PART FOUR

They really couldn't catch a break.

Not even a little one.

Because as if their lives weren't complicated enough with earthquakes and demonic fathers and vague angels and the end of the world, they friggin' ran out of road.

Well, technically, they didn't run out of road. They just ran out of road they could drive on. Which, as far as Dean was concerned, was basically the same damn thing.

Not that he was ready to admit that. Denial was Dean's friend; it was one of his strongest allies, right after Sam and Bob and well-that was about it these days.

But when the car rocked violently to the left, catching in a particularly large pothole, he knew it was time to give up the fight. If for no other reason than the car lurched and creaked before coming to a shuddering stop.

Dean hit the brakes, for what good it was worth, cursing as he tried to ease on the gas again.

The tires ground, the car sputtered. Throwing it in reverse, Dean tried to back out.

Instead the engine whined and spluttered with smoke.

Killing the ignition, Dean sighed, looking at his brother. Sam was sitting in the passenger's seat, gun in his lap, eyebrows raised.

"Something wrong?" Sam asked, almost a little rueful.

Dean snorted. "Take your pick, Sammy," he muttered. He nodded to the sky. The red moon was hovering just above the horizon now, the lightning storm looming ahead, louder and louder with each passing mile. "The moon? The lightning?"

Sam's face didn't flicker, his eyes showing no sign of humor. "I mean with the car," he replied.

Dean rolled his eyes. "We're walking from here," he said definitively.

Sam's face registered surprise. "You're just going to leave the Impala here?"

Dean twisted, grabbing his bag out of the back seat. "She's not getting any farther on these roads," he said. He pulled the bag onto his lap, sorting through it and checking to see how much ammo he had on hand. It wasn't his favorite option, but Dean was a practical man. And in times like these, he couldn't afford to be sentimental-not even with the car. "Besides, with these roads? She's more at risk going forward than sitting here in the open."

Sam had no argument to that.

Resigned, Dean pushed his door open. In the growing darkness, it was hard to see exactly how badly the car was stuck, and it was virtually impossible to gauge what damage had been done. When they got done with this whole saving the world gig, he seriously owed the Impala a complete once over and a thorough clean. Maybe a new paint job and some fancy tires just to let her know she was still loved.

Shouldering his pack, Dean made his way to the trunk where Sam was waiting for him. He opened the trunk in silence, and Sam reached in first to open their collapsable bottom to access the weapons cache.

They were well stocked, of course. A good hunter always was. Their assortment of ammunition was vast and their range of weaponry was impressive. Cast iron, silver, rock salt pellets. Hunting knives, carving blades, ceremonially blessed pieces.

And that didn't even start on the assortment of other supplies they had. Holy water, ancient texts, exorcisms, rituals, lighters, salt. Gasoline, purified metal. Everything they could ever possibly need for any hunt they might come across.

Yet all the weaponry in the world didn't mean crap when they had no idea what they were walking into. Dean had seen the scene in his dream, and they could see the lightning storm raging ahead of them. They'd encountered Black Dogs and demons and Dean didn't doubt there would be more of that as this whole mess unfolded.

But tonight? Dean wasn't sure if anything in their arsenal would do them any good at all.

Not that he was going to tell Sam that.

Setting his mouth in a grim line, he glanced at his brother. Sam was sifting through their arsenal carefully, loading up on holy water and salt. That was so like Sam. A concentrated defense. He was expecting demons, no doubt.

To complement Sam, Dean reached in, adding a deep range of ammo to the already impressive stash in his pack. He loaded up a few extra knives and two more guns that he usually only saved for the most hard core hunts.

When his pack was as heavy as he dared, Dean swallowed. He tried to smile, watching as Sam looked for a place in his bag to cram a book of ancient banishing rituals. Sam's bag looked even heavier than his, and oddly shaped. It would be heavy as hell to carry and awkward to boot. "You think you got enough stuff there, Butch?" Dean asked.

Sam met his eyes with a flat gaze. "We need to be ready."

Dean's laugh was small. "I don't know if that's even possible."

