Author's Note: I'm so sorry it's been basically forever since I've done an update! I've been in school, working two jobs, and my grandmother had a stroke so... there's that.
In other news, I'm thinking of cross-posting on AO3 (if I ever get time), and I'm also going to try to join DCBB next year. If you're into Destiel at all, jump over to my profile and see what you think of my Destiel story Angel with a Shotgun. I've got another one coming that I hope will turn out really well!
If you're not into Destiel, that's fine too! You should hop over to my profile and check out my story Angels Will Fall, which is the sister story to this one!
Finally, unfortunately I have a couple of major changes I want to make to canon that come into play after Peace of Mind. They're such big changes that I really need to see how the series ends before I can write them properly. SO, after the next couple of chapters I'll be taking another long hiatus. But for now, please enjoy! Leave a review, they are my lifeblood.
I don't have any rights to Supernatural.
December 24, Night
THREE WEEKS LATER
The Winchesters, Castiel, and Ember had big plans for Christmas. It was Sam and Eileen's first Christmas as a couple, and Ember and Castiel were newly engaged, after all.
All of this went to the wayside, however, when news about Michael finally arrived.
First, Dean and Castiel managed to locate and retrieve the spear from "Dark Kaia" on the morning of Christmas Eve. At the same time, their old friend Garth, a werewolf who ate only animals, went undercover and was able to successfully learn more about Michael's location and his plan.
Michael was planning a siege on Kansas City, MO, on Christmas night. Castiel flew all over the United States retrieving hunters to help battle Michal's army of creatures on short notice, and only barely made it in time for the final showdown.
In theory, the plan was simple: a select few (Dean, Cas, Ember, and Jack) would infiltrate the apartment where Michael was known to be staying. Meanwhile, Sam, Eileen, Krissy, and nearly 150 other hunters would fight Michael's monsters on the ground.
Ember understood the strategy, which had been Castiel's idea. Castiel and Ember would go up against Michael because they were the team's two strongest players. Michael would almost certainly be expecting their onslaught, which eradicated the necessity for the element surprise, and suggested that the most magical strength would be beneficial. Jack would go because he was an extra hand that Michael seemed unwilling to hurt.
"And Dean?" Ember asked.
Castiel sighed. "I'm not convinced Michael is done with him. If I'm wrong, Dean will come in handy as his quest for vengeance against Michael makes him all the more determined. If I'm right…"
"If you're right, you want to keep an eye on him," Ember said, and Castiel nodded.
"There's not a way you can look through Dean's mind and make sure it's not still open to Michael?" Ember asked for what must have been at least the third time over the last few months.
Castiel shook his head. "Not for an angel like Michael," he said. "He's too old and too strong. I know my way around the human mind pretty well, but I have to admit when I'm bested."
Meanwhile, while they fought Michael, an entire town was at risk, from Michael's monsters. Sam would lead the charge on the ground, with Eileen and Krissy by his side.
"We have to remember - Michael will sense my approach," Castiel said after arriving to meet the others in the parking garage below Michael's apartment. They had already beheaded the two vampire guards there, and had been waiting on Castiel to finish "hunter transport" so that they could all face Michael together.
"Zero element of surprise," said Dean.
"Walking right into a trap," crackled Sam's voice over Dean's phone.
"Which is set by a full-power archangel," added Castiel.
Dean scoffed. "Impossible odds. Feels like home. Let's roll."
Castiel and Ember were supposed to go first, as decoys. "He won't kill me," Castiel whispered to Ember as they lied in wait. "This world doesn't have enough angels, and he'll want to find out what I know before he finishes me off. He won't kill you, either – you smell too good."
"Thanks?" Ember said, rolling her eyes.
"I don't like the idea," Castiel added. "So I'll go first, and you only step in if he incapacitates me before I can give Jack and Dean a clear window. Understood?"
"I hate this plan."
Michael was coming closer now. He had taken possession of a woman this time. "You do realize I can feel you in here," he said as he slowly came around the corner. "There's really no need to be-…"
Castiel attacked from behind.
"…Coy," Michael finished.
Ember attacked from behind, but Michael ducked, sensing her coming. Both Ember and Castiel went after Michael once again, but he sidestepped both of them. Castiel attacked wildly, and he kneed his groin, then forced him up against a wall, weaponless.
"Cas!" Ember screamed, and she attacked wildly and obviously. Michael batted her away, and she crumbled against the wall, just as she'd expected. It had been a decoy attack, however… behind her, she sent an angel blade through the air straight at Michael's heart. Michael didn't see the angel blade coming, but she still managed to dodge it at the last second in her effort to push Castiel further into the wall. As it was, the angel blade sliced through her arm, and she cried out as it drew blood.
