Title: All Creatures of Our God and King

Disclaimer: Not mine.

Warnings: Some religious content to come, borrowing heavily on Christian ideas as they relate to the show (though it is good to note that I wouldn't say this is straight up Christian belief, nor do I actually endorse it as a real world interpretation). It's the show that brought God and angels into the mix, not me :) I'm just giving them a different depth.

A/N: This fic is...different. I couldn't exactly tell you where it came from but here it is. I also tackled this fic as part of my Pay It Forward for moogsthewriter. Hopefully it's not too out there! Thanks to sendintheclowns for hand holding and geminigrl11 for the beta. This is long enough for two parts but really reads better as one. It has spoilers for everything up through S4 and some future stuff that is likely to be AU in about a day. I'll be posting the last chapter of "Between the Lines" and then my pre S5 posting binge will be complete :) Also, I totally forgot to warn for CHARACTER DEATH.

Summary: It's not the fall that kills you. It's the sudden stop at the end.

-o-

Let all things their Creator bless,

And worship Him in humbleness,

O praise Him! Alleluia!

Praise, praise the Father, praise the Son,

And praise the Spirit, Three in One!

-from All Creatures of Our God and King by Saint Francis of Assisi

-o-

In the beginning, God made the heavens and the light. The earth was formless and empty, and darkness covered the deep waters. And the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters.

That was the way this story began, back at the dawn of human time. And it was a beautiful picture: a painter and His masterpiece. Loving God and His beautiful children. The trees were green and the water was blue and the man worked the garden while his wife tended the animals. The lion and the lamb danced in time together to the endless song of new and joyous praise.

It took six days to create such beauty. And God was right: it was good.

On that seventh day, that day of rest, God sat down to appreciate what He'd made. And the heavenly host were with Him, looking down at the newest additions to God's cosmic family.

Most were silent, amused and awestruck, joyous and eager. For the beginning was always spectacular, and they wished to revel in God's power. But there was one angel, new to the ranks, who looked down in curiosity. Fully aware of God's grace upon His creatures, the angel approached God, kneeling, and asked his question: "Why is it so good, Lord?"

God did not look away from His creation. "Can you not see?" He asked.

The angel looked again, studying the image. He saw many things, great and small, but he still could not discern what made this so special. "I see them working," the angel noted. "They seem happy."

God nodded, with a satisfied nod. "They are working."

The angel watched the man harvesting fruit and watched the woman talking to a small animal. "Why do they work?"

"They choose to work," God said. "Can you not see why that is good?"

Again the angel watched, his curiosity deepening. "Lord, I do not," he admitted.

At that, God sighed, turning His attention fully to the angel. "They choose to work because they desire it. It is my will and they have chosen and therefore it is good."

The answer was more and less than he had expected, and the angel found himself even more perplexed. "If it is your will, then why is there any choice at all?"

"They are free," God said, looking back at them again. "I have made them in my likeness, and they have been given the choice to decide their own destiny."

The thought settled over the angel with a burst of horror. "But what if they choose wrong, Lord?" he asked.

God smiled, a little sad. "I will love them anyway."

"But your plan, Lord. It will ruin your plan."

"My plan accounts for all things," God said. "The steps are different, but the destination is the same."

"But, Lord," the angel protested. "your will must prevail."

God shook his head, looking at the angel with love and sadness. "My goodness is sufficient for them, just as it is for you. Do you trust me?"

"You know I do, Lord," the angel replied promptly.

"Then trust this much," God told him. "Trust that this world and these people, even when they sin and destroy the paradise I have created--they are still good. It is why I created them: to love. Do not forget that, Zachariah. No matter what."

Zachariah went away, back among his brethren, and pondered these words for some time to come.

-o-

Somewhere between the fall of man and the rebirth of hope, Zachariah found God again, sitting sadly over His creation. The angel grew worried at the sadness of the Lord, and approached Him once again.

"What is wrong, Lord?" he asked.

"They have chosen poorly," God said. "It breaks my heart. I only want them to be saved."

"So save them," Zachariah said.

"To save them now would be to condemn many," God explained. "The situation must become dire, the risks of interfering greater than the cost of sitting idle."

"I do not understand," Zachariah admitted.

"Let me show you," God said, and He waved his hand. Before them, time and space unfurled, playing out before them with clarity and speed. It was as beautiful as it was horrifying, and as Zachariah watched, he saw wars begin and end, he saw people be born and die, and he saw the evil that lurked in the hearts of men.

The sight gutted him, and he felt the urge to cry. "They will kill each other," he said. "Why do you let it persist?"

God remained impassive. "They are free," God said. "This is their choice."

"This is why I asked you before: why not take it from them? It will spare them much heartache."

"And cost them much joy," God replied. "I will not take their will from them."

"So you will let them destroy each other?"

"I will let them find their hope," God said. "It is always here for their taking. They must simply ask. That is another lesson, Zachariah. Do not forget it."

So Zachariah believed.

-o-

God summoned Zachariah again, and the angel bowed in His presence. "What is it you wish, Lord?" he asked.

"I have something to show you," God said.

"I am honored to receive such attention," Zachariah said.

"You are a faithful servant," God said. "You work hard to be dutiful."

"Serving you is my only goal," Zachariah said.

With a smile, God nodded. "This is why I have chosen you for this," he said. "Now, watch."

God spun His finger, one graceful movement, and the timeline spun forward again, twisting through the eons until it settled on an age of concrete and gray. With a flick of His wrist, God focused the image, pulling them closer to the image of two men. "What do you see, my son?"

They were young, and Zachariah could see they were downtrodden. Deep circles under their eyes, weary expression on their faces. "They are tired, Lord."

"Very," God agreed. "I want you to take note, Zachariah. Take special note of these two."

"And why is that, Lord?" Zachariah asked, watching as the two drove together, one at the wheel, the other by his side.

"Because they are chosen," God said. "Much like Jacob and Esau. One will be chosen and the other will be rejected."

"But are they not free, Lord?" Zachariah asked.

"Until their very last breath," God confirmed. "Blessing falls on whom it falls. The blessed can use it as they will, for good or bad. The curse that befalls the unfortunate is not their condemnation, it is simply their burden."

Zachariah watched, eyes narrowing. "Which one is which?" he asked.

God smiled at him, looking at Zachariah with sparkling eyes. "And is that not the question, good servant?" He asked. "It is not the blessing or the curse that matters: it is what they make of it that counts. Watch them still, Zachariah. They will need your guidance in the age to come."

"I will not disappoint you," Zachariah pledged.

"I believe you," God said. "Now, go. Resume your duties and I will call you if I have further instructions."

-o-

"I have a question, Lord," Zachariah asked one day.

"You have been faithful," God replied. "Please, ask your question."

Zachariah hesitated, looking down for a moment. "I have heard the others talking of one who has fallen," he said. He looked up tentatively. "Are these whispers true?"

God nodded gravely. "They speak of their fallen brother, Lucifer."

"Who is Lucifer?"

