," he says. "It would be difficult to fit in on earth with my full name."
Michael looks at him for the first time, his ancient eyes amused, full lips quirked upward at the corners. "But that is not the true reason."
Cas doesn't try to deny it. "No," he says. "It's what Dean and Sam call me. I've come to prefer it."
Michael dips his chin and regards Cas curiously. He seems to be weighing his words before he speaks them. "You trust them. You've…taken up, with Dean, haven't you?"
This is rather an uncomfortable discussion to have, but Cas holds his head up and answers honestly. "In a manner of speaking."
"You love him," Michael says.
Cas shrugs. "I love them both. But yes, Dean and I are together, I suppose, in a standard that humans would use to categorize us."
"A physical relationship with a human," Michael murmurs, and Cas would be offended but Michael doesn't sound as though he's judging. His voice doesn't hold much inflection at all, in fact. "What's that like?"
"Irritating beyond all measure, usually," Cas says, and Michael's lips quirk into a small smile again. He says nothing else, and Cas lets the silence reign for a long time before he speaks again. "May I ask why you asked me to meet you here, brother?"
"As I mentioned, we will be working together."
"On what?" Cas asks. "The last I saw you, I was told I was to remain with Dean. Has my assignment changed?"
"No," Michael says, no longer looking at Cas, but studying the Japanese landscape once again. "Mine has."
Cas frowns, narrowing his eyes rather inappropriately. "You are leaving Heaven?"
"Temporarily," Michael answers, and his voice still holds both a power and a warning to remind Cas of his place. "Gabriel has Heaven in hand, for the time being. Heaven does not require the leadership of a warrior at this time."
"I don't understand," Cas says.
Michael looks at him again. "I've been assigned to Sam Winchester."
Castiel feels something in his chest tighten, something like fear and something decidedly over-protective and selfish. Sam and Dean are his. "Assigned to what?" he asks, voice hard.
Michael shakes his head. His hands are still in his pockets, and he rocks forward onto the balls of his feet before settling back on his heels again. "To watch over him, I suppose. To stay with him. I don't know for how long. It doesn't matter. I have my orders."
The look Michael shoots him is hard, all of that power so clear behind his inhuman eyes. "Your opinion on the matter is irrelevant, Castiel," he tells him. "But you can lower your hackles. I am not going to force him from his brother's side. I will simply be an addition."
"Dean won't like this," Cas says, more thinking aloud than anything.
Michael bows his head, smiling a little. "I must admit that is something of a plus."
Cas frowns and looks away, down at the country below them. "Why did you bring me here?" he asks again. "Rather than coming to us?"
"Because I need information. I know almost nothing about Sam Winchester. You know him better than any other angel."
Cas sighs softly, thinks of Sam, shattered inside. "You know that he spent nearly two centuries with Lucifer in his cage."
Michael nods. "Yes. I understand that Death erected a bulwark in his mind."
"It has been destroyed," Cas says.
Michael visibly falters. He hadn't expected that. Cas watches him carefully, and Michael is quiet for a long time before he asks, "How?"
Castiel closes his eyes. This is painful. Excruciatingly so.
"A demon named Crowley attempted to open the door to Purgatory to acquire the souls that dwell there. He had a certain fondness for Dean and Sam—he is the one that pulled Sam incomplete from the depths of Lucifer's cage—but they posed a threat to his plan. In order to disable them both, he shattered the wall holding back Sam's memories of Hell."
Michael seems to take some time to absorb this. "How long ago?"
"Almost a month," Cas says. He remembers when it happened. Remembers leaving Sam on the cot in Bobby's panic room while he and Dean and Bobby went to stop Crowley. Remembers Sam arriving just in time, just long enough to distract the demon so that Dean and Cas could complete the ritual that would trap Crowley in a cage of his own in the depths of his kingdom.
Sam didn't stay conscious long after that, and when he woke ten days later he was a trembling shadow of his former self, hallucinating and terrified, the broken, flayed pieces of his soul burning bright behind his eyes.
"Is he…all right?" Michael asks.
"No," Cas says. "He's not, but he's alive, and he's trying. And he has Dean, and me, and now you."