"Bitch!" She threw Ember through the air, and she landed in a heap on the floor. Pain shot through Ember's foot, white-hot and burning. In the background, she could see the fuzzy forms of Castiel and Michael fighting, but she could no longer see straight. There seemed to be two of everything…
"Tell me something, Cas," said one of the two Michaels dancing across Ember's vision. "Where's your entourage? Well, hey, if they want to miss all the festivities, well, then that's their loss." He punched Castiel in the face. "But I've got a schedule to keep!"
"Cas!" Ember screamed, and she attempted to stagger after him, but toppled over in her effort to stand. White-hot pain once again shot through her body…
Michael was dragging Castiel away, and Ember was screaming.
There were several agonizing seconds after that where Ember wasn't sure what was going on. She dragged herself slowly over the floor, unable to put any weight on the leg. There was blood on the wall, but she couldn't tell how much, because she still couldn't see straight…
There were noises coming from down the hall in the other direction, and Ember redoubled her efforts. Finally, painstakingly, she opened the door to the room where she could hear noises. There was Jack and Castiel… standing, so they must be alive!
Dean was standing too, facing the window, and Michael… Michael was lying on the floor! He was dead!
But no… something was wrong. Dean was holding the spear… and his eyes flashed blue.
Ember's world faded to black.
Ember's eyes flew open, and she looked around wildly.
"Shhhh!" exclaimed Castiel, edging her back down onto the bed. His face was covered in blood.
"Cas!" Ember exclaimed. "What's wrong? What happened? Where's Jack?"
"He's fine, everyone's fine," Cas explained. "Michael took possession of Dean again, but he's handcuffed. He's here, at the bunker."
Ember made to stand up, and pain shot through her leg… but she stayed standing. It wasn't the kind of pain she'd had before that made her feel like passing out, and she was no longer seeing two of everything.
"I'm sorry," Castiel said. He spoke in an air that was barely more than business-like, and Ember could tell that he was eager to get back to… something. Probably Michael. "Everything's been taking too much power. I brought you all back to the bunker, including Michael, and then I've healed you up. Your ankle was shattered and sprained, and you had a concussion. I've healed the concussion, and your ankle is knitted back together, but I have to save energy for the fight ahead. You've still got a bad sprain, so try to take it easy."
"Yeah, okay," Ember said, following Castiel out of the door of the bedroom they had been using at the bunker.
December 25, Early Morning
Michael was under control; the cuffs were holding him, at least for now. Now, it was Castiel's job to go inside Michael's mind and search for Dean. Hopefully Dean could fight back, (like Sam had done when possessed by Gadreel, although Michael was much stronger). The chances were slim, but this had never stopped them before.
Sam had been chosen to accompany Castiel instead of Ember, for several reasons. First, Sam was closer to Dean than Ember was. Second, it would be easier for Castiel to maintain any kind of mental connection with Dean than if Ember had come, because, frankly, demonic minds were naturally resistant to divine control.
Most importantly, Ember was needed to help Jack hold down the fort. Michael had redirected all of his monsters to come rescue him in Kansas, and Team Free Will was racing against time until they arrived.
When Castiel went to retrieve Michael, he was busy terrorizing Jack. With his angel hearing, Castiel could hear him all the way down the hall. "I know how sad he was when you died...on the outside. On the inside, it's not that he was happy… he just didn't care. 'Cause you're not Sam. You're not Cas. You're a new burden that he was handed. You're a weak, helpless thing. You think that they care about you, love you? You're a job, a job none of them wanted. And you-…"
"Go help your mother," Castiel said. "You and Ember have to keep the monsters out." Jack made to leave, but Castiel stopped him. "Wait! Don't believe anything he says. He's lying."
"I can still hear you," said Michael.
Ember and Jack retreated, and Castiel turned to Michael.
"Look at you," he said. "How the mighty have fallen. You've fallen pray to your baser instincts with a demon, of all things. Nothing like the Castiel I knew. He would've never been so... pathetic."
The barb hurt, but Castiel didn't let on. "You're confusing loyalty and love with weakness," he answered.
"Tell me," Michael said, keeping his voice even. "Why do you love this world enough to risk your own life?"
"Tell me," Castiel shot back. "Why do you hate this world enough to burn it to the ground?"
