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When the world faded back into existence, Sam was still hanging on to Dean, but Dean's hands were lax, barely resting on Sam's forearms. Dean's expression was dazed, awed even; Sam thought it might be a mirror of his own.


Then Dean fainted, collapsing like a dynamited building, and Sam dove to catch him, bashing his knees hard enough that his vision blanked. "Dean!"

Dean didn't react to Sam's entreaties, or even when Sam twisted his ear hard. His eyes darted back and forth behind closed lids, lashes sooty on his pale face.

Sam looked around the room and saw nothing but two dead girls and dust. If the world was ending in fire, it hadn't started here yet. But it was never smart to stay around the site of a demon raising, and that had to go triple for Lucifer. Anything could crawl up out of the Pit after him.

Sam hoisted Dean in his arms—Dean had lost weight in the past few months, sleepless and angry, and Sam had put on muscle like demon blood was packed with steroids, so it wasn't too hard.

But the doors had slammed shut after Dean burst in, and they wouldn't open. Something more than a lock was holding them in place, which made getting out all the more imperative. Sam had a sudden flashback to the panic room, locked in and smacked around by his own demons, invisible and not, and he wasn't gentle enough when he put Dean down and started kicking at the old, solid wood.

He felt himself starting to lose it, black edging his vision and his hands and feet tingling, parts of him shutting down as the fear rose to choke him.

No. He was a fuckup and a liar and a killer, but Dean needed him and he wasn't going to give up.

"Sam," Dean said faintly from the floor behind him. Sam spun around. Dean was pushing himself up on his elbows. He was half-smiling, almost shy.

Sam waited for Dean to realize what had happened, to remember what Sam was now. But Dean's expression didn't change as he got to his feet, dusting himself off.

Dean could kill him outside, later. "We've got to get moving," Sam told him.

"Where d'you think we can go to get away from this?" Dean asked, halfway mocking and halfway honestly curious, like he thought Sam might have had a bright idea that had escaped him.

Dean was right, of course. Sam was thrashing about like a dog caught in a trap, but the trap had already closed. He should ask Dean what they were going to do next, since he obviously had been wrong from the beginning and had nothing of use to contribute. Beg Dean to forgive him, before the world ended.

When Dean blinked, his eyes were stars, hazy and glowing, but somehow also black, like holes cut in the world.

Sam staggered back. The sound that tore from him was almost metallic. He went to his knees again, the shock of hitting the stone turning his bones to ice. "No," he moaned. He'd fucked up, but the cost was so far beyond inconceivable, so much worse than the end of the world—Dean. He'd thought he couldn't do worse than send Dean to Hell. "No, please, take me. Take me instead."

Dean—Lucifer—smiled, tenderly. The expression was cruelty concentrated, given how far gone Dean would have to be before he'd be tender. "Sorry, Sammy," he said. "An angel can't just use any old human, you know. You're kind of full up on the used-to-be-human-demon-blood anyway—makes you kind of crowded—and this body's got Cas's mark on it, which is what I needed to make the connection."

"The tattoo—" Sam remembered, shivering.

Lucifer shook his head. "I'm the Morning Star, dude, out of my cage. You think there's a line left on this earth I can't cross?"

He leaned forward, a parody of concern, and put his hand on Sam's shoulder. "Hey," he said. "Ruby was right, you know. I'd've rewarded you even if you weren't my brother." Dean's crow's feet crinkled around those whirling demonic eyes, and Sam had to fight to keep himself from gagging.

He jerked back, his hands fisting. "You're not my brother," he spat.

Lucifer's smile turned crooked. "I kinda am, Sammy. Yeah, I'm also the Lightbringer, but in my house are many mansions. Or is it, my name is Legion? You know I was never very good at that scripture crap. I hardly show up in the canon at all anyway."

Sam raised his hands to his head, hiding his eyes, as if that would be some kind of protection. He wanted the world to end now; Hell on Earth was already here in this dark, damp tomb.

"C'mon," Lucifer said, in Dean's cajoling tone, his rough-skinned hand sliding over Sam's skin to cup his jaw. "If you can't beat 'em, join 'em, right? And that's just what I did. Dear old Dad loved humans so much, I found me one so righteous that he was able to begin the apocalypse."

