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Acts of Love and War

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Sam looked in through the window of Lisa’s house. He could see Dean at her kitchen table. He was holding his head in his hands, a brown bottle sitting next to him, open but untouched. Sam could tell Dean was talking from the way his shoulders were moving, but he couldn’t hear a word. Then Lisa came around the table and wrapped an arm around him, sitting in the chair next to Dean’s and leaning into him, sipping from her own mug as she listened to him.

“I can’t go in, can I?” Sam asked.

In the periphery of his vision, the angel shook his head and spoke for the first time in the long minutes they had been standing there. “Lisa had a circle of iron and salt added to the foundations of the house when she rebuilt after your last visit, and there are warding symbols under the paint in nearly every room.”

Sam nodded, because of course Lisa would have done something like that. His brother did tend to fall for women who had a core of iron and a practical streak a mile wide. That was probably the best protected house this side of the country that didn’t actually have a hunter in residence. Well, hadn’t had a hunter in residence. From what he could see through that window, Dean wasn’t leaving anytime soon.

Which was good. That had been the plan, after all.

It hadn’t been part of the plan for him to escape the cage, but then, no one had factored in that, built to keep an angel in and demons out, its wards weren’t intended against souls. The minute the cage’s doors had slammed shut with Sam still blinking outside the bars, he had grabbed Adam and run like all of hell was after them. Which was very true, considering the location.

Sam still didn’t know how Cas had known to get them out of there, but he wasn’t about to question a good thing when it happened, especially when it had only been half a victory in the end. Cas had managed to get both Sam’s soul and Adam’s out of Hell but with Michael and Lucifer still using their bodies as Vessels, the two of them were technically nothing more than ghosts.

Considering Winchester luck, that seemed about right.

Adam had thrown his hands in the air and headed for the pearly gates as if someone might have popped up any second to try and drag him into yet another crazy apocalypse plot.

After dying so many times, Sam was a bit more relaxed on the subject. He had just needed to make sure Dean wasn’t going to try to bring him back again, before going quietly into that good night.

“Okay.” He said after another indeterminable length of time. “We can go.” He looked at Cas, who nodded and raised a hand to his shoulder. Sam closed his eyes in an attempt to fight the disorientation that always came with angel travel.

He knew he had been to heaven before, and more than once, but the only time he could actually remember he had spent mostly running around chased by a giant spotlight. The few memories he had revisited before Dean got to him had been nice, but they weren’t the gems he held close to his heart.

He felt a breeze weave through his hair and cool the touch of sunlight a shade too bright without any sunglasses.

Sam unfolded the pair that was tucked into the neck of his shirt. It hadn’t been there a moment ago, but that didn’t seem to be anything worth worrying about. When he opened his eyes, he found himself sitting on an old wooden bench set between a pair of mature maple trees. The leaves on them were a full, vibrant red that stood out impossibly bright against the blue sky. Across the path stretched one of the small lawns that made up the sterling quad and beyond the sand colored buildings he could see a riot of green that marked the trees at the edge of the golf course. It was the kind of autumn day that still had a touch of summer, and Sam instantly recognized it.

Cas shifted the book bag that had appeared next to Sam, along with the sunglasses and the Stanford jacket that was hanging around his shoulders. He sat down, and for once Cas didn’t look uncomfortable. His shoulders and back were still straight, but he held himself more loosely, with a natural ease Sam hadn’t seen him use before. The trench coat and loosened tie looked comfortable rather than out of place, and he was looking around with casual interest.

“I don’t believe I’ve seen this memory of yours before. Do you mind if I ask?”

Cas was definitely more relaxed if he was engaging the conversation without being prompted, and when Sam thought about it, he realized that he wanted to talk. It wasn’t too private a thing to share, after all. Cas was maybe the closest thing he had to a friend.

“We’re at Stanford, a couple of weeks into my first semester. You know how I cut things off with my dad, well, I was still sore about it. He said this thing, when we fought, about how I was trying to be something I wasn’t, and how you can’t just close your eyes after seeing what’s really out there. It was just more of the same, really, but for those first couple weeks, I was so alone I was starting to think he was right.”

“What changed?”

Sam smiled down at Cas and held up a hand. “Wait for it.” In the distance a clock tower chimed the hour, and from all the buildings around, students came pouring through the doors. For a handful of minutes the place was filled with a noisy crowd of people, but slowly they trickled away, until the paths were empty once again.

Cas looked at Sam, his head tilting to one side, clearly trying to understand and not quite getting it. Sam just kept smiling, his hand still up.

Out of the nearest set of doors burst a young woman with blond hair and a stack of books and files in her arms. She was clearly in a rush, late from the look of it, and trying to grab more than she could reasonably hold. Just as she passed the bench, she stumbled and some of the files started slipping sideways out of her arms.

Sam let Cas see a last flash of teeth, before he turned and caught the girl’s files before they could hit the ground and scatter over the pavement. He stood to place them safely on top of the pile in her arms, and their eyes met for the first time.

“Thanks, you’re a lifesaver.”

“No problem,” Sam said, perfectly on script.

The clock tower chimed the quarter hour.

“Oh, shit. I’m late. Thanks for the help, I’ll see you around.” and she was gone, running off towards another building with the papers clutched in her arms.

Sam turned back towards Cas. “First time I met Jess.” He tagged the sentence onto the short interaction, like a caption scribbled on the back of a photograph. “I kept bumping into her after that. I had a pretty big crush for a while.”

“I see.” There was a low note in Cas’s voice that wasn’t quite longing but wasn’t quite anything else, and his face was looking harder, without any of the suffusing softness that he’d been showing before. It was like a mask had slipped back over him.

He got up from the bench stiffly and spoke without looking at Sam.

“There are things I must attend to. I trust you will be comfortable. And I’ll be sure to keep an eye on Dean for you, so you don’t need to worry.”

Then, before Sam could ask what was wrong, Cas was gone. Sam sighed and sat back down on the bench. He had really been hoping that was one angel trick that didn’t work the same way in Heaven.



***

 

Sam didn’t see Cas after that.

Not that he really expected to. Cas was busy, after all, and it wasn’t as if either of them were on a deadline anymore. Sam wasn’t overly concerned that he wasn’t getting word of Dean either, because he was pretty sure time moved faster here. It was more that reliving a twenty minute memory over and over again for the rest of eternity was starting to look dead boring, even if it was a happy memory.

Sam switched up the memories every so often, just for variety. He visited amusement parks that he and Dean had snuck into as kids. He visited quiet days when the two of them had driven through the night, stopping at rest stops in the middle of nowhere just to lie back on the hood of the impala and look at the stars. He visited sunrises he’d seen after exhausting hunts, when it just felt so good to be alive. He visited the first time he had hit a target dead center and earned that rare smile from his dad. He visited motel rooms that seemed crappy at the time but in hindsight felt warm and cozy, like small pockets of safety and peace on the long road.

And after every other memory, he returned to that bench and that early October day. It was the last place he had seen Cas, and even if he knew that was silly, he couldn’t help thinking that this was where Cas would look for him. Sam wanted to talk to him. He wanted a conversation that wasn’t scripted. It wasn’t like there were a lot of people—real people—up here who shared a wealth of happy memories with him. Just Cas, really, and maybe Jo, and Ellen.

There was a thought.

The memories of his previous time in heaven were blurry at best, but he did remember that Ash had found him and Dean, drawing them into his own patch of heaven.  At that point, Sam was feeling alone enough to start experimenting.

He started with a bitter-sweet memory of the Impala. It was some weeks after Dean had died, when he had hooked up the iPod and was enjoying being able to play anything he wanted for the first time, no dad or over-sensitive brother in the car. He had spent the whole drive listening to classic rock. Twisting the memory slightly took him down a road that memory said would lead to the Roadhouse.

It probably shouldn’t have worked. He was aiming for Ash’s version of the Roadhouse, which would already be different enough from his own. Jo and Ellen certainly had plenty of memories of the Roadhouse, but theirs would be the same kind of memories of home that he had for the Impala, and he just couldn’t match that emotion.

Emotion, he was learning, was important when calling up memories. So what he looked for was the Roadhouse, but also for a feeling of safety, a fortress whose walls would stand for an age after everyone who had defended it had peacefully died. To that base, he added a sense of comradery, drinks being poured and stories being told. The smell of gun oil and well-used leather came next, bringing images of a warrior, ready but at rest, waiting for the call to arms. He added in the sound of the jukebox and the arcade shooter, the hum of conversation and the clinking of glasses over creaking floorboards, and the crunch of gravel in the lot out front as he pulled in.

And he was there.

He knew he wasn’t in his own memory anymore because of the Enochian symbols painted on the door and scratched into the wood of the porch railings. He also didn’t remember the satellite dish poking over the edge of the roof. He parked the Impala on the side of the road and stood beside her for a moment, just looking at the building and wondering if it would be impolite to knock. He had come by entirely unannounced. Then he thought of what Ellen would say if she found him just standing around, and headed for the door.

Sam did check for other wards but only the Enochian scribbling was apparent at first glance, so he decided to try his luck. He didn’t think the house would be warded against human souls, at least not in lethal ways.

He met no obstacle passing the door into the darker room and waited a bit for his eyes to adapt. Then he found himself looking down the double barrel of a shotgun.

“Hello, Ellen, been a while.”

Ellen considered him for a long moment. Sam kept his hands carefully at his sides, not reaching for the gun in the back of his belt or the knife on his right hip.

“When we first met, how did I say hello?”

That was a memory he hadn’t dredged up in a while. Sam looked down at his feet, shifted slightly on the spot. “You held a gun to my head, almost exactly like you’re doing now.”

Ellen lowered the shotgun so it was pointed at his chest rather than his face and studied him.

“Jo was covering Dean if I’m remembering correctly. She punched him in the nose; not that I blame her, Dean tends to have that effect on hot, young blondes.”

Ellen lowered the shotgun and matched his smile with one of her own.

“Sam, it’s been ages! We didn’t think you’d make it up here again. Sorry about the harsh welcome, by the way. The angels have been pulling some crazy stunts, can’t be too careful.” She set the shotgun down on a handy table and moved forward to wrap him in the kind of rib-crushing hug that he hadn’t even realize he’d missed. She pulled back enough to look at him and brought her hands up to cradle his face. “Are you alright?”

“Sure, I’m okay.” He didn’t exactly want to talk about the end of the apocalypse so he latched onto something she had said and steered the conversation in that direction. “What are the angels doing now?” Sam followed Ellen as she slipped behind the bar and pulled down the good stuff from the top shelf. She glanced at him, snagging a pair of tumblers and setting them on the counter.

“You don’t know?” She said, pouring a quarter inch into each glass then sliding one his way. Sam shook his head. “Huh, I figured you’d know more than we do. That’s not why you’re here?”

Sam shrugged shaking his head  slightly. “Nope, I just got bored, figured I’d stop by. I didn’t know anything was up.” He took a seat at the bar, leaning forward on his elbows and playing with the glass Ellen had poured him, without actually drinking from it.

Ellen didn’t hesitate to down hers. “Let me tell you then, things around here have been going nuts. Our angel overlords are all gearing up for some kind of massive fight. Ash keeps going on about it but, honestly I can’t understand half of what he says. He’s around here somewhere. Ah, speak of the devil.” the last bit was in response to a shout and a thud that seemed to come from somewhere in the back.

Sam leaned sideways so he could see the door marked Employees Only and, sure enough, Ash came through it in a tumble of limbs and wildly waving hair a moment later.

“Ellen, we’ve got a jumper, but I lost them, whoa,” Ash paused as he saw Sam. Sam raised his glass. Ash gave Sam a skeptical look then turned to Ellen. He pointed at Sam and lifted a quizzical eyebrow.

“Yeah, it’s him, I checked.”

“You sure, ‘cus they can...” Ash wiggled his fingers in a gesture that was probably meant to look sinister and failed.

Ellen got out another glass and filled it and her own. “Well, last I checked angels didn’t know how to flirt and had no concept of irony, so yes. I’m fairly sure it’s him.”

“Man, you were dead!” Ash said sliding onto the stool next to Sam’s

“Fairly sure I still am.” Sam said finally taking a drink and setting his glass back on the bar half full. It was the good stuff, smooth with only a hint of burn at the tail end. Sam noted that the level in the bottle Ellen was pouring from didn’t seem to be going down despite the fact that she had now topped off all three glasses and her own twice. If he wasn’t careful, he was going to end up very drunk. Which raised the question of if he even could get drunk in heaven.

“Well, yeah, but you were gone, man. Lucifer, and Michael, and all that gone. You’d need like a free pass from God himself to...” Ash stopped and looked at Sam hard. Slowly, he leaned forward and poked Sam’s shoulder with one outstretched finger.

It served to pull Sam out of his thoughts, though that obviously wasn’t why he had done it. Sam brushed his hand away. “It wasn’t God, just Cas, and I was never really in the cage anyway. It kind of spit me out before the doors could close all the way.”

Both Ellen and Ash were surprised into silence for a few moments.

“Cas? You mean Castiel?” Ellen asked while Ash sat back on his stool and whistled.

“No wonder I couldn’t find you. He probably stuck you in a corner, tryin’ to keep you outta things.”

“Okay, what things? What’s going on? What’s Cas mixed up in? I thought we’d stopped the apocalypse, everything should be...” Sam waved one hand in the air, “done. Right?”

Ash downed his glass and thunked it back on the bar. “Well, yeah, that’s what started the current mess.” and Ash launched into a long-winded and overly technical version of how the civil war in Heaven had started, with Ellen clarifying things every so often.

It took a while but eventually Sam got the story straightened out.

After Cas had left Sam in his corner of heaven, the angel had done what he had said he would do, start reorganizing, trying to teach angels about free will and other slightly more complicated matters. Except not all the angels had thought he was doing things the right way. Two camps had emerged fairly quickly: the traditionalists, following Raphael, and a number of younger, less-obstinate angels, following Cas.

When Cas had been recreated for the second time there at the end, his grace had no longer shown as an angel of virtue, but had burned with the light of a Seraph. With only three seraphim left in heaven after the apocalypse and only six said to still be alive at all, Castiel’s arrival had set off a chain of events, ending in his confrontation with Raphael.

After war was declared, things had fallen out fairly evenly. The younger and generally less powerful angels had backed Cas, and while they outnumbered the Thrones and Dominions under Raphael’s command, they were outgunned in terms of power. It had turned into something balancing between a cold war and an arms race, with small skirmishes threatening to set off the fatal spark.

As part of his most recent desperate strategy, Raphael had taken to claiming the souls in heaven, stockpiling them to use as an energy source, which was why Ellen had greeted Sam with a shotgun. The angels could look like anyone up here without the need for a vessel and some of them could even read the memories of the souls around them to make themselves more convincing. Not that most of them bothered with it much, but they had been getting more cunning as they grew more desperate.

“Okay, wait. Back up.” Sam interrupted.  “You said there were six seraphim other than Cas. If Raphael is one of them, what are the rest of them doing? Just sitting on their asses and twiddling their thumbs? They’re the most powerful angels in heaven, right? So are they all siding with Raphael?”

“Not exactly.” Ash swiveled on his stool and opened a laptop that definitely hadn’t been sitting on the bar a moment ago.

Sam blinked, “That, how did you do that?”

Ash looked confused for a minute but Ellen helpfully jumped in. “Memories. They’re power here. If you can remember something you can use it, which is why I will never have to restock this bar again.” She said, again holding up the bottle she had been pouring from. It was still full, when between the three of them it should have been nearly empty.

Ash swiveled his laptop towards them, regaining their attention. “Reason the other seraphim haven’t chosen a side is because most of them are otherwise occupied. Check it out. Michael was basically running things, up until you managed to toss him in the cage with Lucifer, and since Lucifer is seraph number two, that’s a third of them gone right there. Seraph number three would be Gabriel, who is listed as MIA. That leaves Raph, who’s been trying to fill Michael’s shoes, Joshua, and Samael.

“Now, you met Joshua last time around, so maybe you know something I don’t, but from what I’m getting off angel radio, he’s basically said ‘Fuck it, I’d rather hang out with plants then you lot’ and locked the gates to the garden.”

Sam nodded, “Yeah, that sounds like something he might do.”

“Okay, so that only leaves Samael. And this guy? Not someone you want to mess with. He’s the angel of Death, liaison to the Horseman, shepherd of souls. The other Seraphim are powerful, but this guy is like, uh, God's executioner. Far as I can tell, he’s the only thing other than God and Death himself who can kill another seraph.”

Sam sat back and tried to process that. If even the colt hadn’t worked on Lucifer and this Samael guy could have wiped him off the map, then the scale of power they were looking at was monumental. Of course, that brought up the question of where the hell Samael had been during the Apocalypse but there wasn’t a lot to be done about all that now.

“And which side is he on?” Sam had a sinking feeling, but he had to ask the question even if he probably didn’t want to know the answer.

“Beats me” Ash said with a shrug, and he once again picked up his glass. He squinted at it for a moment then smiled as the tumbler changed into a brown bottle. He took a swig of the ale. “Far as I can tell, this guy’s been mum since the whole thing started. Plus, he moves around. Here, there, Heaven, Earth, never know where he’s going to be at any specific time.”

“Fuck.” Sam said. He looked down at the bar and tried to replicate Ash’s trick while letting the data percolate down and make some sense of itself. Sam ended up with a glass of oversweet lemonade, which was close enough to the ice tea he had been aiming for, and not too bad for a first try. Ellen rolled her eyes and refilled her glass from the bottle.

“So, what are we doing about it?”

“About what?” Ellen asked. “The crazy angel war? We’re battening down the hatches and putting up every word we know of. Did you think we were just going to let them take us?”

Sam looked back and forth between Ellen and Ash. “But, to help. I mean, Cas saved my life more than once, but even aside from that, I don't think any of us want Raphael to restart the Apocalypse.”

Ash raised both hands in a gesture of surrender. “Hey, I just watch the data. You want to start figuring out strategies go right ahead.”   

Sam leaned back as much as he could on the stool and considered. It made sense in a way. While Sam had always considered them both hunters, they were more on the supporting side of things. Neither of them had the drive that he and Dean had counted on to get through the hard days on the road. And maybe they had the right of it. He had been fighting so long he wouldn't be surprised if he had forgotten how to do anything else. Maybe he needed to step back and really look at the situation; learn more about the rules around here before he went off half-cocked. Dean was supposed to be the hothead; Sam really didn't need to be taking a leaf out of his brother's book right now.

After a few minutes of silent drinking Ellen changed the subject by asking how Bobby was getting on.

 

***

 

Sam was back on the bench of his Stanford memory. He had considered sticking around to see Jo, but Ellen said she had been gone for a while and probably wouldn't be back anytime soon. In the end he just wanted some time to think. If he was being truthful, he wanted to talk to Cas.

He wanted to hear from Cas what his side of things was, and he wanted to be there if Cas needed a shoulder to lean on. There had been so many times when Cas was on Earth that the angel had been out of his depth and struggling alone. He tried so hard to be strong.

Sam had been there, back then. He had been able to offer whatever words he had and his silent support when his words ran out. Maybe Sam was just fooling himself but it looked an awful lot like Cas was trying to carry too big of a burden again. As if Cas though that just because this was Heaven he should be more somehow…

Hell, maybe he was, what did Sam know?

Jess ran past, the papers falling from her arms. Sam didn't move to catch them. It was just a memory. Jess turned accepting the papers that stacked themselves up again without assistance, and thanking a nonexistent helper. Sam just slumped lower as the quarter hour struck and she hurried away.

He needed something else, some other memory, a better one. Maybe, maybe one with Cas. Not that he had a lot of good memories with him. Most of them were full of blood or tension, and more than half the time, they had been about to die.

Sam flipped through the highlights’ reel in any case. Back all the way to the beginning. Cas had just been another angel back then, which meant he had been a dick. He had grown out of that, after they found Anna and learned how little heaven gave a fuck.

Cas cared too much to just let things stand.

