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twelve omens

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I. knife

Shock carries Dean through the archive room, dragging his crumpled body up from its spot on the floor. Billie may be gone, her influence over him removed, but it still feels like his chest is being torn open, heart crushed, bones run over, body being ripped to shreds—

Dean started this whole nightmare. This relentless pursuit of Chuck. So it’s all on him. He fucked up, got mad, and got messy. But he was supposed to end it, too, supposed to have the chance to get out a knife or a gun or whatever was needed to tidy up his fuck-ups.

But all he got instead was Cas dead.

Cas is—

Oh, fuck, he’s...

Dean shudders, some panicked, slippery thing crawling up inside of him, driving him to look back at the space he just departed. Look at the wall where the Empty emerged, where it had poured out and sank like a blade into Cas’ chest. Look to where he had almost missed Cas’ parting glance—that quavering smile—to where Dean has been glancing compulsively, just hoping Cas might return. Look to confirm that yes, Cas is gone, and no, Dean will never see him again.

He won’t ever see him again.

And Cas said—that. All of that. To him. All while knowing he would never see Dean again.

The one thing I want—it’s something I know I can’t have.

Dean shuts his eyes, wrenches his face aside. Skitters away from the chasm now yawning inside of him, shuddering open the instant Cas took hold of this thing between them, took it from the dark and held it, crying, out in the open air.

Look, Dean. Look at what we could have been.

But Dean can’t—he can’t

An awful noise slips out of Dean. He fights his throat closed.

The Empty is supposed to be peaceful, isn’t it? Not like Hell, or even like Heaven. Dean hooks his thoughts into that distraction, trying to remember what Cas had said about it after his last resurrection. But his mind comes up frustratingly blank.

The place has a cosmic entity in it, one that Cas could annoy and argue with. Maybe even barter with—

But there was a deal. Cas said there was a deal. His life, forfeited.

A deal. A burden. His—his feelings, a curse.

Charlie’s plight haunts him, echoing:

Are we just some collateral damage to you?

Dean can’t think of that. Can’t think of how broken Charlie had become once she let love back into her heart. Can’t think of how Sam’s voice broke as he held Eileen’s dropped phone and said: If I let myself go there, I’ll lose my mind.

Can’t think of Cas, smiling through the tears.

Dean feels the shape of it, now that it’s been summoned out into the open. That mewling, tiny thing he’s refused for years to hold.

Look at what we could have been.

Dean can’t afford to be thinking of this, like—like he lost something more than his best friend. They don’t have time for him to work through some world-shattering self-revelations, not at this point in the fight.

And Dean isn’t, he’s not—it’s not like he would have ever thought he might—

But he could have been.

For Cas, he could have been.

Dean fumbles at the shelving around him, trying to remain steady.

Please, God, let the Empty—

Please, anybody, just let it be peaceful. Whatever happens to Cas, just let him be at peace. Don’t let him be lost to torment for the sake of someone as worthless as Dean.

A dull vibration cuts through the gloom, a noise Dean has all but tuned out for the minutes—hours? days?—since Cas was taken from him. He turns back on wooden legs, reaches down stiffly for his cell phone.

The screen flickers on. A wall of missed calls. Sam’s.

Battery at half capacity. Couldn’t have been days yet.

How long…?

Doesn’t matter. Jack and Sam will come and find him, since their warding won’t work against God. Dean has as many hours as it takes for them to drive home in order to collect himself.

Dean locates his switchblade before he goes, laying open on a nearby shelf, and grabs it more slowly than he did his phone. He plucks it up almost mechanically, distantly noting the dried blood flaking along its edge.

Castiel’s blood. Here, and on the door. On his shoulder

All the blood in Dean’s body turns cold.

Cas loves him. Loved him.

And Dean, he didn’t—

He can’t think about that just now.

Dean scrapes his thumbnail through the blood on the knife blade. Presses the nail to his lips; cleans it off with a flick of his tongue.

He then clicks the knife closed, the remainder of the blood left in place.

 

II. bottle

Dean makes it as far as the library, stumbling to a stop once he reaches the polished cart holding the best of their liquor. With arms that barely listen to him, he drains bottle after bottle, drinking until his thoughts grow dark and close.

