When Michael returned from Hell he did that in the form of a carefully picked bouquet of the ten plagues. Dress to impress - and, well, Dean had to admit he was impressed. A little bit. It scorched into his mind. The mental image of wine spilled across the sky around an eerily white full moon that floated on steely clouds standing on a forest of lightningbolts. Even a demon could marvel at such aesthetics. What a horrendously beautiful, freaky sight.
An entire district had gone up in flames the same day. It burned for a week after. And yet - hundreds of people had walked out of the fire unscathed. Some had died a horrible death. True hellish footages were shown on TV. It seemed almost as if Michael had missed his earlier estate and so, upon his miraculous escape, his first deal was to redecorate. Not like they could have known it at first. Dean would never forget how Crowley had spent the next two weeks in a constant state of on the verge of hysterics. Paranoid of the unknown…
Dean could relate. He had felt an anxious grip tighten around his guts as well despite the sneer he wore as dust-covered armour made of dragon scales. The constant sharp burn in his nostrils and his lungs didn’t help a bit. Also he wasn’t on top of impulse-control recently, so that could serve as an excuse of his current surroundings.
Partially, at least.
He was sitting under the velvet-heavy smell of spilled blood mingled with the steam curling from the bathroom. Dean had the windows of the motel room closed, careful, to keep the heady scent within. Not for worries about anyone getting suspicious of possible murder – which would exactly be the case – but in order to wash his nose, windpipes and lungs clean of this sickening, burning smell that made him itchy all over. This scent, this lingering smoke he had a hard time tracing back to its origins made it impossible to enjoy his new-found freedom.
The tacky wallpapers had already been repainted with red and intestines – damn, Dean should have gone for interior design instead of becoming a hunter. The owner of said chunks (the pervert manager of the motel, no one would miss him) lay presumably dead and disembowelled on the floor. The soaked through patch on the carpet had almost reached the tip of Dean’s boots.
Right then and there, hair still damp from the shower, Dean came up with a clever plan of revenge. Because even through death and his cool new shades Dean wouldn’t let anyone off the hook for torturing his family. That was his and his job alone.
“Now, let’s turn back to the parking lot,” John commanded silently.
Dean licked his lower lip into his mouth just for one thoughtful nervous second, then he nodded.
So serious, Michael thought with a flicker of warmth in the backseat. Always aiming for the best. Worried to fail - yet overachieving. He didn’t know much about driving a car. Actually, all he did know was that it made his hunter happy, that, despite the ever flowing asphalt and half-tint scenery, it grounded Dean. As far as Michael was concerned that was all that mattered.
That, and how he knew exactly where this scene was going to end.
In flourish sense of fulfilment, success, the purest kind ever blooming bright and wild with one beautiful burst of spring; another radiant star added to the striking glow that was Dean’s soul. Driving lessons concluded and enthroned by the heavy, warm slap of one rough, creation-roughened hand on the shoulder, and a praise. Good job, son. Pride of the father. A precious thing.
In the backseat Michael leant his elbow against the door and let his cheek rest against the curl of his fingers.
He felt content as he watched the tendons shift in Dean’s hands as he changed gears before a turn and then back up when the road straightened. But such contentedness came with a leaden weight spilling through the vast expanse of his raw grace. He was tired. Abominably weary.
It had been three dozens of meetings already. He promised himself this would be the last one. Just as Michael had resigned himself to be a silent observer. He didn’t even have to put up a charm. Dean didn’t recognize him - or seen him for that matter - no matter how often he had seemed to lock gazes with the archangel when he checked the blind spot behind his right shoulder.
Ahead of them the lights of one-in-a-million sleepy town’s lights appeared. This stage of Dean’s heaven was about to come around, form a perfect circle in the parking lot where they had started from, and then close with the door of a motel room that had all kinds of numbers and little notes, reminders written on its scratched surface. Then that door would lead somewhere else. Michael wondered where.
He allowed himself a lazy, content second to tilt his head back even further and let his gaze wander among the stars that stretched pale above them. Their count matched the number of the freckles Dean wore on his skin and soul alike.
There weren’t that many options. For the amount of times Dean had died already Michael had seen the scenes, the various stops of this Heavenly highway repeat themselves. Maybe they would find themselves in the Roadhouse; the scent of home surrounding them that now meant more alcohol than fresh-baked pie. Maybe it would go to yet another parking lot; Dean would get back into the Impala, sit next to Sam and read for his little brother from one of those books about the Knights of the Round Table. Michael enjoyed those scenes. Or really, it could be again Sammy’s bedroom, where Dean liked to dwell and watch his brother, sometimes as a baby, sometimes grown, but always in a room painted with innocence and holy.
Whenever he saw the scenes turn back into familiar worlds and times Michael always ached for Dean. Was this really the life his Father had planned for his hunter? A young life with so little joy in it? A life where Michael had no place but to be an observer or a momentary soothing presence who took Dean’s mind off his inevitable fate in Hell?
Dean turned back again to check his blind spot. At first Michael ignored it, but then he realized that Dean was looking at him. Incredulous and nebulae pulsing in his throat Michael met Dean’s gaze. He immediately felt the bleeding hope freeze in his veins.
Dean’s eyes were black – only the thin circle of the irises painted a ghastly shade of fluorescent green.
For a dizzying second the world stood still, quiet. Then it tilted over and crashed to the side and from the eye of the hurricane they were thrown right into the throes of violent winds drawing thick clouds of sulphur around them up to the sky’s belly. The car shook, pebbles, shinbones and cracked skulls crashed into the metal sides and broke the windows. Through the spider-web cracks hellish odour, agonized screams and slimy clawed fingers wormed their way inside…
Jolted back to consciousness, it took a moment for Michael to groan and recognize he was indeed in the Impala, but while there was no smouldering wind hissing through the window cracks, the crowded compartment of the car was still filled with the smell of sulphur and burnt flesh—
—claws laced with lightning; they pierced through him, stealing rotten gold and dying embers to paint their poisonous tips; hellfire breathed into his face, scorching his eyes—
Michael scraped for his jacket’s inside pocket. His pulse thundered in his ears, the sound threatened to drive a nail into one of the multiple tears of his skull and split it any second. As far as he could tell, the fabric under his numb fingers was heavy and wet, with some phantom warmth lingering among the folds. His hand shook violently. It made retrieving one of his carefully rolled cigarettes near impossible. He could close his fingertips around one—his atoms lay scattered on one terribly smelling grid, prepared, butchered for a good roasting—and finally brought it out of the pocket. As if the entire world wanted him to lose his grounding lifeline – the chance to set memory, vision and reality apart – the car jolted in the exact same time; but Michael held on fast.
Now he only had to find his lighter. Hopefully it wasn’t lost.
To the side Dean made a disgruntled noise deep in his throat.
“You ain’t gonna smoke that shitstick in here.”
Cold, empty eyes that made even the eternal depth of space seem welcoming. Their lashes made of crisp cruel snow.
“… Watch me.”
Dean struck out, fast like an attacking cobra in an attempt to seize the cigarette from Michael’s death grip. Instead he gripped Michael’s forearm. There was no answering hiss of pain.
“I said,” Dean said in the form of a deadly growl. “That you’re not gonna smoke that in here.”
Dean tightened his hold. However, the muscles in Michael’s hand and forearm didn’t work how they were supposed to. He could have his fingers wrapped around a sword’s steely blade and that would bend to his will more eagerly.
“Drop it,” he snarled.
“Or what?” Michael asked. His voice was barely above a rasping sigh. He didn’t need to have his eyes open or his attention razor sharp to know Dean’s face was distorted with rage.
“Or I’ll carve the burnt lungs out from behind your beating heart. Don’t think I wouldn’t.”
“I don’t doubt the intention. Only the effect.”
Dean didn’t let go of Michael’s arm, but his hold shifted slightly.
“What do you mean?”
“Undoubtedly you love cutting and slicing,” Michael said slowly. “I don’t blame you. That’s a sword’s only pleasure, but… You wouldn’t enjoy that much if I called you Lucifer again, would you?”
Dean went very, very still.
“I don’t care.”
“Lie…” Michael breathed the word out, soft and cruel, like a gust of wind riding the ocean’s fathomless waves.
It was more of a shapeless recollection of distant whispers and impressions of the universe, but Michael was pretty sure he put his finger on a vital vein.
Dean’s grip tightened again – out of his control, the tension in his system needed another way out where his clenched jaw could take it no more. There was a low but sharp crack of bone. Blood swelled in Michael’s arm blocked by the whitened fingers.
The breath shivered on his lips—
You cannot hide in the dark from me.—
“You wouldn’t let Lucifer torture me,” Michael went on. He didn’t know how much of it translated to his vessel’s muscles but his grace was trembling violently. “You want to claim such revenge uncontested.” His eyes opened to slits. There was golden rust, dried blood and dust sparkling on his long lashes. “If I begged Lucifer not to touch my wing again, if I were to scream for Lucifer to stop… how could you ever be satisfied?”
As fast as he had struck out Dean let go of Michael. Sucking on his teeth he curled his fingers back around the steering wheel.
“Roll down the fucking window,” Dean spat at him.
Michael gave a grunt as an answer. He wasn’t sure at all if he could do that. Now that he didn’t have Dean’s bone-grinding hold on his arm the onslaught of pain and sickening dizziness pushed him to the edge again. His wing screamed at him – a white chasm in the fabric of the night, blinding in its alien radiance. Michael was too detached from his body to command his hand to move, to search for that damned lighter, while at the same time he was too present, enough to feel all its pains, heightened.
Half a galaxy away Dean cursed under his breath.
With a landslide’s force heat slammed back into Michael’s world. Dean leant over him, his elbow sharp in the raw wound of his side. There was a creaking sound, the squeak of glass and rubber and then it was cold, fresh air cooling the sweat in Michael’s hair and over his brows. The flashing pain tore a groan from him – and he could breathe again.
“Incompetent asshole,” Dean said. “I bet you’d have me light your fucking incense for you too.”
Hushed with relief Michael parted his lips on a little sigh. If only he dared to smile…
He allowed Dean to pick the cigarette from his fingers. It stabbed into the opened wound, the tip soaked with blood. Something sizzled.
If he had more energy to spare Michael would maybe laugh at the absurdity of their situation. Incense rolled into a cigarette, the offering of God’s people, its smoke their murmured prayers, now held burnt in a demon’s hand; and there was also the meat-offering from a body shot-through with an angel’s grace. If he hadn’t known better Michael would say the end of days were finally near.
Vicious, with immature spite Dean shoved the cigarette between Michael’s parted lips – if he were a little slower it would have been shoved down his throat as well. Instead Michael took a shaky, wheezing breath. The tip flared orange and left a strip of ashes in its wake. He couldn’t inhale deep enough just yet, but the effect was imminent. The dried crumbs of blood dissolved, melted on his tongue and, mingled, they coated his throat with silver. From the corner of his mouth the wind took the smoke on its back. With defiant elegance it meandered around the car, curling in the furthest corners before it found its way out through Dean’s window.
Dean dissolved in a violent fit of choking coughs. He failed to sputter out a proper curse no matter how he tried. And Father, he tried.
Eventually Dean shoved Michael to the side as far as the seatbelt would allow it; his head lolled half-way out the window. Michael didn’t really care. The night air mingled with the sharp scent was a different kind of ferocious. Refreshing.
He had clumsily smoked half of his cigarette by the time he could prop his elbow against the door handle to assume a tiny bit more dignified position to allow his mind to fall apart again.
The second time Michael jerked awake with a small gasp his cigarette was gone, nothing but a fine layer of ashes on his tongue. Its scent was also gone from the air – along with the stench of sulphur. And yet, Dean was still croaking like a flock of crows.
“You’ll re-enact the scene from Birds if you keep that up,” said Michael.
Dean shot him a dirty look. “Fuck you, and you – ghoaua – and your fucking holy crack – ghrah!”
“Should I pat you on the back?”
Dean all but snarled at him. Michael unconsciously positioned his left arm to cover his still oozing wound.
“If you were to be really cynical about it,” Michael went on; his voice almost drowned out by the beat of the wind in their ears. “You could say high and burning already on the insides it isn’t that hard to rally up all the martyrs.”
“Are angels allowed to be cynical?” Dean said, his voice raspy, but in an unusual, funny way.
“Not my words.”
“Whose, then? Someone bidding you goodbye before the dive?”
Michael fell silent instantly.
Dean looked over at him, the turn of his head slow, threatening; a panther tasting weakness in the air.
“They never cared enough to say bye, did they?” Dean asked softly. “Just walked out on you, cool and unmoved. Not even angry. They didn’t say why, what was wrong. And you didn’t know how you could have kept them from leaving. Why would you, anyway?” Dean cleared his throat, and turned his eyes back onto the road. “Daddy shaped you to be a weapon, so you’re supposed to fight someone, right? And what was the point, fighting Lucifer alone where you had your own collection of plastic soldiers. That would be so unfair, wouldn’t it? Many against one itty bitty fallen devil… And so more and more picked to fight against you,” a chuckle scraped Dean’s throat. “Oh, not even against you, but God. They decided to fight God, no one even remembered Michael. Just a sword. Who even bothers to name their weapons nowadays?”
“It’s not my role to sit in judgement on God’s plans.”
“Weren’t you given the scales, huh?” Dean countered. “And with sane reasoning, which no doubt you need in order to decide which goes to which scale-pan, you should be able to form an opinion.”
“You’ve given this much thought,” Michael side-tracked carefully. His mind was slipping still too easily.
“Don’t tell me you haven’t.”
“… I did not. And will not.”
Dean cast him a long side-ways glance. When he spoke, his voice dropped to irresistible depths: “I’m asking because, you know, I did. Laid out, my soul bare and bleeding for the entertainment for all those demons to prod at me. Always a new, more painful way – the fucked up sons of bitches. And then there was Alistair carving little pieces out of me. All my sins spelled out on the surface. Burning scarlet letters. I mean, I obviously wasn’t a saint up until now,” Michael made a little, breathless sound. “But there comes a point when you start to wonder. Well, I’ve drank a lot. And fucked a lot of chicks. And I might have killed some people who I shouldn’t… even under Dad’s wing and all. I disappointed Dad, I didn’t kill the potential antichrist… And all these little things started to add up.”
Michael shook his head. “No. It didn’t convince you that you were a sinner. It did not.”
Dean scoffed. “Who was there? You or I?” but then he let his voice smooth out again, and he continued. “Alright, I didn’t concede that I deserved to be in Hell, but… but then I picked up a knife, ah, I was taken off the rack, and I got the first miserable, wicked soul drenched in black goo to cut up. It felt so good. So, so good. I still get to have an orgasm that comes just half as close. But to be fair, tearing your side open? Holding your burning organs in my hand? Ah, that felt really fucking close!”
“… You think you’ve had the demon in you ever since.”
“There’s nothing saying the contrary. It’s been nagging me, yeah. And now, with this,” he shot a meaningful look at the mark, bare, angry red and always tingling on the sensitive skin of his forearm, “I’m liberated. I’ve got a disease that doesn’t kill me, but allows me to live. You could use a little of that too, you know.”
“It would be disastrous.”
“No!” Dean laughed, “It would be phenomenal! Emperor of the entire universe, all planes, a new god!”
“I can see you, Mike. I can see the webbing criss-crossing your grace. One blow and your armour is shattered. It’s only a matter of time. And breaking isn’t all that bad.”
“You want to hear what virtues I was stripped off in Hell?”
“Well, you could say that. I mean, I’m still confused which part of you is the dick featherhead, and what’s been freed by… well. The Pit is kinda liberating, you have to admit that.”
Lo, you’ve suffered, yet you’ve become no free’er.
“A place where you’re twisted, sliced open and turned inside out, your convolution laid out to measure and see how pointless it all is,” Dean sighed in a strange mixture of longing and shivering horror, “Spilled guts, agony and all doubts. Have you cried I didn’t deserve this? Father why did you abandon me? Hm? With everything you’ve ever believed in beyond your reach, no prayer, no sliver of Heaven… Have you never wondered, Michael, why?”
Michael’s hand curled into a tight fist. The effort seemed to have taken all strength out of him to voice negation.
Would that become truth if you spoke the words out loud? Or would you just be like Peter, betraying his Lord for later ages to study his weakness and cowardice.
Dean’s eyes bore into him, knowing. “So even great archangels aren’t above such despair.”
Michael’s fingers prickled as if with heat, but they were cold and numb as they unfurled on his knee. His ears would burn had he the blood to spare.
“Mind to share those little thoughts?” Dean inquired. “It’s said you can work them out better that way.”
“Moments of weakness,” Michael said slowly, “aren’t to be boasted or distributed in such ways.”
“But you wouldn’t forget them.”
Michael sighed. “You wouldn’t let me.”
“Damn right. But it’s always the first steps that are difficult. The first tentative steps – the ones you think you can still halt and turn back on.”
“Steps to where?”
Dean turned to him, his grin radiant with a singeing lightning’s violence. “To free will of course.” Michael frowned – Dean just laughed at him, “You still deny it? Even after it’s defeated you!”
There was the familiar flare of irritation – and the frustration when he felt his hands leaden, shackled and helpless.
“The plan has been set long, long ago. It’s set far deeper and more time-proven than any stone.”
“Ah. But. When there is no one to hold up these doctrines. You can’t deny what undoubtedly exists, and… you could build a new regime.”
It started to look like yet another fight he had fought hundreds of times and yet, could never strike a clear victory. And now, his head was too heavy, his mind dulled with pain, and words plucked from his muddled head.
“I’m only saying,” Dean continued his musing. “God is gone. Dead if you ask me. We’ve screwed the world over so many times and he still didn’t bother to show his face for the party. Not even on the big, VIP occasions. So I guess Nietzsche was right on this one. I don’t care who killed him, but the big boss’s dead.”
“He cannot be killed more than Death…” said Michael. “No more than the Devil himself. Or hunger.”
Dean nodded, fingertip tracing the line of his curling mouth.
“Fine. We need a new god, then.”
“Constant blasphemy isn’t a sufficient mean to certify you aren’t human. If anything… it proves it.”
Dean scoffed. “You’ll see. Either way, blasphemy’s the highway to the greatest truths. This is uncontested. And since you’re a conscientious winged dick, you can’t just let all that two billion people pray to the wind.”
“I’ve been…” Michael hissed in pain as he shifted. “Their prayers. They didn’t go unheard.”
“So you have been acting as God!”
“I’m His viceroy.”
“Until he returns.”
Michael nodded – his forehead tapped against the cool doorframe.
“But what if, as in our case, daddy doesn’t come home? Is there an expiration date or something?”
“When faith dies.”
Dean scoffed. “Aren’t you one stubborn son of a bitch.”