He was a lot like Dean in that way, though Dean covered it up with bravado and sharp comebacks and Castiel put a stiff, touching earnestness in his belief. It was something Sam admired in both of them, mostly because it was a trait he didn’t share.

Sam had always been able to draw back, look at the big picture or even take a selfish viewpoint. It had let him go off to college when he knew that hunting things actually translated to saving lives. Sometimes it had let him keep his head on straight, other times it just seemed like one more barrier between him and the rest of the world.

The memories flickered around Sam, never becoming anything more than ghosts since he wasn’t really concentrating. It was almost like watching a play where the actors were all see through and he could fast forward and rewind at will.

“God, I have a fucked-up life.” Sam said at last as he watched Dean and himself die for the seventh time only to be resurrected a minute later. At the time, he had been in too much shock to properly register the how and why of that particular event but apparently he had picked up more than he thought.

“Had,”

The voice was real, unlike the echoes that spun up from Sam’s memories, and he looked up, unsurprised to find Castiel standing beside his bench.

“Had, right.” Sam scooted over, silently offering Cas a seat. Cas looked down at the bench as if just realizing that sitting down was an option. Sam raised his eyebrows a notch. Cas consented to the silent request, sitting with his coat draped around him.

The memory movie faded away now that Sam wasn’t focusing on it. “Hey.”

“Hello.”

Cas’ voice was a comfort after all the time without real conversation. Sam still hadn’t quite worked out how time worked in this place but it felt like a while since he had talked to Ash and Ellen. He took a minute to just look at Cas, take him in.

Cas still looked like Jimmy Novak, with the dark suit, the trench coat and the tie hanging loosely around his neck. The same mesmerizing blue eyes and dark hair. Sam knew that Cas didn’t have to look like a librarian here in heaven, but he appreciated the familiarity. He wasn’t as comfortable with the bruise-like darkness around his eyes, the sallow translucence of his skin and the slight slump of his shoulders; that even his chosen form bore those very human signs of exhaustion spoke volumes about how tired Cas had to be. When they had been traveling together, any change to Cas’s appearance was an event, since the angel didn’t seem so much negligent as ignorant of his appearance. He maintained his host at the exact level of quality he’d received it. The fact that other people had to change clothes and bathe regularly simply did not compute with him. Now though, he looked like he could use a hot bath and a good night’s rest. In his accountant’s garb, he looked more like a man who had had a hard month than a hard week.

Sam brought a hand up without thinking, brushing the limp hair away from Cas’s forehead. His skin felt clammy, and while Sam had always known Cas to run hotter than a regular human, it now was barely warm enough to pass for one.

“You alright Cas? You look a bit worn down.” and Sam had to bite down on saying something more.

“I am fine.”

Sam snorted at the attempted dismissal. “You are not fine Cas. You look like you haven’t had a good night’s sleep in a month.”

“I do not require sleep.”

“You still look like ten miles of bad road.”

Cas cocked his head to one side. “Your metaphors make little sense.”

Sam smiled but didn’t let himself be distracted. “Seriously, what’s up?”

“It is nothing you need to worry about. I have simply been… busy.” Cas was looking straight ahead rather than at Sam and he made the effort to straighten his shoulders.

Had Cas always been this stubborn? Wait, yes of course he had.

“It’s the war isn’t it? The angelic civil war you just happened to forget to tell me about.” Sam could tell he had hit the nail on the head by the slight shifting of posture along Cas’s spine as he flinched, and the way the angel’s eyes darted in his direction as if trying to hide the fact that he was looking for Sam’s reaction.

Sam leaned back, sitting nearly sideways on the bench to look at Cas. “I had to learn about the civil war you’re leading from Ellen and Ash. Come on, you can’t just leave me out of the loop like that. I can help.”

“No.” Cas cut across Sam’s words in a tone that was low but rock-solid. “You’ve already fought one war. You’ve done enough.”

“Come on, Cas, you can’t just shut me out like this. There’s got to be something I can do. You’d be doing me a favor. I’m practically going stir crazy here on my own as it is.” He waved one hand through the air rather than grab Cas’s shoulder like he wanted to.

“No, Sam.”

“Do I need to give you the friends help each other speech again?”

“Sam!” Castiel stood and took two deliberate steps before he stopped. His head fell back, and for a brief moment his shoulders lost their rigid posture.

He made a picture there between the trees. A gap in the branches created a blue halo of sky, while the red leaves that were always falling without ever running out or piling up, swirled around his shoulders, occasionally sticking to his coat. It was like the leaves purposely avoided the space just behind his shoulders, outlining the wings that Sam couldn’t see.

“Sam,” He said again and this time it was softer. He half turned and looked back at where Sam still sat on the bench. “I realize that you just wish to help, but I need you to stay here for the time being.”

“Why?” The question came out without Sam thinking about it. He was leaning forward, elbows on his knees with his hands laced loosely together, as he looked at the angel.

Cas’s expression was suddenly harder to read than usual. “The last war you fought in killed you.” Castiel raised his hand before Sam could protest. “I know you can defend yourself, but even if it was possible to resurrect a soul, and it is not, no one would do so this time. In fact there are many who would single you out for destruction due to your status as Lucifer’s vessel.” Castiel turned to look at him straight on, his blue eyes luminescent from the eternal afternoon sun. “Since bringing you here, I have done my best to shield your presence from the host. If the forces of Heaven learned that I had claimed your soul, it could be turned into a weapon, undermining my authority.”

Now Sam was the one to look away.

“Please understand, the balance of power is already precarious.”

“Yeah,” Sam waved a hand, still not quite looking at Cas. “Ellen told me about the souls”

Cas’s chin came up sharply. “What have you heard about that?”

Sam finally met his eyes at the urgency in Cas’s tone. “Just that souls were being taken, they were being used as some kind of power source. What’s wrong?”

“Raphael has gone too far.”

Then Cas was gone, with a swirl of leaves and trench coat and the sound of wings filling the empty space.

 

***

                  

Sam waited for Cas to come back for the next two days, then he decided that he had been waiting for Cas to come to him for long enough. Taking off in the middle of a conversation wasn’t exactly unheard of for the angel, but in this case, Sam still had a hell of a lot of questions. If he was going to agree to sit quiet, he was going to know why.

So Sam imagined the Impala, because even though he’d owned his own cars and still thought of the Impala as Dean’s, this was starting to look like a hunt. He may not have the obsessive love of cars that his brother thrived on, but Sam still took comfort from the hum of the engine and the smell of the well-worn leather seats.

The car itself was an easy memory to conjure up; the hard part came when he was already driving along a stretch of two-lane highway from what might have been Kansas, and realized he had no idea how to go about looking for the angel. The last time he had gone wandering, he had aimed for the Roadhouse, a place he knew existed and had actually been to in the real world. He hadn’t been aiming for Ash or Ellen, though he had been fairly sure they would be there. Unfortunately, there was no one location, that he could say Cas belonged in. The Angel had been as transitory as Sam himself, while on Earth. More so, given that he could bamf himself to wherever he wanted without actually traveling between point A and B.

Sam watched the mile markers roll past for a while before saying fuck it and focusing on an image of Cas himself. The tan trench coat, the dark hair, the blue eyes all came easily to his mind’s eye. He filled in more details as he went, adding the crease the angel sometimes got between his eyes and the way his tie always hung around his neck.

He was trying to remember Castiel’s shoes when an explosion rocked the small town suburbia that the Kansas fields had become.

Sam jerked at the wheel, narrowly avoiding ending up in someone’s driveway as he tried to see what had caused the suddenly burning shed. Further down the block, he caught sight of two figures jumping over the white picket fence in front of a canary-yellow house and taking off at a dead run as the sound of wings backed a furious scream.

Sam grinned at the sight of the trench coat and dark hair he had been looking for, but it was the blond ponytail that really caught his eye. He threw the impala into gear and spun the car around in a maneuver that may not have been possible in the real world. Driving after the two running figures, he leaned out the window calling to them.

“Jo, heads up!”

The blond head swiveled, and sure enough it was her. Sam gunned it to catch up with her and threw open the doors as he skidded to a stop in front of them. Cas rolled into the back seat sheltering something in his arms, as Jo slid into the passenger side.

“Angels. Go!”

Sam didn’t need to be told twice. He twisted the wheel, and drove through half a dozen memories before settling into the twists of the Oregon Coast highway.

“They still on us?”

“No.” Came the low voice from the back seat. “They couldn’t have known you would be there. They’ll be looking for Jo or me. If we stay moving, we should be alright for now.”

“Great timing, by the way.” Jo added. “Heard you were up here, but we thought you were laying low.”

Sam shrugged. “Honestly, I just came looking for Cas.” He nodded at the back seat. “Glad I could help though. What were you doing back there anyway?”

Jo took a breath, presumably to answer when Cas leaned forward from the back seat. “Sam, I’m not Castiel.”

Sam glanced sideways at the head of dark hair and blue eyes that were so familiar. Except Cas had never worn a look of bemusement like that before. Sam slowed down to take a turn as his mind connected dots.

“Jimmy?”

Jimmy nodded. “Been a while. I would ask how you’ve been but I know the apocalypse was hell, so we can go ahead and skip that bit.”

“Sure.” Sam took a moment to switch memories, finding a long straight two lane highway through what looked like Nebraska maybe. “Except that makes me even more curious about what you were doing. I’m fairly sure you two never met before.” He waved a hand vaguely at the surroundings.

“You mean before we all died?”

“Hey, I resent that. Technically, I’m still alive. I just get a lot of frequent flier miles.” Jimmy cut in. Jo attempted to elbow him but couldn’t quite get the angle given that Jimmy was sitting right behind her. “We were picking up Molly.” Jimmy nodded to a lump of yellow behind the driver’s seat that Sam hadn’t noticed before.

Sam adjusted the rear view mirror to get a better look. Sitting behind him was a girl of about nine or ten. She was wearing a yellow dress with a daisy pattern and had pink clips in her pixie-cut blonde hair.

“Oh, um, hi. I didn’t see you there. I’m Sam.”

“Yeah, I know. I’m Molly.”

Sam turned back to the road, wondering which question he should ask next, and if he should be asking anything in front of the strange little girl.

“She’s an oracle. We were asking her to help us when the angels appeared.” Jo explained.

Sam glanced at his friend.

“It may be my fault.” Jimmy spoke up from the back seat. “We knew I was a target. Molly’s probably a target as well. With both of us in the same place, it was probably too good an opportunity to waste.”

“What he said.” Molly chipped in. She was looking out the window now and seemed utterly uninterested in the conversation.

“Okay, I think you’re going to have to start and the beginning.” Sam said after trying to parse through what had been said.

Jo leaned around so she could look at Jimmy, who shrugged. It was a perfectly ordinary interaction, but Sam was struck, because Cas never shrugged. In the span of their short conversation Jimmy had already shown as much emotion as Cas would in an entire week.

Jimmy was the one who ended up speaking. “You know about the civil war the angels are cooking up?” Sam nodded, using his mirror to watch Jimmy. “Well, they’ve been going after important souls. And since I’m Castiel’s vessel, if they kill me, Cas will be cut off from earth at the very least until he can find a new host. It makes me a pretty big person of interest.”

“Wait, seriously? You’re alive? I thought you were joking earlier. How can you be here and alive?” Sam slid to a stop at a sign and looked both ways even though he was literally the only car on the road.

Jimmy shrugged. “While Castiel is here in heaven, I’m stuck in a holding pattern. Technically, I’ve never died. Well, I have, but it was Castiel who really died and, in any case, we were both brought back, so the universe wants to treat me like a living human most of the time. Except my body is in a…temporary storage of some sort while Castiel doesn’t need it, so I’m wandering around in just my soul.”

Jo rolled her eyes. “He has an extra life before game over.”

“Jo, my cosmic existence is not a video game, please.” Jimmy sounded as if he had made the argument before and didn’t actually expect her to stop.

Jo ignored Jimmy’s plea and just went on with the explanation. “I found Jimmy here a while back. Ash was tracking everything the feather-brains were doing and noticed a pattern in who they were going after. So I decided to use the profile to try predicting who they would go after next and get to them first.”

“Bet your mom loved that.” There was a wry smile in Sam’s words.

“Hey, if she wants to batten down the hatches, that’s fine. The way things are going, we just might need a place to fall back to. But there’s no way I’m getting taken by surprise. I went down fighting once, if I’m going to die again, I’m going to make an even bigger boom then last time.”

Sam briefly considered the situation that had led to Jo’s death and the four buildings that had been taken out by the explosion. “So this time, you’re planning on taking out a whole city block?”

“Damn straight.”

Jimmy looked like he wanted to say something about risking not only their lives but the fabric of their souls, but he refrained. It was a very Cas-like look, and Sam had to blink for a minute, reminding himself that the angel wasn’t currently in the back seat.

“Anyway, Jimmy was actually holding his own and when we shared notes we decided to team up.” Jo finished.

“Where’s the girl come in?” Sam asked.

“Not girl, Molly.” She turned to Jimmy. “He owes me ice cream for messing up my name.”

“Do I get a say in this?” Sam was tempted to turn around in his seat to look at the little girl, except he had to keep his eyes on the road.

“No.” Molly answered without looking at him.

Jo snorted out a laugh.

Jimmy concentrated for a minute, then his shoulders seemed to ease. “I can’t hear any angels nearby. I think we’ve lost them for the time being, it should be alright to stop.”

Sam shrugged. It wasn’t like it was going to cost him anything to humor her. Sam picked out a memory of a New England coastal town in mid may. The boardwalk had a scattering of people and more than a few seagulls. Joggers made their way along the pebbly sand and children threw stones into the water.  A few storefronts were making a living selling knickknacks, salt water taffy, and the requested ice cream.

Molly had a large scoop of chocolate peanut butter, and when she looked pointedly at the rest of them, they ordered as well: Coffee for Jo, rum raisin for Sam and chocolate chip mint for Jimmy. They started down the boardwalk at a slow pace, staying mostly quiet as they ate their ice cream and casually looked around.

“So you guys were trying to find people before the angels did?” Sam prompted after a while, bringing the conversation back to where they had left it.

“Yes, the angels. We think they’re tapping into people’s souls somehow.” Jo looked down at her ice cream as if the dark flavor had suddenly gone bitter.

“Yeah, like Kurby.” Molly chimed it without regard for Jo.

Sam just stared blankly down at Molly. He was vaguely aware that she was talking about some kind of video game but he couldn’t remember if Kurby had been the little pink one or the blue one that ran fast. His own childhood had been remarkably lacking in that area.

Molly seemed to sense his confusion. “Because he gets power-ups from what he eats, like if he eats a spark he gets lighting powers or if he eats a fire guy he starts breathing fire cause they’re spicy. Only they’re not as strong so you’ve got to match up the types to win.”

“Right...” Sam drew out the word and looked at the others for some kind of translation.

Jo just shrugged. Jimmy made the same expression Cas did when he was trying to parse through some strange human custom.

“Wait, you’ve seriously never heard of Kurby?”

And that was not at all what Sam had expected Jimmy to say. “You have?”

Jimmy shrugged. “I can list over fifty pokemon and know the name of each of Cinderella's mice. You’d be surprised what you learn when you have a kid.” He sounded almost exasperated, but it was layered over the kind of love that runs deeper than could ever be measured. He took the next few steps in a fond silence before breathing deeply and properly explaining.

“Angels use emotions as a power source. That’s basically what Heaven is, one big power plant for them. Demons do it too, except they use emotions like fear and pain instead of love or joy. It’s like that old saying: good is stronger but evil is faster: pain has a greater kick, but it’ll use up the soul a lot faster. It’s kind of a loophole, but angels can draw from individual souls as well, as long as the energy is processed, or something. I don’t really understand it all, to be honest. The important bit is that when an angel draws from an individual soul, it can access that person’s memories as well.”

“Like a demon would?” asked Sam.

“Yes and no. As far as we know, it’s shallower than if the human hosted that soul. And they don’t need permission, since the souls are already here. But as memories are, uh, power-ups here, the angels can use the talents of anyone they’re directly tapped into. Molly’s right in that it’s not as strong as in the human, but when the skill is being able to predict outcomes, or the memory of using an extremely powerful weapon.” Jimmy shook his head and shrugged. “The angels up here are mostly paper pushers rather than warriors, but if they tap into the right people, we’re going to have a whole new level of crap to deal with.”

Sam nodded, eating his ice cream and looking out over the water of the bay. Something was nagging at him though. He trusted Jimmy, mostly, but...

“How do you know all that?”

“Castiel.” Jimmy answered easily. “I may only be a passenger but I can still remember everything he did while using my body. At least up here I can. Not exactly fun, but having access to the power of a seraph has been useful a time or two.” Jimmy held out a hand and took on a look of concentration.  A moment later, a shining angel blade appeared in his palm.

It probably should have looked out of place for anyone but Cas to be holding Cas’s blade. And it was Castiel’s, though how Sam was able to tell it apart from any other angel sword, he didn’t know. Except Sam was still having trouble separating Jimmy from the angel he knew.

Jimmy flipped the blade over and offered it to Sam. Sam took it, and found himself gripping the handle tight enough to make his skin go white even under the glow of the blade. The sword felt like Cas. It was like the angel was there with them, maybe standing just behind Sam, just out of sight. Sam turned to look, but no one was there and he found himself looking down at the blade again.

Jo was smiling at Sam’s reaction. “Weird, right? Having the only guy in heaven who can use their own weapons against them on our side kind of rocks.”

Sam handed the blade back, and Jimmy tucked it away.

“He’s not.”

Sam blinked down at Molly. He had nearly forgotten she was there, since she had been so quiet while the Ice cream was occupying her attention.

“Not what?”

“The only one. The only one who’s figured it out, maybe, but not the only one who can do it.”

“Look Molly, this is all kind of complicated and--”

“No,” Sam interrupted, “She’s right. If you can use Cas’s power because you’re his vessel then other vessels should be able to use the power too.”

“Shit.” Jo said in wonder. “That might actually work.”

“They would certainly be a target.” Jimmy agreed. “We should talk to Ash, see if he can factor --” Then he was gone.

Sam blinked at the spot where Jimmy had vanished without a trace. “What the–”

“Shit, let’s go. If Cas snatched him up, we’re in for trouble.” Jo dropped her ice cream to grab Molly’s hand and it vanished before it hit the ground. Her other hand snagged the back of Sam’s jacket and tugged.

There was a wrenching like nothing Sam had felt yet. It was like his head was being stuffed into a box that was too small for it, or like the whole world was trying to fit inside his skull. Jo was suddenly dragging him along a dirt track beside an old wooden fence, and Sam would have sworn he had never seen it before. He blinked the water from his eyes and pushed back the pain, forcing his mind to process and analyze.

Sam was getting tired of feeling two steps behind everyone else.

Jo was the one leading them now. Jo was the one who had brought them here, so logically this was Jo’s memory. That made sense, right? It felt wrong. Not necessarily bad wrong, more like looking at the world through glasses with the wrong prescription. It was off, but not hostile. Something told Sam it could get hostile very fast if he made a wrong move, though. Jo may not have had many years of hunting under her belt before she was taken out, but what she did have contained an awful lot of nasty. He decided he didn’t want to be anywhere close when her personal dream-world turned into a nightmare.

The path took a turn. Jo dragged them through a gate, running up the front steps of a building that looked like a cross between a small hunting cabin and a child’s fort. Sam was shoved inside with Molly while Jo turned to lock the door behind them. Sam had just enough time to glance at the photos pinned up on the walls ( Childs drawings of almost familiar people, purple and yelloow sunsets and actual photographs of Jo’s family from when she was a kid. ) before Jo was back. She knelt down, staring at a patch of floorboards for a moment before a brass ringed trap door appeared under her hands. She pulled it open and motioned for Sam and Molly to precede her.