"Lucifer was my creation, just as you," God said. His face turned nostalgic and the stars below them formed Lucifer's shining face. "He was beautiful, you see. One of the most beautiful of all my works."

Zachariah looked at the image, the strong features, the knowing curve of his lips. The wings that spread out from behind his body were strong and wide. "Then why did he fall if he had Your favor?"

The image moved, running and jumping and laughing. God sighed. "He had a role to play in my kingdom," God said. "And he took it very seriously."

"But is that not good?"

God nodded. "It is, indeed. I commissioned him to do my will, and he complied every time. But then, the more he succeeded, the more he wanted to succeed. He began to create his own plan and did not submit himself to follow mine."

"But why is that, Lord? Your ways are perfect."

God smiled fondly, waving His hand and dispersing the stars. "And in his desire to serve me more purely, he forgot to subject himself to me. He forgot that I did not need him to control things; I merely needed him to enact my will."

"So what happened?"

"He forgot my ways and when I came to him again many years later, it was too late. His deeds condemned him and I could not keep him with me. He strove to find his own glory, not to rejoice in mine."

"He was foolish then," Zachariah said. "There is nothing better than serving in the glory of my almighty King and Master."

"Remember that, dear Zachariah. For the years will be long and hard, and sometimes it is easy to forget."

"I will not forget," Zachariah pledged. "I am yours, until the end of time. I will do your will in all things."

"Very good," God said. "Would you like to stay with me now?"

"Yes, Lord," Zachariah said. "I would like that very much."

So God cleared the sky and opened the Heavens to Earth, where they watched man toiling and falling, loving and getting up again.

-o-

"I have one last lesson for you, my faithful servant," God said. "Then I must continue my work elsewhere."

"You will leave them here?" Zachariah asked. "I thought they were your children."

"They are," God said promptly. "And I do not leave them alone. I will entrust them to your care. The archangels will be available when the situation is dire, and when the time is right, I will return. So fear not the future, but heed this one last lesson."

"Yes, my Lord," Zachariah said obediently. "What is it you have to teach me?"

"Watch," he said, extending his hand.

The scene coalesced, settling into another time many years in the future. Then Zachariah recognized the two men on screen. "The two from before," he said.

"Very good," God said. "Now, watch."

He saw them grow up together. Two sons of the same parents. "They are brothers."

"Indeed," God said.

"They are very close," Zachariah observed. "And very lonely."

"I did not create them to live alone," God said. "It is a dangerous childhood. Keep watching."

Zachariah watched them grow up and fight. He watched them hurt each other and come together. "They are unbreakable," he said. "They prevail over many things."

"As long as they have each other," God confirmed.

And then he watched them die. One and then the other. The entire scene changed.

Zachariah could find no words, nothing to ask, nothing to say. The scene was too painful to turn away from and he watched with morbid fascination until the very end. When then world ending, Lucifer rose, and the final war ravaged time.

"Destruction," Zachariah breathed. "The younger causes ultimate destruction."

God seemed satisfied with this realization. "He does."

"We must stop him," the angel continued with sudden urgency. "Squelch his existence, close his mother's womb before he is conceived."

"I will not," God said. "For I love this one very much."

"But he is evil," Zachariah said. "An abomination."

"You have missed my point, then," God said. "You are still very young."

"But, Lord," Zachariah persisted. "I do not wish to see such despair."

"It is only through these things that real redemption can be found. I celebrate every life, those which are pure and those which are tainted. The healthy do not need a cure; the sick do. Those who are blessed and do good will receive their reward. Those who are cursed and turn to me will receive it tenfold."

"But this is about more than this one, is it not?" Zachariah asked. "This is about the fate of the entire creation you have worked so hard to make."

"Oh, Zachariah," God said. "You forget one very important thing."

Zachariah looked at his Lord beseechingly, and saw the disappointment in His face. He felt ashamed, his head dropping as he tried to figure out his oversight. "What is that, Lord?"

God smiled. "That this story is not yet written," He said. "We know the ending, but it is up to them how it plays out. It is our job to be there, every step of the way, and make sure they see the options fully before them before they make their choices. And that's your job, Zachariah. It's why I've brought you here. I want you to watch Earth, and be there as it unfolds. You will have a part to play as my will unfolds, I know, and I entrust you to it. My will be done, on Earth as it is in Heaven."

With that, God left Zachariah. The angel considered his Master's words as he looked back to the Earth below him. The fire and fury of Lucifer had faded, but Zachariah could still see its imprint over every inch of the Earth, tarnishing everything from the vast blue seas to the smallest newborn infant.

And that's your job, Zachariah.

"Your will be done, Lord," he murmured, and he assumed his post over the Earth.

-o-

Zachariah's ranks were young and inexperienced. As the Earth aged, they improved quickly, sometimes averting disasters, sometimes unable to persuade the hearts and minds of stubborn men to soften. It was a hard battle, and a wearying one, and Zachariah felt the weight of his burden in earnest.

"They are impossible," Uriel seethed. "Lowly and inferior. Why are we still here?"

Zachariah sighed, rubbing a hand over his head. "We have our orders," he said.

"Our orders?" Uriel asked. "Our orders are to stay and die for them? They are scum to us, unworthy of His glory."

"Do you question the Lord your God?"Zachariah accused.

Doubt flickered across Uriel's face before he drew himself together. "No," he said.

"Good," Zachariah said. "Then you are to return to your duties. I will inform you if I require anything from you."

Uriel nodded his consent as he went back to his business. Zachariah watched him go, holding his last orders from God close to him, repeating it like a mantra as a cold night blanketed the Earth.

It is our job to be there, every step of the way, and make sure they see the options fully before them before they make their choices. And that's your job, Zachariah. It's why I've brought you here. I want you to watch Earth, and be there as it unfolds. You will have a part to play as my will unfolds, I know, and I entrust you to it. My will be done, on Earth as it is in Heaven.

"Your will be done, Lord," Zachariah whispered into the stillness. "Your will be done."

-o-

Decades passed. Centuries. His troops were tired, and Zachariah could not balance everything. There was a famine in Africa and a war sparking in the Middle East. Some angels had disappeared entirely, others were looking unhappy. The toll of this burden was great, and Zachariah realized he could only fight so many battles.

He recalled some troops, left some on the ground. He set up observation points, to monitor from afar. When things got bad enough, he sent in reinforcements.

Day to day heartache was acceptable now. Small human skirmishes were a part of life. Normal disasters were necessary losses. The morale among his brethren improved even as the world slowly fell apart. The angels were now more accustomed to a measure of defeat.

Zachariah remembered the images God had shown him, and comforted himself with the knowledge that this was exactly how God had said it would be. But it was weak comfort, and Zachariah spent many years feeling cold and empty from this loss.

-o-

When darkness fell around the Earth each night, often Zachariah stayed awake, peering into the vast expanse. Sometimes, they looked so peaceful. Children tucked in their beds, husbands holding their wives before the breaking of another day.

