Billie was gone, leaving Dean to his fears and racing thoughts. What the hell was he going to do? He stared at the book in his hands in disbelief. This? This was the only way he could die that wouldn't set Michael loose to burn the world? He dragged an unsteady hand down his face and sat on the edge of his bed. His legs felt like jelly.
A knock sounded on his door. Like a teenager caught with contraband, he shoved the book under his pillow and tried to pull himself together. He was going to need every ounce of self control he had to figure a way out of this mess.
"Dean?" Sam called hesitantly through the door. Dean cleared his throat.
"Yeah?" Sam cracked the door open, hand on the doorknob as if shielding Dean from the rest of the bunker. "Uh, you okay?"
No. No Dean was definitely not okay, but we wasn't about to tell his brother about Billie and her book. He didn't even know what to think, so he wasn't up to discussing it with anyone just yet. Sliding his best casual look onto his face, he turned and forced himself to meet Sam's eyes.
"Yeah, I'm fine." At Sam's frown and concerned look, Dean's composure cracked a tiny bit. "Well, it's been a rough few days," he said, rubbing his palms on the thighs of his jeans, "but I'm good. What's up?"
Dean wasn't really sure if Sam bought it, but that was all he was going to get right now, so he desperately hoped Sam would let it be and change the subject.
"Uh, if you're up to it, Cas had an idea to….well we wanted to see what you thought." Now it was Sam's turn to be evasive. After a lifetime together, he recognized when Sam was laying the groundwork for Dean's buy-in to some crazy idea. But if it gave Dean something else to think about, he'd play along.
"Sure." He pushed to his feet and brushed by Sam who was still filling the doorway. They made their way to the library. None of the apocalypse world survivors had stuck around once they realized that Michael was still in Dean's head. Really, he couldn't blame them. If he could have run, he would have too. Jack must have been in his room because the library was empty except for Cas sitting at one of the tables and Rowena who was leaning against one end. Seeing them enter the room, Cas straightened in his chair.
"Dean, how are you?," he rumbled in his gravelly voice. Dean wasn't any more prepared to open a vein with Cas than he was with Sam, so he ignored the question.
"Hey Rowena, what brings you here?" The redhead smiled at him with something almost like affection.
"Well, Samuel here tells me that you have a homicidal archangel locked in your brain closet." She tried, but despite her sarcasm, she wasn't completely able to hide all the concern in her voice.
"Walk in cooler actually, but…" Dean took a seat across from Cas and put his feet up on a nearby chair. This wasn't his first rodeo, he could fake nonchalance with the best of them. It beat panicking by a landslide. Rowena tsked at him and folded her hands in disapproval, but she didn't seemed inclined to banter. Sam stood beside Cas. He was clutching the back of a chair so hard his knuckles turned white, and he let out a deep breath. Dean had a feeling he wasn't going to like what Sam said next.
"So, Cas had an idea." As Sam spoke, Cas flipped back a cloth that had been sitting on the table. "The angel proof handcuffs won't keep Michael locked down, but they do limit his power for a while." Dean dropped his feet to the ground to lean over for a better look. "Cas...well, we both figured that this might slow Michael down and buy us some time if he ever...breaks out of the cooler."
Dean knew he should have felt insulted at the assumption that he would lose his grip on Michael, but after Billie's visit, he wasn't about to argue. He looked closer at the object Cas had revealed. It turned out to be a chain. It was about as thick as Dean's little finger, made up of a set of complicated links. He could see various sigils and runes etched onto the silvery metal as it glinted in the light from the nearby table lamp. Dean wasn't entirely sure what the point of it was, but when he looked up Sam was avoiding his eyes. Cas looked guilty as hell, and kept his gaze firmly on the chain. Dean glanced at Rowena who rolled her eyes and got to her feet.
"It's a collar, you numpty. Etched to the hilt with everything we can think of to limit Michael's powers." She put her hands on her hips, in frustration. "It goes around your neck, and once it's fastened, if he...takes over. This will not only keep him powerless for a short time, but give Sam and Castiel a warning that you're not in charge anymore." Dean was impressed with her tact, Rowena wasn't usually so considerate. But then his brain caught up with what else she was saying.
"Wait, what? You want me to wear that thing? " He didn't need a fricken dog collar! Leaping up he began to pace back and forth shaking his head. Rowena moved out of his way and the three of them looked at him cautiously from across the table.
"Dean," Sam began in his most reasonable tone. "It's not that we don't trust you. You're strong, you can keep Michael contained, I know you can. This is just, um...insurance." Dean shook his head and kept pacing.
"Dean," began Cas, a slight plea in his usual solemn tone. "If Michael breaks free...the damage he could do -" Cas was interrupted by Rowena.
"What Feathers here is trying to say is that if Michael breaks free, he, the wee lad Jack, and your brother would like a few minutes to run for their lives before they're murdered." She was snarky, but Dean caught what she was trying to tell him.