Sam paused, fingers trembling. He stared down at the book in his hands before tucking it into his jacket pocket instead. He looked up, and straightened his jacket, standing stiffly. He pulled his bag over his shoulder with an effort and sniffed once before nodding.

There was nothing else to say. Nothing else to do. Dean closed the trunk, looking out at the road ahead of them. It was jagged and marred with debris. It wouldn't be easy, and their destination?

The tower stood out starkly in the darkness, partially covered by the isolated storm. If getting there would be hard, Dean didn't even want to think about what being there would be like.

With a glance over his shoulder, the moon was still climbing at their backs, casting an eery red glow over the land.

It was like being stuck between a rock and a hard place, trapped somewhere between Hell and Hades. Damned if they did, probably damned if they didn't.

Dean pushed back the fear. He held back the doubts. Instead he squared his shoulders, giving one last resolute nod. "Let's do this," he said.

Sam didn't reply, but he didn't have to. Dean took his first steps onto the road, and Sam was right there by his side as Dean led them straight into the unknown.

-o-

Sam had thought he was nervous before.

It was nothing compared to the growing sense of foreboding he had now.

After all, with every step they took, the worse the situation got. The walk wasn't much better than the drive had been. The road got harder and harder to follow, the crumbled pavement hardly resembling the stretch of highway it used to be. There were still cars on it, though, littered across the landscape in various states of disarray. The license plates represented a cross-section of America, and Sam shuddered to think this had once been a tourist trap.

Especially since all those well meaning families, those happily retired couples, were all dead in their cars now.

They'd stopped to check on the first few, but the bodies were too far gone-from what, Sam couldn't tell. He wasn't sure he wanted to know.

Of course, moon didn't do much to assuage his nerves. Neither did the lightning storm, which was close enough to feel now, the constant barrage of sizzles and sparks illuminating the massive tower.

Sam imagined the tower had always been inherently impressive, even before this began. The single, monolithic structured seemed to come out of nowhere, an awesome testament to the earth's natural beauty. But Sam knew that was nothing compared to its current state.

The closer they got, the clearer it was. The earthquake had ravaged the area, and it seemed like they were probably close to the epicenter, if not right on top of it. The ground was severely torn, opening bottomless fissures in some areas and driving slabs of earth under one another in others. This shifting and tearing had only bolstered the tower, lifting it higher into the sky. Even with an untrained eye, Sam could see that it reached epic proportions now, stretching so tall that its peak was entirely obscured in the looming cloud cover.

If it had been natural, it might have been awe-inspiring. But Sam knew that earthquake or not, this had been no regular trembler. No, seeing the tower jutted like that-it was almost as if Hell itself was trying to ascend all the way to Heaven and take right over.

Sam didn't want to think about how accurate that might be.

Next to him, if Dean was having similar doubts, he wasn't letting on. To the contrary, his brother was moving doggedly onward, scaling the juts in the ragged ground with hardly a look in front of them. It was a quiet trek, because not even Dean could come up with something to ease the tension.

When they finally reached the dilapidated entrance to the park, they had to stop. Not just to think about what they were doing, but because it was easy to see that their journey was about to change.

The sign was remarkably still standing, welcoming visitors to Devil's Tower. However, the check point was complete gone, one electronic gate still hanging haphazardly. But behind the sign, the land was rocky and risen, hitching unnaturally into the air. The incline wasn't impassable, but it was steep, and even in the red moonlight, Sam could see that it was going to be an uphill walk from there.

Dean huffed. "Well," he said tiredly. "Looks like we'll be doing some climbing."

The tone was meant to be annoyance, but even Dean couldn't quite pull it off. Sam knew his brother too well, and he could hear the hints of fear that he was trying to hide.

Dean had told Sam a little about the dream, but if the bloody moon was any indication, Sam figured Dean had gotten a better picture of what they were facing than he was letting on.

Sam's only hope at this point was that Bob would be there when they finally got to the tower. If not...well then Sam had no idea what they were going to do. This was a huge leap of faith, more than Sam really wanted to make, but they simply did not have any other options, not when it came to the Apocalypse. Their dad was AWOL now and they couldn't sit around and do nothing when they had a part in saving the world.