But other times, the view was not so kind, and beyond the Earth, Zachariah could see God's plan, the intricate tapestry of time He'd showed to Zachariah. He could see the final fall of man, the boy in Hell breaking the first seal, and the other on Earth breaking the last. And the white light and Lucifer's rise and the years of war and terror that would ravage this once-beautiful land.

It was a hard image to forget, etched into the depths of his memory. Not even the face of a sleeping child could erase it from his mind, no matter how hard he tried.

God created them to love, and Zachariah loved them because they were his Master's creation. God wanted good for them, just as He wished well for Zachariah and his warriors.

It was the sick who needed a doctor, and these people were ill. From the little children to the elderly, they were weary and dying in a fallen world.

And Zachariah was to watch, to guide, to help. Lay out their choices and hope they picked right.

But they were too young, too limited to choose well. Perhaps they were too ill from the disease of the world to have a chance at all.

Zachariah was not their doctor, but he could tend their needs. His abilities were significant--they might just be enough to do something.

So Zachariah closed his eyes to the sleeping world, remembered the ending one more time, and vowed to do anything he could to help this world of fallen souls.

-o-

The demon came to him above the earth, sharing his view of the Lord's creation.

Zachariah looked at him. Too many years at this post made him incapable of surprise, but he still did not expect to see the demon. "The years have not been kind to you," he said. "Do you not miss the way you used to be, dear Azazel?"

The yellow demon shrugged. "Life is full of trade-offs," he answered.

"But your form--your pure form--it is tainted."

The demon looked at him, frowning. "Sometimes it is easy to forget," he said. "The white light was pure, you are right about that, but what I am now is not as bad as you seem to think."

"You are lesser," Zachariah said, contempt and pity in his voice.

"And I am happier," Azazel told him.

Zachariah looked back at the creation. "What can make you happy in that?"

"And what can make you happy here?" Azazel asked. "Such power and ability, and you are babysitting while they kill each other. That's not what God intended. Not for any of us. He instilled them with free will, and rejoices in their use of it. Why should the same not be true for us?"

Zachariah refused to comment, his brow furrowed deeply and set against his fallen comrade.

Azazel approached him, edging closer. "You know it is true," he said. "I can see it in your face. You have doubted your assignment for centuries."

"I do not doubt God," Zachariah insisted tersely.

"Of course not," Azazel said readily. "But isn't it possible, just a little bit, that maybe you've got his orders down wrong?"

Zachariah hesitated. "What do you mean?"

Azazel sidled in next to him. "Tell me again, because I know you know, what is God's will for this planet?"

"He wishes to save them," Zachariah said.

"Save them, yes," Azazel agreed. "But if there is no threat, why would they need to be saved?"

Zachariah pondered this. "They are like His children."

"And they are alone in a cruel world," Azazel pushed. "Surely God wants to bring them home, bring them home to Him?"

Zachariah shook his head. "I do not understand."

"Think about it, brother," Azazel said. "Demons are a necessary counterpoint to goodness. He needs us in order to make that pesky free will of theirs worthwhile. More than that, He needs us to move his plan ahead. The Earth's been hanging out in limbo for the last two millennia. When He talked about soon, I don't think this is what He meant."

Zachariah looked longingly back at creation, and remembered his long years of watching them suffer uselessly.

"You can end it," Azazel said. "You can bring about God's will."

And that's your job, Zachariah. It's why I've brought you here. I want you to watch Earth, and be there as it unfolds. You will have a part to play as my will unfolds, I know, and I entrust you to it. My will be done, on Earth as it is in Heaven

Zachariah took a deep breath, and turned to his yellow companion. "And tell me," he said. "Tell me, brother. What must I do?"

And the yellow-eyed demon smiled and asked for but one request before helping his long lost brother.

-o-

The one called Castiel came to him years later, looking very much distressed. "They are making deals," he reported. "I thought they had no power over such things?"

Zachariah looked down, his back straight. "What sorts of deals?"

"For life and death," he reported. "For souls and loyalty. Even for children."

Concerned, Zachariah peered closer. "For children?"

"Yes, sir," Castiel reported. "The one with yellow eyes. He is bleeding into the mouths of infants."

"And the mothers gave consent?" Zachariah asked.

"They made deals, though I do not believe they understood the nature of their promises."

Zachariah frowned.

"Do you know how this is possible, sir?" Castiel asked. "How demons have been granted this much power?"

Zachariah remembered God's orders and Azazel's yellow smile.

It's why I've brought you here. I want you to watch Earth, and be there as it unfolds. You will have a part to play as my will unfolds, I know, and I entrust you to it. My will be done, on Earth as it is in Heaven.

You can end it. You can bring about God's will.

Zachariah turned to the young angel in his charge and shook his head. "God works in mysterious ways," he said. "Now, go about your business and do not ask again."

-o-

Chaos increased. Man advanced and in their opulence, found new vices. Zachariah watched and found it hard not to hate them.

So much potential, all squandered. Heaven was here for them, if they only asked, but they were too self-absorbed to look.

There were times, of course, when Zachariah wanted to turn back, to go to Azazel and take back his pledge, to renege on his support.

But day after day, night after night, and Zachariah was tired of watching God's children self-destruct. If they would not ask for salvation, Zachariah would take it to them, whether they wanted it or not.

I want you to watch Earth, and be there as it unfolds. You will have a part to play as my will unfolds, I know, and I entrust you to it. My will be done, on Earth as it is in Heaven.

This was his part. The Lord's will be done.

-o-

He met Azazel on the plains of the Earth, trapped in the body of a man that was not worthy. Zachariah's presence blinded the man, seared his skin, and Azazel glared at him from the deformed features. "Did you have to do that?" he asked. "I just picked this one up."

"I need to speak to you."

"Anytime, brother."

"You have deceived me."

Azazel feigned innocence. "I asked for but one request."

"To take souls that offer themselves to you freely," Zachariah clarified. "You are taking those on the deals of others."

Azazel shrugged. "A minor technicality," he said.

"What other technicalities are you omitting?" Zachariah demanded.

"I'm not sure I follow you."

"You seek Lucifer," Zachariah said. "To let him out. What does he have to offer that you are so interested in releasing?"

"Lucifer?" Azazel asked. "He's the same guy that he's always been. Just a little, you know--" He raised a finger to his head and twirled it. "--crazy. But, what is it the kids say these days? Crazy like a fox."

Zachariah was not amused. "I'm not interested in what they say."

Azazel had to work to look surprised in his damaged body, but he pulled it off. "I thought that was the point," he said. "That this is all for these lowly peons that God loves so much."

"You understand my meaning."

"Do I?" Azazel asked. "It seems to me that this became less and less about the humans a long time ago."

"I asked you a question," Zachariah charged. "And unless you wish me to rip you out of that body and burn you to this ground, I suggest you answer it."

"Well, well, Zach," Azazel said, holding his hands out submissively. "Looks like someone's been growing a backbone since we last talked. I always found that hard considering the whole metaphysical presence thing we've got going on."

