blue_bells: BY <lj user="chosenfire28"> (Supernatural :: Somewhere to Begin - dar)
[personal profile] blue_bells
» Title: Somewhere to Begin - Part VIII (MASTERPOST)
» Author: [profile] _bluebells
» Artist: [personal profile] chosenfire28
» Beta: [personal profile] ladyknightanka, [personal profile] mishaphappens
» Pairing(s)/Character(s): Michael/Adam, Dean/Castiel, Lucifer/Sam/Gabriel, Raphael/Balthazar, Bobby and others
» Warnings: NC-17/R for violence, torture, gore, dub-con, angelcest, language, alcohol, and character death
» Spoilers: All seasons, AU from Season 5 finale
» Summary: Adam Milligan was just another casualty of the engine of the apocalypse. After Michael breaks them out of the Cage, Adam is accidentally thrown into the future where peace has finally settled by strange circumstances. With his memories sealed to protect his sanity, Adam learns the censored, Apocalypse-free version of the life he's forged with a suite of archangels, a crabby adopted Uncle, and brothers he never knew he had, but this has all happened before and will happen again.

PREVIOUS / NEXT


Raphael is not glad that Gabriel has come here. She doesn’t like that Gabriel asked to see Michael alone and Michael didn’t see fit to insist that she stay.

One look at Michael’s closed, downcast expression was enough to tell Raphael that she wasn’t part of this conversation and, with a suspicion what they would speak about, she doesn’t want to be.

Raphael has deferred to her most beloved brother and General on this subject of loving humans, but she doesn’t think Michael appreciates what an effort it has taken to accept the nature of such detestable things beyond her control.

She thinks of leaving them in peace to their discussion, but lingers at the gap in the door in the end. If they had wanted true privacy, they could have shut the door or drawn sigils to shield themselves from her sight.

Maybe they meant for her to witness their conversation. At first they begin with polite inquiries after one another’s health, but Michael is only half-paying attention, standing at the window of the third-story apartment Balthazar had put aside for them when he convinced Raphael it wouldn’t be a terrible idea to set-up a haven.

Raphael had never expected to use it or find a need to offer it to her family, but when Michael was on the brink of following Sam and Gabriel home, she’s glad she had an alternative to offer him.

And there are no words for how much it pleased her that Michael accepted.

There’s a tall mirror beside the foyer table opposite her vigil by the door to the lounge. Raphael studies her reflection, head tilted as she presses a hand down the sharp, crisp lines of her suit’s buttons.

Once, she had tolerated an argument with Balthazar of what wore most on the vessel: exercising her power to maintain the impeccable state or calling that same power to summon an infinite number of outfits as required. Balthazar had argued for the former, but Raphael won in the end; she thinks he just liked seeing her circulate through a wardrobe, which was so low on Raphael’s list of priorities it didn’t even rank.

Balthazar was incessantly preoccupied with the health of her vessel.

Raphael’s fingers curl at the hem of her jacket as she turns her ear to her brother’s conversation just in time to hear Gabriel’s next question.

“Do you know how to fall in love, Michael?” Gabriel asks after Michael fails to respond to his last three questions about living with Raphael, what he’s been eating, and then what he’s watching outside the window in the city street below.

This property is unlike what Michael had shared with Adam. He isn’t ignorant of the world, but Raphael thinks Michael has found a comfort in watching the lives of strangers pass below. Raphael has tried, and failed, to share an interest in this. They are like foam running downstream, but she knows Michael sees them with different eyes now. She thinks he sees Adam in each of them.

“Someone orders you to,” Michael answers, eventually, and his voice is hollow.

Is that what happened to Michael? Michael would only accept orders from one being and Raphael’s stomach plummets at the possible revelation that Michael had seen, that Michael had spoken—

No. Michael would not have kept such a significant development from her. If God had returned, Raphael would have felt it. She would know.

“That's service; obedience. How do you fall in love with someone?”

Raphael wonders where Gabriel is leading with this line of questioning, but she can only see Gabriel’s arm on the chair. Not for the first time, a selfish shade of her grace snarls at being denied and made to stand outside, but she eventually gives up the attempt to see into the sitting room and leans back beside the doorframe, crossing her arms instead.

“You learn everything about that person. You... discover things you had in common.”

“So, you've studied the person. But then what?”

“You....” Michael sounds distant, distracted again, and Raphael imagines him leaning closer to the window, following the line of some movement on the pavement below.

“Yeah?” Gabriel prompts, bringing him back to the conversation.

“You concentrate on the things you like.”

“And what if there's nothing you like about them?” Gabriel asks him lightly and Michael sounds confused when he responds a moment later.

“You... look for traits about them you can respect?”

“Can love come from respect?”

“... I think so?”

“And how do you know once it's more than respect? How do you know?”

“When... you seek their respect, too.”

“After that?”

“When their respect matters. It matters that they appreciate you.”

“Oh, so to respect someone means to appreciate them.”

“For the reasons you respect them.”

“You're running in a circle.” Raphael can clearly picture Gabriel shaking his head, drawing Michael back.

“When their respect and appreciation of you is important to you.”

“To your happiness?”

“Yes.”

“So, love comes from respect and appreciation?”

“Yes.”

Quietly, Raphael is impressed, though not unsurprised by Gabriel. He was the Messenger, words were his war, and this is the most she has heard Michael speak in almost a week.

“All right… let me turn this around: how do you know when that person is in love with you? What measures would you take to validate them?”

“... Give them respect and appreciation?”

“What is appreciation?”

It takes Michael a while to respond and Raphael is impressed there is no irritation in his voice when he does. Michael is more patient than she gives him credit for.

“Acknowledgment?”

Gabriel doesn’t miss a beat and, if not for the lightness that remains in his voice, this barrage would feel like an attack.

“Fair. What about gratitude? Your time, patience? Validation?”

“I suppose so.” Michael says it like a shrug.

“You ‘suppose’?”

“... I don't know.”

“Finally, we're getting somewhere.”

“We are?”

“For you, Michael, it could only sneak up. You wouldn't know it was there until it pounced, asked you to guess who and pulled its hands back from your eyes.”

“... Gabriel, all I know is that I hate this feeling. I hate the thought that he could be suffering, or upset.”

Finally they’ve broached the crux of the matter, but Raphael still feels sick hearing it uttered aloud. She hates speaking of Adam. Maybe that’s why she and Michael have had so little to say to each other over the past week.

“How much?”

“I hate that there’s nothing I can do. I can't stand the thought that I'm the cause. I would do anything-“

“Really?” Gabriel’s voice narrows like a scope and Michael’s reply is so quiet that Raphael almost doesn’t hear it.

“He would only have to ask.”

