A/N: Wow, totally didn't realize I updated on the same day as the S9 premiere. I'm psychic! (I honestly had no idea)

And man, season fine is right. I'm thoroughly enjoying myself as an SPN fan for the first time in a long time. I guess it's no secret that I love the first three seasons the best (otherwise this fic would be nonexistent) but this one is getting up there. Really has an S1/S2 feel to it. And I really love the mismatched Winchester family of strays - just waiting for Charlie and Mrs. Tran to come back and Bobby and the Harvelles to resurrect, and then everything'll be perfect.

As always, thank you for the reviews - they always make my day so much better. After the last few I finally convinced myself to buckle in and write this next part. I've had the idea for this chapter for a long time, so here's hoping I did it justice.


"You keep trusting," Castiel tells him, almost accusingly.

"I thought you were dead," Dean says in awe.

The angel blinks, then promptly lets go.

"I was not," he replies, after a long and searching look at Dean. "Merely banished from my vessel."

Vessel. Dean frowns as he takes in Castiel's overly familiar form – well, familiar but for the corduroy pants and rumpled T shirt peeking out from under the long trench coat. Kind of weird, it's almost like he left the house without glancing at the mirror.

Except Castiel shouldn't have a house. Or a mirror.

Damn it. "Jimmy," he says, and starts to scowl. "What the hell, Castiel, the man should be at home with his family –"

"If it weren't for me, Jimmy Novak wouldn't have a family," Castiel says, calmly but intensely – and yup, this is him all right. "We reached an agreement."

For a moment Dean thinks about thinking that over, but then he sighs and just shakes his head at himself instead. They've got bigger end-of-the-world kinds of things on their plate – body-possession dilemmas and discussions over ethics and ownership will just have to wait for another time.

If there ever is another time.

"Okay, whatever that means," he sighs unhappily, letting it go with a silent apology to Jimmy in his head. "Actually, it's a good thing you're here – almost thought I'd have to give my body over to Creepy Stepford Dean, so uh, if you'd like to teleport us the fuck away from here, now would be a good time. "

The angel frowns – and wow, Dean discovers he has almost missed seeing that mildly confused yet ever-baleful glare. "Stepford Dean?"

Dean nods back ruefully. "Or someone Zach wants me to think is Dean, anyway. Don't know who they think they're kidding here though, the guy didn't ask even once about Sam. Plus, I'm pretty sure Dean Winchester would be just a smudge less chill about the frickin' apocalypse."

There's a strange expression on Castiel's face, one Dean hasn't seen before. He's not sure he knows what he means, and less sure whether he wants to know.

"You sensed it wasn't him."

"Uh, yeah," he scoffs, rolling his eyes. "The guy was good –" something about him almost seemed familiar, actually – "but not that good."

He waits for a reply, but Castiel is staring blankly off somewhere, his jaw set and stiff as though it's doing some hard thinking about the merits of being a jaw. After a long and boring second the angel finally loosens it and sighs uncharacteristically, as if he's just seen the end of a reality show or come to some sort of life-defining decision.

"It wasn't Dean Winchester," he then announces gravely.

...And seriously? It's like Dean's been talking to the walls here. "Um, duh," he says patiently. "That's kind of exactly what I've been saying."

The angel shakes his head. "I mean that it was my brother Michael. He's the one you spoke to."

Dean blinks. "Michael." …Wait. "Michael, as in the archangel, Michael?"

"My Father's first-born. Yes."

His eyebrows furrow. This is just getting... weirder and weirder. "Since when do archangels play dress-up? …And why the hell did he try to make me think he was Dean?"

"I doubt he said anything explicit about it, although perhaps…" Castiel pauses slightly before continuing. "Perhaps he didn't hasten to correct any misunderstandings you might have."

"No shit, Cas," he exclaims, throwing up his hands. "He sorta looked exactly like me!"

"Because in a way, that is exactly what he looks like. Your body is Michael's true vessel. Until he possesses you, he has no other form you can perceive without burning out your eyes."

He stares blankly.

"Michael must fight Lucifer in the apocalypse," Cas explains. "It is written."

Dean considers, for a moment, writing a book about how few fucks he gives about anything being written.

"Let me get this straight," he says. "The reason you and Zach got me out of hell was just so your bro could play sock-puppet?"

The angel isn't wincing, but Dean would bet good money he wants to. "Not entirely."

"Not entirely," he repeats, and has to turn his head away to chuckle, because this, this is hilarious. Nothing like divine intervention to keep you humble. Or feeling like a used tissue.

Dean's so-called guardian angels frankly sucked.