At the bottom of the short ladder was a treasure box. Sam knew there were probably better ways to describe the room and it’s collection of odds and ends, but that was what came to mind. Everything there was clearly precious; sparkling with inner power and lovingly tended to. Sam spotted the knife Jo had gotten from her father on a shelf next to a photo of the group from the roadhouse. The shooting game from the corner of the bar sat against the left wall flashing her high score. Children’s books were propped up next to a gun-cleaning kit. The posters on the walls probably spanned the length of her life, boy-bands’ line-ups pinned next to pages torn from hunting and fishing magazines. Trophies and weapons were littered between a little girl’s passion for the Lion King and Pocahontas And behind it all, painted on the walls and etched into the plaster were words.

Without having to ask, Sam knew that everything Jo loved was represented in this room. It was a starkly intimate moment. Jo had built herself a bolt hole and filled it with everything she couldn’t stand to lose, and here they were, just standing in the middle of it.

Jo glanced at him, then away, moving to clear a bar table of newspaper clippings. Molly found an old plastic tea set on top of a battered blue and white dresser and brought it over. In life, the teapot had probably only held imaginary tea, but it was full now, and Molly filled several child-sized cups as if this was just another pretend gathering with her dolls and teddy bears. There really was a teddy bear propped up on one of the seats, although Jo picked it up as she sat down, tucking it in close to her side without seeming to think about it.

Sam sat and took the tea that was offered to him. Jimmy’s sudden disappearance had derailed him, and here in this place he was struggling to find his feet again. Finally, he fumbled out the only question he could think of, just to fill the silence with something. No Winchester had ever been good at quiet, intimate moments

“You said Cas took Jimmy?”

“Yeah, at least I think so.” Jo seemed as grateful for the conversation as he was. “He doesn’t really talk about it, but it always takes him a bit to pull himself together after he comes back. He talks to himself. Like putting things in perspective, not crazy talk. Sometimes it’s easier if he has someone there.  He talks about things, you know, back home. Although to be honest, it’s kind of a jumble most of the time. I have no idea how he does it.”

She paused drinking a bit of her tea. “That’s how we get most of our news from back home, the state of things at least. Oh, by the way. Dean’s alright, still living with that woman of his, at least since last time Jimmy vanished.”

Sam made the connection between how she had been acting around Jimmy in the car and the caring, worried expression she was wearing now. “You like him!”

“What? No!” Jo looked at him with eyes like a rabbit trapped by a fox. “He’s a friend, that’s all. And that’d be weird, because he’s something like, ten years older than me, and he’s married, and -- “ She was trailing off because Sam was just grinning, all teeth and knowing looks.

“Did you fall in love with the deep blue eyes and amazing hair, or the stubborn streak of devotion?” Sam had a flash of Cas, and maybe it wasn’t quite the same but he knew what she was feeling.

“Shut up!”

Molly leaned over to refill Sam’s tea-cup and stage whispered. “It’s true, she likes him.”

By that point Jo’s neck and ears had gone red, and she had apparently decided that silence was her best option. She was refusing to look away, instead glaring at both her table companions alternatively.

“You know, since you’re both dead, the age thing isn’t really a factor. The Marriage thing may not be a factor either. Jimmy wouldn’t leave you dangling if you didn’t have a chance.” He knew that this wasn’t a simple crush on Jo’s part. Even if she’d died young, the last weeks of her life and the role she assumed in her afterlife showed maturity far beyond her years.

“He’s not dead,” She said, as if that was the final word on the matter, and her blush was even more vibrant than it was a minute ago. “Besides, we have bigger things to worry about.”

Sam leaned back in his chair, emptying the small tea-cup again. The smile was still on his face as he spoke. “Alright, if you say so.” Sam paused before asking his next question. “Why are we in trouble if Cas took Jimmy back downstairs? They were already after us, well, you. Is this really that different?”

Jo sobered, and suddenly the whole room seemed darker.

“Yes, it is.” She took a deep breath. “The angels on Cas’ side go on the defensive when he’s on earth. None of them have any initiative, so none of them really do anything. Raphael’s people have free reign. Last time, I was caught off guard and they nearly ran me down. Later, I found out nearly forty souls we had been keeping an eye on just vanished. When Cas is gone, Jimmy is as well, and he’s one of our strongest.  We’ve managed to warn people and get some of them warded but we don’t have any communication system set up. There aren’t actually that many of us fighting and all we can do is keep an eye on things. We don’t have the power to really take them on.”

“Maybe that needs to change.”

“What do you think we’ve been trying to do? If you have any ideas, Sam, please share them, but it’s just not that easy.” Jo leaned back and ran a hand through her hair. “I mean, the vessel thing is a good idea, but just finding these people is going to be a challenge.”

“How so?” Sam’s words came out harsher than intended. He was getting tired of feeling out of the loop.

“Getting into other people’s versions of heaven is pretty touch-and-go even if you know them. If you don’t know them, if there isn’t some kind of emotional connection, then there’s just no way to find a pathway. Unless you try using the roads and those are always being watched. Ash could maybe pull something off some of the time and Jimmy can tap into Cas’s knowledge, which is how we’ve managed so far, but I can’t do it on my own. Hell, I’m surprised you managed to come find me.”

Sam shook his head. “I went looking for Cas, not you, but I guess I did find Jimmy, so maybe it still stands.”

They fell silent. Sam found himself listening as if Jo’s treasure box was an air raid shelter and he was waiting for the all-clear to crawl out; or for the sound of explosions. The atmosphere was tense. Sam found himself wishing for something stronger than tea in his cup, but he didn’t want to cloud his head.

Eventually Molly rolled her eyes and gave them both the kind of ‘are you stupid’ look that only a ten year old girl could produce. “Are you going to ask for my help already or just keep dragging me around?”

Sam looked at her with surprise. She had been so quiet up until then that Sam had kind of compartmentalized her presence. She was another person to be protected and since she was a child he should watch his language. That was as far as he had gone.

Jo seemed to consider her, “Jimmy said you were an Oracle. You were tapping into the harmonics somehow, that’s how he found you.”

“So she’s a prophet?”

“She is sitting right here.” Molly stuck out her lip in something that wasn’t quite a pout, it was too stubborn. “Do that again and you owe me chocolate. And no, not a prophet, an Oracle. I can read the patterns of the universe and find the most likely outcomes of events. Since both angels and humans are surprisingly predictable, I’m right 90% of the time, but unlike a prophet, my predictions aren’t infallible.” She put her hands in her lap as she explained, sitting up, shoulders back as if they were the children, not her. Despite the butterfly clips in her hair and pink basket shoes, she diffused a chilling aura.

“How does a ten year old know a word like infallible?” Jo asked. She seemed a bit thrown by the sudden change in the child’s mannerisms.

“I’m twelve.” Molly said, “And do you really think someone with powers like mine would have a normal childhood?”

Sam met Jo’s eyes and shrugged. “Fair point.”

Two sets of eyes trained back on Molly. “So how does it work?”

Molly let her eyes drift closed, head tilted back slightly. Her skin suddenly looked porcelain-pale, more like a doll or a marble statue’s than a child. “Ask your questions, hunters, but speak carefully, for knowledge is a double-edged sword.”

Sam and Jo found themselves looking at each other. Both had been in similar situations, but neither had been quite prepared for this. There was a ton of lore on this kind of thing, and all of it warned about saying or asking the wrong thing. If Sam had been facing a sphinx or something else similar, he would have done his absolute best to lay out his questions beforehand, and this seemed just as dangerous if not more so. At least it didn’t seem like they had a limited number of questions.

Jo took a cautious breath and spoke first. “As things stand now, who will win the war?”

“No one” Molly said. Her voice was solemn, and in the trance it sounded deeper than any noise that should come from a twelve year old. “Death will come to Heaven and black wings will cover the ground. A ceasefire will be bought with blood and fear. The twice-blessed champion will bargain and double-cross the devil only to be found wanting when the poison takes hold. He shall fall from on high, opening the Nightmare Gates and bringing a new darkness to the world as Heaven tends to its bloody wounds.”

Sam found himself carefully examining the grains of wood in the table. It had been the cryptic language typical of such things, but some of what she said had sounded a lot like him. Drinking poison and dealing with the devil wasn’t exactly a new tune. It took several deep breaths and a bucket of guilt for him just look up across the table at Jo. He had never really been clear on how much she had picked up about his corruption, back before she died.

She wasn’t looking at him, though, she was looking at Molly, with her forehead creased and one hand lightly touching her lips as she concentrated. “Can this future be changed?”

“Every future can be changed.”

Sam waved a hand, catching Jo’s attention. He called up a pad of paper and a pen writing down the exact words Molly had used, asking Jo to confirm his memory. When Jo nodded he ordered his thoughts and formed their next question.

“Is there any way to end this war without bloodshed?”

“Surender. Forfeit the earth to the end and Heaven will remain pure.”

“We can’t do that.” the words were out before Sam could consider what reaction they might bring.

Suddenly Molly was focusing on him and there was a light behind her eyes. Her voice resonated when she spoke. “Then Act. You, Sam Winchester, Are A Force For Change That Can Not Be Measured. Gather Your Knights, Your Dragonslayers, Your Wolf Killers, Your Paladins And Thieves. Ride At The Head Of Your Third Army, And When The Young Seraph Falls, Pick Up His Sword And Cut A New Path Into The Unseen Veil.”

Molly slumped in her seat. At some point, Jo had grabbed the notepad and was scribbling fiercely, so Sam bent forward and took the girl in his arms, gently cradling her as she slid off her chair. She was shivering, and Sam wrapped her in the thermal blanket he and Dean had always kept in the trunk of the Impala. She whimpered as his arms went around her, her hands coming up to fist in his shirt.

“Is she alright?” Jo asked in a whisper.

Sam brushed some of her hair off the girl’s forehead “I don’t --”

Her eyes fluttered open. Sam let his relieved smile show.

“Did you get it?” Molly’s voice was weak and sounded rough, as if she was getting over a cold or as if she had been shouting.

“Yeah, we got it, just rest.” Jo was kneeling beside them now, still clutching the notepad. “Thank you.”

Molly let her eyes close again.

Sam didn’t want to let the girl go. Taking care of her seemed possible, something he could actually do. The rest of it, he would need some time before he could wrap his head around.

Jo helped him settle the child down on a comfortable old loveseat, and then of course had to hand him the notepad. “Think we can do it?”

“We?”

“Well, yeah. There’s no way I’m letting you try this alone. Besides, I bet I know about four times as many hunters as you.”

Sam huffed out a breath and looked down at the written prophecy. The part about the fall of the young Seraph had his stomach in knots. He didn’t know if prayers counted if you were already in Heaven, but even so, he was desperately praying it didn’t mean Cas.



***

 

                  

Sam ran down his mental list. Jo had eventually decided that the coast was clear enough to leave the bunker. They had dropped off Molly at the Roadhouse and Sam had slipped out during the resulting shouting match. Ellen was not enthusiastic about her daughter raising an army. Luckily, Jimmy had reappeared as Sam was leaving and things looked to be calming down, on that battlefront at least.

Now Sam was working on spreading the word and calling in every favor he could think of. He would never wish Bobby dead, but his experience and the number of contacts he had would have been beyond useful. Jo’s list of names would be a lot longer than his for the simple reason that the roadhouse had been a center for the hunting community.  That said, Sam had met his fair share of dangerous people and was determined to hold up his end of things. He’d already gotten word to all the hunters who had died in the first wave of broken seals. Next on his list was agent Henriksen. The man may have been a pain to deal with in life but Sam had no doubt he had ended up upstairs, and he certainly had enough skill to be useful even if he didn’t have the knowledge base of the average hunter.

Sam put the impala in gear and brought to mind all the memories he had of the man. The world shifted around him, and for a moment Sam was adrift in something that resembled fog. It took a moment but Sam clamped down on the memories he was using as his guide and a shape drifted out of the gloom.

He found the FBI agent dozing in a boat, a fishing pole dangling over the side and a baseball cap pulled low over his eyes as he drifted on the clear waters of a mountain lake. Sam parked the Impala by the boat ramp and walked out to the end of the dock. The sun glittered off the lake and a light wind tossed the tops of the trees that leaned over the water.

Sam spent a moment contemplating how he could approach the agent when the man’s voice carried over on the wind.

“That better not be Sam Winchester interrupting my quiet retirement.”

“Hello, agent Henriksen.”

The FBI agent settled his hat back on his head and sat up enough to turn and get a proper look at Sam. His boat seemed to drift towards the dock of its own free will. “Damn, and here I thought maybe third would be the charm. What do you want this time, Winchester?”

“The Angels are trying to restart the apocalypse.”

Henriksen grunted, “Isn’t that what dragged me back the last time?”

“Yep. I’m getting together a team to try and stop it. Thought you might want in on the action.”

“And, what, you couldn’t reach any of your other ghostbusting pals?”

“It’s kind of an all hands on deck affair. If you want to invite some friends, I’d be all for it; just make sure they’re okay with a bit of weird.”

The boat reached the dock and Henriksen threw a loop of rope around one of the struts before accepting the hand Sam offered and stepping up onto the platform.

“This going to be like last time? Crazy demon smoke and magic and crap?”

Sam actually considered for a moment before answering. “Less demons, more heavenly smiting. But some of the angels are on our side, so there’s that at least.”

Shadows started falling over the water and the light went slightly dim despite the still cloudless sky. Henriksen grimaced.

“You don’t do anything by halves, do you?”

Sam grinned and hooked his hands through his belt loops. “Does that mean you’re in?”

“I wasn’t made for the whole quiet retirement gig, anyway.”



***

 

                  

When Sam had heard that Missouri was dead through the grapevine, it had been a heavy blow, but with the apocalypse on, he hadn’t had time to give it much more than a moment of silence. He felt a little guilty to be taking advantage of it now. He parked the Impala on the street in front of her house and started up the steps.

He got as far as raising a hand to knock before the door was pulled open and the dark-skinned psychic was looking him up and down.

“You’re late.” She pursed her lips, “And you look thin, we’ll have to work on that. Here, carry this.”

She pushed a carpet bag into his arms and he was forced to take a pair of steps back as she bustled out and turned to lock the door. Satisfied, she spun around and headed for the Impala. When he didn’t move she turned and gave him a look.

“Well?”

“Oh, right.” Sam said, and went to put her bag in the trunk.



***

 

                  

Sam wasn’t sure if he was going to be able to find Father Gregory. The man had killed and ordered others to kill, but only as a ghost, so Sam was willing to give it a shot.

He found the Father in his church, not up at the front altar but sitting in one of the back pews, the light playing through dusty windows.

“I remember you...” He said as Sam moved to sit nearby.

“We were never introduced. I’m Sam Winchester.” Sam paused looking up towards the altar. “I ah, hope you don’t mind me coming.”

“You helped me to my rest, I’d think that would grant you a bit of leeway.” The father’s features were relaxed, eyes half lidded and a lazy smile on his lips. His demeanor was so different from when Sam had last seen him as a ghost, it was almost as if he was a different person. “I sense you’re not just here to check up on me. Would you like to talk?”  

Sam’s lips peeled back in a brief smile. “I don’t know. I didn’t really mean to come here, I was just. I was going over my old cases trying to think of anyone who could help, and...”

The Father hummed. He kept his head forward, but his eyes turned to Sam. “Help with what?”

“I’m building an army.”

The Father considered that carefully. “What is there to fight in Heaven?”

Whatever remained of Sam’s smile withered. “Angels. They, well, my brother and I, we kind of helped start the apocalypse. Except, they needed the two of us to consent to be Vessels for Michael and Lucifer in order to wrap things up and me and Dean wouldn’t agree. We kept trying to find another way. Held them off for months with the help of this other angel, Cas. Eventually, we learned a way to lock Lucifer up again, and Michael got thrown in as well. I thought that would be the end of it, but some of the angels want to start the whole thing up again.

“Cas, that’s Castiel, he’s trying to stop them but there’s some kind of prophecy that says he’ll fall. I, I’m not sure I can let that happen. I mean, I know fall doesn’t necessarily mean he’ll die. He nearly fell from grace before, when he decided to help Dean and me stop the Apocalypse. I can’t exactly think of anything good it could mean though, and if it does mean he’ll die. I...” Sam’s words choked off. He had mostly been avoiding thinking about that part of the prophecy.

The Father kindly ignored Sam as he tried to reign in his emotions. He was looking back at the altar as he spoke. “I think I’ve read of Castiel. He was one of the lesser angels of Thursday, if I remember correctly.”

“Yeah, well, not anymore. He was killed during the Apocalypse, twice actually. He was resurrected both times, the second time as a Seraph. Not even the highest angels have seen God for ages but he’s the only one who could do something like that, so half the angels think Cas is now God’s favored and should be in charge.  The other half seems to think he just got lucky and support Raphael.”

“And Raphael wants to restart the Apakalypse.”

“Right.”

The Father brought his arms up to lean against the pew in front of him. He studied the light in thought for a while. Sam found himself watching it as well. The smallest breeze would stir the dust, sending spirals through the different colors. It was nice. It almost came as a surprise when the father spoke again.

“It sounds like Castiel cares for you quite a bit.”

“What? No, it’s just... Well it’s complicated, but my brother died and Cas is the one who brought him back and after that we were kind of just stuck together. Dean’s the one he really cares about.”

“But you care about him.”

“Of course I do. He’s saved my life at least a dozen times. He gave me a second chance even after I basically kicked off the end of the world. He stood beside me when both Heaven and Hell wanted to tear me apart. He’s not very expressive, and he never gets the references Dean makes, and he has no sense of personal space. He’ll randomly vanish in the middle of a conversation and he’ll say all these cryptic things because he doesn’t get that people don’t talk like that.”

Sam could see how Cas tilted his head to the side when he was confused. How he never bothered to straighten his tie or fix his clothes even though all the other angels looked like they came prepackaged, suits included. He wanted to say how Cas’ voice was so deep you could feel it in your chest and how sometimes that had been the only thing that put him at ease enough to fall asleep when he had known Lucifer would be waiting in his dreams. He wanted to say how he had always been more than a little jealous of Dean for getting to see Cas’ wings. He just couldn’t seem to find the words.

“He’s family.” Sam finally said and it sounded lackluster, like it wasn’t enough even though it was one of the highest pieces of praise he could offer.

The light from the high windows faded, dimming down until the church was left with only the orange fluorescents in the back hall and the candles on the altar for light.

“It seems to me,” The Father said from somewhere on Sam’s left, “That if an Angel of the Lord would fight against Heaven for the sake of a human, that human would have to mean a lot to them.”

Sam tried to come up with a response, but the words wouldn’t come. It was so much more complicated than that, and there was Dean, and the thing with Anna, and all the lies that had come to light and, the end justifying the means mentality that was so not Cas at all.

“I…How did we even end up on this subject?”

“You were telling me about the war.”

“Right, the war. Because I’m recruiting people to help fight for freedom and justice and the right to not die by way of apocalypse. You know stuff about angels, want to help?”

The father looked up at the darkened windows and then over at Sam.

“You know, my son, both the army and the air force used to run recruitments out of this church, and even with all that, this was still the strangest recruiting speech I’ve ever heard.”



***

 

                  

Steve Wandell glared at Sam “You killed me!”

“Well, I was possessed at the time.”

Sam kept his hands up in case the hunter decided to use the shotgun that was pointed at Sam’s head. The man studied him for a while longer, then lowered the gun and spat on the ground to one side.

“Fucking demons.”

Sam slowly lowered his hands. “Oh, you have no idea.”

 

 

***

 

                  

Sam parked the Impala next to the van with the barbarian princess riding a polar bear on the side. Andy Gallagher didn’t answer until the third time Sam slapped his hand repeatedly on the back doors. He looked a little bleary when he pushed the door open but there was no accompanying cloud of smoke, which Sam took as a good thing.

“Hey Andy.”

Andy went from looking mostly dead to just looking like he could use a cup of coffee. “Sam. Hey man, I haven’t seen you since South Dakota.”

“Yeah, that was... something.” Cold Oak, South Dakota had been bad at the time but Sam had been through so much since then it didn’t really register on his radar anymore except as the first time he had died. Although now that he thought about it, that was kind of a turning point, given Dean’s deal and all. “So, what have you been up to?”

