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A Deafening Distance

I

Samuel Winchester was a religious man. He didn't go to church often, or pray before every meal. He couldn't afford to give to charity, and he sometimes masqueraded as a priest while on the job. He did pray to God, for him and his atheist of a brother. He fought demons with holy water and exorcisms passed down through the centuries. He believed in angels.

Then he actually met them.

Four months after Dean died and he chased down his rage with Ruby (and her blood) they entered his life, and treated him with disgust and revulsion. They only looked to his brother, who never believed. They talked about wiping out an entire town to prevent the raising of Samhain like making plans for Sunday brunch. They forced Dean - still broken, still recovering from his forty years in Hell - to torture information out of Alastair, who taught Dean everything.

Turned out slandering, racist Uriel was killing his fellow angels.

A few choice words, some technological exploitation and backstabbing, and the angels created a chasm between him and Dean, breaking the trust so fully, so completely, that he forgot everything he told Dean about Ruby, let his need for vengeance consume him, and opened the last seal.

And to think that none of this would have happened if the angels stepped in at the very beginning, but no, they took Dean to the past to introduce Azazel to them, let Azazel kill their mother's parents and seal the deal to turn Sam into a potential vessel-into the vessel. They let Azazel take everyone Sam ever loved, let the demon turn Sam into the catalyst for Dean's kiss to Hell because how else could the first seal be broken?

They had the balls to say that God was no longer running the show, and that they were going to bring on the Apocalypse to end it all, fuck the humans.

Now Lucifer wants Sam. The angels want Dean.

The angels did this. They were the ones who ruined Sam's life before it even began. They tore his family apart, and carved out a canyon between him and Dean, one they're still trying to bridge. And every time they try, things keep cropping up, things that push them back and stop them from being what they used to be, whatever that was. And, now that Sam thinks about it, there's their own rebel angel whose importance to Dean is beginning to vie with Sam's for the top spot.

It's as if all the forces in the world are conspiring to pull the brothers apart so they can say yes.

Sam isn't a religious man. He doesn't pray, doesn't sympathize with the confused, despairing pastors and priests and rabbis and imams, doesn't give evangelizers the time of day. The Bible is to track the Apocalypse, God to curse for letting everything go to hell.

But the angels aren't done with him or Dean. He just hates that the only way to get back at them is through an angel.


Chuck tells them Lucifer might be in North Carolina, on Roanoke Island in Dare County. A billion thoughts go through Sam's head on the drive down there; Roanoke is synonymous with the Lost Colony and cryptic words carved into posts, but for Sam and Dean it only means one thing – the Croatoan virus.

He flips through John's journal while Dean makes a right turn off the freeway, skimming for both their father's notes and the additional comments in his handwriting. "…and here Dad wrote that it might be a demon's name, Deva, Resheph, plague and pestilence, something like that…well, we know better now."

"Pestilence," Dean says slowly. "Like the Horseman."

War landed in River Pass, Colorado. Death rose in Carthage, Missouri. Famine wiped out the town of Keyes near the heart of the Oklahoma Panhandle. All that is left…is Pestilence.

"I guess that's it, then," Sam says, closing the journal. "Maybe the Croatoan virus is Pestilence, like Death is the archangel Azrael."

"That doesn't make sense. Lucifer releases the virus in 2012."

The problem, Sam has told him again and again, is that Zachariah has his own agenda. The future Dean saw was just one possibility, not the inevitable. It's not a reliable vision. Besides, Sam pointed out, Dean came back for him.

"How are we going to stop him?" Sam says instead. He glances at Dean. "Did Chuck say anything else?"

Dean shakes his head. "Nope. Just said that Lucifer was at Roanoke and we should go check it out. That's it."

"Doesn't that sound strange to you? Like, there's nothing about what he's doing there, what he might be doing there. There's nothing in the news about some sort of sickness going through the place. There's…there's nothing to suggest that anything's actually going on."

Dean gives him an incredulous look. "Sam, it's Lucifer. Who knows what that bastard is up to."

The prickly, uneasy sensation doesn't go away. Sam presses his lips tight while he shifts uncomfortably in his seat; they've been driving for five hours now and the last rest stop was two hours ago. He's sore and cramped and a bit nervous, which is an understatement; every time he sees Lucifer in his rotting body he wants to punch the former archangel in the face. It'll probably shatter his fist, so he just settles for resolutely saying, "No."

