“Was it everything you dreamed it would be?” Sam asked, watching the sugar cube dissolve in his coffee. They were sitting outside on the balcony of their ridiculously oversized hotel room having breakfast. Brunch. A very late brunch.
“Better,” Dean said grinning. He was still wearing his sunglasses, and his suit from the night before, the shirt collar of which was smudged in five different places (in two different shades of lipstick). “I’m telling you man, Jersey girls…”
Sam smirked. “Spare me the details, please.” Dean was happy, happier than he'd been in years. Sam was determined to keep him that way. It had been a week since Sam had killed Lilith, releasing Lucifer's grace — which turned out to be his own grace, along with all of his memories of being an archangel. With a few, minor exceptions he'd been able to keep them off of Hell and Heaven's radars.
“I told them I was James Bond.”
“Heh. Yeah. I was pretty convincing, too. Plus I made up names for them all night, like — ”
“So you want to stay another night, or should we take our sixty-six thousand dollars and go?”
“Our sixty-six thousand dollars? Uh uh.” Dean waggled his finger and finished off his orange juice. “Maybe fourteen dollars of that is yours. From that blackjack machine. Also, it’s more like…fifty-nine thousand now.”
Sam raised an eyebrow. “You spent seven thousand dollars in one night?”
Dean’s grin faded just a touch. “Turns out renting a Bentley ain’t cheap. Plus, we went to this seafood restaurant. Well actually, we had them deliver to the beach-house. And then once we got to the hot-tub —”
“Yeah, I think we’re done here,” Sam stood up, repressing a laugh.
Dean fell asleep as soon as they got onto the highway. Luckily Sam was driving. They stopped once in Indiana to get dinner and even though Sam intended to pull over at the next motel they passed he ended up driving straight on until morning. Dean just looked so peaceful sleeping...even if there was a thin stream of drool running down his chin.
When Dean woke up, they were in Springfield, Missouri. He rubbed his eyes for a few seconds, turned to look out the window and then tapped Sam on the shoulder. “Take the next exit.”
“Huh? Why? Need a pit-stop?” Sam shifted lanes.
“No, well yeah, actually but just — did you not see the sign?”
“Fantastic Caverns, man!”
Sam stared at Dean as he turned onto the off-ramp. “You hate caves. You hate being underground.”
“No, I hate sewers. Sam, it’s the only drive-thru underground cave system in the country! We’re going!”
“Okay then,” Sam said following the signs to Fantastic Caverns.
“Well this certainly is…something.”
“Shut up,” Dean mumbled and folded his arms across his chest.
“I mean technically, we are being driven through the caverns…” Sam looked up at the cave ceiling, admiring the stalactites. He could see how they’d formed, how they’d looked centuries ago and how they'd look a thousand years from now. Unfortunately he could also see every single fingerprint, every single smudge of grease, and every dead flake of skin left by all the tourists that had come before them. Being nearly all-seeing was odd.
“We’re in a tram shaped like a bunch of jeeps. Trams don’t count. This isn’t driving, it’s humiliating.”
“Why? Everyone in here is on the tram with us. We're all being humiliated together."
Dean scoffed and glared to his left, looking out over the dark underground lake they were passing. "That guy isn't."
Sam followed Dean's gaze and saw a hooded figure standing next to a small boat at the edge of the river. "Wait, where are you going?"
Dean had jumped over the bar 'locking' them into the tram and was headed for the ferryman.
Something about the hooded figure put Sam's nerves on edge. "Dean, I don't think we should — "
"Hey buddy, how much for a ride?” Dean said when he neared the boat. ”Your tour looks like way more fun than the souped up golf cart we were just on."
The ferryman pulled down his hood and turned his hawk-nosed gaze from Dean to Sam.
Sam's eyes widened as he realized who they were looking at.
Stay calm. I'm just here to talk, the ferryman said into Sam's mind.