It’s Sam who finds him like that, of course—slumped over in a nook between the bookshelves, winged armchairs pushed askew in his quest to find a corner into which he could collapse. His little brother looms over him with his arms crossed, all six-feet-five-inches of fury scowling down at Dean, laying drunk on the floor.

“Really?” Sam asks, sharp. “This is why you haven’t been answering my calls?”

Dean loosely fishes around in his pockets in lieu of an answer, then flings his cell phone out, hard, plastic rattling loudly across the hardwood floor. Jack jumps back from its path, sneakers squeaking in his haste. It scrapes to a stop half a room away.

A harsh breath blows out of Sam, and Dean figures he deserves this. He deserves the disgust and the annoyance and the rage. It’s his fault, after all. They wouldn’t even be here if he hadn’t lied to Amara. If he hadn’t thought he could stomach sacrificing parts of his family, cutting himself apart piece by piece, leaving Dean wounded but otherwise alive. A thing that might yet live free, outside the bonds of Chuck’s control.

But Cas is...and how is Dean supposed to be whole after that? How is he supposed to live free?

“The world is ending,” Sam tells him, his anger leashed—barely. “Everyone between Minnesota and Lebanon is gone. Probably the rest of the damn world too. We need to do something. Fast. Before Chuck comes for us too.”

Dean is nodding, head sloppy on his neck.

Sam curses. “Damnit, Dean. Pull yourself together.”

Sam leans over, like he’s about to lift Dean up, to touch him. Dean doesn’t want that, so he croaks out, “I got Cas killed,” to stop him, blurting it like it costs him nothing.

Dean pushes his palms into his eyes until stars erupt. The admission, the confession of it chokes off lungs, stifles his breathing. His chest spasms, seizing his rib cage closed, crushing everything within him until he’s cold and still and the worst of his emotions are contained.

Dean can sense how his brother’s whole demeanor gentles, how the hard edges in Sam just let go, now that he knows. He can sense how Sam’s gaze lands on the rust patch on Dean’s shoulder, at the bloody handprint that brands Dean with the last attempt Castiel made to save him.

Sam hunkers down to Dean’s height. Blessedly, he doesn’t try to touch him. But Dean can sense the greater questions that are now coming with his brother’s attention: What happened? Did you get to talk to him before he—

Did you get to say goodbye?

Because Sam didn’t get to, with Eileen. Maybe Dean should consider himself lucky.

Ha.

Softly, Sam asks, “How?”

Dean shrugs, shoulder limp. He keeps his eyes crammed closed. “The Empty.”

A puzzled hitch hits Sam’s breath. “But—it can’t come to Earth without being summoned…”

It’s Jack who saves Dean from explaining. “There was a deal. To save me. A while ago.” Then, more quietly: “I’m so sorry. I wasn't worth it.”

“Hey now.” Sam turns on Jack for that, assuring him, “You know that isn’t true.”

But Dean knows why Jack might think that. He knows he’s the root of all that self-doubt. How he and Sam took the kid in after Kelly died, and Dean just kept kicking Jack until he brought Cas back, the ghost of John Winchester telling him how best to handle his grief.

Just another way Dean is poison to the people around him.

You are the most selfless, loving human being I will ever know.

Sam and Jack talk, and Dean laughs to himself, feeling around for another whiskey bottle.

Cas didn’t know what the hell he was talking about. Didn’t know the worst of it when he said he knew all about Dean.

He didn’t know, but he loved him.

And Dean just got him dead.

 

III. anger

They’re too exhausted to do much besides shut down for the night, though Sam and Jack put up a noble fight as far as research goes. Dean plays along with the charade but the books he picks are all about the Empty, about lifting the veil between life and death and reaching the one he—

The one he cares about. His best friend. Because he needs Cas alive if he’s gonna make it through any of this shit.

When the books show no leads Dean leaves them to it, slinking off to the showers, his headache blooming now that their liquor reserves have finally run out. He turns on the faucet and stays beneath the icy spray until shivers overtake him, his entire body one big bruise that will not heal. Only once he feels his most miserable does Dean towel off and pour himself into bed.

Michael appears in the corner of Dean’s bedroom, not too long into his fretful attempt at sleep—his thoughts on Purgatory, on the last time Dean had come close to cracking that chasm within him open, saying what’s never been said. Thinking about how Cas had stopped him before Dean could screw up and say the wrong thing.