He stopped and his thumb dug into the underside of Sam's chin as Sam twitched involuntarily, surprised. "Hunh. Guess I didn't ever explain that part to you. Sorry. I was scared, you know, and by the time I found out I didn't want to give you any more reasons to think I was weak. Yeah, so when I became a torturer, in Hell? That was the first seal. You breaking the last, that's just symmetry. What none of my demonic little acolytes ever figured out is that possession is only the beginning. Merger is where it's at. Unholy trinity, you could say. The power I've got now comes from each of the three spheres, and I'm gonna make them all shake."

He released Sam and turned, starting to pace like Dean when he was working out a plan for a hunt. His boots dragged through Lilith's slowly drying blood, disrupting the pattern it made on the floor.

"How's this for irony? Now, after all this time, I finally love a human being the way dear ol' Dad loved all of them. Made me so mad—well, I guess you know that part." He scrutinized Sam with the bemusement Sam remembered from bringing home report cards full of As, like Sam was a different order of being, beloved but not understood. "But you, Sam. I love you with everything I am and then some. Colder than Heaven and hotter than Hell, and all the way in between. I love you, Sam, and that's why I'm gonna kick Heaven's ass."

Hearing that helped, a lot. Even if it amused Lucifer to lie, he obviously had nothing of Dean in him. Dean wouldn't ever say he loved Sam out loud back when it had been true, and he was solid on the subject of what Sam was now. He'd told Sam, from the very first time he'd found out about Ruby, that Sam's choices were going to tear them apart. Dean had always seen the impending disaster, and Sam had eroded his loyalty down to echoes by ignoring every one of his cautions. Now the best Sam could hope for was that Lucifer was going to stuff Dean so far down inside himself that he'd never know what had happened.

Sam blinked away his tears and began to gather the remaining scraps of his power. If Ruby hadn't been lying (still, again), he should be able to recharge even without the blood, and even though he couldn't possibly pray to put a dent in Lucifer, it would still be a better death than he deserved.

Lucifer was looking at him curiously. "The fuck, Sam?"

He braced himself as best he could and launched himself at Lucifer, not letting himself think beyond grabbing the knife from Lucifer's hand and turning it on the demon.

It was over in less than a second, Sam pinned to the cold stone wall and Dean's body safely six feet away. "Don't push me," Lucifer warned. "I told you, you're family and that's never gonna change, but I still owe you a beatdown."

Sam's head was ringing from hitting the wall; gravity had gone sideways and increased eight times, pinning him in place so that it was a struggle just to breathe. "What?" he panted out.

Lucifer rolled his eyes. "You should've answered your phone when I called, asswipe."

He didn't understand why Lucifer was still pretending. But obviously Sam was not exactly as smart as he'd imagined. "I heard Dean's last message," Sam admitted, because he was crying anyway.

"Yeah?" Lucifer had gone oddly tense, like it even mattered what Sam thought.

Sam swallowed. "It was all true. I'm a monster, but I'm not your monster, so you can just give up on whatever sick little game you're playing."

"Sammy, what—?" Lucifer paused, and Sam came off the wall, staggering so that he barely kept his feet. Lucifer's expression was distant and calculating, exactly like Dean trying to figure out how much money they'd need to restock on weapons before he headed into a bar. "Oh, that clever little bitch. Ruby changed the message, made sure you stayed on target. My message—play it now, Sam." His voice was quiet, commanding, like he was prepping them to deal with a monster outside the door instead of the two standing face to face inside.

Sam knew better than to believe. Lucifer was more likely to have the power to alter a recording than Ruby. He was dealing with the Father of Lies. But if there was even a chance that he'd hear his brother's voice, his brother's words, one last time, he had to take it. If it was another joke, getting him to listen to that vitriol again just before he died, then at least he'd get to die.

He pulled out his phone, turning away from the creature so that he could pretend privacy.

Dean's voice, shaky and self-doubting, was like cool water for a fever. Sam could do worse than go out letting himself believe that this was really what Dean had meant to say to him. He would have paid a higher price than death for that message.