Sam nodded. He held out a hand with a grim smile. "After you."

Dean gave him a look, but flattened his lips and started in on the incline.

Sam was in good shape-they both were, despite Dean's eating habits-but the climb was hard. The rocks were sharp and random, sometimes making easy foot holes and plateaus, other times leaving them scrambling to find their next step. Step after step, rock after rock, they didn't look back. Couldn't look back.

Their packs made it cumbersome, slowing them down. It threw off Sam's center of gravity, but he didn't dare abandon it. A hunter couldn't afford that, especially not now.

They passed into trees now, some upright, others fallen, The incline was less now, still steep but more horizontal. They had to be getting closer, Sam thought.

Then Dean staggered, almost falling, and Sam scrambled to steady him. "Dean!" he cried out, trying to keep his own feet grounded. A fall probably wouldn't kill them, but Sam couldn't say for sure, and he sure as hell didn't want to find out.

Dean swayed, a hand going to his head for a moment.

"Dean, you okay?" Sam asked, feeling his heart thudding in his chest.

His brother blinked, shaking his head. "Yeah," he said, a little absently. "I think angel radio just kicked back on."

"What?" Sam asked. "Now? After all the silence?"

Dean squeezed his eyes shut, pressing hard on the bridge of his nose. Then he opened his eyes again, looking up in horrified wonder. "They're all here."

"Who's all here?" Sam asked.

"The angels," he said. "That's why I haven't been able to get ahold of them. They're all too busy."

Sam shook his head, trying to put it all together. "Busy doing what?"

Dean's face was pale, the circle under his eyes pronounced with the red moonlight. "A battle," he said, his voice almost reverent. "They're preparing for battle."

Sam's eyes went wide. "A what?"

Dean met Sam's gaze with a strange certainty. "The angels are here-a lot of them-preparing for battle."

Licking his lips, Sam tried not to let fear get a grip on him. "Against who?"

Dean's face was blank. "I don't know."

Sam nodded at that, because he didn't know what else to do. His mind raced for a minute, trying to come up with something, anything. Instead, he asked, "So what do you want to do?"

Dean laughed dryly, his voice almost cracking. "We do what we came here to do."

Sam took a shuddering breath, willing his heart to stop pounding. He offered a watery smile. "You good to go then?"

Dean's countenance wavered just for a moment. "You going to stay at my back?"

Sam's answer was quick, certain. "I won't let you fall."

The grin Dean wore was tired, relieved. Grateful. "Then let's do this."

Sam could only nod, following a step behind his brother as they continued to climb.

-o-

It started off with sound.

The air was thick with the electricity from the storm, but soon the sounds were distinguishable. Above the rapidly thumping of Dean's own heart, he knew these sounds, better than he wanted to. They came back to him with an ethereal quality, the lingering remnants of his dream.

Only this time, it was all real.

It started off quiet, distant. A humming, vibrating in the air, tingling through them both.

Like being at a concert, standing right in front of the speakers. Only instead of rocking out to some solid tunes, Dean was about to rock out to what might be the end of the world. With front row seats, no less, and his little brother by his side.

Which really, was just peachy.

There was a burst of static in his mind, followed by a bleating chord which resonated for a moment in his head before suddenly cutting off. It made his knees go weak, but he steadied himself, forcing himself onward. Sam was behind him-too close-no doubt watching every move he made. And Dean couldn't be sure that if he fell, he wouldn't take Sam down with him.

Not that he would have left Sam behind, even if the kid would have agreed to it. They were in this together, no matter what. There was reassuring in that solidarity, and Dean needed that more than ever.

The higher they climbed, the clearer it became. Not just sounds. Voices. Hundreds of them. Maybe thousands. But not the pleading of humanity like he'd expected from his dream. No, this was chanting, reverent and skilled, ebbing and flowing in perfect Latin.

"There's two sides," Sam whispered behind him, his voice low and grating.

