Too Dark to See
Dean finished his preparations a week to the day after he died. Well, after the last time he died. He wasn't even certain how many times this made. With Sam it was easier to recall each occasion when he'd bit it, every death was burned into Dean's memory, a painful, throbbing ache that never entirely faded, though it did dull a little as the months went by. There was the first time, when Jake had stabbed Sam in the back. That had been the worst. There was the time Sam got hit by lightning because of that crazy Babylonian wish-granting coin. Then, Dean's personal favorite, his little brother had been murdered by Dean's former flame and friend – or so he'd thought – Anna. That had been whole lot of no fun. And now there was Roy and Walt. Four times Sam had been dead and four time he'd come back. It would probably have been a record if not for Dean himself. Not even counting the near misses like his electrocution, thanks to Gabriel the Trickster Dean had died on more than a hundred separate occasions, maybe a lot more. If it weren't for the fact that this time he'd wound up in Heaven instead of Hell, his most recent death wouldn't even have been worth mentioning. He had wound up in Heaven, though, and Heaven had sucked. Big time.
Joshua, God's gardener, had warned them that they would actually remember their afterlife this time. He'd said it like it was strange, like it was some kind of punishment. That was the only thing that didn't quite make sense to Dean, because he'd always remembered. He could still recall every second of his time in Hell, at least that last time, the one that had counted. The ones from Gabriel's time loop might as well not have existed as far as he was concerned. Still, the remembering Heaven thing puzzled him. Joshua acted as if Dean had been to the attic before, that he just couldn't remember it, but that had to be so much bullshit because Dean had been basement-bound every single time he'd kicked the bucket before, bound by his crossroads deal. Joshua was either a liar or one very confused angel.
None of that mattered much, though. Not now. Not when Dean was finally ready. Squatting down, he lit the last of the candles around the circle of Enochian sigils he'd spent the last two hours inscribing perfectly on the concrete floor. Then, standing at the northern point of the star that encompassed the summoning circle, Dean opened Bobby's tattered old book and spoke the words that would change his life forever. When he'd performed a similar ritual before, with Bobby, he'd had to wait nearly an hour for Castiel to finally put in an appearance. Michael was much prompter. Dean had barely finished the final syllables of the chant when the door at the end of the barn opened and a scrawny kid with a backpack and skater shoes walked in. Despite the seriousness of the situation, despite the irrevocable insanity of what he was about to do, Dean couldn't help a small double take and a smile. Michael looked about ten, walked with an erect posture that the real kid probably couldn't pull off for a family photo, and had the earphones of an iPod dangling from the pocket of his hoodie. Somehow, even knowing that his father was dead, Dean had been expecting Michael to show up looking like his dad, not some kid from The Suite Life of Zack and Cody.
"Michael?" he asked uncertainly.
"Hello, Dean. I came the moment I heard your call. What can I do for you?" The boy's voice hadn't changed yet, for pity's sake, and for one horrible moment Dean seriously contemplated bailing on his whole plan. How could he have the conversation he needed to have with a kid? The boy – the angel, seemed to sense his unease. He contemplated Dean in silence for a moment, then said, "This vessel disturbs you?"
Dean huffed out an uncomfortable laugh. "You could say that. I mean, I thought I was the only vessel that can contain you. Aren't you killing that kid by being in him?"
"I'm careful. I only take a vessel when I must and only for very brief periods. I told you, I'm not like Raphael or Lucifer. Still, if seeing this particular vessel disturbs you so..." Michael closed his eyes and trailed off. An instant later, John Winchester, looking about twenty-five years old, opened his eyes and gazed back at Dean with a solemn expression. "Is this better?" he asked seriously.
Dean gulped. Seeing his Dad again, especially the young version of his father, was never easy. "Are you really him?"
"No, of course not. John is… unavailable. This is merely an illusion for your comfort. Does it help?"
Dean looked down at the floor, licked his lips, looked back up. John was easier to face than a ten-year-old even if he wasn't real. "Yeah. Yeah, I guess so."
Michael nodded in satisfaction and took a step closer. As he did, the barn door that had opened for him only moments before, clanged shut, seemingly of its own accord. Dean managed not to jump but only just. "So, why did you call me? Have you changed your mind about saying yes?"
Dean took a deep breath to steady his nerves. "Actually, I have, but there are conditions."
For a moment, Michael looked self-satisfied, almost smug, but as Dean finished speaking, his expression shifted to one of extreme displeasure. "I am not some crossroad demon to be bartered with."
"I know that, believe me. When it comes to making deals, demons you can trust and angels are more like the used car salesmen of the heavens. But I also know that you want to get this show on the road, so I'm betting that you'll hear me out. Besides, I'm hoping maybe you'll be able to sympathize with what I want, one big brother to another."
"I'm listening," Michael said, his expression stern.
"There are four things I want," Dean began.
"Just four?" Michael demanded incredulously. "Why stop there? Why not six or seven? Then again, I thought three wishes were traditional. Don't you think you're pushing it a little?"