"Hey, hey," Lucifer said, wrapping himself around Sam, his arms human-strong, his skin human-warm as he turned Sam into his embrace. He smelled of sweat and blood and leather: Dean. Sam sniffled and hiccuped into Dean's shoulder. Through the tears, he could see the edges of bruises he'd given Dean.

Lucifer was almost rocking him, shuffling back and forth on his feet. Sam closed his eyes and thought about just pretending. Maybe by the time Lucifer tired of the game, Sam would have figured out—something. How to kill him, or just how to die. Lucifer's hand stroked down his back, whispering little word-fragments about family and okay and better. This had to be another lie, but he couldn't figure out what the point would be. Lucifer was free now and he had to have more pressing business than tormenting a single human, no matter how much Sam deserved to suffer.

He managed to pry himself away. Pushing his hair out of his eyes, he looked down at that familiar, infuriating, idolized face. "If you're, if part of you is Dean, why—?"

Lucifer's eyes narrowed, like Dean confronted with a local cop determined to be a problem. "Why am I still on board with the whole End Times business? Did I not tell you that angels were dicks? Turns out they're raring for the final showdown. After all the seals broke, I was supposed to stop me—shit, that sounds weird. Obviously that part of the angelic plan is fucked, but knowing my brothers they're still planning on throwing billions of humans under the apocalyptic bus. We're just vermin to them. Most of them. Cas isn't that bad, though I gotta say I'm a lot hotter."

Sam's head was spinning. "Your brothers?" Somehow that was the easiest part to hang on to.

"Not like you!" Lucifer—if he wasn't, somehow, also Dean, or what remained of Dean—hastened to say. "It's not the same at all, Sam, you gotta believe me. I need you."

And like that, those awful, wonderful words unlocked some gate inside him, the one Ruby had promised him existed: the power flooded back in, thick hot black like burning tar, bubbling in his blood. Sam didn't hesitate, just punched out, hammering Lucifer with every ounce.

Dean's body flew back across the room, his momentum barely checked when his heels caught on Ruby's corpse and he went down, his head slamming into the floor. The sound was like a baseball bat hitting a melon. Ruby's knife skittered away from his grasp.

Sam lunged for the blade. The world went slow and silent. I'm going to have to do what Dean should have done for me, he realized. Knowing that Dean wanted it didn't make as much difference as Sam would have thought.

His fingers closed around the handle.

And it was ripped from him, the knife flying through the air and embedding itself to the hilt in the stone wall. Sam raised his head to see Lucifer levitate Dean's body upright, shaking his shoulders. Sam noticed, with the clarity of shock, that Dean's protective amulet was now distorted like it had been thrown in a furnace, more star-shaped than anything else. "Yeah, I've seen just about enough of that," Lucifer said.

Sam stood, straightening himself. Lucifer would have to kill him now. He'd know that Sam would never stop fighting, and it had been amply proved that Lucifer was not prone to Evil Overlord mistakes.

But instead of snapping his neck, Lucifer hugged him again, pressing his cheek against Sam's chest, closing his eyes, his hand open over Sam's collarbone. Sam couldn't get out of his head the strangeness of Dean showing such open affection.

"Your sin was always pride, Sam," Lucifer said, running his other hand up Sam's back, familiar and reassuring. "And believe me, I get that. But I'm so strong now. I don't have to be afraid any more. It's awesome."

Involuntarily, Sam's hands came up and wrapped around Dean's waist. He sounded so much like Dean, but not the Dean who'd returned from Hell, or the one who'd sold his soul, or the one who'd burned their father on a pyre. This was the Dean from the summer before Stanford, when Dean had thought—no, he'd known—that he was the best goddamn hunter ever to walk the earth, when he'd thought that Sam was going to stay with him forever and ever, world without end, amen. The Dean who'd only ever wanted to keep his family together, who'd wanted like Lucifer to be loved for what he was and not shoved aside because of what he wasn't.

"Why are you doing this?" Sam whispered. Tears were still rolling down his cheeks, almost tickling before they dropped onto Dean's jacket.

Dean—Lucifer—cupped Sam's cheek in his palm, tilting Sam's head so that their eyes locked, inches apart. Dean's eyes were cool green, no sign of the blackness within. "I need my brother with me, Sam. And I need a human, one with no angelic backwash, to lead my armies. Most demons were humans once. The fallen angel bit, that freaks 'em out. Makes 'em hard to lead. And don't even get me started on regular humans—talk about a PR problem. You'll be my bridge."