Dean paused, looking back at him. "What?"

The bruises on Sam's face were vivid against his milky skin. Sam swallowed convulsively, his Adam's apple bobbing as he looked up at the incline. "One side is invoking the name of God."

Dean turned his head back up as well, listening more carefully now. The words were distinct now, and he could hear the two strains. "The other calling on the big man down under," he concluded grimly.

"I guess we got the right place then," Sam said with trepidation.

Leave it to Sam to make the understatement of the Apocalypse. Dean shook his head, grunting his reply, before climbing on.

Sam followed, right on backside, one foot after another, after another, after-

The ground evened out suddenly, and in the new expanse the noise was loud-almost deafening. Dean could no longer hear his brother's footfalls behind him, could barely feel the hot shadow of Sam's breath on the back of his neck.

Dean picked up his pace, feeling his chest tighten in anticipation. There was one last incline, small but steep, and Dean grappled with it, rocks falling away in his efforts. Sam went slightly to his left to avoid being hit with debris, but Dean reached the summit first.

Dean pulled himself over, his arms screaming with the effort. Panting, he rolled onto solid ground, but his recovery was thwarted by what he saw.

Sam came up next to him, falling just as still.

Dean wasn't sure what he had expected.

But it wasn't...this.

The tower was right before them now, massive and imposing. At its foot, there were thousands of people. They stood rigidly, in awkward lines. The bodies were erect, limbs at tight angles, as if they weren't used to moving at all.

Then Dean realized they probably weren't. Because these weren't humans-at least not anymore.

No, these bodies were vessels. Possessed by demons.

Behind them at the base of the monolith, there was a massive crack and Dean could see swarms of black still escaping. He watched in horror as the black clouds separated, stealing into a pile of bloodied bodies stretched out at the edge of the abyss. Humans being worn as mere tools, stockpiled like an arsenal for a demonic army.

Their ranks were growing, filling the ground as far as Dean could see. Their backs were to the mountain, poised, ready, black eyes glinting with bloody moonlight.

Facing them, in organized ranks but smaller number, were the angels. Dean hadn't seen a lot of angels, but he did not doubt that was what they were. They stood erect with their shoulders squared. They each held a sword, a gleaming, glowing weapon that almost looked transparent, but Dean could not doubt the deadliness of the blade.

Sam's breath caught in his throat. "Dean-"

But the words were cut off as one of the angels raised his hand in the air. He was older, the body he was wearing with graying hair and distinguished wrinkles. A businessman, maybe. A doctor.

A general now.

He lifted his chin, voice calling out to the heavens. "Amen!"

The ranks of angels echoed the refrain in beautiful harmony.

"Blessing and glory and wisdom and thanksgiving and honor and power and strength!" the angel continued, his voice booming over the open ground.

Across from them, the demons tittered, some spitting, others crying out in pain.

Then the angel raised his other arm, eyes closing in invocation. "These belong to our God," he prayed. His hands closed into fists. "Forever and ever." Then he opened his eyes, leveling his stare at the demons. The last world came out in a fierce growl. "Amen."

And before Dean could blink or think to push Sam away, the angels surged forward in a blur of light and sound, and the war began.

-o-

It was unlike anything Sam had ever seen

After a lifetime with the supernatural, that actually meant something.

The sheer scope, the weight-

These were angels, warriors of the Lord. He had known Bob was an angel, but not like this...

Not wielding a sword against foot soldiers of Lucifer.

It was numbing. Overwhelming. Sam didn't know if he wanted to scream or cry or run away. As it was, all he could do was stare.

The two sides clashed in an explosion that lit up the battlefield. Thunder rolled, heavy and loud, and the sky split, the cloud cover rolling away from the tip of the tower in parallel waves. There was a gust of wind that swirled violently around them before and eerie stillness saturated the air above the clearing.

The battlefield.

Dean was frozen next to him, Sam's arm just touching his.

The angels seemed to fly, feet moving so quickly, they barely touched the ground. Their swords cut through the air, rending demons in their wakes. The demons fought back, however, relying on mere numbers alone to overtake their enemy, pulling down the angels in pairs or threes and devouring them in bursts of energy.

