There was really nothing in the mangled, water-stained book that could help them at this point, but Sam was translating it from Latin simply because he needed something to do until it was time to leave. He couldn't believe that it was actually happening. They were going to end this, one way or the other. Dean had been adamant against Sam's plan until his meeting with Death, after which he'd grimly told Sam he was on board. Now all they could do was wait until they figured out where Lucifer was going to be.

Maybe it was the hairs on the back of his neck standing up. Maybe it was something deep in his soul where a spark of angel's Grace nestled. But something made Sam look up. She was standing in the doorway to the library, her face so weary and her eyes so aged that he honestly couldn't tell if it was the girl or the angel. Sam closed the book, using his finger as a bookmark, and said nothing, waiting for her to speak first.

She stared at him for a moment, arms crossed over her chest, and then took a ragged breath. "Cas talked to us," she said.

Sam tried to crush the brief feeling of relief that flashed through his chest. Mallory. If she was talking to him, then maybe, just maybe he could get her to forgive him. "Mal," he started, but she held up a hand.

"He agrees with you," she went on. "Bobby and Dean and Mary...they think we should give you the chance." She fell silent and Sam waited. When she didn't seem inclined to speak, he took the risk.

"What do you think?" he asked softly.

"I think you're fucking crazy," she replied bluntly. "But that's just my opinion."

"Mal," he tried again, but she shook her head.

"Don't. Please don't apologize. I don't know if I can forgive you at this point."

Sam's heart sank and he lowered his head, dropping his gaze. "Yeah. I probably deserve that."

She snorted and walked over to him, punching him lightly in the shoulder. "Don't be an idiot." His eyes darted back up to meet hers. "I know you, Sam. You're a good person. We all make mistakes. Starting the Apocalypse is a pretty big one, but still." She dropped onto the couch beside him. "That's not why I'm mad at you. I'm mad because you didn't tell me." She looked him in the eye. "You should have told me."

"I know," he replied simply. He set the book aside and cautiously reached over to enclose her tiny hand in his much larger one. Encouraged when she didn't pull away, he took a deep breath. "And on the subject of telling you things I don't want you to know, I'm going to have to drink a lot of demon's blood before I can accept Lucifer."

She made a grossed-out face. "Yeah," she said slowly. "We're going to have to work that out later."

Sam frowned. "What do you mean, later?" he demanded.

Mal raised her eyebrows. "Ami is of the opinion that she's not gonna survive this. I'm saying it's bullshit. We're making it through this because we're coming after you, Sam."

"No," he said instantly, his voice firm. "No, absolutely not. You have to leave me there, Mal. You can't risk messing with it. There's no coming back."

She rolled up onto her knees beside him and tugged her hand out of his grasp to take his face in both hands. "You don't get it, do you?" she asked, her face solemn. "Sam, we're connected. You, me, and Ami. We feel everything that you do. And if this works, and you go into the Cage, we're gonna feel everything that happens there. Every pain, every torment. Every moment."

Sam's eyes widened in horror. "You have to take it back. Ami has to sever the Mark. I can't—I don't want to do that to you."

"It doesn't work like that," she told him, rubbing her thumb along his cheekbone. "It's forever. Besides. Why would we want to?"

He frowned at her, about to ask what she meant, but the words were doomed to remain unspoken when she leaned forward to close the distance between them. Sam's first thought was to push her away. Not because he didn't want this (he did, God he did), but not like this. Not because he was about to do the single most idiotic thing in a long string of poor choices. Not some end-of-the-world thing.

Then he thought, what the hell?

He slid his hand underneath Mal's thigh to pull her onto his lap, settling her in a more comfortable position with her knees straddling his hips. She tangled her fingers in his hair, pulling his mouth harder against hers. It was hungry and needy and a little bit sloppy, hurried sips and tastes between panted breaths until Sam flicked his tongue against the seal of her lips and she parted them with an eager moan.

"Oh, fuck."

Sam groaned and rested his forehead against Mallory's, leaving his hands were they rested on her thigh and lower back. "Dean," he growled in a dangerous voice. Mallory giggled softly, half in embarrassment, tightening her fingers in his hair.

"Okay, one, it's about freakin' time," Dean went on, ignoring his brother. "But two, in public? Come on, have a little decency."

Mallory giggled again. "Dean," she said brightly. "Fuck off." With that she renewed the kiss, mouth open and inviting. There was a strangled sound from the doorway and retreating footsteps. Mallory laughed against Sam's lips. "I'm still mad at you," she murmured petulantly.

"We'll work it out later," Sam mumbled back, distracted.

XxxXxxX

The faces surrounding Sam on the street were mixed in their expressions. Castiel was stoic, Mary was clearly struggling to remain in control, and Bobby wouldn't meet Sam's eyes. Dean was grimly determined to see this thing through now that he'd agreed, and Mallory was not handling things well. Sam drew her to the side, hands on her shoulders.