Stubborn, yes, but…
“And I assume it’s your faith that would bring God back, hm?” Dean continued on a cruelly conversational tone. “When all churches crumble, along with the tiniest shamble of church built in the last broken body, God, wherever he may be, will look down and see you, his most faithful, as a rock in the middle of the raging sea. Unshakeable faith in his return. Do I paint an accurate picture? I’m no artist, but I think it’s quite spot on. With shades of drama and all that. Mike. Don’t be rude, I’m talking to you.”
Michael didn’t say a word. He didn’t even glance Dean’s way. He concentrated evening out his breathing to the best of his abilities so that it could conceal the recrudescent pain radiating from his side and swelling just behind his forehead.
“The whole fallout between you and Lucifer was because of the human ordeal. Kneel or not to kneel, hm? And you did. Promising to serve in our – tsk, their defences. So you kept your fancy seat in Heaven, hurray. Except… Except if I wanna be honest you and your feathery bunch have screwed up people just as much as the Devil did. That whole bullshit about the plan, and the greater good? Are you kidding me? Since when could you label it good to destroy two third of the world in a best case scenario? You see where I’m going, right?”
Michael had a terrible idea where this was going… and with that Dean’s voice started to slip into silvery smooth tones, slick and sharp like clever knives made of crystal-clear ice.
“You didn’t raise a fucking finger in protection of humans. That’s why I used to have a job. Earth is a playground for demons and monsters. And, let’s be honest, you don’t give a fuck. All you care for is me. Very flattering, may I add, but also super stupid.”
“Ah, really? You wouldn’ta let me kill all those peeps just to summon you. You could have stopped me, couldn’t you? Don’t think I don’t feel that handprint in my chest all the damn time! Either way, you’re summoned on a demonic way. Through the blood of the innocent.”
“Before you nod off again. My point is: God might be easier lured into returning if he saw his supposedly most faithful turn on him. It can’t be that hard. It’s all a little acknowledgement you need.”
Yes. And you know it to be true. Oh, Michael – icy fingers took hold of his chin and bright, shattered light pierced his eyes – stubborn and eternally blinded. Father separated us, because He knew. He knew you could overthrow Him. You – who are just like Him. To the last fault.
“…I won’t raise my sword against Him.”
“Maybe not. But you have already laid it to rest against him.”
Michael gasped – and in that single drawn breath the world around him collapsed. There was a shrieking sound of the sky above being jolted from its eternal orbit, the stars twisting under the wheels of the car while the grave serpent of the road suddenly took the place of the dusty Milky-way. He felt sick, too hot in his confines, his flesh cage burning and turning hard and unbreakable.
Never, never in uncountable millennia had he ever wondered that anything he did – in the name of the One and Only – could go against God’s wishes. Michael had waited. He had listened to millions of prayers and they had left just as many gashes on his heart, although he never bled – his blood had run cold with mercy and with the very same phrases he used to comfort Raphael’s freezing gentle heart with: it’s not time yet. It was eternal mercy that allowed suffering, that allowed War to drive his red horse and dwell for years across the world, that forced Michael to only incline his head to Death, turn his eyes from Famine and cast a wary glance at Raphael, stone-cold, when Pestilence blew in valleys on damp winds.
Was he not loyal then? Was he not loyal to that inconceivable mercy?
His sword could do nothing that wasn’t part of the plan. What good would it do to raise it against the banes of the world when there were still so many awaiting salvation?
Again, Michael stood on a precipice. Icy wind blasted from the deep. It tangled in his hair and had his flame wither and shrink back.
You have no mercy in you. There never was.
It was a matter of some terrible irony that only Dean’s finger, warm from its clutch on the gear-shift, dipped into Michael’s raw wound kept him from tumbling back headfirst into Hell.
Dean had burnt all nerve-tract of his right index finger by the time Michael’s breathing pattern settled and he blinked out of consciousness again.
Truth be told Michael was every once in a while spot on with his observations even though Dean couldn’t always tell which impossible sleeve he had pulled them out of. He would have to think of a way to torture the archangel that didn’t involve Dean throwing him back to Lucifer to play around with. Damnation. That was one thing he had failed to count on…
Suddenly, over the blasting speakers and the ravish holler of the wind Michael’s raspy voice curled around Dean and dragged him out of his gory musings.
“You recited Iliad to me. Multiple times.” The weak smile that failed to draw lines at the corner of Michael’s mouth prodded at Dean’s in turn. “You were… You were so fevered about it. When you read it. Only for the first time in that Heaven.”
“We didn’t meet in Heaven!” Dean barked.
Michael only sighed a chuckle.
“I still can’t decide if Gabriel hated me, and thus tore you from me intentionally each time… Or if he wanted to make amends granting us a hundred chances of encounter…”
“We met first in ‘78! You said so yourself!”
Michael’s head lolled to the side, sliding, sweat-slick against the doorframe. His long lashes settled fluttering against his cheeks. Some despicable serenity took over his features - far out of reach of the terrible pain that only moments ago wrecked his body.
“You didn’t get the whole of it yet, but… Oh, but the heroes. The heroes you loved so much…”
Dean’s eyes widened as if prickled. His lips parted and through that little gap the words managed to worm themselves down his throat and whispered directly in the creases of his brain.
“I could never forget your appalled wrath turned at gods of ancient Greece. But you did forget me telling you that you’ll be far greater than the heroes you so adored.”
The engine howled as Dean slammed his foot down on the gas pedal but didn’t bother to shift gears, pushing the Impala to her limits in hopes that the speed would crush the remaining organs in the archangel’s body and effectively drown him in ember-filled blood.
He didn’t succeed.
“I told you you’d be greater than Hector and Achilles. Smarter than Odysseus.”
Dean jerked the wheel to the side. The tires screeched, the entire car spun around and jolted, ready to flip over, and yet, and yet it was still not enough to silence this menace of word-vomit.
“The idea of praised victory… You kissed me just that I would shut up—”
“Now I’ll break your damned face! I’ll tear your tongue out!”
In a furious dash Dean tore his side of the door open, uncaring if another passing car would break it off. He practically leapt over the hood just to get to Michael’s side quicker.
Struck to the cool ground, black branches of trees and the crescent moon ahead, Michael only curled a smile, cruel in its nostalgic ache, eyes bearing deep into what Dean could only imagine be that scorned flicker of human soul Michael claimed he still had glowing bright.
“You were blushing, flustered. Gorgeous.”
“Then look at me!” Dean shouted as he shook Michael by the collar of his jacket. “Look at me now! Do you find me pretty even now? Do you?!”
Dean saw that awfully earnest face painted with vivid red and furious white; and with the cry of a wounded beast he lashed out to cover it with black and purple bruises so deep and open that he would find no resemblance of Michael in the broken structure of bones and torn flesh.
Forced to kneel on the ground, even barely clinging to this broken vessel, one of Dean’s hand fisted in his hair and the other grasping his trachea Michael’s pulse remained steady like the eternal pace as the sun climbed the horizon and then slid below undisturbed for centuries upon centuries. It infuriated Dean all the more. The skin had peeled back from his knuckles, bones revealed raw and burnt. He had Michael at his feet, defeated, disgraced, over and over, ravished - and still! Still he couldn’t detect a true crack in the blinding grace, this stubborn substance that refused to give way under his claws and teeth and reckless cruelty.
“Will you shut up now?” Dean growled.
Michael’s lips unfurled. For the time, instead of words soggy blood spilled from between his teeth and down his chin.
The world seemed to stand by; it enwrapped them in terrible calm that radiated from the battered face, a thin slit of the barely visible eyes. And yet it sent chills tingling down Dean’s spine. Its heat pooled at the small of his back.
Dean pulled an arm back then struck his fist into Michael’s face. The angel jerked, his hands raised half-way in an aborted attempt of self-defence. Under his knuckles a tooth came lose. It went flying and rolled away somewhere among the wet grass now splattered with blood as well.
As soon as Dean let go of his hair Michael went down like a sack of potatoes. He lay prostrate on the ground, his fingers flexing at his sides with the coiling desire to fight like they did back in the bar.
For a second Dean watched him. Simultaneously with the hot sense of desire a much cooler sense of remorse shot up his spine – they pooled in the pit of his stomach all the same, together combined into something far more overwhelming even than the unquenchable thirst for revenge. If only Michael would give in… But then again, wouldn’t he lose his tattered beauty that way?
With the languid ease and confidence of a predator moving up to his defenceless prey Dean stepped over Michael. With his boot he rolled the angel onto his back, chest heaving on display for Dean to admire in its vulnerability. It could be so easy to walk back to the car, grab the First Blade and stab Michael in the heart. There would be nothing left to threaten him. He would be free. Clean, sharp, only one strike instead of so many. But then Michael would have an unfairly easy way out too—and then what was all the agonizing planning for?
Dean lowered himself down onto his knees on either side of Michael. He trailed a hand up his chest, the fabric of the shirt stiff and dry, caked with blood and ashes under his fingers. His hold fastened around the bobbing throat. It was thrilling to feel the helpless shift of the tendons and the Adam’s apple on the webbing between thumb and forefinger.
“Haven’t you suffered enough? Wasn’t Hell enough?” Dean said, his voice low, threateningly gentle. “Wrongfully imprisoned, tortured beyond reason and sanity… Michael, wasn’t it enough that it didn’t stop on Earth either?
“I wonder how it must feel for you though. All the while I’ve kept you around,” at that Michael winced under the mask of bruises. Dean acknowledged it with a cheerful there we go, “You’re damaged, angel, far beyond repair. You seek a demon’s favours, even now. Why? Why won’t you just give it up?”
“You know why.”
“It could be over!” Dean snapped at the barely gurgled words. His grip on the bruised throat tightened despite himself. “One word! You finally accept that one fucking word you’ve been chasing for an entire year, and I won’t hurt you anymore!”
“As I said… you can’t hurt me more.”
“Frightening, isn’t it?”
Dean felt his breath hitch in his throat.
Any sense of empathy or twisted compassion had blinked out of him and was replaced by boiling anger immediately. He hadn’t yet arrived to that stage of rage when he felt calm in the tempest of his mind, but he was definitely toeing the line. Tension simmered in his chest, pearly, acidic bubbles lining his ribs, but not enough to explode just yet.
His vision turned red – and Michael’s visage didn’t change! Michael lay just the same, infuriatingly regal even broken, undefeated, smug in his stupid stubbornness, red and purple, black hair sweat-slick against his skull.
Dean desperately wanted to tear the vessel down from around Michael. Shred it, like fine clothing, tear it to pieces and reveal the naked grace. He wanted to let it run like the fire-y river that fed the Lake of Fire, and he wanted to dip his face in the flames and drink… Snuff out its light, burn his throat with the heat, bury and extinguish it in the great depth of his heart. Such power – and he should be able to hold it, as the defiled true vessel, he could hold the power of the Mark and the Archangel. No one could ever stand in his way. No one could tell him no ever again!
No. He couldn’t. Not yet, anyway.
Dean’s hands balled into tight fists in the front of Michael’s shirt. As he lifted the angel from the ground, he was limp and heavy; his head hung back, strands of hair tangled with broken grass blades.
Just as Dean wondered whether he should bring their mouths together and suck the blood off Michael’s tongue or just slam Michael back into the ground as many times as it would take for him to pass out a pair of headlights came to a halt a little further up on the road. It didn’t start moving again. There was the sound of a door opening. A firm but raspy voice called out something Dean couldn’t make out over the throbbing blood in his ear.
Begrudgingly he let Michael drop back onto the ground. What would anyone see if they came close enough to peer over the bulking Impala? Ongoing murder, plain as daylight even in the shadows. No, the last thing Dean needed was to get the police involved so close to his destination. Not to mention Sammy was most likely hooked onto the authorities’ channels 24/7, which would really be inconvenient.
One more death. It didn’t matter now did it?
They were sitting on the thin patch of withering grass in the long shade of a truck that had long forgotten the memory of oiled machinery and dusty roads. It was an early summer afternoon where Michael had already lost two layers of shirts and was calmly pulling his last T-shirt off over his head. His gun lay in miserable pieces in front of him. He lost for the third time in a row. When he next looked up instead of the expected gloating smirk he was met with a contemplative frown that drew too old creases on Dean’s young face.
“What the hell’s wrong with you, man?” he asked.
Michael looked at him, puzzled for the time being.
Dean’s frown only deepened. He let out a frustrated sigh. Features arranged into a scowl he fastened his own – perfectly assembled and already accurately fired – gun before he reached for the parts of Michael’s. With practiced ease he started to put it back together.
“You barely even put two parts together,” Dean said. “Come on, you’re better than this.”
“I’m not overly fond of firearms,” Michael said. He couldn’t help rubbing at his eyes. His face felt rubbery under his hand, foreign – but so did the fingers, the breath in his lungs, the sight of his eyes, the sluggishly slow-beating heart in his chest…
“I don’t mean that. It’s… are you sure you’re not sick or something?”
Michael’s head was swimming, but… he couldn’t get sick, could he?
“You’re awfully pale,” Dean’s hands stilled, the clever killing machine slowly lowered to the warm ground. Dean squinted, failed to focus on something and then looked Michael straight in the face. “… You’re hurt. I- I can’t tell why I know, but I know, okay? So don’t be an asshole about it.”
Surprise bloomed heat and life inside Michael’s chest. His heart swelled with it, it filled his chest, climbed up his throat and brought colour to his cheeks—only to spill through the crack of his cheekbone. The left side of his face felt numb.
Dean glowed so bright. Michael had gazed through the blinding dying core of thousands of suns and brighter-still stars. He had looked upon the brightest of them all, he had looked upon God’s face, and yet, they couldn’t outshine this beautiful soul. And this soul was worried for him.
The smile grew lopsided; Michael stopped feeling the left side of his face.
His sight was lost to a hot tint of orange that gradually grew to smouldering white. Pain rumbled behind his forehead then thundered in his ear. It flooded his entire body with lightning intensity and speed—
Two hours ago, when they finally arrived to the bunker it was empty like a tomb. There was no trace of warmth or any other indication of recent movement apart from the vents stirring up some fine dust. Obviously Dean couldn’t tell for sure, but he guessed he had at least one peaceful day to spend alone with Michael. Then Sam would return – probably with Castiel by his side if he had to make a wild assumption knowing Crowley – and then… and then what? Dean would kill them. Both of them. Obviously. He couldn’t put that off any longer now, could he? And if he managed to break Michael into accepting his yes, then he certainly could annihilate the last bonds that connected him to his past abominable human existence.
Even if the two actions were of a different emotional intensity – somehow it felt like destroying Michael was a test. A vital first step he had to take.
Dean watched Michael’s body begin to shake.
So now, in the dark embrace of the smallest dungeon room Dean could find he was sitting with his scorched forearms crossed over the back of a chair while Michael lay on the floor wallowing in a puddle of his own ashen blood. There was a strip of white-yellow light, only a thought wide slipping in from the corridor, but it fell right across Michael’s eyes. If he were to open his eyes – which was set to happen any time now – he would be blinded.
Finally, finally, Dean felt like he had gained the upper hand.
Meeting after actual meeting—not like those ridiculous Heavenly encounters Michael hallucinated—Michael proved to be a natural disaster, a terrible force that Dean just couldn’t subdue. It wasn’t like he could never land a punch or drench the archangel in holy oil as it had happened on their very first run-in, but when Michael managed to fish his righteous ass from the embers of hellish memories…
Dean shuddered. Those moments were astounding. Awesome. Even as a demon – or maybe just because of that – he imagined he could grow to, well, not love, but adore Michael.
It happened during that short period of time when Dean’s blood was sweetened by the pumping adrenaline, when the archangel wasn’t a mean of sadistic entertainment but a blazing mirage of terror. Then Michael cared about the amount of bodies dropped in Dean’s wake. Then it was his brow shattered, another eye-socket for a sun to glare out from behind the bone that slowly melted into magma and wept down his face. Raw power whipped up massive gusts of desert wind. Soon the asphalt of the parking lot was running like a river made of fire.
Gradually, the ever-morphing vessel lost all of its resemblance of humanity, and yet it was still man shaped, but far more terrible. It was made of bright gold darkness, piercing reds that singed and set fire to the eyes. Vibrant among folds of smouldering wings thousands of eyes opened to look around – impassioned and judging.
Around them people dropped, dead or fell prostrate on their faces like old, deceived prophets and pagans.
Demons and monsters scurried for dirty cracks, screaming and charred beyond the chance of survival.
It had been a while since Hell last witnessed an archangel crowned with righteous fury.
Then Michael turned his eyes at Dean. All thousands of them.
Dean started shaking. He vibrated with the air. The Mark on his arm was glowing, almost as bright as Michael’s face. A shrill voice was screaming unstoppable obscenities in his head. It clawed at his brain, the insides of his body, fight, fight, fight! – his trembling hands were still clad in the archangel’s spilled blood, he could taste the sparks on the inside of his teeth – but all he truly wanted was to run.
Michael swiped a hand through the air – a flicker of a candlelight with the sound of a cannon blown – and Dean found his front melting to the ground.
“Surrender.” Michael ordered.
Dean gurgled a bark of hysteric laughter into the asphalt. With great effort he pushed himself up. Michael allowed him to sit on his knees. Then his will pulled Dean back down all the same. This time to his back.
“Surrender.” Michael said again.
“Never,” Dean snarled. Terror swelled in his breast even further. He was soon to burst with it. “Never to a featherduster like you.”
Michael’s intact brow quirked up in cold-cruel amusement.
Michael stepped over Dean – the heat of his presence made the Mark’s bite feel fine and cool – and sunk to his knees. He placed a hand carefully in the centre if Dean’s chest—
A blood curdling scream was crushed under the searing iron fingers.
“Uncontrolled. Out of hand.” It wasn’t the red, lipless mouth but the trembling world that formed the words.
Michael rolled back his shoulders without his hand moving an inch from its branding mark on Dean’s chest. All at once the light had been snuffed out of the universe. There were no fluffy feathers, or sleek sharp flight feathers forming oversized cock wings stretching above them as a huge canopy to expel the streetlamps’ glow. It was vast darkness rooted in Michael’s shoulders. Endless black and darker than that with all those red eyes blinking in menacing, feline delight in the infinite night. There were talons and sharp swords shot through with just a thought of gold.
For a moment Dean forgot about all his pain.
“Fuck,” he mouthed.
A hysterically calm part of his mind would have sworn that Michael smiled.
Meanwhile the Mark throbbed wild and vicious to the point where it felt like tearing Dean’s arm out of his shoulder. It hollered fight, fight, fight! but also an undercurrent rumbled want, want, want!
On top of him, however, Michael remained in his position, until Dean’s back was one with the ground, and his lungs were scorched and filled with charcoal. He remained while Dean thrashed in his hold. Michael was unshakeable. Unmovable. So different than the stumbling, wide-eyed violent angel with a bemused smirk who scared the shit out of him in the middle of the massacre at that Gas-n-Sip. Michael also remained as Dean spat curses and blasphemies at him, and even when he started to beg.