They had come here for this, they had traveled so far-and to do what? What were they supposed to do here? At a meeting of Heaven and Hell that was so epic, that Sam wasn't even sure they would survive watching.

Then he saw Bob.

The familiar angel was wearing his typical outfit-a t-shirt and a pair of designer jeans that no doubt cost more than Sam's entire wardrobe. His hair was still gelled and styled, but not even Bob's unique sense of fashion could change the fact that he was fighting a war at the moment.

In fact, Bob was engaging a demon, and a formidable one at that, Sam realized. The angel's sword was caught up in an invisible force, and his normally smooth face was strained with an effort Sam couldn't even begin to imagine.

Bob didn't seem to take things seriously very often, even when it seemed like he should, but it was clear that the angel was taking this seriously. Very seriously.

Because he was about to lose.

A pair of demons was coming up quickly from behind, creeping with an inhuman stealth. Locked in combat as he was, Sam knew that Bob would never have time to get out of the way, not without exposing himself to his current opponent.

Whatever issues Sam had had with the angel from time to time, he wasn't going to sit by and let him die. Especially not now.

Sam turned to Dean to show him, but from the look on Dean's face, he saw it, too. Their eyes met just for a second, and they didn't need to say anything. It was hard to define exactly what Bob was to them, but the angel had saved their asses enough for them to return the favor.

Keeping a hold of his gun, Sam dropped his bag, feeling for the flask of holy water in his pocket. Getting to his feet, he charged, Dean right by his side. It was a straight run, as fast as they could manage, weaving through the battle with as much focus as they could.

They weren't as close as Sam would have liked, but they didn't have any time to waste. Sam fired at one of the approaching demons, his salt pellet not enough to kill it, but definitely enough to make it double over and hit the ground. Dean staggered the second with an iron round, and it wasn't much, but it was enough.

Bob's face twisted into a frown, thrusting one hand forward. His face contorted with concentration and he made a fist before yanking hard. The demon's essence followed suit, ripping from its host with a force Sam had never seen before. Shock registered on the host's face before the eyes went blank and it collapsed to the ground.

The demon screeched, the black mass of smoke seizing for a moment before it vanished in a spray of sparks.

With that, Bob turned, grinning at them. "Fancy meeting you here," he said grandly.

Sam just stared. Dean actually gaped.

Bob held out his hand, slashing his sword through the air and felling the two demons who were recovering enough to resume their charge.

Pulling his sword out from the second one, Bob tossed his head, preening a bit. "Makes you think twice before you doubt my whole warrior of the Lord schtick, huh?"

Sam couldn't help it. His mouth dropped open.

Dean recovered enough to raise his eyebrows. "You've been holding out on us, man."

Bob shrugged with a nonplussed frown. "A guy can't reveal all his secret." He leaned forward, waggling his eyebrows. "It wouldn't be any fun at all."

Sam almost laughed at the sheer ridiculousness of the comment, but he had to duck instead as a body flew over his head. "Yeah, since this is such a blast," he replied as he stood to full height tentatively.

Bob's brow creased. "Yes, this really is not the best place for a social call," he agreed. "Why did you come?"

Dean gestured wildly toward the mountain with an air of indignation. "You told us to."

Bob blinked, surprised. "No, no, no," he said. "I told you not to come. I told you to stay as far away from this place as you could."

A demon warbled a war cry, closer than Sam expected. He flinched when he saw it leaping out them, a bloodthirsty fire in its eyes.

Bob held out his palm with a massive grunt. The power released made Sam waver on his feet, and the explosion of power hit the demon head on, causing it to yelp. The body fell limply to the ground, lying still, while the demon writhed in the air before tearing itself apart.

"Oh," Dean said, flinching as an angel brushed past him. "Well, next time you might want to make it a little bit clearer."

"What part of the massive mountain and the foreboding images was confusing to you?" Bob asked pointedly.

"You always said we were a part of this fight," Dean said. He shrugged. "I figured it was you asking for help."

