Ok. Final chapter. As always, thanks to everyone who read and reviewed. And to the person on the Supernatural staff that keeps reading/ripping off my stories (hee): I hope you learned a valuable lesson and figured out the plot for season five. :)
Castiel dared to open his eyes. There was silence all around him, but light was filtering through the open door and window of the motel room. He took those things to be good signs.
He sat up, his head swimming with the suddenness of the action, and looked around. The spot where Lucifer had stood the night before was now marked by a large black stain, scorched forever into the floor. The door still hung off its broken hinges and the wall that Sam had been thrown into had nearly been shattered by the force of the blow. The brothers' duffle bag was nowhere to be seen.
Sighing, the man- because, surely, that was all he was again- swung his feet out of the bed and planted them on the floor. His eyes landed on the bedside table. The knife, now nothing more than an intricately carved handle with a small, molten-looking chunk of twisted metal attached, had been left there for him. A lot of good it did now.
Cas turned, surprised by the sound of Sam's voice. The hunter was standing in the door. "You're still here?"
He shrugged. "Wasn't gonna leave you here to deal with this mess." He gestured around the room at the general chaos and destruction. "Besides, we've got some questions."
"Lucifer's gone," Castiel said, anticipating the most pressing issue. "Dead. We destroyed him."
Sam nodded, then glanced back into the parking lot. Cas could see a smile form on his face, watched him nod, and then heard Dean's joyous whoop from outside. The older man came barreling through the door and past his brother, a large smile plastered on his face as he stopped just short of the bed. "Dude, you're up."
"So I've heard."
Cas sighed, glancing again around the room. "I think so, all things considered."
"Good." Dean plopped down beside him on the bed, uncomfortably close, and stared at him. "You know, I think I could get to like this whole angel-thing."
"You're not an angel, Dean."
"That's what I told him," Sam said, walking from his place by the door to join them in the room and physically pushing his brother away form the other man. "Dude, personal space. Ever heard of it?"
"Payback's a bitch, Sammy," Dean chuckled. "And what do you mean I'm not an angel?"
Castiel sighed again, picking up what was left of the knife and holding it in his hands. "Remember when I told you that a demon would not be able to ascend into Heaven using the same methods Lucifer planned on using?"
Dean cocked an eyebrow, but Sam nodded. "Yeah. Something about the way they were, their natures?"
"The taint of Hell. The angels that fell first, the ones that fell into Hell for their disobedience, retained the ability to return home because they'd always had that goodness there. The humans who chose Hell didn't. But Hell corrupts, regardless. Lucifer and his followers were tainted."
"That was his weakness," Sam guessed. "The knife didn't work on it's own. You needed to super-charge it."
"Basically." He looked down at the melted blade. "Think of it as the prototype flaming sword."
"If that's the case, then how I was able to watch while you guys blew him apart? I mean, shouldn't my eyes be mush?"
"Normally, but," Castiel shook his head, "there were extenuating circumstances. My Grace had been split, and that split weakened it."
"So what's that mean for us?" Dean asked.
"It means we're human," Cas said. "Or close to it, anyway. What was left of my Grace was funneled into Lucifer until he was destroyed. If that didn't take all of it, I'd be surprised. I mean, I feel-"
"Feelings?" Dean supplied.
Cas grinned. "I was going to say normal, but fine. Feelings."
"So what now?" Sam asked. "I mean, that's it, isn't it? Crisis averted? Apocalypse solved? No more Devil?"
The shorter man set the knife back on the table and stood, actually smiling as his spine popped. Such a human thing. "Unfortunately, no. Demons need order to their chaos. They'll be looking for a new leader, and all the higher-ups will be scrambling for the position."
"What's that mean?"
"It means I have work to do," Cas said, moving toward the door.
"What are you talking about?" Dean asked, grabbing the knife and following him into the parking lot with Sam trailing behind.
"Word travels fast in Hell. More and more demons are hearing about Lucifer's plan, and- believe it or not- think it's a good one."
"So, what, they're going tree hunting?"
"Grace hunting. There might be one or two Fallen who have figured out where their Grace landed after the first war. And if Uriel was right, enough followed me that-"
"That it'll be a free-for-all," Sam finished as they stopped by the Impala. "Open season on angel juice."
Cas nodded. "And as soon as one former angel finds Grace…"
"It'll be the Apocalypse all over again," Dean muttered, "only the battleground won't be earth."
"It'll be Heaven," Sam said.
"Which is why I have to stop them," Castiel said. "Before they gain Heaven and destroy everything."
"Well, you're not doing it alone."
"No way," Dean seconded, unlocking the car door and sliding in behind the wheel. "Always room for one more."
"You're serious?" Cas asked.
"But… I have no idea where to start."
"Neither do we," Sam said. "But we stopped the end of the world once. Figure we can do it again."
"So hop in," Dean said, nodding toward the backseat. Smiling, Castiel obliged.
"You know, we need to stop back in that last town and pick up my stuff. Can't wear the same outfit for the rest of my life."
"That would be a crying shame," Dean agreed. "And so unusual for you."
The former angel settled back in the seat as the car pulled out of the lot and back onto the road. He couldn't believe it. They'd actually done it. The Seals had been broken, the earth had nearly been destroyed, and everything he'd ever known had been turned on its head, but they'd still done it. The Apocalypse had been averted.
He sighed, listening to Sam and Dean banter back and forth over the drone of the radio. He was starting to wonder why he hadn't gone to them sooner, why he'd felt he would be a burden. Obviously, they didn't mind.
And that was what it was all about, what it had always been about for him. The goodness of people, finding more who were willing to give without expecting anything in return. It was why he'd tried to give a little more to his charge, to push a little harder in battle, to spend that much more time trying to figure him out. It was why, when he met Dean's blue eyes in the rearview mirror, he smiled.
Happy New Year!