It will be a century of talking. At least, that was how Jack felt. The endless circles of how-tos and what-ifs that Mary, Castiel, Sam and Bobby debated daily. All of them trying so hard. Desperate to find a solution to The Michael Problem. That’s what they were calling it now: The Michael Problem. As if giving it a title would make it easier to solve. As if the capital letters made any difference.
Jack looked up from Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban as the conversation of the ‘grown-ups’ came once more full circle. Blame was passed, and then deflected, then apologized for and Castiel was left close to tears while Sam hammered on the table in frustration. Bobby just shook his head while Mary tried to placate her son and adopted-son. Jack looked back to his book then nodded to himself when it was revealed that Hermione had thrown the stone. It made sense. So far this book had been his favourite. He was nearly done and had only started it that morning. Castiel came over and put a hand on his shoulder. Jack looked up somewhat reluctantly.
“Would you like to go get something to eat?” Castiel asked softly. Jack wasn’t really hungry, and he knew Castiel didn’t eat but the older man clearly needed out of the bunker. Mary was talking hushed, though urgently to Sam, leaning in close and gesturing to the two of them.
“Okay,” Jack agreed, even though he looked longingly at the book as he placed in on the table in the library.
Rather than heading out through the War Room and out the main entrance, Castiel led Jack to the corridor that went to the garage. The Impala was parked in the centre of the garage where it usually was, in its place of prominence. There were a lot of beautiful cars and bikes alongside but many of them hadn’t been driven since Dean… Jack shook his head. Castiel lovingly patted the hood of the Impala then turned away and opened the garage door, walking down the long tunnel to where the other vehicles were parked outside at the back of the bunker. Castiel pulled the keys of his truck out of his pocket, unlocked the door then leaned across the bench seat to unlock Jack’s door. Jack slid in and sat quietly while Castiel started the whining engine with a wince. Eventually it turned over and roared into life.
Jack watched Castiel slide the vehicle into gear then pulled carefully out of their makeshift driveway which was little more than scrub grass and gravel. The angel stopped before turning out onto the highway and pulled his seatbelt on, giving Jack a telling look.
Jack rolled his eyes and pulled his own seatbelt on. A few months ago, it wouldn’t have been necessary, but ever since Lucifer stole a large portion of his power Jack was a little less Nephilim and a lot more human.
“Hey, can you teach me to drive some time?” Jack asked recklessly and impulsively.
Castiel started at that. “No.” It was a blunt answer that left no room for argument.
“My body is what? Eighteen? That’s old enough.”
“Jack, I said no. We have more important things to worry about.”
The teenager bit back his response, about to say that Dean would have taught him how to drive but realized – thankfully before it was out of his mouth – that was very likely why Castiel refused to teach Jack. Driving was Dean’s thing and when Dean got back, he would teach Jack.
As much as Jack hoped and prayed for Michael’s expulsion and Dean’s return, the boy was beginning to fear that it would never actually happen. He began to worry that Dean was gone for good and he had no idea how their little mosaic of family would hold together without the green-eyed man. They all continued to be kind and accommodating to Jack himself, treating him like the baby of the family but he could tell the tensions between the older members were high.
Sam continued to binge TV with Jack and play chess with him. Mary was teaching him about lore, hunting and how to shoot and Castiel did everything he could for Jack. Trying to be the father Kelly had always intended him to be before everything went off the rails. Jack caught himself almost wanting to call Castiel ‘Dad’ a few times but something always seemed to hold him back. Though neither of them corrected people when they referred to them as father and son, neither of them had also crossed that gap into title territory.
“Burger King or the diner?” Castiel asked, as he pulled onto the tiny main street that made up most of Lebanon. Burger King was the next town over and Jack was eager to get back to Harry Potter. The diner had better food anyway. It was the one thing that managed to stay afloat in a town that was crumbling down on itself. Jack supposed the Geographic Centre of the Forty-Eight Contiguous United States wasn’t the tourist draw they had imagined it would be. The plaque was kind of neat though. Still, those who did still live in the town were friendly and Jack basically knew who everyone was and they basically knew who they all were. At least the basics - not the hunting stuff.
“Diner,” Jack answered shortly.
Castiel nodded and parked the truck in one of the run down public lots that once upon a time people were supposed to pay to use. Nobody really did anymore though, nobody except Castiel that is. He pulled out a few coins and inserted them into the tiny ticket box. No ticket was ever actually spat out, but Castiel assured Jack that he did his civic duty and helped contribute to the town’s economy.