Then the heat, the dark and the screaming of the Mark grew unbearable and Dean collapsed.
When he struggled no further Michael tilted his head.
Almost immediately, Dean felt the burning pressure on his chest ease up.
The fire receded around them, slowly, but surely. Michael’s angelic form began to furl into an average, solid human shape again. The cracks, wounds on his vessel glowed still bright but there was also the thought of red blood at the edges.
For a second that Dean almost missed from below the wisps of his eyelashes confusion flashed across the ethereally bruised face.
Then Michael was gone.
It was then – after he had managed to peel the skin off his back and had screamed himself hoarse and wreaked havoc among the ranks of Crowley’s henchmen – that Dean realized: not-fighting Michael was the most efficient way of bringing him to his knees.
Now, Dean knew that angels could bleed - and god, Michael bled so beautifully!
He could slash through flesh and shatter bone, watch with pervert fascination as colour drained from Michael’s face, how his pretty lips fell open on horrified gasps, and how his eyes glassed over terrible memories from Hell’s torture. He had heard Michael scream when he first slayed his side open spilling molten gold. Dean still shivered at the memory of the sound: shrill and desperate, pained that brought the skies crashing down and sucked the air out of the alley so that the demons’ skulls got crushed like empty soda cans, and even Dean’s ears bled.
But it wasn’t the way to break a sword.
At times rust was far greater in might than any muscle in battle.
Tiny pieces of his abused conscience rolled back to Michael. They took the form of deadly little spiders with poisoned legs taking more between their fangs than what they gave back to him. There was pain, deep velvet red and comfortingly familiar in his side; grey in the borrowed limbs without feeling for now; irritated pink around his wrists, scratches, nothing more; colourless death in his wing… and then there was piercing white, throbbing, in his head. The left side of his face was numb. He couldn’t feel it, but his eyesocket, oh, that was already howling with no sound, a terrible, sickening pain, unquenchable with the odour of sulphur burning his nose.
Michael forced his eyes open.
A sharp blade of light slashed his head in half along the line of his eyes. His mind burnt, and it was only sickness that stopped him from crying out. Michael recoiled, his back bumped against a moist wall, the memory of his wing, now broken, zig-zagged through him like no lightning ever had. It jerked his spine into a rounding arc, the assailant light finally out of his sight.
It took him several shaking breaths to force his will through his vessel’s nervous system. It wouldn’t stretch any further. He couldn’t know for sure where he was brought. Again, he risked a glance around.
Then, with sour bile rising in his throat he immediately regretted it.
A devious monster loomed over him.
Could it be—Of course it could! What was Hell if not the cruellest place in all of creation? A place steeped with evil, reeking of wickedness and sprouting iniquity; it was only a matter of time it started taunting him with freedom.
It felt so real for a second!
Feeling the phantom caress of his Father’s hands, as if on his own shoulders, down the length of his back, as he laid claim to his vessel, the first Man God had created. The pain in his chest had been real. The emptiness in which that pain pulsed still was so real when he saw Dean on that bed, covered in blood, dead. The fury that had set fire to his blood when he set Metatron aflame felt so real. Serving justice – it felt real, like how he imagined it to be at the end of the Apocalypse. His meetings with Hannah, her discipline, her loyalty to Heaven felt real. Quashing his grudge with Castiel for old bonds’ and service’s sake, going so far as to supply him with a parcel of his grace; but then savouring the idea of crushing him when he learnt Castiel had murdered Raphael, his dear sister, his grounding, helpless healer sister, in the name of that abominable free will – it all felt so real.
He knew it was only a matter of centuries Hell, the Cage and Lucifer would find a way to pick his sanity apart and then spit him out just as twisted as his brother had become. But the fact that he had fallen for such tricks so soon? Ludicrous! Michael felt the anger fill within him. It had been for a good while, far longer than he was embraced to Hell’s mouldering breast, but now the exploder was gone. The spark caught the gasoline of his blood—but it didn’t blow just yet. It burnt quietly, heating and licking away the walls of the bottle it was trapped in, the flames crowding at the bottleneck to be first to burst into roaring fire as soon as it finally shattered.
Not yet, not yet. You’re stronger than this. You’re a Sword. Your God created you to be a Sword.
You’re torturing yourself. Hell only aids you. It’s all in your head.
He dreaded God being still absent if he ever got out of the Cage. He dreaded Dean hadn’t learnt to take better care of himself and died. He had dreaded a hundred times a hundred different terrible scenarios. But, as Lucifer so loved to point out, Michael was lacking in the blessing of creativity. Imagining Dean to wear the Mark and singlehandedly keep the Darkness at bay for so long…
That would take more than creativity-ailed madness to imagine.
Through the welled up tears Michael forced his eyes – his right eye, at least – to focus.
It wasn’t Lucifer’s ice-quake smile looking back at him.
Stormclouds, purple-black and laced with grey-green strips of lightning towered over Michael, and even with the claws, the scales and torn flesh, the eyes around the blown pupils remained green. Always green, like the perfectly shaped leaves of Eden bathing in God’s grace.
The world tilted back into place. While it was still a bit smudgy around the edges, and even though the numbing spasm hadn’t dwindled from the left side of his skull, Michael could finally start breathing again.
The concrete beneath his prickling palms felt damp. He forced himself to move further away from the singeing blade of light that cut through even the sickening pain of his fractured cheek. Now his temple was sticky with blood as well. Gingerly, choking on nausea he folded a hand beneath his chest, with the other he sought even more secure leverage, and hauled himself into an awkward half-kneeling, half-sitting position.
His pupils dilated slowly. Michael carefully glanced around his prison. He took in as much as he could without tilting his head. Small, the walls were barely more than stretching shadows from all corners. There were torture devices hung on the wall. Chains. They couldn’t hurt him. Not even in Dean’s clever hands. They both knew that.
Dean was straddling a chair – he had assumed a power of position even despite his lazy sprawl. His eyes were intent, sharp with their stark blackness.
“You’re taking it better than I’d thought,” Dean observed.
Michael had nothing to say. He cringed internally when he felt another fat drop of molten rock blood slide down the jagged line of his face.
Dean tilted his head, the deepening line between his brows thoughtful and impatient.
“What’s comforting you?”
“Madness.” Michael’s answer fell awfully flat from his mouth. Half of it still refused his command.
“No, you aren’t the kind. But… something close. And I’ll carve it right out of you.”
“We’re going to talk with you not going anywhere. And somehow I’ll refrain from cutting you into tiny pieces.”
Whatever spells Dean had scratched around Michael’s wrists and throat they weren’t enough to keep the archangels powers bottled up; not when they were just as dangerously under pressure as their wielder. Slivers of memories, distorted, sharpened and saturated with poison slipped through the cracks.
The fine hairs stood on end on Dean’s arms, sparks crackled among them, and yet Dean watched the theatre unfold in front of him.
Once there was the swirl of tangled strings of colourful lights that blinked at those miserable souls who descended the flight of stairs to the cellar-like bar. The tiles that covered the steps were somehow always slippery, keeping drunk patrons in place. The dampness had seeped into the edges and corners where walls ran into each other, or where bar tops and long tables met with them. Wasn’t quite endearing, but far from disheartening still.
Dean looked around. He blinked like a cat lounging in the sun.
“Are you trying to go someplace nice?” he wondered.
Michael didn’t answer. He sat in the corner, his thighs pressed against his hard chest, eyes glassy.
“Didn’t know there was such a place left in you.”
Dean could taste and feel the scrape of rust beneath his nails. He had just killed a man. Maybe ten. It barely mattered if he kept count or not.
“What do you want, Dean?” Michael asked. Not now. In this fracture of memory. It felt a little bit like watching a recording through a fisheye.
“What, of course I missed you!” Dean had said, as he turned to Michael. Even despite the bravado he had turned his back to Crowley, he had been still too busy keeping half an ear out for the King of Hell to realize the little twinkle of something in Michael’s eye. In this little cell it seemed an awful lot like unsuccessfully repressed hope. “With all the time we’ve spent together lately, I thought we grew into something more. You know,” he had waved a hand between them, “like friends. With occasional benefits. Or did I misread the signs?”
Across from him Michael had organized his features back into an unimpressed mask.
In the now, however, his breathing was slowly, almost imperceptibly picking up.
“You’ve been poisoning me for months,” Dean had gone on, unfazed, counting on his fingers. “Gave me a nice, possessive palm-print on my chest—“
“Soul,” interjected both Crowley and Michael at the same time. One appalled, one absentminded.
Dean had aggressively ignored them. “You also let me kill a few people, I also broke your nose a couple times. Hey, and remember that fivesome we had?”
“What do you want, Dean?” Michael asked again. His tone turned sharper, eyes hard and spine straight.
It took Dean a minute to realize it wasn’t the memory demanding an answer.
“Oh, like it’s even a question!”
Michael stared back at him, his focus, like a beam of light through a magnifying glass.
It always was. What do you want, Dean? Why do you want it Dean?
“I want you inside me of course. And not just your dick, though, I have to admit, I quite enjoyed that. I know you did, too.”
Michael hummed, his gaze flicking to one scratched sigil on the sensitive skin of the inside of his right wrist. It was beading blood. “You didn’t like those parts,” he said softly, voice far away. “You didn’t like the reminder you still had a soul I could touch.”
Dean’s fist tightened on the back of the chair. Indeed, he wasn’t a fan of Michel searching for loopholes to go fishing around for miserable left-behind fragments of a soul that no longer affected him, while he still refused to accept the yes Dean had offered in profane worship of their communion.
That annoyed rage was part of the reason why he had found such pervert satisfaction in playing along Michael’s organs as if they were keys of the piano through that gash on his side. It was worth it, piercing the burning Jupiter of the angel’s lungs with his nails. It was worth every inch of charred skin and burning his flesh to the bone.
“I’d be less pissed about it, if you weren’t trying to cheat me again. I’ve been honest with you all along. Can’t say the same thing about you, Mick.”
“With your fear and anger, yes, you were honest with me about those. But not with yourself.”
“I didn’t realize freaking angels of the lord had a degree in psychology. Would have set up a nice leather couch had I known.”
“If I accepted the yes you are so much pressuring,” Michael went on as if Dean’s snark was just another twang of the tense strings in the air. “I could kill you with my mere presence. I would kill you.” And then, and then Michael’s tone turned dark, casually dangerous. “I thought you had none of the past martyr left in you. I thought you liked the disease.”
“And I thought you loved me.”
Michael reeled back as if he had been delivered a direct blow to the head.
Dean grinned. “Yeah, don’t think I missed it. Just cuz I’m a demon it doesn’t mean I’m blind.”
Michael shook his head, slow, as in disbelief. “I won’t let you kill yourself.”
An angry flame kindled on Dean’s tongue. “I thought if you loved someone than you wouldn’t try to make decisions instead of them!”
“The same way how you didn’t decide if Sam was to finish the trials that gave meaning back to his life? Or the same way how Castiel was to help you, because you and what you want comes first all the time? But that’s not the point. You forget that I don’t believe in free will. And I need you alive to be my vessel.”
“Just a vessel.”
Michael tilted his head to the side in his usual eagle fashion. “It’s not a swearword. And you would know it.”
“I’m ready to learn it!”
“You’re not.” Then again, “You’re not.”
It became clear that Dean had picked the dungeon right and terribly wrong at the same time.
Michael’s eyes were constantly wild. The wall always seemed to push against his back, and soon he was up, stalking around the small room, restless. He scanned the painted sigils, his gaze alone could have set them alight, and the thin strip of oil that circled the both of them. If he lost his temper, if the temperature skyrocketed again as it did in that parking lot, it was one single spark it needed to set the trap on fire. The trepidation with which Michael eyed the circle said clear as day that he remembered it happen at the bar. The very reason why he was trapped now.
However, with all the pacing, and how Dean had to maintain his air of superiority sitting in his chair as if he didn’t give a damn even if a slightly deranged archangel was simmering behind his back, Dean quickly learnt that he was just as much trapped with Michael as Michael was with Dean.
He waited and prodded for Michael’s weak spots. He pulled up the list of all demons Crowley had brought up at the bar that had warranted the slightest twitch of muscle to tighten around stormy eyes or twitched at the corner of the stern mouth.
To the best of his abilities Dean painted again the picture of Raphael, their vessel turned to salt and then blown up to smithereens. It had been like a physical blow to Michael. Mid-step he doubled over, his shoulders hunched, gasping.
“Crowley claimed he was far more competent Heaven-ruler than you, but, actually, Raphael was just a miserable copy of yours,” Dean went on, driving the nail in deeper.
With Michael’s heaving the air quivered. Colours flashed and danced, ambiguous shapes and shadows gathered until there was yet again another projection of Michael’s memories. This one at least had actual forms and actors Dean could recognize.
The torture-device-covered walls were thinly painted over with the dull colours of yet another run-down motel, the carpet worn, sputtered with cyanide colour next to a rather familiar tan trench coat.
“I just got reminded you killed Raphael,” sounded a different Michael’s disembodied voice.
Castiel was writhing on the floor. He clawed at his throat in an attempt to force the grace back down that tried to crawl out through his mouth like burning bile.
“Nice trick,” Dean noted, while Cas stuttered out how sorry he was. Silver-shot grace gathered in the dip of his lower lip and in the corner of his mouth. It dripped down his chin.
“You are,” Michael allowed, absolutely stoic in the eye of the storm of his own rage. The temperature climbed over 100 degrees in the cell. “And you have been. And you will be. Except that I don’t care.”
Castiel wailed a gurgling, pained sound. But just as another angel, a female, one with brown curls and concern-lit eyes rushed into the picture Michael clamped down on the projection, like one bit their own tongue before they spilled too much.
Dean waited for a second, curious. He wondered if it was already the end of an episode, or if only a commercial break.
“So,” he prodded. “Is he dead?”
“Didn’t you just tell me so?!” Michael snapped. He was still curled in on himself.
“No, no. I didn’t mean Raphael. Cas. Did you kill Cas?” Dean found he was angry at the thought.
“He killed my last. Loyal. Sibling!”
“But did you kill him for it?!”
At his raised voice Michael seemed to sober up. Slowly, pushing the ache in his rigid muscles down, he unfurled from his hunched position. Still, almost down to all fours, as he looked at Dean with his glistening eyes, they seemed to glow. A night horror was looking at him.
“You allowed it!” Dean went on quickly. Anxiety curled in his guts as Michael kept on watching him, now unmoving, un-breathing. “You failed and allowed Heaven to fall apart and into the hands of the likes of Metatron! You allowed a usurper onto Daddy’s throne!”
Instead of the desired effect the mention of the failed, self-proclaimed god-to-be only painted a terrible expression to Michael’s face – all ashen teeth and true rapture.
Michael laughed. It was a far horrific sound than the scream that had melted skeletons and the air alike and drew blood out of Dean’s ears.
Dean had come to the sudden realization that Metatron had gone up in flames along with the entire district shortly after he had died. He licked his lips into his mouth so that he could sneer:
“So upset someone tried to take Daddy’s place before you?”
Michael’s grin stretched a mad thought further. No caution or anxiety fit in his head any longer.
There was that spark. “No,” Michael said. That missing spark. “Nobody touches what’s mine.”
Dean would never forget his heart leaping out of his chest when the door slammed shut behind his back. The walls shuddered. In the momentary complete darkness, through the blaring sirens in his skull Dean thought He’s gonna kill me.
The edges of the room went up in flames.
“Is this sneer and anger the only things you own now?” Michael asked, suddenly right behind him. Dean could feel his slow pulse through the shirt on his back. “Does this liberate you?”
Dean’s back stiffened. There was a drop of sweat his shirt couldn’t soak up. It rolled down his spine.
“I’m rootless,” he said, but his voice betrayed the rabbit flutter of his pulse. “I’ve got nothing but the shirt on my back, my blade and I do whatever I want. So yeah. I’m fucking free.”
Michael hummed. His hands came up to rest on Dean’s shoulders, the tips of the index fingers tilted his chin.
“You still drive around in your beloved car,” Michael said. “Ill-kempt, full with decay and litter, but you can’t get rid of it. No matter how easy it is to track. You still have numbers saved on your phone. Crowley’s. Castiel’s. All your old contacts. Sam’s. Under his name. What’s there to pretend… As if you could ever erase it from your memory.”
“So that I could find and kill him.”
“Is that why we’re here?”
Dean remained stubbornly silent.
“The thought that I killed Castiel. It upsets you.”
“Cas and Sam are mine to kill!”
“They are yours. But not to kill. But to keep.”
Dean snapped his teeth, he was a second away from blowing up, but Michael pressed down on his neck, just a thought stronger a Dean was helpless with his fury trapped inside his chest. His throat clicked closed.
“I could kill your brother,” Michael said, pressing the pronoun. He pressed his face into Dean’s sweat-slicked hair. He inhaled deep. “You haven’t sought him out yet because you were afraid to hurt him. You actively avoided him. And now you realized, even as a perversion of free will, you have nothing. You want to be saved, Dean.”
Another pair of fingertips settled lightly on his pulse.
“Despite his disappointing rebellion, I granted Castiel my grace to keep him alive. He knows I’ve met you. He is aware, with more or less accuracy, where we are. Sam has been desperately searching for you. Did you know that?”
“I’ve got a whole speech prepared for him,” the cocky addition of don’t you worry about it got stuck on the lump in his throat.
Michael hummed, and the soft sound vibrated along Dean’s scalp.
“You’ve embraced your curse. The bloodlust, how you don’t even feel the need to go on your knees and repent. There’s killing with no remorse, that’s what you hoped for, didn’t you?” Michael’s voice sounded gentle, wistful, almost, like the slick hiss of a sword unsheathed for a merciful blow. “You sought to be sanctified, fulfilled with each slice of your blade, to find new layers of wholeness with every new collision of fist to bone. Have you found that satisfaction when you beat me up? Or in bed with me?”
Dean didn’t want to answer. He couldn’t answer. Because he always wanted more. More, more, always more. More holy blood on his hands, more grunts and gold-dusted gasps in his throat, he wanted more fire, more destruction, just more.
He wouldn’t give Michael the satisfaction to admit this. Even though he knew that Michael knew.
“You’ve gone so far to become different, to cut off your strings, to become heartless, soulless. And here you are. More attached, than you’ve ever been, disgusted by your own wickedness that just wouldn’t suit you no matter how you tailor it. This is why you wouldn’t align yourself with the King of Hell. And why you don’t care for dethroning him.”
The cold dread, drop by drop had heated inside the pit of Dean’s stomach. Rage was driving his pulse to quicken and to beat through Michael’s own core. He needed only the last ounce of boldness to drive the back of his head into Michael’s face, to fracture his nose along with his cheek, because his survival at the moment was more important—
Then it came again. The engulfing rush that pushed him under and filled his brain with want, want, want!
“Michael. Yes… Please?”
The temperature suddenly dropped.