"Detroit is just around the corner, Sam. Keep it in mind."


The warehouse is empty, which pisses Dean off.

"What the hell?" he says, kicking aside scrap metal on the water stained concrete floor.

Sam follows him inside, breathing in the dank salty air. The building has been untouched for years, abandoned and left to rust along the northern coast of the island. It's an inconspicuous location; if the Croatoan virus is to break out here nobody will realize it until it's far too late for them to care.

It's only a matter of whether or not Lucifer will release the virus tonight, because he's definitely not here. The familiar stink of sulfur is also missing, along with any suspicious activity. In fact they're the only ones in this warehouse.

Dean flicks his flashlight from corner to corner but it's so dark that the light fails to reach the other side. The barrels and crates stacked along the walls have turned brownish red; there are rotting stumps and a makeshift table, the remains of some child's wild adventures.

"Well this blows," Dean says, hefting his shotgun in his other hand. Sam lowers his handgun and clicks the safety on. "There's not even a rat in here."

"Guess Chuck got it wrong," Sam says. "Maybe it was something from the future, but he didn't know the date."

"Great, so we're here two years early. Damn it, Chuck. Next time get yourself an editor before you tell us this shit. Read it to Becky before you send us on a fucking wild goose chase. C'mon, Sammy; this place stinks-"

There is a whump, something falling from the air onto the containers, and a barrel rolls from the far left corner of the warehouse. In an instant Sam clicks the safety off and raises his Glock; Dean has the shotgun up and pressed against his shoulder, eyes narrowed. The flashlight tumbles away from his foot.

"What the hell?"

Sam waves his flashlight at the corner but they see nothing. They glance at each other, nod once, and slowly walk towards it. Sam rests his finger lightly on the trigger, listening for any sound other than their careful footsteps and light breaths.

"Hello?" Sam calls out.

The walls echo damply, and then they hear ragged breathing, rough and wet. He can't tell if it's a deranged monster or something that's seriously hurt.

"Who's there?" Dean says. "Show yourself."

Something-someone gasps, struggling to breathe, and at that Sam lowers the Glock, clicking the safety back on. Dean looks confused for a second, but then drops his firearm as well. He nods to Sam, who has the flashlight; he tucks the handgun behind him and steps forward-

"Dean."

The shotgun falls to the floor and Dean runs. Sam follows, flashlight tracking Dean to the corner, amongst the crates and barrels and rotting fishnets, and the light falls on his brother pulling a struggling, bleeding body up against his chest.

"Cas, oh god…"


Castiel's been stabbed clear through, and the crimson color blooming from his chest leaves an acidic taste in Sam's mouth. He feels sick to his stomach. Angels don't bleed uncontrollably. Angels don't struggle to breathe, or turn horribly white, or try to swallow down the blood welling up in their mouths.

He's a step ahead of Dean, shotgun pointing in every direction, finger ready to pull the trigger; whoever dropped Castiel off might be waiting outside to ambush the brothers on the way back to the Impala. So far there's nothing, so Sam keeps glancing over his shoulder, his heart dropping at the look on Dean's face as he keeps whispering to the angel in his arms.

They get to the Impala and Dean tells him, "Keys in my jacket pocket." His shirt is bloody, as are his hands.

Sam wonders fleetingly if Dean cares about getting blood all over the backseat; Castiel won't stopbleeding. He snags the key ring out of Dean's pocket and opens the door on the passenger's side, pulling the seat back so Dean can get in. He hears the angel protest weakly, moaning as he's jostled into the back of the car, and then Dean soothes him in a low, low voice.

Sam's throat burns while he gets them the hell out of nowhere. He keeps glancing up at the rearview mirror but the only light comes from the Impala's headlights so he can barely see Dean's face. He does catch the glint of his brother's eyes when they meet his through the mirror; Dean looks horrible in the dark and Sam breaks contact to concentrate on the road.

The shabby motel is in the middle of the island, in a town named Manteo. The streets are eerily empty, which does nothing for Sam's state of mind but it lets him drive almost twenty miles over the speed limit while he finds their way. He can barely hear Castiel breathing over the roar of the engine. Dean has fallen silent but Sam can see now in the orange streetlight that he's looking intently at the angel, a hand pressing down on the wound as if it'll stop the bleeding.