"Lucifer," Zachariah said. "Tell me what you know of Lucifer's plans."

"Okay, okay," Azazel relented. "I liked you better when you had your compassion and your sense of humor. This new you takes all the fun out of destroying the world."

"I will not ask you again."

"Lucifer plans to rule the world," Azazel said with an exasperated sigh. "The whole 'power and pride' shtick. He seems to think he can do it better or something, for whatever that's worth."

Zachariah made a face. "He is destined to lose," he said. "So why do you follow him in a suicide mission?"

"He's got a killer benefits package," Azazel quip. With no response, Azazel just rolled what was left of his host's eyes. "You just have to ask yourself what's worth it. Lucifer may be crazy, but his justice is clear. There's no mystery about what he wants even if it is all kinds of crazy. So you just have to ask yourself, do you want to understand the sword before you throw yourself on it or do you want the way it cuts through your gut to be a surprise?"

Zachariah appraised him. "You are foolish," he said finally. "You will lose."

"Well, maybe so," Azazel agreed. "But, brother, at least I'll see it coming."

-o-

Zachariah continued on from Azazel and took in the state of the Earth. He had not walked these grounds for many years. God had left him here to guide, to offer assistance, and that was still Zachariah's mission.

More or less.

He took the body of a homeless man whose mind was too far gone for reason or consent. It was a noble purpose for such a broken soul, and Zachariah trusted that God's reward for him would be great for this important part.

He took his vessel to John Winchester, who was finishing a hunt in Missouri. The clean-up was messy and the man was tired and alone. It had been many years since his wife's death and the man was close to breaking entirely from his loss. God intended humans to find their hope, and John Winchester had none.

Zachariah could fix that. "I see you cleaned up the mess here," Zachariah said, tucking a gun into his jacket pocket.

John looked up at him, suspicious. "What of it?"

"This rugaru mess," Zachariah continued. "Fine work here."

"Who said anything about a--what did you call it?"

Zachariah smiled. "I know what you are, hunter," he said. "And I've come to help you."

"Well, like you said, I'm cleaning up my mess. Your help is a little late."

"You don't need help with a rugaru," Zachariah conceded. "But you still need help."

John shook his head. "I think I've got it under control."

"How is the hunt for the thing that killed your wife, John?"

John stilled, looking at him with dead eyes. "What did you say?"

"You heard me," Zachariah continued. "And yeah, I know all about it."

John's jaw locked and he looked away. "You don't know anything."

"She died in your son's room, didn't she?" Zachariah asked.

The human stiffened, his fingers tensing. "What would you know about that?"

Zachariah feigned innocence. "I hear things," he said.

"Well, you keep your hearing to yourself," John threatened.

Zachariah held up his hands. "I don't mean you any harm," he promised. "I just thought I could help you."

"How could help me?" John asked, his voice saturated with skepticism.

"I know what killed your wife," he said. "More than that, I know why."

That was the ticket, the knowledge that piqued John Winchester's interest. Zachariah would need no deals to work with this one. Just like God said, he would lay out the options and make sure that this human picked the right one.

He smiled. "A demon," he said. "Named--"

"Azazel," John finished. "I know that. But I don't know why."

Zachariah nodded, impressed. This human knew more than he anticipated. Perhaps the seeds of doubt were already there. "Doesn't it strike you, John, that it wasn't coincidence that your wife died over your boy's crib?"

John's eyes narrowed. "And what of it?"

"That maybe it wasn't Mary who was the target."

A spark of fear flashed in John's eyes and his posture stiffened again. "What are you trying to say?"

"A hunter like you," Zachariah persisted. "I'm sure it's crossed your mind."

"Leave my boys out of this," John said, his voice low.

"Denial won't help you avenge your wife," he said. "And it won't help you save your sons."

"You don't know what you're talking about," John said.

Zachariah shrugged. "Maybe you need to see," he said.

John was opening his mouth to ask the question when Zachariah snapped his fingers. He took them to the beginning of this part of the tragedy, showed John the yellow-eyed demon bleeding into the mouth of his little boy. He showed him enough to break his heart, and then he took John back, left him asleep in his car and hoped that when the human woke up, his heart would heal harder than it was before.

Zachariah knew these creatures were made to love, and it would take work to taint the love of a father for a son, but it was another piece to the puzzle.

Back in Heaven, Zachariah watched John Winchester wake, watched him go to his sons, watched him looked at the oldest with love and the youngest with doubt.

And Zachariah saw that it was good.

-o-

Max Miller died. His soul was denied access to Heaven, and the angels wept. "The blood was not his fault," Castiel insisted. "The situation he was in, what choice did he have?"

"There is always a choice," Zachariah said.

"But what choices did he have? Tainted as an infant, abused all his life. There is no choice in that."

"Killing his family was definitely a choice," Zachariah said. "He does not deserve Heaven."

"Nor does he deserve Hell," Castiel insisted.

Zachariah sighed, and tried to remember his own innocence. He tried to remember the horror of watching mankind fall, the grief over the first death. It had been many years since then--too many. He could not stop this destruction. He could only hasten its end.

Max Miller. Ava Wilson. Andy Gallagher. Sam Winchester. These were acceptable losses.

"Weep not," Zachariah ordered. "We have much work to do."

"But how are we to win when the demons have the unfair advantage? They are taking souls before they have a chance."

"God works in mysterious ways, Castiel," Zachariah said. "Do not doubt your God or your orders."

Castiel's countenance trembled, but he nodded. "Yes, sir."

Zachariah smiled as he dismissed him, but the tendrils of doubt were not so easy to shake.

-o-

He found Azazel biding his time just outside the gates of Hell. "Quite the show you're putting on up there," Zachariah said.

Azazel grinned. "I told you you wouldn't want to miss it."

"But did you have to take so many?" Zachariah asked. "I told you you could take the one, and I turned a blind eye to your deals."

Azazel shrugged. "I don't like putting all my eggs in one basket."

"But Sam Winchester is the one you wanted."

"I stopped trusting prophecy a long time ago," Azazel explained. "What God sets in motion is not the end all, be all. There's that pesky thing called free will."

"But that's why we're still here, isn't it? To make sure their free will doesn't get in the way?"

Azazel grinned. "You always did have more faith than I," he said. "Besides, this is so much more fun."

"You push the limits of my patience," Zachariah said. "I granted you the power to take the one, and you are abusing it greatly."

"A little extra chaos never hurt anyone," Azazel said. Then he thought about then, and grinned. "Well, so maybe it does. But if your stomach is weak at this, brother, you're going to have no fortitude for the things to come. Gird those angelic loins, Zachariah. God will sort out the details--when He finally comes back."

And that was the promise that Zachariah was counting on, the one truth he had been holding on to even as he let the creation before him fall apart. A greater good--for Earth, for Hell, for Heaven. After all, Zachariah could remember his orders.

You will have a part to play as my will unfolds, I know, and I entrust you to it. My will be done, on Earth as it is in Heaven.