Michael's lips part, but he closes them again. Eventually, he sighs softly and says, "I suppose." When he looks at Cas again, his eyes are softer, fond, much less the hardened warrior Cas has known Michael as since his creation. "I'm sorry, brother," he murmurs quietly. "I know that they mean a great deal to you. It must be difficult to see them suffer."
The words aren't empty, but they aren't necessary, either. Michael doesn't understand and Cas doesn't know if he ever will.
"May I see?" Michael asks.
Cas regards him coolly, thoughtfully. It isn't an outrageous request. If Michael has been assigned to Sam and Sam is currently afflicted by something, the more knowledge he has the better it will be. Still, it's an intensely private memory for Cas, moreso for Sam, and the idea of sharing it is unsettling. It's a few moments before he forces himself to say yes.
Michael steps toward him and pulls his hands out of his pockets. Cas notices the markings on them at once, Michael's sigils, dark black like tattoos but moving like liquid in stark lines over the backs of his hands and winding around his fingers. A being this powerful cannot cloak all of himself in humanity. Some things must show through.
He slides his fingers back through Cas's hair, until the heels of his palms rest over Cas's temples and his thumbs are stretched across Cas's cheekbones and just under his eyes.
"I assume you have done this before?" Michael asks.
"Not with an archangel."
Michael smirks, just a little. "I'll be gentle," he promises, and delves right in.
And then Cas is reliving the memory. He's scattered in time and space, lost in limbo between worlds. There's pain, intense and deep, and darkness, and then overwhelming and blinding light. He focuses every energy reserve he has, painstakingly finds each and every fractured piece of himself and melds them back together.
Dean, he thinks. Sam, I need. Sam. Dean.
His vessel regains consciousness in a forest clearing and his thoughts are scattered and painful, but he doesn't have time to dwell on them. It's a struggle to get to his feet, to remember where they were, what motel they were in, before instinct takes over and he reaches out to find them, to find Dean, his mind dulled down under the weight of drugs. His assignment is not Sam. He can't feel Sam like he can feel Dean, but there's still an impression, and that impression is shattered.
"Sam," Cas breathes, and in a moment he's gone from the unnamed forest and then he's there, back in the motel room. His eyes cast first to Dean, still deeply asleep and unmoving beneath the sheets. And then to Sam.
Sam is on the floor, on his back, his eyes rolled back into his head. He's writhing weakly on the dirty carpet, his hands curled into claws, the fabric of his t-shirt torn and bloody where his fingernails have lashed through skin over, and over, and over again. He's shuddering and choking, his expression twisted into unimaginable pain, but he's so weak he's barely able to move, twitching on the floor, ashen-skinned, his lips parted and moving non-stop but it's too quiet to hear.
It takes Cas seconds, precious seconds, to overcome the shock and make himself move. He drops to his knees at Sam's side, immediately grabs Sam's wrists. Sam cries out, inhumanly strong as he tries to break Cas's grip, but Cas is stronger. He holds Sam's hands out wide, away from his body until he can let go of one of them and slide his arm under Sam's back. He hauls him up, into his chest, and Sam's free hand digs hard into his back. He barely feels it, can barely feel anything over the echo of Sam's anguish. Sam is breathing is harsh, hitching pants of breath and he's squirming, moving like he can't stop, shudders shaking his body relentlessly. Cas threads his fingers through Sam's hair and closes his eyes, concentrates, tries to slip into Sam's mind just to confirm his suspicions but he can't, it's too much, too broken.
He remembers what Sam's soul felt like after Death returned it. He remembers how horrific it was, how flayed, how completely and utterly damaged, contained behind a fragile barrier that's now gone, and the damage is everywhere, branching out into every part of him, exploding inside of him and cutting him open like razor blades. Cas can't take it, pulls out as soon as he can before he loses himself in just the tiny ghost of a taste he got of it.
"The sky," Sam is whispering fast and breathy and broken in his ear. "The sky, Cas! The sky, it's open, it's breaking open. There's nothing left. There's nothing left!"
"Sam," Cas says. His voice is calm and even. He holds Sam tighter to him, holds his wrist tighter. Sam is shifting constantly, his knees scraping on the floor, his bare feet scuffing hard and desperate over the carpet.