Getting into a boat with the physical embodiment of Death wasn't something Sam particularly wanted to do, but he could tell he was outclassed. Ridiculously, incalculably outclassed. The being in front of them could wipe out every living thing on the planet with little more than a thought if it wanted to.
"This boat ride is part of your admission package," the ferryman said gravely. "Please get on board so we can begin."
Dean climbed into the boat behind Death and turned back to Sam grinning. "Come on, Sammy, somebody has to push the boat in."
"He is correct," said Death, moving to stand at the front end of the boat.
"You might want to sit..." Sam started to say, but then realized that in all likelihood Death didn't have to worry about petty little things like gravity. Sam looked down at the murky water as he pushed the boat gently off the rock shore, and it dawned on him that he was going to have to wade through the water to get the boat out of the shallows. "Damn it," he muttered.
"Is there a problem?" Death asked without turning around.
"No," Sam said glaring at the water, which obediently pulled back and away from his feet keeping his legs nice and dry. "No problem at all."
Sam sat down in the back of the boat, (which didn't rock in the slightest) and watched Death pull a long, elegantly curved paddle through the water. They drifted towards the entrance of a tunnel, and just before going in, Death reached out one long, bony finger and pushed a green button embedded in the rock wall.
An aged and crackly speaker system came to life and started to tell them in excruciatingly great detail about the history of the caves and the chemical processes behind stalactite and stalagmite formations. By the time they'd reached the "Hall of Wonder," Dean had started snoring softly.
You do understand that you can’t just sit this one out, Death spoke into Sam’s mind.
Why not? I don’t want to fight. I like Earth the way it is.
Yes, well that’s all fine and good, but that doesn’t change the fact that you said and did some things in the past that your brethren find unforgivable. They will come after you and yours, and you will defend yourself.
Are you on their side?
The Horseman chuckled. I don’t take sides. You arrogant sparrows can do whatever you like as far as I’m concerned. It won’t matter in the end.
If it doesn’t matter, then why talk to me now?
Because you were planning this — your grand return — for eons. You set things in motion centuries ago, and you are the only one who’s had a change of heart. Death steered the boat towards a pier ahead of them. Thanks to you, my brothers are here. They walk the Earth, and they will do what it is in their nature to do.
Your brothers… War. Famine. Pestilence. If they were anywhere near as strong as Death, they could pose a serious problem. How do I stop them?
You don’t. They will not stop, not even if you ask them nicely.
Dean let out a loud yawn and his eyes started to flutter open. Sam stood up as Death turned towards him with cold, unblinking eyes. Please, there has to be something I can do.
Famine has wanted to meet you for a long time. You might be able to distract him for a little while. His appetite is all-consuming, and it is also…rather indiscriminate. Death reached out for a pole along the pier with his paddle which had grown thinner, metallic, and more curved. It looked a whole lot like a scythe. Pestilence loves his work. Give him something new to play with, something challenging. The boat drifted next to the pier and came to a stop. War wants nothing more than to watch as this whole planet soaks itself in blood. He was a big fan of your early work, and he believes that sooner or later you’ll come to your senses, remember how much you hate humanity, and help him.
“No, I won’t —“ Sam said.
Dean sat straight up and turned back to look at Sam. “Won’t what?”
Death stepped off of the boat and stood on the pier looking down at them. “Please exit carefully.”
“That was awesome, dude,” Dean said as he pushed himself up onto the pier, stood and stretched his arms. “Very educational.”
“Thanks for the tour,” Sam said as he followed Dean up the rock stairs and into the gift shop. He turned back to the Horseman, but the pier was empty and the boat was gone.
They spent the night at a nearby motel and left again early the next morning, heading for Arizona.
“In two hours we’ll be at the Grand Canyon, Sammy. We’re not just gonna look over the edge either. I want to head down, see all the different stratospheres and stuff.
“Striations, not stratospheres.”
“Whatever. The stripes in the canyon. And the Colorado River. Bet you I can skip a stone all the way across.”