"Sam needed you," Cas says, and somehow that's enough to make Dean stop laughing and glance back at him. "He was... driven. Ambitious. Progressing too quickly. He would have confronted Lilith and started Armageddon far before we were ready."

"Right, so Zach had me distract him by finding bogus side quests," he says, dully and with no interest whatsoever. "Get to the point, Scheherazade, I already know this part."

"No." Castiel clears his throat. "That is to say, that is not entirely accurate."

Entirely again. He's starting to hate that word. "What the hell is that supposed to mean?"

"Your appearance had the desired impact, at first. Sam was far less… determined, in your presence."

He's starting to get a bad feeling about this. "Uh huh…"

"You surprised Zachariah, actually," Cas tells Dean, and something in his words almost comes off as pride. "He'd miscalculated. Your effect on Sam was too thorough. Sam stopped running after Lilith – stopped drinking demon blood completely, for the sole reason that you allowed him to make that choice for himself."

So he had been telling the truth, Dean muses distantly, and then shakes himself roughly. "And?" he demands. "That's supposed to be a bad thing?"

Castiel doesn't quite answer, mouth pursed tight and eyes again staring intently into nowhere. "Eventually, things had to be moved forward. Zachariah has…" he hesitates. "He has a profound understanding of humans, far greater than any other angel I know. His requests of you to sidetrack Sam were meant to drive a wedge between you two. To frustrate Sam when you would seemingly refuse to lift a finger to stop Lucifer from rising."

And all the while he'd dangled the promise of heaven and redemption in front of Dean's face, just so Dean would have more of a reason to dig in his heels and turn Sam against him. Because his purpose was finally fulfilled, and Sam needed a push to get back into the ring.

...Sick. This is beyond sick. He's been played so badly, he's let himself be played so freaking badly. He should never have left Sam. Never have taken the angels at their word.

Never trusted anyone not human.

"The dreams," Dean chokes out, suddenly realizing. "Letting me remember them all of a sudden."

A barely discernible flinch. "It put you in a far less forgiving mood."

Dean smiles in understanding, swallowing hard, and then whirls around and punches through the wall.

The moment he takes out his fist the wall fixes itself again, white and pristine.

He punches it again.

"Dean," Castiel says from behind him.

He squeezes his eyes shut. "You tried to tell me," he says tonelessly, after a second. "You warned me about trusting you."

There's a silence, and Dean can practically feel Castiel draw up, stiffen. "I did no such thing –"

"Son of a bitch," he grits out, not listening because he's too busy being furious with himself. "Sam was right all along, wasn't he? You guys never did anything to protect the seals. You want the apocalypse to happen just as much as the demons do. You played both of us like freaking fiddles."

"I was not – I was not immediately aware of these plans, I confess. But now I see the wisdom of it. "

He turns back at that. "Wisdom? Is that what God calls it?" he asks bitterly.

A pause. And then, reluctantly: "God hasn't revealed himself to us in a very long time."

For a moment, he just stares.

"What, he's on vacation?" he sputters incredulously. And then has to cut himself off as a ridiculous thought strikes him – and it is ridiculous, it's so incredibly ridiculous, but the sinking feeling in his gut is telling him he's right on the money. "Holy shit, is the apocalypse really just some kind of teenage rebellion because Daddy went away?"

Castiel just stares at him, steadily and without expression. Dean suddenly realizes the angel's been acting like a junkless automaton dick ever since he showed up.

And yeah, okay, Castiel's definitely a dick, no question about that, but he's also usually pretty good about looking like he regrets it.

But instead of any justification or explanation the angel only says, simply, "There are reasons."

Right. Yeah. Dean's starting to remember why he stopped liking this guy.

He steps forward, peers closer at the angel's closed-off face. "This isn't you," he says. "What's the heck's going on? What did they do to you up there?"

Cas avoids his gaze. "Nothing. It's of no importance."

"Uh huh," he says dryly, but changes the subject because it's not like he can force this guy to do anything like admit to being a victim. "So you're telling me you came here just to say hello and leave me to the sharks? Because if that's all it is, if that's why you interrupted my last lunch and shoved me against the wall, I might as well also get a damn apology for all the ways you screwed up my life."

"I'm sorry," Castiel says, eyes on the floor.

He stares, then grabs Castiel's tie, pulls him close and snaps, "That's not good enough."

The angel's eyes keep sliding away from his face. "There is nothing to be done. Dean, I'm truly – I'm truly sorry it ended like this."

A small, incredulous laugh tumbles out of him before he can stop it. He wipes at his mouth as he chuckles, smirks at the ceiling. "Nothing," he echoes, nodding his head. "Nothing, you say."

He punches Cas in his fucking razor sharp cheekbone, and immediately clamps down on a howl of pain.