Dean continued on as if Michael hadn't interrupted with his diatribe. "I want you to fix Bobby's legs. Make it so he can walk again. Make him healthy. I want him to live to be a really grumpy, really old man."
Michael waved one of John's hands dismissively. "I can do that easily enough."
"Will you?" his heart skittered excitedly in his chest. If Bobby could walk again…
"Let me hear the other conditions first," the angel demanded, beginning to pace in front of Dean, his annoyance with the human's demands palpable.
Dean nodded. "I want you to let Cas back in the club. Let him go home."
Michael paused, staring into nothingness for a moment. When he finally looked at Dean, he said, "That… is far more complicated a request. It would not – "
"Don't tell me it's not possible." Dean said in a rush. "You're Heaven's freakin' general, the big honcho in the angel ranks. You could make it happen if you wanted to. He doesn't deserve any of this, so let him go home again or no deal."
"You feel strongly about this?" Michael said, sounding surprised. "He means so much to you?"
"He's my friend," Dean said simply.
Michael heaved a sigh. "You are a sentimentalist, Dean Winchester, an annoying, often crude, pig-headed sentimentalist, but there you are. You have a good heart."
"Yeah, whatever. What's it going to be?"
"I will do what I can to help your Castiel."
"Good," Dean said in relief. "I also want Zachariah off Sam's back for good. I don't want that petty little prick hanging over his head for the rest of time. You make him leave Sam alone. Kill him, ream him a new one, I don't care as long as you guarantee that he won't be able to persecute Sam anymore."
"Zachariah is a loyal servant of Heaven."
"Loyal my lily white buttocks! Zack is a self-serving, ladder-climbing dick with wings."
"His methods are questionable, it is true, but he believes he is working in Heaven's best interests."
"Yeah, well, so did Anna, and you fried her alive fast enough. And I've got a news flash for you, it's not about the apocalypse anymore so far as Ass-Hat is concerned. He just wants to make us hurt, to watch us bleed. Whatever he may have been before, now he's all about the payback.
"I would never allow such a thing," Michael insisted, frowning at Dean. "Your fears are groundless."
"You didn't stop it last week," Dean retorted hotly.
"I was not in Heaven last week," Michael explained hurriedly, sounding, to Dean's ears, the faintest bit guilty. "I have been wandering the Earth, searching for… it doesn't matter."
"Yeah, well, that's a great comfort to me and Sam, let me tell you."
Michael scowled, making John's eyes glitter dangerously, but after a moment he said, "I can do what you ask. Once Lucifer is gone, once I return to Heaven, I can control Zachariah and all the others, and if he steps out of line, I will kill him as I would kill any other traitor. For as long as I remain in command, your little Sammy will be safe. That's the best I can offer."
"Then I guess it will have to be good enough. Just… promise me you'll keep a close eye on that bastard. He's vindictive, and Sam has suffered enough."
"You have my word."
"For what it's worth," Dean muttered. Michael's frown deepened, and he rolled his eyes heavenward reminding Dean eerily of his actual father.
"You said you have four requests," the angel said impatiently. "What is your last demand? You want to be king of the world? You want a hundred dancing girls and dozen dancing boys thrown in for good measure? What do you want, Dean?"
Dean gulped. He tried to speak, but nothing would come out except a dry sort of croak. Why was it so hard to say? What did he want anyway? What did he really want? Did he even know anymore? Sometimes it felt like it was too dark to see inside his own mind. Taking a deep breath and clearing his throat, he tried again. "I want… I want you to kill me."
"When this is all over, when Lucifer is dead and you don't need me as a vessel anymore, I want you to destroy my soul." Dean's heart pounded in his chest. Was this suicide? Did asking someone else to kill you count as suicide as far as angels were concerned? And if it did, would Michael care?
"Why would you ask for that?" the angel asked, clearly stunned by the request. "How could you possibly want that?"
"I'm done, Michael. I'm just done. There is nothing left in this world or beyond it that holds any hope for me, any promise of something better. I always thought that, if there really was a Heaven, then I'd be reunited with my family someday. That we would be a family again, but that's just not going to happen. I only want the pain to end for good, and I don't want to go back to Hell."
"Dean," the angel said earnestly, taking a step toward him, hands outstretched, "Dean, you are not damned. Even if you are tired of living, Heaven does wait for you. There is no reason to seek oblivion."
Dean shook his head. "You don't get it. I don't want to go back to Hell, but I will be damned if I want to spend the rest of time in your God's idea of Heaven. An eternity alone?" He shook his head. "No thank you. I just want it to be over. I just want… peace. You can do that, right? You can give me that?" He said the last like the plea it was, desperate for Michael to say yes. This had to work. It had to.
The angel hesitated, staring not at Dean but at some inner vista only he could see. "I – "
"Please, Michael. Please."
"It... it is within my power to do what you ask," he admitted hesitantly, "but what about Sam?"
"What about him?"