It was his only solace as he left Azazel behind him. Azazel's loyalties were his downfall. Zachariah's would be his redemption.

-o-

Zachariah watched the ones called the Winchesters. He watched them hunt, he watched them fight, he watched them break. One by one by one by one.

Seated within the heavens, Zachariah crossed his arms and nestled back, and thought to himself that this was good, indeed.

-o-

Castiel found him again, and his face was stricken.

"Not good news, I presume?" Zachariah asked.

"Lilith has taken Dean Winchester," Castiel breathed. "They say he could be the one."

"The righteous man?" Zachariah mused. "Of all the souls in the pit, what makes them so sure it's this one?"

"The nature of his deal. A life for a life."

"It's been done before," Zachariah said.

"The nature of his terms," Castiel persisted. "One year. He only got one year."

"All deals with the Devil are selfish," Zachariah reprimanded. "Surely you know that."

"God has favor on those he has favor on," Castiel said. "Dean Winchester has been blessed."

Zachariah sighed, looking down again. He had stopped watching, peaking in only time to time to monitor the Winchesters. "That is what they say, isn't it?" he asked.

"He is one that has been ordained."

"God has a habit of that, doesn't he?" Zachariah smirked. "Dean Winchester is barely a step up from Jacob. At least he had the decency acknowledge God. Why we continually choose the impudent and unworthy is totally beyond me."

Castiel looked perplexed. "Sir, what shall we do?"

Zachariah sighed again, turning away from the sight of Dean's soul in Hell. "Take your battalion. Throw everything you have against the gates of Hell. Once you break in, the real battle will begin. You will lose many, but you must prevail. Find Dean Winchester and pull him out."

"Me, sir?" Castiel asked.

With raised eyebrows, Zachariah appraised him. "You doubt your role?"

"I merely wonder if it would go faster with an archangel's presence," Castiel said. "Time is of the essence. They torture his soul as we speak."

"Do no question your orders," Zachariah commanded.

Castiel bowed his head. "I apologize. This situation...it worries me."

"Worries you?" Zachariah asked. "And how is that?"

"The fate of the world," Castiel said. "Rests in the hands of a soul in Hell. What this soul sets in motion, I fear nothing can stop."

"Ye of little faith, Castiel," Zachariah reprimanded. "Go and perform your duty."

The younger angel hesitated a moment more, looking fully at his superior. "Do you think we can avert this crisis?" Castiel asked. "Will we be successful?"

Zachariah merely smiled. "As God wills it," he replied.

And Castiel went on his way.

-o-

Zachariah had seen magnificent concerts on Earth, beautiful symphonies, intricate dances, people working together, weaving together a production that was so much more than the sum of its parts. These things were awesome, even by Heaven's standards.

But they were nothing compared to the great play Zachariah created. Azazel reaped chaos for its sheer sake, turning the tainted children against each other in a violent display of the worst in human nature. Sam Winchester stayed defiant to the end, giving mercy where he should have taken vengeance. Dean Winchester remained steadfast throughout it all, pursuing his brother's safety above all else.

Sam Winchester fell. Dean Winchester followed him. And Lilith stayed true to her part, and bought Dean Winchester's soul and condemned both brothers to fates worse than they could have ever imagined.

The Heavens cried. Hell rejoiced. And Zachariah relished in his masterpiece.

-o-

While his soldiers are attacked the gates of Hell to find Dean Winchester, Zachariah walked up to the back gate and called for Lilith. She came to meet him swathed in white.

"An angel of the Lord," she said. "How quaint."

"You have something I want," Zachariah said.

"Dean Winchester is mine," she said, with a toss of her head. "You can kill me and I still will not let him go."

Zachariah shook his head. "Dean Winchester you can keep," he said. "He's fitting in right according to plan."

Her eyes narrowed. "I thought you were supposed to stop this from happening."

"Sweetheart, surely your boss has told you how this story ends," he said.

She looked at him warily. "He only told me the beginning: break a righteous man in Hell. Dean Winchester is good enough for that."

"Just barely," Zachariah conceded. "All that stupid human love and sacrifice. But the beginning, my dear, is only part of the story."

"And what is the rest?" she asked.

Zachariah smiled. "That would spoil it," he said. "But I can tell you this: not all orders are designed for your personal benefit."

"I do not understand," she said. "You must explain."

He shrugged. "Ask around," he said. "I'm sure someone knows."

She pursed her lips and glared at him. "You said you wanted something."

"Yes, just a small thing," he said.

"And why should I help you?" Lilith asked.

"You know how the righteous man in Hell is only half the battle?" Zachariah asked.

"There are other seals, I am aware," she said.

"Check the fine print, darling," he said. "Break one righteous man in Hell, taint another righteous soul on Earth. It takes two, I'm afraid, and right now, you've only got one."

"And why should I believe you?"

"I'm the one with the wings," he said with a coy smile. "Trust me when I say that this will be mutually beneficial."

She looked uncertain. "What will I gain?"

"The adoration of your coming King," he said.

"And what if I want something more?"

"How about a chance at God's redemption?" he asked. "This is His work, after all."

"You can save me from this existence?" she asked. "Can you raise me from Hell so that I may never have to return?"

"With pleasure, when the time is right, sweetheart," he said. "But that favor, dear."

She licked her lips, anxious. The Earth was her playground, with souls to torture and bodies to break. The souls of the condemned were never as much fun, and she wanted out. "Name your price."

And Zachariah did.

-o-

Zachariah pulled the demon to Earth and she came to that plane with a start.

"You saved me," she gasped. "Why?"

Zachariah dusted off his hands. "It's pretty simple," he said. "It seems you might be rather useful."

The demon just looked at him. "Useful? To an angel?"

"God works even through the lowliest of creatures. Even a demon like you, Ruby."

"That's an interesting interpretation of that verse."

"If you'd rather go back to Hell, I'm sure that can be arranged."

She shook her head quickly. "No, no," she said. "I'm listening."

Zachariah nodded in satisfaction. "Good," he said. "I'm told you know a human called Sam Winchester."

She snorted at that. "Yeah, for all the good it did me," she said.

"What were you trying to do with him?"

"What do you think I was trying to do with him?" she asked. "He's the one, isn't he? Earth's righteous man? Primed to be broken and turned against his race?"

"You've done your homework," Zachariah said. "Impressive."

"It would have been more impressive if Lilith hadn't stopped me," she said, sulking a little. "Do you think she knows his role?"

Zachariah waved a hand. "Lilith is like a confused child, hot and cold. She wants simple things and fails to think through the consequences. To her, Sam Winchester is competition. Killing him would be a feat."

"And would destroy our chances," Ruby said. Then she eyed him. "So why would you pull me out when I want your public enemy number one walking free?"

"Something about mysterious ways and all," Zachariah said with a shrug. "It doesn't matter. All you need to know is that you will do as I tell you."

"And that is?"

"Find Sam Winchester," he said. "Find him, break him, and you will have your reward."