Hands like talons grasped his shoulders and hauled Dean off his perch. He barely had the time to gasp in surprise when his back collided with the wall, the air knocked out of his lungs, flames licking at the back of his thighs.
In front of him rage lit Michael’s eyes white-gold.
“Not like this!” he snarled.
Dean barely found up and down in their rightful place again when Michael had already dropped down onto his knees. By the time he had worked layers and belt-buckle out of the way to sink his teeth into the meat between Dean’s navel and cock he was already hard.
He had always had the hots for raw power on its knees.
Michael wasn’t particularly good at blowjobs. His mouth was too hot, suffocating; and with the fire of his grace lighting up the webbing of arteries up his chest it felt more like sticking his cock down a dragon’s throat. It matched the thrill of danger singing in his blood, but even the chill that drew goosebumps up his spine accentuated the heat rapidly pooling at the small of his back.
It wasn’t just the Mark that, throbbing with need, made him wish he could shed the confines of skin. He wanted to spill all over Michael – to see his seed splattered on his glowing skin, to mark him up, to brand him, to defile him and keep him out of Heaven forever. He wanted to devour him, like thick fog, suffocating, all consuming, sweeping into the tiniest crease. He wanted to see black ink ooze from the corners of the golden eyes until they took up the same colour as his wings—
He wanted. Dear god, he wanted.
Then Michael swallowed over the head of his cock. Dean let out a hoarse cry. It held all his fears and left nothing in his breast but growing, thundering desire. He sunk his hands in Michael’s hair, his nails scraping at his scalp. The sensation teased a sound out of Michael; it got muffled against Dean’s groin.
Dean laughed, the tail of the sound curling hysteric, but he pulled Michael down, closer, testing how far down his throat he could go – just a little further, only a little more – to see which one of them would break sooner—
Dean did. With a couple quick short thrusts he threw himself into the throes of his orgasm.
Eager to please, to serve, Michael swallowed everything Dean had to give, as if it was the most natural thing, a great blessing he could have received. Or maybe this was him testing Dean’s reserves—
As soon as Dean could kick his hedonist brain back in gear it didn’t take him long to reach this conclusion. He grabbed Michael by the hair and forced him off his softening, over-sensitive cock. The kick he aimed at the angel’s chest was pathetic. Michael laughed at him.
“You can’t even make up your mind what you want with me!” Michael said, savage grin splitting his stained face. “You pray and curse in the same breath. Beautiful devil, you will come back to me!”
The madness, and the clarity it rang with, pushed Dean to slide down to the root of the wall, only and inch away from the fire, to envelope himself with the warm plumes of the afterglow of his orgasm, his desires momentarily satisfied. That way he could close off how Michael himself was slipping back and away through the cracks of his sanity.
There was no way Dean could sit still after this. It was his turn to start pacing as a trapped, emerald-eyed tiger, or so had Michael called him. He paced and paced along the length of the little cell passing blades and cords and a saw, the flames dancing dull on their surface… At some point he couldn’t take their closeness any longer and picked a broad hunting knife off its hook. He pressed it to the tip of his finger – it prickled. As he turned the blade, slowly drilling it deeper into his own flesh, he caught a quick reflection of Michael in it. Dean turned to him. Michael was watching with naked hunger on his sweat soaked features.
Michael looked hopeful - longing at the sight of drawn blood. Twisted. Lurking just outside the reach of the fire.
That was Michael’s place: balanced on the precipice, unbreakable and invincible, out of Dean’s reach, out of violent blows and careful slice of words. Bringing up the earlier topics was useless too. The archangel had seemed to block his ears for keywords be it Raphael, Metatron, Heaven, God dethroned or Castiel.
There, through simmering anger and under the scant overhead lightbulb Dean eventually had to turn on as well, he had to admit Michael was still something to reckon with. Michael still snuffed the light out of the confines of the room.
The image sucked the breath out of his lungs. He couldn’t tell if the hellish image of dancing red dots behind his eyelids were a mirage dragged forward from his memories or a delusion of his burning, straining lungs and his brain cut off of oxygen. It didn’t matter. No matter how many weeks had passed—
And then, for Michael even a century wouldn’t be enough to get rid of that portion of Hell he had dragged along with him.
Suddenly, in the corner Michael’s hooded eyes snapped open. The silver green circlet was gone. Forgotten. Swallowed by the burst black of the huge pupils.
Dean shivered. He could be looking at his own reflection and he wouldn’t even know. Even the lazy grin could be his own mirror image.
“Smart,” Michael said. His voice was rough like rocks grinding against each other in the Earth’s deep. “But not omniscient.”
Michael reached out for Dean – he should have shackled his hands with actual chains instead of just a skin-carved charm. He couldn’t help but go, as if it was him under a spell, and as a blink later his knees hit the ground fingertips slipped to place in the dips under Dean’s jaw, palm blood-wet and warm on his throat. Dean felt a sudden shock of power – it flashed along the length of his spine, pooling at the base hot with arousal and cold with fear.
“This is not what Hell has made of me,” Michael said. “It’s me. Oldest. Purest—“he chuckled weak and dry, “Darkest.”
“You burn,” Dean said.
“With no light.”
Dean squinted. “Are you sure about that?”
Michael stared back at him, unwavering. In the meantime a gash on his temple re-opened and a drop of blood swelled. As Michael tilted his head slightly to the side – so unnatural – the thick drop trembled. It slid down half an inch. Immediately another one started to rise in its place. Then Michael’s eyebrows quirked up in realization.
“Oh,” he breathed out softly. “That must be my brother.”
“A miserable part of him, he most certainly wouldn’t miss.”
This time Dean found it hard to breathe for an entirely different reason.
“You asked me what’s comforting me,” Michael said. He pulled up his blood-stiffened T-shirt to bare his chest and abdomen. There were… birthmarks scattered all over his body, but they were glowing white. Dean had to squint, and only then started the awful realization sink in.
“Lucifer, yes. Literally,” Michael glanced down at the dots with something akin to fondness in his eyes. “Parts of him that still gravitated towards me even in Hell. The last uncorrupted pieces of him. I only realized late that while picking myself back together I accidentally built in fragments of his grace into mine as well. Now they comfort me. Remind me of my strength, and what I fight to restore.”
As he glanced up from under pointed lashes Michael looked challenging. As if saying, here, I just laid out what you should carve out of me if you want to break me, and Dean was so fucking tempted! His grip tightened around the knife. He could feel the First Blade tremble in pervert excitement sensing his desire. It was out there, the marble-carved chest glistening and just begging to be spoiled, painted with red and charred with fire. But then he took a better look at Michael’s face.
With great effort Dean took hold of his knife-holding hand’s wrist with the other. His grip was so tight he could feel the bones shifting and the blood stalling in its flow.
“You’re a fucking monster!” he snapped.
Michael’s lips unfurled from his teeth, his expression sharper, the taunting had turned dangerous. Desperate.
“You clearly haven’t seen a monster yet.”
Dean snarled. Through the pulse gradually picking up in his ear and the adrenaline rushing in his veins he scraped for thoughts, threats that would grant him to retain the upper hand. Stupid demon instinct that grew shaky in the face of a maddened archangel!
“I’ve only seen monsters my entire life!” Dean said. “And you’re worst of all. You can’t not go back to Heaven because of these little pieces of Lucifer you came back with.” Only the size of the head of a pin but a strange, eerie light ignited in the dark depth of Michael’s eyes. Like the distant beam of a lighthouse it encouraged Dean to prod on further. “Maybe you’d known it even before you were freed – and only tore chunks out of your dear old Luci so that you can have a lie to tell yourself. It’s not the devil in you. It’s only you.
“All that irresponsible murder. I knew I could taste it on you, angel.”
Despite the sirens still howling inside his head Dean pressed closer until all he could see were Michael’s darkened eyes, their panting breaths fanning hot on each other’s parted lips.
“Really, what a shame for all these good people. They were all just unfortunate angel and demon condoms. I wonder… Do you go on your knees to repent for their lost lives?”
“Murder is a sin for man.”
“And demons. Why should you be any different?”
“Demons were humans,” Michael insisted. “You still are.”
“No. But you are running from your responsibilities, Michael! You can’t not go back to Heaven because of these little pieces of Lucifer you came back with. You don’t have to admit I don’t wanna go back, but suddenly you have to tell I can’t go back. You don’t even care for your little brother anymore.”
Michael pressed a little closer still. As he spoke their lips brushed. “I care as much as you do for Sam.”
A grin split Dean’s face in half. “Exactly,” he said triumphantly.
“Exactly,” Michael answered. His tone had Dean’s grin falter.
He had to spring to his feet and leave the room so that he wouldn’t punch a hole in either Michael’s vulnerably displayed chest, or through the walls, which would have ruined the carefully picked prison cell, along with his hard work.
This chapter's the reason for my "suicide" tag. It's fair warning, but we all know how that works with the Mark of Cain.
Carrying around a gun for long, even if it was a favourite, one that had been picked apart and then assembled, oiled and carefully cleaned a million times it could still wear a man down. It would never cease to be anything but a familiar weight, a saviour, one last, snapping, booming kiss, a mean of doom and eternal temptation of the weak. It was also hollow. Always one bullet short - and one empty barrel could gape with such hunger! A gun ungratefully feasted on its owner’s flesh until there was nothing but raw bones to pull the trigger.
That hunger was catching, akin to a Leviathan’s hunger, or one of those nasty viruses Pestilence had gone about sneezing onto everything.
This was the type of hunger, a hollow gun’s hunger that had pushed Michael to the ground, down to his knees, his shoulder brushing Dean’s thigh.
Dean reached out. The curve of Michael’s skull fitted perfectly into his palm. He pulled, with gentle care, a silent invitation, and Michael came willingly: he laid his head into Dean’s lap.
Deft, blood-stained fingers ran through sweat-tangled locks, and then trailed lower to the base of Michael’s neck. Michael barely stiffened. Which only made Dean pout. He moved his light touch even lower to the archangel’s back.
From the very corner of his eyes, right there on the brink of reality and imagination he caught glance of the uneven line of one wing. The one he had broken and Michael thought Lucifer had done it.
“I could just rip it off,” Dean offered softly. He pressed his fingers more firmly into the rigid muscles that would have the massive wings beat up a desert storm.
“Then do it.”
“How would you go back to Heaven, then?”
“There are other ways. And you know it.”
“Yeah, but… do you think you’d stand a chance against Lucifer with a wing missing? That must hurt like a bitch. Look where it had dragged you.”
Michael breathed a sigh through his teeth. His entire being was nothing but hollow ache, the radiation of a missing limb, and a mind tortured where its only rest was gazing into the abyss and waiting for it to wink back.
“Or have you given up on the Apocalypse?” Dean mused further, his hand roaming the entire line from the bruised shoulder blade to the crown of Michael’s head.
He waited patiently until Michael gathered his thoughts that had just scattered with a silent moan.
“I can still fight.”
“Because you have to.”
“It’s been ordered.”
“Fate, again, huh? God’s ineffable mysterious fucking plan. Well then, enlighten me: if it’s been written, so, so, so long ago, then why didn’t the Apocalypse happen?”
Michael didn’t answer so long Dean thought he might have passed out. He nudged the angel with his knee.
“Hm, Michael? Why didn’t your Apocalypse go down?”
“It wasn’t time yet,” the answer was so soft Dean had almost missed it if not for the hot breath on his knee. “I rushed things. Ahead of time.”
“Oh, really?” Dean fought to keep the wolfish grin out of his voice. “It wasn't time? Weren't Sam and I supposed to be the vessels? As Gabriel said, as soon as the world was created, it was supposed to end with the two of us. So why didn't it? Why make such a fuss about all this if it wasn't time? We weren’t to be born a second time!”
“So what you’re saying is… what? That you fucked up? Is that it?”
“Yes,” Michael snarled. In the click of his teeth there was the potential of a forest fire, of all the bushes of Australia burning if only the zippo wasn’t so worn and exhausted. “I miscalculated, is this what you want to hear? It had to be done. What’s the matter of a few years here or there?”
Dean clucked his tongue. “But now it's all fucked up. It won't happen again. Lucifer is back in the cage. The seals have been broken. They can't be broken a second time. Lilith is dead. So what, now?” he paused for a throaty laugh. “Okay, okay, I know what ya gonna say for that: the cage can be opened again. See, even I got out. Well, share with the class, model major general, how the fuck did you get out?”
Michael only simmered on his knees.
“Maybe God let you out. For what? What else than to finish the Apocalypse. But then again, why would it be left to you to free your baby brother? It’s another round of fuck-up, Michael. If God was that great, then he wouldn't have let it get fucked up. Why would he let it the first time? Why would he allow it again?” Dean’s hand was back in Michael’s hair; his fingers curled among the locks the same way you grab the collar of a misbehaving, wretched dog. “Maybe he just wants to see you fail. You’re so pretty when you suffer. Do you think he wanks off at the sight? Because I sure would.”
A terrible sound crashed and died on the inside of Michael’s teeth. His shoulders jerked – preparing for a punch, swallowed down sobs or maybe furious laughter – but in the end it was only one hand sneaking almost imperceptibly to grab hold of Dean’s shin.
At first heat, then something wet and cold started to seep through the fabric of his jeans and had the hairs stand on end. For a second the sultry cell with its sulphuric smell and dancing flames dropped away, and he was the mightless night sky, billowing on the swirling arms of a hurricane. He was the lightning-struck mountainside, shaken and disintegrating, and at the same time he was the valley, prone, staring helplessly at the flood of dirt, rocks and forest thundering down to bury him. He was the one caught in the meteor shower of destroyed heavens—and then he was also the one left alone, floating in the void—
“A-ah. None of that,” Dean drawled. He snatched Michael’s claw-like hand away from his leg. He was prepared, it wasn’t like Michael had never reached to such dirty tricks to get a rouse – and a few broken bones as well as ounces of spilled blood – out of him.
A thumb pressed mercilessly down on Michael’s pulse was enough to make him flinch away if it wasn’t for Dean’s elbow on his head. “It pisses you off, doesn’t it? That was the plan. But… do you think it’s all because God just doesn’t care...?”
Michael went stiff. Even his shallow breaths hitched.
Dean softened his voice. He almost sounded sympathetic. Michael couldn’t see the lack of colour in his eyes. “To me, it sounds like the Apocalypse was just a fucked up angelic plan of yours, so you could finally be the boss of heaven, undisputed.”
The muscles in Michael’s neck and shoulders stiffened, his spine cracked with fire from a dragon’s throat. However, before he could leap to his feet and start a fight Dean yanked his head back by the hair. His mouth hung open, panting, dry with anger; he glared.
“I’ve got you, little bird. I’ve got you, because I know you. You grabbed the flashy car, slammed the gas to the floor and in your quest to hunt down daddy you ran the entire world off the cliff. Daddy abandoned you and you’ve got no fucking clue what to do!”
With great effort Michael clenched his teeth into a deadly snarl.
“God works in mysterious ways,” he hissed.
“Mysterious, my ass!” Dean snapped. He twisted his wrist, and the force of it had sent Michael sprawled on the ground. “There’s nothing mysterious about him!” He slowly raised to his feet. It was his turn to shiver with anger.
“Because you know him that well?” Michael shot back through bared teeth. He pushed himself up on his knees. Halting, clumsy, he started to crawl away from Dean, his back to the fire. “You? Who’s never opened a Bible in his life?”
“Neither did your God! He is nothing but a beat-up Dad, like any other dad! He got a bunch of kids. He thought it would be fun, but then it suddenly dawned on him how it’s super fucked up to devote so much time and resources to infantile little fuck-ups, and so he left. Guess how many kids know this very same story, huh?! Take a look around Earth, and you’ll see your dad is no different than any missing, cursed dads on this shitty planet.
“And he left you the responsibility. All of it,” Dean went on mercilessly, step by step, until Michael had to halt in his crawling as the tips of his hair was licked by the orange flames. “He left you in the shitstorm, and just for funsies, he left you a scrawled message: I fucked up, hit the reset button and see if it works! Toodles.” Dean laughed again. “The Apocalypse wasn't really what God wanted you to do, Michael. It was all you. Trying to make him come back.”
With his boot he nudged Michael’s feet apart, and Dean eased down on one knee, a hand lightly placed on one of Michael’s.
“You wanted to say ‘Look Dad, I did it! I’m a good son!’” he smiled. “But you failed.”
“It still can be finished!” Michael protested, his eyes wild. “As long as Lucifer lives, he's there to be killed.”
Dean’s own eyes rounded in slight surprise, only to narrow a heartbeat later in feline delight.
“Okay, fine. Let's just ignore the fact that it’s super sick. Also that Sam will never power up with demon blood again, and that I'm probably not as righteous as you need me to be anymore. You get your Apocalypse 2.0. You win. You think that, what, God's gonna come back, pat you on the back and tell you how proud he is? My guess is, he won't. Because he's gone. How many times do I have to spell it out for you? He left you. You disappointed him. You're not the great archangel you still think you are, anymore. It's over. Your brothers are dead. Luci might as well be, too. You're alone. Admit it, Michael. You just want people to pay attention to you. You're just alone and miserable because you're useless.”
Michael stared at him; his expression melting into undisguised horror. Horror at being known, of his darkest secrets revealed. The bone stripped off the marrow, nerve endings sizzling in the open. His chest was heaving, the pulse under the glistening sweat-slick skin of his throat fluttered like a rabbit’s heart.
“Heaven won’t take you back,” Dean said, softening his voice to a velvety whisper. He leaned closer still, now both of his hands sliding down Michael’s thighs. “You really think after what you did the angels will take you back as their commander in chief? Cas started a revolution up there, too. What will you do, kill all of those who oppose you? You really think your Dad will like it?”
Michael’s voice was almost lost in the fluttering flames it was so weak. “It doesn’t matter.”
“It really doesn’t,” Dean agreed.
He pulled Michael towards himself; his own knees spreading slightly to accommodate Michael onto his lap.
Michael was forced to lean higher to keep his balance, but then that also brought their faces closer together.
Every tiny, looming crack in his irises were visible. Lightning dancing on the stormy sea.
“This is not some well-deserved punishment. It’s not a new branch of Hell. It’s not something God’s planned for you in case you failed. You failed. That’s a fact. But not on the battlefield, General. You failed to fight. You stopped fighting. For a self-proclaimed nought-but-a-sword, it’s pretty cowardly.” Dean reached out, his palm cradling the broken side of Michael’s face. “This can stop. You can stop it. And here, I’m offering you a chance to stop it. This pointless punishment. Stop it, Michael. Start erasing injustice from this screwed up world.”
There was something admirable in how, even now, Michael continued to fight. It was in his feverish shivering, the steeling of ribs against his straining, desperate heart.
It stoked the spark of wantwantwant in Dean.