His thumb stroked across Sam's cheek, gritty with dirt, and the touch must have been infused with the fallen angel's power, because Sam was suddenly outside, standing in—holy shit, this was Times Square (a crossroads, he realized), lit up with power, the signs blazing yellow-red-white. Warm stink of city summer, garbage and sweat and the sick-sweetness of spilled food. His ears were filled with humming and buzzing, electricity and the rustle of bodies. The square was packed with people, faces like a field of flowers, turned to him. Waiting for his orders. In the purple sky above, he could see lightning streaking vertically through the lowering clouds, angels preparing for the final assault.

He felt it in his blood, the links that bound him to every one of his soldiers. They believed in him and he was going to save them. The thrill was nothing like hunting; he could taste victory, final victory, and he could look forward to the peace that would come afterwards. Dean's hand on his waist was warm and solid, approving.

The vision ended. Dean smiled, savage and brilliant, as if the dirt on his face came from a particularly exhilarating salt-and-burn. "You always were the smart one. I need that big brain of yours. Don't tell anyone, but over the millennia I've come to appreciate that the human mind is capable of some things that are beyond angels. I mean, the tortures Alastair alone came up with—"

The fondness in his voice gave Sam the strength to pull back. Lucifer rolled his eyes.

"Okay, fine. Sign of good faith: you've got five minutes with the Original Recipe. Don't exactly know why you care so much; I have been kinda pathetic these last few months. But I need you to man up here, because shit is gonna start to happen fast, so if that's what it takes to deal with your delicate conscience—"

Without waiting for Sam to react, Lucifer tilted his head up and vomited out a cloud. It wasn't black like the other demons, but no-color, flickering at the limits of Sam's vision like it was from some hidden part of the spectrum. The demon swirled above them, a silent whirlpool. Sam felt the tidal pull of its power; even now, it called to him, raising his hunger.

"Sam," Dean said urgently, and Sam dropped his eyes. If Dean could get them out of here—

But Dean was shaking his head, like he knew what Sam was thinking. "It's okay." His eyes were brilliantly clear, his color high for the first time in months. "He's—he's not planning on the end of humanity. The angels, they are. I picked the wrong side. We both got tricked. But we can fix it now, together."

"I don't want to be a monster." He couldn't look at Dean while waiting for his judgment. Ruby'd given him truth at the end like she was driving spikes through his bones, and he believed her that Lucifer would look kindly on him. But Dean—"You should kill me. Do it now."

"Sam," Dean said chidingly, like Sam had just let a hot girl who'd been flirting with him walk away disappointed. "You got played, all right. It's not the end of the—well, it doesn't have to be. You were tryin' to do the right thing and so was I and we just forgot what mattered, we let it get in the way of us. We don't have to fight each other any more. He wants us on the same side, which is more'n the other angels ever did."

Sam had spent the last year unlearning how to trust Dean, putting his faith in Ruby, and the fact that he wanted to listen more than he wanted to keep breathing had to be a warning: his judgment couldn't have improved that much in ten minutes. "How do you know he's telling you the truth about saving humanity?"

Dean hesitated; Sam could see it on his face, the desire to promise Sam that everything was all right, give assurances he could never back up all the way. "I—I felt him. I can't—fuck, Sam, what do I know about his powers? Maybe he's got the whammy on me. Maybe this is just one more game of whack the Winchesters. But I don't know why he'd bother, and—it seems real. Real as Hell. What he was thinking—he just wants to be free. He just wants everyone to be free."

He swallowed and blinked, hiding his eyes. "But if you don't believe—you can snap my neck right now, make me useless to him. I'm pretty sure the angel thing's true, he can't take you instead. If that's what you need to do, Sammy, if that's the best there is for us, you do it."

Dean stood there, waiting. Giving his life willingly into Sam's hands, trusting him now, even as Lucifer's essence pressed down on them.

Sam broke. He grabbed Dean, crushed him close. Even with the hum of power from Lucifer hovering above them, he couldn't help shaking with relief that Dean was turning to him again. Dean hugged back just as hard, bruises on top of bruises.