Sam nodded absently, and closed his eyes.
“Oh am I boring you? That’s okay. You just get your beauty sleep, princess.”
It wasn’t that Sam was tired, he was never tired anymore. He just needed to concentrate. Ever since their unexpected meeting with Death, he’d started looking for the other three Horsemen — using all of his considerable new skills — but he hadn’t found a trace. They were hidden from him, which meant he had to rely on his far less helpful human senses to find them. Luckily the Winchesters’ powers of deduction had always been borderline superhuman.
He started reviewing all the potentially relevant data he’d gathered from the news media. While Dean had slept the night before he’d searched the entire Internet and every local paper that didn’t have a corresponding website. It had taken him nearly four minutes. The problem wasn’t a lack of potential leads for where the Horsemen might be. Quite the opposite. War, famine and disease were nearly everywhere. He wasn’t going to be able to find the Horsemen without finding a common thread. Something all three shared.
When Dean clapped him on the knee after two hours, Sam opened his eyes again frustrated that he still hadn’t narrowed in on the Horsemen. He’d even started reviewing omens, everything the Book of Revelation associated with them, but aside from several meteors that could have been significant but probably weren’t, he’d come up empty-handed. There were no conveniently color-coded horses near any of the meteors either. Maybe the Horsemen didn’t even ride horses anymore.
“‘Bout time,” Dean said as he walked up to the edge of the canyon and looked down. “Tell me this wasn’t worth it?”
Sam looked over the edge, seeing the centuries of rock shifting over each other, each one full of relics from their era. Thousands upon thousands of species were preserved in the rock, some of them smaller than an ant and some larger than the Impala. Endless eons all preserved in an utterly stunning display. “It was worth it.” Sam looked over to the tourist center and the dozens of people mulling around it. “So you want to sign up for a mule tour tomorrow?”
“Not here. We’re gonna head down the North Rim.”
“Can’t take a mule down the North Rim.”
“I don’t want to take a mule! Plus they don’t make mules big enough to carry sasquatches.”
“Ok, guess we’re hiking,” Sam said, holding up his hands in surrender. “But if we’re going down there…” Sam pointed towards the massive canyon, “...we’re staying overnight — and if we’re staying overnight…we need a tent. Or at least sleeping bags.”
“And more water.”
“Beer? You know it’s not an easy hike, probably better to not drink when you’re —”
Dean turned to Sam and with his best big-brother voice said, “We are going to hike down the Canyon, sit next to the Colorado River and enjoy a nice beer.”
“Then we’d better start shopping.”
Thanks to their current overabundance of cash, they ended up with two brand new backpacks filled to the brim with camping gear: sleeping bags, water canteens, a camp stove and a two room tent. Dean had insisted they didn’t need a tent until Sam reminded him that the Grand Canyon housed several breeds of scorpions and that they liked to sleep near the warmest parts of a human body (and that they stung in their sleep). Not all of it was true, but Dean grudgingly obliged to sleep in a tent if Sam carried it.
They started down the North Rim trail shortly before noon. The air was clean and warm, the sky was a stunning shade of blue and the views were breathtaking. Literally. Sam forgot to breathe for about ten minutes, so caught up in the view and the flicker-flash of images in his mind — the canyon a thousand years ago, five thousand years ago, ten thousand years ago, the shifting of the tectonic plates, and the formation of the great river below them. He accidentally stepped off the path with one foot, but the air caught him before he fell. He stepped back onto the insanely narrow path (seriously— it was narrower than one of his hands), and let out a nervous laugh.
“You okay there, Samantha? Don’t look down if it makes you nervous.”
“Says the guy who’s terrified of airplanes.”
“Airplanes crash!” Dean said, resolutely. He kicked a pebble in front of his foot off the edge and watched it disappear from view as it fell further and further down. “Yeah,” he said swallowing, “...that’s pretty far down.” Dean’s steps were noticeably more careful as he continued down the path.