They entered the diner where a large portion of the town’s population were sitting and eating. Many greeted them, some by their names, some with just friendly smiles. Sheila, the head waitress and the wife of the diner’s owner gave them a bright smile.
“Hiya Cas, Jack. Grab a table. I’ll be with you shortly.”
Jack led Castiel over to their usual booth. Jack liked this one because he could see into the kitchen as well as the front door. He liked to watch the comings and goings of the customers and the frenetic energy of the diner kitchen.
Sheila brought over a tall glass of coke with only a few ice cubes, just like Jack liked and a black coffee for Castiel. She set them down and bustled off again. Jack perused the menu, even though he always ordered one of two things: waffles topped with strawberries and whipped cream or a bacon double cheese burger – no onions but with onion rings. Dean could never wrap his head around that one, why Jack refused to eat onions on his burger but loved onion rings. Jack tried to explain to him that he didn’t like raw onions but deep fried battered onions were almost as good as nougat. This was back in the old days when Dean was still here. Those too short too few weeks before Lucifer and Michael opened another rift and stole Jack’s power and took Dean away.
Sheila bustled back over. “All right, Boys, what’ll it be?” She looked mostly at Jack when she said this. Castiel always ordered the same thing, a cheese burger with fries. The angel would stare wistfully at the burger when it was delivered and take one bite then set it down, as if waiting for something. When that something didn’t happen, he’d finish the burger out of duty and let Jack eat most of the fries, even if Jack had already polished off his entire plate of onion rings. Sam didn’t let him to that, going on about calories and sodium and trans-fats. Mary would nudge her plate closer to Jack and stare angelically at Sam. Dean never really had anything left to finish.
“Waffles today, I think,” Jack said. “Please.”
“Can never go wrong with breakfast for dinner,” Sheila winked at Jack. “That’ll be up quick as can be, Boys.”
“Thank you,” Castiel said softly.
“Mm hmm,” Sheila nodded then turned away, but paused for a moment and turned back. “Say… I haven’t seen that cute green-eyed boy of yours around lately. He all right? I always thought it was adorable how you let him eat your burger. He’d switch out the plates so furtively. I couldn’t help but smile.”
Jack saw Castiel tense and heard wood creak as Cas tightened his hands on the edge of the bench seat. Jack was about to jump in with an answer but Castiel managed to gather himself and school his expression.
“Dean’s travelling,” Castiel replied, keeping his tone politely even.
“Shame. Well hope he gets back soon. I’m sure you’re all missing him terribly.”
“Yes, we are. Thank you.”
“Sure thing, Honey. I’ll be right back with your food.”
They left the diner, silent in the truck on the way back to the bunker. Dinner had been uneventful but Jack had enjoyed the waffles. He stared at the window, forehead resting on the glass as he listened to the tires on the asphalt and the gentle whoosh of the wind outside the cab of the truck. The radio hadn’t been touched since Dean went away.
“What did she mean? Sheila. When she said ‘that green-eyed boy of yours’? That seems like odd phrasing,” Jack remarked.
“I…” Castiel let it hang, getting wrapped up in memories of the past. Secret smiles, gentle laughter and just a general contentment of being, as he sat across the booth from Dean, marvelling that he felt happy. That he felt anything at all.
“I’m sure she just meant of the family,” Castiel finally answered.
Jack didn’t entirely believe this. He didn’t believe this because Castiel didn’t believe this but Jack also knew Castiel tried not to lie to him. This, Jack felt, was more a withholding of some fact or another. Jack wasn’t entirely sure why Castiel didn’t want to share this with him, but Jack imagined Castiel had a good reason. Maybe Sam or Mary would know.
When they parked and walked in through the front door, Mary, Bobby and Sam were gathered around the strategy table in the War Room, faces grim new papers spread before them, tablets open to text and awful images frozen on their screens.
“What’s going on?” Castiel asked, his feet clanging on the metal stairs as he rushed down them. Mary looked up first, opened her mouth to respond then turned away. Sam just tucked his head down further, fists white knuckled in front of him.
“It’s started,” Bobby finally answered, picking up the nearest paper and tossing it across to Castiel. Sam jolted as the paper landed directly beside him. Mary reached across and squeezed Sam’s forearm briefly before taking her hand away and turning to Jack, false smile plastered on.
“Jack, could you make us some coffee?” she asked politely.
“No. I’m not a child. You don’t need to send me away,” Jack spat back, feeling anger rise to the surface. He needed to hear this as well.