He forced the shadows of his mauled form to retreat; he pulled back his claws, swallowed the poison of his teeth, and licked away hell from his lips. The colour green returned to his eyes, and the world gained new shades of red and orange and stifling purple-brown. In this light Michael was even far more beautiful in his misery. I want him, he thought.
And he could take him. Gently, tenderly, with no hurried movements not to alarm this frightened, broken animal.
Dean surged forward, and locked their lips together. It was a kiss of first times. Devoted, and flower petal soft, something Dean fought to keep untainted, an action dragged forth from memories before, when he still cared for his lovers, when their satisfaction could ease the weight of the world pressing down on his shoulders.
Michael sobbed a little moan.
It would be so easy to slide into Michael. Initially, his body would undoubtedly protest, but then, as it had happened many times before, it would all but give way before Dean. He would go pliant and open, welcoming with a ragged little moan. Keeping the body alive and barring his conscience to scatter into the mirror image of the stars must require most of Michael’s energy.
Dean would start to move inside him, his fingers replaced by his spit-covered cock, painfully deep and long thrust after long thrust seeking a way to further spread the golden webbing of cracks that marked Michael’s vessel – and he knew, in that building storm of sensations, pain and pleasure pooling at the base of his spine Michael would find his own rapture. He would rock back to the best of his shivering strength. Little breaths of gold smoke would wreathe on his split lips. Just like that, there he would be, mesmerized by the undulation of his wrecked body, how, despite all Dean’s attempts of assault they still fitted together the same way as celestial bodies moved together, Dean couldn’t help himself but lean down and slit their panting mouths together.
All of a sudden, as lightning strikes and tears the sky in half Michael’s mouth was gone, and so was the hot furnace of his chest, the burning veins under his palm and the fluttering of eyelashes against Dean’s cheek. Michael’s head lulled back, boneless, the muscles too weak to keep their mouths locked. The kiss broke, and the angel fell back onto his elbows.
Michael looked up at Dean; his eyes were clouded, his expression blank and face ashen.
“Haven’t you suffered enough?” Dean snapped, angered, even though he wasn’t sure at what exactly.
“What is another hour for hundreds of years?” Michael said.
It wasn’t his voice. It was too flat, to…plain.
He eased himself down on the ground at a twisted angle, just out of reach of the hungry flames. His limbs grew heavy, lead-covered. Dean would have to haul the weight of an entire skyscraper if he wanted to carry on with what they had started. And just like that Michael started humming. Eerie, dragged out sounds of shaking tectonic layers, the melody pulsed with the last breaths of a newborn galaxy.
“No! No!” Dean cried, enraged. “Don’t you dare!”
He hooked his claw-like hands in the front of the blood-soaked jacket. He had torn the shirt open, and slashed at the flesh beneath. The blood swelling in the gashes was hot, a fluid cemetery for fireflies.
With another animalistic sound Dean sprung to his feet. His teeth sunk into his nailbed with utter frustration. The temptation was great to start pacing, but it was pointless. It made him look like the caged animal. While it was obviously the nutcase over there, humming that stupid tune to himself, uncaring if the ear-grating sound was whistling through cracked teeth of his smashed in cheek!
Dean had to act quick. He knew he had come awfully close to crack Michael and his stupid stubbornness- why else would he willingly sink back into this hell-born craziness that conveniently served a perfect shield for him?!
What else? What else?!
He could obviously try prodding at him with a knife. That would be lovely. Oh, so lovely – but just so that would lure Michael’s masochistic conscience back to the surface. Then they could go back to kissing. That wold be also nice, really. Maybe Dean could even fuck him, because, damn, Michael really was hot in his misery, but… Well. There was the issue of this whole possible soul-touching business. It felt like his whole existence had caught fire. He imagined that’s what Anna had felt while she was still scrambling to survive after Michael had laid a hand on her.
And then suddenly he felt cold. Dean trembled empty with the crippling assurance that something was coming for him. Doubt…
No. The whole point of the Mark of Cain was how he didn’t want to go back there. He didn’t want to become Dean again. A miserable, unimportant little man hog-tied with insatiable doubt. No, he wanted to remain demon-Dean, free of guilt, freed to mind his own fucking business and desires, finally out of the huge shadow that blinded him to anything but to keep Sammy safe.
For that – for that freedom rooted in concrete, in magma and the deepest dark hole of space Dean needed Michael. He needed his powers. He needed that unshakable stubbornness that kept him from breaking – and yet, the funny thing was he had to find a way to break him. But how, when he had already tried every nasty trick up his sleeve—
Dean’s gaze slipped to the First Blade shaking, as if alive, forgotten at the foot of his chair.
There is one story about Cain… He took his own life with the blade.
Well. It would be awful and absolutely rude of miracles if they were unwilling to repeat themselves.
It was time he did something unforgivable.
With confidence slowing his steps, Dean strolled over to the chair. He picked up the blade. Even the jutting out teeth felt like the extension of his hands. His fingers curled around the grip, the bones protruded, hungry and ready to soak in ichor and gore again. Then he turned on his heel and returned to Michael’s side. The angel’s eyes were still glazed over, dark and far-away.
Dean placed the trembling First Blade onto Michael’s chest. Michael flinched.
“If your God cares,” he said, “he also cares for my soul, right? Same way as you do.” He watched with satisfaction as Michael’s gaze started to clear. Slowly, tiny, distant stars of fear started to rise.
“But since he is not here,” and here Dean made a great show of looking around in their cell, “It befalls you to play the hero.”
The tooth at the tip of the blade drew a sensual line along Michael’s sternum – it reflected on the crack of Dean’s face. A malevolent grin, filled with violent teeth. With the same movement Dean turned his weapon against his own chest, right in the middle where Metatron’s sword had passed through him.
Michael needed a few seconds for Dean’s voice to get through him, but then as he turned his eyes to look at Dean – after a momentary bleak expression, the whole bruised disorder of his face screamed NO.
Dean’s grin screamed back at him, YES.
“So if you really loved me, I assume you’d try to save me.”
Michael’s body was still paralyzed. It was only the terrible silence of him that thrashed, helplessly trying to shake off the leaden weight of his madness.
“Save me then, archangel.”
And Dean pushed the blade through shirt, skin, flesh, bone, and heart-muscle.
Then he fell to the ground.
Michael shot off from the floor as if he was flying from a strained bow, but even then his movements were sluggish, and he only crawled to Dean’s side when the last breath had already shuddered away from his parted, evilly grinning lips.
Rage boiled at the back in his throat. It attempted to drill a way out through the back of his skull. The scream didn’t come. He was shaking badly.
Like a madman he tore off his jacket, shirt and all the layers Dean had dressed him back in after he had carved all the sigils on his skin, and now it was his turn to try and claw them off. Blood pooled under his nails, warm, salty in the wounds next to his gaping nailbeds, but it didn’t smell strong enough to ground him. His hand fell onto Dean’s sternum. The claw-like curl of his fingers settled into the flesh between ribs. He could rip them open. He could follow the billowing path of Hell and the wild pink trail of the mark inside Dean – where to he had never gained access, and which he had willingly refused, but…
But it was all pointless.
Among all the sensations that clouded Michael’s mind—helpless fury, the hopeless darkness and stifling heat of the slowly collapsing cell, Dean unmoving, limp on the floor, the oppressive smell of sulphur and the sickening shadows crowding in the cavity of Dean’s chest—it was the oppressive realization of pointlessness that paralyzed Michael. All he could possibly do was to abuse Dean’s body, maul him, maybe turn his own torturous methods back at him. But that wasn’t what Michael wanted.
He was helpless to watch the light of Dean’s soul fade. His hands were tied. He couldn’t wrap himself around this precious human soul as he had done so many times to ease his suffering, his stay between life and death. He couldn’t, he couldn’t…
Michael lay down on the floor. He stretched his body along Dean’s, his head curling slightly, forehead almost brushing his shoulder. His eyes were trained on the hopeless battle the soul fought against such raw power.
It was a losing battle.
Detached, Michael knew that one more death wasn’t enough to twist a soul beyond redemption. And yet, that understanding only disappeared in the hollow ache that filled his chest.
He didn’t even realize his eyes were burning. He didn’t realize when the heat spilled.
“Have you ever looked at the way you cry?” The snow-white voice settled next to him, just behind his unmoving shoulders. “It breaks my heart to see you this way.”
Michael licked his trembling lip into his mouth. His gaze wouldn’t leave Dean. A white shadow painted weak little stars on the cooling perspiration on the side of his face.
“Go away,” he whispered.
“You brought me here.”
“I want you gone.”
“Should have thought about it sooner.”
The silence settled over them. There was nothing but the vents buzzing behind thick walls, languid sighs pushing their way through the earth, and the gentle tingling sound of teardrops rolling from Michael’s thick lashes down into his ear or hairline and then drop to the cool ground.
“He wouldn’t love you back.”
“Did he? Has he ever? Has anyone ever loved you, Michael, truly, outside of your little fantasies?” Strangely the cruel-soft prodding didn’t hurt. There was no prickling of a nail, no stab of a dagger, no slice of a sharp tongue. Nothing. Not even the ache deepened any further. “You’re unlovable, Michael.” The truth could never really hurt him. “But is it enough not to save him? You know as well that if you don’t save him, you’re broken. Good for nothing. Not even good to suffer.”
Do you think I could, remained unasked. Michael’s focus was narrowing, down, down, closer, closer until it was filled with nothing but the darkness besieged citadel of Dean’s emerald-gold soul.
“You’re the only one who could save him.”
How curious that both Dean and his brother could sing the same songs.
“Is this your worth, protector? Will this be proof of that you can’t defend anyone?” Michael stared at Dean. His soul pulsated in its retreat. It tried to furl in on itself in desperate bursts. “It’ll be all stripped away. Such failure for what? For a father who doesn’t care, for a selfish, short-sighted father who claims omniscience and omnipotence but is afraid of the chance of you gaining more power… You know it to be true. You could save him. You know I’ve never told you anything but the truth.”
Michael knew. On this starlight voice he was told about betrayal, rebellion and dark days to come. He was told about to horror of quiet centuries, of terrible, maddening affection, and also the lack of it. He was made to silence this voice forever, and he was made to suffer loving it even after.
He still believed in the plan. It would never change. And he believed Dean would be given to him. So he stripped off his anger and torn open his wounds, and bled, and bled, until he was a volcano no longer spluttering sulphur and ashes, but only bleeding fire. He bled until he was no stronger than any of the lower tier angels, until all he could do was to cradle a soul and not be consumed by its radiance.
Michael bled until the name Michael barely sounded his own.
Dean was mercilessly slammed back into his body, not unlike the first time he opened his eyes and all he saw was black.
There was a moment of floating, of having absolutely no idea what happened. Then the memories rushed at him all at once with a banging headache and the striking pain through his chest that made breathing inconceivable. His twisted limbs didn’t strain. Not yet. It was like coming to his senses after a car crash.
From the outside, detached, and still untouched by much greater torture, Dean looked down at his soul. He indeed still had a soul, there was no real reason denying it. It was withering away. It writhed and twisted, torn open, pierced by so many spears of darkness. It bled a pale, barely glowing ichor along his limbs.
Then the networks connected and Dean gasped with pain and new, oil-slimy breath.
This time it was less fear and mind-numbing agony that urged him to scream and claw his way out of his own skin. This time Dean owned his pain. He sunk his talons into the wretched soul, tore it further apart and held it bare, open, vulnerable. It was the trophy of his devotion to his own freedom.
Enraptured in his victory Dean almost didn’t see Michael.
What a sight he would have missed! The bruises of Michael’s face formed an attractive spiralling arch around his fury and hurt-liquid eyes. On the mask of dried blood and grime several clear-cut tracks ran from those eyes down his cheek, along the ridge of his nose, and then glisten slightly on his lips.
Heat pooled in Dean’s belly and rushed up his throat. It filled his head and elicited a small smile to his mouth.
“God, you are so beautiful,” he said as he cupped the side of Michael’s grim-y cheek in one bloodied hand. “Fuck. I might even love you a little.”
The air shuddered. The earth beneath them gave a mighty shake. It cracked. Michael’s face changed.
Then, only a fleeting second later he reorganized his features. The different planes of the armour slid back into place. It held the shattered ribs tight and secure. It wouldn’t let him fall apart.
New tears swelled and spilled from Michael’s eyelid. It was cold as it pooled where Dean’s hand was pressed to Michael’s cheek.
Michael took a breath. Shallow, wet, defeated. Then on the exhale he lifted his head, chin higher than the sky.
“I accept your yes.”
A terrible sound, like a hundred vultures hiss-screeched YESSS in his head. Like a crack on ice, it pulled Dean’s mouth to a wide, jagged smile.
“And who says I haven’t changed my mind?” Dean taunted. “Death is a very life-changing experience.”
A muscle rippled in Michael’s jaw. He blinked back another twin-stream of tears.
“It really isn’t for you,” Michael growled.
The next second he was on top of Dean with all his shivering strength. He pinned both of Dean’s hands above his head; his elbows and knees connected and then rooted to the ground, successfully caging Dean with his body. And then, Michael followed the scorching staccato of his breaths with his desperate dry mouth, smashing their teeth together that it rattled inside Dean’s skull.
Dean had planned to follow through with his earlier plans. He had planned to kiss Michael as softly and gently as he had earlier, undress him and then fuck him – granting him a good time before he was inevitably annihilated except for his raw powers. All in the name of positive reinforcement, of course. Not like he was complaining.
Michael kissed him with tongue and his whole body. He pressed close and deep as if the easiest way he could touch Dean’s dying soul was the way down his throat.
They rutted against each other, with no finesse, only poorly restrained rage and animal instinct. Through the smug haze Dean could feel Michael’s hardening cock against his own. And yet, it felt more like a Catholic jacking off. Too much pressure, too much friction, the course so much a punishment that the orgasm at the end would be just as much suffering, not even worth to be confessed.
Dean’s jaw was aching, and his lungs were filled with Michael’s desert wind breath when he finally gathered enough brain cells to wrap his legs around the angel and, with all the strength he could pull up from the Mark, he rolled the both of them to the side.
Michael hit the ground with a loud groan, only for the sound to curl high and even louder when Dean latched his mouth to the hollow of his throat.
“So?!” Michael gasped.
Dean sucked the skin between his teeth and pulled at the same time as he rolled his hips down rubbing their erections together.
“Don’t be so impatient,” he chided with another nip of his teeth. “Let’s have some fun, while we’re still in two bodies.”
Michael growled again.
But then, Dean barely left a red string of hickies down Michael’s neck to his collar bone, when searing hot fingers burnt his belt buckle away. Just like that Michael was groping his ass and rolled his hips up. Dean’s head dropped, his forehead pressed to hard bone as he rode the forced, jagged undulation of their bodies together. He was painfully hard, and it fucking hurt to be still trapped in the confines of his jeans. Even his masochism had its limits.
It was the result of a fight, but within a few curse-heated minutes Dean had managed to bare them in places where it mattered. The buttons of his shirt were either torn or undone, and Michael’s bare chest was marked with bitemarks, the blood swollen in the coves. Dean had his own pants and boxers pushed just below his ass, and currently he fought hard to wrap a hand around their cocks sliding in a chaotic rhythm against each other. Already, it sent long, shuddering streaks of lightning down his spine just the way his cock was pressed against the ridges of Michael’s abdomen. But it could still be better – so much better!
Michael hooked an ankle in the crook of Dean’s knee at the same time as he sought again for Dean with his lips. Dean allowed it; they kissed like a deadly fight for who was going to devour the other, and just as Michael moaned, sucking on Dean’s tongue, he slipped a hand between them to grab their lengths together.
Michael only gasped, spine pulled into a beautiful arch and head smashed on the floor.
Dean started to move, hungry to pull more of the debauched sounds from the angel, if only to see when the hymns on his lips stopped sounding holy.
His thighs and arm trembled with effort, but he kept on pushing. He rocked his hips, into the tight channel of his fist, the head of his cock sliding wet along the underside of Michael’s, then streaked and stained the shivering planes of his stomach.
“Dean,” Michael gasped. His hands were now permanently curled into Dean’s shoulders, as if he wanted to rip his blade bones out. “Dean. Dean. Dean.”
“What do you want this bad, huh?” Dean laughed breathlessly. He leant forward, pressing his mouth as close to Michael’s ear as he could. “My yes, hm?” he bit down on the earlobe. Michael’s moan sang through his entire body. “It’d suck to do that before your orgasm, don’t you think?”
As a response Michael surged upwards pushing his cock deeper into Dean’s hand, oh fuck! Oh. Fuck! It could only be better if Michael was inside him! Dean was so close, so damn close, he could feel his muscles coil, the heat boil at the curve of his spine—
And then Michael pushed even further; deeper, past boundaries of skin, flesh and bone. His skin was glowing, violent red like dawn slicing through the fabric of the night. Crimson veins drew terrible patterns, leaving spaces for hundreds of lightning eyes on the archangel’s frame, and with silent horror – detached – Dean realized that slowly, this light phenomenon was crawling over, worming its way under his skin. The network of burning gold spread. Slowly.
For one second the world hang on one single thread, silent.
Michael looked into Dean’s eyes. The fine layer of his iris held back the raging sea.
Dean stared back. The flimsy darkness sputtered out the last sparkles of light to make room for all the wickedness of the dark, but his own eyes remained green, and blown, and wild.
Soul and grace.
With the sudden silver zap of lightning a scalpel stuck and slipped its clever tip beneath the thick scar tissue of the Mark. It found that tiny crack of flimsy strings that ran deep, mingled with Dean’s blood and rooted in his soul. In the distance terror roared. But now, for this tiny fracture of a second there was only a messed up soul and an equally messed up angel—
Outside of his mind Dean moaned, “Yes,” and that seemed to be the extra pressure the little blade needed. It slipped deeper and strained against the scar. The top scale broke – with a sound of continents colliding – and suddenly Dean’s body, so far so empty, how could he not have sensed it?, was now a host of two terrible forces – two of the top three.
Dean collapsed to the side.
He lay on the floor, a now-empty body motionless next to him. Dean couldn’t feel its cold, or the scraping sensation of the raw concrete against his sweat-slick back. His muscles knew no will anymore. They shook in uncontrollable long shudders, too hot, burning up, floating in molten gold. It swept through the pores of his skin and slowly sunk into him. Heavy, leaden, its brightness smeared with coal.
Inside him dust gathered. The silver mist, first airy, so thin Dean didn’t even feel the grains settle against his skin. Then they gathered, gravitated around their respective centres, their own little suns, and the miniature galaxies settled on orbit around him. New and new wondrous streaks and gems of light swirled outside and inside him, swimming in colours he couldn’t name.