"He doesn't want to bring Hell to earth," Dean said into Sam's ear, his hands roving over Sam like he was making sure Sam was all there. "Hell was his prison, not his creation. Guess we know whose it was." The bitterness in Dean's tone was familiar. There had been a time when Sam would have argued God's side, first from belief and later from reflexive opposition.

"He's possessing you," Sam said, because this Dean, his brother, would ignore any horror inflicted on him if he thought that his sacrifice might help Sam. "That can't be right." He didn't want to release his hold on Dean, but he needed the truth and that meant allowing Dean as many of his self-protective measures as possible, so he unclenched his hands.

But Dean didn't let go. Instead, he shrugged. Sam felt it ripple through his muscles, Dean's body a far worse liar than his mouth. "'s not really possession. It's like we're becoming the same person, like I remember everything that happened to him and it happened to me too. I feel—strong, Sam. I want the same stuff—God off my back, you with me, all that. I just—I don't know, there's more."

Sounds a lot like drinking demon blood, Sam thought, but couldn't force the words out.

"He's—he was so lonely," Dean continued, and now Sam wasn't even sure he was talking about Lucifer.

"I don't know anything anymore," Sam confessed. "I don't know what I'm supposed to do."

"Then maybe you need to go with who you're supposed to do it with," Dean suggested, not quite mildly.

Even in the chill of the vault, Sam felt overheated, like all the Hellfire he'd put in his veins was pouring out of him now. Grey, everything was grey, no guidance anywhere.

He took a deep breath.

"Just so you know," Dean said, and now he was putting space between them, but only because he was cradling Sam's head between his hands, "when I do this, later, you'll know it's me. I wouldn't've, but he says it's important and—well, I guess it doesn't matter now."

Sam was sure that had made sense in Dean's head somehow. But when he opened his mouth to demand an explanation, Dean kissed him, his tongue sweeping in hot and solid and his thumbs tight on Sam's jaw.

Sam tried to stagger back, but Dean's grip was inexorable. Sam's hands flexed and released on air. He—Dean kissing him was inconceivable, insane. Sloppy and heedless, pure Dean. Dean's lips were soft against his but no less insistent for their pliability.

It wasn't Dean who pulled their bodies together. Sam's dick throbbed even as his stomach lurched. "No," Sam gasped, tilting his head back to escape Dean's mouth and staring up into the maelstrom that was Lucifer, waiting to reclaim Dean. Dean nipped at the line of Sam's throat, hard enough to bruise, and Sam clenched his fingers on Dean's biceps.

Dean shushed him, carding his fingers through Sam's hair even as his tongue rubbed catlike over Sam's stubble. Sam shivered, thrilled and horrified and wanting so badly to let Dean take care of him. Sam had thought he'd known what he was doing and it had all been lies, obvious and pathetic. Dean loved him, Dean had a plan. Sam's body was sending emergency signals from every nerve, and his brain was no better off, locked up like it had been flash-frozen.


Sam recognized Castiel's voice, but before he could turn, the cloud above them reformed into a funnel and arrowed back into Dean. Sam fell back and there was another flash of white. When Sam's vision cleared he saw Castiel striding towards them, hand raised to Lucifer, eyes cold and jaw set. His tie was pulled down four inches and his hair looked as if he'd been through a whirlwind, but he moved like a freight train, no fear in him.

Dean—Lucifer—turned just as Castiel got within a foot of touching distance. He didn't bother with theatrics. Castiel simply froze in place. The angel's lip twitched with effort, his upraised hand shaking as if carrying a thousand pounds, but he was going nowhere.

"Castiel," Lucifer breathed. "You no longer belong to the Host." Castiel's whole face seemed to contract, a spasm of shame and pain. Lucifer circled him; Castiel was frozen mid-gesture, his hand struggling to close on empty air even as Lucifer leaned in, his mouth less than an inch from Castiel's ear. "I can see it: you brought me here and fought off the others who would have held me back, so you are anathema."

Lucifer backed off. His eyes were lit up like bonfires as he examined the air around Castiel. His fingers traced a curve in the air beside Castiel's shoulder; Castiel shuddered, his eyes closing and his mouth dropping open. "They didn't manage to take your Grace. Your wings, they're—they're amazing." And that was Dean, as entranced as if he were scouting out a new engine for the Impala, Dean seeing Castiel's true form for the first time. Dean and Lucifer, braided together. Sam didn't know whether he was feeling joy or nausea.