…Right. All-powerful divine messenger of God.

Dean keeps forgetting that little detail.

He grits his teeth as he flexes his hand discreetly. "You sorry excuse for an angel," he hisses furiously, the pain only serving to make him angrier. "Don't you give up, don't you dare give up – if there's anything, anything I've learned from Sam, it's that when life throws you a curveball you have to be a stubborn bastard and shoot life in the freaking face! You don't just accept it, Castiel, you don't just lie down and take it like a dog – you gotta keep going, even if it's the hardest thing in the world. You can't fucking take failure for granted!"

Castiel is silent. Then, just as Dean is about to try punching him again with his other hand – maybe this time it'll stick, he's willing to try – he asks expressionlessly, "What would you have me do?"

And what kind of question is that? "Fight!" he cries, spreading out his arms. "Take me to Sam, let me talk him down from whatever stupid thing he's doing! Or at least help him fight Lilith because otherwise he'll just get himself killed –"

"He won't," Castiel tells him, and there's something like shame finally audible in his voice. At Dean's baffled look he elaborates, "Not immediately. Sam is Lucifer's vessel, meant to kill Lilith. Her death is the final seal."

Red. That's all Dean sees.

Red.

"You and I," he says hoarsely, finally finding his voice. "We're gonna have a hell of a talk after this."

The angel looks majorly uncomfortable, which, you know what, is nothing less than he deserves. "Dean. I can't go against my orders. Michael and Zachariah – the upper echelon, they want this to happen –"

"And they're wrong. This is wrong."

Castiel looks away. "Regardless of morality," he begins.

What. "Do you even hear what you're saying?" Dean asks in disbelief. "'Regardless of morality' – morality is all this is about, you poor son of a bitch! There's a wrong and there's a right here and you know it! For crying out loud, Cas, this is Armageddon!"

"To betray my brothers –"

"And what about Sam?"

Cas practically fidgets.

He steps closer, forces the biggest fucking idiot in the world to meet his eyes because you know what, Dean's owed that fucking much.

"You think I don't know what I'm asking here?" he asks quietly, honestly curious. "You think I can't guess what this is gonna cost you? Cas, listen to me. You might be a lying asshole, and I might owe you a whole lot more than a punch to the face, but you're my effing friend, man, and I'd give anything not to have you do this."

A stricken expression. "Dean –"

But no, he's not particularly interested in more bullshit. "You know that, don't you?" he says harshly.

Cas swallows, looking smaller and more human than he ever has before.

"I know," he admits, after too long a pause.

Dean doesn't smile. "Then let's get started."

And the next moment, they're gone.

0000

"Jo, hey," he greets, keeping his voice low as he switches the cell to his other ear, typing away on the keyboard with his free hand. "Find anything on Sam or Lilith?"

"Dean!" comes the exclamation, heavy with relief. "You okay? How'd you get out of –"

"Not important right now," he says, and then hisses at Cas, "Seriously, dude, you mind hovering maybe another five inches away?"

The angel makes a face as he steps back. By which Dean means, does that thing where he looks like a hurt blue-eyed puppy without any discernible change in expression.

It's a talent, Dean'll give him that.

"What?"

"No, not you, sorry, was talking to someone else," he says hastily, and gets back on topic. "Where are you? Did you make it to Bobby's? Any luck finding Sam?"

"I'm with Bobby right now," Jo says. "Haven't found Sam yet, but we've been researching the seals and –"

There's noise like scuffling, suddenly. He can hear Jo protesting faintly in the background.

Dean frowns at the stacked bookshelves in front of him.

"Excuse me, do I look like a ditchable prom date to you? What made you think you could call someone under my own roof and not talk to me?"

He gulps, feeling himself blanch. "Hi, Bobby."

"Don't you 'hi Bobby' me, you friggin' idjit, I want to know exactly what the hell was going through that empty head of yours."

Holy crap, he's in so much trouble over here it's not even funny. "Look, Bobby, I'm sorry –"

"Sorry? Oh no, son, don't be sorry, I haven't made you sorry yet. Now I know we kinda got other things going on right now, but you and me, we're gonna have a hell of a talk about what is and isn't acceptable behavior right after we rescue Sam and stop the apocalypse, you hearin' me?"

Dean winces. Only one response to that. "Yes sir. Sorry sir."

"Damn right you are."

0000

"Okay," Dean says into the phone, then pulls away from the computer. "Got it. I know. Me too. See you on the other side." He hangs up, turns the phone off.

"Yes?" Castiel says, finally daring to come nearer. His corduroy pants still looks ridiculous - who even wears corduroy anymore?