They took a short break by a waterfall to drink some water and have a snack. Sam took a bite out of an apple that he didn’t remember packing and looked over Dean’s shoulder at the map.
“So where are we again?” Dean asked, chewing on his beef jerky. “North Kebob trail?”
“It’s pronounced Kai-bab.” Sam pointed at a spot on the map. “Here, this is Roaring Springs. We’re about to head into Bright Angel Canyon.” Hopefully there wouldn’t be any actual angels, bright or dim, waiting for them.
“Haven’t really met any bright angels,” Dean said grimly. “Well maybe Cas at first, but…” Dean coughed, took a long drink from his canteen and stood up. “Let’s keep going, we’ve got what…like ten more miles to go before we get to the river?”
“Something like that,” Sam said.
They walked in silence for the next two hours, stopping a few times to watch the wildlife. There were scorpions, and snakes and tiny little salamanders. There were eagles, and goshawks and condors circling above them, but there was something else too, watching them from a dimensional half-step away. Sam could hear their wings, and he could sense their thoughts on the edge of his consciousness. They were hiding, or trying to, but he was stronger than they were, and they knew it.
Dean stopped to stretch his back, and Sam heard wings beating again. He reached out with his mind and flexed his wings — just enough for anything in the immediate area to feel unnerved. If someone was planning an ambush, they’d already failed.
The Colorado River was a soft, white-noise backdrop for nearly half an hour before they saw it, right after turning a corner in the path. Dean grinned. “All right. It’s Miller time.”
“First we get the tents set up. Then—” Sam stepped in front of Dean when he heard the otherworldly wings beat again and demanded, (on all frequencies)”Show yourself.”
“Ladies! Are we ready?” said a loud voice. There was a unified shout, and then another — underneath the shouts there were other words, melodic and chant-like — in an ancient language Sam hadn’t heard spoken aloud in eons.
After a few more steps they saw a man with a handlebar mustache and half a dozen women — really, really tall women. One of them was Sam’s height. She turned and nodded towards Sam and Dean, then she turned back towards the river, her long braid swaying back and forth as she walked, like a pendulum. At the shore, the other women had started inflating two large, yellow rafts.
The mustached man grinned at Sam and said, “Hello fellow campers!” in an incredibly thick and incredibly fake pseudo-European accent. His appearance was as fake as his voice.
Sam narrowed his eyes at the man.Gabriel, what the hell are you doing here?
With a slight twitch of his mustache, the man answered, “You come with us, yes? White water rafting!” The six women behind him held their paddles (swords, spears, battle-axes) in the air and cheered (chanted) again. I’m helping you. Get on the rafts. Water’s my element. We’ll be a lot safer there.
The women flickered in the fading sunlight and Sam saw their horns, wings, and the flash of their mirror-eyes. Valkyries? You brought Valkyries with you?
Nobody brings them anywhere. They’re here because they want to be. Plus…you’re gonna be glad you have back-up in a few minutes, buddy. Trust me.
Dean walked up to the raft on the left and started talking to the three women preparing it. They were all taller than him. “So…where are you ladies from?”
“Valhalla,” said the Valkyrie with two braids (and antlers).
“Oh cool…that’s in Finland, right?” Dean asked and crouched down to look at the raft.
An ambush? Who? Michael? Sam asked Gabriel as he moved to the other raft.
Raphael. Nobody’s heard a peep from Michael. Raphael’s been leading the charge, saying how your ‘very presence defiles the Host,’ and so forth.
If any of them so much as breathe on Dean, it’ll be the last thing they ever do. Sam found himself telling the angel. The sky turned an odd shade of pink and then a deep dark red. The Valkyries on either side of Sam turned to look at him, and in their eyes he saw his own, glowing white with anger.
That’s what they’re counting on. Gabriel put his hand on Sam’s forearm. They want you to draw first blood. That’s all they need to get their war on.