“What if he asks you to stay away and never come back?” Gabriel shoots without hesitation and Raphael feels herself frown, peering through the gap in the door, but Gabriel has moved from his chair and she can see neither of them.

“I – If that's... that's what he truly needed.”

“Don't confuse need and want. What if he just wanted you to stay gone?”

“...”

The stunned silence lasts for less than a minute, Gabriel doesn’t let it linger.

“Michael?”

“What if he never forgives me?”

The defeat in Michael’s voice makes Raphael close her eyes and draw her breath slowly. She won’t accept that Michael was so easily defeated by a boy.

“What if he wants your head on a platter?”

It takes Raphael’s last thread of restraint not to shove that door open and tear Gabriel’s wings from him. She tastes blood when she bites her tongue and her nails bite harshly into the skin of her palm, but she holds her station for Michael.

How dare Gabriel come here and speak so brashly about that one thing that could hurt him?

Gabriel sighs and, just like that, the interrogation ends.

“I know Lucifer spoke to you. He meant well, Michael, he loves you. We all do, but… sometimes… he is who he is. You know he’s an expert at unmaking a good thing.”

Michael doesn’t deign that obvious point with a response because they all still bear scars from the Fall and Gabriel continues.

“Anyone who’s seen you with Adam could tell you were in love with him. But do you know how I can assure you that you love him, plain and simple?”

There’s a beat of silence and Raphael thinks Gabriel waits for Michael’s full attention, maybe for him to turn his back on that window and face his brother’s words.

“I looked into it,” Gabriel says, “Our Adam went back. Five years ago. He went back. But we’re still here; the kid must be fighting for us. And you were right: that guy in that other house, he walks like him and talks like him; it’s still Adam. You’re here because he asked you to leave. You stayed away because you respected his wishes, even though I know what it’s doing to you. Nobody tells us what to do anymore. You’ve proven you understand what it means to put someone else’s happiness, safety, and wellbeing before your own.”

There’s a short, incredulous laugh that sounds just a little too bitter, and Gabriel pushes ahead.

“That’s how you love your friends and your family, but you’re also in love with Adam because I’ve seen the way you look at him, it’s pretty obvious. It’s the same way Sam and Lucifer look at me, it’s the same darn thing Dean and Cas throw at each other when they don’t think the other is looking, and I know it’s hard, hey –“ Gabriel’s voice hushes and Raphael hears a shuffle of movement at the far side of the room.

“Don’t,” Michael warns, rough steel and dangerous.

“I know, okay? But you’re going to accept however this plays out. Because you love him.”

“… I hate you, Gabriel.” Michael’s voice is muffled, weary, and resigned.

“I love you, too, bro.” The light amusement and love is back in Gabriel’s voice, Michael laughs softly, and Raphael has heard enough.

She pushes off from the wall and is gone.

-*-


The room is vast, marbled white, and cold.

Adam hears the sound of running water in the ground, the walls, and when he looks down at himself, he can see the refracted ripple of light on his clothes, but he can’t tell where the light is coming from.

Frost comes away on his fingertips when he touches the smooth wall, but it crackles like static when he rubs it away.

“You’ve come away from them,” a voice says and Adam turns to the source.

The light is coming from the streams themselves, four thin rivers running ahead of him and crossing at the foot of a throne where the light is drawn and disappears, consumed by the dark. Someone hunches in its seat. Their robes hang down the throne’s arms and dangle in the foot well, but the light shies away from their form and, behind that person, the room drops away to a sudden black void.

“I think it will be you this time,” the person says.

The voice is a smooth baritone, Adam closes his eyes feeling it roll over his skin like a familiar melody from his childhood and it sinks through him, settling into his bones, falling dormant and still.

Adam’s breath mists in the air and there’s new frost on his clothes when he opens his eyes. It’s so cold here.

“Who are you?”

“I’m your book end and you are my exit, Adam Milligan. Stage left.”

“So, it was you, Sariel,” another voice answers, wind rushes past Adam’s face, and he catches the glimpse of Michel’s profile just as something occurs to him and he reaches for the angel, grasping only at air.

“Don’t cross the streams!” he shouts.

Michael stops a half second too late and a shudder of light rushes from the running water through the air and on into the darkness overhead where the marble walls fade to ink. He looks back at Adam in confusion and Adam finds himself breathing hard, a slow dread building in his stomach.

“This is a dream,” Michael tells him firmly.

“If it weren’t, you would be rejected from this place, but in dreams even we are real, brother,” Sariel says, a shadow on the throne, and Michael’s expression goes dark, turning back to that apparition. “In dreams we can be transported to places otherwise beyond our reach. I have felt Gabriel this way, and even the scourge you were destined to destroy – Lucifer! Even he’s stood guard over me in this room thanks to the invention of dreams. So, you have my gratitude.”

“You should have slept on, Sariel,” Michael growls and a huge lance, silver with a wicked point, flashes into his hand.

“Maybe you’ll regret you didn’t end me at your first opportunity.”

The dark falls like a shroud, pooling at his feet, and sparks ignite when it hits the floor. The streams erupt into blue flames on all sides around them, throwing the walls into the veneer of a sickly, melting glacier. The man who stands at the foot of that throne is an older vessel, dark-skinned and bald, and the fires cast his face in a weak glow. He smirks from Michael to Adam and his dark eyes glitter with pleasure.

Something sweeps through the room (throne room, a quiet, stolen memory tells Adam), fanning the flames. Michael pushes his shoulders back and when Adam presses himself against that back wall, repelled by the sudden density in the air, he sees light glance and refract as though through a thousand prisms, but he shifts along the wall, and the spectre is gone.

“This throne doesn’t belong to angels, Sariel,” Michael says.

The other angel smiles down at Michael from the throne and when he spreads his own wings in answer, it’s like an inferno has opened at his back.

“It no longer belongs to anyone, Michael. I would have led them back to you, but… we all thought you would stay the course. If you wouldn’t take it, if Raphael, the most righteous of us, could be swayed, then why not I?”

A wave of energy rips through the room and Adam turns his head away with a wince at the screaming crackle of flames and the thunder clap that ratchets around in his skull.

When he opens his eyes, he wonders how long Sam has been standing beside him.

His older brother stares between the angels with a frown of confusion like he’s also wondering what he’s doing there and what he’s witnessing.

“You will acknowledge me, brother,” Sariel seethes and another wave of power sends Adam to his knees, Sam staggers beside him, but Michael is still standing at the cross of streams, his lance brandished like he had deflected a blow, “and call me ‘Uriel’, as you once did.”

“You’re a ghost, Uriel.”

“No.” Sariel… Uriel shakes his head and his eyes flash. “I Am.”

A hand clamps down on Adam’s shoulder (go!) and he’s shoved back. He falls through the wall, through space and borrowed memories and lands sitting upright in bed feeling more awake and alert than he has in days.