Dean shakes his head at himself. "Not here," he replies shortly. "Outside."

They leave the library together, dropping off some of the research Dean had been looking at by the front desk. By old habit, Dean spots in the lot a car he really wouldn't regret stealing – 1965 Buick Riviera, cherry finish, could use a little waxing but oh does she look worth it – but he makes himself look away and heads instead for what looks to be a busy and conveniently loud diner.

He never did get to eat that steak, after all. Might as well have a last hurrah.

"We got a plan," he tells Cas, who's sitting expressionlessly across from the large sundae Dean ordered for him on a whim. "Kind of. We know where Lilith's gonna be. So, uh, that's something."

Cas says nothing for a moment. He picks up the spoon and sulks down at the sundae as if it's the source of all his troubles, and in any other circumstance it would be a hilarious, hilarious image of the usually too-sober-to-function angel.

As it stands, though, Dean is still pretty pissed at him.

"That means nothing if you can't stop her," the angel replies, at last.

"That's the thing, we think we can," Dean answers in between bites of his burger. "I mean, it's a one in a million chance, odds are pretty much stacked against us, but hey, better than nothing, right?" He slurps at his Coke. "Gotta have something to believe in, you know, or we're fucked before we even start."

"I know," the angel says sincerely, looking at Dean in a way that is tottering between awkward and uncomfortable.

...Right, okay. "Hey, uh," Dean changes the subject, awkwardly and uncomfortably. "Thanks for the rib smash thing, by the way."

The angel almost seems as though he wants to sigh or palm his forehead, but of course, that can't be right. "They're Enochian sigils. They will hide you from my brethren."

"Well, it pretty much felt like you were just smashing my ribs. But I'll take your word for it."

Cas nods. "Where will Lilith be, then?"

"Some convent in Maryland. St. Mary's, I think. Apparently she'll be there at midnight tonight." Because Dean's life is actually a predictable B-grade horror flick.

"So we have some hours left," Castiel muses. "How do you know all of this?"

His mouth twists wryly. "Sam left Bobby a helpfully emo voicemail too. Also, Bobby's the master of research, and Jo and Rufus are helping him out. Can't beat a team of hunting pros."

"I see." Castiel's face is completely immobile. A Divine Contemplation, some fartsy artsy artist would probably call it. "Where is Sam now?"

"According to the GPS on his phone? Somewhere in West Virginia right now." He smiles ironically. "Good thing demons can't teleport, huh?"

Castiel nods, stares into space for a moment, then stands. "Dean," he says suddenly. "About who you are."

Dean glances up at him, shaking his head. "Don't worry about it, it's fine. Is something –"

"You were right. You shouldn't have trusted me." Cas draws in a breath, as if to prepare for something, and then just gazes serenely back at Dean. "I know you will never genuinely believe this, but you truly are a righteous man. You deserve better than what befell you. Than what we did to you."

"Cas," Dean says in alarm, "what the hell's going on?"

"They found me. I will buy you time."

Dean startles, then drops his burger and clumsily rises to his feet, grabbing for the duffle on the floor. "Son of a bitch –"

A hand on his shoulder halts him. "I will send you to the convent. They won't dare interfere there. " Blue eyes pierce his. "Stop Lilith. Find Sam."

After a brief inner conflict, Dean nods back at him. "Okay. Show them what you're made of, Cas. Kick Zachariah's ass for me."

The angel shakes his head. "I doubt I will survive long enough to do that."

Dean tries hard not to roll his eyes, if only because the end of the world should have a little more gravitas. Someday, there might be a movie.

"Cas," he says, "at least pretend we're going to make it."

"...Ah," Castiel says belatedly, with a dawning look of comprehension. "To boost our morale. I understand." He seems to think for a bit, then gives a terrifying, insincere grin that thankfully falls away after a few seconds. "I will try and definitely succeed to kick ass."

Dean holds back a sigh. "That's the spirit."

The grip on his shoulder tightens. "It has been an honor," Castiel tells him, and then he, the diner, it all fades away.

0000

He comes back inside after taking one last breath of fresh air. He holds it in, trying to make it last.

The door quietly closes shuts behind him. He exhales reluctantly and looks around, trying to decide where to spend the bit of time left before midnight. He's not too worried about getting caught. He figures Lilith will come alone, or at least not heavily guarded, since she's going for suicide-by-Sam - doesn't make sense she'd risk someone getting a stray shot at her future killer after all. Still, he doesn't particularly want Sam to spot him either, not until everything's in place and working and Sam will actually bother to listen. So just staying out of sight should be enough, he thinks.

Yeah. Hiding like a four year old it is.