How Cas stopping him had made Dean think maybe Cas didn’t feel the same way.

The overhead light flickers on, bright as daylight. Dean has barely the strength to face Michael, to trawl himself out of waking nightmares. But muscle memory has him reaching for his gun regardless, barrel extended before he blinks out recognition and tucks the weapon away.

“What happened to you,” Michael intones, frowning. “You reek of—”

“Sweat? Liquor?” Dean huffs, scrubbing his eyes. “Hate to break it to you, but being human is kinda gross—”

“No,” Michael says, his voice pitching higher, body softening, as Adam clarifies, “Grief.”

Adam looks around the bedroom—not at any of its contents, but as if he is surveying the distant corners of the bunker, searching for something that isn’t there. Hell, maybe Michael lets him use his x-ray vision even when he’s not in charge. Maybe he lets Adam use his wings, or even—

“Where’s Castiel?” Adam asks gently. No, knowingly. And that—

That makes Dean angry. Because if he’s not willing to talk about this with Sam or Jack, then he’s sure as shit not gonna mince it out with some archangel-loving bastard son of John Winchester who still has his best celestial lifemate right there with him while Dean is—

Adam’s words come back to him, from not so long ago.

Since when do we get what we deserve?

Dean clamps down on his rage. Counts to ten.

He has to do better.

He can be better.

For Cas.

“Don’t worry about it,” Dean grits out, forcing himself out of bed. “Why are you here?”

“Ah,” Adam says, mouth thinning. “Better let Michael tell you that.”

 

IV. grudge

“God,” Michael says, “has torn open the Empty. The worst of its denizens are now roaming the Earth. Heading here.”

Sam rocks on his heels, reaching a steadying hand for the war table. His gaze flits around, landing on Jack, Dean. Thinking. “How? I thought the two were out of reach from each other.”

“Maybe once. But the Empty has been weakened,” Michael says, and Dean watches as Jack shrinks in on himself, shoulders hunching. The kid taking the blame for becoming the bomb that Dean wanted him to be.

“So we’re talking—angels? Demons?” Sam asks. “Everything?”

Michael’s mouth twists ruefully. “Those that you’ve killed over the years. Anyone who might still hold a grudge against the Winchesters.” Michael gestures down at Adam’s body. “Hence why I’m here.”

Sam’s brow lifts with surprise, or shock—Dean can’t tell the difference between them anymore. He turns to Dean and Jack, readying a question. But Dean turns to Michael, cutting off whatever Sam might say so he can ask, “What d’you mean about the angels? Did all of them get out, or just—”

“Only the fallen,” Michael answers. “Those who sided with Lucifer. My brother,” he adds, like they would have forgotten about Satan himself.

“Oh,” Dean says, turning cold. He knew better than to get his hopes up, but they had still gotten away from him for just a heartbeat, slipping loose from his ironclad grip. “Fuck,” he adds unceremoniously.

“Yes,” Michael agrees, becoming Adam. “Fuck.”

 

V. amends

They don’t know how long they have before the first wave of resurrections come for them. Michael occasionally scouts the perimeter, but whatever creatures are out there remain far away for now.

In the meantime, Dean and Jack beef up the warding around the bunker while Sam casts a call to Hell, asking Rowena whether there’s anything she can do.

“She’d send some of her own people up to help us,” Sam advises, after his spell ingredients drop to cinders. “But she can’t promise they won’t join the other side of the fray. So instead…”

“Hell’s on lockdown,” Dean finishes for him. He rubs at his eyes. “Alright. Fine.”

It was a longshot anyway, hoping Hell might have something to protect them. As for Heaven, Michael says there aren’t enough angels left to make any sort of impact on the fight to come. So they’re on their own. Again. Like Dean figured they would be. No Hail Marys to throw in the eleventh hour.

Dean picks up a brush and a bucket of paint and gets back to warding, Jack following behind him like a wary dog looking for commands.

They can’t protect every corner of the bunker, so some strategic decisions get made about what parts of it they can save.

Things like: where the fight will likely start. Where to retreat. Which halls are easy chokeholds, and which are dead-ends from which they won’t escape.

Dean seals off entire dormitories with angel sigils and demon traps, Sam following, chanting strengthening spells in his wake. Jack makes trip after trip to the supply room, hauling bags of salt and jugs of holy oil out for them to use, laying them down in strategic lines.

