Bait and Switch

"Hello, Sam."

Sam stopped in mid-exorcism and spun around, the demon in its devil's trap forgotten behind him. He blinked when he saw who stood there, calmly watching him go through the motions of the ancient ritual. "Dad?" he exclaimed.

John Winchester smiled wryly. "Not exactly."

"Umm, excuse me, but we're kind of in the middle of something here," the demon said, shifting to the side so it could peer around Sam at the new arrival. "Do you think you could come back later?"

Rolling his eyes, John snapped the fingers of his left hand and the demon vanished, meatsuit and all. Sam's eyes widened. "What the – " Sam blinked at the place where the demon had been. "How did you – this isn't real," he said, realization dawning. He turned back to his father. "I'm dreaming. I must be dreaming, and that means that you're – "

"Michael," the image of John said, nodding. "Yes, I am."

Sam took in the archangel's appearance with some surprise. The archangel looked just like John Winchester had on the day he'd died, and yet that was more than twenty-five years after Michael had so briefly taken his father as a vessel. It wasn't at all what Sam would have expected. "You're older than I would have supposed."

Michael shrugged.

"You're not really… I mean, he's dead, right? You're not really in my father?"
"No. John Winchester and I parted ways once I sent you and Dean back to the present day. I haven't seen him since. This was just the most convenient form I could take to speak with you."

Sam bristled. "Speak with me about what? If you think I'm going to help you convince Dean to say yes, you're a bigger idiot than your brothers."

"My brothers…" Michael grumbled. "My brothers are idiots, Sam, the lot of them. Even your little buddy Castiel is a fool."

"Cas is not a fool!"

"He's just a foot soldier, Sam, and yet he thinks he can help two humans defeat Lucifer, one of the most powerful beings who has ever lived. He's completely off his rocker. You can't stop Lucifer, not as a human. You literally don't have a prayer because God isn't listening."

Sam went very still, desperately trying to ignore the ache that those words called up in his chest as he glared at the archangel. "So you heard about that?"

"About your conversation with Joshua, about his message for you from our Father? Yes, I heard. Sam, I'm so sorry," the angel said, his eyes reflecting a compassion and a grief that shocked the hunter to his very core.

"You're sorry? I thought you wanted this!"

"Surely your brother told you what I said to him? Surely he told that I don't really want to kill Lucifer, that I love my brother as much as you love yours?"

"Yeah, but he also told me that you're absolutely determined to do it, to have your big showdown. I'd think you'd be glad that God basically told us to go screw ourselves."

"You've got me all wrong, Sam," Michael said, taking a step closer, his hands spread in an appeal for patience, an appeal for Sam to listen. "Despite what I said to Dean about destiny and free will, despite everything that's happened, I wanted you and your brother to succeed. I prayed for you to succeed. Our Father stopped answering my prayers, stopped listening to me eons ago, but I thought… I hoped that you, that Dean had a chance of reaching him, of convincing him to step in. If our Father was going to intervene on anyone's behalf, it would be on his. It was the last hope any of us had of avoiding all of this."

"I still don't buy it," Sam growled, ignoring for the moment that anguish that he could see in the archangel's eyes, his father's eyes. "God knows you've been trying hard enough to get Dean to say yes, what with the torture and all. You haven't missed a single opportunity to twist him into knots, mental, emotional and physical. You're no better than the demons who – "

"I didn't do those things, Sam. I would never hurt Dean… or you. I don't think you really understand what it means for you to be part of my bloodline, for Dean to be my true vessel. What Zachariah and the others did, the torture and intimidation, they did without my knowledge or approval, and they will answer for it. Believe me. I could never hurt either of you."

"Bullshit. You're just waiting for Lucifer to jump into my skin, and then you're going waste us both, so don't tell me you could never hurt me," Sam snarled.

"If I'd wanted you dead, I would have left you dead when Anael killed you. I certainly wouldn't have brought you back to help bolster Dean's determination to say no. Don't you see, Sam, hurting you and Dean both is exactly what I'm trying to avoid. That's why I've come to see you. Lucifer has to be stopped, or he'll slaughter every human being on the planet. Regardless of how it all started, regardless of who's to blame, that's just facts. Someone has to stop him, and you and Dean and Castiel, you can't do it alone."

"Yeah, well, I seriously doubt you're offering to help out, and Team Free Will isn't taking any new recruits, thanks."

"Actually, that's exactly what I'm offering to do. You need me."

"What?" Sam snapped. "Are you impaired in some fashion? I already told you, I won't help convince Dean to say yes to you. Hell, I wouldn't let him say yes even if he wanted to. So forget it!"