"Because I can!" Michael said derisively. "Because... Me and my brother - my Lucifer - when we fought in my world, we thought that God would come back, give us answers. Why He'd gone, what we'd done - but, instead, do you know what happened? Nothing. No God. Nothing. And now...now that I'm in here - now I know why. God - Chuck - is a writer, and like all writers, He churns out draft after draft. My world? This world? Nothing but failed drafts. And when He realizes that they're flawed, He moves on and tries again."
Castiel felt as though he'd been burned. He reeled from the insult, despite his effort to keep his emotions in check. He didn't think it possible that he could be more disappointed in his father, but something Michael said rang true. "No, that's not how...Why would He do that?" Castiel asked.
"Because He doesn't care!" Michael yelled. "About you, me - anything. Now, at first, I thought I'd do it better. Show Him. Be more God than God. But now... I just want to burn every one of His little worlds until I catch up to the old man."
"And then what?" Castiel asked, afraid to hear the answer.
"Even God can die," Michael replied.
"Cas!" Sam said from the doorway, shaking Castiel out of his disappointment. "'You ready?"
"Yeah," said Castiel, standing up and gesturing Sam to a seat next to Michael. "Okay, I'm going to connect to Dean's mind, and you should be able to hitch a ride with me."
"Well, I like this plan," said Michael evenly. "See, out here, I'm all chained up. But in there... you're all mine. So... what are we waiting for?"
Castiel started to speak, but Sam put a hand on his arm, silencing him. Castiel nodded at him, taking his hand and putting a hand on Michael's shoulder.
Seconds later, they were surrounded by the blackness of Dean's mind. Castiel hadn't been in Dean's mind since he had remade it ten years ago, but it felt the same. It felt… righteous. There was no other word for it. Not tantalizing and heavenly like Ember's… Dean was thickness and fire and brimstone, and his mind pulsed with his desire to protect those around him.
The feeling remained as strong as ever, and Dean's mind welcomed Castiel, recognizing him to be a friend. Despite this, search as he might, he couldn't find Dean's consciousness, which he found concerning. Castiel waded through the darkness, trying to key into Dean's current thoughts, but everything seemed hazy.
"Cas… where are we?" said Sam, appearing next to him.
"In Dean's mind."
"Then where is he?"
"Excellent question." Castiel raised his hand and shone grace on the blackness. He could hear, more sharply now, some of Dean's past traumatic experiences.
"We had a deal!" said Dean's voice in the background. Castiel recognized the experience as one of Dean's more recent memories, from when Michael had taken him over.
"Did you ever stop loving Castiel?" said Dean's voice, this time in a quiet, hushed tone.
Castiel had never heard this, but knew immediately that it must've been a conversation Dean had had with Ember at some point.
"No," came Ember's quiet response.
"Will you ever love me again, the way you used to?" came Dean's voice again.
"I'm sorry," came Ember's.
Cas looked at Sam with a silent plea.
Sam waved his hand in the air, as if to say, "It's all in the past."
Castiel could hear screams, then, and realized they were memories from when Dean was in Hell.
"There's so much," he said, shaking his head. The memories were more, even, than when he'd remade Dean's mind before – trials added to trials, with no breaks in between. "So much trauma in Dean's mind. So many scars."
"Well, yeah," Sam said. "Dean's been through a lot, but he's strong."
"Sam... you've both been through a lot, and Dean is more than strong," said Castiel. "What I meant was, if I knew... if I knew what I was looking for, I could just - I could simply go to it.
But because Michael has Dean trapped away, drowning, I have to wade through all of Dean's most terrible memories."
"Cas, wait a second," said Sam thoughtfully. "Would Michael bury Dean in trauma?"
Castiel turned towards Sam, confused. "What do you mean?"
"I mean, Michael said it himself. The reason he left Dean in the first place was because Dean was fighting back so hard."
"So, if Michael wanted to keep Dean placated..."
"Dean thrives on trauma," said Sam. "I mean, he's had to his whole life, right? It keeps him alert, keeps him ready, but if I wanted to distract Dean, I-I... I'd give him something he's never had before."
"Contentment," realized Castiel.
"Exactly," said Sam. "So maybe, instead of looking through his bad memories, maybe let's, uh... maybe let's look through his good memories."
Castiel raised his hand again, light glowing from his palm. This time, he banished the bad memories and called to the good memories.
"I think I'm adorable…" came Dean's voice from the background.
"I love you, Ember. I love you so much."
"I love you too, Dean," came Ember's reply.
Castiel felt the squirming in his stomach that had become so familiar during the time he and Ember had been apart.
"Wait a second," Sam said, breaking Castiel out of his reverie.
"Still working that ghoul thing in Wichita with Cas," Dean's voice was saying. "They should be back tonight. So that sale that you want so bad, well, it's not gonna happen." - "Are you just gonna leave the drunk guy out there with all the booze?"