Dean holds him back from one such run, catching the kid by his arm when it’s just the two of them, alone. Jack’s hair is tousled with sweat, his breathing heavy. His baby face has aged in record time, forehead etched with lines that demonstrate just how crushing the last couple days have been for him. Losing Cas, especially, Dean thought, would have been a fatal blow. But some fierce determination inside Jack keeps his back strong, his feet moving. Dean can all but sense the need to help radiating off the kid’s skin.

All this effort might still be for nothing. They’re facing down God, after all. Who’s to say Chuck doesn’t just turn them into pink spray the second he grows bored of the fight.

It might be for nothing, but there are still some things Dean needs to make right.

“Jack, I’m sorry,” Dean says. “I shouldn’t have—” His breath hitches, grief rising in him, fit to drown him, as he thinks how hurt Cas would’ve been to know that Dean refused to call Jack family.

Dean swallows hard against the old instinct telling him no, don’t say it, don’t admit to something so vulnerable. But he forces his way through it, stomachs it down, says: “You’re his kid, so you’re my kid. Now until forever. And I should’ve never told you otherwise.”

Jack doesn’t react the way Dean was hoping. His face shuts down, his shoulders hunching in.

Maybe the reminder of Cas did that. Dean tells himself that’s the reason why.

“C’mere,” Dean says, reaching for a hug. But Jack leans away, arms instinctively raised. And that—that hurts. Fuck. Of course Dean didn’t fix this yet; once again, he’s just making a mess—

“I’m sorry, I shouldn’t have tried to—” Dean begins, but Jack cuts him off with a shake of his head.

“I think I’m dangerous,” Jack says, slow. “And I don’t want to hurt you. Something… happened to me. When I reformed in the Empty. I thought I lost my powers, but—something new has taken their place.”

Dean frowns. “Something new?”

Jack nods. “Maybe I can show you. Some other way.”

 

VI. hopeless

Michael brings them plants from outside the bunker. Just a handful of weeds, ripped up at the roots from cracks in the foundation. But when Jack slides his hand over them, brow furrowed—

The leaves all turn brown. Shrivel up. Die.

“Maybe it’s like—the Darkness,” Sam says, frowning as he thinks. He looks at Jack. “Can you control it?”

Jack shrugs. “Kind of. If I had more time, I could learn…”

Except they don’t have more time.

The entrance to the bunker begins to shudder, fists banging hard enough to shake the door on its hinges.

Sam curses, staring up at the balcony. “It’s happening.”

“Yes,” Michael says, somber.

They don’t have time. A split-second decision needs to be made.

Dean says, “Jack, you don’t have to—”

But Jack announces, “I’ll fight with Michael. You two stick to the plan.” Nodding firmly, he adds, “We’ll cover you as we need to retreat.”

It’s a suicide mission, Dean can feel it—but it’s unlikely any of them will make it out of this alive, so maybe that’s okay. Jack ought to control his life during the last hours they have left. Ought to have as close a semblance to free will as any of them can get.

The bunker door blows off its hinges, clanging loudly down the stairwell overhead. Sam grabs the demon knife, Dean an angel blade.

A swarm of familiar faces pour down the stairs, over the railings. Angels with their weapons out; demons with their hands and faces twisted into claws and fangs.

It begins.

 

VII. struggle

The bunker trembles.

Salt lines and painted traps keep the demons from wandering far from the war room. Dean and Sam flank the library entrance while Jack and Michael, back to back, take swipes at the encroaching swarm.

Uriel charges at Sam, shouting curses at the boy with the demon blood. Dean stabs him in the back, leaving Sam to toss the body aside. Ruby shows up, surprising them both by killing the unnamed demon trying to exploit Sam’s dropped guard.

“You’re mine,” she snarls in explanation. Sam barely manages to grapple her away before another demon joins Ruby at her side.

The demons overwhelm the warding. The fresh runes and sigils painted above the library crackle, electric, flaring brightly before sputtering out. Dean covers Sam as he lights a match, dropping it onto the trails of holy oil they left around the room.

The library begins to smoke as the fire consumes it, pages curling, history burning. Dean and Sam make a run for it down the back hall, the sounds of shrieking laughter and clashing angel blades echoing across the tiles. The next round of demon traps keep the worst of their pursuers paralyzed until Michael can fight his way to them, Jack at his heel, the two of them needing extra time to make their way through the maze of holy fire.