“Oh, you know, reliving the glory days, literally. What about you? I figured you’d be the one to win that demons little test.” Andy pushed the back of the van open a bit more and sat down on the edge of the back. Sam took the seat beside him.

“No, actually that was Jake, but I got resurrected and ended up being the chosen one anyway.”

“Oh, well that sucks.”

“Yeah.” Sam didn’t know what else to say to that. He didn’t really want to get into all the ramifications at that point, so he let the silence stretch.

After a while, the sun faded behind a patch of clouds and Andy broke the somewhat awkward lull in the conversation.

“Hey, you ever been to burning man. I managed to get down there one year and it was mind blowing. We could check it out...” The shorter man jumped up from the bumper and waved a thumb over one shoulder.

“Actually, I’m kind of here for a reason. Do your powers work on angels? Like, can you use them to tap into angel radio?”

Andy blinked over at Sam. “The what now?”

“You know, I think I should introduce you to Ash. You two would get along great.”




***

 

                  

Adam refused to acknowledge Sam, just staring out over the baseball game as if his half-brother didn’t exist.

Well, Sam could deal with that. He had been dealing with Dean all his life, and as far as the Winchester stubborn streak went, this kid had no idea what he was getting into. Sam took the seat that would block Adam from the isle, and settled in to watch the game. It looked like this particular memory loop included the last four innings. The teams were local ones, small town rivals that got the locals excited but probably wouldn’t be recognized anywhere else. Sam had never really had the time for sports of any kind but he knew that baseball was more to his tastes than football or hockey. He watched the final innings, then he watched them again, and a third time.

Slowly the sky grew dull, a haze creeping up over the horizon until the world was layered over in grey, and shadows blended together. On the field the players didn’t seem to notice but Adam was slowing sinking lower in his seat.

“So, is this supposed to be some kind of twisted family bonding or are you just here for shits and giggles?”

Score one for Sam Winchester.

Adam sounded sullen, and he had crossed his arms, pulling his shoulders in and tucking his head down.

“No, actually I’m trying to draft you in again.”

“Fuck that!” Adam said without pause. “No, I’ve done my time, and I still haven’t even found my mom up here.” He was full-on scowling now, and Sam watched him clench his jaw in the same way Dean did when he was too angry to even bitch Sam out.

Sam waited until Adam’s breathing had leveled out slightly before he said. “Okay, if you really want to stay here, you can. But you should know that the angels are at war. They’re kidnapping powerful souls too, and I’m fairly certain you fall into that category. Oh, and if Raphael wins the war that’s brewing, then they’re going to restart the apocalypse. So yeah, if you want to stay here I won’t stop you, but the other option is to join up with me and all the hunters I can find to kick some angel ass. Which, considering everything they’ve put you through, I’d guess would be fairly appealing.”

Adam was still glaring, but he seemed more thoughtful behind his scowl. “You’re saying it’s you or them again.”

Sam Shrugged. “It’s possible that they’d just leave you alone, but considering you’re already on their radar, yeah.”

Adam seemed to switch from angry to sullen. If Sam wasn’t being charitable, he might have called it a pout, but then Adam had had to deal with a hell of a lot for a civilian. He was looking down at the baseball field without really seeing it.

“I’m not a hunter.” The protest was weak. “I’m not even a soldier. I have no idea how to fight. I’m probably going to get killed again. What happens when you die in Heaven?”

“I’m fairly sure you just stop existing.”

“Awesome.” The word had been deep-fried in sarcasm until it was dripping with it. Dean would have been proud.

“If it helps, being Michaels Vessel gives you a bunch of bonus powers. I met Jimmy, Cas’ vessel, a while back. He could do all kinds of things. I’m sure he could show you the ropes.”

Adam turned his sullen stare on Sam. Above their heads, clouds were rolling in thick and dark with the promise of rain.   

“Fine.” Adam said, “Let’s get out of here.”

 

They were halfway across the parking lot, headed to where Sam had parked the Impala when lightning flashed overhead and wind rose up suddenly. Behind the wind, Sam could hear the sound of wings. He started shoving Adam to the car as a blinding searchlight arched down towards the stadium.

“Move!” Sam shouted, and maybe Adam wasn’t really a civilian anymore, because he didn’t even stumble, just went into a flat-out sprint. Sam was beside him, stretching his legs and taking advantage of his height.

They were barely a dozen feet from the Impala when the second beam of light came down, impaling the vehicle. Sam gasped and released the memory as a scorch of energy ran through him. There were stars in front of his eyes as Adam grabbed his arm and hauled him off at a right angle. Sam went with it.

“We need another car!” Adam gasped.

“Then think of one.” Sam was too busy trying to get the stars out of his eyes and not crash to walk him through it.

“What?”

“Just do it.”

Sam’s eyes cleared just in time for him to avoid the Jeep that suddenly appeared directly in front of them. Adam threw himself into the driver’s seat and Sam skidded over the hood to reach the passenger side as a third beam of light shot out of the sky. Adam hit the gas with Sam still half out of the car; just a second too late as the light clipped their back bumper.

The sound of wings and roaring wind filled the sky as a flight of angels dipped out of the clouds to stream down in the wake of the car. Five human-like shapes of light and shadow, flying in a V formation like birds and using wings of bended light and twisted heat. They warped the environment as they passed causing sonic booms in reality as the memories that made up the world reacted to that much power passing through them.

Sam was faced with the sudden realization that for all the Angels he and his brother had fought, they had never managed to kill one outside of the Green Room’s particular settings–and that was Dean. Banish, yes, but that sent them back to heaven and they were already in heaven.

They needed a way to fight back, a way to keep the warriors of god off their tail long enough to get away.

Adam was weaving and dodging, driving like he was in a Bond movie chase scene. The scenery of the memories outside flickered from one backdrop to the next, and while they weren’t quite as varied as Sam’s own showcase, it was impressive. Not that it was doing any good. One of the angels gathered lightning in its hands and sent the bolt towards the car. Sam cried out a warning, but Adam was already swerving to one side, kicking up a wave of dirt and gravel as their tires suddenly found themselves on an old desert track. Sam pressed himself further into the car and let go of any attempt to rationalize. He needed a way to fight back, so he reached for the strongest weapon he had ever held.

Sam was leaning out the window of the car as the Colt formed in his hand. The old gun barked in a steady beat that took first one then two angels out of the sky. The remaining three quickly scattered from their tight formation, one going up, with the others on each side. Sam tracked the one on his side of the jeep as it spun and twisted. He saw a flash of metal as the angel drew its sword. Sam fired a moment before the car lurched and spun out of control from the blown tire.

Adam either wasn’t good enough with his memories yet or was in too much shock to just fix it, and Sam glimpsed the two remaining angels as the jeep came to a wrenching stop. Unwilling to just wait for them to pin him to his seat, Sam threw open his door and spun to face them, Adam following his lead on the driver’s side. There were only two left, even odds, and with the Colt a solid weight in his hand, Sam was almost confident … at least until the angels he thought he had put down came back to join the party. The Colt hadn’t managed to kill a single one, although the three he had hit were all bleeding bright copper blood and moving as if they were in pain.

Not totally useless, then. It would just take more than one shot to put them down. Sam could deal with that. The problem was, Adam couldn’t.

Adam flanked Sam on the left but he hadn’t conjured a weapon and, as far as Sam knew, no weapon he might call up would be of any use in any case. He needed someone at his back, covering his flank. That was how Sam had always fought, and he didn’t think he could keep them all off on his own.

Tossing the Colt to Adam, he focused on the only other weapon he knew that would be able to do any real damage: Castiel’s angel blade. It had only been a few relative days since Jimmy had handed it to him and he pictured it again now just as he had seen it then. The glimmering metal shimmered into existence slowly, as if it didn’t want to form, but Sam set his will against it and forced it to be. Adam was firing off his first shots when the blade snapped into place. Just in time to strike out at the first of the angels who had rushed forward.

Sam blocked the angel’s first strike with his own sword, and moved in to slam his shoulder into the angel’s chest. He swept up his blade as the angle staggered and slashed across its guts in a vicious horizontal cut.

“Fuck. Fuck, Fuck!” Adam was screaming as the antique gun roared again and again, barely managing to clip his targets.

“What the HELL, Sam?” came a second, deeper voice and for the briefest moment Sam thought it was Castiel, before his brain pulled out of the battle-fever long enough to realize that both the tone and language were wrong. The trench coat still managed to give him pause as Jimmy Swept forward with his own, slightly duller blade gleaming with spilled copper colored blood.

Sam’s angel was down, and this time it looked like it was for good. Two of the angels were focused on Adam and had braced low behind some kind of kneeling shield as his aim improved. Jimmy quickly dispatched number four, screaming at Sam all the while. Sam heard something about stealing memories as angel number five bore down on him.

Sam locked his blade against that of his already injured opponent as he shouted back at Jimmy. “Take Adam and go, I’ll cover you.”

“You’ll get yourself killed!” Jimmy retorted, turning and throwing his blade in the back of the angel Sam had occupied. It reappeared in his hand a moment later as a dull burst of light signaled the angel’s death. Sam turned to flank Adam who was facing the last two opponents. Jimmy turned with him, reaching out to lay a hand on Sam’s wrist. Sam passed the blade over.

“Adam was Michael’s vessel. We need him. I’ll give you the time to get out of here then high tail it myself, promise.”

Jimmy glanced at Adam. “Fine,” he said after a moment, and laid a hand on Adam’s shoulder. Adam dropped the Colt and Sam had it back in his hand an instant after that; firing three rapid shots to keep the angels where they were as the sound of wings carried Jimmy away.

The angels clearly weren’t pleased, and they lunged forward in a spooky kind of symmetry. Sam dove, rolling to one side as he tried to keep them at bay by firing the gun in their approximative direction. He needed to move.

Pulling up the old memory of a motorbike he and Dean had once rented to get to where a manticore was laired up, he fired a couple more random shots as he gunned it. One of the angels was already winged from an earlier shot and quickly fell behind; the other tried to give chase through half a dozen memories, but this was a game Sam knew. A trap laid out in a twisting, tight-walled canyon brought the angel into his sights and it spun crashing to the ground before it even knew what hit it.

Sam didn’t stick around to see if it was still alive, he just switched from the bike to the Impala and started putting miles between them.



***

 

Sam sat on the cot in the center of Bobby’s panic room looking down at the colt. He’d taken Jo’s bolt hole idea to heart and Bobby’s house was as good a base as any. He had a notion that since the enochian was part of the memory itself it might be stronger.

The problem was, the room only made him think of his Demon blood detox and Dean torturing Alastair. He couldn’t put everything precious to him in a place that tainted. Which got him thinking about how tainted he was and how he had only gotten into Heaven on a fluke. Maybe if Cas hadn’t pulled him out he wouldn’t have to deal with this war. Maybe he deserved to get stuck in the cage. Maybe everything would have worked out if he had just butted out.

He didn’t know where on the downward spiral he started drinking, and he definitely didn’t know how he ended up drinking at Ellen's, but it was probably a good thing that was how it turned out. She took matters into her own hands before he got to the passing out part of the night and installed him in a bathtub with a pillow and a bucket.

He woke up at some point later with a crick in his back, a bad taste in his mouth and a hangover that would cripple the best of them. It took awhile to get past the pain in his head but eventually he managed to take a shower. It helped that it was already right there. And think up some new clothes. He was maybe half human when he managed to stumble out to the front room of the bar. Coffee was pushed into his hands as he slumped onto one of the empty chairs. with the two cups that followed it and a solid half hour to convince his brain that he didn’t need to be hung over, he managed to rejoin the land of the living … so to speak.

Ellen came over with a fresh pot of coffee, and when he was able to thank her in a full sentence she sat down beside him with her own cup.

“You want to tell me what last night was all about?"

“Just bad memories.”

She sighed. “Didn’t I already go over the Memories are Power thing? Bad memories are just as powerful as good ones, sometimes more so. If you start dwelling on the bad things you’re only going to end up weakening yourself.”

“Alright, If memories are so powerful, what about this?” He summoned his memory of the Colt, laying it on the table with a solid clunk.

Elen squinted down at the gun. “This is, the Colt…”

“Yeah, the gun that can kill almost anything, and yet I manage to almost get Adam and Jimmy killed because taking down a standard angel goon suddenly takes half a dozen shots. How am I supposed to give Cas a hand when I can’t even shoot straight?”

“You are lucky it’s so early in the morning, because I haven't heard a straight line that good in a long time.” She took a long swig of coffee then pushed the Colt back across the table. “Tell me about this gun.”

“It’s the Colt; The gun that can kill anything, well, almost anything. You’ve heard the stories.”

She gave him a disappointed look, as if he was a bright student who made a stupid mistake. “Sam, do you really think you know every little thing about the Colt? Do you think your memory is a perfect replica in every way? Because if you do then I’m going to have to knock some sense into that thick skull.”

Elen sipped her coffee and Sam looked down at the gun. Sam still had a bit of a beaten puppy look, but with a problem to focus on in front of him, he was pulling himself together.

“So tell me about the gun.”

Sam paused for another beat then closed his eyes. He started by describing it: the old sandalwood grip, worn smooth by time and the hands of generations of hunters. The uneven lines of the pentacle carved into the grains of the wood. The barrel, slightly longer than other guns of that size and made of polished, oiled silver. He described how the gun was slightly too small for his hand, and still somehow heavier than other larger guns. He talked about the sound it made when the hammer came down, and how he could always feel it when the chamber rotated into place. He described the bullets, the recoil, all the tiny details he shouldn’t have been able to remember.

At some point he started talking about himself more than the gun. That rush of possibility when he’d first seen it, and known it for what it was. The way the bottom had fallen out of his stomach when his father had killed that vampire and proven that it worked. The cold satisfaction when Dean had killed the yellowed eyed demon. The fear when the Colt had been stolen and the desperation to get it back, as the only weapon that had a chance against lucifer.

The despair, when it had failed.

Sam fell silent. He didn’t know how long he had been talking but Ellen had switched from coffee to something stronger and he had gained an audience.

The hunters that had been recruited, and had turned the roadhouse into the base for their ragtag army, had come out of the woodwork. They sat at nearby tables, or perched near the bar. Some of them had drinks, others seemed to be too enraptured to bother.  He knew some of them, others he had never met, and yet they were all watching him as if he was spouting out the meaning of the universe.

Sam looked down at the gun on the table. He almost expected it to be glowing. It wasn’t, but he knew he could make it glow if he wanted to. Once he had started really thinking about it, it had been easy to feel how the gun was put together. His Colt was both more and less than the original. It looked like the Colt because that was how his senses were used to seeing it, but what it really was, was all of his memories that were tied to the Colt. That was what he was using to attack, and some of those memories were very powerful.

He looked up at Ellen. She had a knowing smile on her face.

Sam released the image of the colt. “How do you know this stuff?”

Ellen leaned back. “What do you think these fools pay me in? Money isn’t much use up here.”

Sam was nodding, “Right. Okay, so memories can also be traded or given away, that was why I could use Jimmy’s memory of Cas’s sword - because he showed it to me earlier.”

“Knew you’d figure it out.” Ellen was smiling wryly. “I wouldn’t recommend trying it again though. He was more than a little pissed the last time you pulled that stunt.”

Sam nodded, still focusing on all the possibilities. If his colt was just a memory then killing angels, or at least injuring them, was a lot more possible here in heaven, all it took was the right emotion.

“Can memories be combined?” Sam didn’t stop to think about what the question might mean, his mind was on a roll now and it just came out.

Ellen shrugged. “Don’t know, never tried.”

“I bet they can, you’d just need to focus on what they have in common. I bet you can shield with them too.” He was grinning, wide and uncaring. “You know what this means, We have a real chance.”

“I’ll drink to that.” Said a hunter at the bar and a cheer went up.

Suddenly Sam was getting slapped on the back, congratulated, and thanked. He was pulled to his feet and people were asking him questions about strategy and tactics and how he thought the angels would react to widespread attacks like gas or fire. Sam glanced back at Ellen, and saw her tip her glass in his direction.

 

***



                  

Lily was huddled in a corner of the overly pink bedroom. The storm raged outside and Sam couldn’t tell if the power was out because of that or because she didn’t want any lights in the room. Sam played his flashlight over the middle-aged man in the suit that lay in the middle of the floor. The ashes of wings covered the ground and crept up the walls.

Lily had her face buried in her arms, the thick black sleeves of her jacket hiding everything but her tangled blond hair. Sam stepped over the corpse of the angel and knelt next to the young woman. In life, she had been one of Azazel’s children, able to kill with a touch. It looked like she wasn’t free of the curse even here.

“Lily, It’s me, Sam. Do you remember me?”

She glanced up from behind her arms but only flinched farther away.

“You shouldn’t be here Sam. They’re after me. They said I shouldn’t be here. They’re going to send me to Hell.”

Sam leaned over in order to meet her eyes better. “Lily, I’m not afraid of your power. I’m not going to let them take you. I can protect you, take you somewhere safe, but I’m going to need your help. Will you hear me out?”

She looked at him in something like awe. “You’re actually telling the truth, aren’t you? After demons and angels and seeing what I can do.”

Sam smiled and stood up. Instead of offering her a hand he hooked his thumbs into his pockets. “Come on, let’s get you out of here.”




***



Sam ticked the names off his list one by one. Isaac and Tamara, the hunters from that time with the seven sins, other hunters like Richie. Pamela was being called in by Jo. The number of people who were here because of him was actually depressingly high. Still, there was one name on his list that he had been avoiding, and with time running short as it was, that looked like less and less of an option.

Sam took a few random turns through his most obscure memories, stalling for time and gathering his courage while telling himself he was putting more distance between him and the angels, before at last stopping on an old coastal highway in California.

It was night in the memory, and the echo of a young woman in a white gown flickered on the side of the road. The last time he’d gone looking for his dad, he and Dean had started with this case; it seemed appropriate.

Sam put the Impala in gear and brought up all the memories he had of his father. Every word, gruff, harsh, and the rare kind acknowledgment. All the times he had made Sam repeat the rules, or told Dean to look after his little brother. The silhouette of him as he drove through the night, as seen from a child’s viewpoint in the back-seat of the car.

By that point, he was better than most at finding paths in the maze of heaven. when he came through the fog, the memory he entered was a warm summer evening, with the sun just under the horizon and stars appearing one by one in the cloudless sky. Crickets were chirping in the knee-high grass and a light breeze stirred the branches of the the trees. There was a smell of apples, soft and rich, in the air. The dirt road Sam was on curved upward  along the crest of a hill. As he arrived above the top of the trees, the Impala’s headlights caught on the black paint of another car, and Sam knew he was in the right place. It was a copy of his Impala, younger maybe, less scratches, and without some of the touches Dean had added over the years, but certainly the same car.

There was someone perched on the hood, so Sam turned off his Impala’s engine and got out. Except it wasn’t one figure, it was two. Sam recognised the long blond hair even though he had only seen it once since he was a baby. He came to a halt as he recognized his mom, and he had to work to clear his throat of emotion.

Then he realized what his parents were doing on the hood of the car. Apparently, seeing your parents make out was emotionally scarring at any age. Sam looked away and thanked the darkness for hiding the awkward blush that was creeping up his neck. He coughed loudly, rocking back on his heels as he tried to announce his presence subtly enough not to get a gun pulled on him.  

John looked up briefly and Sam was caught off-guard by how young he looked. His hair didn’t have that fleck of grey he remembered, and his face was unlined but for the crinkles his smile put around his eyes. It wasn’t quite the young man from old photos of when Sam was a baby, but it wasn’t the hard-edged hunter he had been at the end. He laid one last kiss on his wife’s lips, then pulled back far enough that he was standing, rather than propped up on the hood. Mary still had a hand tucked through the buttons of his shirt as she looked up and mirrored John’s smile.

“Sam?” Her voice was just the way he remembered and imagined, and something inside him broke.

“Mom?”

She nodded and brought a hand up to her lips, blinking several times. Sam hadn’t been sure until then. He had gone looking for his dad, this could have just been a memory of his mother, but no memory could be that true to form. It was really her.