"Release him," Castiel commanded, as if he weren't about to shake himself apart.

Dean shook his head. "You don't get it, Cas. There's no release. There's just me now."

Castiel swiveled his head, frowning, and his hand fell as he scrutinized Dean more carefully. "Dean," he said, terror and wonder entwined in his voice, the way Abraham and Isaac might have reacted to the appearance of an angel. Sam was alight with curiosity, even jealousy: they were seeing things in each other he couldn't, and even if Castiel had lied to Dean again and again he was still here, still alive, wanting to save Dean for his own sake and not just as a prybar to open the gates of Hell. Castiel had rescued Dean, conferred with him, answered his prayers while Ruby had been dripping sulfur into Sam's veins, and he knew it was his own fault but it still hurt like having his ribs snapped, one by one, crushing in on his heart.

But when Dean spoke again, his affectionate tone was gone, replaced by the raw anger Sam remembered from their last fight. "Ten years," he said. "One stroke of the knife was enough to break that first seal, but you kept me there ten more years. I'll spot you the thirty on the rack because I know why you had to wait, but I kinda want to know what else was on the to-do list that month."

Castiel opened his mouth, but before he could speak Dean's hands clenched into fists and Castiel went down, smashed flat against the floor like the Roadrunner with an invisible elevator on him. The angel groaned and spat blood, a fine spray that hissed into steam where it landed on the sticky runnels Lilith's pattern had left.

Dean waited while Castiel swallowed the rest of it. "I did not know," he said thickly, the words blurry through his battered lips. "I swear to you—"

"You swear," Dean interrupted, rich with contempt. "On what precisely do you swear, little brother?" Sam jolted at the words, so foreign to Dean and yet falling so easily from his mouth. Sam was going to go crazy—crazier—trying to sort out what was Dean and what was Lucifer. If there was even any difference any more.

Castiel closed his eyes and managed to push himself to his hands and knees. Wisely, he didn't try to stand. His voice was gravel-rough, humbled. "On all that I am, on all that I was, I swear to you that I believed I acted at the first opportunity. Had I known, I would have come for Dean before."

"You would have come for me, you mean," Dean said, and the fact that another slash opened up on Castiel's cheek in time with his words should have given the lie to his claim. But Dean's lips were twitching just like they had when Dean had found out about Adam, his eyes liquid and vulnerable.

"Dean," Castiel said, and Sam heard pain far beyond the physical, pain and desperate longing. "I would have come for you."

Dean turned away, raising his hand to his mouth. Castiel bowed his head and held his position. The air was heavy. Sam could smell the blood, Ruby and Castiel and Lilith, sharp as an icepick into his brain. Smell is little particles of the real thing, he remembered; he was getting his fix, demon and angel both, without even trying.

"Okay," Dean said at last. "Okay. I believe you. So I guess the only question is: now that you don't serve Heaven, will you serve me? Will you kneel before me and offer me your obedience?"

Castiel's eyes shot to Sam, standing to one side. "Nuh-uh," Dean chided, squatting easily and resting his forearms on his thighs. "Sam doesn't have to kneel. There's only one of him." Sam didn't mean to smile at that—it was only the demon blood that made him thrill with Dean's announcement—and he was glad that Castiel's attention had gone immediately to Dean, so he didn't have to see the angel's judgment.

Blood dripped steadily from Castiel's nose, and there was a trickle edging down from his right ear. "I did not Fall so that Lucifer could rise," he gasped out, his head dropping down below his shoulders.

Dean shrugged. "No, that was inevitable once your commanding officers decided they were sick of waiting," he agreed. "You Fell so that I'd be here. You Fell to save humanity, and I think we all understand by now whose side that puts you on. The only question is whether you'll admit it. Sam and I had to swallow a metric assload of suck 'cause we trusted the wrong folks. It's your turn." He stared hard at Castiel. Sam recognized that flat glint in his eye. Dean was ready to put Castiel down. He didn't want to, but he'd do it unhesitatingly and he wouldn't mope about it afterwards.