His heart is thundering in his chest and his clothes cling with perspiration to his skin. It’s still night, but he can barely hear the crickets outside.

He finds Dean on the couch downstairs and shakes him awake. Dean startles, swatting his shoulder with a backhand, already half-reaching for his gun beneath his pillow before he realises it’s Adam.

“What what?” Dean squints up through the haze of sleep and winces. “Adam, what?”

“—Sam, it’s Michael,” Adam is rushing, fingers clenched in Dean’s shoulder. “It’s Sar – no, Uriel and –“ He frowns, snarling in frustration trying to remember what happened before the stars of Heaven came down on his shoulders and he saw Sam’s hand coming away from his ear with blood.

Dean’s eyes have cleared and he looks at Adam with cold shock.

“Uriel? How’d you hear about him? He was before you –“ Dean grabs his phone from the coffee table, punching the numbers quickly and he taps the heel of his boot impatiently when it starts ringing. “Come on, Sam…. Bobby, aim low, would you?”

Adam turns and finds Bobby stumbling up behind them in the dark looking half-asleep, a sawn-off shotgun in his hands.

“We being attacked?” Bobby squints an eye at them and his hair lies flat against his head, making him look much older in the pale, dim moonlight without his cap. “What’s all the stomping?”

“Where did you get that?” Adam points at the gun accusingly, but then Dean is talking on the phone.

“Yeah, Gabe, where’s Sam?” Dean braces his free hand on his knee and he looks up at Adam in surprise. “Yeah, he’s here. Why?” Dean frowns carefully and shifts the phone against his jaw, giving Adam his attention. “Did you just have a dream about some angels in Heaven?”

“That was Heaven?”

Dean turns back to his phone after a tense pause.

“That’s a ‘yes’ on the same brain, Houston.” Dean frowns and abruptly shakes his head, shading his eyes with a hand. “Wait wait wait… but you said you guys couldn’t go back to Heaven without your license! What? He’s not? Oh for – just pick us up.”

Dean hangs up, deliberately punching the button to end the call. He rises to his feet with a sigh and looks between his family’s expectant faces.

“Gabriel’s coming. Dress warm. Bobby, give him your gun.”

-*-


Raphael frowns when she opens the door to them.

Her expression isn’t pleased, but this was Raphael, and she doesn’t look surprised, either. The apartment is dark behind her.

She looks between them, from Sam who is leaning with an arm around Gabriel’s shoulders, to Adam who is wincing with the fading tension of a headache behind Dean.

“Raphael.” Gabriel nods and rocks Sam against his side when he sways, steadied on the other side by Dean reaching out to grip his brother’s arm and looking into his face with concern.

Raphael’s look narrows at the display.

“I had a feeling I would see you soon.” She pushes the door open the rest of the way and steps aside.

“Why?” Gabriel asks as he and Dean lead Sam into the apartment.

Adam swipes the light switch when he walks past and nods at the dark-haired archangel in greeting.

“Hey.”

She just raises an eyebrow at him and shuts the door behind them, revealing a vicious, bloody sigil carved into the other side. Adam stares, feeling the colour drain from his face. That must have been one of the wards Gabriel talked about that kept them from jumping straight into the apartment itself.

“What’s wrong with your human?” Raphael asks, watching Dean hand his brother a glass of water.

“You need to come with me,” Gabriel tells her, glancing back at Sam until he’s sure the taller man is steady on his stool by the kitchen’s counter.

“Where?” Raphael frowns in suspicion. “What for?”

“We’re going to Heaven,” Gabriel says, and Raphael blinks in surprise.

“You? Why would you… does this have anything to do with Michael?”

“What about Michael?” Gabriel asks.

“He won’t wake up.”

Gabriel disappears and Raphael evaporates from the open planned kitchen space a moment later, leaving the three brothers standing under the warm spotlights.

“Sammy, keep drinking that.” Dean is still trying to get Sam to look him in the eye and Adam remembers the way Sam’s head had snapped to the side in that dream like he’d been struck… but it was only a dream, right?

Adam drifts to Sam’s other side, hunched in his stool and sets his borrowed shotgun beside Dean’s on the counter.

“Sam, you all right, man? Sam?” Adam takes the glass when it lolls precariously in Sam’s hand and sets it aside on the counter behind him. “Wait a minute… look up.”

“I’m fine, guys,” Sam rasps, but he’s easy to manipulate and lets Adam tip his head back under the light when Dean supports him with a hand behind his shoulders.

“He’s concussed.” Adam is surprised and he exchanges a look with Dean, whose face has turned grim.

“I thought we were done with this,” Dean mutters under his breath. He’s dialling madly in his other hand, his mouth pulled in a deep scowl. He’s been trying to get in touch with Castiel since he got off the phone with Gabriel and has only grown more frustrated each time he went straight through to voice mail. “Why aren’t you answering?”

“If this is real and what we saw wasn’t just a dream, I think Cas is a little busy,” Sam says and his voice sounds watery.

Adam and Dean both reach out to catch him with hands on his chest and shoulder when he curls around a cough. Sam’s hand comes away from his lips with red spatter.

“… Damn it, Sammy.”

“I’m okay.” Sam tries to make his voice light, wiping his bloody hand on his jeans.

“Do you have Balthazar’s number?” Adam asks Dean and his brother rolls his eyes with frustration.

“He doesn’t carry a phone.”

“I’m sorry, Dean,” Adam shakes his head, “I don’t know what happened. I don’t know how we got there.”

“Do you guys see that light?” Sam squints at the far wall and its blank coat of white paint.

Dean shoves him lightly in the shoulder with a deep frown of annoyed concern.

“Stop hallucinating.”

Adam startles when Raphael appears beside him, her hand already wrapped around his arm.

“You need to come with me,” she says.

Adam baulks and breaks her authoritative glare, glancing at his oldest brother for help.

“Uh – what--?”

“Raphael,” Dean barks, and he’s still got his arms around Sam, but the archangel doesn’t even acknowledge him, “Tell us what’s going on.”

She doesn’t wait for Adam’s agreement and then he’s standing over a bed where Gabriel is sitting by Michael laid out on his side. By all appearances, Michael is asleep, but Raphael had said he couldn’t wake up and Adam remembers… he remembers the lance, light… and rivers.

Gabriel looks sternly at Raphael with the motion of their arrival.

“We can’t do it without Lucifer.”

“We can’t even attempt it half-complete,” Raphael releases Adam’s arm but fixes him with a sharp look instead, “My brother requires his name.”

Gabriel rises from the bed and Adam peers around him trying to get a better look at Michael.

“Raphael, we can’t—“

“I am not waiting for Lucifer!”