Sam ground his teeth together. I won’t let them hurt him.
I know you won’t. Just…don’t kill anybody. Okay? Maim them, send them to Time-Out, or the Middle Ages or whatever, but don’t kill anyone.
“Fine.” Sam’s face contorted into a cold, forced smile. “Let’s go.” He dropped his backpack down on the ground, next to Dean’s and walked over to his brother.
“Get your own raft,” Dean said and winked at Sam. “This one’s taken.”
Sam was about to protest, but in reality, he’d be better off in the other raft where he could — if he timed things properly — intervene when needed. Hopefully without Dean even noticing.
Gabriel, Sam and the three remaining Valkyries got into the second raft. They pushed off and drifted downstream at a deceptively relaxed pace for a few minutes. The canyon walls above them glowed bright orange and yellow in the late afternoon sun. It was such a beautiful sight that Sam nearly missed the shadow of large wings spread out just above where Dean’s raft was headed.
The Valkyrie at the front of the raft stood up and cried out in joy (bloodlust), raising her paddle (axe) high above her head. Dean pulled on her arm, trying to get her to sit back down, but she shrugged him off and stayed focused on the hidden angel above them, who waited until the craft had passed and flew after them.
Sam stood ready to tear the angel apart. “Hang on, cowboy,” Gabriel said as he reached into his safety vest and pulled out a slim, golden horn. He brought it to his lips and the sound of it — an eerie, yet strangely beautiful hum —rang through the canyon, echoing off the rock walls until it was coming from all around them. Everything slowed, the water itself froze like a still, three-dimensional photograph, drops of water suspended in midair. Only Gabriel, Sam and the Valkyrie were unaffected.
The angel above Dean’s raft was moving, but just barely. He was trying to turn towards Gabriel, but hadn’t managed to move more than an inch.
“Pretty neat trick, huh?” Gabriel said to Sam, grinning. He gestured at Dean’s raft. “After you.”
Sam took flight, his wings — six blades of light — unfolding into the sky. He grabbed hold of the trapped angel, spun him around, and glared. “Zachariah.”
The angel’s eyes narrowed ever so slowly, as Sam shoved him flat against the canyon wall, and leaned in close.
“Tell me why you’re here. Are you after Dean?”
Zachariah couldn’t answer out loud. The magic of Gabriel’s horn had frozen his vessel as effectively as everything else around them. His mind, however, answered angrily. Dean and I had a nice little chat right before you popped open the Cage. You know he still believed in you…right until the end. And look how that turned out — now his brother is the Devil.
Sam dug his way into Zachariah’s thoughts, seeing bits and pieces of his brother talking to the angel in a gilded room.
Dean knows the Apocalypse is inevitable, even if he’d rather wallow in denial. He knows it’s just a matter of time before Michael comes for you. You may have decided to call off the fight, but that doesn’t mean it’s not going to happen.
“Where’s Michael, then? Are you his messenger boy now?”
Michael will come when the time is right. For now, you’d better worry more about Raphael. His patience has worn out. He’s going to take Dean, and bring him to Michael, and there’s not a damn thing you can do to stop him.
Sam’s wings started to burn white with rage.
Zachariah looked at him defiantly.
Sam pulled his upper wings back and away from the wall and loosened his hold on Zachariah. He turned to look down at Dean’s raft where the Valkyries stood at the ready. No other angels had shown themselves. Not yet, at any rate. Refocusing on Zachariah he said, “Go back to Raphael and tell him Dean’s off-limits. He’s not a part of this, and if any of you lay a finger on him…” Sam’s threat hung in the air, unfinished, but the sky above them had grown a dozen shades darker and the air crackled with energy.
Zachariah tried to keep up his arrogant smirk, but a drop of sweat formed on his brow. He stayed pinned where he was when Sam let go, still stuck in the ethereal molasses of Gabriel’s weapon.