"Close the doors," Sam moans wretchedly, his voice slurring and weak, his body giving out, darkness lapping at him. "Close the doors. It's getting in. It's getting out. Close the doors."
"Hush, Sam," Cas says, and presses his lips to Sam's forehead like he thinks Dean would do. He untangles his hand from Sam's hair to press to fingers to his forehead, and Sam goes limp and still at once. Cas doesn't move, can't even think to. Sam is tucked into him, his forehead pressed into Cas's neck, his breath warm. He's still gripping the back of Cas's shirt and his pulse is weak, too irregular. Morning sunlight is pouring through the curtains over the big windows, splashing through the room. The clock on the table between the beds says that it's almost eight in the morning. It's been ten hours. Sam was alone like this for ten hours, unable to fight, unable to pass out.
A soft groan snaps him out of unnecessary guilt. He turns his head and watches Dean shift on the bed, mumbling softly in his sleep. Dean's movements are lethargic and slow, the drug probably gone from his system but the after effects certainly not. He's groggy and disoriented when his eyes open, so green, but when they land on Sam it wakes him up more than anything.
"Cas?" he says, voice low and slurred, and he's already forcing himself up, his eyes wide and scared as he shoves the covers down. "Sam? Sammy?"
"Dean," Cas says.
"What's wrong with him?" Dean demands, falling out of bed, knees coming down hard enough to make Cas wince. Dean reaches over and touches Sam's cheek, and Sam is still and quiet.
"Sam," Dean says. "Sam!"
Cas cuts it off there determinedly, though it takes almost every ounce of his strength to do so. Sam might be Michael's now but Dean is his, and Cas is under no obligation to share Dean's pain with his brother, no matter how high-ranking that brother is. He steps back, and he's trembling under the sudden absence of Michael's intense, extraordinary presence in his mind. Michael's hand caresses his cheek for just a moment before he pulls back, lets them drop to his side.
"I'm sorry," Michael says quietly.
"I am too," Cas says.
Again, the words aren't empty, on either of their parts, but they mean little in the long run. Sam is still broken. In any case, Michael will be joining them, and Cas doesn't have any idea how to even begin to explain this to Dean. It's best to go in as well-prepared as possible.
"Are you joining us now, or is this a warning?"
"I am joining you now," Michael says. "I will have to leave, occasionally, to check in on our home, but the majority of my time will be spent here. With the three of you."
He sounds less than thrilled. Cas doesn't blame him. He felt the same way when he was first assigned to Dean, and that hadn't even been a full time experience until much later.
"Very well," he says. "Then we have a few things to do."
"Oh?" Michael asks, curious again. Cas wonders if he was ever like this, if this is how Dean felt when he was teaching Cas how this world worked.
"Yes. You'll need a cell phone—Dean has recently acquired something called an iPhone and has a tendency to text rather than speak. I am hoping this will wear off as the phone becomes something less novel, but with Dean you never know. Beyond that, you'll need some background information."
"Mm," Michael agrees noncommittally.
Cas starts to walk, and Michael follows. They are silent for several minutes before Castiel stops and turns to regard his brother, his thoughts on the two men he left in a motel in Indiana. "Michael," he says.
"This may sound overly cliché, but if you do anything at all to harm Sam Winchester in any conceivable way, I will kill you."
Michael lifts an eyebrow, but doesn't comment beyond that, and though he may be somewhat amused he neither laughs nor smiles. He simply nods.
Cas turns back around and sighs softly. He'll get his brother up to speed and set up with a new phone, and then he'll lead him back to Indiana, and pray that Dean has the foresight to remain calm, before his mouth gets all three of them killed.
Sam is still asleep when Dean steps out of the bathroom after his shower, but he's twisted in the blankets and his face is ashen and his lips are bitten bloody and parted and Dean knows he's having a nightmare. He pulls on a t-shirt and pads barefoot over to Sam's bed, settles down on the side of it and gently touches Sam's wrists. The nightmares are usually tricky—Sam tends to come up swinging—but this time his eyes just pop open and he pulls in air like he wasn't able to breathe until just now. His eyes are glassy and wide and there are bright bursts of color on his cheeks. Dean grips his wrist gently and presses the other palm to Sam's forehead, winces at the heat. Sam's been fighting a fever for almost a full month. Dean'd thought they were about done with it.