Castiel hasn't been healing properly for months. The scrapes and gashes he picks up don't disappear by their next meeting, and the last time he painted a banishing sigil to keep a few of Zachariah's lackeys away Dean berated him for over an hour while stemming the flow of blood, told him to quit being suicidal.

"Dean," Sam says, pulling into the parking lot. He meets his brother's eyes through the rearview mirror again, and shudders while getting out of the car. He absolutely hates seeing Dean like this; Dean just pushes everything down, burying it all under so he can move on, and Sam can only think of the few times that wall cracked – their father and himself.

Castiel may have earned his way into their lives, but he had always been Dean's angel, the one who pulled him from Hell.

Sam hovers until Dean's eased his way out of the Impala with the angel, then runs over to the motel door, digging into his pocket for the key. It jangles in the lock, refusing to turn, and he swears until it finally clicks. Behind him Dean says, "Cas, c'mon, stay with me here…"

The deadbolt slides and he shoulders the door open, flicking the light on as he dives for the other duffel bag in the room. Dean kicks the door shut behind him and lays Castiel down on the nearest bed. He's muttering nonsense now, fingers unknotting the tie and ripping the shirt open to get at the wound.

Sam pauses, hands closed over the first aid kit. His heart is thundering in his chest, the inevitability crashing down on him. Whatever he does isn't going to save the angel. He's known it from the second the flashlight illuminated him and the glistening growing pool of blood that should not be there. Angels don't bleed to death. Castiel-

"Cas!" Dean snaps. "Stay with me. Don't fail on me now, don't you dare!"

The kit is in his hands, but it can't bring an angel back from the brink of death. Sam walks over to the bed, feeling helpless while he watches his brother bend over the angel, fingers digging into the ruined bed sheets while he keeps talking, keeps shouting, begging for the angel to stay awake and give them a chance to fix him.

"Dean," he says quietly. The bleeding has slowed, and the angel hasn't been breathing for at least three minutes.

"No."

"Dean."

"Fuck off," he says hoarsely, and then falls to his knees next to the bed. "Cas, you can't do this. You can't come all this way just to leave me here. Damn it, you bastard, you shouldn't have rebelled!"

Sam is lost, rooted to the spot and unable to even put the kit down. The numbness isn't unfamiliar, but it always worse when it hits closer to home. He tears his eyes away from Dean and stares blankly at the wall. They can't stay here, they have to leave, they have to go burn the-well, they have to do something with the body, and hunt Chuck down to kick his ass. And then kick Lucifer's ass because they have nothing better to do at this point.

"You know," Zachariah says from the doorway, "you can still save him."

"What the fuck?"

Sam drops the kit and grabs for the Glock tucked into his jeans. Dean is instantly on his feet, leaning protectively over Castiel's prone body. Zachariah gives Sam a passing look, and then flicks a hand at him; Sam slams into the motel room wall and he can't get down. He fumbles for the Glock but it slips from his sweaty hand and falls to the carpet.

"What the fuck do you want?" Dean asks as the angel approaches. He's shaking, hands pressing down into the mattress and smearing the covers red.

"Oh I'm just here to make a deal," Zachariah says, smiling while he looks down at Castiel. "Can't afford to lose another angel in the ranks, even if he rebelled."

"Yeah, well, suck my dick. No deal-"

"I can save him, Dean," Zachariah says slowly, cutting him off. "He's still here, but just barely. Every second that goes by the less chance I have of bringing him back."

It hangs in the air, taut, drawn like a bowstring, ready to snap.

"Fine," Dean spits out. "What's the deal?"

He can't be serious. Sam, struggling against the invisible vice grip Zachariah has on him, has a damn good idea what the deal is. He squirms more, swearing when he feels like his muscles are being pulled out of place, bruising until it hurts all the way down to his bones. "Dean, don't!"

Dean doesn't acknowledge him. Breathing harshly he stands up and faces Zachariah, daring the angel to lay it all out in the open.

"Say yes," Zachariah says, "and he'll be fine. That's it. That's all you gotta do to save your precious angel."

