The air is so humid it feels like it is suffocating everything, yet the sun is hidden behind a veil of clouds.
Dean is sitting in the Impala, waiting to pick up Ben from school.
Living a normal life isn’t easy and the nightmares will probably be with him for the rest of his life, as will the black hole that is where Sammy used to be.
Nothing has ever been more important to Dean than family, and he is ready to do anything to protect Lisa and Ben.
.There is a slight breeze in the air and it almost sounds like wings. He lifts his head, strains his ears for something he knows won’t happen, can’t be happening. Cas won’t come back. Dean left that part of his life behind.
Dean gets out of the car and looks around, hunter’s instincts that have been sleeping just beneath his skin awakening. He reaches for a gun he’s no longer carrying.
"I am so lost right now," a soft voice next to him says.
Dean looks to his right, body tensing and adrenalin rushing. His eyes take in an impossible form. "You’re dead," he points out.
The Trickster raises his head, squints and looks down again, like his shoes are the most interesting thing in the world right now. "I take it that’s not a simple threat," the Trickster observes.
"I mean, you were dead. Unless you’re a hallucination..."
"Oh," the Trickster’s - no, Gabriel’s, probably the world’s least douchey archangel - mouth forms a circle.
"What, you forgot or something?" Dean asks. This is so not what he expected when he got out of bed today.
"It’s complicated, but I think I can boil it down for you, numbskull. I’m like Marty in Back to the Future, only I have traveled into my own timeline. Well, somewhat at least, my line has apparently ended."
"'What are you talking about?"
Gabriel gives him a suffering look. "I’m from the past, skipped ahead, and am now in the future."
Dean wraps his head around that. Angels can time-travel, he knows from first-hand experience. And he has been to the future as well. He’s talking to the Gabriel of the past.
But now, Gabriel is dead.
Dean has just told a guy that he will die. He feels like a dick. "Sorry, dude, I didn’t mean-"
"It’s okay," Gabriel exhales. He is shaking, Dean observes.
"What do you mean, `okay´? No one’s okay after hearing they’ll die!"
"But it has ended, hasn’t it? Apocalypse stopped, angels up in Heaven, demons down in Hell, humans in the middle and everything’s fine?"
"I guess so," Dean says hesitantly.
"Then it’s okay. Just tell me, before I died...did I say anything to you?"
"What do you mean?"
"Just anything. The last time I saw you guys, I was in a circle of holy oil, then you turned on the sprinklers. Did we meet afterwards?"
"Yeah, but how is that-"
"Good, now tell me - what did I say?"
Dean looks at Gabriel; there is a strange glimmer in his eyes, like a storm cloud that contains lightning.
"There was this hotel, called the Elysian Fields. Me and Sammy stopped by, it was raining like hell. Your old crew, gods were there. They wanted to trade us for safety, you showed up. Lucifer came, we drove off with Kali, you stayed behind. You gave me a DVD, told me to guard it with my life."
"Good, now we’re getting somewhere; what was on that DVD?"
"Porn? Why would I tell you to guard that?"
"Turns out it was ...homemade porn. You were in it...and it was your will, the ‘when you’re watching this, I’m dead’ crap. You told us how to stop Lucifer - to get the rings of the four Horsemen to open the cage and push Lucifer back into it."
"Did that work?" Dean’s painful memories surface; how it only halfway worked, how Sam sacrificed himself, how Cas died, how Bobby died and how it ended.
"It did," he finally says, deciding he won’t bare his soul to a guy who he has met like three times and who he would have gladly killed like any regular monster on any of those occasions.
Gabriel smiles. "The rings of the Horsemen... Lucifer’s best guarded secret."
"How is that well-guarded, you knew about it!"
Gabriel gives him a Trickster-smile. "But I didn’t, you just told me."
"I don’t understand-"
"Humans and the fourth dimension, they never mix well. You just told me how to stop the apocalypse, now I go back to my present, tell you and voila - no more apocalypse!"
"You’ll die," Dean points out.
A shadow falls on Gabriel’s face. "I know. But I died a hero’s death...saved Kali...and you two mooks. I helped to stop the apocalypse...I think that’s worth dying for."
Dean says nothing, trying to process all this information.
"So long, Dean-o, gotta go - damsels to save, devils to stop....porn to shoot," Gabriel waggles his eyebrows.
"You’re willing to go to your death? Why don’t you...I dunno, warn yourself, stop this before it all begins, just do something?"
There’s a soft smile on Gabriel’s face that Dean just has to classify as angelic. "It doesn´t work like that. I could run, of course, ...but if I don’t go back, you and Sam will never know about the four rings, the apocalypse won’t be stopped, almost everyone will die and then we will never have this conversation. But we are having it, so I have to go back. I have to play my part. I have to stop running, gotta face the music and finally stand up for myself and for what I want to protect."
Dean’s mind still wants to rebel, wants to tell Gabriel that this isn’t some destiny, that he can fight it.
Gabriel looks at him and there is something in his eyes that looks like regret and bravery. "Don’t feel too bad for me, Dean. I choose what I do, and I want to do this. I will sacrifice myself so that this world can be. No more running, no more hiding, I can finally be myself again. For the last time..." He grins, raises his hand for a handshake.
Dean grabs it.
"Righteous, man, it has been one hell of a ride."
Then wings that aren’t there flutter and Gabriel is gone. The clouds drift away and the sun shines brightly. Children stream out of the school and Ben runs up to him. He smiles and Dean has to smile back. "Thanks, Gabriel".