Sam flew up higher, searching for any other angels — for any sign of Raphael, but he couldn’t sense anyone. He willed himself down, next to Gabriel and felt the power of the horn start to fade right before Gabriel’s eyes grew wide in alarm. “He’s here.”
Sam felt Raphael a split second before he appeared, lightning spilling from his shoulders in the form of giant wings. The archangel grabbed a hold of Gabriel and pressed the tip of his sword against his throat.
Gabriel brought his hands up. “Whoa. Hey! How’ve you been, bro? Long time no see.”
“All this time, all this time you were gone…we were worried about you — trying to find you and bring you back home. Is this what you’ve been doing, Gabriel? Playing house with Lucifer?” He dug the tip of the sword in deeper.
Gabriel’s form shifted back into its usual shape, and Sam had to fight back the flare of anger that face brought with it. Gabriel might be his angelic brother, but he’d killed Dean hundreds of times…he’d made Sam exist in a living nightmare back in Broward County. “Let him go,” Sam said to Raphael, keeping his eyes focused on Gabriel and all his other senses focused on Dean. The raft was still close, but time had started moving again…inching forward slowly but surely.
“You think you get to tell me what to do?” Raphael let go of Gabriel and moved closer to Sam. His voice dropped to a low growl. “You, who betrayed us. You abomination. You will face the wrath of Heaven and you will beg us to throw you back in your cage.”
“Is that a fact?” Sam’s hands curled into fists. There was a loud snap in the air as Gabriel’s spell wore off and the water around them roared back to life.
“Sam! We’ve got company,” Gabriel yelled, right before the sky cracked open and two dozen angels dove down towards them.
Sam willed himself to Dean’s raft and stood with his back to his brother, forming a circle around him with the three Valkyries. “Sam?” Dean stared up at his brother. “What are you doing?”
The angels above them moved quickly, headed straight down, but three of them were thrown off course by something too fast to see. A shower of light rained down where Gabriel’s sword clashed against those of his attackers. Five others stopped halfway down, intercepted by Valkyries.
Raphael tried to force his way onto Dean’s raft, but between Sam and the three Valkyries they were strong enough to keep even an archangel away. Dean stood up, or he tried to, but the raft was moving swiftly, and mortal equilibrium just wasn’t enough. He fell back onto the raft and glared up at Sam. “Will somebody please tell me what the hell is going on?”
“We’re under attack.”
“Yeah I can see that. By what?”
“Angels,” Sam snarled as Raphael tried to push himself onto the raft again. This time, Sam reached through the ether and took a hold of him before he could withdraw completely and followed him into the space between realities.
The In-Between was the eye of the storm. The calm in the center of every possible universe. Around them were infinite nows and thens and soon-to-bes. Raphael, surprised by Sam’s tenacity, was attempting to back into another dimension — a near future where Lucifer had been defeated and Raphael himself led the Host. Sam pulled them away, forcing them back towards their own world, but caught a glimpse of so many others. Far too many of them were wrong in one way or another. A broken, scorched Earth, a disease-ravaged future with terrified survivors, a bleeding sky, a life grey and empty where nothing felt real…and a world without Dean. Sam’s rage fed his power and he forced Raphael back out of the In-Between.
They landed on the shore of the Colorado River, where Raphael immediately drew his sword and tried to stab Sam with it. Sam slipped out from under him and knocked the sword from his hand, sending it clattering onto the rocky ground. Energy gathered in his hands as Sam got ready to fight back, but two angels grabbed him from behind, holding his arms back while Raphael grinned.
“We will bring you to Michael, and you will face justice.” Raphael’s grin vanished when Gabriel appeared beside him, brandishing his sword.
Sam let the energy he’d gathered go — throwing off the two angels trying to restrain him. He saw the Valkyries on Dean’s raft fighting off four angels. Dean had his Colt drawn and aimed at the angel closest to him — Zachariah. He fired and the angel didn’t even flinch. Instead he lunged forward and wrapped his hand around Dean’s throat.