"Yes. Definitely," said Sam, thinking aloud. "Cas...This has never happened. There. Let's go there."
The bar made Dean happy. Jo made Dean happy. Everything was going perfectly, and Dean was happy.
So happy… but at odd moments he would have the weirdest since of de ja vu!
But no matter.
Cas and Sam were back from Witchita! "Hey, there they are!" he said as the two walked in. "Kill a ghoul, get a beer."
"Dean?" Sam questioned, looking almost scared.
"Got this great IPA from Austin – Cosmic Cowboy. You're gonna love it."
"Hey, Dean, what's going on here?" Sam asked.
"What are you talking about?" he answered. Everything was normal. Good, even!
"Cas! Sam!" Jo said excitedly, walking out from behind the bar to give them each a hug. "I'm glad you're back safe. I was starting to worry." She leaned in to whisper to them, then headed back to his side behind the bar.
Castiel and Sam both furrowed their eyebrows and leaned in to talk to each other quietly.
Dean placed drinks on the bar. "Hey, what are you guys waiting for? Drink up."
But Sam just looked annoyed. "None of - None of this is real, okay? This - This bar, uh, uh, Jo…"
"Excuse me?" said Jo angrily, marching up to Sam and staring directly up at his enormous height. "You've never met anyone more real than me, Sam Winchester."
"You're just a complex manifestation of Dean's memories designed to distract him," Castiel said tiredly.
"Bite my manifestation ass," said Jo.
"Okay, listen to me," said Sam forcefully. "You have to remember what's going on out – out in the real world."
"I know it's raining," said Dean, unconcerned. "What else do I need to know?"
"No, I'm not talking about the rain," Sam insisted.
And then that odd feeling of de ja vu again.
"So, are you guys gonna tell us about the hunt or what?" asked Dean, shaking it off.
Sam looked confused. "Okay. What? You were just...What the hell is going on here?"
Sam was acting like he had gotten some sort of whiplash. "Okay. All right. Now you're starting to worry me. What is going on?"
Sam and Castiel were covered in blood. Had they always been covered in blood? Did they come in covered in blood and he just hadn't noticed? There was that weird de ja vu feeling again.
"You guys got really messy on that ghoul hunt, huh?" asked Jo jovially.
"No, we didn't get messy on a hunt," Castiel snapped. "We got messy just now, in this bar, in a vampire fight."
Jo looked at Dean skeptically. "Maybe we should rethink the beers," she said.
"Yeah," Dean agreed. He was starting to get that odd prickly feeling at the back of his neck that he got whenever there was a monster nearby that hadn't jumped out of the background yet.
"Okay, Dean, listen to me," Sam said, business-like. "I think you're stuck in a loop in your mind. Michael is possessing you. You have to remember that."
"Michael?" Dean asked, surprised.
"Yes," said Sam.
"Michael's in the Cage," Dean said. "Come on, guys. What is this - some kind of a joke?" But the prickly feeling on the back of his neck told him it was anything but.
"No, Dean, it's not a joke," said Castiel firmly.
"Okay. Okay. If we're all in Dean's head, then he should be able to control things, like a lucid dream?" asked Jo skeptically.
"Yeah," said Sam. He looked frustrated. "I-I don't know. Maybe. I..."
"Get me a shot. With your brain," said Jo, giggling.
Dean laughed too. Things were okay. Jo was here. He and Jo were happy, and Jo was real…
"Okay. Dean, listen to me," Sam tried again. "This bar is not real. Jo isn't real. You broke up with her, man."
Dean looked at Jo lovingly. He would never break up with her…
"No way," Jo said. "Let me assure you, if anybody is going to do the dumping, it's going to be me dumping him!"
But in the back of his mind, he remembered:
"When you stop treating me like a child and start treating me like a grown woman – oh, and when you decide that maybe it's okay if you have something for yourself for a change - you give me a call, Dean Winchester!"
When he looked again, Jo was gone. "No. No, no, no, no!" Dean exclaimed. "Guys, this is - this is my life! This - This is the dream!
"No, no, it's not," insisted Castiel. "It's just a dream, Dean. That's all it is. Please, you have to - you have to try to remember, because the people in your life - in your real life, out there - we need you to come back."
Then Sam whispered, "Poughkeepsie."
Dean's blood ran cold. "What'd you say?"
"Poughkeepsie," said Sam again, more firmly this time.
And Dean remembered.
"We had a deal!"
What seemed like a lifetime flashed through his mind. Killing, as Michael. Werewolves and vampires, and experimentation…
"I remember. I remember everything," he said.