“Is he okay?” Adam asks, wary of speaking amongst these two, but Michael wasn’t moving or showing any reaction to their loud presence, and that couldn't be good. Adam glances at the two angels and steps around them when they don’t seem inclined to stop him, feeling the temperature of Michael’s forehead. His eyes widen in surprise. “He’s cold.”

Raphael seems to take that as ammunition.

“He can’t win against Sariel in that form.”

“It’s Uriel,” Gabriel says.

Raphael’s face is stunned when Adam looks back at her, wondering at the sudden quiet.

“It can’t be—“

“It’s Uriel,” Gabriel says again and Adam thinks that means something significant to Raphael, maybe to both of them, because there’s pain in Gabriel’s eyes and Raphael’s expression is slowly falling to devastation.

“He was killed.” Raphael shakes her head.

“He’s alive!” Gabriel insists and Adam swears he sees the angel’s eyes glimmer gold in the dim light of the bedroom. “I’m not the only angel who was resurrected, am I? What did you do?”

“I needed my brothers!” Raphael’s arms fall to her sides with hands fisted and Gabriel takes a step back with the force of her cry. “But Uriel is dead.”

Adam shrinks back to the bed’s edge and he glances down at Michael debating all for a moment before taking one of the angel's hands in his. It’s little comfort to him because Michael is cold and Adam remembers he’s supposed to be warm enough to run a fever. He rubs the angel’s hand between his two and watches Michael’s face to avoid the sight of Raphael and Gabriel because, honestly, they’re a little scary and he wouldn’t mind his own brothers’ company right now.

“—I needed fealty and soldiers with courage, so I summoned my brothers and gave them the necessary arms.”

“I know Uriel and Sariel became your lieutenants. The twins: they were loyal to the cause. But you didn’t just give him arms, Raphael -- there’s no way he should have been able to stand up to us the way he did.”

Adam glances down at Michael and squeezes his hand.

“Michael,” Adam murmurs under his breath and a quick glance confirms that neither Raphael nor Gabriel are paying him much attention, “Michael? If you’re stuck in that place because of me and Sam… I’m so sorry… but your brothers could use your help right now. Could you wake up?”

“What?” Gabriel prompts when Raphael mutters something spiteful under her breath.

“The martyrs, the crusaders, the saints. The righteous… I called and they answered,” Raphael's expression steels when Gabriel looks into her face, disbelieving, “It’s a deep well, Gabriel. I took none that didn’t offer themselves. If he consumed more than his share – I… I didn’t know….”

“Raphael….”

“It was war.”

“He became stronger than any of us! His power was almost… almost like –”

Adam looks down when Michael’s hand twitches in his. Michael’s face is still and Adam doesn’t know if it’s the wan light of the streetlamps outside that’s giving him that pallor, but he looks weak. There’s no film of sweat on his brow or cheek, Adam leans down with a light touch and waits for a response. He glances back at Raphael who is drawing back, nails digging into her fine suit with the hand on her hip, and Gabriel with appeal in his voice because up there Heaven is shaking again and they’re saying it’s too soon, Heaven was rocked to its foundations when Raphael’s power well drilled too deep and her soldiers glutted themselves without check.

“If Heaven crumbles—“ Raphael raises a hand of warning at Gabriel who whirls away and glares at the high ceiling.

“Lucifer! Lucifer, we need you!”

“You should have kept your traitor on a tighter leash.”

“I really hope I’m not going to regret this.” Adam sighs as Gabriel continues shouting for Lucifer.

He doesn’t hear the door open or see Sam and Dean stagger into the room because he’s leaned into Michael’s side and he’s trying to remember how to form the sounds. He has fingers curled in Michael’s shoulder when he whispers the angel’s name in his ear and it feels like the summer sun baking stripped flesh when it swells inside of him, he gasps feeling something thin and tear, too slow to unfurl its bands from the rising tide in his throat, and then there are hands on his arms pulling him up.

He’s relieved when familiar gold eyes settle on him, but – no, it’s the wrong face, and he lolls in Gabriel’s arms, pulled against the angel’s shoulder.

“Like ripping off a band-aid,” he hears Gabriel say somewhere above him, Sam’s concerned face swims into his vision, and then Gabriel’s hand presses to Adam’s clavicle, “One, two—“

Adam never hears what comes next.

-*-


“C’mon, c’mon, c’mon—“ Gabriel rolls Adam up against his shoulder as he draws his hand away and something flares between his fingers, golden-white and misting like a comet’s trail.

Raphael pushes her hand to Adam’s chest, light blazing between palm and fabric, and Dean watches Gabriel mutter to the light in his fist before sinking it into Michael’s chest.

Michael’s face abruptly flushes with colour and Sam’s hand is on his shoulder when the angel’s chest rises with a deep breath before opening his eyes.

“He’s back.” Sam glances back at them and Dean doesn’t know where he should look because Adam isn’t opening his eyes, leaning like dead weight against Gabriel’s shoulder, unresponsive to whatever Raphael’s doing, and Sam’s voice is strained, but calming, then Michael groans in disorientation, pushing against the hand on his shoulder. “Michael. It’s okay. You’re okay.”

“Sam?” Michael’s voice is hoarse and confused, but then realisation colours his expression, he looks down at himself and sees them. In a moment, Michael’s sat up and he’s drawing Adam out of Gabriel’s arms as the light fades from Raphael’s hand, and Dean hears the angel murmur his brother’s name over and over with growing despair.

“What happened to him?” Dean asks, moving to hover at Sam’s side by the bed. He searches Adam’s lax expression as Michael holds him against his chest, pressing fingers to Adam’s pulse and his temple, threading through his hair and he bends to listen to Adam’s breathing.

“Michael,” Raphael stresses urgently, drawing her brother’s attention to her. Clarity returns to his expression, seeing her face, though he holds Adam closer. “Was it Uriel?”

Michael dismisses the simple explanation, shaking his head.

“Uriel. Sariel… somehow they’ve become the same.”

“They were twins,” Gabriel murmurs, as though it should explain what’s happening, but Michael’s expression is still stunned, “Two halves of a whole. And rare.”

“I’ve never seen this before,” Michael says, “He’s turning Heaven to an ash field. Dean.”

Dean takes Michael’s place on the bed, the angel rises reluctantly, and Dean feels that Adam’s pulse is slow, but it’s there. Adam is breathing, but the coma state honestly worries him.

Michael and Raphael are exchanging a heavy look, shoulder to shoulder. The room is tense and quiet, and eventually Raphael nods. Her sword slides from her sleeve into her palm and Michael looks deliberately at their remaining brother.

“Follow if you can,” Michael tells Gabriel, who nods grimly, “the throne room.”

“We’ve got him,” Dean says when Michael turns to him and the angel spares a final glance for Dean’s youngest brother before he looks at Raphael who draws her shoulders back.