Jack looks pale and shaken, his arms trembling with exhaustion. But he reaches for angels and demons alike, planting his palms firmly on whatever is closest to him, his victims wailing, gnashing, as he draws the lifeforce from their bodies.

One of the angels scratches their blade through the demon trap on the floor, and then suddenly the demons are breaking for them.

Alistair appears through the chaos of the crowd.

His snivelling smile liquidates Dean’s legs, freezing him in place. Dean takes a suckerpunch and falls square over, only Alistair’s grip on the front of his shirt keeping him from hitting the ground.

Alistair’s mouth caresses his ear like a lover’s, his strange voice crooning, “Oh, sweetheart, here we are again,” as he cradles Dean’s head in his hands.

Sam sticks him in the side with the demon knife, and although it isn’t enough to kill Alistair, it gives Dean the space he needs to flee.

 

VIII. cornered

They survive their way into the storeroom, their final destination. The last part of the bunker they’ve left protected. The door is still broken, blown off its hinges from Chuck’s last visit, but their remaining stores of holy oil should be enough to barricade the threshold for a while.

Sam is breathing hard beside him, a cut on his head freely flowing. Dean himself doesn’t know what kind of wounds he’s sporting, but the rusty handprint on his shoulder is still intact so he counts himself okay.

“I lost track of Jack,” Sam sputters out, voice high, pacing. The cacophony of shouting demons and wrathful angels, the smell of bubbling and bursting flesh in the flames, drown out any capacity for rational thought. “Is he okay—did you see—”

“He’s with Michael,” Dean says, more confident than he feels. He lost sight of Jack too.

He doesn’t say it because he can’t be sure, but Dean thought he caught a glimpse of Nick—of Lucifer—in the throng of fighters. And if he did… They don’t have long. It’s too much for Michael to hold back alone.

Sam’s steps falter, tripping over nothing. The adrenaline rush that’s been carrying them both this long has spiked, crashing. They’re running out of steam.

“What do we do?” Dean asks. “What do we do?” The storeroom has their best spell ingredients. If Sam has Rowena’s books—if he can find a barrier incantation to hold the mob at bay—

A loud, slow clapping erupts behind them, and when Dean turns to look, he finds Chuck standing there, smiling. Pearly whites shining behind that shit-eating grin.

“Well done, boys,” Chuck says, and Dean manages a marching step toward him before Sam intervenes, holding him back.

“You lasted longer than I thought you would,” Chuck continues, parading around the room. “Blame the kid for that one, I guess. Didn’t expect the whole ‘death-hands’ thing from him. But all those years of killing angels and demons coming back to haunt you? Yeah. It feels good. Feels fitting.”

Behind them, the bustling swarm slams an angel over the flaming threshold, its body landing in shrieking flames inside the storeroom.

Chuck’s smile is all teeth. “What d’you say, guys. Want me to make this easy on you? Or would you rather the horde tear you limb from limb?”

A demon smokes out inside the room, then another. There’s too many to keep from overwhelming the barrier of flames.

“Fuck you,” Dean spits out.

“Give them back,” Sam shouts.

“Oh, you mean Eileen? Your precious Cas?” Chuck laughs. “They’re gone, baby. Gone.”

Somehow Jack stumbles over the line of holy fire, his clothes singed, smoking. Sprawled out on the floor, he coughs out something about Michael.

Sam takes a deep breath, his body stilling. He puts the demon knife to his own throat.

Dean makes a choking noise. “Sammy, no—“

“I’ll do it. Bring the world back and I’ll do it.”

“Sammy, please, don’t you dare—”

Chuck’s smile turns rueful. He sticks his tongue out, blows a loud noise. “No thanks. Not interested.”

Dean reaches for his brother’s hand, body trembling with adrenaline, with fear. “Sammy,” he says quietly.

With tears in his eyes, Sam tosses the knife away.

Chuck sighs, clasping his hands together, and saunters past them, heading straight for Jack. “Gotta hand it to you, kid. Waking up everybody in the Empty? Phew. I would’ve never thought of it if it wasn’t for you.”

“Is that it?” Dean snarls. “You just came here to gloat?”