Sam murmurs his name and Dean pushes his fingers back through his brother's hair. Sam's looking at him soft and quiet, eyes fever-bright. His hand comes up to finger at the hair at Dean's temple.
"Hair's wet," he says, voice slurred from sleep.
"Brilliant deduction, Mr. Holmes," Dean says. "Just got out of the shower."
Sam ducks out from under Dean's arm and sits up, looking around, frowning at the missing piece of the room. "Cas?"
"Out," Dean says. "Important angel business."
"Hm," Sam says. He's like this a lot in the mornings now, mono-syllabic and curious, like he's not entirely sure if he's dreaming or not and he's not ready to commit to the day until he figures it out. Dean lets him go through the motions, but while Sam looks curiously around the room, Dean inspects the palm Sam slit open on broken glass the night they trapped Crowley. The wound looks pretty good, healing cleanly except for where Sam keeps digging at it when Lucifer is all up in his business.
"You gonna shower or you want me to change this now?" he asks.
"Shower," Sam says immediately, just like Dean knew he would. His eyes slide to the bathroom, and then to Dean, eyebrows drawing together. "Is that. Is that okay?"
Dean pretends that it doesn't hurt, that it's easy to smile small and encouraging and nods. "Yeah, dude. S'fine. Go ahead."
Sam stands up, stretches hugely and disappears into the bathroom, leaving the door cracked like they agreed after Sam had a catatonic episode in the shower and nearly drowned himself a few weeks back. Dean makes up the beds just to have something to do and boots up Sam's computer, searches MapQuest for the best route up to Montana where the next hunt is calling their names. Sam takes about twenty minutes, and when the water turns off Dean breathes a little easier.
Sam is more himself after, talking more, asking where they're going, what's next. He lets Dean rewrap his wounded hand, and just as Sam is putting the first aid kit back into his bag, the door opens.
Cas walks in with an inexplicably contrite expression on his face and a guy that looks like he just stepped out of a Calvin Klein ad. He's got black hair that's swept back artistically and pale skin, a chiseled jaw and the most intense eyes Dean's ever seen before. He's maybe an inch shorter than Sam, but his presence might as well engulf them all. There's something so radiating about him that, if he hadn't felt it before, Dean wouldn't know what was going on.
But he has, back in '79, when this thing was all wrapped up in his dad's twenty-something year old body.
Dean cuts his gaze to Cas furiously, and Cas at least has the good grace to look away. Sam, on the other hand, stands up from his bed curiously and looks over Dean's shoulder. He hasn't met this one before. He was already dead, and then revived and sent back to present. He doesn't recognize a damn thing, except that this guy is a pretty pretty princess.
"Hey Cas," Sam says.
"Sam," Cas says politely. Dean rolls his eyes and he and Cas have a quick and silent conversation with their eyebrows.
Cas draw together. I had no choice.
Dean cocks one of his own. Yeah, right.
Cas's go straight and even and dangerous. Watch it.
"Who's this?" Sam asks.
Dean crosses his arms over his chest and Cas opens his mouth, closes it again, and looks at Dean. Dean shakes his head minutely and glares at him. Cas is the one that brought this jackass here. Cas is the one who can tell Sam all about it.
"This is Michael," Cas says.
"Michael," Sam repeats, like he's tasting the name. And then, slowly, Dean can hear Sam's breath hitch in his throat. "Michael. As in—"
"As in the warrior of heaven that tried to wear me to the End of Days Prom, dude," Dean says, before Sam can get anything else out. He shakes his head in disbelief and stares at Michael for a long time before he turns on Cas again. "What the hell, Cas? What is he doing here?"
"He's been assigned to—"
"Adam," Sam says suddenly. Dean's heart sinks, just a little, his chest tightening, and he turns his head to look at his brother, but Sam's gaze is wide-eyed and serious on Michael, and Michael's is intense and completely unreadable on Sam.
"What?" Dean asks.