The apartment trembles for a moment as thunder rolls in the skies outside, and Dean catches the shadow of wings before the two angels disappear.

“He’s safer this way,” Gabriel promises, pulling his hand back from Adam’s shoulder when Sam settles between the angel and his brother, the mattress leaning with the new weight.

Gabriel’s hand settles on Sam’s shoulder and Dean sees the tension clam him up before Sam looks into his face.

“Sam.” Gabriel breathes his name like an apology and he shakes his head like he doesn’t want to ask Sam any more than Sam wants to consider the request that’s about to come out of his mouth.

The air shifts like a hushed exhale, Dean’s hand tightens around Adam’s shoulder, and Sam’s mouth falls open in shock.

“So,” Lucifer cocks his head at Adam from where he stands at the foot of the bed, “He did it.”

“You made it.” Sam looks at the angel with a mixture of relief and sadness.

Lucifer looks tired. His expression is weary and hesitant, and he shakes his head slowly with hands buried in the pockets of his jacket.

“Sam, I said I will always—“

Gabriel doesn’t let him finish, rising from the bed and crushing Lucifer’s mouth against his own with a sharp inhale of sound. Lucifer takes a moment to respond and Dean looks away when Lucifer wraps hands around Gabriel’s shoulder and waist, pulling him in close with relief like this was something he’d lost or thought he’d never have again.

Sam just watches them from the bed, probably going weak and misty-eyed, the sap, Dean thinks.

“Don’t ever do that again.” Dean hears Gabriel warn and he thinks it safe to look back, though Gabriel and Lucifer are still wrapped in each other, almost nose to nose.

Lucifer searches Gabriel’s face and Gabriel kisses him again, lingering with relief. All the tension leaks out of Lucifer and he rests his forehead against his brother’s when they eventually part.

“They need us,” Gabriel murmurs, and Lucifer shuts his eyes, fingers curling into Gabriel’s jacket.

“I know.”

“I love you,” Gabriel says.

Lucifer’s mouth quirks in a ghost of a smile and he looks from Gabriel to Sam, then back again.

“I know.”

“It’ll be okay.” Gabriel draws Lucifer’s hands into his and Lucifer looks at their interlaced fingers, slowly clutching back.

“We’ll be fine,” Sam affirms, and the realisation of what’s about to happen hits Dean like a cold fist to the chest.

Dean swipes his brother’s shoulder and Sam looks back, no sign of surprise, he hadn’t forgotten that his brother was there. He braces Dean with a smile, nodding, before his brother’s even said a word.

“We’ll be okay.”

It almost ruins the effect when Gabriel hands Dean his shotgun, but he takes it, fingers heavy and clumsy, resting it against his knee.

Lucifer kneels at Sam’s feet and Gabriel pushes the hair back from Sam’s ears, searching his face. Sam leans in when Lucifer reaches for him and Dean feels a muted curl of envy at the kiss that burns between them because it’s not the desire, not even Sam’s palpable relief to have Lucifer against his skin again, but the clear trust between Sam and the devil of all people, that’s hard to watch.

Dean tries to remember what it felt like when Castiel trusted him like that.

“I’ll make it quick,” Sam says and closes his eyes.

-*-


The ground is shaking when Michael and Raphael land outside the throne room.

The platform abruptly falls away beneath their feet and Michael throws a hand out to catch Raphael. Her fingers are tight around his arm as he pulls her to safety, staggering against a fall on the remaining cracked, white stone. They turn back to see the broken segment sink through the clouds into the murk of untrue space, before being consumed by the void between this Heaven and the paradise of mortals.

There are screams in the air, the ash of their brothers lifted on the wind, coating the back of Michael’s throat when he sucks in a breath of Heaven. It’s not even two years since he was last here, but at the pace of humans it has felt like an age, and for the reason he’s returned, it was always going to feel too soon.

They had hoped they would never have to return here.

There’s light spilling from the large gap to the throne room and their brothers are rushing to fill it, but the flare and sputter of grace rises above the rest, so many at once and already too few of them, and Michael knows they are being felled in there.

“Rachel! Rachel!” Castiel’s shout of grief stirs Michael into action and Raphael comes to his shoulder.

Together, they fight their way inside against the oppressive wave of energy repelling them, she pushes the brothers she can reach back out the doors with a single sweep of her wings.

There are still a legion of angels between them and the throne, but Uriel confronts them all with a thousand blades from his wings and then a thousand more, and the fire of his grace consumes so many with the casual ebb of a wave lapping the shore.

Michael’s lance strikes through the chorus of death, a single pure note of glory for a beat in time as it whirls in his hands deflecting fire and ice and blades, and Raphael never stops moving beside him. She is beautiful and terrifying, arching in a whirlwind of blinding feathers and dual swords, and it’s been so long since Michael has witnessed her like this, since they have had to raise arms on the same side and to stave the very real threat of decimation. He almost laughs because he feels alive and everything within him sings to remember he was created first for this.

They finally barrel through the torrential attack to the cross of what remains of their original binding spell at the four streams: the piece of Lucifer, Gabriel, Raphael and Michael they each left behind to stop Sariel ever rising again.

No, not Sariel… Uriel, Michael reminds himself and glances at Raphael, wondering, only for a moment, of her part in this and how that could be so.

Raphael hurls what more angels she can back through the yawn of those heavy doors, and Michael reaches out for a familiar trench coat, raising his lance against the next flood of wrath from that throne. Uriel’s power is tireless and sure.

Castiel whirls, eyes widening in surprise, when he sees who pulled him from that lethal tide. Michael holds his shoulder tightly, glad and proud that he is still whole, though Castiel’s vessel is streaked with ash and bloodied from the fall of his brothers.

A cry of warning rings out behind them, Castiel jerks, and they both look down at the sword that has sunk deep into his chest.

The blue is already fading from Castiel’s eyes when they climb to Michael’s face, but there is a wistful smile on his face when they find Raphael, trembling beside him with shock and rage.

“I think he learned that move from you,” Castiel tells her.

He sinks to his knees, grace rushing from between his fingers as he folds over the blade with a rush of breath that sounds like a name, and he is dead before he falls on his side.

Michael stares.

No.

Rage boils above the sinking devastation in his grace because he knows that for all Raphael’s effort, she couldn’t herd enough in her wings for the sheer numbers that had flown to stand against Uriel; thousands in the span of human minutes cancelled from existence like this lowly brother who became his closest ally on earth, and Uriel had known Castiel, too, perhaps better than the rest of them, and still….

Castiel’s eyes are empty, the ash of his wings thrown across Michael’s vessel.

That’s enough.

Uriel burns, bright and glorious, on that stolen throne above them and Michael thinks he can still see the smile of patient promise that Uriel believes he will grant Michael his time with the void, too.