Wearing the warded necklace would give his family a slight chance. Otherwise if he failed and Michael took over, they would be the first to die as the archangel decimated the entire world. The stupid thing might also help them feel comfortable around him. Dean remembered vividly the wary looks and the tension he'd felt from Sam and Cas during the year and a half he wore the Mark of Cain. He had no interest in reliving that experience. Flopping back down into his chair, Dean sighed.
"Fine, how do I put the damn thing on." He knew he was being less than gracious, but Sammy smiled as if he'd been given a puppy. Dean furrowed his brow and crossed his arms across his chest. Hopefully he looked annoyed, not freaked out which is what he actually felt. Cas answered him.
"The collar has to be short enough that it can't slip off over your head. It has to be soldered together to complete the warding and to make sure it doesn't come off." Cas was demonstrating the length of the chain as if he was on some demented version of the home shopping channel.
"Right, okay. Well let's get on with it." He felt suddenly nauseous and light headed. Was he really agreeing to wear some kind of frickin choker? He forced down the emotions and put on a display of fake enthusiasm. Sam pulled some things from a cart off to the side and began setting up to solder. Cas spread the chain out in front of him, and Dean leaned over to put his forehead on the table top, the links at his throat. He hated showing the back of his neck, it made him feel vulnerable and if it had been anyone other than Sam, he couldn't have done it. Even so, when Sam draped a thick piece of leather over his neck and head, Dean had to clench his fists underneath the solid wood. He hated this, but if it would help keep Sam, Cas and Jack safer, then he would tolerate it.
Cas walked around and carefully helped lift the two ends of the chain. The leather guard that protected Dean's neck from the heat of the soldering tool was stifling and the added thickness had the chain pressing up against the hollow of his throat. The feel of Sam and Cas leaning over him only accentuated the feeling of claustrophobia. Dean clenched his teeth and tried to stay still so that Sam could work. It was probably only a few minutes, but it seemed much longer. In his head he could almost hear and feel Michael pounding on the door in time with his racing heart, so Dean concentrated on calming himself. He could do this. "It's just me," he thought over and over again as the cold metal of the chain touched his skin. No matter how hard he tried, he couldn't suppress the shudder that ran through him.
When Sam pulled the leather from between his neck and the chain, Dean sat up. He hid a sigh of relief by clearing his throat. He touched the heavy links that rested against the soft cotton of his shirts. As Cas cleared away the equipment, Sam ran his fingers between Dean's skin and the chain.
"Does it feel okay? No burrs?," Sam asked, his fingers cool and gentle against the damp skin of Dean's neck. But, before Dean could answer, Rowena made a gesture with her hand in their direction.
"Coniunctum in aeternum," she said emphatically. The metal around Dean's neck grew hot for a brief moment and Sam grunted with a short jolt. Cas turned towards the witch, his eyes blazing with anger.
"What did you do, Rowena!" Cas was around the table in a flash, but Rowena stood her ground. Dean pushed the chair back, and surged to his feet, his own temper rising.
"Calm yourself, angel. I just added a little extra...what did you call it Sam? Oh yes, insurance." Rowena simpered at Cas and Sam, pleased with her cleverness. Dean slammed his palm against the table, startling them all.
"Enough!," he shouted. He was sick and tired of being jerked around and manipulated. Powerful witch or not, if she was playing one of her typical games, he'd be more than happy to put a bullet between her eyes. Circling the table, Dean grabbed her wrist in a tight grip. "You have about five seconds to tell me what you did, or so help me god….," Dean growled in tightly controlled anger. He towered over the petite woman, and he saw a flicker of fear cross her face, but Rowena also knew how to put on a good act.
"If you must know, I simply made it impossible for anyone to remove your pretty, new necklace except for the person who put it on you, " she said in an aggrieved voice, gesturing towards Sam. Dean exchanged a look with his brother. It was obvious from his expression that he'd had no idea what the redhead had been planning to do. "Now unhand me." Rowena tugged against his grip and Dean let her go. She moved away, rubbing her wrist.
"Actually Dean, there is some merit to that idea." Cas said reluctantly, with a tilt of his head. "This way, the chain can't be removed either by force or accident. Should he escape, Michael will ultimately be able to break through the warding, but he can't make you or anyone else simply take it off."
Dean considered what Cas was saying. It did make a certain amount of sense, but he didn't have to like it. He trusted Sammy to have his back, but he couldn't shake the feeling that he was now property to be watched over and defended. The weight of everything he'd been through today seemed to press down on him and suddenly he was exhausted. He just wanted to be by himself to get his head together.
"Whatever," he sighed, the fight draining from him. "I need a drink," and with that Dean stalked out of the library and headed for his room.
Dean closed the door behind him and sagged onto the bed. Tugging open the drawer in his bedside table, he pulled out a bottle of whiskey and untwisted the cap. But, when he brought the bottle to his lips, he stopped. As much as he would love to drink himself to oblivion, he wasn't completely sure that he could maintain his grip on the door that held Michael if he did. Dammit! He recapped the bottle and tossed it back in the drawer, resisting the urge to kick it closed. He rubbed his hands over his head in frustration. The movement caused the heavy chain at his neck to tug against his skin and Dean buried his face in his hands. What the hell was he supposed to do now?