“This is…” Castiel trailed off staring at the paper then snatching Sam’s tablet up, flickering rapidly between the screens as he read. Jack picked up a paper as well, despite Sam trying to hold it flat on the table. Jack gave an extra tug and eventually Sam relented.
‘Serial Killer Terrorizing Central Kansas’ the grim headline read. There was little more than a blurry far-away picture of vaguely shaped objects tucked under a tarp.
“Six bodies found. Tortured and slain. Eyes burned from their skulls and exhibiting various knife and gunshot wounds,” Jack read. “This is Michael.”
“Yes,” Sam finally spoke, his voice so quiet, it was barely audible.
“There’s more,” Bobby said, sliding another paper across. This one had no picture and was a small article shoved back into the bulk of the paper. Decapitated heads found on pikes by a hiker in one of the state parks. Jack shook his head, put the papers down and left the room, moving almost at a run to his bedroom shutting the door behind him as he felt his breath harsh and rapid in chest. He rested against it for a moment before stumbling over and slumping down his bed, his back to the door.
He wasn’t sure how long he stayed there, silent and alone before he heard a knock on the door. It opened before he granted entrance and he didn’t turn.
“Jack,” Castiel’s voice came quiet and tentative.
“This is my fault,” Jack answered.
“No, Jack it isn’t.”
“Yes. It is. I didn’t stop Michael when I had a chance. I could have killed him, then and there. I had him weakened. It would have been so easy but then… my fath—Lucifer. I allowed him to distract me. Now all these people, innocent people are getting killed – murdered. For no other reason than that it amuses Michael.”
“Jack, you can’t blame yourself.”
“Can’t I though?” Jack countered. “It’s my fault Lucifer got away and Dean did what he did in the first place. If I had just stopped Michael.”
“Dean made his own choices,” Castiel cut in, his tone cool.
“Just go,” Jack breathed out.
“I… I brought your book,” Castiel came further into the room hesitantly, and set Harry Potter on Jack’s side table. Jack didn’t turn.
“I don’t feel much like reading.”
It had been a long, brutal couple of weeks. Jack and Castiel were in the War Room, having just got back from a hunt in the early morning. After a few hours rest the two of them had regrouped here, waiting for news from Sam, Mary and Bobby who were out of hunts of their own. The reports that had come in from fellow hunters and even the news services had only grown grimmer and darker. Jack felt that new familiarity of anger brew up within him as their heard yet another grisly story about Michael’s latest exploits.
“Michael needs to be stopped,” Jack said, voice harsh and firm.
Castiel looked over, not concealing his shock. “Even if that means Dean dies?”
“Then he dies!” Jack shouted.
Castiel reared away as if the words had been a physical blow. Not quite comprehending the cruelty or finality of Jack’s exclamation.
“You can’t mean that,” Castiel shook his head.
Jack looked away. He didn’t. Not really. Though they had been functioning the last few months without Dean, his constant absence loomed over them all. Jack felt like they were all just treading water, toes just scraping the bottom but never gaining purchase. There were times when Jack thought, when he was sure they all thought, that Dean would know just what to do in whatever situation they were facing. Then again, the situations were precisely because of Dean. He just feared that it wouldn’t be long until they all drowned. Jack remained silent.
“I refuse to give up,” Castiel spoke again. “Dean wouldn’t give up on any of us. Even if I have to go there and shake Michael loose myself I…” Castiel fell silent. He turned back to the map scooping up papers and printouts and carrying them over to the large corkboard. He began pinning article after article on the board. Grouping them together in a pattern he saw then when he was finished to his satisfaction he returned to the map table, laid a map of Kansas over top and then began marking point after point until a rough circle was plotted on the heavy paper.
“Looks like you’ve been busy,” Mary’s voice drifted over, startling Jack. Castiel continued to stare, hardly acknowledging her presence or Sam’s behind her. Then again, Sam and Castiel hadn’t been speaking much, at least not when Jack was around.
“Cas, what is all this?” Sam asked, his tone the same distant and flat one he had been using since Dean’s disappearance.
“Michael, he must be somewhere here. He wouldn’t want to venture too far out from his base but he would also be sure not to leave the… remains too close.”
“It’s woods, Cas,” Mary observed, “there’s nothing there.”
“Precisely. The local authorities wouldn’t know where to search, even if they found this pattern themselves. Which I doubt, since we have access to more detailed information then they would, knowing what to look for, better than they. If I get close enough though, I should be able to sense him and find him and then I’m going to go in there and bring Dean home.”