And there was Michael, taking Dean's form, in the bar, clapping slowly. "Hey, fellas. Well, this is fun."
"Get out of my head," said Dean, furious. Of course it was a dream. He had been happy…
"You don't mean that, Dean, not really," Michael said in his slow, measured voice. "You may lie to them, but, deep down, I know you. I am you. You only tolerate the angel because you think you owe him, because he 'gripped you tight and raised you from Perdition.' Or whatever. But since then, what has he done? Only made mistakes, one after the other. And… steal the love of your life."
Dean could see Castiel's hurt look, and he started to seethe with anger.
" And, Sam - oh, Sam..." Michael turned to his brother. "You know, Dean was his happiest when you quit hunting, leaving him with your dad, just the two of them. See, deep down, he knows that you will always abandon him, again and again."
Sam was angry, Dean could tell, and he refused to listen to any more. "Shut up!"
"You don't need them," Michael continued, to him this time. "You don't even like them. They're not your family - they're your responsibilities. They're a weight around your neck. And deep down, you wanted - you were desperate to get away from them. And that is why you said yes."
They were his deepest, darkest doubts, and Dean couldn't stand to hear them right now. "I said shut your damn mouth!"
"Wait," Castiel said to Michael. "Something's wrong. You're stalling."
"Am I?" asked Michael.
"He's buying time so his monsters can get to us and rescue him," Sam filled in.
"You think I need them to save me? Please," Michael said confidently.
"Fine," Dean snapped, ready for it to be over. His dream world had been destroyed, and he might as well face the real one. "You're so tough, why don't you snap your fingers and nuke us all?"
"Is that what you want?"
"Yeah, I do," Dean challenged.
"He can't," Castiel said tersely. "Because, in here, we're all just mental projections, so in here, we're all the same."
"So, in here, you're all talk," Sam challenged.
Michael paused, evaluating his options. Finally he said, "You think I need my powers?" I destroy worlds, and I'd crush you with my bare hands."
"Prove it," Dean said.
Dean came after Michael, but Michael punched him twice and he fell to the floor. Sam and Castiel came next, but he beat them back easily.
"You fellas didn't think this out, did you?" asked Michael, not even winded. "Even if you could force me out, what do you think I'd leave behind, hm? You'd be nothing but blood and bone."
Dean thought quickly. "Then we don't kick him out. We keep him in." He grabbed Michael, opening the door to the refrigerated room. Michael tossed him aside, but Sam barreled into Michael, forcing him into the room. The door was locked quickly.
They could hear Michael screaming, desperate to get out. "It'll hold," said Dean. "My mind, my rules. I got him. I'm the Cage."
"You're sure?" Castiel asked.
"For now, anyway," said Dean.
"Let's go back," added Sam with a nod to his brother.
December 25th, Early Morning
It had been a close one. In addition to Ember, Eileen, Jack, and Krissy, three hunters made it back to the bunker just ahead of Michael's monsters. Unfortunately, one of the monsters had managed to turn one of the survivors, Tiger, without anyone in the group realizing at a rest stop. Tiger had managed to open the doors to the bunker to let in a small group of monsters.
There were less monsters than hunters, but Ember knew from the groups' discussions and Castiel's memories that Michael's strength had made the groups evenly matched. Aim for the heads. Ember used all of her force powers to lob a lamp into one of them so hard that her face made a gooey mess on the wall. They can see me, because Michael can see me. Turning invisible won't help. Two of the monsters headed her direction, singling her out as the greatest threat. Another went to fight Krissy and Eileen, and Tiger headed toward Maggie and Santrese.
Santrese was dispatched with a blow to the side, and Tiger advanced on Maggie. Ember dodged quickly, reaching for the knife she always kept at her side for emergencies. Eileen was thrown backward to the floor, and Krissy advanced forward to meet her attacker with determination.
"No!" screamed Jack, and a burst of gold power was released, disintegrating all four remaining monsters.
"It was an accident," said Jack.
"Yeah, but you can't afford that kind of accident," Castiel said insistently. "You need your soul to stay alive, to -…"
"They were about to kill Maggie. Eileen had already been hurt," Jack protested.
Ember sighed. "I know, Jack.
"We're not mad at you," Castiel continued. "It's just…" They shared a loaded look.
"We've seen firsthand what the absence of a soul does. And it's not just about you staying alive, Jack. It's about you staying you. You understand?"
"We don't know how much soul you have left, or how much power that kind of thing takes. And any time you use that kind of power could be too much…"
"It won't happen again," Jack said.