There was a breeze, fluttering on invisible wings of a great eagle. A golden stream that brought the roar of a lion, just as gold as the rushing brook itself. Rain drizzled, crystal clear and ringing like pearls scattered on marble. It rained, and rained, new sensations, perfectly shaped emerald leaves, white petals, stardust, phoenix feathers, splinters of steel and mirrors, fragments of an intricate crown, rust, flashes of white light, a star he knew the name of, but it slipped past his finger, the colour blue, vivid red, plastic soldiers, the tier of a black car, a winged helmet, stormclouds, a purple-covered, dripping chest-plate—
So, so many things, countless and Dean was quickly running out of words that would allow him to keep track of himself in this crazy whirlwind of sensations.
It dropped into him, sudden and cold: he was dissolving.
Heart thumping in his ear, a rabbiting, cannon-ball sound from an ancient siege, Dean grabbed onto the first thing he could make out - a sliver of white, just a flickering flash of light on a broken prism—
“...Micha?” he whispered, puzzled.
The sudden stillness of the chaos rang in his ear - deafening.
“Don’t call me that.”
Michael’s voice rolled, like huge, thunderous war-drums. The beat vibrated around him, it shook stars into orbit and tore planets from their suns. They were smashed on the stretched darkness and formed a murderous fog of asteroids. A hurricane snatched them up and sent them flying with the sound, the beat now picking up, with the new beat of blazing flames, cracking forest fires – and just as it died with one mighty crescendo, the Big Boom, the asteroids rained down on Dean. Just as they pierced his form, they liquefied. Now there was an ocean rolling inside his chest, his ribcage like a wrecked ship’s.
The silence that engulfed him again was like the dead quiet of the ocean floor.
Dean was left in darkness. Alone. Cold. Without a name to call onto. Or a name to call his own.
He saw them all.
A garden grown to bloom and ripen from fiery rocks only to be then allowed to be overgrown in patience oblivion.
A star fallen from the heavens.
A man with striking blue eyes dressed in animal skins cursing his name; the jaw of an ass held fast in his blood-dripping hand.
Sodom and its twin swallowed in flames.
Stone piled upon stone and named Babel.
Dead bodies littering the flood soaked land. Men, giants and animals. The earth should never thirst again. Yet it still did.
Luxor wrapped in darkness.
Prayers. Churches clawing at the sky. The Cross.
The Eternal City on her knees sprawled at his feet with ashes grey on her roofs and plague in her veins as he sheathed his blazing sword.
Blood-drenched gold, murals painted with sweat and curses inbreathed into the tenacious saints. Tears of the innocent in the quiet sad moments of the morning. Rejoicing hymns in the kind blur of the evenings.
Crusades, glorious - watering lands that weren’t hungry at all. Foot soldiers desperately clinging to some divine mercy, valiant even as demons tried to worm their ways through their ears into their skulls with the fear-shivering air. Their last breaths. Their eyes cold, covered in mud, then opened bright in the embrace of their loved ones, the trenches long erased from their memories.
They never knew who they should thank for such mercy. Or who to curse for their young death.
Stop, please, stop.
A beautiful jewel. A green-gold emerald.
A blond young man, his heart torn with anger, sadness, doubt and pain, yet brighter than any light on earth. The sun rose in his eyes, the moon shone in his smile and stars glowed alight on his wrinkling cheeks as he leaned over the bars of a small bed. With overflowing love that Heaven forgot how to contain he looked at his entire universe. So tiny in a baby boy’s body. Then the gaze turned at him.
“I’ll take care of him.”
A thunderstorm kneeling in front of him.
“But I love him.”
“HE WAS MINE!”
“And you’ve lost him.”
That voice, the slithering Arctic wind cut through the chaos, and after one searing flash of white light enveloped Dean in complete, suffocating darkness.
Yet, it didn’t mean that it also switched off his senses. If anything, blinded as he was with his desperately fluttering eyelashes slicing through the velvety darkness Dean could feel his surroundings even more acutely. There were bodies all around him, immovably crowding in on him with their solid, cold-warm presence.
Dean found himself in an ocean of trees.
He tentatively stretched out a hand. Or at least he thought he did. He wasn’t entirely sure. Did he have a hand? Did he reach out to the right? The left? Up or maybe down? With the very tip of his tongue he wetted his lips. This was no worse than the unforgiving, monotonic grey of Purgatory, he told himself.
First only a fingertip, then the flat of his palm eased against a bark of a tree. It was surprisingly smooth in a way a birch or a beech tree’s bark, but as he gained confidence in something solid and grounding against his hand and stepped forward, moving towards what he hoped to be another tree, and another, and another, he was soon to discover that the trees had their own cavities. Their bark slit open, sloped under his exploring fingertips, then curved into weirdly familiar shapes.
He trailed a pattern with cooling trepidation, his throat dry and clicking on every breath he didn’t take. There was a dip, a little groove, the ridge of the naked tree went onto each direction to the side, evenly, but also up, up, until it jutted forward, then dipped back again with a slight dimple of a crease just beneath his nail. Then there was another, almost right after it, a horizontal slit—
When Dean reached the clean-cut shape of a nose he reeled back with a cry ringing among his thoughts.
He fell back against another tree. His temple just brushed against a strong jawline.
Blind and heart hammering a crazy marching song against his ribs Dean stumbled forward, away, but only deeper into this nightmarish forest, that soon shed even the guise of trees, and he was picking his way through a wardrobe of bodies. His shoulders bumped into rigid fur coats; swords and pistols brushed against his thigh. Bodies, unmoving, empty-expressions, all strong and stunning in their raw-wood paleness, like unmade statues only awaiting to be frozen into marble forms.
Dean wanted to scream.
It was no longer fear cruising his nerves and chilling his veins. It was dawning understanding of his surroundings that stole the breath from his lungs.
Then the sound came to drown his thoughts
First only one long-rolling water-wave, bringing foam from the deep, deep core of the earth. The memory of monsters, greater and older than Leviathans. Some divine horror. It crashed ashore, and the boulders shattered to free a myriad of birds from their jagged, gaping mouths. Thousands upon thousands of beating wings took to the air; they carried embers on the tip of their feathers. In their self-made hurricane smoke curled into billowing clouds. They simmered around the edges, terrible lightnings, contours around a cataclysm made of fire and shrieking stars, colliding galaxies, and one striking red eye in the middle of it all—
Horror dawned on Dean.
He knew what he was seeing.
Just as he was about to crumble, fall prostrate and await certain death or madness whichever snuffed out his consciousness first, another spark ignited – darker than the very heart of the universe. As if in protection, shielding him from this terrible living Lake of Fire, the Mark stepped forth, and pulled Dean into its embrace.
The drums and horns of Armageddon were silenced so quick and thoroughly that it left Dean’s ears ringing. He could hear his own panting breaths as if a truck’s horn was blown right next to his ear.
What now? Dean thought, but he didn’t have time to glance around. Angry, poisoned-blood darkness crowded in around him, just like the trees did, but slick and unforgiving in its softness. It crawled all over his skin, fitted around him like a second skin, and then slithered in, through forgotten scars, his ears, nose, mouth, through his tear tracks to fill out the form it had just shaped out.
Revenge! Revenge! Tear him apart! Tear him apart!
Soon it was the only thought that fitted into Dean’s mind.
Before it entirely closed in around him he thought he caught glance of six wings made of swords. One slashed his way. But then it stopped short from Dean’s taunting sneer.
Hold down a sinner awaiting judgement and heal the righteous with the same hand - what effort is it for a god? he heard his own, distorted voice sneer.
Then it was darkness against darkness and lightless fire, until swords lay scattered among the broken bodies of the forest, and the iron bars of a chest were torn open, the heart of the Apocalypse pulsing for Dean to devour.
Sam knew he should be waiting for Cas. He was only minutes away, he bet he could even hear the rumble of the pimp car just on the other side of the little woods that surrounded the bunker. And he had absolutely planned on waiting. But then he saw the Impala, thrashed and scratched up, covered with grime and mud, but it was the Impala, parked askew right in front of the bunker, and all reason had flown down the road.
It was silent inside. Oppressive, but a different kind of how it had been when Dean was lying dead in his bed.
He could hear his heart thumping in his ear.
He could hear the drums in the deep.
It reeked of rotten eggs. It smelled of burnt sandalwood.
Sam walked down the stairs without making a sound despite his size. The lights were on, the computers and various machines were still whirring – and yet Sam felt like he was making his way through a southern marsh; Ruby’s knife was held ready in front of him the only flickering flame of a light scattered over skeletal figures.
It’s Dee. It’s your brother, a little voice curled confused and anxious inside his skull. What are you so afraid of?
It was Dean, his brother. That was exactly what Sam was afraid of. The brother who never seemed to forgive him. The brother who loved him with such passion and ferocity that it was only a hair’s width away from hating him.
Careful step after careful step he took deeper inside what seemed more and more like his soon-to-be tomb. His back was slick with sweat against the wall, his eyes darted back and fro, straining. Eventually his feet brought him to Dean’s room: the bed was perfectly made, a few magazines scattered on the couch, the rest in careful order in their box. The pictures, of the two of them, Mom and Dean, both blond and smiling, of Mom and Dad, were propped up next to the lamp. His chest tightened.
“I see a bad moon rising…”
Suddenly a new sound drawled through the speakers. It chilled Sam colder than any siren ever could.
“I see trouble on the way.”
A new beat picked up, it skittered and rose and fell; the drums echoed the same rhythm as Sam’s heart – ready to burst in three beats, then dropping out through his stomach on the fourth.
He swore he could see each speck of dust the menacing song had stirred up.
“Don’t go ‘round tonight.
Well, it’s bound to take your life…”
“There’s a bad moon on the rise.”
Sam froze. He turned around. He stared. And suddenly he was really small, and really scared. The name just wouldn’t call to his lips.
“Hello, Sammy,” Dean grinned. His teeth were covered in blood.
For a second – one fraction of a second the creases were warm and familiar on Dean’s face, and he opened his arms, embracing the full width of the door to his room—
“Two brothers finally at home. Ready to hug it out?”
And then it all turned upside down, inside out. The smile’s wrinkles filled with fire. Above the mist of burnt perspiration thick, acidic fog gathered. It bleached the colour out of Dean’s eyes; they were the Arctic summer night. Then nothing.
Dean radiated power. A terrible, insubstantial power that billowed around him, as if he had grabbed the darkest night, the one that not even the world burning could illuminate, and draped it over his shoulders. His hands – scorched crow feet, studded with some hellish jewels of coal – were burning still, higher and higher until the fabric of his shirt piled to the ground, curled, thin and silver like ashes. A webbing of fuse running up, up, up his arms, up to his throat.
“Come on, Sammy.” Dean used to call his name like it was something precious, like the jiggle of his car keys, the snap of the label of the whiskey bottle when it first broke, the click of a gun. Now it sounded like a leper’s nose thudding to the ground. “Don’t give me those puppy dog eyes. I might decide I’d miss them.”
“And that,” he jerked his chin at the knife in Sam’s hand. “Is as good as a toothpick.”
“I don’t want to use it on you. But I will. If you don’t leave me another choice.”
“Ah, free will at its finest.” Dean sprawled in the doorway. The wood and concrete under his hands started to rot away. He grinned at Sam with such amused disdain that Sam almost took half a step back.
The song crooned on outside. The beat crawled up and down his spine, twisting, straining a little more at his muscles each time.
“Come on, come here, little Red. Why don’t you check how big my eyes are? How big my teeth are. I’ll even let you slice me. A nice, last school lab experiment. To see it doesn’t even sting.”
“It could!” Sam interjected quickly, scrambling on the inside to keep his voice and expression somewhat steady. The desperation – he could do nothing about that. “You came home, Dean. You came back by yourself.”
“I came back with Michael.”
That gave Sam a pause. The breath caught in his throat. His eyes rounded.
“That’s right. And now, where is archangel douchebag?” Dean licked his lips with excitement. “He’s dead, Sammy. I’ve devoured an archangel. Do you get it now, Sammy? Do you still believe, that I could be saved?”
Sam forced himself not to squeeze his eyes shut, to turn away, to run against the wall in hopes he could claw his way through earth and concrete to get away. He forced the word past his sandpaper throat, “Yes.”
“Adorable. Except it’s getting really annoying. So you, too, better keep it down!” The last part cracked like a whip. It rang with the echo of the doorframe breaking under Dean’s fist.
“This fucker doesn’t want to admit he’s lost,” Dean snarled.
Now Sam saw that under the miasmatic fog bloody sweat was beading on Dean’s temples. Now, as he had somewhat lost his footing, just an inch more to the inside over the threshold Dean looked like a cornered beast. Dangerous, dangerous, Sam’s heart thudded frantically. The last time Sam was so afraid he was grappling with Lucifer.
Dean reached to the back of his belt. Slowly, as if he wanted to showcase any revealed inch of it, he pulled forth the First Blade. He held it in front of him as Sam did with Ruby’s knife.
“Now if you’d be so kind to die quickly,” and Dean was grinning again with gritted teeth. “Hell might wait forever. But I’ve got Heaven to besiege.”
He stepped inside. His balance was insecure, like he walked a rickety bridge, or moving rocks.
Sam took one half step back. The back of his knees connected with the bedside table.
One more. Dean pulled his blade back, ready to strike. Sam braced himself for impact, for pain, for the slice and to fight back. Then it was only the matter of one longer step, a leap, the last intent, the point of no return, when Dean froze. All muscles in his body, tendons and bones, everything except for the gurgling noise in his throat was frozen in place. Hung in mid-motion he tipped over. He fell against the foot of the bed.
At the same millisecond it took Sam to assess whether he should throw himself over the bed or risk stepping over Dean’s feet in order to rush the door, Dean picked himself up. His expression roared, even though none of his facial muscles obeyed his will. He lurched himself against the wall, guns, salt and records scattered to the floor at the flailing of his arms.
Static gathered in the air. It cracked in Sam’s ear. It grew in volume, ringing, ringing, ringing.
The radio smouldered and died.
Dean’s eyes were burning white.
Already by the door Sam turned back. He still saw Dean slam himself against the wall – and then continue to bash his head against the concrete.
Golden-shot blood scattered the corridor floor, walls, his brother’s shirt—
Dean turned his head, slowly, painfully, like the vertebra of his neck were rusted cogwheels. His eyes were the last oncoming storm.
“Run, Sam! Run!” He spat.
There was no way Sam could mistake Michael’s voice.
“You don’t need him! TEAR HIM APART! YOU ONLY NEED HIS POWERS! TEAR HIM APART!”
His hands burnt to charcoals, blackened, swivelled, tendons straining, popped against the bones, but he held on that much tighter. From the terrible screeching sound his ears were bleeding – he could feel it draw thick ribbons down his neck and soak his collar.
There it was. Right there in the seam widened by his fingers – blinding white smoke billowed shot through with golden bolts of lightning. It passed through him. It thickly wormed its way down his throat, filled his lungs to the brim until it strained against his razor sharp ribs.
Dean held his breath.
When he exhaled it was all black.
He strained his muscles one last time – the Mark throbbed, it screamed – TEAR HIM APART! – the screeching pitched even higher. It had turned from sound to piercing light that set fire to his eyeballs—
Then Michael’s grace shattered. Like that carpet, centuries past. The world was enveloped in Darkness.
Only for it to be swallowed by light only a second later.
Dazed, Dean pushed himself up. Before he could open his eyes, his nose was filled with the rain-wet scent of the end of a night, leather and gasoline, and home. Below his elbows he touched familiar, worn leather seats. His fingers inched, incredulous, slightly to the side and they brushed the soft-washed edge of a blanket. The soles of his feet were pressed against the door. Above him, it was the Impala’s roof. Above the back seat. He had been staring at it, counting patched up holes so many times he would recognized it anywhere, anytime.
He sat up. Then rubbed at his eyes. The surrounding, outside of the car wasn’t familiar. He didn’t remember the last time he had stopped to refill his car…
Except that he remembered this place. It was a run-down gas station, something left there from the last oil crisis. He was sure he could still find the board declaring No gas if he bothered to look. This was where Sam had pouted and sulked for his first beer, and this was the station where John finally caved. Dean had been pissed when he was woken up by a cheerful little brother pressing the cool bottom of a beer bottle against the back of his neck with shit eating grin splitting his dimpled kind face. He only howled with laughter when Dean startled awake with a curse John frowned at, and almost knocked the beer out of his hand.
There was a fight, when all three of them piled back into the car, but it was half-hearted, and mostly a show to drive Sam’s joy to new heights that he got a drink where Dean didn’t.
(Sammy didn’t like it much – whoever did, really? – but he put up a smug, even if slightly bitter face and chugged half of the bottle down. By the time he miserably handed it over to Dean it was piss-warm and awful.)
But here, in this moment, as the Impala’s engine revved and the car rolled out of the station and to the endless stretch of the road there was no Sammy to kick at his thigh and grapple with. There was no Dad to turn up the radio and send knowing looks back at his boys through the rear-view mirror.
The Impala just… drove itself. Even despite the lone figure sitting with his legs stretched sideways across the seats…
He was staring.
For Michael to realize that, however, it took a minute. He visibly startled. As his shoulders flattened against the door the moonlight caught on his face and slipped beneath his skin through a white scar that embraced his head like a circlet of a crown.
“Oh,” Michael said, forcing his body back to relaxation. He still looked spooked. “Dean.”
Dean quirked an eyebrow in question. “Michael.”
“You recognize me.”
“Well. Yeah? I mean, why wouldn’t I? Wait. Am I dead?”
The bottom of his stomach dropped out, but he wasn’t sure if it left cold dread or rather relief in its wake.
“I doubt it.” In the cover of the back-rest Michael rolled up the sleeve of his jacket. Dean could feel his gaze on the inside of his own elbow. “But you are still in Heaven. Your Heaven, a few years in the past when I used to visit you here.”
“I don’t get it!”
“I must have told you about these times.”
“You were bullshitting me! As you always were!”
The crease between Michael’s eyebrows looks weary.
“And, and this timetravel shit? This is impossible! Kronos is dead, and—“
“Dean,” Michael interrupted him with withering, but oh-so-gentle patience. “When we met in 1978 I had already met you a hundred times when you died again and again due to Gabriel’s machinations.”
“You are dying – we both are, I presume – so that excuses your mind’s sluggishness. But I may remind you, time is more fluid and circular than you think. It’s not like this road,” and he canted his head outside the smudged windshield. “Although, all the same, you can easily get lost in it.”
We’re both dying. The gap that had opened inside him was widening with the light sheen of cold sweat at the back of Dean’s neck. On the other hand, however, only a foot away from him Michael spoke, soft and tired, as if it didn’t bother him the least. As if he didn’t care that Dean wanted to kill him.
“Your Heaven is built along the endless serpent of this highway,” Michael said, and his tone was, quite surprisingly, more fond than derogatory. “It’s flanked with dusty parking lots and memories of home. I think I like to be a guest in it.”
“Doesn’t sound overly exciting.”
“It’s not overly vast in variety, no. But it’s exciting. Even though in a different meaning than what you presume.”