"Once you are gone, once the apocalypse is over, there will still be danger in this world," the angel replied. "Other hunters may come seeking justice or revenge as Roy and Walt did. Sam could die."
"Maybe he will. Maybe he won't," Dean agreed. "But, your God has granted him salvation, right? So if Sam dies, he goes to Heaven and gets what he always really wanted." Dean smiled bitterly. "He'll be fine as long as you take care of Zachariah and Lucifer. So, do we have a deal?"
"I am not a demon. I am not bound by such an agreement," Michael said slowly, still looking disturbed by Dean's proposal. "Nothing can force me to abide by the terms you have set down."
"I know, but I'm just going to have to trust that you'll keep your word." Dean shrugged. "What other choice do I have?"
Michael's eyes went distant for a time. Then the angel stepped closer until he was standing directly in front of Dean. With a sigh he reached one hand toward the hunter's arm.
Dean flinched, drawing hastily away. "Whoa! Do we have a deal or don't we?"
"We do," Michael said solemnly.
"Then let's get this over with. No back pats or shoulder slaps needed. Skip the man hug thing. Just take me."
Michael's scowl grew deeper. "You make me sound like a demon."
"Sorry," Dean said, neither meaning nor sounding it. "Feels kind of the same to me."
Michael reached for Dean's arm again, and the hunter frowned and jerked back. "Dude? What the heck?"
"You want me to help Castiel?" Michael demanded impatiently.
"He has been running from all of us, from his own kin, for some time now. He would resist any attempt by me to approach him, and he might be injured irreversibly in the process. He would come here if you called him, but I don't believe you want him to know of your offer just yet, do you?
"Then only by following the link between you and Castiel can I safely do as you ask. I cannot take you until then. I must help my young brother first."
"You'll do it, though? You'll give him back his mojo now?" Dean asked, surprised that Michael was ready to go through with part of their bargain while Dean was still human, still able to run away.
"Yes. It will provide you with some proof of my intent to follow through on your other requests, an earnest of good faith. Besides, once I am inside you, the bond between you and Castiel will be severed forever, overwhelmed by the more powerful connection between us. If I am going to help him as you wish, then it is best for everyone that I do it now."
Dean said nothing, but he quickly took off his coat and overshirt, then pushed up the sleeve of his t-shirt, revealing Castiel's fading handprint. As Michael reached forward to touch it, he looked away, uncomfortable watching as another angel fingered Castiel's handiwork. Cas was going to be so pissed at him for this. If only…
"You love them all very much," Michael said, startling Dean out of his introspection.
"I do," Dean replied, surprised into honesty.
"You love them enough to give them what they need, enough to die for them, but not enough to live for them." The angel sounded disapproving, a dangerous stance to take considering that he was getting what he wanted out of this deal.
"They don't need me. They'll be fine."
Michael didn't reply in words, but his hand suddenly closed tightly over Dean's arm, the grip quickly becoming painful. Then, slowly at first, Dean felt power trickling through his skin like water through a bloody shirt, until he was saturated with it, overflowing. There was light, so much light everywhere and it burned. He closed his eyes, but it didn't help because the light came from inside. His senses swam, and then he felt his legs buckling. The ground rose up quickly to meet him, but the angel was faster, and Dean found himself cradled gently in Michael's arms… his father's arms.
Almost at once, the cellphone in Dean's pocket began to ring. "Did it work?" Dean asked tiredly, his head still floating oddly on his shoulders.
"Yes," Michael said, smiling wryly. "Buck up, kiddo. Castiel's power is restored, his connection to Heaven re-established. I'm not saying all our brothers and sisters will welcome him with open arms, but he can go home again."
"Awesome," Dean croaked. The phone kept ringing as the angel set Dean firmly back on his feet. The hunter swayed for a moment, then placing one hand on Michael's shoulder for support, he reached into his pocket and pulled out his cell. It was Cas on the caller ID. Shocker. He flipped the cell open and hit Send.
"Dean, where are you?" Castiel's voice came clearly over the line, immediate and urgent. Dean said nothing, unable even to think as the full import of what he'd done sank in. "Dean, you must tell me where you are. Something has happened."
"I'm sorry," Dean whispered too softly for a human to even pick up, but he wasn't exactly speaking to a human.
"What? Sorry? Dean, what is happening? Where are you?" Castiel sounded beyond alarmed and well on his way to a full-blown angelic panic attack.
"I'm sorry I'm not the man you needed me to be," Dean replied, speaking more clearly this time. "I'm sorry for everything I've put you through, but it will be okay now. Bye Cas."
Dean hung up and pocketed the cellphone reflexively. Then, squaring his shoulders, he looked Michael directly in the eyes. "I'm ready."
*Author's Note: My beta reader, the divine Eideann, strongly dislikes this ending. She wants a happy ending. She was quite adamant. To be specific, she flipped me off and then demanded more. Any comments, dear readers? Also, the title is from the song "Knocking on Heaven's Door." It seemed appropriate.