Bob rolled his eyes, wiping away an uncharacteristic trickle of sweat from his forehead.. "Yes, of course," he muttered. "Only you two would think that terrifying images would be an invitation and not a warning light."

Looking nervously as a demon tackled an angel to his left, Sam stepped closer to Dean. "It's a little late for that now," he said, meeting Bob's eyes. "We're already here."

"Yes, and I should fly you right out of here," Bob fretted. He spun his sword, catching a demon coming at his back with almost no effort.

But it did make him blind to the one coming from the left. Sam aimed his gun, firing at it. Dean pelted another from the other direction with holy water before Bob took out the first with his sword and vanquished the other with his hand.

"We can help you," Sam said, a little breathless. He was still trying to believe it himself, but he spoke anyway. They hadn't come all this way, they hadn't abandoned Ellen and the others along the way to just get flown to safety now. "We're already here."

"I don't know," Bob said, eying the battle uncertainly.

Dean tripped another demon, shooting it in the back while it flailed before Bob finished it off. "Consider it an exercise of free will," Dean said with grim satisfaction.

Bob didn't have time to reply as Sam caught another demon with a spray of holy water. In response, Bob followed up with his sword before turning his attention to the demon Dean had plugged with iron.

And the battle raged on.

-o-

For all the years that Dean had spent playing the good little soldier in his father's army, he'd never really understood what it meant to be in a war. Sure, going one on one with a spirit got pretty tense, but it was always a short lived kind of thing.

Real war? Real battles? Fighting enemy after enemy just for his own survival?

He hadn't even had a friggin' clue before, not like he did now.

Now, he really got it.

And realized that while he was pretty fond of hunting things and saving people, it was a damn good thing he'd never enlisted with Uncle Sam.

The back and forth of it all was dizzying, a constant barrage of movement and noise. After awhile, Dean stopped seeing faces-it took too much effort-and merely distinguished between friend and foe with a simple look at the eyes. Anything black, he shot. The rest, he stayed in their wake, riding on the coattails of their almighty protection.

The angels weren't infallible, though, and if Dean really had time to think about that, it would bother him more. They died, maybe not as easily as demons, certainly not as quickly as humans, but the end result was all the same. Their spirits were bright lights, fading into the dry mountain air with the sorrowful resonating sound of a lost dissonant note in a blinding symphony.

Sam stayed close, standing at Dean's back. It was a strategy they hadn't planned, but made perfect sense. This way, nothing would take them down that they didn't see coming.

Bob followed them both, cleaning up their sloppy work, mopping up the mess of demons they pissed off with simple efficiency. Apparently, not even Bob had time to add a flourish in the middle of a war.

Shoot a demon in the head, catch another in the shoulder. Spray one with holy water, catch one with a boot (steel tipped boots had their advantages in the end).

Behind him, Sam ducked, parried, and swore. They moved together, joined but separate, two and one, incapacitating, crippling, evening the playing field.

Steady swipes. Screaming black. Dying white.

All against the backdrop of the tower.

One more, two more, three more.

Kill, die, survive.

Survive.

It was a steady mantra in his head, his thoughts reduce to actions. Simple verbs. Do, do, do. Win, win, win. Live. Keep living.

Sam.

Dean wasn't sure how much he had in him, wasn't sure it was ever going to be enough. This was the story of his life, the story of his family, playing out on this battlefield. Heaven and Hell, pulling, twisting, murdering. And Dean just wanted to survive long enough to see it end, to see it over. Whoever won, whatever happened, just to stand on the other side with Sam right next to him.

It was a battle without blood, but not without casualties.

And then, just like that, it was over.

Over.

Dean stood, standing over the body of a demon Bob had just slain. His gun was still raised, waiting for an enemy that did not attack.

He stood like that for a moment, not sure what was happening. Panting and breathless, he blinked, looking over the battlefield with dawning understanding.

It was over.

Bodies littered the field, heaped in piles. The crater between the mountain the the clearing was quiet now, hissing quietly, almost as if the air was being sucked back down.