"Hey, you okay?" he asked softly.

"Sam, Lucifer's here. In Detroit," she said frantically. "My home...my family, my friends. He's here."

"Nothing's going to happen to them," he told her firmly. "We're going to do this, okay?"

She took a deep shuddering breath. "Okay." She lunged forward, threw her arms around his neck to draw him down, and kissed him hard. "I'm coming for you. I promise."

"Don't do anything stupid," he admonished. He turned to face the others. Bobby was first, giving the taller man a tight hug.

"Don't give him an inch," he said gruffly, eyes suspiciously bright. "You keep fighting and you give him hell, you hear?"

"I will, Bobby," Sam told him. Bobby moved aside for Mary, who placed a kiss on Sam's cheek.

"Remember I love you," she whispered in his ear. He nodded and hugged her back.

Dean waited for him at the trunk of the Impala. Sam joined him, looking down at the four gallon jugs of dark red liquid. "I'd really rather you didn't watch this," he told his brother. Dean nodded, looking grateful, and went to wait with the others.

When the last of the demon blood was gone, Sam slammed the trunk. He could feel the power singing through his veins and he was jittery, full of energy like any moment he was going to burst out of his skin. His senses had sharpened. Castiel glowed faintly in the darkness, white and pure. Next to him, Amitiel had the same aura, the angel taking over from the girl. He met her gaze and she reached up to touch her chest with her fingertips. A responding blossom of heat flowered under Sam's breastbone; a physical reminder that his angel would be there with him every step of the way. He turned to look at Dean.

"Let's do this."

Amitiel watched the human brothers walk off down the dark street. Castiel reached over and took her hand, squeezing reassuringly. Mary began to pace, her hands continuously moving. Bobby stood stock still, eyes fixed on the ground.

They waited.

Amitiel felt when Sam used his powers, a surge of darkness that made her twitch. Instantly, all eyes were on her. She swallowed and closed her eyes, reaching out through the Mark to the young man.

He can do it. He'll do it. He can do this. It'll be okay. He can do it. Mallory's voice was a steady comfort, the girl seeking to reassure herself as much as the angel. But Sam's racing heartbeat pulsing against the Mark and his fear swirling sickeningly in Amitiel's stomach was not helping.

Yes.

Amitiel gasped and clutched Castiel's hand tighter, gritting her teeth to keep from crying out when Lucifer's presence overwhelmed Sam's. Light, darkness, pain, exhilaration, pressure, noise, and deep, visceral fear almost drove her to her knees. "Sam!" she called in a voice almost a sob.

Castiel released her hand and grabbed her shoulder in order to keep her upright when her legs buckled. "It's done," she said thickly. Mary made a low noise and pressed her hand to her mouth. Bobby put his arm around her shoulders, hugging her to his side.

He's gonna be okay. He's strong. He can do this. It'll be fine. Oh God, Sam... Please, please, please don't mess this up. You gotta fight him, Sam. You have to win. You have to... Please God, just help him. Please. Please let him win.

Amitiel could feel Sam fighting. She could feel him rage, clawing like a caged animal, screaming and thrashing and beating himself against the confines of his own mind. Mallory could feel it, even though Amitiel wanted nothing more to shield the child. She cried as she prayed from within.

Amitiel opened her eyes, not really seeing the others standing around her. "Something's wrong," she murmured, forgetting to speak in English. "Castiel, something is wrong."

"What is it?" he demanded.

She blinked focusing on his face. "He's not winning," she whispered. Then Sam vanished. She cried out, stumbling forward despite her brother's grip on her arms. "No!" After a moment of panic, she realized she could still sense him, distant but clear.

Dean stumbled back towards them. Mary broke away from Bobby to run to him, holding him up when he nearly fell. "He's gone," Dean said, deep in shock. "It didn't work. Sam's gone."

Amitiel cried out and sank to her knees, arms wrapped around her stomach. Castiel followed her down, wrapping his arms around her. She buried her face against his shoulder, drawing deep, ragged breaths. Mary cradled Dean's head while her son trembled, his hands clenched in her jacket. She stared at nothing, unaware of the tears chasing themselves down her cheeks.

Dean finally pushed away from his mother, refusing to look her in the eye. Mary let him go. He walked out of the alley where they had parked the Impala, heading across the street to the storefront filled with television sets. Bobby and Mary followed him, leaving the angels behind.

Already the news station showed images of fire, hail, and water turned to blood. They stood in stunned silence, watching the devastation. "What are we supposed to do now?" Mary whispered.

Dean suddenly growled. "We stop this."

Bobby looked at the younger man. "How?" he wondered without much hope.

Dean's face was carved from stone. "Only way we can." He turned and stalked back to the Impala, climbed in, and gunned the engine. Bobby and Mary watched him leave with blank eyes.