"Dean!" Sam says. "Don't say it. He can't-he's just manipulating you!"

At any other time, in any other situation, Dean would be telling Zachariah to go fuck himself, and then fuck himself some more. But he's not; he's standing there, staring at the smug angel, actually considering the deal. Sam bangs his head against the wall; it's like Dean kissing away his soul to bring Sam back, but this time he's letting an archangel burn him inside out and it's irreversible.

Dean can end the Apocalypse right here, right now, and he won't be doing it because of the Apocalypse.

Sam is going to lose Dean again. He almost died before John made the deal with Azazel. Dean made a deal with the crossroads demon to get Sam back. And now he's going to let Michael burn him up in order to keep Castiel alive.

"Dean," he says. "Cas never wanted you to say yes."

Zachariah looks at him, annoyed, but it's Dean's face Sam only cares about, the indecision in his eyes as he wavers between failing his own words and losing someone he cares about. Someone he loves.

Dean closes his eyes and takes a deep breath.

"Sam, I can't. I'm sorry."

His eyes burn. Zachariah is smug, that sick son of a bitch, and hot anger flares up in Sam's chest, lashing out against the pressure crushing him to the motel wall. There's something off about everything, like Zachariah knows something that they don't. He wants to shout at Dean, tell him not to blunder into these sorts of things too quick just because he loves Castiel as much as he loves Sam and John, but his voice gets caught in his throat and he can't talk.

"Yes."


The Scotch burns raw, but Sam is far past the point of caring. He tells the bartender to just give him the whole fucking bottle, here's the money, fuck off and leave me alone, pours shot after shot of the amber liquor, slamming it back and filling the glass up again for another go. Then maybe afterwards he'll stumble out of the bar, fish for the spare lighter in his jacket pocket, and set himself on fire. He should be soaking in alcohol-infused sweat by now, thanks to this stifling crowded bar, and he'll make an awfully nice blaze.

A few women tried to make a pass at him earlier in the evening, but they saw his single-minded determination to drink himself to death, the ragged look on his face, the emptiness and the anger in his eyes, and so they left.

He doesn't want company. Having company just reminds him how lonely he is.

"Save him, then give us a couple hours. Come back at dawn."

Dean couldn't have picked a worse time to come to term with his feelings for the renegade angel. Sam suspected as much, mostly by observation, but there was that one night after their failure to stop Lucifer from raising Famine, when they were sitting on the floor of a motel miles away drunk out of their minds on Jack Daniel's and poisonous vodka. That night was muddled and the hangovers blindingly worse, but Sam was pretty sure Dean rambled at some point about how he was a ladies' man, that he loved the chicks, that he loved tits and curvy asses and red cherry lips, but there was something about the angel, something that wouldn't chase Castiel out of his mind.

His feet were dangling and an uncomfortable pressure was building in his chest, but Sam couldn't look away while Zachariah gestured at Castiel; Dean wouldn't meet anyone's eyes, but he jumped when Castiel gasped and then started coughing.

Sam fell to the floor while Zachariah disappeared, and then he was out the door and spitting up the last of the late lunch onto the sidewalk, tears streaming down his face while his stomach squeezed everything out in a vain attempt to get rid of the disgust and horror building up in him since they first stepped into the warehouse and was met with a lungful of stale sea rot. Dean followed him outside but Sam told him to fuck off and deal with the angel while he went to a bar to get trashed.

Someone sits down next to him but Sam doesn't acknowledge the presence and keeps drinking. Hopes that the stranger takes the cue and takes his cocktail elsewhere. Misery loves company, but his is hateful and will consume the company instead.

"Anything for you?" the bartender asks, but soon moves away.

"I feel sorry for you," Zachariah says, all mock sympathy, and Sam grips the half-empty shot glass tightly, eyebrow twitching. "I really do. But it had to happen, Sam. One of you was going to say yes, no matter what you did. Better him than you…but how to do it?" The angel hems and haws, fingers drumming on the counter. The rhythmic beats press dents into his brain, and Sam grits his teeth, wishing he'd stop. "Well, we couldn't reach you, and besides we didn't want to bring Lucifer in so early into the game, so…we went to Castiel. And just like that, he says yes."