Next to him, Sam bent over, putting his hands heavily on his knees. Dean turned to gauge his brother, and found the younger man on the verge of collapse. He looked about as bad as Dean felt, covered with a fresh assortment of bruises and welts, sweat soaking all the way through his jacket.

"You okay, Sammy?" Dean asked, because nothing else mattered until he knew that much.

Sam's back heaved and his shaggy head nodded without looking up. After a second, he pushed himself upright, swaying every so slightly. His eyes were tired and weary, but okay. He nodded again, swallowing. "Never better," he said breathlessly.

Dean couldn't help it. He grin. "So I guess Dad was wrong all along," he mused. "You make one hell of a soldier after all."

Sam huffed a laugh, wincing as he did. "Couldn't have done it without you."

Bob sighed melodramatically and flounced between them. "And neither of you could have done it without me," he said. He offered them a tight smile. "But, you know, no need to thank me or anything."

Dean rolled his eyes. "If you had just been a little bit more clear-"

Bob waved his hand in dismissal. "Oh, please. I was preparing for battle and you're getting your panties all in a twist because I didn't take the time to spell it out all nice and pretty."

Sam grunted. "It was kind of a big detail, Bob."

"I know, I know," Bob said. "But you know, for your first angel/demon smackdown, that really wasn't all that bad."

Dean barked with laughter. "Thanks," he said. "But you know, nothing personal, but I'm kind of hoping that it's our last."

Bob shrugged. "They get easier," he said. Then he looked down, his eyes catching on his shirt. "But look at this! A hole! I got a hole in my shirt!"

Dean peered closer. "Dude, that's tiny," he said.

Sam frowned, squinting at it. "Dean wears clothes way worse than that all the time."

"Yes, because you two still think that flannel is an viable fabric," Bob muttered, fingering the hole. "I love this shirt and now it is ruined."

Dean clapped Bob on the shoulder. "Tell you what, you get us out of here and we'll buy you a new one."

"You both owe me that," Bob muttered, his brows knitted together. He straightened his shirt, looking out across the field. Then his demeanor changed, his face going blank before he blanched.

"Dude, you really that upset about the shirt?" Dean prodded.

Bob startled a bit. "Oh, uh. No," he said, his voice a little rushed. He reached out, pushing Dean toward Sam, trying to steer them back toward the forest.

"Hey, wait a second," Dean said, trying to put the brakes on. "What are you doing?"

"Oh nothing," Bob told him, with a nervous glance over his shoulder. "But remember when I said you shouldn't be here?"

Sam planted his feet, cocking his head expectantly. "Yeah, but..."

"Well, that wasn't just for your own safety," Bob said as a matter of fact.

Dean's forehead creased. "What do you mean?"

"I always told you that you weren't the only one with orders," Bob said. He closed his eyes. "And my boss is so coming over here right now."

"The boss?" Dean asked, eyebrows raised. He looked over Bob's shoulder. "You mean, God?"

Bob's laugh was almost hysterical. "Not that boss," he said, glancing back again. "My immediate supervisor." He fretted for a moment. "Oh, oh, oh...no. Don't tell him that I let you fight. No, don't tell him I let you come. Just-"

"Bob!" a voice rumbled out of nowhere.

Dean jumped, Sam nearly stumbling. One look and Dean got why Bob was freaked.

The boss was pretty imposing.

Dean probably should have guessed it before, but it was the general from before, the one who had started the battle. Up close, he was taller than Dean expected, broad shouldered and erect.

Bob turned, smiling broadly. "Bill!" he said.

"Bill?" Dean repeated. "Your boss is named Bill?"

Bill's eyes narrowed. "Is there something wrong with the name Bill?"

Dean's eyes widened, mouth opening but no words coming out.

"It's just...not very Biblical," Sam offered in Dean's stead.

Bill nodded, quite seriously. "We considered that," he said. "But after having the same name for 2000 years, it gets a bit on the dull side. Every millennia or so, we like to spice it up."

Dean nodded. "Good choice, then."