“Surely he’s warded,” Jack countered.
“I don’t think so,” Castiel shook his head. “Michael is looking for supplicants. He wants to be worshipped. He’d leave bread crumbs for those stupid enough to kowtow to him.”
“Cas, this is suicide,” Sam spoke, finally injecting a small, discernible bit of feeling into his voice. “What makes you think he won’t kill you on site? He must know about your history with us by now.”
“That’s what I’m counting on. If he’s torn through Dean’s memories, he’ll know that I would do anything for Dean, even if it meant betraying you all to be close to him, in whatever shape he’s in.”
“Yes, but surely he doesn’t trust this world’s angels. As far as we know, none of them have made any attempt to find him. Heaven remains sealed shut. You said that yourself, just the other day,” Jack interjected.
“Yes, I imagine Michael also knows my history with the other angels and that there is no love lost between them and me. I’m just a wayward fallen angel seeking any semblance of purpose. Seeking someone to follow and devote my cause to. Who better than the archangel wearing the face of the human I… I would do anything for. With luck Michael will be so full of conceit, that even if it crossed his mind that I was there to bring Dean’s consciousness to the surface, Michael will think it impossible. That his grip on Dean is too strong.”
“Cas, this is nuts. You know this is nuts. I can’t let you do this. Dean would never let you do this.”
“Good thing Dean isn’t here to stop me then,” Castiel countered. “I’m going.”
“Cas…” Mary looked as if she were searching for something to say but couldn’t find it.
“Are you sure this is the only solution, Castiel?” Jack asked, his voice small and belonging to the boy he truly was underneath everything.
“This is the only solution we have of even hoping to bring Dean back alive,” Castiel answered. “I can do it. I can break through.”
“I should go.” Sam offered. “Dean broke through to me when Lucifer had me.”
“Michael would never trust you, Sam,” Castiel shook his head. “I’m sorry. He’d know why you were there. Hopefully Michael thinks what everyone else seems to think, I’m just a soldier, attaching myself to a cause, no matter what it looks like.”
“And if he doesn’t?” Mary asked.
“Then at least I won’t be here to see Dean die,” Castiel answered grimly.
Mary and Sam looked away.
Jack impulsively moved forward and gave Castiel a fierce and crushing hug. Castiel was startled into stillness then found his sense again and wrapped his arms around the boy in return.
“I wish you could have grown up like a normal child,” Castiel whispered against Jack’s hair. “I’m sorry you didn’t get that chance.”
“Just please don’t die,” Jack whispered back. “I can’t lose another parent.”
“I’ll bring Dean home,” Castiel vowed. It only took a few moments for Castiel to gather his things, he spared his family once last glance, lingering a little extra long on Jack and offered the boy a watery smile. Jack tried his best to return it as he watched Cas leave, the metal door of the bunker shutting behind him with a threatening finality.
It took longer than Castiel thought it would to find Michael’s lair, but when he did he had no doubts that it was indeed where Michael had secreted himself away. It was a long forgotten church, or perhaps monastery. Buried, and hidden as the forest grew up and around it.
Castiel allowed himself to be seen and to be subsequently captured. Michael’s perimeter guarded by a surprising array of demons. Two of the demons, dragged Castiel inside. He didn’t bother to make a show of struggling in their grip. He walked easily, though sternly, and fell willingly to his knees when Michael hidden behind Dean’s sharp, unforgettable features came into view, seated upon a rough-hewn throne.
Castiel’s chest hurt at the sight. Castiel realized however, that his initial estimation of Michael having no angels from this universe on his side was wrong, when he caught view of Anael huddled in a corner. Castiel ignored her for now.
“Castiel,” Michael purred, his voice Dean’s and Not-Dean’s all at once. Castiel involuntarily tightened his fists. “You are either remarkably brave or remarkably stupid.” If Castiel were Dean, he’s throw out a quip about something to do with clichés but Castiel was not Dean. Castiel was here to get Dean back.
“Please, Michael – My Lord – I only have come to serve you. I see now, that you are here to make this world over into your image a better image. The other Winchesters don’t understand and I have no patience for them now that you have taken Dean Winchester from them. Please, My Lord, do with me as you wish.”
“What if I want to break you bone by bone and thread by thread while Dean Winchester watches?”
“If that is your will, My Lord,” Castiel replied, stomach churning, keeping his eyes humbled toward the floor.
He spared one quick glance to see Michael smirk.