Sam stops breathing. His lungs freeze, and his hands shake while he pours more Scotch. He doesn't drink it, though; his throat is paralyzed, his tongue thick when he says, "You mean…you killed him. So Dean can say yes."

"Well…temporarily," Zachariah says. "Detroit is inevitable, Sam, as I'm sure Lucifer's been reminding you. I mean, where else do you think Conquest is?"

This is something new. He screws his face trying to understand where the conversation is headed. "Conquest?"

"The first and last Horseman. You need all four to make the Ride. Try reading Revelation sometime; you might just keep up with the rest of us." Zachariah sits up and clasps his hands together, looking serious for once. Sam wants to punch him, but he doesn't think he can coordinate himself well enough to try without starting a bar fight instead. "It's quite simple. Get Michael to Earth, stop Lucifer, win the Apocalypse,maybe save the humans. If Dean says yes, you don't have to. It's that simple-"

"You forced him to say yes!" Sam shouts, and the bar falters for a half-second.

"Encouraged him," Zachariah corrects, like it makes a fucking difference. He snaps his fingers and the rest of the bar moves on. "Convinced him that it would be best for all parties involved. It's a business venture; which deal gets you the most for your money? You got dead angel and little Sammy saying yes to Lucifer on the one hand, and on the other hand one live angel and same little Sammy never seeing Lucifer again, let alone giving him permission to turn him into…what was that phrase he likes to use…an angel condom."

"You sick son of a bitch," Sam says. "Should've killed you when we had the chance-"

"Sam," and suddenly Zachariah is dead serious, his voice stern and commanding, his grace pressing out against the flesh and bone constraints of his human host. "Be serious. Be reasonable. What makes you think you can stop the Morningstar on your own? You can't. Only an angel can kill another angel, and you're not an angel. Neither of you are…were, I should say. You weren't going to be of any use because you're what Lucifer wants. But Dean? He has the chance. He can make a difference, fight the good fight, strike Lucifer down like Michael did a long time ago. He's always known it. It's a burden he was hiding for so long. What a shame it had to come to this for the truth to come out."

Zachariah leans forward and places a hand on his shoulder. Sam flinches away but the angel digs his fingers into the muscles, holding him in place. "Don't fight it, kiddo. Just sit back and let the big boys handle this."

His very touch burns through the layers of fabric and into Sam's skin. He wonders if this is what Dean felt when Castiel gripped his soul and pulled him out, but that's a completely different situation. Sam feels the rage building up, the fury beginning to shred what's left of him. "Will I get Dean back?"

Zachariah has the grace to look thoughtful for a second. "Ah…not a guarantee. But I'll let Michael know." Then his voice drops as he catches Sam's eyes and roots him to the spot. "Don't get in the way, Sam. It's not a good idea."

He smiles and lets go of Sam's shoulder, sitting back and snapping his finger for the bartender. "I'll have a gin and tonic…and my friend here will have another bottle of Scotch if he can handle it. Put it on my tab."

Sam stares at him, shaking, fingernails digging into his palm while the angel waits with easy patience. The bartender hesitantly sets down the new bottle in front of Sam before backing away, but Sam doesn't touch it, doesn't look at it. The bottle he paid for with his money is only two-thirds empty and he refuses to accept Zachariah's gesture.

"Cheers to the end of the Apocalypse," Zachariah says, raising the highball glass to him, and downs the fizzing cocktail.


The bartender gently shakes him awake, telling him to drink the glass of lukewarm water in front of him and go home, the bar closed an hour ago. Sam blinks blearily; the man's face is a heavily shadowed smear and his voice a jarring echo. He works his mouth, pushing words around the thick numb tongue. "…what?"

"We're closed," the bartender repeats slowly, sliding the glass towards him. "I let you stay a little longer because your friend asked. He's a very good tipper, by the way, so I said yes. But it's almost four and I need to go home."

Sam nods once, and lets his head sink back down to the counter. His head is starting to pound.

"Please go home," the man says. "I really don't want to call-"

"Don't got one," Sam says. "Don't have a home to go to."

"Well, can you at least get out?"

He can do that. He can leave. He grabs the water and it splashes over his hand and down his chin as he drinks, his throat working mechanically while he tries to think through the headache.

Dean.