Bill gave him a resolute bob of his head before turning his attention to Bob once again. "Bob Marvin, these are the Winchesters that you have been charged with keeping track of, yes?"

"Sir, yes," Bob replied quickly, fumbling over the words. "I mean. I tried to tell them to go away, actually I tried to tell them not to come at all, but they're quite stubborn, these humans. All that free will, and apparently those with the last name Winchester take it more seriously than most."

For all of Bob's rambling, Bill didn't seem to be listening. He shook his head absently. "No matter, no matter," he said. "They're here now and it's just about time."

Though it was fun to watch Bob flop like a fish out of water, Dean's ears perked this. "About time for what?" he interjected, because after the kind of night he'd just had, he wasn't about to be talked about as if he weren't here.

Bill looked at him, then looked at Sam. "To play your parts, of course."

Sam stiffened, his breathing catching a bit in his throat.

Dean set his jaw. "Yeah," he said slowly. "About that. When do we finally get to know exactly what that means? I mean, we've been playing your game for awhile now, and it seems a little late to still not know the big picture."

"It's a very need to know kind of thing," Bob jumped in.

"Nonsense," Bill said. "The hour has come. The day of wrath has arrived. It is time for them to step up and serve their purpose to save the world."

Dean had just survived an epic clash between demons and angels. So why was it that now, when it was all over, that he was getting really, truly nervous?

Sam found his voice first. "And what exactly are we supposed to do?" he asked."

Bill's answer was simple, to the point. "Kill your father."

It hit Dean like a punch in the stomach. "Kill him? But...why?"

It wasn't like it hadn't been an option Dean had kept on the table ever since finding out their father was back in some kind of demonic form. But over time, Dean had come to know that he wouldn't be able to pull the trigger because there was still something of their father there. Still something good lost in the mess that Dean didn't totally understand.

Dean wasn't ready to give up on that yet.

Bill continued. "It's very simple," he said. "You are to kill him before he completes the final seal."

Sam shook his head, clearly reeling just as bad as Dean was. "But what's the final seal? Why can't we just stop that?"

Bill's eyes sparked with sympathy as he looked at Sam. "Because you are the final seal, boy."

And Dean's heart nearly stopped altogether.

Sam was trembling next to him, mouth open. "Me?"

Bill nodded. "Your pure lineage, the blood your mother and your father passed onto you, is quite strong. But when Azazel mixed his blood with yours, tainted it with base unholiness, it stirred a great and terrible power. It created a balance of good and evil, a perfect bridge from one world to the next. Your blood can break the barrier between Heaven and Hell-it is the only blood left on Earth that can release Lucifer."

The words were heavy, hard to hear. Harder still to accept.

"That is why Azazel raised you, why he has kept you alive," Bill explained. "By bringing you from life to death and back again, he amplified your blood, honed it. It practically cries out to complete its duty. This is why he uses your father. He knows that John Winchester is the only way to divide you two long enough to get the deed done. And that is why we need both of you to go and end John before he can end everything."

The revelation was stark. Real.

And it made sense. It made sense.

All the pieces, why Azazel had chosen Mary and John. Why he'd bled in Sam's mouth. Why he'd set Sam up to die in Cold Oak. Why he'd brought Sam back, given Sam back to Dean with no contest at all.

It was a set up. A huge cosmic set up, spanning decades and earthly planes. It was why he'd given John a new body-to play on their daddy issues, to turn them around so many times that Dean wouldn't know who to trust or what to do. Even their father's hesitant allegiance, his regretful reminders that there were some orders he had to follow. They were pawns in a chess game-Dean, Sam, John. All of them.

It was brilliant. It had worked-so far.

But now-to kill their father before his father killed Sam.

Was it possible? Would their father really try to do it? Why would the angels lie? But after everything, was their father really capable of it?

Could Dean really afford to take the chance either way?

Dean had spent his entire life trying to save his family, trying to keep them together.

Now, he only got to save one of them.

Only one.

And standing there, Sam at his side, in the midst of a war between Heaven and Hell, for the first time, Dean really didn't know what to do.