Chuck plants a finger on his lips. “Hmm. No. There’s one last friend I think you ought to face. Y’know. Since we’re reminiscing, so close to the end.” He snaps his fingers, and there appears—

Azazel. Old Yellow Eyes.

His mother’s killer; his father’s obsession.

The thing John used to teach Dean how to hate.

“Hello, Sam,” Azazel snivels out, smiling.

Sam curses, his arm shaking. Dean stands by his brother’s side, pushes his own weapon into Sam’s unsteady grip. Between the two of them, Dean would rather see his brother kill this fucker. Would rather have Sam stand a chance to survive.

Chuck leans back, arms crossed, chuckling, as Yellow Eyes slithers forward. But the chaotic symphony of the struggle changes, the space outside the storeroom growing louder before the noise drops rapidly away.

Chuck stops laughing. Even Yellow Eyes seems puzzled by what’s happening.

Sam doesn’t miss his shot. He plunges the angel blade into the crook of Azazel’s neck, pushing until the hilt rams flush to his chest. “Fuck you,” he hisses out, slamming the blade down harder. Twisting. His eyes turn to Chuck, radiating a frosty hate. “And fuck you too.”

But Chuck isn’t paying them attention. He’s frowning, no longer lackadaisical. Dean thinks he almost looks—thrown off his game. But how?

Chuck vanishes before Dean has the chance to puzzle it out.

Without God’s presence the bunker is eerily quiet, not a soul beyond the three of them left panting harshly in this room.

“What happened?” Jack asks, at the same time Dean blurts, “Is it over?”

Sam walks over to the room threshold, to the bodies of the fallen, stomping out the last of the smoldering flames. “Let’s find out.”

 

IX. reunited

They locate Michael in the hallway, slumped over amid the carnage, wounded but otherwise alive. His eyes glitter wetly; Lucifer lies dead at his feet. He pats Jack’s hand and vows to join them in his own time.

Farther into the bunker, Dean can hear the occasional scream still coming. The thump of a body hitting the floor. He pulls an angel blade out from among the bodies and motions for Sam to be careful. They stumble their way through the corpses back to the library, now softly smoking. Singed, blackened, bloodied, but the bones of it intact.

“How?” Sam breathes, glancing around like he might find an answer. But Dean’s gaze is fastened forward, fixated on the dark figure presently looming, back turned, in the war room.

A stray couple of demons drop down from the balcony, late to the party but still raring for a fight. They lunge for the figure, who swings a weapon straight for them—a scythe, slicing delicately through the air.

The demons collapse, crumbling into ash. The figure drops the butt of his blade to the ground.

It’s not a scythe Dean has seen before. Not the old Death’s sickle, pole bent, iron head crooked, snath wood pale. Not Billie’s blade either, rule-straight and deadly elegant, all black steel. This one is stainless steel, its head an angled blade with a hook barely meant for reaping. Reminiscent of an angel blade, except—

The figure turns, and Dean finally sees him. A breath lodges in his throat.

Castiel’s tie is crooked, swept loose from its collar.

His black trench coat flaps around him, as he turns to face Dean.

His eyes seem almost electric, sparking blue against the black.

Dean’s lungs clamp closed, his ribs knee-jerk squeezing until he’s in sudden, palpable pain.

He can’t believe it. Can’t believe what he’s seeing.

Cas can’t be back, can’t be here, standing here—alive

“Chuck will be back,” Cas says gravely, crossing to them. “We don’t have much time to prepare.” To Sam, he says, “Do you still have Chuck’s death book?”

Numbly, Sam nods.

“Good. Bring it here.”

Dean tries to approach him. He tries. But his knees lock up, sending him fumbling forward. Blood rushes through him, pumping wildly, and his heart is suddenly alive, racing with warmth and strength and—

He plants a hand on one of the tables, knocked askew in the scuffle, breathing hard. His eyes prickle and his throat turns to sand.

Jack ends up beating him down the stairs. He runs for Cas although he does not hug him. His smile beams bright enough for all of them. “Are you back?” Then, frowning: “How are you back?”

Cas switches hands on his scythe, holding up his right hand. Showing a white ring resting on his finger. “There was a power vacuum. I volunteered to fill it.”

Now carrying God’s death book, Sam falters in his approach. “You’re the new Death.”

Cas nods. “Yes. Now, please.” He holds out his hand.