"I tried to…I couldn’t' find him. I looked, when I could. I tried. I didn't ever see you and Cas said you got out almost as soon as it happened, but Adam—"
"Adam is safe," Michael says. Even his voice is ridiculously hot, makes Dean kind of want to swoon like a little girl and twirl his hair. He clenches his fists at his side and glares even harder at this completely unwelcome intruder, but Michael isn't even looking at him, all of his attention on Sam. "He is in Heaven, with his mother."
Dean feels something he barely knew was there loosen in his chest, something huge and painful and defining, relief like nothing else Dean has ever felt before. Sam fingers curl into the back of his shirt and turns just a little and reaches for his brother, grips Sam's elbow gently, because Sam's shoulders are slumped and he looks like he might fall over. "Sammy?"
"'m okay," Sam says shakily. "I'm good. Just. Relieved. I thought he'd—"
"I know," Dean says. "Me too."
Sam meets his gaze, and his eyes are a little wet and crazy as hell, but familiar and warm and Sammy in all his broken pieces. He rubs the pads of his fingers over Sam's arm right above his elbow and then lets him go, turns back around to face the archangel that's watching them like a hawk with no expression on his pretty face. Then he looks to Cas.
"Mm?" Cas says, tilting his head, but it's not going to work. Dean knows that trick.
"Why'd you bring him here, man? Do you not remember that year he spent trying to kill Sam?"
"Dean," Cas says, and the way he says it is serious and meaningful and dangerous and Dean knows that now is about the time he needs to shut his mouth. This is Cas's boss, and Dean doesn't want to get him in trouble. He forces himself to calm down, chews on his tongue instead of running it.
Michael tilts his head, the same way Cas does when he discovers something new and human. Cas offers him a grateful look (which Dean can only read because he knows Cas so well, his face is really nearly as expressionless as always). "Michael will be joining us for a while."
Dean stamps down on the desperate need to remind Cas that this is not his party to invite people to. A thousand and one things to say speed through his mind, and none of them are nice, but Sam gets there before he does, though rather more delicately.
"Why?" Sam sounds suspicious. Dean's glad that his brother doesn't trust this pain in the ass anymore than Dean does.
It's Michael that answers, all of that power and energy and focus on Sam again. Sam's fingers tighten in Dean's shirt, and Dean can understand the fight-or-flight response he knows his brother is feeling. He nearly shit himself when he met Michael that first time.
"I have been assigned to you, Sam," Michael says.
"Assigned?" Sam asks, before Dean gets there again.
"Like I am to Dean," Cas explains.
"You were assigned to Dean because you needed him to be Michael's vessel," Sam says. "Heaven had work for him. Heaven has nothing to do with me."
Sam sounds so completely sure, and Dean breaks a little bit at the knowledge that Sam's faith has been so completely broken, even if he never understood it in the first place. It was a source of comfort for Sam, and now when he needs it most, it's gone. Scattered all over Lucifer's cage, Dean imagines.
Michael's head is tilted again. His hands are in his pockets, and he rocks up onto the balls of his feet once before standing still again. "That has not been Castiel's job for nearly two years," he says. "Dean is still chosen, is still important to this world, no longer as my vessel but as a savior of Earth. Castiel is here as a guardian."
"Cas is here because he wants to be," Dean says, can't help it, and the corner of Cas's lip quirks up and Dean wants to simultaneously punch him and kiss him.
"That is also true," Michael says. "The two are not mutually exclusive. In any case, as Castiel is here to watch your brother, I am here to watch you."
"No," Dean says. He says it loud, louder than he really means to. It's a knee-jerk reaction and one that he stands behind fully. This is the angel—the archangel—that was calling the shots behind Zachariah. That was determined to let millions of people die. That didn't give a flying fuck about a world he didn't live in. This is the general of God's army that manipulated his way into Adam's body and spent a year waiting to kill Sam. And now he wants to hang around and has the gall to say he's assigned to keep Sam safe? Nuh uh.
"I'm sorry?" Michael says, politely.
"I said 'no', dickwad," Dean repeats. "I don't trust you. I don't like you. I don't care if God himself sat you down and told you that this is his brand new plan, it's not gonna happen. So you can mosey right on back out that door."