Raphael rears back when Lucifer catches the sword inches from her face, and the entire throne room shudders with a groan under the force of Gabriel’s strike, his fist driving down into the stone at the cross of the four streams where Castiel’s vessel had sprawled.

Light flickers in the air, the shield wavering around the throne as Uriel watches the walls shake, just a tremor in concentration, and Michael leaps across the divide.

His lance melts through the devastating flare of Uriel’s grace, freezing jagged and misshapen when it penetrates that outer resistance. Uriel raises a hand in shock, fingers curling, and Michael winces as he’s pushed back. Michael twists, dredging the last of his strength to bear downwards and suddenly he feels another force drive in behind his weapon. He looks back into Lucifer’s face, grim and determined, and Michael feels the flinch of flesh vibrate through his weapon, the shock of grace like the death of stars on his skin, when they finally force Uriel back with a cry of rage, pinned at the shoulder to his throne of unblemished, white stone.

A gasp goes through the throne room, the foundations stilled from the relentless push of Uriel’s power, and the silence rings in Michael’s ears even as he and Lucifer tower over their brother, tense and shaking. The thick burn of spilled grace chokes his senses.

“Uriel,” Michael breathes, his jaw grinding at the effort to remain standing, “We remove you from this throne.”

Uriel pants, an angel once more, shaking and stunned as he collects himself. Lucifer pushes fingers against the wound in his vessel, eyes darkening with satisfaction when Uriel cries out, and Michael forgets to wonder how strange it is that Lucifer is at his side in Heaven once more, his brother, restored, and it’s because this is as it should have been.

“Uriel,” Raphael says.

She appears at his side and Michael fastens his grip on his lance as she slides around him with hands on Uriel’s arms, her expression tight with grief.

“Why this, Uriel? We had command.

“But not glory, not love.” Uriel’s voice twists with pain, then he sees Gabriel over Raphael’s shoulder and Michael watches the anger still in him. “Sariel gave himself for me willingly.”

“Uriel.” Gabriel shakes his head, so much sadness in his voice. He pushes forward, brushing Raphael’s hand on his arm, and Uriel swallows thickly, anger receding.

“Angels need a subject of worship. I would have led them back to us, made every wraith, man, and angel fall at your knees. Perish the non-believers.”

“You would have destroyed us,” Raphael says with certainty, fingers curling in the collar of his jacket.

Uriel’s dark gaze flickers to Lucifer, and Michael watches carefully, feeling Uriel twitch around the lance in his shoulder.

“If not you, Morningstar, and not me, it will fall to another. If we have nothing to praise and fear, as angels we despair, and the humans – your humans… they need devotion. They need gods.”

“That way of thinking only leads down one road, Uriel, and, at the end, it’s dark and cold and you’re always alone,” Lucifer says.

“… It was you.” Gabriel’s voice is quiet with understanding. “You were the one who cursed Adam to run through time.”

“And your Sam,” Uriel smirks, “I didn’t bother with the eldest mud monkey because there was so little threat he would ever seek his bliss. Oh, Gabriel, if you could know how many times I’ve ripped those boys from you with such a simple spell and watched you suffer,” he laughs abruptly, pain gone for a moment in his dark amusement, “You thought your wards in wood and stone could shield you from my sight.”

“We could have been more,” Michael agrees, and feels the surprise ripple in the looks that turn on him, “Once. But then I remembered what I am. I choose my brothers.”

“You choose mortality?” Uriel spits, and Michael shakes his head.

“Life, Uriel.”

Michael thinks of Adam and his bright, incredulous laugh, throwing popcorn at him from the other end of the couch when Michael shared his deadpan observations about the book in his lap; Adam wrapping himself around Michael with a tired, grateful smile, his head sinking to Michael’s chest as he dropped his stethoscope on the bed because he was exhausted after a twelve hour night shift and Michael had made them dinner; how this one thing was entirely his, not because he was the perfect son and soldier who served beyond the rest, but because he learned to care and fight for something above his own glory, and accept the surprise that gift returned.

He thinks of Castiel with his ashes scattered beneath their feet and his essence flung to the void. He mourns that now the angel will never learn to find the kingdom of their Father on earth as it was in Heaven through the love and devotion to another being.

Michael thinks he might understand now what his Father had commanded them all that time ago.

“He knew one day we’d be without Him and He created us, He knew our nature best.” Michael looks into Uriel’s expression of doubt, fingers wringing around the lance in his shoulder. “I don’t think He wanted us to war or waste away. I think He wanted to give us a chance to live.”

The silence rings over the crowded throne, Uriel’s face is still clouded with confusion, his power thrumming beneath Lucifer’s hand again, and Gabriel touches Uriel’s face with regret.

“Maybe if you’d come with me, you would have understood. Time, patience, and a lot of every liquor open all kinds of doors.”

Uriel chuckles and it rumbles deep in his chest. He stares up at the void above their heads.

“I don’t pretend to understand.” The smile fades from Uriel’s eyes and he looks firmly at Michael with dark promise. “But I know that if you don’t finish this now, it will come again, and there won’t be enough of you to stand against me. My… General armed me too well.” Uriel breathes the memory fondly, but it’s tinged bitter with regret, and Michael catches the flash of the sting in Raphael’s face.

Michael exchanges a look with Lucifer and Gabriel above Raphael’s head because Uriel is right. They hadn’t wanted to destroy any more of their brothers and they were arrogant in their ability to bind him, but it had led to this… this casual annihilation, and they were all at fault.

“We loved you,” Raphael tells him and she has made the choice for them.

Uriel shakes his head even as he lifts his chin to let her fingers curl further around his throat.

“Not as much as I loved you.”

And perhaps, like Lucifer all over again, that unequal devotion had been the problem all along.

Gabriel’s hand covers Raphael’s over Uriel’s windpipe, Lucifer and Michael channel their grace through a touch on their brothers’ shoulders, and, with an exhale much like relief, Uriel slowly burns on the throne beneath them until he is cinders and an afterthought of ruin, released to the void.

The four of them hover around that empty throne, deep fractures in the walls of the room; rubble and broken bodies strewn everywhere.

Gabriel and Raphael’s hands are covered in ash. Raphael whips out of Gabriel’s grip when his fingers close around her wrist.

She flies before they can stop her and Michael wonders if Balthazar survived the fight because he can’t remember seeing the angel, but then Gabriel and Lucifer are looking to him and none of them try to take their rest in that throne.

Michael sighs and looks at Castiel’s body, his chest tightening.

“Come,” he says, “We must count the dead.”

-*-


Sam wakes with hands on his chest, warmth fading beneath his ribs. He opens his eyes and raises his head from the pillow with a gasp.