Dean attempts to collect himself, as Cas flips through the pages. He swallows hard, fishing for what to say. “Cas, I—” he begins, not knowing how he’ll get there, only that he has to say it now, before he loses his chance again.

The book slams shut, thumping to the war room table. Cas looks around, then above him, readying his scythe. He drops into a defensive position. “Prepare yourselves,” he announces.

“What—” Sam starts, but the bunker shrieks like a car crash, stones and steel and concrete being torn like tissue paper.

“Go,” Castiel barks, waving them back for the library. But Dean doesn’t want to go. Shock won’t let him go.

He can’t leave Cas now. Can’t allow Cas to face whatever’s happening alone.

“Cas,” Dean manages to shout, once Sam grabs him, Jack taking his other arm as they both haul him away. The gap between them grows too rapidly, Dean losing him again— “Cas!”

He isn’t heard above the screech of steel on steel.

 

X. saved

Amara is what saves them, in a way.

Just as Chuck slices through the chaos, knocking Cas down, parrying his scythe with his own flaming sword—she takes over, slamming Chuck into the background of whatever the two of them have become.

Chuck’s body melts away. He gains inches in height, shoulders broadening, eyes shifting from blue to brown. Rich brunette hair spools out sleekly from his—their head. Her smile lands on Dean before turning to Cas, who is still lying prone on the ground.

Amara shakes out her shoulders, brushing strands of loose hair from her face.

“What the hell?” Dean spits out.

But Amara is still staring as Cas.

“Thank you,” she says in a voice that is abundantly grateful. She extends a hand to him, pulling Cas to his feet.

Cas accepts it, even as he frowns. “Why are you thanking me?”

Amara smiles. “Chuck always counted you out too soon, Castiel. But you distracted him enough for me to take over, so. Thank you for continuing to surprise us.”

Sam dusts his hands off, though he’s covered in so much blood and sweat it’s only smudging the grime around. “What’s going to happen to him. To Chuck.”

Amara’s fond smile falters. “My desire for balance isn’t going to happen. Chuck won’t be happy until he’s back in control. I can’t assure that he won’t take over us again.” Her smile strengthens. “But I want to. If you’ll grant me one parting request.”

She touches Cas’ hand, the one holding his scythe, and Dean suddenly understands what she wants to happen. Neither him nor Jack nor Sam can say they disagree.

“Wait,” Sam says. “Before you—can you do one thing? For us?”

Amara’s sharp gaze attunes to him. “Yes. I can.”

With a snap of her fingers, the wreckage of the bunker floats around them, righting itself: stone returning atop stone, tiles walls unbreaking, steel straightening in straight-backed lines. Pages of books flutter open, shelves becoming unburned. The bodies of the fallen disappear in a flash.

And she brings back everyone.

Everyone.

Once again—finally—the bunker teems with life.

 

XI. jubilation

They throw a party. Dean figures they have to. They saved the world, after all.

Becky hauls Dean and Sam into a tearful hug the second she finds them, worriedly exclaiming what she knew of Chuck’s ending. How she would have warned them, if she had been given half the chance. Dean assures her it’s okay and she goes back to her family, her kids excitedly greeting the children of the apocalypse-world refugees while her husband looks around the war room in awe.

Charlie comes by to thank them, Stevie clutched closely in her arms. Then comes their Charlie, looking slantwise at her copy as she accepts the shaky hug Dean gives.

Garth and Bess are here with their family; Jody and Donna; Kevin and his mother, Linda cradling her son, back from the dead. Ellen and Jo bring a bevy of beers to the library and sit across from both versions of Bobby, who are already trading histories, and Dean’s sure he spied Pamela somewhere around, at least until Ash dragged her off with him, looking for her psychic insights into the motherboard running the bunker.

Dean’s not sure who to thank for the dearly departed—Amara or Cas—but he could make a guess. Only one of them knows Dean’s loved ones inside and out, and has a tendency to cash in all his chips for the Winchester’s sake.

The reserve liquor reserves get broken into. Someone pops a wine bottle and sprays half of it into the crowd. Bottles chime as toast after toast gets made. Claire and Kaia and Patience and Alex, the whole gang from South Dakota, take over the kitchen with a threat to bake a cake.