“Oh, Sam.”

He stumbled forward a few steps, and she was there in his arms. Somehow, she managed to hold him despite the fact that he was taller by quite a bit. It took awhile for their breathing to even out and neither of them let go until then. When they did pull back it was only far enough for Mary to cup his face in her hands and take a good look at her son.

“Look at you. you’ve grown so much. I caught a glimpse as a spirit but I wasn’t sure it was real.”

“It’s good to see you.” Sam’s voice nearly broke over the words, but he was smiling and so was she. Then they were both laughing at the ridiculous understatement in those words.

Sam found his eyes caught by his father’s smile. John was leaning against the car now, thumbs hooked through his belt. Sam couldn’t remember ever seeing a smile like that on his father’s face.

It was the kind of moment that Heaven was supposed to be made of, so naturally that was when the sky started to cloud over. The moonlight stole away, leaving the orchard as a nightmare-like version of itself, with shadows in every nook and untraceable sounds hidden in the trees. Sam immediately started scanning the sky, trying to judge how close the angels were. It put the other two hunters on guard as well.

“Sam?” John had one hand by the back of his belt where he’d always kept a knife and his eyes were dancing from one patch of shadow to the next.

“We need to go.”

Sam still had Mary’s hands in his and he started pulling her towards his version of the Impala. John was off the hood in a moment and had a hand on Sam’s shoulder the next.

“Son?” It was a warning, but there was enough of a question in his tone that Sam knew he was concerned rather than angry.

“Angels.” His eyes danced between his parents’ faces. “I’ll tell you the whole story later, but the short version is that some of them didn’t like that me and Dean stopped the apocalypse, and now we’re in the middle of a civil war.”

“You boys, always were getting yourselves in trouble.” John paused. “Is Dean...”

“Still alive.” Sam threw open the Impala’s doors as the beam of light lanced down at the bottom of the hill. “Shit.”

They were getting closer. He could feel the air go still as the leaves in the trees suddenly stopped their whispering.

Sam was used to the storms by that point, but the thunder and searchlight-lightning apparently weren’t their only tool. The wind came at him sideways, tearing at the trees like the shockwave from a passing fighter jet, and it didn’t let up, blast after blast of wind hitting the hilltop. Sam crouched down, trying to get as much shelter as he could behind the cars, and fighting to keep the memory of his own Impala solid. Somewhere close behind him, John cursed in shock and his car vanished like a mirage. Sam tried to shout over the wind, explain about how memories could be weapons, because he didn’t think he’d be able to fight them off alone.

It wasn’t one of the lower ranks that came this time, or even a garrison of them like he had been forced to face more recently. The angel hovered a hundred feet over the hill and the negative shape it cut out of the sky was nothing close to human. The shifting, overlapping shadows of wings seemed more like ribbons of silk than feathers, and there were definitely more than two of them. Same went for the heads. The primary head was either surrounded by a thorny halo or a wheel of fire. The features were indistinct, but Sam could make out a mouth that was too large and full of teeth. The other heads, if you could call them that, were glued onto the sides and back of the skull in a way that reminded Sam of the hindu demon Rakshasa, except none of the faces were human. Sam decided not to look too closely. It seemed to have extra limbs, in addition to the wings. Sam thought he could see the claws of a lion, the hooves of a bull and a set of very human hands, but whether it had two sets of arms and one set of legs or vice versa, Sam couldn’t tell.

The angel descended until it was standing slightly down the hill from the three Winchesters. Its wings lowered and the gale quieted, letting the air still into a muggy calm. Sam was having a hard time looking straight at it, and strangely enough, it seemed to notice. It shifted in place and settled into a human form. A lean-faced woman with olive skin and black hair that was cut off no more than an inch from her head. She had to be as tall as Sam himself, and there was muscle on her, though Sam wouldn’t have doubted her strength even if she looked like a twig. She even wore the suit that seemed to be the standard angel wear. Her eyes didn’t change. They were that same not-color she had been before.

“Sam Winchester,” she said, and her voice wasn’t right, like she wasn’t really using her throat and mouth to make it. “Vessel for Lucifer. Know that I am Sagittiel and I have been tasked with your death.” She twisted a hand in the familiar twisting motion that the angels used to draw their blades, but instead of the usual knife-like sword, an arrow slid into her right hand. She pointed at Sam with her left, and the bow that shimmered into existence in her hand was made of moonlight and bone.

Sam had summoned his colt as soon as she had landed. When he saw her weapon, he aimed and emptied the clip in her direction, trying to pull up a shield even as he dived sideways to avoid her first shot. The arrow whistled through the space Sam had been occupying and burst mid-air in a silent flash of painful violet light.

Both John and Mary had thrown themselves to the ground as soon as Sam had. At the explosion, John let out a string of curses and looked towards his son.

“You all right?”

“I was expecting a sword.” Sam gritted his teeth as her next arrow embedded itself in his newly imagined shieldwall. The shock made the steel shudder, almost melting before Sam could reinforce the memory. He wasn’t going to last if this kept up. The way she was firing that bow, he didn’t think he had a chance at long range. He needed to get up-close, where her weapon would be less effective.

He shifted his shieldwall, angling it so that the arrows were deflected as much as possible. There was open space between them, and while Sam had the high ground now, all she would have to do to eliminate that advantage was take off.

If she took off, they would be screwed.

“We need a roof.” The comment was nearly offhand, but John and Mary glanced at each other and the scene began to shift. There was a moment where Sam felt himself fall in the mist between worlds and he held onto his shieldwall all the harder as Sagittiel cried out in something between anger and disbelief. She drew out her wings and hovered, waiting for her target to show himself.

The world settled into the dark wood and classical tones of a high-end office building, and the angel gasped as she was forced down from the ceiling.

Sam blinked as he found himself transported into a cubicle somewhere in the middle of the room. He kept his head down as he peeked into the aisle. his parents must have ended up in a different cubicle because they were no longer crouching to his left.

When Sagittiel’s next arrow set off the sprinkler systems, Sam decided she was the bigger priority.

“Winchester, come out and face an honorable death!” the Angel called out, stalking down one of the aisles. Sam ducked back into his cubicle and tried to follow her by sound. If he could get a shot through one of the separators, it might give him enough time to get in a killing blow.

While Sam was thinking, another figure stepped into place at the end of the row. “I’m afraid you’ll have to be a bit more specific.” Sam recognised his mother’s voice at the same time the angel raised her bow and let the arrow fly.

There was a bang and Sam was running at the angel, calling up the colt, and Ruby’s knife, and the angel sword all at once and shoving them into one weapon. The blade came up, thin and long as a rapier, with the colt’s pentagram set into the base of the stocky hilt.

Before Sam could reach her or be smitten where he stood, the angel gasped as copper started to spill from a black hole that appeared in her right side. She brought up a hand, smoothing the wound away, cutting off the spill of copper blood, and Sam took advantage of her distraction to slide his blade up under her floating ribs.

He yanked his blade free and Sagittiel fell to the ground, the ashen imprint of her wings burning with a flash into the scuffed tile flooring.

Sam pulled air into his lungs and looked back towards where his mother had stood. John was there, his own version of the Colt, still smoking, which explained the angel’s first wound at least. Then Mary Winchester pulled together a form out of smoke and stardust. For a brief moment, she was a ghost again, then she settled, took a breath and smiled at her husband and son.

“Well, I wasn’t sure that was actually going to work.”

“Mary, that arrow went straight through you. You can’t just take risks like that.” John found her hand and brought it up to his lips.

“Well, now we know I can use what I learned as a ghost, so next time it won’t be a risk,”  she chided back. Her eyes found Sam and he forced himself to take a breath, centering himself after the fight.

“We should get out of here. More angels will show up once they realize this one didn’t get the job done.”

“You have a safe house?”

“The roadhouse. We’re taking everyone we recruit there for the time being.”

John nodded, and started to cross the space between them, only to stop when he realized Mary wasn’t following. “Something wrong?”

Mary shook her head slightly. “Sam, I know there’s no time to tell us everything, but it sounds like this is an all-hands-on-deck kind of dangerous.” He nodded. “In that case, I know some people who could help.”




***

                  

Sam had never had the chance to know Daniel Elkins. The first he had even heard the name was when he had read the hunter’s obituary. So instead of focusing on the man, Sam focused on what the man had based his life around. Sam had held the Colt, even fired it, and Elkins had spent the latter half of his life hiding and protecting it.

Given all that, it was actually fairly easy to find him.

Sam walked into the small town bar with a casual ease. Bars may have been more Dean’s scene, but he had visited a hundred other places just like this and it made him feel at home in the same way that a substandard motel room with a salt line would, no matter the decor.

In this particular establishment, the dart board seemed to be the main form of entertainment, rather than the old TV in one corner. The place apparently served a good home-cooked meal as well, if the smells mixing with the old alcohol and tang of sweat were anything to go by. The woman behind the bar was more kind than pretty, with laugh lines around her eyes and a chest that might have been slightly exaggerated if Sam was any judge. There were a few patrons in the place but most of them were tucked away in corners, adding enough sound to make the bar seem welcoming without actually making it feel crowded.

The man Sam was looking for was at the bar.

Mr. Elkins had a hunter’s journal out in front of him and turned the pages, idly reading over symbols and descriptions he had probably written himself. Every few minutes, the woman behind the bar would come over and ask if he wanted something else.

Sam approached the bar slowly and casually, not knowing if the man would spook easily.

“You can sit down, boy, I don’t bite.”

“Thanks, I didn’t want to interrupt.” Sam took a stool just down from the hunter and settled in.

“Nothing here that can't stand to be interrupted every so often. What can I do for you?” the man looked like the skeptical, hard-to-convince type, but he also looked like he was willing to give Sam a chance, which was all he could ask for, really.

“My name’s Sam Winchester, it’s an honor to meet you.”

“Winchester, John’s boy?”

“That’s right.”

A slow smile touched the man’s lips and Sam couldn’t help but answer it.

“Well it’s a pleasure to meet you, Sam, your dad was a good friend. How’s he doing, by the way?”

Sam shrugged and ordered a beer from the woman when she came over. “Well enough. I met up with him and my mom recently, and they seemed pretty content.”

Mr. Elkins tossed back his own drink and looked around the bar. “So this really is Heaven, then. I wasn’t sure.”

“Did you think you’d end up somewhere else?”

“No, just not sure I believed.”

Sam could understand that. He had believed most of his life but there had been times when it had been damn hard. He took another pull from his bottle and settled back when the older hunter swiveled to face him more head-on.

“Would you mind if we grabbed a table?” Sam asked. “I’ve got a bit of a favor to ask and I have a feeling you’ll have questions.” Sam looked towards the door. There was no sign of the angels yet. He had mostly managed to lose them after Telling his parents where to send the Camble Clan, but the hair on the back of his neck was still raised on end, even in the comfortable atmosphere.

“Martha, two steak sandwiches with all the trimmings. We’ll be at the back table.”

Sam blinked as the other man moved to stand.

“You look like it’s been a while since you’ve eaten,” Mr. Elkins answered the unspoken question.

It was nearly twenty minutes before the Angels caught up. Sam was amazingly grateful for the food and by that point he had made the pitch enough times to know what questions to expect, and had the answers ready. When the sky started to darken, the two hunters split up to coat the building in protective enochian. Sam had no illusions about being able to escape the sentries of heaven a second time so soon. Better to batten down the hatches and hope not to be noticed.

It didn’t hurt that by that point his Enochian charms were nearly flawless.

The storm came first, and the wings; enough wings beating that they sounded like wind all on their own. The windows rattled in their frames and lights danced across every surface. Will-o-wisps and Saint Elmo’s fire flickered in and out of existence in the face of too-tall, vaguely human shadows that stalked through the trees.

There were at least three times as many as before, and Sam was suddenly very glad he had decided to hide rather than run.

Beams of light shot out of the sky, at least a dozen, from what Sam could see of the surrounding area from the windows, slowly circling in on them. Sam let go of the memory of the Impala, letting it vanish from the small parking lot barely a minute before a beam swept over the area.

With a sinking sensation in his guts, Sam realized they were getting closer. Who was it that had said they were getting smarter? Sam couldn’t quite remember, but whoever it was, they were right.

Sam pulled out his version of the colt, and after a brief raised eyebrow, Daniel Elkins did the same.

“Just a warning, it won’t be as effective as the real one.”

“Least I don’t have to worry about running out of bullets.”

“There is that.” Sam grinned with quite a few teeth and kept watching the searchlights circle in and away.

What seemed like hours but was probably only half of one, passed without anything new happening. It was apparent the angels were planning something, given the way they were gathered in formation, but nothing came and the wait was starting to grate on Sams nerves.

Then the sparse line of pines that surrounded Elkins’s bar went up in flashes of yellow and orange flame.

Elkins gasped in shock and pain as his memory world was scorched down to cinders by the angels. Sam understood their strategy just as they started fanning the flames across the landscape.

He grabbed the older hunter’s shoulder and started moving to the back of the room. Elkins was already pulling himself together, but the damage was done. The fire was eating their defences, and the Enochian words were almost melting off the windows. They burst through the backdoor and out into what was quickly becoming an inferno, nearly falling over an Angel that was posted barely five feet from the gateway.

The two hunters opened fire nearly simultaneously, and with five holes leaking copper blood from its chest it went down, the ashes of its wings mixing with the flame.

“Cover me.” Sam shouted, and he ducked down, closing his eyes and trying to concentrate. He had an idea to stop the flames and maybe give them some kind of advantage, but he’d never tried anything quite like it before. He reached out, trying to feel where Elkin’s memories ended. The angel fire made it easy: he could feel the edges unraveling like an old sweater, and he laid his own memories over them, attempting to smother the fire with conflicting information. He chose memories of ice and water, frozen ground and days-old snow, to help the process along.

It got their attention. From all around the clearing, the angels looked up and, as one,  launched themselves in their direction, translucent wings flaring wide. Elkins raised his colt and fired again and again as they closed in on them on all sides.

Sam gasped as he felt the last of the fire went out, and he looked up, holding his own colt at the ready. Elkin’s memories and his own interweaved to create a frosted collage of a landscape, through which swarmed the dark-suited angels.

Then the first of them was on top of him and he didn’t have time to think anymore. Sam stuck out his arm, holding down the trigger like he would a semi-automatic’s. The recoil nearly jerked him off his aim as a cascade of shots exited his weapon faster than what would have been possible on Earth. The angel swiped at Sam with its sword as it was torn apart by the gunfire, the tip of the blade coming within inches of his chest.

The flash of light of the angel’s death glinted against the raised weapons of the two others in its wake. With no time to breathe, Sam found the other hunter pressed to his back and instinctively reached for a weapon with the hand he had free. It was like a hundred other times fighting beside Dean where they were outmatched and didn’t even really understand what they were up against. The machete that formed in his hand was well-used and reliable, honed to a wicked edge after every bloody encounter. His colt was still firing and one of the advancing angels went to the ground, clutching at a wound that gushed copper blood on the ash covered gravel.

The second one was on Sam before he could swing the gun around. Only years of combat experience brought the machete up in time to intercept the angel blade. The glancing blow jammed his left shoulder and drew a long red line across his bicep. With a speed that wasn’t human, the angel pulled back enough to strike again, and Sam found himself wide open.  The Winchester school of hard knocks wasn’t about to let him down now, though. It was anything goes when fighting non-humans, and playing dirty was practically expected.

Sam kicked out at the angel’s knees, sacrificing his own balance in the process. He fell, landing on one knee and the hand that had dropped the machete. The angel’s strike went wide and he staggered back far enough for Sam to level his colt and put all his desperation into a single shot to the creature’s head.

Silence followed the crackling release of energy. Sam desperately looked around for his next target, but the remaining angels had formed a defensive perimeter. They were surrounded, backed against the side of the building, and it looked like the next wave would be a whole lot better organized than the headlong charge they had somehow managed to fend off.  Sam called up a memory of Ruby’s knife and it came easily to his hand. Maybe the memories were coming faster now or maybe he was just getting better at summoning them.

“What are they waiting for?” Mr. Elkins asked in a gruff mutter and Sam could only shake his head.

Then one of the angels stepped forward and unlike the mostly human-like shadowy forms of the soldiers, this one had distinctive traits, thinning hair and a conservative suit.

“Stand down, human, your death isn’t necessary.” He looked between the two hunters who both had their guns trained on him, then fixed his eyes on Elkins

“It’s actually impressive. Very few of our guests learn to harness memories to this extent. Killing you would be a shame. You’ve clearly been misinformed about our intentions. Surrender and I can promise you that once you are relocated, no harm will come to you. You will be completely protected and need not take a side in this conflict.” Though he was clearly speaking to the older hunter, his eyes kept flashing to Sam.

Sam just planted his feet firmly on the ground and met the angel’s eyes straight on. He’d already made his pitch to the other hunter and at the end of the day, it was about free will, choice. He wouldn’t hold it against the man if he chose life over a suicide mission.

“No,” Elkins said after a heavy pause. “Think I’d rather trust the son of a friend then something not even human.”

The angel sneered. “Even if he’s the host of Lucifer? In my experience, humans can be just as twisted as anything that lurks in the dark. We are Heaven’s guard,” he spread out his hands indicating his fellows, “We’re the good guys.”

Elkins’ response was a single shot to the middle of the angel’s chest, the black crater that formed at the bullet’s entry point oozing and gurgling as the angel staggered back half a step, then looked up and barked out his orders.

“Kill them both!”

The angels didn’t have guns. Guns were clumsy and mechanical. A better term for the contraptions they pulled up might have been crossbows, in that they looked like more complex, less elegant versions of the bow Sam had seen in Sagittiel’s hands. He could see lightning glimmering along the shafts aimed at him and Elkin’s forms. The hunters were practically standing on a firing range, with no cover and nowhere to run. But what they did have was a head start.  

Sam had started calling up his defences the moment Elkins had shot his gun. By the time the angels were firing, he had a wall of concrete and steel ready to go up and he was wrapped in tactical body armor.

Completely bulletproof, not necessarily lightningproof.

The angels’ attack blasted halfway through the wall, sending clouds of pulverised debris into the air. The energy had the hair on Sam’s arms standing on end as he tried to stop the ringing in his ears and breathe through the dust. He stuck a hand above the wall and fired back randomly. The damage done to the wall was like a punch to the gut and they weren’t letting up. Sam thought Elkins was firing beside him, telling him to hold on or something but Sam couldn’t split his focus enough to keep the wall up, push back the pain, keep firing, and listen on top of it.

Sam had always been the practical one. Stubborn as hell, like the rest of his family, but practical. He knew he wasn’t going to last. Maybe if Dean were there, he’d be able to think of something, but he wasn’t.

But although it hurt him to think he was going to die for the second time, and for good, without his brother at his side to say his last goodbyes, it wasn't really Dean he wanted to see in that moment. It was Cas. Dean and him had had a long life, with their spots of mistrust and betrayal, sure, but also a brotherhood that had saved the world in the end, and Sam knew his brother and him had closure, of a sort. Dean was going on with his life. All those times Jimmy had appeared, Sam had gotten his hopes up. Hell, he hadn’t even had a chance to talk to Cas about his plan, about the prophecy, about bringing him up here in the first place even though he didn’t deserve it. He couldn’t remember if he’d ever actually thanked Cas for everything he’d done, for everything he was still doing.

In that small corner of his mind that wasn’t occupied with pain, or not getting blown up, he wished that he’d spent more time with Cas. Time wasn’t supposed to be a factor any-more. They should have been able to just sit on his bench for the rest of eternity, or go get a drink at any of the hundreds of bars he had been dragged to over the course of his life. It was barely a surprise when he realized just how much he wanted to take Cas out for a drink. It was just typical that he would finally manage to figure it out when he was doing his best not to get killed by angel lightning.

Then a barrage of shots hammered into his shield and the white flash of pain pushed all other thoughts to the wayside. His shabby defences finally fell. He was on his knees, and he could feel the blood dripping from his arm and nose. His vision was twisted, blurry and washed in red as he looked up, trying to gather enough fighting spirit to at least see his death coming.