He sat there for a long time, his thoughts careening between crazy plans and desperate wishes. Long ago he'd given up asking why his life was so hard, why all the crap had to roll in his direction. It just did, and he'd have to trust that they could figure something out. There was another knock on the door. He glanced at his watch, and sighed. That would be Sam, coming to check up on him.
Sam pushed the door open and leaned on the door frame.
"Hey, Dean. Uh, can I come in?" Dean just waved his hand as permission and Sam stepped into the room, closing the door behind him. He pulled the desk chair over, flipped it backwards and straddled it. Dean waited patiently. If Sam sat down, there was something he wanted to get of his chest.
"I know you're not very happy about wearing the collar." Sam's expression dripped compassion. "And I know that you only agreed because you thought it would protect us."
"Sam -," Dean was too tired for this conversation and he had no interest in sharing and caring right now. "It's fine, it's done. There's no need to talk about it." He tried to turn away, but Sam snagged his arm.
"I'm not trying to..." Sam huffed out a frustrated breath. "What I'm trying to say is that you're not alone in all this. I had Cas and Rowena make me one too." With that, Sam reached into his pocket and pulled out a second chain. In the weak light from his desk lamp, Dean couldn't see much detail. The chain draped across Sam's palm was a little different, darker and flatter somehow but it was still covered in tiny sigils and runes just like his. Dean was touched despite himself. Sam began babbling, as he sometimes did when he was anxious.
"It's designed to make the person wearing it temporarily hidden from archangel power. Well, humans anyway. I got some of the sigils from the notes Lily left, and then Cas and Rowena added some stuff. We don't know exactly if it will work, 'cause we couldn't test it, but..." Dean cut Sam off.
"Sammy, you know you don't have to do that."
Sam met his eyes and smiled, dimples denting his cheeks.
"I know." Standing, Sam went and opened the door. Rowena was standing in the hallway with a guilty look on her face. She had obviously been listening. She tottered into the room on her sky high heels, unabashedly looking around. Dean was suddenly conscious of the pile of dirty laundry on the sofa and the crusty dishes stacked on the shelf.
"Well, I have to say, Dean I expected something a little more...salacious." Rowena raised a perfectly arched eyebrow and shot him a suggestive look.
"Rowena," Sam scolded without heat. "Here," he shoved the chain into Dean's hands and squared the chair back towards the desk. Dropping into it Sam moved his hair off his neck and leaned forward. Back to business, Rowena directed Dean to move closer.
"Let's get to it lads. I have better things to do then risk my reputation by lingering in your boudoir." Sam chuckled softly and Dean smacked his shoulder as a light-hearted rebuke. Looking at the chain, he saw that the clasp was a simple toggle and he wondered how secure that would be. But Rowena was giving him an exasperated look, so he simply looped the metal around Sam's neck and fastened it.
"Adiungo," she intoned solemnly with a flick of her painted fingernails. The toggle glowed slightly, then blurred and seemed to melt into the rest of the metal. Dean was worried about Sam getting burned, but before he could do anything, it was over. The chain now looked seamless with no sign that it had ever had a beginning and an end.
"Now Dean, put your fingers on the chain," Rowena ordered. He did as he was told and she leaned closer and made a more complicated gesture. "Coniunctum in aeternum!" A small shock stung Dean's fingers where they were touching the chain and he felt it become hot briefly.
"There you go gentlemen. I'm sure you have lots to discuss, so I shall leave you to it." Rowena opened the door, but lingered in the doorway, shooting a smirk at them both. "I have to say, the last collaring ceremony I attended had a lot more leather and bondage." Dean reached over and slammed the door in the redhead's face with a satisfying thunk. They could hear the ring of her laughter as she moved down the hallway. Sam stood up and tucked his chain beneath the edge of his shirts.
"Sorry," he stammered. "Rowena is...she's just giving me a hard time. These are just a precaution." Sam rubbed his hands against the seams of his jeans like he always did when he was uncomfortable. Dean just sat heavily back on the bed, his previous exhaustion hitting hard.
"Don't worry about it." Sam nodded briefly then gave him a faint smile.
"Well, I'll let you get some rest." And with that Sam awkwardly backed out of the room, closing the door softly behind him.
Dean flopped back against the pillows. Despite all his worries, it felt good that Sam went out of his way to make him feel a bit better about having to wear a damn collar. Rowena might have tried to make it into something it wasn't - she wasn't the first person. Dean could easily ignore her. He knew how he felt about Sam. His brother meant more to him than any other person, dead or alive. Their relationship was complicated, but certainly not sexual in any way. As sleep slowly started to drag him under, he had to admit that it was actually kind of funny. Everyone forgot that Dean had learned Latin as a child. He knew what the words of the spell meant, and it was a pretty fitting to describe him and Sam. "Inseparably linked forever." Yeah, he could live with that.