Dean finds Jack in a corner of the library, trembling, his arms wrapped tightly around Kelly, sobbing into her son’s hair. Sam has likewise shied away from the crowd, celebrating alone with Eileen after she came right up to him and kissed him, breathless and giddy and alive.

Dean doesn’t get his hopes up about it, so it doesn’t hurt much when he makes a full circle of the bunker only to verify that his mom and dad aren’t there. They’re in heaven, which is good. It’s good.

He didn’t need the extra complication of wondering—fearing—what they might think once he clears things up with Cas.

 

XII. requited

It’s late in the night, the merriment growing sleepy and sluggish, before Dean manages to locate Cas. He stands offside from the spotlight, watching the revelers, a small, contented smile basking on his face. His scythe lays abandoned in a corner of the library, no longer needed now that God is gone.

Finally, they’re done. At peace.

“So,” Dean says, tugging on Cas’ lapel. He looks so strange in that old frumpy trench coat, now black—close to what Dean knows but not quite the same. “How’d you pull this one off?”

Castiel frowns down at the lapel, his brow rapidly smoothing. “Oh. It’s like I said. The Empty was—appreciative of my summoning. I was bequeathed the ring after Billie…” He clears his throat. “Anyways. Better the devil you know, I suppose. I don’t want anything to do with them, and I could keep things quiet for them with my absence.”

“Didn’t want you annoying them into letting you back to Earth again?”

Cas smiles. “Something like that.”

Dean nods, throat working hard. A grin bursts out from him, pricking at his eyes. The breath he’s been holding since Cas was taken from him finally breaks free. “I’m glad.”

Cas watches him, fondly. Openly—was it always so blatantly obvious? “Me too.”

He can feel the high flush burning his cheeks, though it only makes Cas look more enamoured. Dean clears his throat, looking elsewhere in hopes of collecting himself. Now that the hard part has come he—he still doesn’t know whether he can do it. Whether he can say what… What he needs to...

But he should. He has to. He wants to. If Cas can find contentment by honoring who he is, then maybe Dean could…

But Dean has denied himself longer than he can remember, and the way out from the dark is fraught. He doesn’t know how to navigate that chasm within him, not by sight or sound or with words. Not yet. But touch—

Dean takes Cas’ hand, clasping with both shaking, sweaty palms. He lifts the hand to his cheek and sets it there, kissing Cas’ palm dryly, a soft brush of lips.

Cas, bless him, understands. He should; he knows Dean better than anyone. His soft smile grows wider, his hand fitting firmly in its resting place, cupped snugly against Dean’s cheek.

“Dean,” he says, gentle. “May I ask you one indulgence?”

Dean laughs, breathless, biting back the tears. “Anything.”

“Can I kiss you?”

A tear leaks out. Dean huffs, shies away. “You wanna give me the kiss of Death?”

“Never,” Cas intones, serious. “I took this ring so that you can live as long as you want, free from outside interference. I will make sure of it, Dean, for you and your brother. I swear.”

That sets off the giggles inside Dean. He drops Cas’ hand, narrowing as stern a look as he can manage at Cas, under such conditions. “It’s a joke, Cas. Just messing around.”

“I know.” Cas’ mouth curves warmly. “I just like hearing you laugh.”

Dean gasps a little, the admission hitting him like a fist. Fuck, the confession hitting him all over again. That didn’t happen, did it? Cas didn’t really mean...

“So you love me? Like, for real love me?” Dean blurts, kicking himself. Stupid. Now that he’s had the time to think it through, he still doesn’t have anything good to say.

But Castiel has such endless patience for him. “Yes. For a long time.”

“And you want to—you want us to be—”

“Yes,” Cas says simply. “I do.”

Dean swallows. He could—he can have this. All these years of wondering and the moment is finally here.

“Get in here,” Dean grunts, pulling Cas into the circle of his arms. He warms into the hug, the strength and shape known beneath his hands. Cas may look different, but it’s him. It’s him. He may have gotten a power upgrade, but what matters remains unchanged.

Dean cups a hand to Cas’ neck, as they pull apart. He soothes his thumb over Cas’ cheek, thinking, I can do this.

For Cas, he can be better. Do better.

For Cas.

He feels the hitch in Castiel’s throat, muscles fluttering as Dean leans in to kiss him.

Soft. Just once, a flush touch of lips. Just what he could manage, at this moment.

But long enough for Cas to hold him. For Cas to kiss him back.