Faster than he could think, Sam moved to the raft, grabbed a hold of Zachariah’s arms and sent all of his rage into him. Distantly, Sam heard Gabriel yelling at him, begging him to stop, but he didn’t want to stop, he couldn’t stop. Zachariah lit up with white flame, fire and light poured out of his eyes and mouth, and his wings turned to ash as the Morningstar’s fury burned him whole.
Beside Sam, one of the Valkyries had impaled the angel across from her on her spear. The angel was still alive, but in agony, and he couldn’t break free no matter how much he struggled. She pulled him in close, and her sister brought her axe crashing down on the angel’s neck, severing his head. The other two angels focused their attack on Dean, or tried to, but they too turned to ash as Valkyrie-blade and Lucifer’s raw power struck them down.
Raphael’s rage echoed through the canyon as he broke free from Gabriel’s hold, lit up the entire sky with lightning and vanished.
At a look from Sam, the water current of the Colorado shrugged off the laws of nature and switched course, sending the two rafts speeding back onto the riverbank. The Valkyries left the rafts, turned towards the canyon wall, and spoke as one, “Ófriður.” Then they vanished, leaving behind Dean, Sam and one very exhausted Gabriel.
“Sam,” Dean said quietly, as he climbed out of the raft. “You want to explain yourself?”
Sam nodded, and was about to answer when he heard somebody clapping. There was a man in a suit standing by the river’s edge. He had grey hair, small, rectangular glasses, and he was applauding slowly.
“Nicely done. I knew you still had it in you,” said the man, smirking at Sam. He walked to Sam and Dean, throwing a sideways glance down at Gabriel, who was clutching a wound in his side. There was something familiar about the newcomer, something that made Sam think of underground caverns and a ferryman.
“You’re War,” Sam said. “The Horseman.”
“Horseman?” Dean asked, “As in…”
“Yup, that’s me,” said War. He took off his glasses, folded them up and slipped them into his suit pocket. “I’ve gotta say Luci, my brothers were worried for a few days there. They thought maybe you’d really had a change of heart. I never doubted you though. I mean…you having second-thoughts about annihilating humanity?” He laughed, “No way. Not you.”
Dean looked like he was about to say something, but instead he slammed his mouth shut, turning away from the Horseman and Sam angrily. He walked over to Gabriel and crouched down to inspect the archangel’s wound.
“I’m not going to annihilate humanity,” Sam said, through clenched teeth. “I like humanity.”
“As much as you like angels?” War asked, grinning. “You killed three of them today. Angel on angel violence? Sounds like the Apocalypse to me…”
“They were after Dean. I was protecting him.”
War nodded, “Just like you were protecting him every time you drank demon blood, every time you killed an innocent host along with a demon?”
Sam’s jaw twitched, but he stayed silent.
“You were made for this. You are going to help us bathe this world in blood, and you’ll love every second of it.”
War shook his head, “You want to keep lying to yourself? Fine. Have fun with that. The next time Raphael or one of the other pigeons decides to peck Dean’s eyes out, I’ll be there. And next time? I won’t just watch from the sidelines. Next time, I’ll take all that rage you’ve got bundled up inside of you and I’ll set it free. You won’t stop, you won’t be able to stop until everything around you is dead.” The Horseman put his glasses back on and pushed them up the bridge of his nose. “So you go have fun hiking and picking flowers and petting puppies. Whatever. I’ll see you again soon.” He clicked his tongue, winked at Sam and vanished.
Sam walked to where Dean was sitting next to Gabriel. Dean had taken off his flannel over-shirt and had it pressed against Gabriel’s side. The angel looked up at Sam and groaned, “A little help here?”
“Why haven’t you healed?” Sam asked Gabriel. He looked at Dean out of the corner of his eye, expecting anger, or a look of betrayal, or hurt…something along the lines of: ‘Why didn’t you tell me you were the Devil?’ but Dean was pointedly ignoring him.