Dean said yes. Said yes. His angel was dying so he gave himself up. Wasn't the Apocalypse, wasn't Sam, was just another damn angel. Fucking angels. They're taking everything and everyone from him. Now he's got nothing left.

"Sir-"

"I'm leaving," Sam says, and hoists himself up onto his feet. The floor seesaws and he grabs at the counter, blinking rapidly until everything stops swimming.

"Do you want me to call a cab-"

"No, I'm fine. I'm…fine. I'm fine. Yeah, I'm fine," Sam says. Maybe if he says it enough times he'll believe it.

"You didn't drive here, did you? Because if you did you don't have to worry about your car getting towed or anything-"

"What, the Impala? No." He shakes his head and regrets it, swearing when the floor rises to meet him and sinks back down. "No, that's my brother's car. Used to be my brother's car. That jerk. I walked here. I can walk back."

The bartender looks unhappier the more he rambles, so Sam shuts his jaw, takes a few deep breaths through his nose, and then says, "I'm going. Thanks."

He bumps into the wall on his way out. It's cold outside, the air heavy and full of salt. It's too late – or too early – for seagulls but he hears one calling out while he drags himself back to the motel. It sounds more like a crow, less heckling and more melancholic, and his heart tugs, trying to cover up the emptiness as he walks back to the motel.

It's almost like the first weeks after he buried Dean, but infinitely worse.

He doesn't pause to think when his hand grasps the doorknob and it turns without resistance. He's laboring for air, sweat sticking to his face, his head is pounding, and everywhere aches. He just wants to lie down and sleep forever.

He stumbles into the dark room, hugging the wall while he edges past the open bathroom door. He stops abruptly when the wall ends, and takes a deep breath, and then another. His eyes are adjusting to the faint light coming in through the curtained windows, and he can see someone standing next to the far bed, head bowed, solemn and still.

It looks like Dean.

"Dean?" he ventures, slurring a bit over his tongue.

The head lifts and he thinks the eyes glow bright for a moment. But maybe he's just seeing things, and now the head tilts to the side like Castiel does whenever he doesn't get something, or-

"Go to bed, Sam. It's okay. Everything's going to be okay."

Sam nods, grateful for the sound of his brother's voice, and collapses on the closest bed.


"And that," Lucifer says slowly, "is why you're here."

Sam nods, his eyes tracking the archangel's movement as he paces in a circle, hands clasped together, restless and in motion. He looks ready to jump out of his own skin, which is probably more than half true.

Lucifer suddenly laughs, short and harsh and full of mockery. "Sammy, Sammy, Sammy-"

"Only Dean calls me that," he snaps.

"You come to me so you can use me, am I right? Now doesn't that sound familiar…hang on, isn't that what you said about that demon…what's her name…Ruby, right?"

Sam flinches. The memory of her manipulation stings like every humiliating moment in his life combined. "What about her?"

Lucifer shakes his head. "It's always the same with you. You're so single-minded, so hell-bent – pun fully intended, by the way – on revenge. You're just like your father-"

"What's your point?"

Lucifer smiles and it is both beatific and corrupt. "I'm sorry, Sam, but it can't happen, not yet."

"What?" He's not hearing things right. How is Lucifer, the fucking Morningstar, rejecting his own vessel?

"I mean, I could take you since you came here so willingly, but I'm not a bastard, Sam. I don't…force my vessels into accepting me. Nick? I talked to him, told him how I could help. You only want me to get back at the other angels. You come here, so full of rage, and I like that, I like that a lot…but you still hate me. You hate all the angels, remember?"

"You…" Sam stops, the words dying on his lips. He doesn't know what to say because, well, Lucifer is right. Pressure builds in his head but he can't move his arm to press against it, pinch it out of existence; said arm is stuck to the wall. "I'm trying to say yes here!"

"I like a willing vessel, I told you," Lucifer says nonchalantly, tilting his head back to look at the ceiling. "But not someone who hates what I am. Don't you see? I can't take a vessel that's so full of loathing for someone like me. I can't…do what I want if my chosen vessel won't cooperate with me. I know where you're coming from, Sam; your family betrays you and the world you know turns upside down, and you're angry, you want to get back at everyone and everything. Well, good. But I don't want you to hate me."

