Sam did his best to straighten up the box of crumpled Post-Its and looseleaf. He smoothed and organized Kevin’s angel tablet notes like an officer packing a fallen soldier’s belongings one last time. He didn’t read the words. They passed under his eyes in a blur—a swarm of unhappy ballpoint scribbling. The same hands now stacking Kevin’s work had burned out his life several months earlier. Sam regarded his own scarred knuckles with a certain detached amazement. It was strange to think how many things his body had done without him over the years.
“Find anything useful in there?” Dean asked, shuffling through the library in his antique bathrobe like some kind of hungover Man of Letters ghost.
“What? No… I wasn’t really looking for anything useful,” Sam admitted.
Dean hadn’t waited for an answer before drifting into the bunker’s kitchen, eyes screwed up against the light. He returned with a mug of coffee, promptly adding a finger of bourbon from a 1920’s-era crystal cruet.
“You know, dumping your cheap convenience store crap into fancy decanters doesn’t actually make it taste better,” Sam observed.
“Does so,” Dean mumbled, taking a deep breath of the steam pouring off his cup. He sank into an armchair, massaging the bridge of his nose. “Are you just gonna put that stuff in the file room?”
“I guess. The angel tablet’s destroyed. I don’t see what we need it for anymore.”
“Yeah, but angels have been hounding our asses for, what, six years now? If there’s anything that would give us an advantage over them….”
“Look, I don’t really have the heart to read through it all. Most of it’s nonsense anyway.” Sam glanced at a sprawling, taped-together chart that bristled with symbols and question marks. It looked something like a family tree. That is, if family trees consisted of twelve parents to a child and several circular loops that would have made some members their own progenitors.
“I get that,” Dean nodded, padding over on bare feet. “But it’d be stupid to toss this stuff. Look here—” He plucked a yellow sticky note from the pile: an elaborate glyph with some writing below. “‘To borrow an unworthy angel’s strength.' Sounds like my kind of nonsense.”
Sam grimaced. “Dude, you have no idea what that means. ‘Borrow’ might mean draining an angel’s power. It might mean getting the power yourself in return. It might also mean exploding immediately afterwards. I would’ve thought the Mark of Cain had taught you a lesson in side effects.”
A vein jumped in Dean’s temple as he clenched his jaw. “Fair enough. I’m just saying that, in a desperate situation, trying anything is better than doing nothing.”
“And that’s exactly how we get ourselves into year-long battles with addiction, soullessness, and possession.” Sam folded the cardboard box closed with an air of finality. “So don’t you start carving random Enochian designs into the doorframes based on nothing more than a sleep-deprived doodle from Kevin. It might not even be an exact translation.”
“Yeah, yeah,” Dean grumbled, waving Sam away as he carried the box off to storage. He strolled back to his bedroom and pressed the Post-It into his dad’s journal.
Three weeks later, Castiel plummeted unannounced into their dingy, cowboy-themed motel room like a man recently ejected from a burning plane. Breathless and trailing curls of acrid smoke, he stumbled into the television, catching himself on the wall with a scraped and twisted hand. Wisps of grace sang out from a dozen small wounds, terrible and blue-white.
“Holy crap, man, what happened to you?” Dean lurched off the bed, throwing aside a bag of chips.
“I was attacked.” Cas sank into a crouch against the baseboard, cringing.
“No shit. By who?” Dean had snatched up one of their plundered angel blades from a duffel bag on the floor. Sam already held Ruby’s old Kurdish demon-killing knife at the ready, hazarding a look through the motel’s curtains.
“Angels. I’m afraid Metatron has gotten messages to a few extremists who still considered themselves in his employ,” Cas hissed. He closed his eyes, clearly concentrating on healing himself. “You need to get warding sigils on everything—now.”
“But Metatron’s still in prison, right?” Sam asked as he dragged the knife across his hand and daubed streaks of fresh blood onto the door.