“You speak like you’ve seen it all.” The look that settled, serene, over Michael’s face said that he had. “So… What would your Heaven look like?”
Michael tilted his head a fraction. “My Heaven? I’m afraid your mind wouldn’t be able to comprehend that.”
“You know what I mean.”
“A personal Heaven is a mortal’s gift. I am only a mere keeper of the network of souls at rest.”
Dean couldn’t help the grin splitting his face into actual laughter lines. Michael, on the other side of his seat looked affronted.
“It can’t be all that embarrassing that you’d have to come up with this sappy bullshit to shirk out of sharing! Come on, what happens to angels when they die?”
Michael looked back at him as if he was stupid.
Dean returned the look, equally as kind.
“So do we.”
Michael stood – or more like sat – Dean’s look for another long-suffering minute, then he allowed his head to thud back against the open window.
“When I could, I didn’t know Death, so there was no use in asking what happens to angels when we die. And then, after it became relevant, I couldn’t. Father, who would know, didn’t have time for such foolish inquiries.”
“You’ve met him,” Michael said, his words shrugged.
Dean did. Death could look at you with such terrible pity that you would think a hundred times before pressing a question. But Michael wasn’t Death.
“But if you had one, like humans do,” Dean asked softly. “What would that be? Some great battle? The Crusades? Renaissance Rome?”
Michael tipped his head back again. He shifted until he was comfortable. When he answered, his voice was soft as a sigh.
“Once,” he started, “before Heaven was opened to all kinds of believers there was this man, a prince who fought sometimes with, then against the Romans. He was a war hero. I had held his sword in several battles. I think… I think he was a suitable vessel for me. Then my duties called me to Jerusalem. To witness the death of the Christ, and Lucifer’s first defeat. Also to parry his rage upon being thrown into the Cage.”
“It happened so late?”
“You can only follow orders when they arrive,” Michael shrugged. “Either way, one of my wings was almost fully cut off in that fight. It incapacitated me. It took me a decade to heal properly. When I could return to Heaven… It was the first time I saw such variety of souls. Heaven grew crowded again. It wasn’t the same as before one third of the Host had fallen, but it was shot through with life again.
“Enough time has passed that I’d go around, to see if that Hellenic prince had carved a place for himself. I thought the same you did. That he would desire his rest in great halls lit with warm flames, surrounded by all the people who served him with their lives and loved him honestly. Or the thrill of a battle. That’s what draws us with our constant bloodthirst, but… when I found him, he was surrounded by rolling, deep green hills studded with white boulders, innumerable goats, and a friend of his. A good soul, the both of them. It was painfully peaceful. But with such company, I think I could bear it.”
Dean felt his face grow pink. That was indeed something he didn’t expect from Michael. A sword desiring rest. What a curious thing…
“So you caught your prince charming with his ‘friend’, huh?” he asked instead, because sarcasm was always more comfortable.
“I’m making no assumptions,” Michael answered. “Soulmates do get to share their Heavens.”
“Is that why you’ve been singling me out?”
“I’m an angel. I don’t have a soul, hence the phrase is invalid in my case. Not so much with you and Sam.”
There it was again, the cold empty space gaping at Dean from where his stomach had once been.
“I don’t think we do. Not anymore,” he mumbled. “Not with how I—You know…”
Michael’s eyes were heavy on him as he watched, and watched, and watched. Then he heaved a sigh and sat up straight – a sword slipping in place of the scabbard of his spine.
“It’s not over Dean.” Michael said, and now his voice rang clear again. Self-assured. “We won’t stop here. I can help you.”
The hand, stretched out to him over the backrest, hanging over a small, bottomless abyss didn’t seem all that peaceful. It was a hand reaching out for the hilt of its sword. Helpful, yes, but tattered, cut open, and the gauntlet that covered it was splattered with blood.
And Dean was very, very tired of all the blood.
The frantic beat of his heart pushed Sam to the brink of being conscious of his body and mind. It was like a shadow followed him right beneath the thick ice he was sliding down. He knew it was there, but he could do nothing about it and the ice was thick. Only there were leaks – and through them he caught glances of how much of a nightmare he was actually living.
Every door he tore open was a leak like that.
Every corridor he passed, he could see the shadow haunting him from the corner of his eye.
He knew he should have waited for Cas, but it didn’t help him. What he cared about was to reach the electrical room, to lock down the bunker, before Dean had the chance to go out into the world with his power and unleashed hurt rage, and bring Heaven and Hell down in one huge, apocalyptic collision on Earth.
“Don’t you run anywhere, Sammy!” Dean’s voice rang along the maze of corridors as he switched the lights back on. He could feel Michael stir inside him. Even torn in half, that son of a bitch still had it in him to fight back. As best as he could Dean slammed down against him. He thought he heard a pained groan and ribs and wings smashing under his fists. He didn’t have much access to the archangel’s powers, not until he had rattled his fifth last breath, but Dean had always been a fan of mundane methods.
With a curling grin he turned to leave the electrical room.
“And, FYI, Mike here’s still burning with the overeager desire to off the Devil, so, technically I’m doing ourselves – and the world – a huge ass favour.”
Only, before he could exit the door was slammed and locked in his face.
“That’s your big move?” he drawled.
“Dean, listen to me!” Oh, poor, big boy Sammy sounded so panick-y. “I know you’re still in there.”
“Ah, it’s only Mickey inside me. But, not much longer.”
“We can turn it back!” Sam went on, the stubborn, idealist little shit he was even still. “We know that the treatment works. Just let me do it! We only want to help you!”
Of course they wanted to help him. To turn him back into a mellow, guilt-ridden little maggot who crawled around in the mud. But frankly, the hammer felt splendid in his hand – it would even feel better against the door – and unfortunately, he wanted his Blade back. And, unfortunately again, Sammy was in the way.
“You are so beautiful,” was murmured against his throat; praise kissed into his skin, swirling in intricate patterns only the other could read. “One and only. Exquisite thing. Gorgeous, brave creature.”
Dean felt his eyes burn, but his sight remained clear. He could count the fissures filled with stars, a whirlpool of colours that still settled in the comforting shades of a bright night.
Tender fingertips traced constellations that had long ago dropped off the sky. They fitted perfectly among thick scars and shadows of freckles.
“If only I could keep you here. This is what you deserve. Peace and bliss and gentle delight. Your Paradise.”
A sigh pressed to his mouth. Its scent of salt - tears - ocean - lingered on the tip of his tongue when it flickered out to wet his lips.
“I’ll show you Eden. As it once was, glorious, perfect - before the serpent could ruin it. Everlasting. I’ll show you, bring you the happiness you deserve, Dean. Even if you won’t remember my promise. I will, Dean. I will. You and I, together. We’ll make it come real.”
Suddenly the world fell away in a shriek of metal on glass.
For a second Dean thought he died: it was all bright light and gentle silence around him.
He blinked his eyes closed, then he blinked them back open. At first it didn’t change much, but on second inspection he could finally make out vague forms, familiar and foreign to his eyes at the same time.
It took him a moment to realize that he was looking at his surroundings through the silky filter of feathers - the red eyes on them closed.
Around them gentle sunlight danced on the leaves, casting pale-gold shadows on the brilliant green grass. Yet, as the breeze combed through the blades it revealed the warm brown of the earth, washed over with the reflection of the spotless sky - all a swirl of colours, unnameable - Sammy - but however it was called it settled deep in Dean’s chest. It ached. With tender heat. At his feet flowers grew. Their little heads were turned upwards, a foam of white in the lush emerald see with splashes of darker colours - like the little moles he could draw on his little brother’s face even dead asleep - or like a smile that unfurled, wide, contagious, that made the world a better place. If only for a second. The rustle of feathers, the slow, lazy blink of the eyes faded perfectly into the sweet harmony of bristled leaves and the melody of bird-song. It was nothing Dean had heard before, except - Sam could sing so horribly under the shower Dean didn’t have the heart to tease him about it, so instead he opted to enjoy it.
A terrible lion with a lamb curled up at its side - It’s okay, Dean, I’ve got him.
Precious stones rimmed with terrified bright light--
I know you’re still in there somewhere. Just let me finish…
Dean fell to the ground - it dented under his knees, easy, but without splinters, unlike how the door gave way under his hammer. The air he breathed in was sweet, green, like after summer rain, tinted with iron and salt that coloured the puddles copper red. He could taste it, blood and fear, and helpless anger at the back of his tongue.
Let’s finish this game!
Above the light slipped on the edge of - leaf? feather? shattered air? - a sharp blade. He could feel it pressed into the soft skin of his throat. His lips parted, their edge curled with perverse thought, but all that came out, shuddering, was a whimper: “Sammy…”
Among the grass something dark wound about, one single line, smooth, slick, unstoppable in its waving movement. A black snake. Its grey tongue tasted the bleeding air. Dean only panted, limbs heavy, tired. Above, sky and leaves greyed. They turned to the unforgiving colour of steel. Everything was glowing with an eerie, decaying light. Last flash before doom.
Just as the snake opened its maliciously grinning mouth, fangs sliding forward from the white gums Dean gritted his own teeth - why? To try and break the wave of all this unbearable pressure that just erupted outside of him? What good was it, sheer determination, when this sulphur-smelling tar covered his skin? It weighed his limbs down, stuck to the ground, and all Dean could do was scream without opening his mouth to a howl, panting with his nostrils and ears filling up as this plague ate its way through his skin inside to devour anything it could still find.
Hot white pain sliced through the thick cover, it pierced Dean’s last battered shield too - a slick, sharp blade thrust down just on the blood-covered side of his ribcage - and like that it wrecked a cry from Dean. He expected the darkness to rush at him. But it didn’t come. It was the familiar canopy of starless night draped over him. Red eyes in endless numbers glimmered down at him. A rapier nudged the snake off his right ankle. But it did nothing to lift the terrible force constricting his chest. Dean still didn’t feel like he could breathe. All he wanted was to curl up and wait until it all went away. Maybe cry a little, even.
“You need to go back to Sam,” Michael murmured softly against his temple. He wiped the tears away just as gently. “Your Paradise lies with him.”
“I can’t. The Mark… It’ll make me want to hurt him again.”
Dean’s breath hitched. He tried to push the memory away although before he could succeed to evade this poisonous marsh far enough, Michael reached out and in his cupped hand pulled the sickening, swimming pictures of Sam’s terrified precious face close again. Dean made a soft whining sound, like an animal in pain, but Michael hushed him. He breathed a kiss to Dean’s cheek in a manner of comfort.
“I know you want nothing more than to forget what’s happened.”
“Just let me… just this,” Dean pleaded desperately.
Michael’s palms took hold of each side of Dean’s face - like sunlight returning to caress his cheeks - and brought their foreheads together.
“I’ll need you to remember, Dean. Remember the weight of the hammer in your hand, so unfitting. Remember how there are many out there who love you. Who care for you. Who would crawl to the end of the world, wounded, bleeding, just so you could tear even more pieces out of them. Remember that they wouldn’t hurt you even then. Remember your brother, Dean. He loves you… You deserve to be loved. And now remember what you’ll see now.”
In Michael’s hold Dean’s head swayed, rocked from one side to the other on a slight arc. He felt like a gentle brook was carrying him, enveloped in a safe embrace finally calm. At peace. The darkness had slipped far away.
“Open your eyes, Dean,” Michael ordered softly.
Dean only made another low sound. The breath barely resonated in his throat to make it. His eyelashes fluttered but he didn’t relent.
“Open your eyes.” Michael repeated patiently but more sternly. Then the air seemed to strain. The momentary silence hung heavy between them, like before clouds started building up at the horizon. Michael gave the thought of a sigh. He pressed it to the top of Dean’s forehead, wet, tender, overwhelming. He could barely make out the whispered plea: “Please remember me this time.” Then Michael took a step back. Cool distance slipped between them like autumn’s first breeze through a cracked window. His gaze flickered to Dean’s shirt. As the corner of his weary mouth tilted just a thought upwards he reached out to right the collar. Just like at their first - was it really the first? - meeting.
“I’ll see you soon, Dean.”
It was always blood that washed away the darkness, and purified the sinner.
A croaked moan.
“You’re looking worried fellas…”
Sam’s smile was withering, weak, on the edge of breaking. He woe all the colours of the world draped around him.
Castiel, by his side, a rose-window Angel of the Lord, was all things blue.
There was no black left in Dean’s eyes.
They had found a moment of equilibrium with Sam – a shared dinner of scraping jibes and glistening eyes. For their sake the world held its breath before it exhaled softly. It was a sigh that laid the forest of anxiety to the ground. The oily moss-covered trees disappeared in the shadows. This once, for just this one second they could breathe freely. There was no stench of imminent death poisoning them. One moment to enjoy.
Sam could barely meet, then could barely look away from Dean’s green, green, green eyes.
Dean could barely meet, then could barely look away from Sam’s bruised face.
Sammy… His brother, oh he was the brave one, but even then Dean had seen him terrified several times. And that was all right. That was the way of things with brothers. But not – he had never painted such terror over Sam’s face with his own hands.
A shiver shook Dean’s entire frame. He slumped on his bed. In a silly motion he turned the pictures in his lap against his chest, and covered them with his palm. As if he could protect them from the shame that was slowly still mauling him.
It was all real. It was all so fucking real!
Dean fisted a hand in his hair, clenched his fingers extra and revelled in the pain in his scalp. It grounded him. And it also barred him from damaging his treasured photos. He took a deep breath.
Cas was right – with his stupid, soft smile that Dean didn’t deserve on his good days, not to mention after weeks of planning their murder. Cas was right. Whatever he did – how stupid, fucked up things he did! – it would take more than going after Sam, and Cas, with a hammer to get them kick him out.
How he would deserve it. How it would make everything better! For them…
“Maybe you should… take some time off,” Cas had said. His gaze was pained but soft. It didn’t make looking him in the face any easier. “With Heaven and Hell basically, more or less, back in order. It would be… reasonable timing.”
“Heaven and Hell, you say,” Dean said.
“Yes,” Cas nodded. “Hannah’s mandate got accepted. Now she’s… Vice-Governor of Heaven I believe.”
“I know,” oh, Cas looked so proud and happy for her. Then his expression somewhat sobered, turned sharper, an ashen layer of mischief laid over his weariness. “And Crowley claims he’s not sentimental. He and Michael will maintain the status quo.”
Michael – Dean hadn’t heard of him, hadn’t seen sight of him ever since he opened his eyes and all the pain and damn overwhelming relief knocked the breath out of him. Dean wondered, with anxiety stirring in his chest, if he was okay.
Almost immediately, the same way as the first tentative colours of morning broke over the horizon, blooming like a gentle bruise, a memory spread to cover Dean’s thin-stretched mind under soft warmth. It was stifling. In an entirely welcoming way.
The cover of the sofa was soft-worn beneath him; his mother was warm and alive at his side, Sammy, so small, wrinkled pink and fast asleep was heavy in his lap, while the words of the fairy tale flowed through him like a brook, velvety and lively. Dean felt alive, blessed and free. He could float or melt away. The smile on his face, the wonder lighting up his eyes didn’t feel foreign - it didn’t feel like he was undeserving of it.
He was entitled to this happiness. It felt good.
Sometimes, though, sometimes when he saw himself from the outside the delight felt heavy. Some overwhelming sense of foreboding evil weighted his soul and pushed the lovely orange lights through a grey filter…
Before it could overwhelm him his vision was filled with Sammy’s baby blue blanket, the polka-dotted fabric of his mother’s dress and the colourful pictures of laughing little boys and little girls on the picture book’s pages. And it all felt perfect again.
“I’m sorry to have tainted that scene with my own impressions,” Michael said.
Dean didn’t even flinch at his sudden presence. But then gradually, as one wakes from uneasy sleep, he slowly started to register small things. The warmth wrapping around him from his memory. The scent of incense and sandalwood. Cinnamon, too, strangely. But then, as the bed dipped beside him he could hear the distant murmur of waves coming ashore. It sent a chill down his spine that was only drawn out longer with the body that settled close to him – line up with his own from knee to shoulder. He was very aware of the pattern on the opposite wall, how his own breathing grew shallow and picked up in speed. It thundered along with the sea.
When Michael touched his chin, Dean still gave no indication that he either recognized him or if he approved of his close proximity. Michael didn’t seem to care. He tilted Dean’s head – his breath smelled dangerous – and kissed him softly. One breath of a touch.
Yet, Dean went rigid as if a lightning bolt had struck his spine stiff. His lips grew hard and ice-cold, locked over his teeth, trapping his breath in his breast to try and heat him up once more after the shock’s cold shower. He stared, wide-eyed, and all he could see was the golden stretch of Michael’s skin, and a gathering frown over his brows.
For a second Michael stayed, his kiss spread over Dean’s bottom lip.
Then he pulled back. “Oh,” he said, a silent sound bursting like a cannon in the air.
Dean realized with growing cold sinking into his stomach that his demonic attempts at breaking the archangel had come awfully close to success. A couple more hours, maybe, was all he would have needed, but whatever he achieved was enough to bring Hell’s comfort to linger in Michael’s wet eyes, the involuntary twitch of his mouth, the glass-sharp line of his jaw.
“It’s not like that!” he hurried to explain, even though he wasn’t really sure what that meant. “Sorry.”
What an empty word. And yet, full of shame Dean forced himself to look at Michael.
Michael’s lips thinned into a knife-like line, then the corners curled upwards in a flash. He nodded, but when his gaze next flickered from the floor to Dean’s face nothing remained on his features that could resemble softness. It had seemed to be as alien to him as it had been back in ’78.
“Of course,” Michael said, and he stood.
The thought, don’t leave me, flashed through Dean with all of a stormy night’s horror. But Michael only stepped over to the bedside table and flicked the light switch off. The room did not grow any darker.
“Are you here for real?” The question tumbled out of Dean despite himself. He couldn’t take the tense silence – or rather he couldn’t take the elusive guilt that settled heavy over him.
Michael picked up a picture of Dean’s mother and father from next to the lamp – which hadn’t been there previously. He inspected it carefully, even though his face remained impassive.
“Yes,” he said.
“Man, that’s creepy,” Dean said. He didn’t sound as appalled as he intended. Yet he still shifted, threw his legs over the edge of the bed – just give him something to do! “Lemme wake up, and let’s talk properly face to face. It can’t be that hard for you.”
“I don’t t think you would appreciate the state I’m in,” Michael said, still staring at the picture. “I could only talk to Sam because he was already at the bottom of a bottle. Half of it consumed in one go shortly after I approached him.”
Dean almost fell back at his pillow. His head grew heavy and dizzy.
Blood. He remembered so much blood. On his hands – it burnt his hands to the very bone. The stench of burnt meat, the metallic tinge of caked blood at the back of his tongue, white-hot steel-like ribs branding his wrist as he was buried elbow-deep in Michael’s side—
He quickly hauled himself forward, his head hanging between his knees, hands twisted together at the back of his neck he heaved desperately. The muscles of his throat convulsed, but there was nothing except for pathetic sounds to retch up.