“Sorry, Cas.”

Sam wasn’t sure if he actually said the words or just thought them, but with the soft sound of wings and a slight displacement of air, an angel in a trench coat was beside him. Castiel reached out, covering Sam’s eyes with a hand while glaring at the other angels.

“Close your eyes.”

Sam obeyed. He was still worn down enough that he felt like he was about to pass out, but Cas was there, so everything would be alright. The hand over his eyes was cold and Sam leaned into it. It was only a moment before Cas dropped his hand and Sam opened his eyes.

He had expected to see fallen angels and the ashy shadows of wings, but instead they were alone. He looked up at Cas and opened his mouth to say hello or thank you or whatever else popped into his head, but the words froze when he got his first real sight of the angel.

Cas looked terrible. Not just ten miles of bad road, a hundred, a thousand. His skin was corpse white where it wasn’t bruised shades of blue. His hair was limp, dirty and a patch near the left ear looked like it had been ripped out, leaving bloody, abused skin. There were dark circles around his eyes and his cheeks were drawn in as if he hadn’t been eating. At a second glance, the trench coat and the suit under it were both hanging limply on his frame. His tie was missing altogether, and somehow that hit the hardest; the little detail that nailed home just how bad things were.

Castiel opened his mouth and Sam thought he might be about to ask if the hunter was alright. The idiot, self-sacrificing angel instead rolled his eyes back and slumped to the ground.

It was enough to push Sam to his feet even if he was still shaky. He fell to Cas’ side in the snow-covered gravel and frantically checked for a pulse. He didn’t even know if angels were supposed to have pulses, but he didn’t know what else to do. He was finding it hard to breathe, and whether from the adrenalin of the battle or just because of the weird laws of Heaven, time had seemed to stop. He thought he felt something, but his hands were shaking too much for him to be certain.

“We need.” Sam tried to pull his thoughts together, figure out their next step but he was drained. “We need, damn it. They’ll come back, we need...”

“We need to go.” Mr. Elkins was kneeling beside them and even with blood dripping from a scalp wound and what looked like a bad burn on his right side, he was still in a much better state than either of them.

“The Roadhouse.”

“I know it. Easy, Sam, I’ll get us there.”  



***

 

Sam woke somewhere that felt like a hospital bed but smelled like an ale house. He felt sore more than anything, so he risked opening his eyes, and found that the conflicting signals weren’t actually wrong. The hospital bed he was laying on had been stuck in the corner of the Roadhouse’s backroom.

Then he remembered the fight and sat up despite his protesting muscles. Actually, he probably should have been in a lot more pain than he was. The cut on his arm was bandaged neatly, but apart from that he felt no worse than if he had gone through an intense workout, to the point of collapse; strenuous, but not dangerous. He’d pushed himself that hard a few times before when catching the monster meant saving lives and time was a critical factor, and knew from experience that a long bout of sleep and a few solid meals would get him back on his feet.

And knowing that he would recover meant his priorities were solidly on Cas. The angel had looked terrible. Sam had to find him and make sure he was okay.

As it turned out, he didn’t have to look far. Cas’ bed was only separated from his own by a stack of dusty crates and a makeshift curtain, as he discovered as soon as he looked around the room.

He didn’t look good.

Rest apparently wasn’t the same cure for him that it was for Sam, because his skin was still deathly pale, and when Sam picked up the hand that rested on the blankets it was cold and damp, the skin slightly bloated as if he were a corpse that had only recently been fished out of the water. Sam wrapped the hand in his own, bringing it to his lips to kiss the knuckles and maybe try to breath some heat back into his friend. He was already covered in blankets and at least one was an electric blanket, but it didn’t seem to be doing any good.

“Come on, Cas, you’re not allowed to save my life and then die before I can thank you for it.”

“Hey, you’re awake.” Ellen had come in while Sam was focused on Cas. She slapped him on the side of the head as soon as she was near enough. “That’s for dropping all those people in my lap without even a warning. You’re lucky I can’t run out of stock.”

“Not for showing up half dead?” Sam rubbed at his head more for the act than the pain. His voice was wry and slightly sarcastic.

“I’ll slap you for that once you’re back on your feet. How are you feeling? You didn’t look too banged up when Daniel brought you in, but you were completely dead to the world.”

“Could you maybe not put it that way...”

She glanced between Sam and Cas’s still limp form. “Sorry, Sam, I’m just a bit tense.” She checked Cas’ forehead as if for a fever, then put her hand under the blankets for the temperature, and shook her head. “It doesn’t look good. Not that I know what I’m doing. I’ve never tried to treat an angel before. The truth is, I don’t know how to help him.” Sam tried not to let his disappointment show, but Ellen had been a mother long enough to see these things. She clapped him on the shoulder. “You got him back here, he’ll be alright. Now, are you feeling well enough to come out and talk, or would you rather stay here a bit longer?”

It was a kind gesture, but Sam knew he couldn’t afford to coddle himself. The war wouldn’t wait for him to sit by Cas’ bedside. “I’m fine.” and it was just as much of a lie as every other time he’d said it, but at least that was par for the course. Ellen got it, or maybe she’d just decided not to push. She nodded and led him back toward the bar.

The main bar of the Roadhouse had changed. The room itself felt the same, but the proportions were off. There were about four times as many tables grouped around the room as should be able to fit in the space available, and every table hosted hunters and soldiers who took up more room than the table should have available. The bar seemed to be about three times as long as it should have been, and yet his mom, standing behind the counter,  was able to reach all of it easily. She waved and he nodded while he was still trying to wrap his head around the Penrose nature room.

“Nice, right?” Sam looked over to Andy who had appeared at his elbow. “It’s bigger on the inside.”

“Is that what it is?”

He shrugged. “Ash calls it dimensional warping or something but that’s what it boils down to.”

“Huh, that’s actually pretty cool.”

“I know right? Oh, but that’s not why I came over here. We’ve got news from the front, O mighty general.”

Andy nodded to a side door that had definitely not been in the original bar and Sam followed him in that direction.

Stepping through the door was like stepping between worlds, although more in the sense of the ambiance than the decor. Most of the furnishings were well-worn wood like in the Roadhouse, but the walls were covered in stacks of shelves and vintage posters. In one corner was a conspiracist’s workstation: several networked computers, hooked up to five monitors and two keyboards. Hanks of multicolour wires covered the desk and spilled on the floor while bags of chips and gummy worms spilled over the only empty surface of the desk. In front of the workstation sat Ash, in the kind of swivel chair, that probably cost a grand or more anywhere else.

“Hey, our fearless leader returns.”

“Okay, why is everyone treating me like I’m in charge? Jo did at least as much of the recruiting as I did, probably more; and Jimmy’s the one with all the powers and experience.”

“Neither of them took down the devil,” Ash said, bringing his hands up in a shrug. “And the way Jo tells it, it was mostly your idea anyway. Don’t worry, all you have to do is keep doing what you’re doing and maybe give a rousing speech before we ride in with the cavalry. Which might actually be very soon.”

“What do you mean?” Sam came forward and leaned over Ash’s chair.

Ash was already typing at something close to lightspeed and images were flashing over his screens. Eventually, the main screen settled into a crossed spiral pattern not unlike a spider web, while a second screen showed a map of earth, the outlines of countries lightly chalked in. With a few more keystrokes, a series of blue and red dots appeared.

“I’ve been calibrating all the pings I’ve gotten off angel radio trying to track the troop movements. I’ve got it down to only about a five hour delay, and let me tell you, the patterns I’ve been seeing are skewed.”

Ash pointed up at the screen with the spider web. The red and blue dots were scattered fairly evenly across the whole, though they seemed to cluster at junction points. The blue dots were smaller and less bright, but there seemed to be more of them, and they dominated the outer edges. The very center of the web was empty, but a host of red dots surrounded it, circling outwards.

“This is Heaven. Red is for Raph’s forces, blue for Cas.”

He gestured down to the map of earth, which had dots of both colors clustered in what looked like major population areas.

“And this is Earth, obviously. These are from about two months ago, just before you joined up; now watch.”

He hit a single key and the dots shifted. The overall picture was mostly the same, but one cluster of blue on the heaven map was gone and in other areas, the number of red dots had dropped. The map of Earth didn’t have any noticeable changes.

“This is about two days later.”

He hit the button again.

Blue was slowly moving inwards over the map. They seemed to whittle down the red forces, and then use overwhelming numbers to swamp an area. it was a tactic that the red forces were having trouble countering.

Ash hit the button again.

Blue wasn’t winning every battle. If red concentrated their forces, blue was wiped out, but for every loss, blue would take advantage of the weakness in red’s defences in other areas.

Again he hit the button.

As Castiel’s forces moved closer to the center, the advance grew slower. Blue had taken territory, but most often, the red forces had retreated rather than been wiped out, and now they were massed in greater numbers.

The next time Ash hit the button, the forces had reached a stalemate. “This is about ten days ago, snapshots every few hours.” Ash was leaning back in his chair, staring at the map with his eyebrows drawn down and together. “Now keep an eye on Earth.”  And he started tapping the button every few seconds.

Up until then, Earth had changed very little. The dots moved around a bit but didn’t really change number. Suddenly, that was changing. The red dots vanished from the map of Earth in small clumps, appearing in the map of heaven to push back the forces there. Cas’ forces on Earth were suddenly spread twice as thin. Sam could imagine the sudden influx of troops on the battlefield all too well. He’d faced overwhelming odds pre-apocalypse and that feeling of knowing the odds were stacked so far against you it was nearly an impossibility to even survive was not something he had ever wanted to face again.

The blue forces were being pushed back, while at the same time, they were forced to take on more of the responsibility for Earth. Because Sam knew without a doubt that Cas wouldn’t let his people abandon the planet they were supposed to be protecting. The forces shifted again, more blue dots going to Earth, as the ones in heaven were steadily pushed back.

Then out of nowhere, a blindingly bright blue dot appeared on the front lines and the retreat stopped, finding a foothold once more and digging in. For a moment, it looked like Cas and his forces were going to hold out, then the bright spot vanished and Ash stopped tapping the button.

“What? Why did you stop? What happened?” Sam was squeezing the back of Ash’s chair hard enough to make the plastic squeak.

“That was twelve hours ago, about the same time you were dragged in here.”

Dots connected. “That was Cas. That bright light, that was Cas.”

“Yeah.”

“That idiot.” Sam turned without thinking and found his way back across the bar to the back room and Cas’ cot in a blur.  “You idiot. Why did you come help me? You were fighting. You were already injured, weren’t you, and you still came to help me. What were you thinking? I’m not that important.”

“You are to him.” The voice was soft, barely more than a whisper, and when Sam turned to face the speaker, he wasn’t all that surprised to find Jimmy. He was curled into the cot that Sam had previously occupied, not resting himself but serving as a pillow for Jo, who had fallen asleep without even taking off her shoes. Jimmy had a bandage wrapped around his chest, and a blanket draped over his shoulders. Without his usual wardrobe, he looked younger, wilder somehow, like a hunting dog. His eyes lazily rolled over the room, taking in everything with a relaxed confidence. His arm curved around Jo, protective in a very visible way.

Jo shifted in Jimmy’s lap and he pulled her close. “He’s got a soft spot for you.”

Jimmy watched Cas, only occasionally glancing back to Sam or down at Jo if she became restless. Between the two of them, Sam found himself looking at a study in contrasts. Sam couldn’t help but think of Cas whenever he saw Jimmy, and his normal wardrobe only enhanced the illusion. Jimmy was fit, with a lean kind of strength, and a relaxed alertness. He put out the kind of aura that said you didn’t want to cross him while still laughing at the irony of the world. When Sam first met Jimmy, he had been out of his depth and scrambling to pull together any shreds of the life he had known. Whether it had been the Apocalypse or the civil war, he had seemingly come into his own. He was confident in a way he hadn’t been before. He had learned to listen to his instincts and his natural bravery shown in every movement.

Even hidden under his guise of flesh and bones, Castiel had never quite managed to fold himself down enough to fit in this world. He tried, but he was literally larger than life. It had never been easy for him to fit into that limited perspective. He was like a force of nature, a rainstorm the same color as his eyes, and seeing him humble himself, seemingly without thought, to stand at Sam’s level was awe inspiring. Cas was one of Heaven’s favored, and somehow he still managed to get that look of puzzled interest whenever he was introduced to another mundane facet of life. Seeing Cas wasted away on the hospital cot, Sam knew he was pouring everything he had into what he saw as the right course of action. It just didn’t look like it would be enough this time.

“He shouldn’t,” Sam finally answered, following Jimmy’s lead and keeping his voice low. With no chairs available, he found himself sitting on the end of Cas’ cot.

Jimmy rolled his eyes. “No offence, Sam, but if we could skip the I’m not good enough portion of this program, I’d appreciate it. He does like you.” Sam opened his mouth to protest but Jimmy’s eyebrows rose and he shut it again.

Sam looked down at Cas’s unconscious form. “Not the way I want him to.”

Jimmy looked down at Cas. “He considers you a friend.”

“Yeah.”

Jimmy glanced up at Sam, then away, down at Jo. He ran a hand over her hair.

“If he was going to fall in love with anyone, it’d be Dean. Not me. I guess I’m greedy, I decided a long time ago that I’d take whatever I could get. You know, of all the angels we met, Cas was the only one who ever acted like one. Half the time he was falling and he was still.” Sam stopped, his throat closing. “Sorry, forget I said anything.”

Jimmy just kept stroking Jo’s hair. “Adam’s doing well.” He said after a pause. “He’s not exactly a natural fighter but he’s a quick learner and Michael’s powers more than make up for it.” Jimmy eyed Sam, watching for his reaction.

“That’s good.” Sam took a breath, grateful for the distraction and the chance to pull himself together.

Jimmy sighed. “Sam, we’re going to need your help too.”

“With Adam’s training? I’ll do what I can, but I don’t know how much help I’ll be.”

“Sam.” Jimmy had pinned the taller man with his eyes. “You were Lucifer’s vessel. You’ll probably be stronger than either Adam or myself once you learn how to use that power.”

“No.”

“You don’t get to say no. I know Ash showed you what’s been going on. We’re losing this war. Without some kind of edge, we are dead, and the whole world with us. My daughter, your brother.”

“No.” Sam said again, this time going straight over Jimmy’s argument.

“What?” Jo pushed herself up, already reaching for her knife, and Sam belatedly realized he’d shouted.

Sam tried to take a breath but his shoulders and voice were still tense when he spoke. “If we need an edge, then we stop sitting around and start fighting back. We start putting all those people out there to work, not hope for some weapon --” Sam’s voice seemed to shut down at even the thought. Lucifer had been cold, blindingly cold, bright and dark all at once.

Sam shut down that line of thought, forcing himself to remember the smell of the Impala’s leather, gun oil, the weight of his knife in his hand and a hundred other little mundane things until the memories were firmly back behind their wall. Memories were power here, Sam didn’t want to dwell on what it would mean if the memories grew more powerful than the person.

He found himself breathing heavily, with both Jimmy and the clueless Jo now staring at him. “I, I have things to do.” Sam was half out the door before his eyes fell on Cas again. He hesitated, just a slight pause in his step, then he was through the door, shutting it behind him. He took a deep breath, ran a hand through his hair and headed for the parking lot.

 

***



Sam spent three grueling hours reinforcing the outer defenses. He chiseled enochian symbols into the trees and fence posts, piled up rocks to make more signs and stabbed his knife into the dry earth to carve out the symbols. When he hauled himself back across the parking lot, he was a dusty, grass-stained mess, but he was still too worked up to go inside and face Jimmy’s accusations. A middle-aged man had come out on porch to smoke.

He seemed to sense that Sam was looking for something to keep himself busy. He tossed his cigarette to one side, letting the butt vanish.

“You’re the young Winchester?” Sam shrugged. “Rumor is you have a few tricks up your sleeves, that you’ve actually killed some of those bastards.”

Sam just shrugged again.

“So. How’d you do it?”

Sam considered. He wasn’t sure how he’d originally pulled out some of the tricks he’d played, but he could tell a story as well as anyone.

He started talking.

It took him a few hours to realize the sun wasn’t sinking from it’s mid-afternoon, early-evening position in the sky, and by that point he had gained a crowd again. It was a bit odd, being scrutinized, especially when most of his audience had been older than he was at death. The detailed questions he was asked made it feel more like he was sitting for some exam or applying for a job. He didn’t know most of the hunters who had gathered around. They seemed to be sizing him up, measuring him against all the stories they’d heard about their supposed leader. Sam didn’t mind answering their questions but being seen as that larger than life character was a bit disconcerting. Yes he had saved the world a time or two but he’d never expected to be famous for it. Regular people didn’t even know saving the world was an issue.  It was almost a relief when Ellen showed up and started ordering them around.

“And you!” she said, glaring at Sam, after the crowd of hunters had dispersed. “When’s the last time you ate? Or took a shower? I swear, if I wasn’t making a killing, I’d kick the lot of you out on the street, and I might still if I have to keep putting up with the stench.”

Sam let out a breath of a laugh. Sam hadn’t actually felt the need to eat or sleep since he’d arrived in heaven after his death, and the same went for cleaning up, but if Ellen wanted to make sure he was taken care of, he wasn’t going to fight her. He was ushered back inside and shoved in the direction of the back room, where he found someone had added a bathroom to the side-room that still held Cas’ sleeping form.

He moved through the routine with the grace that came with long habit and found himself draped in a towel before he was really ready to think about things again. But ready or not, he couldn’t stay in the bathroom forever. He willed himself into clothes and opened the door.

Jo was in the room, checking Cas’s temperature. “There’s no change,” she said without even turning to him.

“Oh.” Sam shifted from foot to foot, not really sure what to do next. He’d run out of ways to stall.

“What were you and Jimmy arguing about?”

And there it was. “He didn’t tell you?”

Jo shrugged, “He didn’t want to say, said it was nothing, but it didn’t seem like nothing from where I was sitting.”

Sam seriously considered walking out, but that would have been running, and as much as he repressed his emotions, he had never run from them when it came down it. “I can’t.” He hesitated, then restarted. “I won’t use Lucifer’s power.”

“Oh,” Jo considered.

Sam found himself looking down at Cas. He wasn’t sure he wanted to see Jo’s face just now.

“I thought you already were. That time you stole Jimmy’s memory of Cas’ Sword … I’ve never seen anything like that. He was furious when he came back with that Adam kid. You could practically see the steam coming from his ears, and he wouldn’t put the sword away for ages. It was cute, almost like a kid with a teddy bear.” She was smiling, her eyes soft for a minute before she pulled herself together and got back to what she was saying. “Then with all the rumors about your special weapon, and the number of angels you’ve killed since you’ve been active again, I figured you were tapping into some kind of power.” She didn’t ask directly, but there was a question in her eyes.

He thought about it, moving to sit on the end of Cas’s bed. “No, or... not consciously, anyway. Maybe it’s because of everything that happened before? I banished plenty of angels in my life, maybe that’s just my experience playing in my favor.”

She gave him a look.

“Sam, how many hits does it take you to kill one of them?”

He considered. “For the goons in suits, two or three, but they heal pretty fast, so more if I’m not quick enough.”

Jo shook her head. She stood up and headed for the door, and Sam thought she was going to leave, but she stopped with her hand on the knob and sent a parting shot over her shoulder. “The last angel I helped take down, it took four of us, and we had to hit that thing non-stop for five minutes before we overwhelmed its healing factor. If I didn’t have a secret weapon-” she raised her left hand, wiggling her fingers so that light glinted on the blood stained gold band she wore. “I’d be dead ten times over. You’ve been running all over heaven, alone, with the biggest target they have, plastered to your back.” She gave him a pointed look.

Sam watched the door close behind her and tried to ignore the knot in his chest.