The angels are lying to him. Chuck and his visions are lying to him. The whole world, and all the hosts of Heaven and Hell are lying to him. They take everything from him, and then they refuse him revenge, the sweet oblivion that's sure to come when Lucifer's grace slips inside him and burns him out.

If Lucifer takes him, because he's not. Splotchy, scruffy, cracked and bleeding Lucifer is walking around the fifth floor of the abandoned nine-story building project in Delray while his chosen vessel remains pinned to the wall.

"Then what are you waiting for?" Sam asks when the minutes begin to drag and he starts hating himself for ever stepping foot in the city.

"I," and Lucifer sweeps an arm towards the dirty windows and out to the grungy Detroit skyline, "am waiting for the moment of conquest."

"The Horseman," Sam says flatly. "Yeah, Zachariah told me. I thought it was Pestilence."

"Nope. Pestilence is only a part of it." Lucifer looks gleeful, grinning madly, and his split lip starts bleeding again. "War, Famine, and Death are waiting, circling the city, and down below people are fighting in the streets, starving, dying. Detroit, conqueror of the motorways, now rotting in this pathetic nonexistent economy. Fitting, considering its systematic desecration of Father's work." He looks positively feral, his eyes gleaming feverishly, his grace pulsing through the cracks in Nick's body. The world seems to distort around him, warping around his very presence as he walks. "What did I say about Detroit, Sam? You and I were going to meet, regardless of what your brother and the other angels try to do."

"Yeah? And then what? Do we kick your ass or do I say yes?"

"Well," Lucifer says thoughtfully. "That's up to you, really, but right now I don't think you're in the position to 'kick my ass'." He cocks his head to the side and suddenly the pressure on Sam's chest increases tenfold, leaving him wheezing for air. He glares at the archangel while his fingers scrape against the concrete; he thinks his legs have gone completely numb. "Do you really want to, Sam? Do you really want to say yes, and let my grace burn you out of that body? Do you want to condemn all of humanity for the sake of your own vengeance? Because today I am going to walk out of this building in your skin, release the Croatoan virus, and conquer the world. Next stop – Heaven."

Sam swallows. Suddenly the pressure is from everywhere, pressing down on him. Lucifer stares at him, eyes boring into Sam and through Sam, and the whole world goes still. He breathes once, and then again, realizing that this will be the last time he takes a conscious lungful of air. His mind is shutting down as he toes the edge of the cliff, the light inside dimming.

The air crackles between them like the first tendrils of Lucifer's grace reaching for him, and the archangel practically glows, golden, terrible and beautiful. Sam looks at him in awe, wondering why he hated him, why Heaven cast him down, why he was condemned to the darkest corners of existence.

The word forms in his mouth and he says-

"Sam."

Lucifer looks away and the world unfolds itself. Sam blinks rapidly, and then turns his head to the doorway.

"Cas?" He frowns as the angel dips his head in acknowledgement. "What are you doing here?"

"I'm here to stop you from saying yes," Castiel says, and then levels an unruffled glare at Lucifer. "You can't have him, Lucifer."

"Not really your choice to make, is it Castiel?" the archangel says. He smiles as he walks towards the angel. "Heard you were dead, by the way. That makes it…twice you bit the dust now?" He shakes his head, folding his arms over his chest. "I gotta tell you, little Castiel, I am impressed. Someone really likes you."

"Enough," Castiel says. "Let him go, Lucifer. It's over."

"Who says?"

Castiel glances over his shoulder, and Sam strains against the pressure gluing him to the wall, trying to see.

His heart drops when Dean appears. He doesn't look different; he's still wearing the layers, still fixing that grim look of a man on a mission to save his dumb-ass brother, and for a brief, shining moment Sam is full of hope, like a man surfacing from a deep, deep dive. Maybe what happened just nights ago was all in his head, or maybe Dean was fucking with the angels, saving Castiel and his own skin. But the longer he watches his brother the more he realizes that something is just off.

Sam shudders when Dean lifts his head to meet his eyes. For a second they're his brother's, full of familiarity and hard love, but suddenly they're crackling with unfathomable power. The creature wearing his brother's face, his brother's skin and his brother's clothes, turns away to look at Lucifer and Sam feels like he just woke up from a very long sleep.