She looked surprised. "You are handing him over to me? What about the apocalypse? What about his soul?"

"You leave the apocalypse to me," Zachariah said. Then he shrugged. "And his soul is of no concern of mine. He will make his choices, one wrong after the other and damn himself quite well."

"Stacking the deck with a demon in his corner isn't exactly fair," she said with incredulity.

"Oh, please," Zachariah said. "What is his soul to you?"

"You think I wish this existence on anyone?"

"Aw, how sweet," he said. "You do remember what it is like to be human."

"You really don't care?"

"Sam Winchester's soul is not your concern," he replied harshly.

"I thought it was yours."

"Go figure," he said with a smile. "You were wrong. Don't be wrong again or you will not get any second chances."

With that, he snapped his fingers and ascended back to Heaven.

-o-

By the time Dean Winchester was saved, they were ten years too late. The first seal was broken. And for Zachariah, everything was going according to plan.

Castiel restored Dean Winchester to his body, but Zachariah refused to let him forget. "He needs his pain," he explained. "It will be his strength."

"But it breaks him," Castiel said. "He does not deserve such pain."

"You failed to prevent him from breaking the first seal, Castiel," Zachariah noted. "Do not forget that lapse."

Castiel swallowed, his silence acknowledging his chastisement.

"Now we need Dean Winchester to turn his failure into victory."

"But how?" Castiel asked. "He feels worthless."

"Then we give him worth," Zachariah said. "He is chosen by the Lord. He is greatly blessed. It is your duty to keep him alive and safe and prepare him for his role."

"And what is his role?"

"To kill Lucifer, of course."

Castiel gaped. "But--that is Christ's role alone."

"Lucifer is a fallen angel. He can be felled just like any one of us. Dean Winchester has been to Hell. He has known Lucifer's ways. He is capable of this. I have no doubt."

"I do not know if he will accept."

"Tell him enough to keep him in line," Zachariah ordered. "Given what he's done, he should be chomping at the bit for redemption."

"And if he does not believe he is worthy?"

"Well, isn't that the beauty of grace," Zachariah said with an indifferent smile. "Seriously, his feelings are not my concern. His cooperation is. Earn his trust, push his buttons. See what you need to do to get him on board. Be his friend, for all I care. We need Dean Winchester."

"And what of Sam Winchester?"

Zachariah snorted. "Keep him as far away from Dean as possible," he said. "I don't need some demon boy messing around with my one-way ticket to stopping Lucifer."

"But--"

"But nothing," Zachariah said. "You have your orders."

And he snapped his fingers, and Castiel was gone.

Zachariah turned to the scene below him, watched Dean Winchester hug his brother for the first time since coming back. "Enjoy it while it lasts, boys," he said. "Because between a torturer and a demon blood addict, you'd better believe there's Hell to pay."

-o-

Zachariah heard Sam Winchester's prayer.

He heard the prayers of thanks for his brother's life. He heard the prayers for forgiveness for his sins. He heard the prayers for absolution, to make right what he had done so terribly wrong.

They were sincere and broken and earnest.

They made Zachariah sick.

Sam Winchester couldn't find forgiveness. Not now. Not ever. Sam Winchester was the key, the righteous man on Earth. Zachariah had seen the end. He knew how it was supposed to go. And a repentant, whole Sam Winchester just wouldn't do it.

You will have a part to play as my will unfolds, I know, and I entrust you to it. My will be done, on Earth as it is in Heaven.

God's will was for restoration, Zachariah remembered. Restoration would never come until destruction had.

Sam Winchester was to be evil; God had willed it.

It was up to Zachariah to make sure it happened.

With a smile, he called Uriel to his presence. "Good servant," he said. "I have a job I think you're going to like."

The angel cocked his head, skeptical and hopeful as Zachariah delineated his plan.

-o-

It wasn't working. All of Castiel's earnest do-good talks, all of Ruby's dark manipulations, yet the Winchester brothers just weren't quite breaking. Dean wasn't rising to the occasion and Sam wasn't slinking off to create doom and gloom and that was all after getting one brother laid out in the hospital sobbing and the other juicing up on demon blood. Zachariah had sicced a succubus on them, for all the good it was worth, and they were close--so close--but they hadn't quite left each other yet.

It was time for an intervention.

It had been years since he'd been to Earth, and he would have liked to keep his hands clean for a while longer until the real fun began. But Castiel was proving himself too wishy-washy and Ruby was proving to be not as persuasive as he hoped.

He found the brothers sleeping in a motel room just outside Memphis. They looked younger than he thought they should, and yet so much older, too. Worn around the edges, frayed and weary, as though they'd lived the years of their lives far too hard.

Which, of course they had; Zachariah had made sure of that. Yet, in all of that, these two Winchester yahoos weren't seeing how useful they were. Dean was going to save the world if Zachariah had to put the sword in his hand and push him toward the devil himself. And Sam was going to destroy it, even if he had to open his mouth and feed him the demon blood himself.

Not that they were quite to that point, yet. He made have allowed Uriel's insubordination, but Zachariah was still counting on his heroic homecoming for their great God and Father. So, for now, a little trip to set things straight.

He'd give Dean everything, make a life that was wonderful and perfect, to show him that wasn't what he wanted. Then the boy would come walking back to them, just like the eager little sheep he was supposed to be.

He'd give Sam nothing that he wanted, make life miserable and boring, to show him that there wasn't anything here for him. Then the boy would go out and create his own destiny, just like the blinded goat he was supposed to be.

It was perfect, and it was good, and Zachariah put a finger to Dean's head and then one to Sam's and sat back to watch the fun begin.

-o-

Two angels dragged Castiel before him. The angel was trembling, bruised and weary. When he looked up into Zachariah's eyes, there are tears.

"Please," Castiel said. "We need to help them. Before it's too late."

Zachariah looked pensive, drumming his fingers on his desk. "By them, I assume you mean the Winchester brothers?"

"Yes," Castiel said earnestly. "I fear there are more traitors among us, and I fear that Dean and Sam cannot endure much more. They are both ready to break."

Zachariah nodded, once and twice. "And what do you think we should do?"

"Tell them everything," Castiel supplied readily, his eyes lighting with hope. "Tell them that Dean will not have to kill Lucifer as long as Sam does not kill Lilith. If they knew, then they could join forces again. Sam would stop using the demon blood, he would stop trusting the demon called Ruby, and they would fight evil together."

Zachariah nodded again, considering it carefully. "That is a lovely idea, Cas," he said. "I'm sure the brothers would be much happier for it."

"And the world a better place," Castiel continued eagerly. "Please, let me go back, let me--"

"Yeah, I'm thinking not so much," Zachariah said. "See, it'd be good for them. Not so good for us."

Castiel's face went blank then creased with confusion. "I thought our purpose was to serve and protect them."

"No," Zachariah said. "Our purpose is to serve our God and Father. Your time with them has made you soft, Castiel. It is time to remember your true purpose."