“Because I can’t heal, genius,” Gabriel said. “Raphael stabbed me with his sword. An archangel’s blade, like the one you used to cull the Host during the First War. You remember that, Morningstar, or did you forget how they work?”
“I didn’t forget,” Sam said, laying his hands over the wound in Gabriel’s side. Gabriel closed his eyes and his blood started glowing bright blue-white with grace. His skin knit itself back together within seconds. Sam sat back on his heels and let out a heavy breath. “What now?”
“Oh, you mean, now that you’ve started the war?” Gabriel glared at him. “We wait! Maybe a few minutes or hours…however long it takes Raphael to come back with reinforcements.”
“Can we get more…reinforcements of our own? Would the Valkyries — “
Gabriel laughed angrily. “Sure! If they feel like coming back they will. Then again, they all saw War — they felt him before you did. I’m not sure they’re even our allies anymore.”
“Valkyries, huh?” Dean shook his head, stood up and started walking down-river where they’d left their tent and gear.
In all the years they’d spent hunting all kinds of things, often in the woods, often over the span of days, Sam had never taken the time to appreciate how quickly Dean could set up camp. He had the tent assembled within minutes and a fire going a few minutes after that.
“You’re just gonna…stay?” Gabriel asked incredulously, watching Sam watch Dean. “Yeah, cause that’s smart.”
Sam was going to protest, but when he started thinking about it, he decided here was just as good a place as any. “We’re staying here.”
“Fine. You two chuckleheads want to stay out here? Don’t let me stop you.” Gabriel stood up and rolled his shoulders back, “I’m gonna go disappear. Good luck with everything. You’ll need it.”
“Gabriel —“ Sam said, but the archangel was gone. Turning toward his brother, he walked back up the edge of the river, watching the sunset turn the canyon walls even more spectacular shades of orange and red.
“We’ve got…’Spicy Black Bean’ or ‘Chicken Vegetable with Barley’. Barley? Seriously?” Dean rolled his eyes at the offending cup of soup mix and adjusted the flame on the camp-stove. “Guess that’s what I get for letting you pick some of the food.”
“Can we just skip past this?” Dean flicked his eyes up to Sam for a split-second and then focused on the pot of boiling water again. “What could you possibly say that would make this better in any way?”
Sam nodded, “You’re right. There’s nothing I can say. I should’ve told you, but I just…” He didn’t say I just wanted things to stay the same or I just wanted you to be happy, even though both statements were true. For just a moment, he contemplated wiping Dean’s memory of the last half-hour, but dismissed the thought. In a way, it was a relief. At least he didn’t have to hide what he could do anymore.
Dean opened the ‘Spicy Black Bean’ container and sniffed at it suspiciously before pouring some of the boiling water into it.
“You want to get out of here? If you want, I could — I mean, we could go anywhere for dinner. You want steak?”
Dean blew over the spoonful of soup he was holding, but didn’t answer.
“Or if you want to stay here I could bring the steak to us…”
Dean swallowed the spoonful of soup and made a face. He reached his spoon back into the cup.
“If you don’t want steak I could get pizza instead, or burgers, or — “
After one more spoonful, the soup cup was emptied unceremoniously onto the ground. Dean stood up, stretched his back and went into the tent, zipping it shut behind him.
Sam stayed behind, staring at the overturned cup of rehydrated soup — watching its contents run into the grooves of the rock ground. He looked up the canyon walls, and realized that if he were to slip free from his body, let himself manifest in his true form, the top of the canyon walls would come roughly to the height of his knees. And yet, somehow, Dean could still make him feel like a four foot tall, scrawny eight-year-old. He sat down on the rock and stared at the water of the Colorado.
There was no way he was going to leave Dean alone here. It didn’t matter if he stayed in the tent all night, Sam could tell he was there, and he could keep him safe. But he had to do something. Sam closed his eyes and reached out with his mind, searching for any signs of angels, or the Horsemen.