This is the final chapter. I am grateful to everyone who has stayed with this story, especially through all the long delays. Thanks to those who gave reviews.
It's a Terrible Life
The look of abject misery on Dean's face stirred an emotion that Castiel had never felt before – pity. For thousands of years he had watched humans living, loving, dying and suffering through unimaginable hardships. Not once had he felt anything other than a detached interest in these creatures that meant so much to his Father. He realised now that he had been changing since the day he raised Dean Winchester from perdition; turning from an angelic foot soldier to something more...or less. He wasn't sure which, and he wasn't comfortable with this new-found empathy.
Things were moving too fast. He had listened to Anna's treasonous words, finding them compelling even while he fought an internal battle against the idea of rebelling. He had witnessed Uriel's betrayal and had been faced with the knowledge that he would have been willing to kill one of his own brothers. The war with the followers of Lucifer had intensified, forcing him to come face to face with his own mortality. The Apocalypse was drawing steadily closer and Zachariah, instead of trying to stop the seals being broken, was more interested in torturing the two souls who had given their whole lives to hunting evil. He could no longer remain silent and subservient.
"Enough!" he said. "Restore Sam Winchester to life and return his true memories. We have too few humans willing to face the Lucifer's minions. To lose even one of them is foolish, and to antagonise them could change the outcome of the war."
Castiel was rewarded with the sight of Zachariah unable to form the words to express his outrage.
"You heard him, Baldy," Dean said. "Bring Sam back or you can kiss goodbye to any hope of me helping you against Lilith."
"You would be wise not to threaten me," Zachariah said. Despite his words, he reached over to touch Sam's forehead.
There was no immediate change. After a few seconds Castiel saw a slight movement as Sam began to breathe again. Instead of the pallor and rigidity of death, Sam now looked to be sleeping peacefully.
"It is time for you to leave," Zachariah said, glaring at Castiel. He snapped his fingers.
Dean caught his breath as Castiel disappeared. "What did you do to him?"
"That is none of your concern."
After reassuring himself that Sam was breathing normally, Dean carefully eased out from behind his brother. Once Sam was lying on the ground Dean stood and stretched to remove the tension from his muscles.
"I don't take kindly to anyone hurting one of my friends."
"Angels and humans are not friends," Zachariah said with a sneer. "Only your arrogance would lead you to believe that would ever be possible."
"Where is he?" Dean ignored Zachariah's taunt.
"I sent him back to Heaven. He can stay there until I am ready to deal with him."
It was frustrating to know that there was nothing he could do, but Dean knew that Heaven was closed to him. After the terrible things he had done in the pit, and the fact that he had broken the first seal, he had no expectation of redemption.
"If you've finished jerking us around, I'm gonna check on Sam and get the hell out of this place as soon as he wakes up."
"Do what you like," Zachariah said. "I will find you when I need you."
"You still think you can order us around after everything you've done?"
"I think you will find that I can do anything I like."
Dean's hands curled into tight fists. "Fuck you," he said, all the pent up anger, fear and grief of the past few days combining to send him hurtling down a path of self-destruction.
The first thing that Sam notices was that the muscles in his right leg were cramping. That was quickly followed by the realization that he was lying on something hard and uncomfortable. His memories of the last few days were hazy and confusing and his whole body ached. Was he recovering from an illness?
It came as no surprise to hear Dean's voice, although his brother sounded beyond pissed. The other voice wasn't familiar. It was as smooth as snake oil and sent a shiver down Sam's spine. That caused him to produce an involuntary groan. The voices fell silent. There was a sense of movement followed by a strong arm around his shoulders. Sam opened his eyes.
"Hey, dude. You back with us?" Dean asked.
"Yeah, I think so. What happened?"
With Dean's help Sam managed to lever himself off the floor and onto a sofa. The weakness was ebbing away although his confusion remained. A quick scan of the room didn't help. Neither did the presence of a balding round faced man wearing a smart suit.
Dean followed Sam's puzzled gaze. "Angel," he explained. "Bigger dick than Uriel."
"Still that lack of gratitude," the Angel said. "If we didn't need you, I would be happy to blast you into oblivion."
"Someone want to tell me where we are and what's going on?" Sam asked.
"Your brother required a lesson in humility," the Angel said. "He needs to stop feeling sorry for himself and start accepting his destiny."
"Destiny?" Sam said. "How about you stop being cryptic and explain it to me."
"Leave it, Sam," Dean said. "Zachariah's leaving."
Zachariah was showing no signs of leaving. In fact he looked like he was starting to enjoy himself. "Dean couldn't cope with the knowledge that he broke the first seal. His pathetic whining was becoming irritating."
"What?" Sam's gaze moved from Zachariah to Dean while he tried to process this unexpected revelation. "How?"
Dean's head was down, his eyes firmly fixed on the floor. "When I accepted Alistair's offer and began torturing souls I broke the first seal." He looked up, his face clearly showing his devastation. "I'm responsible for everything that's happened."
"It wasn't your fault," Sam said. "This was all part of Lilith's plan. They were always going to find a way to break you. You couldn't have known what their end game was."
"I should have known. I should have held out longer. Dad trained me better than that."
"He didn't expect you to be tortured by a demon for thirty years."
"Dad held out, Sam. Alistair tried for a hundred years to get the same deal, but Dad wouldn't give in."
"It doesn't matter," Sam said. "If they failed with Dad it only means they tried harder with you. We can't change what's happened. We can keep looking for a way to kill Lilith."
"See, your brother understands what has to be done," Zachariah said.
Sam glared at the Angel. "I remember what you did to me now," he said. "Dean's right about you being a dick."
Zachariah narrowed his eyes. "I've had enough of dealing with ungrateful humans. The seals are breaking so I suggest you get out there and find Lilith." He disappeared with a rustling of wings.
Sam pushed himself to his feet. "He's right. We need to get back on the road. Are you going to be okay?"
Dean's thoughts were hidden behind a bland mask that fooled most people into thinking that he didn't care very deeply about anything. "I'm fine, but we do have a problem. The cops impounded the Impala."
"Your car is parked outside," Castiel said, appearing in front of Dean.
"I thought Zach sent you back to Heaven," Dean said.
"He isn't as powerful as he likes to think. Returning your car is the least I could do to try and make up for what Zachariah did to you."
"Thanks, Cass. You need to watch your back," Dean said.
"I will be fine. Thank you for your concern."
Once they were alone, Sam looked around the apartment. "I'm not going to miss living here," he said. Our life is a long way short of being perfect, but it's never boring."
"You ready?" Dean asked, opening the door. "We've got work to do."