Castiel sucked in air, coughed. "Do you in truth still desire as Dean Winchester desired?"

"Cas," Dean said, delighted, "are you coming on to me?"

Somehow the angel managed to tilt his head reproachfully, even as he was otherwise as still as prey. "Do you intend to bring Hell to earth? Your rebellion began with contempt for humankind."

Dean stood and paced an erratic circle, typically restless. "I got over it. The problem's not people. The problem is Dad, setting us against each other. Judging us for being what He made us. I'm not the one who put this all in place—the seals, the prophecies, the friggin' apocalypse. I just want to be free."

Sam held his breath. The devil could quote scripture, this he knew, but it sounded so much like Dean, exhausted from struggle but willing himself to be strong just long enough to fight one last battle. Dean's ring gleamed as he ran his hand through his hair, calming himself.

"Let me ask you something," he said, the muscles in his jaw working. "You remember grabbin' me out of Hell?"

Castiel nodded slowly.

"Was that a good place? Was that a place that should exist, no matter what somebody did to deserve it?"

"No," Castiel said, his voice filled with what Sam thought was disillusionment. Strange to think that an angel's innocence could be lost.

"Then I say," Dean's volume rose, "it's long past time to shut it down. Close it off and don't let it get filled again. Might be we'll have to deal with a lot of demons who don't understand the rules have charged, but there's this: Do it my way and nobody's making any more of 'em. Humans get to do good and evil all on their own."

This could all go very wrong, Sam knew. But it was so plausible, and really, what cause had the angels ever given them to think that Heaven had humanity's best interests at heart?

"One more time," Dean said, his voice taking on an alien reverberation, as if it were coming from every direction at once. "Castiel, son of my father. Outcast and rebel. Will you join me? Will you return my love? Will you stand at my right hand while we free humanity from this endless war?"

Castiel trembled; Sam could nearly see the air around him shake with the vibration of his wings. His face was pale underneath the blood, his lips almost as white as his skin. Slowly, as if his bones were made of plaster, he pushed himself upright until he was kneeling, just as Dean had asked.

"Yes," he said, and now all Lilith's blood was boiling away, wisping into smoke around them, filling the air with the smell of distant, white-hot fires. "I will serve you. I will have no other before you. I will pursue those who have harmed you to the heights of Heaven."

Dean reached out and stroked across Castiel's cheek, smearing the blood until it almost looked like one of Anna's angelic symbols. Castiel rose, guided only by Dean's hand, Dean's thumb pressing down at the center of his bottom lip. And when he stood, Dean kissed him, passionate as if he were making another crossroads deal, then gentling into something that reminded Sam of how Dean had recently started to watch Castiel when he thought he wasn't being looked at in return.

Sam's vision shivered. He didn't want—but he wanted to cover Castiel's traces with his own, paint Dean's mouth red with it until their blood was the same again, demon and human together.

As if he'd heard Sam's thoughts—and that was, Sam realized, a distinct possibility—Dean broke off the kiss and grinned over at Sam. "Don't worry, Sammy," he said. "You're still the one I'm takin' to prom. Cas here—well, I guess he's my wingman." He smirked, so self-satisfied that Sam wanted to punch him just on general principles, and they could have been back in the Impala on any of a thousand hunts.

Dean's smile turned fond, inviting Sam to share his amusement. "An angel with too many human sympathies, a human with too much demon blood, and me. I think us crazy kids just might make it work." Castiel's harsh breaths filled the air, his eyes still raised worshipfully to Dean. Dean frowned, impatient as ever, when Sam didn't smile back. "You're with me, right? Not gonna make me do it without you?"

And where, after all of it, had he been heading? "I'm with you if you're with me," Sam reassured him, realizing that he hadn't ever said that out loud. Until now, right now with Dean crossing to hold him again, he'd never completed any bargains. He'd prayed (to God), demanded (of Dad, of Dean, of Ruby), begged (the same set), and lots of other things, but he'd never successfully made any deals. (Starting at the top, Dean would have said; might still say if Sam pointed it out.) If this was what he could have of Dean, then this was where Sam needed to be.

Dean's kiss burned like frostbite, tasted like rock candy and copper wires.

It felt almost like being free.

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