***

 

Sam sat at Cas’ bedside. He kept imagining the angel getting better, standing up and magically healing his injuries like he would have on earth. When it became too hard watching his pale, lifeless face, he rationalized to himself that this wasn’t really Cas, just a convenient form he took because Sam couldn’t make sense of what he really was. But really, he knew that even if his real form was something other, it had to be just as battered as this body; there was no other reason for him to be just laying there.

He sat vigil for his friend.

 

Eventually the light changed, fading into the dusky tones of evening, and the background of sounds from the rest of the building faded slowly. Low voices could still be heard from the bar, and every half hour or so he would hear someone sounding the all clear. People would still come and go occasionally, but staying vigilant could wear a person down even if they didn’t need sleep.

Most of the recruited hunters had fallen back on old day-to-day habits, eating, drinking, sleeping. Some of them even claimed it made them stronger, though Sam didn’t know if that was true. Sam mostly just felt separate from it all. If he was reminded to eat, he ate, same with sleep, and all the other things that he had considered basic daily care while on earth.

The bell at the end of the drive rang out in a sharp triple call. Someone had put up the bell so that allies could announce they were coming and not get shot at before they were recognised. Something about the urgency caught at him though. Normally, ringing the bell was a casual thing, one lazy ring as you passed it.

Sam found himself on his feet, turning towards the door. He paused, looking back at the sleeping angel. “I’ll be right back.”

The main room of the bar was dim when he entered. There was one lamp set up on the bar and the yellow porch light filtered in through the enochian on the windows but otherwise shadows pooled in from the corners.

The pair of hunters on guard were members of the Campbell clan. Sam had the vague notion they were his great uncles, or maybe great-great uncles. The two men were twins, both with ragged hair and fur-lined coats. Jesse wore a gold nugget like a charm around his neck and it was generally the only way to tell him apart from his brother Peter. The two would tell anyone who would listen about how they made it rich in the Alaska Gold Rush only for a troll the size of a bus to nearly smash them on their way back. Of course, the only way to kill the troll had been to bring the mountain down on it, and nearly all their riches had been buried in the landslide.

They were leaning over a third hunter, also a distant relative of Sam’s, who was doubled over hands on his knees and panting. The kid had died young, he looked about 15 or 16, but it had been a nest of vampires that had taken him out, and since he’d been raised in the true Campbell fashion, he’d claimed the right to join the gathering ranks. That hadn’t stopped the older Campbells from sticking him on sentry duty where he’d supposedly be safe. Some things didn’t change with death, and protecting kids was one of them.

“The west road is being cleared.” He gasped out without any prompting. “Something’s coming through. Something big.”

“The angels?” Sam passed the kid a glass of water as Peter guided him to a chair.

The roads were dangerous. There was a reason Sam had been hopscotching through memories so far. The major roads were a lot easier to travel on, highways as opposed to deer trails, but they were the angels’ favorites as well. Every angel vs angel battle that had happened so far had taken place on or near one of the roads through Heaven. Raphael’s people guarded the roads heavily so Cas’ people couldn’t attack the heart of their power, and by the same logic, Cas’ people were always haunting the roads, looking for any openings in Raphael’s defences. The roads were never just empty.

“Gone.” The kid gulped down half the water then dumped the rest over his head. When he filled his lungs again, he was a lot steadier, and Sam upped his opinion of him. “There was this wind, it came through like a train and the angels on the road just cleared off, like something big was coming and they didn’t want to get in its way.”

Sam saw Jesse glance up at Peter and there was something in his eye, a glimmer that made mental alarms go off.

“Road’s empty?” And then Peter had the look too.

The kid, and Sam finally managed to remember his name: Stephen, had gotten his second wind. “Whatever’s got all of their feathers ruffled, it’s big.” He was clearly excited rather than frightened, and it looked like he was almost feeding off of the twins’ glee. In one move the twins were on their feet, holstering weapons and pulling their coats around them. Jesse tugged Stephen up by the arm.

“Show us.”

“What?” Sam got to his own feet, following the three Campbells towards the door.

Peter grinned at Sam over his shoulder. “Knowledge is power.”

Sam rolled his eyes and followed them outside, to where Jesse had already conjured an old mustang convertible.  “You’re going to run straight towards something that makes angels duck and cover?”

“Just a quick look.” Jesse agreed with his brother.

Sam had to wonder if he and Dean were ever this insane. Sure, they had done some crazy shit, but at least they had known it was crazy and only done it to protect people… mostly. Maybe it was that same habit that had Sam sliding into the back seat of the car beside Stephen even though he should have been putting his foot down about how dangerous this was. Or maybe he’d just been looking for a hopeless battle to throw himself into for far too long now.

Finding the road was easy: they all had experience with the paths that ran through Heaven by that point, and finding the roads was as easy as following water downhill. The patch of road they ended up on mirrored their expectations, becoming a paved path through a stretch of light woods. Stephen had been right. Any angels that had been in the area had cleared out, and now a wind was slowly rising, blowing towards the garden.

A chill made goosebumps prickle over Sam’s arms. “Get rid of the car,” he ordered in a harsh whisper, and the twins obeyed without fuss. They could feel it too. Something was coming, and it was the kind of thing they really didn’t want noticing them.

With a few quick hand gestures Sam motioned for them to spread out and find cover. Sam crept under the heavy branches of a sprawling rhododendron bush, pushing aside just enough of the wide leaves to see a stretch of the road.

He was just in time.

The wind suddenly died away, and walking up the road came a man in a dark red long coat. He was tall and he took wide steps, but his movement wasn’t hurried. The angel radiated power in a way others of his kind somehow failed to. Sam didn’t think he was looking at the angel’s vessel if he even had one, and yet he seemed at home in a human form, or at least a form that was close to human. There were details there that other angels wouldn’t have bothered with. Scars for one, and the tanned quality of his skin, that suggested a man who was used to a day of hard labor. It contrasted with the long suit jacket, carefully styled hair and polished shoes.

Something caught the angel’s attention and he stopped. Sam held his breath, trying to bring up every memory he could of being invisible, hidden, just another part of the background.The figure’s gaze swept across the hillside, passing over Sam’s hiding place.

Stephen wasn’t so lucky.

With a casual brushing gesture a twenty foot patch of hillside was scoured down to raw earth. The kid screamed bringing up his arms to protect himself as he was caught in the momentary whirlwind. then the force was gone, leaving Stephen gasping, trying to blink up at the figure through the grit in his eyes. The angel raised a hand again but before anything could happen, Jesse, or maybe it was Peter, was on his feet, abandoning his hiding place and emptying a shotgun at the angel’s head. His brother joined him, sending shell after shell at the man in the long coat.

Sam watched, frozen, as it did absolutely nothing; ripples in the air showed where the bullets shattered before they could reach their target. It took about a minute for the angel to grow bored with the twins. He brought up a hand, flattening the area around the three hunters with an invisible wave of force. The twins were forced to their knees beside Stephen as gravity increased by a factor of ten.

“Foolish.” The angels voice was cold and dispassionate, as if holding down the hunters wasn’t any kind of effort. “Is this what things have come to? My brother’s war embracing even the souls we are sworn to protect? Father, this has gone on long enough. I will no longer stand my watch if this is to be the result.”

“Screw you,” snarled one of the downed hunters, and Sam winced as the angel’s attention was drawn back to them.

He pursed his lips, his hand still outstretched. Sam didn’t know what the angel was thinking, but that look sent another shiver over him. They had to get out of there. He had to get them out of there. Before Sam could think about it, he snatched up all his memories of Cas ever transporting him anywhere and blinked across the fifty feet of woodland, appearing beside the other hunters in the circle of force. It was burning cold. It felt like a torrent of rain forcing him to his knees, inexorable. Sam forced his will against it, reaching out so that he touched the other three. The angel didn’t seem inclined to stop him, just raising an eyebrow in Sam’s direction. Sam wasn’t about to wait around for him to change his mind, though, and a moment later they were gone.

Sam dropped the group on the lawn in front of his bench and flopped down, panting for breath. He recovered quickly, but remained on the grass, looking up at the blue sky, red leaves and distant green that bordered his section of Heaven. He went over what had just happened and couldn’t help but shudder. The wild storm of power that had radiated off the angel was different from Lucifer’s power, but it was close enough to uncover a lot of things Sam didn’t want to face.

And Sam had pushed him back. When the others had been helplessly pinned, he’d been able to fight back. He shuddered.

Sam pushed himself to his feet. Ignoring it may not work forever, but it had worked alright so far. If he kept moving, maybe when he finally did face it, there’d be enough distance for it not to hurt as much.



***

 

Sam slammed his way into the roadhouse and headed towards the back, leaving the others to give a report on what they had learned. Ignoring the riot of activity, he pushed through the employee-only door and shut himself away from the noise. He entered the side room, expecting to see Cas still unmoving on his cot. Instead, he was faced with an empty bed.

He stared at the bed as his heart jumped. An empty bed was good, right? It meant Cas had woken up, and was on his feet again. Unless it meant he was dead. He had seemed alright when Sam had left, well, not alright but no worse than before. No, he had to be alive. He was here somewhere, and Sam would find him.

This time he cursed the activity in the bar, fighting through it to check every corner for his angel. There was no trace of him anywhere, so he headed for Ash’s rooms, bursting through the doors and grabbing Jimmy by the front of his coat.

“Where is he?!”

Jimmy blinked and looked away, glancing at Ash’s screens and drawing his shoulders in defensively. It was wrong, it was all so wrong, so different from Castiel that there wasn’t even a moment of question.

“Ash,”

Ash nodded at Jimmy from his seat and spun around to face Sam. “Short version is, I found a way to help him, but it went to his head.”

“What?” Jimmy was able to extricate himself from Sam’s loosening grasp as the news that Cas really was alright flooded his system.

“The souls old Raphie’s been hoarding, I found a way to reroute the energy to help heal Cas. But once he was powered up, he just took off, all like, saying we shouldn’t worry and he would deal with Raph.”

Sam’s couldn’t seem to breath. The moment was a crystal that shattered a second later when Ash’s computer beeped. Ash spun around and started typing.

“So, we go after him.” Sam said. “He can’t do this on his own, this is what we’ve been preparing for.”

“We’re trying.” Jimmy’s voice was tight, but Sam was too far gone to notice his concern.

Ash pointed at his screens. “We can’t find a way in that doesn’t take us past a garrison of Raph’s people. When he’s not playing human, Cas is just a celestial wavelength, he can slip past anyone with less power, which, well, is basically everyone right now, but us mere mortals have to use the roads and memories. Unless you know someone who has a patch of heaven near the garden, we can’t get there in time.”

Sam rocked back on his heels, staring at the screens in a daze, as his mind frantically searched for a way around the problem. There had to be something. He could try to locate Cas directly, but the last time he had tried, he’d only managed to find Jimmy. He could try to jump to the garden directly, he had been there before, but if Joshua had locked the gates, he doubted that would work. He went over every detail of his last visit to the garden. That riot of green.

He had seen that green somewhere else, and recently, or at least since he had died, but where? Whose memory had it been, and how had they ended up so close to the garden? Had it been some kind of accident?

The impression Sam had got while traveling around was that the more recently a person had died, the closer to the edge they were. No one he had recruited had died more than a decade ago at most, so who?

“Shit. Me. Cas stuck me somewhere he thought I’d be safe. Hell, I could see the garden from my bench. I remember that green.”

The others were staring at Sam with varying mixtures of surprise and awe.

Jimmy was the first to recover. “Of course he did. Come on, let’s go save his ass.”

 

***

 

It took longer than Sam would have liked to gather everyone together in the parking lot; there were too many overlapping energies in the bar to pull everyone through from inside. When he was finally given the signal, Sam looked over the landscape, touched the memories there and reached out to overwrite them. Red leaves caught in a spiral around him, as the lawn rolled like a carpet of green from his feet. A wave went through the gathered hunters as they were pulled halfway across heaven. Then a second wave as all eyes were drawn to the tapestry unfolding behind Sam.

Sam pulled the last of them through, then turned and got his first glimpse of what they were up against.

The gates of the garden had been locked, and the area in front of it spread out as a field of summer gold surrounded by slowly sloping hills. Sam stood at the crest of one hill, looking down at the hosts of angels. They fought, in clumps, attacking and defending balustrades, trenches and turrets that had been constructed by one side or the other. This was the front line and it stretched the length of the Garden’s wall in either direction. Sam couldn’t tell one side from the other, only half the angels looked human, and most of those were in the standard suit and tie getup. Others looked like twisted shining animals, marble statues, beams of light, or curling vines of energy.

And in the middle of them was Cas.

He wore the familiar shape, but only loosely. He glowed, trailing energy behind him like the tail of a comet. Spinning as he was attacked from all directions. He held twin blades that cut through flesh and tangled beams of light into knots of miniature stars. Copper blood glowed on him, coating his arms and splashed on his face and hair until it looked like it was melting off him.

He advanced through the chaos with a kind of slow inevitability as everything that was thrown at him was left in pieces in his wake.

Sam mapped his path and saw where he was headed. The tower was nearly two stories tall and stretched ten feet above the other structures around it. At the center of it’s flat topped roof stood a dark skinned figure wrapped in evening stars. He held a tall walking stick in one hand and raised a trumpet in the other. The call of the instrument echoed over the battlefield despite the din of combat, triggering a new wave to attack.

A host of angels poured from behind the battlements, threatening to overwhelm Castiel and the few of his supporters who were still standing, and Sam raised a hand to signal his own counter-offensive.

The hunters lept into the fight not as a cohesive whole but in a thousand individual ways. Instead of a standard weapon, the hunters conjured everything from machetes, to guns, to flamethrowers. One man in a rain slicker went down the hill with a harpoon launcher over one shoulder.  The soldiers in the group summoned tanks, fighter jets, helicopters with mounted guns that lept into the air over the combat zone. Three young men who were barely over the legal driving age started loading up a catapult with what looked like coconuts, until they caught on fire. Historical weapons clashed beside modern artillery as cannons, spears, and katanas were matched by automatic rifles, flash grenades, and SWAT issued body armor.  

And that was just the mundane armaments.

Lily walked into battle with nothing but her bare hands, seemingly oblivious to the lines of blood that appeared on her arms and shoulders from the occasional lucky shot. Missouri and Pamela walked into the battle together, hands weaving unseen shapes in the air as their psychic powers cleared space around them with surprising accuracy. Priests of all religions laid out blessings and curses from voodoo demons to native american totems, to baptisms in blood and fire that would have been only metaphorical on earth.

The Campbells waded into battle as a group, tossing hex bags and some kind of bloody water in between sword thrusts. They were some of the only hunters who were acting as a group like the angels were, and at first it looked like it would turn into a disadvantage. The angels had superior strength and speed and knew instinctively how to fight as a unit. Then the Campbells started fighting dirty. Their little skirmish turned into something human and brutal, lacrosse or hockey crossed with gladiatorial combat. Sam spotted Peter and Jesse stand together to launch what looked like a landslide at a group of angels who tried to get the drop on them. Stephen was surprisingly good with a crossbow. Sam’s parents fought back to back, in perfect sync despite all the years they had spend apart.  

The angels broke. They simply didn’t know how to deal with battle tactics that included headbuts and groin shots as often as a standard thrust.

Adam glanced at Jimmy then took a steadying breath and launched himself into the sky. He glowed with dawn light and the angels that rose to face him were cut down by lances of fire and a silver blade that was too intense to look at directly.

Jo met Sam's eyes for a brief second before squeezing Jimmy’s hand and letting him pull them across the battlefield straight into the center of Raphael's forces. Jimmy faced them, sword in hand but Jo didn’t draw a weapon. Instead she brought her hands up and spun the simple gold ring on her finger. Around her the angels went nuts turning on each other with the kind of explosive power that only high ranking angels could pull off.

It was an impressive wave of force but even fighting alongside Castiel’s scattered forces they were outgunned. Every strike that landed was because of cunning or guile rather than superior strength. Sam tried not to pay attention too closely. He didn’t want to see the people he had come to know, torn apart.   

Sam started down the hill towards Cas’s position following the path his allies had cut. The trumpet hadn’t made Cas stop, hadn’t even made him pause. Castiel was close enough that he could look up at Raphael, and the growing tension was creating sparks in the air between them.

With a few last alterations, Body armor, a low level of intangibility, Sam stepped forward into combat. His weapon was an angel sword, patterned off of Castiel’s but empowered with his memories of the Colt and the Knife to make his own personal brand of badass.

He barely registered the first angel to come at him. It hadn’t taken on a fully human form instead patterning its shape as some kind of bird snake hybrid. Sam had never actually faced a wyvern but he knew enough to fling a net in it’s direction, and sever the wings as well as the head. His movements were sharp and precise, and he was on to the next opponent before the first had finished twitching.  

He cut down a man in a suit with almost as much ease before one of them slipped around behind him and scored a shot into his lower left side. Sam screamed more at the damaged memories than for any actual pain, and for a moment he staggered sideways, completely intangible. Then he pulled himself together and picked out another target. The suit who had gotten in the lucky hit had been taken down by some kind of hunter’s bow, or at least something that shot barbed arrows.

Then the final notes of the trumpet fell silent and in their wake was an absence almost as profound as the sound had been. It took Sam a moment to realize the silence actually had a source. Sam pushed forward, heart suddenly in his throat. He used every dirty trick he knew to push against the tide of combat, until finally he caught another glimpse of Cas. Raphael had him at a distance using his staff like some kind of spear, as Cas darted in and back pulling off almost as many dirty tricks as the hunters. The ground around them had been blasted clear as every strike and block created chimes of cutting power.

Sam’s eyes caught the source of the silence and were dragged away from his friend. The angel looked human, and more human than most. It was the same angel from the road. He had skin tanned to leather and scars on his arms where the sleeves of his long dark red coat didn’t cover. Despite the raw power Castiel and Raphael were throwing off the figure was approaching Cas’s back with deliberate steps. Another step and the strange angel drew his weapon, a thin and wickedly curved sickle with a blade that seemed to absorb light rather than reflect it, twisting everything around it to appear in shades of blue and purple.

Sam suddenly knew who he was. This was the last Seraph, Samael. no wonder the other angels had cleared out when they realized he was coming, only another seraph would have even a chance of facing him. With both Raphael and Castiel fully focused on their own fight, he was going to blindside both of them. The words of Molly’s prophecy was echoing in his ears. He could see what was about to happen, saw the blood and how Cas’s sword would be thrown in his direction when Cas hit the ground. How Raphael would be weak enough in that moment, overwhelmed by Samael enough for Sam to strike. They would win, but Cas would still be gone.

No, Molly wasn’t infallible and even if she had been he’d spit in the eye of bigger things than this. Sam brushed aside another attack from a lesser angel and charged towards the angel of death.

Samael met his first thrust with disdain, catching Sam’s blade in the curve of his own and twisting it away. With a single look the angel brought down the force of his will on Sam, and Sam buckled. He was on his knees before he could even think of guarding himself. The passive memory defences he had set up, the body armor, the intangibility, was shredded. He tried to push back, reaching for any memory, anything at all he could pour his will into and use as some kind of defence. Shadow shapes appeared between their locked gazes but before anything could fully form Samael would brush it away, like an annoying bug.

Sam felt the angel brush against his soul and the cold liquid frost was too much, too close to a time he had put all his effort into looking away forever. he felt the first tears in the fabric of himself and rational thought took a back seat to survival instinct.

Jimmy had been right, he was the Vessel for Lucifer, Seraph of the first order. Jo had been right too he had been holding back. The energy he claimed felt familiar in his hands as Sam drew on the power of the Morningstar. The cold before dawn, the first yellow flair to fully embrace the dark. There were reasons serpents were said to be wise, cunning, Gleaming facets of knowledge danced in a halo around his skull, literally too much to be contained by his human mind. He could see the universe like clockwork, follow the celestial energy of the angels even when they weren’t trying to be fit into his perceptions, and above all, he could hear the endless chorus of the host; angel radio as an endless symphony, a harmony with a thousand different themes. The power wrapped Sam in his own cold aura, energy bleeding from his shoulders in an echo of star-lit wings that weren’t really his, and coating his weapon in layers of celestial ice.