"I'm not talking about taking Dean as a vessel, kiddo. I'm done playing Heaven's game by Heaven's rules. It's time to shake things up."

"What are you talking about?" Sam demanded, baffled. I thought you were supposed to be the only one who can kill Lucifer."

Michael smiled sadly. "I am, and I will kill him for the sake of humanity. But I won't do it while wearing Dean. Look, the way I see it, your major objections to all of this are three-fold. One: A knockdown drag out fight between Lucifer and I at full power will leave a swathe of destruction a thousand miles wide across the face of the planet. Two: You don't want to see your precious big brother become a vessel."

"Bite me!"

Michael ignored him, going on with his explanation. "And three: You don't want to become Lucifer's vessel and either die at my hands or spend the rest of eternity as my younger brother's meatsuit. Am I right? Did I leave anything out?"

"Well, Dean's not so crazy about that whole angel-run paradise on Earth concept," Sam snapped.

"Considering how he's been treated by my siblings as a whole, I can't say that I blame him. Look, Sam, there's a way to get rid of Lucifer and still avoid all of that. None of it has to happen. We can change our fate, and I think I know how."

"All right, I'll bite. How?"

Michael took another step closer and placed a hand on Sam's shoulder. "You become my vessel, Sam."

Sam gaped at him, dumbfounded. He couldn't be serious. How could he… why would he… "What the fuck?!"

Michael huffed out a laugh. "Not precisely the most traditional response to such a request, but I suppose it's better than a flat out no."

It was the sarcasm that finally shook Sam out of his frozen shock. "That's impossible," he exclaimed. "I'm Lucifer's vessel."

"You are Lucifer's true vessel as Dean is mine. That doesn't mean that you couldn't potentially act as a vessel for another angel. You are part of my bloodline just as Dean is, just as your father was."

"But the demon blood… "

"Could be a problem, but then Lucifer isn't a demon, either, even if he did create them. If he can withstand the taint of your demon blood, I should be able to handle it."

"Gee, thanks."

"You brought it up," Michael noted. "Besides, how compatible we'll be isn't really the issue here. You've got to see the big picture."

"And what's that?"

"Insurance against human weakness."

"I beg your pardon?"

"Sam, if you say yes to me, if you become my vessel, that's it. End of story. Our father designed vessels with a strict 'one angel per human' policy. Once you say yes to me, you can never say yes to another angel again, no matter what happens. No matter what Lucifer does, no matter how he threatens you or tempts you, you won't be able to say yes. I'm the best insurance policy you could ever have."

Sam scowled at the angel, his nostrils flaring, jaw clenching and unclenching. "That's just a little insulting, don't you think?"

Michael shrugged. "If you choose to see it that way, but once again, your objection doesn't precisely sound like a resounding, 'No!' More like a whiny prelude to serious negotiations."

"So what happened to following Daddy's plan? What happened to being the good, obedient son?"

"I am still a good son," Michael growled. "I still love my Father and honor him. I'm just no longer convinced that this plan was ever what he really wanted. Heaven conspired to bring about the Apocalypse, not my Father. He gave humanity free will for a reason. Perhaps… perhaps he was hoping that you might teach us something."

Sam thought long and hard. Thought about Dean, and the pressure that his brother was under from all sides. He thought about Lucifer's certainty that it was only a matter of time before Sam caved and said yes. He thought about Zachariah and that bastard's ongoing quest to be the hero of the Apocalypse. He thought about no… and yes.

"If I'm not your true vessel, won't you burn me out the way that Lucifer is destroying that poor slob he's in now?"

"I won't lie to you, Sam. If things go badly, if we're too incompatible, then yeah, you could break down pretty damn fast. But there's no guarantee of that. Lucifer is in his vessel 24/7. I don't have to do the same, especially if we don't exactly announce what we've done. In the meantime, you stick with Dean, watch his back. We'll buy time, find the right moment and then strike. If we win, I heal you and skedaddle. If we lose, it won't matter anyway because we'll both be dead. I'll do my best for you, but it's a risk."

"And destiny?" Sam asked.

"Screw destiny. Starting tonight, we make our fate. So what do you say, Sam? Will you be my vessel?"

Sam closed his eyes and heaved a tremendous sigh. "Dean is going to kill me."

Michael laughed. "You're on your own there, kiddo. Lucifer I'll protect you from, but when it comes to Dean, I am not getting involved."

Sam couldn't help a small self-mocking smile, feeling suddenly far more in tune with the archangel than he would ever have expected to be. "That's first really smart thing you've said," Sam laughed.