Raphael straightens from his side at the bed and the heat in Sam’s bones goes cold seeing the heaviness in Raphael’s motions. She avoids his eye, and he thinks the worst.

Adam is passed out to the world beside him on the bed and Sam sees the slumped figure of Dean in the corner, hands splayed by his knees, his head lolled against the wall, unconscious, like he was pushed there and told to stay down.

Sam spares a wary glance at the angel who’s already moving around the bed to Adam’s side, her expression grim and lips thinned in a scowl.

“Raphael,” he rasps and winces when he manages to push himself up on the bed, “Raphael, are you – are they –?”

Is she the only one who survived? He can’t bring himself to say it and Raphael is ignoring him, but there’s a tang in the air like soldered metal, burning cloth, and something else he doesn’t have a name for that makes the back of his throat itch and his eyes water, leaving his tongue feeling thick. Angel death wasn’t like demons and the recognisable fingerprint of sulfur they left behind; angels were from above the Earth somewhere between the clouds and the space of human understanding. When an angel died, they burned like the death of stars, wrenching and scattering across dimensions and, Sam thought, tearing something of those dimensions back to their final resting place.

But Sam smells the death of angels on Raphael and he thinks of the stratosphere, of dried sea beds and lightning storms exposed to space.

When Raphael leans over his brother, her fingers smudge ash in Adam’s clothes and he gasps, arching under the light of Raphael’s palm as his expression twists in pain.

“What--?” Sam startles, but Raphael doesn’t shift in the slightest at his push against her hand, the sharp set of her features only hardening, more determined, and Sam pushes harder against her, starting to panic. “What are you doing? Raphael, stop it!”

He hears Dean groan, weak and disoriented, he’s coming around slowly.

Sam’s body complains, muscles feeling tender and bruised, but he shoves against Raphael’s shoulder, and her sharp look throws him back against the headboard by mere force of her will.

The light fades from Raphael’s palms and Sam thinks she’s a little unsteady by the slow way she blinks, the long line of her back straight and seamless once more after she pulls herself up.

“Don’t ever say I never did anything for you,” Raphael growls, seething, and Sam feels like he’s back on his knees in a dark, rain-soaked motel parking lot and she’s demanding the key to Heaven’s armoury. He thinks for a moment that she’ll raise her hand, close the grip of her will around his throat, but then her vicious look cuts to Adam at his groan of confusion.

Adam blinks his eyes open and pushes up on his elbows, focusing blearily on the angel hovering over him.

“Wha’s goin’ on?” he slurs, groggy.

Something slides across the floorboards and then Dean is pushing himself up the wall, shotgun lolling in his hand, and he’s glaring very intently at the back of Raphael’s head, focusing on his target.

Sam sees what’s coming before Dean even raises his shotgun.

“You son of a –“

Raphael disappears, but Dean’s already squeezed the trigger and Sam shouts, realising the bullet’s new goal.

Michael blinks into existence in the space before Adam, catching the bullet in a blurred arc of motion with a crack of sound, then Gabriel is yanking the shotgun out of Dean’s hands, and Sam startles at the fingers that closes around his shoulder.

His relief at looking up into Lucifer’s familiar face is short-lived when he sees the angel’s expression. Sam pulls him to sit, cool against his thigh, and Lucifer’s face falls when Sam cups his jaw.

“What is it? Talk to me,” Sam urges after Lucifer just turns his face and his mouth presses to Sam’s palm, expression twisting in pain.

The quiet is tense. Michael crushes the last of the buckshot between his fingers, its ground remains falling like dust at his feet, and Sam feels the bed shift when Adam pulls himself to the edge, glancing in confusion between his brothers and his angel shield.

They all jump when Gabriel cracks Dean’s shotgun over his knee and hurls it through the window with a howl of rage. The glass shatters pathetically, showering the bedroom and balcony in iridescent shards; they scatter and still, glittering in the pale street light. An icy chill blows in, lapping the sheer curtains against Dean’s arm. Gabriel stalks to that balcony wall, his shoulders hunching as he leans his hands on the rail, and his head bows between his shoulders, tight and pained.

“… What the hell, Gabriel?” Dean finally asks, sounding breathless and stunned. “How… how did it go?”

Lucifer is clutching Sam’s hand back tightly when Michael glances back at Adam, searching his face, and that same heavy look is in Michael’s eyes. A frown flickers across his face, a curious thought. Michael’s gaze shifts to Sam and he seems to understand, but then that sobriety settles over his features again. The angel sets his jaw and he looks back to their brother who’s still standing in the corner, waiting expectantly for an explanation.

None of Michael’s brothers dare to watch and Michael starts slowly, his voice careful.

“Dean….”

-*-


Sam doesn’t think their Dad raised them to understand and graduate through the stages of grief. According to the psychiatrist, Kübler-Ross, there were five stages the standard person progressed through before they could accept a change as final as death, but that was predicated on the understanding that death was a final state.

Sam and Dean had probably shaken off death more times than any other people in history (Dean more times than Sam cared to remember thanks to Gabriel’s side venture of the never-ending Tuesdays), so they’d come to think of death differently. They had even met the Horseman himself.

If John Winchester led by example, then he’d raised his boys to deny, to isolate, to rage against the dying light, and then when they realised they could negotiate like any deal in the stock market, the whole principle of death changed for them. Sam and Dean had never really regressed to that shared understanding ordinary people found in confronting their own mortality, and as for acceptance?

They learned that Death was something that could be challenged, bargained, and even stoppered.

But that had been before the war.

At first, stunned silence rings through the bedroom when Michael tells them that Castiel is dead.

It’s not the first time Castiel’s died, so Sam understands his brother’s confusion when Dean frowns, suspicious and disbelieving.

“What?”

Michael holds his gaze and his voice is steady, like a dispassionate, factual report from the front line.

“Castiel is dead. He was killed at the front line defending our brothers. He fought well and valiantly, but – our focus slipped and—“

“Cas isn’t dead,” Dean interrupts with annoyance and they all look at him in surprise.

“Dean.” Sam shakes his head, but he knows this isn’t the time Dean’s going to see reason and he can’t blame him. He tries anyway. “Dean, man—“

No, Sammy.” His brother cuts him off with a harsh look: don’t you fucking dare. “If Cas was dead, I’d know. I would know.

Unfortunately, it’s Adam who challenges him, soft and unthinking, because he doesn’t know Dean.

“How?”

“’Cause I would, all right, Adam?” Dean explodes, lip curling in disdain, and Adam actually shrinks back as Dean glares him down. “He dragged me out of Hell, he’s been pawed at by demons and angels after he flipped off the institution, and he was even brought back after he made you jelly, you stupid kid! He’s not just any angel and he’s not dead.”