"To protect His children."

Zachariah shook his head. "To do His will."

"He does not will them harm," he said. "He would not want to see them like this."

"Well, as God's not around at the moment, good thing He doesn't have to, huh?"

Castiel just looked at him, his eyes wide and jaw slack. "But--"

"But nothing. I've entertained your doubts and your questions too long. You are a soldier of the Lord, and it is time to remember how this began."

"I do not understand," Castiel said, his head dropping.

"Look, Castiel," Zachariah said. "And it will be crystal clear."

And before them played snippets from history, grainy black and white images, but the effective was still the same. Children dying of hunger. Men killing one another in senseless battle. Women suffering agonizing illness until their deaths.

"These are the people we didn't save," Zachariah said. "These are the ones we could have saved if we'd only done this sooner."

The images went on, endless and terrible, until Castiel screamed with them, until he cried all his tears, and was left spent at Zachariah's feet.

"How do we stop it?" he croaked hours later. "How do we stop this from happening?"

Zachariah kneeled down, putting a gentle hand on Castiel's head. "That's my boy," he cooed.

-o-

Almost there, and still not close enough. Just hours to go, and they were wavering on him. All Zachariah's decisions, every situation he'd contrived, and those brothers were ready to cave in and apologize after nearly destroying each other just hours before.

He had never hated the human capacity for love quite like he did then.

God's will was stronger than the meager efforts of man. Zachariah was confident of that. All he had to do was keep them apart, maintain the status quo. Castiel had let Sam out and secured Dean's allegiance: both key to the endgame.

Still, it made him nervous, having both boys still in a position to reconcile--to stop what he had so painstakingly begun. So he pulled Dean out of the game to keep him safe and he pushed Sam so deep into the fray that even if he tried to turn back now, the kid would drown in it. Most of the rest was up to Ruby at this point, and she was in fine form these days. All Zachariah needed was to make one phone call, seal off Dean Winchester, and wait and watch perdition rise.

-o-

He'd always sort of wondered why God felt so good on that seventh day. But watching as the eleventh hour heralded closer and closer, he didn't have to wonder anymore.

This was God's plan, all right, but it was all Zachariah's doing. God had set it in motion, but Zachariah had made sure all the pieces fell into place. He'd constructed a puzzle of God's infinite chaos, made sense of that harsh mix of free will and destruction and he could see the hope of Heaven on Earth shining in the horizon.

Just beyond the glow of Lucifer's last stand, of course.

Perhaps Lucifer should have scared him, but Zachariah had seen too many wars and had made deals with too many demons to fear one of his own. Because to make a mistake was to fall, and it always cost people their lives. It cost Azazel. It cost Uriel.

And now, with the rebel Anna in his grasp, it would cost her, too.

"Can you see it now?" he asked her. "Can you see why you're wrong?"

She pulled at her bindings and looked at him with fierceness in her eyes. "I can see I was wrong to ever follow your orders."

Zachariah tsked and shook his head. "You gave all this up for chocolate cake and sex."

"I gave it up for love," she said. "God gave us free will, and I used it. I didn't do everything right, but at least I drew my line in the sand and stood by it. You distort the truth of God for your own purposes."

Zachariah raised his eyebrows. "I'm just playing out His will."

"You're manipulating His children."

"And you're fornicating with them," he shot back.

Her jaw clenched. "I was honest in my feelings."

"And so am I."

"You are taking their will from them," she said. "I thought it was our job to lay out the options, to give them the choice."

"And I am," he said.

"Is that why you're not telling Dean how to stop Lucifer from rising? Is that why you're setting Sam Winchester up to destroy the world?"

"It's still their choice," he said. "Free will means they get to choose. It doesn't necessarily mean I have to show them all the options."

"Yes, it does!" Anna cried. "I remember! I remember the beginning. I remember who we were in the beginning!"

Zachariah looked at her, studied her for a long moment, and tried to remember. He remembered the years of waiting, the years of loss, the years of misery.

And he remembered God's orders, to do His will. First and foremost, to do His will.

"You know," Zachariah said. "He told me this story wasn't written yet, no matter what our little friend Chuck might think. He told me that I had a role in this, an important one. He said the sick need a doctor, not the healthy. This world you fell for, this world is sick. It is evil. A little bloodshed on my account is nothing compared to what they do to each other. I have grounds to smite every last one of the, little old ladies and newborn babies included. But I'm not. I'm going to save them."

Anna's mouth was flat and her face was stony. "Is it not written that God delays His return so that all may be saved? That He does not wish to lose even one?"

Zachariah laughed at that. "Well, then he failed at that the moment Eve took a bite of that apple. Sam Winchester's snarfing down way more than apples at this point, so the way I figure, we don't have long to go. So, you might as well sit back and enjoy the show."

She opened her mouth to protest, and Zachariah flicked his wrist. Anna found herself mute and immobile, her eyes screaming at him.

He smiled. "In silence, of course," he said. "I wouldn't want to miss anything."

-o-

The end of the world was not without surprises. Castiel defected and Dean Winchester found his heart again, but lucky for Zachariah, they weren't the key players at the moment. It was Sam Winchester's turn at bat, and Zachariah had sequestered that boy so well that not even his gnawing doubts could stop him now.

Zachariah sat on the edge of his seat, fingers clenched into fists, watching and waiting, hoping and praying.

Then Sam's eyes went black and Lilith was dead and victory was his.

The terrifying glow of Lucifer's light, the shock on Ruby's face when Dean gutted her, the brokenness of Sam Winchester's soul: all necessary betrayals.

But no sacrifice greater than his own, and Zachariah had seen the end, and he waited for his reward in full.

-o-

In the end, the Heavens ran red with blood and the sun burned perilously low in the sky. The Earth had been scorched, the ground torn and formless, with the vast stretches of the oceans tainted with the bodies of the dead.

Zachariah walked over the expanse, and there was no need to take a host, since all other life on Earth was dead. If they had not been devoured by the swell of demons that ravaged the Earth, the blast of Lucifer's great light as he exposed himself fully to the world obliterated the rest.

It was not hard to find him, the great opposition. And yet, Zachariah chose to walk the Earth one last time in order to understand his failure.

As he neared, he crossed the last great battle field, the standoff between good and evil. He saw the last of his soldiers slaughtered, the blaze of wings burned into the ground in overlapping open graves. The hosts of demons were strewn, gutted and bloodied, sightless eyes and vacant souls where the demon and humans had been likewise expelled.

And then, at the mouth of what used to be a cave, Zachariah found Sam Winchester.

The face was remarkably intact, nearly unmarred except for a gash along his hairline. But his body was mangled, neck twisted unnaturally and the bottom half torn away entirely. The boy had taken on too many demons with nothing more than holy water and an exorcism. It had been his last stand, the last stand of the human race against the demonic forces that plagued it. Sam was the last one there to protect his brother, Zachariah's chosen one, to give him the time he needed to kill Lucifer.

He had failed.