"Dean," Cas says, that warning back in his voice, but Michael holds up a hand and Cas goes silent on cue. It suddenly feels a few degrees cooler in the room, and Michael is stepping closer, taking his hands out of his pockets and there are marks on them, dark black and glowing, and he's radiating power and anger and otherness so substantially that it's almost palpable.
"It has been a very, very long time since I have dealt with someone so defiant, Dean Winchester," Michael says. Dean's kind of afraid that if he keeps looking into those too-steady, too-intense hazel eyes that he'll turn into stone. "It astounds me that someone who has seen the things that you have seen, that has done the things that you have done, can have so little faith. I do not require your approval. Luckily for you, I do not require your respect, either, and as I have none for you I will say that we are, for all intents and purposes on this subject, even."
Michael shakes his head, slowly, just once, and something inhuman and so, so powerful flares and Dean stops talking. "I am older and more powerful than your fragile human mind could ever hope to comprehend. You are not my better, Dean. Nor are you my leader, nor my brother. What you want? Means nothing to me. I am here for Sam. I'm not leaving."
Dean takes a deep breath, feels ice in his lungs, exhales slowly. His fists are clenched hard by his sides and he's restless and furious and scared and he's never wanted to hit something so bad before in his life, and that's one hell of a list Michael's just topped there.
"Dean," Cas says.
"Castiel," Michael warns.
"All right, all right," Sam says. Dean didn't realize Sam'd let go of his shirt until just now, but Sam's back on the bed, not looking at any of them and pulling on his shoes. "All three of you can put the rulers away."
"Rulers?" Michael asks.
"I'll explain later," Cas says, and Dean would laugh if he wasn't so pissed off.
Sam finishes tying his shoes and looks up at them all, gaze drifting to Cas and then Michael, staying there for a long time before settling on Dean. "It's fine, dude. I don't mind. I don't get it, but I don't mind."
"C'mon, Sam!" Dean says, shocked at Sam's easy give. "You remember what we went through because of this jerk? You ended up in Hell because of him!"
"I ended up in Hell because of me, Dean," Sam says. "Michael was only part of it. I started it."
"I'm not digging for pity here," Sam cuts him off. "It's just the truth. And now we've got Leviathans trying to take over the world and I've got a one way ticket on the Crazy Train. We could use the extra help."
"But," Dean says, but he can't think of what to say after. Sam offers him a little brother grin.
"C'mon," Sam says. "Seriously. Having an archangel on our side? That's pretty badass, man."
And Sam is sitting there, looking up at him, grinning at him like that, and he's got bloodshot eyes and a mangled soul and it's not like Dean ever had much of an ability to say no to Sam even before all that happened, but it's impossible now. Christ. This fucking sucks.
"Fine," he says, turning back to Michael. He's expecting a smug expression, like Zachariah would've had, but Michael's face is just as blank as ever and his eyes are on Sam. Dean pinches the bridge of his nose with his index finger and thumb in an attempt to stave off the threatening headache. "Fine, whatever. But if you—"
"Do anything to hurt him I'll be very sorry," Michael says flatly, the audio track of rolling eyes. "I've been warned."
Dean shoots a fiercely proud look at Cas, who tilts his head to the side and has no idea why Dean's looking at him like he is. "All right, then," he says, and hauls his duffel bag off the neatly-made bed and onto his shoulder. He offers Sam a hand up and Sam takes it, grabbing his own bag. "Let's get the hell out of here. Angels in back."
He leads the way out of the motel room, Sam at his side.
"In back of what?" Michael asks behind them.
"The car," Cas answers.
"Car?" Michael says, with obvious distaste. "We're driving?"
"Dean doesn't like to travel via faster methods," Cas commiserates. "It upsets his digestive system."
"Hey!" Dean says. "Personal information there, Cas."
"Hm," Michael says thoughtfully. "What about you, Sam?"
Sam looks back at them over his shoulder and shrugs. "I think I'd prefer to keep that a mystery."
Dean elbows him in the side, and Sam laughs a little, and when Cas starts explaining in a highly analytical way about what Sam meant by putting away the rulers, Sam's smiling so hard it's infectious and Dean hasn't seen that in a long fucking time and it's almost—almost—worth it.