“He is dead,” Lucifer replies simply, quiet, still seated by Sam’s side, and Dean’s glower flashes to him.

“And what the hell were you doing, huh?”

Gabriel’s in front of Dean before Sam’s even blinked and he shoves Dean back against the wall, knocking the air from his chest with a stunned grunt.

Gabriel’s expression is as dark as the look Dean regards him with, pinned by his shoulder to the wall, and they scowl at each other, challenging the other to break first.

“… Don’t make me hurt you, Dean,” Gabriel pleads, though it’s growled and unsteady, and Sam sees Dean flinch at the rawness in his voice.

“Show me his body.”

“No.” Gabriel shakes his head and Dean snarls, hackles rising for another fight.

“There’s nothing left,” Michael says, before Dean can fist his hands in Gabriel’s jacket, and his voice is flat.

Dean stares at Michael in shocked accusation.

“What – how’s that possible? Don’t brush me off like that—!”

Dean,” Gabriel stresses and it almost sounds like a keen as he shoves Dean once more for emphasis against that wall with hands fisted in his clothes. His face contorts into a wretched expression. “He’s gone.”

Dean is already shaking his head, anger brimming again.

“No—“

“He’s gone, Dean!” Gabriel shouts and Sam bites the inside of his cheek, eyes stinging at the strangle in Gabriel’s throat, almost breaking off hoarsely.

Dean sweeps off the hands on his chest and Gabriel lets him, stepping back when Dean shoves past with a dark glare, throwing open the door. His boots echo heavily on the wooden steps before the apartment’s front door slams and Sam jumps, eyes shutting tightly, he shakes his head.

God, Dean, he thinks, I’m so sorry.

-*-


His brothers are smart and they don’t follow him.

Dean lets his feet lead him to one of the darker streets in this city and he jumps the first car that looks like it wasn’t protected by five kinds of computer security systems.

He drives beyond the city limits and lets the miles burn past him until the building peaks disappear from his rear-view mirror, until the country grows wild and barren around him, he forgets the gnawing hunger in his stomach, and the hysterical ache is threatening to fill him up and split his chest apart, one thread of flesh at a time, because Cas was not dead.

Cas was not dead.

But he remembers the quiet grief in Lucifer’s face, Michael’s guilt, and the angry hurt that flared in Gabriel’s eyes when he shoved Dean back against the wall.

Dean’s fingers curl and uncurl convulsively around the steering wheel and he has to pull the car over when his vision of the road starts to blur through the angry sting of tears. He almost rips the parking brake out of its place with the force of his strength and he scowls at the old Ford’s whine and sputter.

Stupid car. Stupid, weak-ass piece of crap, having the nerve to complain when his own baby never gave up on him. It hurts more than he can explain that he doesn’t have the familiar dark leather, steel, and smells of the Impala around him and he misses her so much in that moment, Dean feels his expression wrench with the painful beat in his chest, and he punches out at the steering wheel.

The tinny, old door slams behind him when he steps out and Dean glares at the faded brown paint of his ride, thinking he could have slammed that door even harder. He kicks at the tyres, then the tyre well, his boot leaves a satisfying dent when he packs his strength behind a well-aimed shot at the side door, but this stupid thing was built stronger than it looked, and Dean doesn’t even hear himself shouting and cursing it to hell.

He pulls his fist back through the shattered window and stares at his bloody knuckles.

The first sob escapes him, rubbing his rough palm over the weeping cuts, and he sinks to the dirt against the wrecked Ford’s side with his wrists on his folded knees.

Cas wasn’t dead. He wasn’t dead because Dean still had so much to tell him and Cas hadn’t believed him when Dean cut his heart out and offered it to him, and Dean still had to convince him, he still had to… he had….

A cold wind blows through his jacket and Dean realises that sometime since he’s been staring at that old oak tree on the other side of the dirt road, the sun has sunk below the horizon. He can barely make out the grooves in the tree trunk anymore. He shivers, slowly recognising the drop in temperature and the fact that he has no idea where he is.

He kind of likes it that way.

The moon is high in the sky and his hunger burned like an old wound low in his stomach when Crowley answers his call at the crossroads.

The demon looks as unaffected as he always does, with his fine suit and a dark coat giving the illusion that he could feel or even cared about the chill of two a.m. He tilts his head at Dean, his hands in his pockets, and gives him a look like this was a long overdue conversation.

“Well. If there was ever a case of live and let learn, Dean, you are not it.”

“I’m touched you made the trip yourself,” Dean bites back, his voice gruff from the tightness still in his throat.

Crowley’s smile is genial and mocking.

“When I heard it was you, I had to make the exception. It’s good for business when the senior partners represent for our repeat customers. And I am the most senior of seniors.” His smile flashes white and chesire, just for a moment. “It’s people like you – though there are so few – that make me consider developing a loyalty program. Most humans don’t get the chance to trade with us more than once.” Crowley threads the word with interest and a threat, the smile leaving his eyes.

Dean glowers and his patience for the demon’s posturing runs short with the fresh threat of the sting behind his eyes.

“Cas is dead.” He feels light-headed saying it aloud.

The demon raises his chin in understanding.

“Ah, your pet bird. My, my. That’s a big gesture you’re asking of me, Dean.”

“What’ll it take?”

Crowley shrugs a shoulder, a smooth and easy motion, and regards the low line of trees by the crossroads.

“Well, here we have an interesting case not unlike double jeopardy, my friend. You see, souls weren’t made to be recycled through the economy by the same patron, so you’re an impotent dealer. Sorry.”

“… Wait, wait – are you freaking serious? You won’t deal with me?”

Crowley’s eyes narrow in delighted interest.

“How much do you want your bird back?”

Dean’s teeth grind together. In the back of his mind, he hears Sam calling him back from the precipice and, after all these years, there’s even Adam’s angry accusation demanding to know what the hell Dean thought he was doing, but Dean realises now he’s been standing here for a long time just waiting for Cas to take his hand. He’s not backing out now just because the moron went and got himself killed for all of humanity again.

“You just tell me what you need.”

“Oh, it’s not what I need, Dean, but what I want – I’d enjoy a wager.”

“Name your terms,” Dean growls at the way Crowley puffs up with pleasure.

“Lucifer – and his head – on my platter. Kill the kingpin, I keep Hell, and you get your angel back.”

Dean blinks at Crowley in surprise.

“Lucifer doesn’t even… he hasn’t had anything to do with you guys since he—“

“Dean, you’re naïve if you think turning domestic changes our nature. I can carve up a Sunday roast while it’s still screaming on the spit, but I have my ambitions, too. And your brother-in-law still has quite the power base of loyal followers that upset a tickle in my throat. So. Cut the head off the snake… and I’ll give you what you want.”

Dean stares at the hand the demon offers him.

“Deal or no deal?”

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