“If a mob boss can put a hit out on someone from the inside, I’m sure that son of a bitch can manage it,” Dean pointed out, rifling through their father’s beat-up journal on the nightstand.
“What’re you looking in there for?” Sam protested. “Help me with the damn sigils!”
Dean said nothing but dashed to the window, holding a scrap of paper in his teeth. He had barely sliced his palm and made the first mark on the glass before a torrent of noise and aching vibrations announced the arrival of Cas’ pursuers. The picture window came down in a rush of sharp slivers. Two hard faces appraised the room’s frantic little scene, features half-lit by the ugly neon glare of the motel’s vacancy sign.
“Winchester.” The female angel shot Dean a nasty, pursed smile as she nodded her head in greeting.
He punched up with the angelic sword, aiming to gore her right through the gut. She caught his wrist in a punishing grip, wrenching it so that the long spike skittered off past her into the parking lot. With her next movement, she threw Dean himself to the motel’s linoleum floor, stepping over the threshold of the wrecked windowsill as though going for an evening stroll.
Seconds later, Sam had fallen over Dean’s legs, half-senseless with a knock to the head.
Castiel climbed to his feet in a glittering rage, his own angel blade dropping from his sleeve. He stood over the brothers, catching a blow from the advancing male angel even as he turned aside a glancing thrust from the first.
Dean watched their stabbing and feinting silhouettes whirling above him like dervishes in sickening slow-motion. Cas, still recovering from his long lack of grace, would not last against this pair. Scrabbling with one blood-slicked hand in the disorganized duffel, Dean came up with… a Sharpie. Brain buzzing along faster than it could take in the fuel of logic, he found himself squinting at the smudged Post-It he’d pulled from the journal. For lack of any other surface, he scrawled the glyph’s lines onto the flesh of his forearm in bold black ink.
A primal screech tore from the female angel’s throat in the same moment Dean experienced a sizzling pain in his forearm. He grunted and writhed under what felt like the press of a branding iron, yet saw the angel’s body double over, marrow bones crunching audibly. She screamed again, collapsing to one knee. The specter of wings, pale and shuddering, burst over the ceiling and walls, leaving blinding sunspots dancing across Dean’s vision as in the aftermath of fireworks.
The other angel gaped at her contortions. Seizing only on the fact that he’d somehow incapacitated or killed her, Dean snatched Sam’s unresisting arm and drew a second glyph.
Cas stumbled back as the male angel howled, jerking like a puppet on a string. Two inflamed, burnt shapes shattered the air behind him as he crumpled over his companion. Moaning and stinking strangely, the two of them lolled on the floor, helpless.
“Dean, what have you done?” Castiel demanded, rounding on him.
"Saved your heavenly ass," Dean huffed, standing and rubbing at the fading pain. But he deflated a little under the seraph's unimpressed glower, holding out the sloppy symbol like a schoolboy caught with plagiarized homework. “I… found it. In Kevin’s notes from the angel tablet. It’s supposed to steal the power of ‘unworthy angels.’ I think.”
“You think?” Cas snarled. He peered at the Enochian glyph, shoulders stiff. “But this… this is unthinkable.”
“Well, it happened. Whatever it is,” Sam said, hauling himself onto the edge of the bed. “God, that hurt. Though not, I guess, as much as it hurt them.” He nudged at the angel closest to him with the toe of his work boot.
“Do you know what exactly it did, Cas?” Dean withdrew his arm from the fixed, scowling gaze, a numb dread now creeping into his chest to replace the fight’s wild adrenaline. “Cas?”
“Move to another motel. Lie low,” he said, as though he hadn’t even heard the question. “I need to take these two back to Heaven to meet their justice. I’ll return as soon as I can.”
“But… what about this?” Dean prompted, tapping his arm.
“I have an inkling. Enough to know you should not have done that.” Cas clapped a hand to each of the angels’ trembling backs, yanking them up by their collars. They all three disappeared with a rustle of his wings.