Zachariah did not linger and left Sam Winchester where lay. The cave before him had been carved into a mountain once, but it had been leveled by the blast, and was nothing more than rubble. Still, Zachariah crossed the threshold and beheld the fallen form of Dean Winchester.

The chosen one had fought hard and valiantly, wielding his sword with a might unparalleled by human achievement. But the boy had never had a chance, for Zachariah could see now that this had never been his destiny. Dean Winchester was human, and nothing more, merely mortal and finite, and he had been felled by a meager flick of Lucifer's powerful wrist.

That was when the darkness had descended. The sun flickered on and off but the cave did not need the light. Not with the sheer beauty of Lucifer's awesome glow to illuminate the bloody scene.

Zachariah approached his foe, the counterpoint to his existence. The years he had spent in opposition to this one, the deals he had made to see this one defeated. Zachariah had believed in his Lord to save them from this, but at the end of all things, Zachariah was alone, face to face with these unholy being.

As he regarded his foe, the sheer presence of the devil filled him with the utmost disdain and the purest awe. How foolish he had been, to pit mere angels and lowly humans against this greatness. Evil or good, the power could not be denied, and Zachariah was humbled by it. For where Zachariah had created a symphony, Lucifer had composed a full-scale operatic victory, so vast and so complete that it obliterated everything else in its path. "The first to fall," Zachariah breathed. "They speak of you much in Heaven and on Earth."

Then Lucifer unfurled, rising to his full height, and Zachariah recognized his countenance from the starry expanse all those ages ago. "The first to fall and yet the only one still standing," he said, and he sounded congenial and friendly. The expression on his bedazzling face was pleasant and endearing, and Zachariah found himself struck dumb.

The Great Beast did not seem fazed. He rolled his shoulders, looking down at Zachariah. The two beings studied each other for a long moment, before Lucifer said, "They have said you are a great leader, Zachariah. I wanted to believe that you were worthy of this task."

Zachariah felt weak and vulnerable and it took all he had not to fall to his knees before the power of his foe. "I am just an angel," he said.

Lucifer cocked his head. "Just an angel?" he asked. "You are God's chosen. You have been selected for great things, dear child. Do you not see?"

"I see death and destruction," Zachariah said. "I did not seek this end. All I did, I performed to avert this crisis."

"A necessary sacrifice," Lucifer said with a shrug. "Your victory cannot come without a cost."

"But there is nothing," Zachariah said. "You have won."

Lucifer shook his head sadly. "My dear Zachariah," he said. "Has your faith suffered so greatly?"

Zachariah did not understand.

The Devil continued. "This existence is like the water rushing down a stream. It ebbs and flows, and rocks and sticks ripple the surface, but the end destination is always the same. We all have our part to play, whether we are a stick or stone or the strong current that guides it. And we can deny the journey and we can forget the beginning but the ending will always find us, no matter how hard we try."

And Zachariah felt young again, sitting before God in wonder and asking for just one more explanation.

Lucifer leaned closed, gathering the glittering robes that veiled him. "Remember, Zachariah: it is not the fall that kills you."

Zachariah looked at him, drawn into his comely features, and seeing the awesome heights of God's craftsmanship. Still mesmerized, Zachariah was confused.

Stepping away, Lucifer smiled. "It's the sudden stop at the end."

Then the Earth rumbled and the Heavens tore and Zachariah was tossed to the ground before existence blinked out entirely.

-o-

When Zachariah came back into himself, he found himself at the feet of his Lord. "Master," he cried, filled with sudden joy that he had not felt since he was very young. "It is as you have written."

God looked over the destruction of the Earth. He looked over the souls of the fallen, the bodies of His angels. Then he looked back at His trusted servant. "This is what you offer me? All my years away, and this is all you can offer me?"

Zachariah looked up, surprised. "But, Lord," he said. "I have fulfilled your will. The Earth has been saved and all its inhabitants are at rest now. You predestined this. I saw it at the beginning."

"And yet you did not learn its lessons," God said. "The future is a gift, and you could have changed it for the better. Yet you killed and you destroyed. You turned a blind eye and you offered my beloved creatures your indifference instead of your love."

"But angels do not love," Zachariah said.

God smiled sadly. "All things are created to love. You could have saved them much pain and thereby saved yourself."

Zachariah's eyes widened. "What do you mean, Lord?"

God touched the darkened expanse and it sprang to life, offering the view of ages past. "And who are they?" Zachariah asked, watching the people live and die before him. "I do not know them."

"They are those who have suffered because of you," God said. "The ones I entrusted to you and the ones you squandered."

Zachariah watched in morbid fascination as the display morphed on, faces he didn't recognize: young, old, male, female, angels, human. Then he saw Sam Winchester's broken, bloody body where it had fallen on the battle field. Sam Winchester's soul had never even sought entrance at Heaven's gates, for he did not have the hope to believe in his own salvation. He was not damned by action, but by despair.

Dean Winchester's marred visage quickly followed. Dean Winchester's soul had retired to Heaven without a fight. He had not killed Lucifer, because that had never been his destiny. He was the same as his brother in the end, a pawn in a great war, not useful beyond his deeds and lost in a destiny Zachariah had sealed him into.

Zachariah finally looked away.

"What you do unto the least of these," God said. "You have done unto me."

He did not look up. "But I did it for your victory. I sacrificed to bring you glory."

"I do not need you to create my glory for me," God said.

Zachariah turned his face to the Lord. "But you told me in the beginning that I had a role to play in this."

God smiled at him. "And I had hoped that would be enough to change how this story ends. The curse of free will, which is one you understand too well, my son."

"But you came," he said. "You saved them."

"They saved themselves," God said. "And your choices condemn you. Go in peace, my son, and maybe someday you will find your way back to me."

-o-

In the beginning, God made the heavens and the light. The earth was formless and empty, and darkness covered the deep waters. And the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters.

Somewhere beneath the Earthly realms, far from the glory of Heaven, a new darkness rises. The souls of the fallen perish there, where fire burns all day and all night, and there is no refuge from the agony. It is formless there, bleak and desolate, but a white light rises there as well, outcast and wrong.

He desired chaos and control, power and pride. He has been there eons and mere seconds; it's hard to tell. The darkness has stripped away his goodness, it has stripped away his senses, until he remembers to burn so bright that it burns away every other part of him. It's worth it, though, to just have a chance to see.

He has forgotten much of what he was before, but he still extends his wings and burns with a righteous justice that he inflicts upon those around him. They are easy to control, easy to manipulate, so he uses them to do his bidding. He will find a way, he thinks, to dig his way out of this pit, to find his way to the surface once again. And then he will have justice on those who did this to him; he will bring balance to the darkness of the world he lives in.

His justice will be fierce and his methods will be cruel, but he will not force anyone to act beyond their will. Free will is paramount, and he knows these lesser beings are made to love. If he can use their love, and turn it into their hate, then he can rule them all.

Because Zachariah has seen the end, and this time, he thinks, maybe he can get it right.