Samael staggered back from a force that suddenly matched his own. He growled and launched a gout of fire to burn Sam to a cinder. Sam saw the fire, saw the energy, igniting the air and with a gesture, a small manipulation of the local rules of reality, he removed the oxygen from the air and smothered the flames.

Suddenly he had Samael’s full attention. Sam had proven to be more than a passing annoyance. The angel flicked his blade through the air and Sam hurriedly brought up his own blade in a block. The blow staggered him, sending power directly into him rather than filtering it through the laws of the larger universe, and for a brief moment Sam’s grip on the memories empowering him slipped. The corus he was hearing became a grating screech for a moment before Sam pulled the power back around him. He was just in time to prevent the second strike from severing his throat. He deflected the blow and fumbled together a counterattack. The angel telegraphed his block, and the stroke that followed was by rote. Sam blocked without trouble but the moment their blades met, Sam was once again assaulted by a direct stream of energy. He responded faster this time, pulling back and breaking the connection, but Lucifer's energy was still torn from him for a brief second.

So it went, Samael throwing blow after blow, each hit nearly tearing Sam apart. His strikes were formulaic, obvious in their predictability. If it weren’t for the fact that even slightest touch threatened to tear him apart the fight would have been over in a few strikes. occasionally Sam would slip through his defences and land a blow, but unlike Sam, the seraph was using his own energy, and it didn’t rip nearly as easily as Sam’s borrowed veil. Worse, Sam knew he couldn’t maintain the pace. keeping a tight enough focus to use that much power was ripping apart his mind, burning through any memory that he didn’t focus on protecting.

The strike came from a low angle, threatening to slide under his guard. Sam’s footing was awkward, no chance to dodge and still remain on his feet. He flicked his sword up, connecting in a glancing blow that knocked the angel’s sword aside and tore through Sams defences, ripping away his aura yet again. Desperation spurred Sam to pull it back together but Samael twisted, turning his blade into a horizontal sweep, that sliced into Sams left side. His arm was nearly cut in half just below the elbow and it was the only reason he wasn’t gutted outright.

Sam fell to his knees, his mind scattering as a new pattern of red covered the grass. He swayed. Somehow his sword was still in his right hand and he didn’t want to let go but his left arm wasn’t working, it wouldn’t come up to support him and he toppled over.

Sam’s eyes found the shape of the angel of death. Samael was looking down at him with disdain. He flicked his sword boiling the blood off the blade with a spare thought. He seemed to decide that Sam wasn’t getting up, and turned again towards Castiel.

 

***

 

Castiel wasn’t as adept at using his new power, but he had learned a lot about playing dirty while stationed on earth and unlike Raphael, he had started out as a soldier on the front lines.

Raphael swept his staff sideways aiming low for Cas’s knees. The younger angel jumped over the strike, but instead of coming down to meat Raphael’s next thrust he flapped his wings launching himself into a spinning side kick that glanced off Raphael’s shoulder to connect with his ear.  Raphael managed to roll with the blow enough to avoid whiplash, but was forced to plant his staff in the ground to stay standing.

Castial folded his wings and dropped, landing in a crouch next to his opponent, and immediately plowed back up into his opponents space. Raphael swept up his staff, but he was focusing on the blade in Cas’s right hand rather than the punch he was aiming with his left.

The fist landed solidly in Raphael’s gut, forcing the air from his lungs and staggering him; then Castiel wrapped his hand in the energy of the souls that were feeding him and pushed in again. He forced his hand into Raphael’s form, reaching for that place inside him where the fabric of his being held his Grace.

Raphael struggled, but he didn’t seem to believe that Castiel could or would, do what he was threatening. Then it was too late.

Castiel grabbed hold of Raphael’s raw Grace and ripped it from him. One weak cry came from the angel’s lips before his form collapsed and Castiel sent his spirit on a path to earth.

Across the length and breadth of the battlefield angels stopped as one of the strongest voices of the chorus was silenced.

Castiel turned to the Grace he held, folding it and wrapping it in concealing energy patterns until he held a small bottle of stardust. Then his task done, he took a breath, slowly releasing the energy of all the souls inside him. If and When Raphael returned to heaven he would have a choice to make, but for now, his grace would be kept safe.

 

***

 

Samael was only two steps away from the human when Castiel ripped out Raphael’s grace. He saw the spirit start to fall, Saw Castiel start to fold the Grace away, and before it became irreversible he readied a strike of unmaking.

 

***

 

Sam didn’t know why the battlefield had fallen still. Somewhere in the back of his delirium he thought it might be to do with Castiel and the light he was holding, but he had lost too much blood for any deeper contemplation. Besides, Samael was mostly blocking his view. The Dark Seraph was holding a ball of ultraviolet light, and had settled into a pitchers crouch. He was going to throw the ball at Cas. He was going to hurt Cas.

Sam may not have been sure of almost anything at that moment but he knew he had to protect Cas, and that knowledge was enough to start him moving. The two steps seemed like a mile as Sam half pulled, half crawled forward. Getting his legs under him enough to make a proper strike was a challenge in itself. Somehow he still had the sword, and if it saved Cas then he was fine if that strike was the last thing he ever did.

Sam’s blade slid into Samael’s side in a mirror of his own wound.

The ball of nothing faded like a vacuum being filled and Sam let the explosion of Grace pouring from the wound,  wash over him as Samael fell to the ground. It felt like fire and cleansing rain. He let go of his last ragged defences, letting his memories of being Lucifer's vessel shatter into mindless fragments. There was copper blood dripping down his blade and even though he was exhausted, just wanted to rest, the sword was hard to release. Black wings, like the silence between stars, burned over, around him, and into him.

Sam closed his eyes, more out of habit and exhaustion then fear as he sat at the center of the implosion. He knew what dieing felt like. The sensation was hauntingly familiar. Only this time there wasn’t any tunnel there was only light.

 

***

 

Castiel felt a second rending and turned. He saw Samael, and the orb of nothingness unraveling between his fingers. Then the light of his grace flared, and Castiel brought up his shields to protect himself until the afterimages faded. When the shadows faded from his vision he found himself looking at the angel of death.

Samael sat, his legs folded under him, and his head hanging limply from his neck. There was a gash along his side, still bleeding slightly, the copper mixing with red stains across his front. he wasn’t trying to stop it, his arms hung limp at his sides and his grace was surprisingly calm. Still Castiel knew an alliance had been formed between him and Raphael. Even with Raphael gone the war would go on if Samael rallied his forces. Castiel had to end this now.

Castiel took up his sword and crossed the distance between them. Samael only barely raised his head, there wasn’t a ripple in his grace, even as his eyes found Castiel's blade. Cas paused as green eyes met his own. He had never met Samael, before, but those eyes held something that made him hesitate.

He didn’t want to kill his brother, and he was less than certain that he could remove his grace as he had Raphaels. Too many of his brothers had died already.

“Cas.” It was barely a breath of sound.

Castiel brought up his blade laying the tip against the breastbone of the death angel’s form. “Yield. Let us put an end to this.”

“Cas, what …?”

Castiel brought his blade up just enough to tap the angels throat. He hadn’t realized how angry he was until he heard the name. Dean had called his Cas, Sam had called him Cas, but sam’s energy had vanished from the battlefield, lingering in the blood on the hands of the being in front of him.

“You don’t get to call me that.”

“Cas, Castiel, I’m sorry. Whatever I did, I’m sorry.” His eyes had regained a bit of a spark and his grace had started to stir, reaching out for Cas. Castiel brought up his shields again, and the other Seraph flinched back.

“Yield and swear you will not act against my authority.”

“Of course, never I swear. Please Castiel. I don’t understand.”

 

***

 

Sam was still trying to figure out why the world was shimmering, but the blade pressed to his throat and Cas’s words were giving him plenty of motivation. It was like he was harnessing Lucifer’s power again, except the energy was fire and rain, rather than that endless cold. It didn’t slip through his fingers either, He’d been trying to just let it go since Cas had spoken and it wasn’t happening.

And Cas, Cas was acting strange. He would have thought the angel was possessed or reprogrammed again, except it still felt like Cas. Sam was keeping his voice low, open and non-threatening, while he figured out what was going on. Sam was fairly sure he had blacked out when Samael had exploded, or imploded. Whatever had happened while he was out had all the lesser angels waiting, unmoving, for new orders. Castiel and his own force of hunters were the only moving dots on the bloody battlefield. There weren’t even any crows.

“Sam.”

Sam shifted back enough that Cas’s blade wouldn’t accidentally slit his throat and turned towards Jo as she wound her way towards him. Whatever was twisting his senses, had transformed her into a figure of softly glowing blue crystal. She was clutching at her left arm where an angry red fire was trying to move up from her left hand, but otherwise she appeared unhurt.

“Jo, are you alright?” He shifted slowly, carefully getting to his feet. He should have been in pain, but he could move his arm fine and the wound in his side had already closed. Castiel was still acting as if he could go off at any moment.

“I’ll be fine. Everyone wants to know what happened. We’ve got our people together and we’re working on treating the wounded but if this is only temporary we’ve got to know.” She paused, taking a hard look at him and her voice turn wary. “Sam, are you okay?”

Cas stepped between the two of them, his blade still up, guarding against an attack from Sam. “That’s not Sam.”

“What, of course it’s me. Jo, it’s me. There aren’t any shapeshifters or ghosts up here. I’ll go through the whole salt and silver routine if you want but I’m me.”

Jo had drawn back looking between them, unsure who to trust. “Angels can look like anyone.” She said after a moment.

Sam threw his hands in the air. “Fine, fine, umm, Molly demanded ice cream when I first picked you up, Or umm, when we were in your bolt hole you admitted to having a huge crush on Jimmy. Your bolt hole is warded I couldn’t possibly know that without being there.”

“You have a crush on me?” Jimmy had done his angel impression and was suddenly standing two feet to Jo’s left. Unlike Jo he looked mostly normal except he was glowing the same kind of purple white Cas was and a set of paper wings hung from his shoulders.

Jo was left speechless for a two count before she turned and punched Sam in the shoulder.

“What?”  Sam asked, but he was smiling. She just glared and turned to punch him again. “Okay, okay, I surrender, ow.” He rubbed at the spot on his arm.

Jo crossed her arms and turned his back to him. “It’s him.”

“He is Samael, Seraph of Death.” Castiel was adamant and moved again to stand between Sam and the hunters.

Sam didn’t want to think about what his expression must be like. “Cas.”

“You do not get to call me that.”

Sam flinched.

Jo was having none of it. “Oh come on, it’s him. Can we accept it and move on to the next crisis please?”

“I know the grace of one of my own kind. No matter what he looks like, this is Samael, Executioner of God and Lord of the Fifth Heaven.”

“Oh this is pointless.” Jo threw her hands up. “Jimmy tell him it’s Sam so we can move on already.”

Everyone turned to Jimmy, who was studying Sam with a slightly glazed look. He tilted his head to one side then the other. He opened his mouth to speak, then hesitated bringing a hand up to his lips. “I think,” He took a breath. “He’s both.”

“What?” Jo was clearly confused. Sam was with her there.

Cas was something more along the lines of angry. “That’s not possible.”

“Actually he is correct.” The voice was the single solemn note of a funeral bell.

As one the group turned, and saw the figure of Death walking among the fallen. The angels who had stood silently until then, moved to clear his path. The Horseman was casual, taking his time. He looked down at the corpses on the battlefield like they were patches of flowers in a garden.

They were all smart enough to keep their mouths shut.

When Death reached them, he stopped and eyed Sam, judging him. “Well, I suppose you’ll do.”

“I’m not…” Sam hesitated.

Death waved a hand brushing away his words. “You’re not death, that’s lesson one. I am the only true Death. You are merely the angel of endings, sweeping the slate clean for new growth.”

“like reincarnation?” Maybe it was the fact that Jo couldn’t sense him on a metaphysical plain that gave her the courage to speak. Luckily Death didn’t really seem to mind.

“An oversimplification but essentially correct.” He turned back to Sam. “It is also the only reason why you are alive in any form. Only a living Vessel could have survived the initial explosion of grace but only Samael’s Grace will gather to reform after it’s been shattered. You’re from one of the powerful bloodlines, your spirit provided a convenient base for a new form.”

Jo blinked at Sam. “I didn’t know you had a get out of death free card. Wait does that mean, Sam is Samael’s vessel now?”

Death sighed as if speaking with such lowly beings was growing tiresome. “No.” He spoke slowly and used simple words. “No, Samael is the one who collects the souls of angels. When his form dies there is no one, save myself, to collect his grace, so it finds the closest appropriate form, in this case Sam. His soul provided the base for Samael’s new form, although it seems his memories were maintained, which is unusual.”

Jimmy stepped forward hesitantly. “I was under the impression that only one angel could claim a soul.” He glanced at Sam but he seemed almost as concerned about himself. Cas nodded in his direction, a gesture clearly meant to offer strength and comfort.

“Yes, well. Lucifer’s influence from the cage is tenuous at best, his claim seems to have been broken.” Death waved a hand as if it wasn’t really of any importance.

Sam just looked at Cas. The angel still wasn’t looking at him with any degree of trust. He nodded to Death, then turned. Castiel addressed the gathered armies, sending his message of victory out through the corus so that no one listening could doubt the outcome of the fight. Then he stretched out a pair of amethyst wings and was gone.

Sam slumped slightly, but he didn’t have time to think about what any of it meant because Death was beckoning to him.

“Come, I have work to do, and you have a job to learn. Hopefully you’ll be more competent than the last model.”

Sam glanced at Jo and Jimmy. “Keep an eye on things up here?” Jo nodded.

Sam followed Death, as flights of angels rose into the air, circling away, back to whatever duties needed their attention. Sam listened to the chorus, felt the wind at his back, took a step, and was gone.

 

***  

 

Lisa sat at her kitchen table. It was nearly one in the morning and Dean wasn't home.  They’d been living together for two years and she still couldn’t get used to it when Dean would pack up his old car and go deal with something that shouldn’t exist. He never took a hunt too far away. He was never gone for longer than a weekend. He said he didn’t want anything coming anywhere near his family, and that if there was something he could do to protect people, he had to do it. It didn’t make her worry any less.

Plus according to the disk sitting next to her cup of tea, there was a new element to add to the equation…

Outside, the garage door opened, then closed. Dean tried to slip in quietly, but stopped sneaking when he saw the light on and her silhouette at the table.

“Hey.”

“You’re home early,” She smiled up at him, letting the knot in her chest loosen. He’d said he would be home the next morning.

“Guess I got fed up with the hotel room. What are you doing up?”

She looked down at the table and the two items on it. He followed her gaze and frowned.

“What’s this?”

She took a steadying breath and looked up at him again. “I’m pregnant.”

There was a beat of silence before he leaned forward and wrapped his arms around her. Pulling back after a moment he met her eyes. “Stay right there.”

Lisa slumped in her chair as he left the room. She didn’t know what to expect at this point. She’d expected him to sit down so they could talk, maybe say he needed a drink. When he came back a few minutes later, he was holding a small black box.

“I wanted to do this right, do something romantic, but…” He got awkwardly down on one knee, wincing slightly from the bruises that were hidden under his shirt. His eyes were clear and certain when he looked up at her. “Will you marry me?”

 

***

 

Sam had adapted to using the powers of an angel, but no matter how long or often he did it, it always felt odd. He enjoyed listening to the chorus, and had learned to understand the messages passed through the songs, but he rarely lifted his own voice to join them. He spent a lot of his time on earth, performing the tasks Death had set him. There was a lot for the angel of death to do in the cleanup of the war. Generally he just tried to do some good. He couldn’t manifest without a vessel of course. The former Samael hadn’t had a Vessel and Sam was hesitant to do that to someone unless he really needed to. There were other rules as well, lots of them, but he hadn’t fumbled too badly so far.

Jimmy had been helpful.

He had decided to stick around. He and Jo were now tentatively dating. Other hunters had hung around as well, rather than return to their own heavens. Apparently Sam wasn’t the only one who got board reliving the same memory over and over again. They had set up what they referred to as the Garrison. Enough angels had died over the course of the apocalypse and the war that there were gaping holes in Heaven’s defences. None of the Garrison could travel to earth like the angels did, but they patrolled the borders with Hell and Purgatory doing what they could.

Apparently Castiel had officially deputised them when he realized they were going to do it with or without his approval. Most of them scoffed at his approval, but it made things easier when they ran into angel patrols. They were a bit more respectful to Sam when he came around, although he thought Ellen might have something to do with that. He didn’t come around often. Even if he hadn’t been extremely busy, he didn’t want to press his luck with them.

Sam hadn’t seen Castiel since the he had disappeared from the battlefield. He could have gone looking for the other angel, but the way he had turned and just walked away had been more damning than anything Cas could have said. He did hear rumors. Word of Cas’s new law was passed through the host. When angels who were more set in their ways argued that the new laws were ridiculous, Sam would quietly explain the purpose behind Castiel’s actions.

At first the other angels showed a mixture of fear and disdain towards Sam. He had to wonder if the previous Samael had had to deal with similar treatment. Eventually though, he started to win them over. The younger angels would come to him asking about his memories of being human. He answered as best he could but getting them to understand some concepts was an endless battle. He quickly gained a reputation for being overly emotional for an angel, especially a seraph. He was quick to change, always looking at the small picture, and he cared about the strangest things. He still ate and drank, despite not needing to, and above all he didn’t conform, despite everything all the other angels said.

He didn’t comment when other angels started following his example, but Cas seemed to approve.

 

***

 

Sam walked across the golden field outside the garden. Joshua had opened the gates again. He’d actually been a big help, teaching Sam all the things that would have been basic, to any normal angel. The field was untouched by the battle. There was blood, both angel and human, down in the soil, but less than twenty hours after the last fight, the summer grass was waist high again, hiding it.

It had been over two months now but Sam imagined it was still there.

Slowly, Sam made his way up the hill to where his patch of Heaven still waited. He didn’t know why it hadn’t faded now that he was an angel, but the red halos around the maple trees were a comfort all the same.

Between the falling leaves Sam saw a figure sitting on his bench. He pulled in his grace, folding it inside of him until he looked like he always had. That was one angel trick he had definitely mastered and he didn’t want to scare off whoever it was by showing up as a ball of light or something. He stuck his hands in his pockets and crossed the lawn.

It was Castiel.

Sam came to a stop across the path from where the other angel sat. He had to swallow twice before he could speak. “Hi,”

“Hello, Sam.”

Sam looked down at his feet, slightly embarrassed and unable to think of anything to say.

“I’m sorry, I should go.” Cas finally said, standing up.

“No.” Sam reached out catching Cas’s arm and spinning him around until Cas was wrapped in his embrace. Castiel stiffened in surprise. Sam let himself hold on for a few seconds before letting go and taking a step back. “Sorry, I just... This is all really new to me. I don’t know who to talk to, and… Forget it, you don’t have to stay.” He took another step back and when his legs hit the bench he sat with a thump.

There was another awkward stretch, in which Cas didn’t leave and Sam didn’t meet his eyes.

“I just thought, it couldn’t be you. I’ve never heard of something like this happening before.” Castiel’s words were slow and careful, as if he was trying to find exactly the right words in a language that he wasn’t very familiar with.

Sam shrugged. “Well, you know us Winchesters, always carving our own paths.I think someone would have noticed by now if I wasn’t really me.” His smile was a little shy. He wasn’t quite sure where they stood, but he liked the look of where they were going.

This time, the silence was more natural. Sam with his hands stuffed into his pockets watching the leaves fall around him as Cas sat in his old spot on the bench.

“I went to see Dean recently.” Cas finally offered into the silence.

“Really? How is he?” Sam tried not to sound too eager. Unless he wanted to stalk through his brothers dreams, he couldn’t visit without a vessel.

“He’s doing well. He’s getting married.”

Sam looked up, then let out his first real laugh since he didn’t know when. Castiel echoed him with a smile.

Yeah, things would be all right. There were endings, but there were also beginnings.



Fin