"Ah," Lucifer says simply. "Brother."

"Lucifer," Dean says. His voice is low and clear and very tired.

Michael, the traitorous voice in Sam's head says, full of awe. That is Michael.

"You don't seem the worse for wear," Lucifer says. The world is starting to distort around him again.

"I really don't want to do this," Dean-Michael says. "Not to you, Lucifer. Not my little brother."

What about me, Dean? Why did you have to do this to me?

"Shame it has to be this way," Lucifer says. "Father's perfect soldier, following His orders to the letter. Killing his own brothers, casting them out of Heaven for refusing to bow before these…hairless apes, these monsters who would desecrate the earth and then spread their corruption with rockets and satellites and spaceships. They are the rot on Father's work, they-"

"Are His creation, like you and me," Michael says. "I don't care for Zachariah's plans, or Uriel's treason, or Gabriel's cowardice, or Raphael's loss of faith. I only care that His last orders are carried out, and that is to protect His handiwork if and when He is gone."

"Still blind," Lucifer spits out. He's starting to glow, light piercing through the cuts and bruises on his vessel's skin. "I too am following His last orders, Brother. It just means wiping out these petty, dirty, violent humans."

"I told you already," Michael says, and Sam thinks bits of Dean are seeping in, lacing the voice that is and isn't him. He's not warping the world around him, not bleeding grace; he looks impossibly human, but at the same time as terrible and beautiful as Lucifer. "I don't want to do this, but if you don't back off-"

"Sam." Lucifer whips his head around, eyes narrowing. "Say it. Say yes. Say it now!"

"Sam!"

Suddenly he's falling-

Castiel runs to him-

Lucifer bursts into light-

Michael stretches an arm out-

Sam hits scruffy grass. Instinct rolls him over his shoulder onto his feet, and then Castiel falls on him, knocking him back onto the ground.

"What-what the hell?" Sam gasps out, shoving the angel aside and climbing back to his feet.

He's standing on a green slope near a sidewalk that borders a vast waterway. Across are gray buildings reaching for the sky; he looks over his shoulder and is met with suburbia. And is that the Impala just down the street-

One of the houses has a small plastic flag on its lawn. It's Olympic pride, it's red and white, it has a maple leaf, it's the Canadian flag.

"No. No!" He turns back to the river, and then runs.

"Sam!" Castiel calls after him.

"Take us back!" he shouts. "Take us back, Cas!"

"I can't-"

"Of course you can!" he says, whirling around as the angel swiftly approaches. "Zachariah fixed you, didn't he? He brought you back to life after Dean said-"

"I'm not an angel, Sam."

His mind is going a hundred miles per hour and suddenly hits a wall. He staggers, leaning against the cold rail. Sam stares at the angel in front of him; he doesn't look any different, with his piercing blue eyes and rumpled trench coat and askew tie. He doesn't look like he changed, doesn't look like a not-angel.

"You're lying," he says.

"I'm not."

Sam stares across the river at Detroit, looking in vain for the abandoned building project. It's nowhere in sight. "Michael…he did this. He sent us here."

"Dean made him promise, one he was happy to fulfill-"

"Shut up. I don't-no. No, no, nonononono!" He hollers across the river, not like it'll do him any good. There are a few people on the sidewalk, and they're giving him odd looks but he could care less. "Dean!"

Detroit explodes.

An arm wraps around his waist and hurtles him to the ground. His ears ring with the thunderous roar and scorching winds pin him down on the lawn. People are screaming, shouting and sobbing, and sirens wail. Things start splashing into the frothing water and crashing onto the sidewalk; Sam looks over Castiel's arm to see debris raining down from an inferno that's tearing apart the very sky.

"Cas," Sam says, shoving the arm off and leaping to his feet, instincts, reflexes, and training kicking into gear. "Cas, get up. It's not safe here, we got to go. We got to go now!"

The angel-the man looks over his shoulder as well, but he makes no move to get up. Instead he flips himself around to sit and stare at the burning skyline, at the massive crater in the heart of Detroit. Black smoke taints the sky like a demon horde, obscuring the sun.

It actually looks like the Apocalypse.

"Dean," Sam hears him whisper, and then it hits him so hard he falls to his knees.

The Apocalypse is over, and Dean is gone.