It's cold in here, and dank, stuffy – doesn't seem like anyone really bothered to clean since that mass murder in '72. The inside of the large abandoned convent is washed in blues and grays and indigos, and Dean's shadow is just a blurry smear of black on the wall as he stalks on down the hallway. He avoids the main chamber – don't need to be a drama major to figure that's where the final show is going to go down – and finds himself in a silent corridor full of dark, unlocked rooms that probably used to have some nun residents, once upon a time. He weaves in and out of them, kind of bored and kind of anxious, then finally decides on the one closest to the chapel, hoping that way to be able to listen in on the finale.

There's a dusty bed and a wardrobe; Dean actually considers hiding in them for a good five minutes. He takes a glance at his watch, and it's still not quite time yet, but he better bunk up if he doesn't want Lilith stumbling across him. That'd be awkward.

He wonders, for a moment, if he'll recognize her when he sees her. If she'll recognize him.

...Then stops wondering about that, because after all, he's going to find out soon enough.

"I thought I smelled dog."

He jumps and spins around, sawed-off ready in hand, before relaxing - just a little. He narrows his eyes. "The hell are you doing here?"

Ruby leans against the doorframe and crosses her arms, watching him. "Think, genius."

Dean frowns, then glances behind her. He doesn't quite lower his gun. "Where's Sam?"

A wry smirk plays on her lips. "Drinking."

He stiffens. Suddenly he finds he could care less about the plan. "Take me to him."

"Oh no, he's busy right now, although," she casts a look at her leather watch, "he should get here pretty soon. I'm scouting ahead, see." She shoots him a grin. "Sam trusts me."

"Nobody's perfect," he says.

"I wouldn't say that," Ruby purrs. "Tonight, Sammy's as close to perfect as it gets. And after tonight... well."

Something about the way she says it sounds wrong. She knows, Dean thinks, and doesn't know why he's surprised. Maybe because despite it all, he did respect Ruby for what she did for Sam. "You knew killing Lilith would free Lucifer."

Her grin only widens. "'And it is written, that the first demon shall be the last seal.'"

Fuck his luck. He tightens his grip on his shotgun. "You bitch!"

She straightens, still smiling. "What? It's going to happen. Lucifer, the apocalypse, it was always going to happen. Lucifer's coming, Dean - you might as well figure out which side you're on."

As if there's even a question. "I'm on Sam's side."

"So am I." She doesn't even look like she's lying. Psycho, Dean thinks to himself decisively. "He's the chosen one, after all. The special kid, Azazel's kin, Lucifer's pick, and oh, our master's going to repay him in ways that you can't even imagine." She abruptly snorts. "Way better pay than those angel pals of yours, that's for sure. Did you figure out their endgame yet? The whole wanting the planet to burn thing?"

Yeah, he's sort of found that out recently. "You've been tricking Sam, all this time."

Ruby shrugs, appearing not all that concerned about the gun aimed at her throat. "What can I say, Dean, it's all for the greater chaos and mayhem."

He raises the shotgun, furious. His finger's on the trigger, but for some reason he hesitates. Right, Sam, she means something to Sam.

"Damn it, Ruby," he says, strangely reluctant. "I would really rather not kill you –"

"That makes one of us," she says with an odd gesture of her hands.

And Dean feels the world shift.

He frowns at her, puzzled and frozen mid-motion, trying to shake the cobwebs from his head. Before he knows it he's kneeling on the ground, arms and legs suddenly weak, and Ruby's pretty, flawless face takes up the entirety of his suddenly trembling field of vision.

What are you doing to me? he tries to ask, but only gets as far as "Wha-?"

The demon shakes her head, looking almost sad as she brings her mouth next to his ear. "You always forget," she whispers, her breath tickling his neck.

He blinks at her hair, at the dark doorway.

I don't understand, he wants to say. What are you talking about. What did I forget.

She sighs softly, then kisses his cheek. Her black eyes glimmer emptily as she draws away from him.

"I'm a witch, dummy," she says, and sticks her knife in his gut.


A/N: So, uh. Yup.

Hooray for some answers? Hey, after four years, you finally know what's going on in this story! That must be... some kind of record.

Is it weird that I like writing Ruby now? Somehow I find her fun in this story. Not because I like her hurting Dean, but uh, well. Never mind.

Anyway, uh, obviously the next chapter is going to be... interesting.

Um. Reviews would be greatly appreciated. As always. Please let me know what you think of this.

5/29/2014 - GUYS. Still alive, still working on the next chapter - which will be up relatively soon (shooting for June). I accidentally wrote the end to this story today, so when next chap's up, you can count on the updates coming pretty quickly. Don't give up on me yet!