He was awfully aware of the archangel’s presence in the room. Never had he wished more desperately for Michael to go away.
Here Dean was, great hunter, terror of nightmares, he had planned so often how he would take revenge on Michael and his Apocalypse-drunk bunch, even as a human. And now here he was, successful in his plans – and he was terribly ashamed of it. He was nothing but a failure of both Heaven and Hell.
“I came with an offering,” Michael said.
With a huff that could be as much a chuckle as an aborted sob, Dean buried his head in his hands. “What kind?”
“I would deliver you from the Mark of Cain.”
That gave Dean a pause. Inside him some terrible forces clashed, and it took him a moment to figure out which one was the victor.
“Seriously? After all this time—You had the cure at your disposal?!” Dean asked, his voice stifled in his hands and with the bubbling anger.
“It’s not that simple.”
“Then spell it out, goddamnit, before I get so pissed I wake up to strangle you!”
“Do you believe if I knew of a cure, I would have waited with it this long?”
Dean’s head jerked up. He glared at Michael. Because in all seriousness? Yes, he could pretty much imagine that happening.
For his part Michael looked righteously affronted.
“My offer,” he said slow, words sharp, “is that you could pass the Mark to me. I would take it from you.”
Dean eyed him suspiciously. “Why would you take it from me?”
“I just want it away from you.”
Michael looked at him. He shrugged without his shoulders moving.
“Because I love you.”
“You so don’t!” Dean cried, frustrated, helpless, beyond reason and measure, and so, so done with this night.
Something hurt passed Michael’s face. Dean recognized with a sinking sense of terror that he revelled in it.
“You have no fucking idea what love is! Do you seriously think… God, are you for real?! What’s – It’s—come on, the past weeks, month I tortured you! You have a serious Stockholm syndrome, you shouldn’t even be here! It was—It was abuse. Clearest, most obvious form of it—“ his voice broke into a high-pitched little sob, when despite all this, despite all goddamn fucking sense Michael looked at Dean like a dog looked at its master.
“Don’t you pity me, Dean,” Michael said, sharp. “I know what love is. I’ve knelt before it, don’t forget that.”
Dean laughed, hysteric, his head thrown back. How was he supposed to explain what love was to someone who clearly didn’t have a good point of reference?
Did Dean even have one himself?
“You had an order!”
“An order I obeyed because I loved the one who gave it.”
“You obeyed because you didn’t know better!”
“But did you?”
“When you were told to look after Sam, to love him more than you love your own life, to love him more than he loves his.”
Dean met Michael’s challenging gaze, and in response he closed down. No, they were so not having this argument right now. This wasn’t the same. So instead he clenched his jaw and forced his lips to draw into a smile. It was miniscule, tight. Meanwhile, in spite of himself pity found its way into his eyes. Yet again, it was almost a mirror image to Michael’s. Similar, but not really the same. From the angel’s battered face it was slight contempt, the brother of pity that looked back at him. They thought the very same of each other.
It was Michael who looked away first. His expression smoothed over jagged reefs, like the tide come rising again. “But that’s not the time I’m talking about.” He took one steadying breath, and all the nervous tension was drowned with the dead boats that had crushed themselves into the ocean deep’s dark oblivion. In front of Dean he slowly sunk to one knee, and he bowed for a moment of worship before he looked up – a proud and painfully present as he was. “I’ve knelt before you, once. Just like this. And you loved me, once. Just like that.”
Then Michael did the unimaginable. He smiled. Without his expression changing, without the curve of his mouth, without his eyes, but he was smiling. Remorseful. He was beautiful and miserable. Dean could almost believe he had loved him once. In another life maybe.
He could no longer keep looking at Michael.
“What if it turns you into a demon too?” Dean asked instead.
“It can’t,” Michael stated on the same smooth, rolling tone that at the first time had Dean bristle with a deep-curling annoyance and hate. “The Mark’s power, its origin, lays with my Father. It thrives to survive, because it was made to be an eternal sign, so it seeks for stronger and stronger hosts.”
“It went damn off track when it found me.”
“You could at least honour the both of us after what we’ve both been through.”
Dean started at the sarcastic edge in Michael’s voice. “What?”
“The Mark of Cain is not some kind of punishment you should wear by some higher powers, and definitely not imposed by yourself!”
“Cut me some slack!” Dean snapped. But as soon as his eyes flashed at the angel still on his knees, the spark of anger was snuffed out of his chest immediately. He was so damn tired – especially tired of fighting Michael. “Thanks, really, for helping bringing me back. But, clearly,” and he helplessly gestured between the two of them, “you did it under the wrong assumptions. There’s no Sleeping Beauty for you here, so you can just as well go.”
“Dean!” Michael’s voice rose so suddenly and so loud Dean wondered why he hadn’t jerked awake with his heart thundering in his mouth.
Then just as it came, the booming noise went as well. In the ringing silence Michael closed his eyes and with two bruised fingers squeezed the bridge of his nose in such humanly fashion that it was painful to watch.
He exhaled. Tilted his head, and when he next locked eyes with Dean Michael looked much alike Dean. The same kind of vulnerable tiredness stretched his features. That was the wicked, impassioned source of so many deadly mistakes.
“I genuinely want to help you, Dean. You deserve to rest.”
His throat still working around a lump, eyes still prickling with heat Dean wondered how much of it was an eloquent lie. He wondered if it was this easy, only to pass the Mark to a stronger being, then why had Michael not offered this sooner? Did he want to see how much Dean could bear before he breaks? Was he testing limits, wanted to see the full extent to how great depth the Righteous Man could fall? In a shadowy corner of Dean’s mind some disgusting, slimy creature writhed and hissed in terrible laughter, snickering that well, it’s quite likely with these winged dicks. But then there was another part of Dean that looked at Michael as if he was looking at his own reflection: lying. Lying to unfortunate victims, to Sam after Dean had made his own deal, convincing to the level of self-delusion that this is the only way. That this would work. Because they had no idea what else could.
“What do you want in return?”
The answer came impossibly quick. “Don’t forget me.”
Dean wanted to sneer How could I? but the shine to Michael’s eyes, far different and far more familiar than the ethereal luminescence of angelic grace, made him rather wonder how many times had he forgotten Michael if the angel had to ask him so - again?
Too many, said Michael’s gaze that were again that strange mixture of bottomless dark and striking colour that left Dean sick with memory.
“I—I can’t. Can’t do. Thanks, but—sorry.”
“No, it’s… it’s really a bad idea. I won’t lend a hand to you destroying yourself just like that!” When Dean opened his eyes again, more focused even through the gathering tears, the angel looked appalled, confused, toeing the line to that terrible anger that never stopped simmering. “What we need is a cure. Do you know a cure to the Mark, Michael? Do you know some hoodoo, spell or whatever shit have you to destroy it?”
Michael only gave a rude noise.
“See? You said it’s eternal! It… You can’t be immune to this. Cure from God or not-God. And the last thing we want to deal with is a rogue-archangel. We don’t need you to be Devil 2.0 or whatever!”
“What do you think my brother could do to me that he hasn't already?” Michael asked sharply.
“It’s not Lucifer, for fuck’s sake! It’s the Mark, you don’t know it. It wants! And if it wants you this much… then, then I’d be stupid to let you have it!”
“Dean, listen to me!”
“No. You listen.” To his surprise, Michael fell silent. Dean took a deep breath and searched for his eyes. He started talking again once he knew Michael was listening. “I’m fucking scared of this thing on my arm. It feels—it feels terrible, and what’s worse, is… it feels like a part of me now. But… But I can be cured. We proved that I can be cured. And you’re free. You’re an archangel, and you can fight me. And, and there’s no proof that it could go the other way around.” Dean ducked his head, his own strength and resolve withering dangerously. “You’re stronger than me, I get it. But, but we—I need you to be stronger. To stop me when… if it happens again.”
For yet another long-stretched moment the world stood still and silent. It did so open recently. Then, as a deep sigh unfurls Michael shifted, slowly, with trembling trepidation. He touched Dean, first his arms, then his shoulders, the base of his neck, closer, closer, until even the concept of sulphur was washed away from Dean’s mind with the sharp scent of incense washed soft by a summer storm. Michael pressed his cheek to the top of Dean’s lowered head.
Something cold pooled where cheek touched hair.
“The likes as you and I?” Michael said slow and quiet. “We don’t break. We burn without warmth, we fall without drawing a flashing streamer, but we never break upon impact. We just stand up again. Because that’s what we do.”
I’m so proud of you, Dean.
—How could he not love you?
“That can’t be all that’s to us,” Dean said.
Michael pulled back, his neck bent so that Dean could see one wet track aborted halfway to his cheek, and another running down to the point of his chin. A liquid smile curled Michael’s mouth.
“No. That’s absolutely not all to you.”
A desperate scoff of laughter interrupted Michael. It was better than allowing the blood-dripping, bruise-coloured memories to swirl to the surface about where Michael might go with this.
“But what about you? Is there more to you than not-breaking?”
A painfully open kind of confusion took over Michael’s face.
“See, it can’t. It’s… I don’t even know you! Nor you me. And this is not how it works!”
With that same terrifying expression Michael regarded him for a long second, then slowly, he said, “You can learn me,” he paused, then added: “If you wish to.”
If it was any ordinary dream, this would be the point where the room tore apart like one shreds a stupid letter, and this would be the point where Dean, stunned dizzy started either falling or floating in this new freaky world where up and down and left and right made absolutely no sense at all.
Did Michael, Free-Will-Is-An-Illusion Michael, just offer him a choice?
Don’t be silly, sneered a low, silky voice. He deeply believes you were made for each other. And that God has given you to him. For him, it’s a weird sense of courtesy. A golden wrapping. This is your predestined choice. But then Dean looked back at Michael: he still looked bruised, a ragged wound like a shattered halo, like a crown of thorns ran in a fractured circle around his head. This time his eyes were dark, but didn’t speak of imminent danger. He looked tired, worn-out, just how Dean felt, but… Unlike Dean, Michael actually looked hopeful.
Dean swallowed. He could start wiping his ledger pink right about now, couldn’t he?
“Yeah,” he said. “I think we could do that.”
Dean’s breath billowed in white puffs in front of him. The air was cold, and yet, he felt so much colder on the inside. With his gaze he tried to pierce the light polluted, dimmed night sky, as if he could look even past that. As if he could shoot through to other realities.
He was ready to go down on his knees – so tired, so damn tired – and if he was there, he would just as well try his blasphemous tongue at praying.
“Please,” he whispered. His mind was stretched thin, and so was his will.
He could feel his right arm burning. His whitened, ugly, bruised fist was quivering – even though it had never felt more alien attached to his wrist.
“Please,” he repeated. You promised, tumbled bitter and sluggish, tasting of salt on his tongue.
“The only thing that could ever bind Michael are orders,” came a freezing silver whisper from next to Dean’s ear. “If I were you, I wouldn’t hold him to his own promises.”
Just as red-hot letters started to scrawl the same in his brain, the slant and slope of them cruel, demanding blood to fill their violent creases, a thought cracked and sizzled on the misty bulk of the lamppost. From the light a soft grey shadow emerged. There was a thin white halo sitting airily on Michael’s thick locks.
Dean looked up at Michael. He reached out his hands, his palms turned up, begging.
“I hurt her,” he said, voice curled high, slipping on so far fought-back tears. “I hurt her. Charlie. And I will hurt them.”
The Mark didn’t want Michael anymore. That was what Dean had been telling himself. He had rolled it around in his mind, tried to shout it at the roaring bloodlust in the dead of the night until he lay awake in bed and whispered to himself until he had worn himself so thin, he could no longer tell if he was confident or just too fucking tired to care.
Dean Give-Em-Hell Winchester, the selfish martyr, challenger of gods, fate and even Death, Dean Winchester, the unimportant little man had run out of defiance.
Michael reached down, his hands wrapped around Dean’s wrists. He pulled Dean to his feet.
There it was. Dean could feel it surging again, the boiling anger. His penitence was rejected – What did you expect with that mark on your body?! – and so, no other option remained but to soak up the lands with blood. His body was spasming with uncontrollable long shivers.
“Can you get rid of it?” Dean asked – begged – his eyes trained on Michael’s profile; the small white scar of his cheek, over the arch of his eyebrow, the second halo around his forehead. “Is there a way? Something only God knows?”
“If it was something only God knew,” Michael said, “I wouldn’t be any wiser than you.”
Dean’s throat tightened. It ached badly with tears.
“I don’t need your divine bullshit.”
He had given himself the chance for a slight sliver of hope. Michael knew so much. And he cared for Dean. Just a little bit. Right? So with dry lips and thick, hardly turning tongue Dean had sewn himself little daydreams in the early hours instead of actual ones where Michael didn’t grew to despise him – or worse, grow aloof of him – and maybe bothered to look through Heaven’s old, old archives and find something that could free them of the Mark. So many maybe’s, so many if’s, and here, right in front of his eyes, they were all going to fail. Just as everything did.
“Then kill me.” His voice fell oddly flat. “You’re an archangel. You could kill me.”
“I could kill a Knight of Hell,” Michael said. “I could have killed Abaddon. I could kill Cain, but I couldn’t kill the Mark of Cain.”
“Is this it, then? Am I,” Dean swallowed thickly. His conscience sagged. He slumped back, and the leaden weight of exhaustion spilled immediately into the tiny, bubble sized pockets hope had managed to save in his will. With the tip of his tongue he wetted his lips – and so, the last spark of his temper was put out. “Am I bound to turn into a demon again? To live Cain’s life backwards?”
He should be angry. He knew it. And, to a level he was. His right arm was. His right fist was.
Dean imagined twisting his hand, grabbing hold of Michael’s wrist, and pulling him off balance and right into his knee. He desperately wanted to hear the breath leave the angel’s breast with a surprised, guttural huff, and then to hear him groan when Dean eventually broke his face again—
He acknowledged the wildfire thoughts with a calm, oh, here you are.
“You were bound to do that, one way or another,” Michael told him, but not unkindly. It only fuelled some of this superficial, should-be-there anger. “You were always to repent first for the sin you were destined to commit. But,” And with one hand still wrapped loosely around Dean’s wrist, with the other Michael pushed up the sleeve of Dean’s shirt and jacket, strangling the flow of blood. He took hold of Dean’s elbow, just on the other side of the Mark. The skin was red with its vileness. “This mark has no part of that destiny. Let it go, Dean.”
Why would it be any different if he got to bear the mark? Oh, I know. He might even make it to the throne of Hell.
Dean squeezed his eyes shut. They didn’t need another Devil. Not even the chance of one, but also, Michael’s words sounded so sure in his head. “What do you think my brother could do to me that he hasn't already?” No silver voice could challenge them.
In a silent mean of invitation – and offered choice – Michael slid his right hand past Dean’s, so that their palms lingered with lax fingers over the other’s wrist.
The world inhaled—
Dean grabbed onto Michael’s forearm, as if the simmering thoughts and curses thicker than tar could worm their ways out through the walls of his veins and through his skin and into Michael’s system. Dean alone was too little, such a tiny man, to bear them all.
Immediately, and so painfully true to his eager word, Michael’s fingers closed around Dean’s wrist. It was grounding – like nothing could tear him off the earth’s surface.
The Mark came to new, screaming life. It sizzled, and shot up Dean’s arm, painting cob-webs of sick white and pink colours that crawled up to the base of his skull. His jaw fell open on a soundless cry. He felt another hand clasped to the juncture of neck and shoulder.
“Let it go, Dean,” Michael repeated. His certain voice cut through the hurricane of the Mark. “It’s not part of who you are.”
Dean forced himself to breathe through the pain. One by one he unclamped each poison-fang, nail and thorn the curse still held onto him with. His hands bled more and more fresh blood after each barb was gone, but it actually made his work easier, slicker. Some of the aggressive wires, limbs of terrible beasts with looming bodies made of nothing but darkness, tried to latch themselves back onto Dean. They drew new cuts, tore another chunks out of him.
The worst part was how their loss ached in his chest. He missed them: the certainty, the power, the ever-present icy wind-chime promise of liberation.
But then he remembered himself, not as if he had watched from the outside, but way too present in the memory, inside his own skin, as he stalked the corridors of the bunker. Michael’s blood was still warm on his fingers, his presence cooling inside his skull as a dead body loses all remnants of warmth; and the thrill of the hunt as he sought for Sammy, his little brother, his life, his world, his everything, to smash in his head with a hammer—
When the pink glow coiled again around the jutted line of the Mark the pain had subsided as well. The energy, darkdarkdark, now ran towards Michael without a single glance back at Dean. It was no longer an agonizing struggle.
—then the world exhaled on a long sigh.
The breeze, for the first time in months, didn’t bring the scent of blood on its back.
The litany of pleasepleaseplease reverberated round and round inside Dean’s mind. Please be over. Please be gone. Please don’t turn Michael into a monster.
He slowly peeled his eyes open. The first glance fell at his own naked forearm. It was – unmarked. Dean had never felt greater relief over a patch of pale skin that only bore the memory of an old scar. He could sob with relief.
Then he also remembered the shadow cast over him – and the body, the angel that was attached to it. With two fingers Michael pressed down onto his pulse in the bend of his elbow; his head was slightly tilted to the side as if he was listening to his own heartbeat. The Mark of Cain lay a peaceful puckered red scar just below his fingers. It blended perfectly with the angel’s tanned vessel.
Michael remained unchanged. Eternally true, a force against Evil.
As if he could sense the exact moment when Dean had finally given up on standing, on being strong, on fighting, and sagged under the crushing weight of freedom, Michael opened his arms and offered his strong chest for Dean to fall against.
Enwrapped in the archangel’s embrace Dean felt safe. The scent of rain and fading ozone slowly washed away the smell of ashes caked with blood. The ache pulled back, like waves on the shore. He could twist his fingers in the folds of Michael’s jacket.
It will be all okay now. It’ll be all okay. Michael was a sword. With or without Dean Michael was The Sword. He wouldn’t break. He couldn’t break.
It will be all okay.
It will be.
Thank you ver much for reading! If you even happened to like it, well, you're a bigger hero than I am :)
For all intends and purposes, I'm planning on making this series go a full round. I have ideas, and a partial wishlist scribbled out (mostly happy things for Michael, and Dean too, and everyone, but they never want to accept happiness) -- but right now I'm officially taking a break. From writing. Like, completely. I have real life stress (quite a bit, unfortunately for the next two months), and I desperately want to draw some.
I'm terribly grateful for you reading my works, for the kudos, bookmarks, and the comments too, they never fail to brighten my day! (I was also almost swooned to rethink my break, but then I saw the ridiculous pileing of adjectives and hipes and mountains of repetitive, fancy-wanna-be pictures, and decided against it lol.)