"Well, shit," Bobby said at length.

XxxXxxX

Dean drove. Drove until the city faded to suburbia and then to countryside. Drove until he was hopelessly lost and kept on driving. He wasn't sure where he was going, or where he needed to be. He just knew he had to be somewhere else than here.

He refused to let himself feel. If he did he'd completely fall apart. Refused to think about what had happened. Refused to think about Sam. What Sam was going through. Refused to think about what they had done. He clung to one single thought and blocked out all else. Just one thought, one hope, that he might end this.

He didn't think about the consequences. They were far beyond that. He didn't think about how it would affect Mary or Bobby. Or Cas. He tried not to think about Cas at all. He didn't think about the fact that this was the very thing he'd been fighting with every ounce of his strength since that fucked-up moment in Dad's old storage room.

The low fuel light blinked on the dashboard but he didn't stop. His hands ached from gripping the steering wheel but he didn't ease up. He gritted his teeth until it felt like his jaw would crack. The dark landscape flowed past outside the windows, but he didn't see it. Saw only his failure and Lucifer wearing his brother.

The Impala's engine sputtered and died, the car drifting to a halt on the gravel shoulder of the road. Dean slammed the door open and stumbled out. How long had he been driving? His legs had gone stiff. The eastern horizon was turning gray, streamers of peach and blue strung out over the predawn sky. He walked away from the road, into field beside it, until he could no longer see his car. Then he stopped, tilted his head back, and looked up at the sky.

For a moment he was silent, and then he laughed, soundless and humorless. "You knew this was going to happen, didn't you? You son of a bitch. You knew this was where we'd end up." He laughed again, mania edging into his voice. "Was this your plan the whole time? Drive us into a corner so we'd have no other choice?"

He ran his hand over his short hair, closing his eyes briefly. "We could have stopped it," he whispered. "We were so close." He opened his eyes again and glared up at the sky. "The whole world is gonna burn and it's your damn fault!" he yelled. "D'you hear me? You did this! Not me! Not Sam! You!"

He punched the air accusingly, his voice raising. "We didn't deserve any of shit! None of this! All we ever did was help people! And all our lives we get the shit end of the stick. Sam should have gone to college. Should have gotten married and had a boring life. That's all he's ever wanted, but no! You guys fucked with his life from the very beginning. Everything that he's been through, that's on you!"

Dean dropped his arm, breathing heavily. "We don't deserve this," he whispered again. He closed his eyes. "Damn you. Damn you to hell." He lowered his head to his chest. "All right, Michael," he muttered. "You win this round."

Straightening, he opened his eyes and squared his shoulders.

"Yes. You hear me, you son of a bitch? I'm saying yes. Come and get me."

He stood there, arms spread to his side and head tilted back, waiting. Nothing happened. Dean lowered his arms, feeling like an idiot. "Typical," he muttered. He turned to start walking towards the Impala.

His world exploded into light and fire and sound.

XxxXxxX

He was waiting for them when they arrived, sitting at his desk with a clean shirt and looking more well-groomed than he had in years. He was considering a glass tumbler in his hand as if trying to decide whether or not to fill it from the bottle of amber liquid sitting next to his laptop.

"Chuck," Castiel began.

The prophet's eyes darted over to the angel. "You do know that Michael has taken Dean, right?"

Castiel's expression tightened. "Yeah, I know."

"Where is the battlefield?" Amitiel demanded. "Where will the confrontation take place?"

Chuck put the glass down and looked straight at the female angel, a far cry from his previous timid demeanor. "What do you think you can do, Amitiel?" he asked her. "We're talking about the showdown between the two heavyweight champions of the universe. You two don't even make it into the light category."

"Tell us where," Castiel said.

The prophet sighed. "Fine. But don't blame me when you guys get yourselves killed. It's in Skull Cemetery outside Lawrence, Kansas. Good luck."

"Thank you," Amitiel whispered.

Chuck sighed as the papers on his desk stirred. He poured himself another glass of whiskey and swallowed it, more slowly this time. He grabbed the nearest mildly empty scrap of paper and a pan and scrawled a barely-legible note across it.

"Becky—

Take care of this for me. You know what to do.

—Chuck."

He placed it on top of his laptop, took another look around his house, and got to his feet, reaching for the blazer hanging across the back of his chair. He slipped it on, straightened it, and ran his fingers through his hair. Then he turned to the figure standing unnoticed in the corner.

"So," he said.

Joshua stepped further into the room. "Your earthly work is done, Chuck Shirley," the angel said. "It's time to go home."

Chuck took a deep breath. "I'm ready."

XxxXxxX

The cemetery had long ago ceased to be used, the graves overgrown and the tombstones weather-worn. The wind blew through the iron fence, setting the gate to creaking. The sound of a lone crow broke the silence.

Lucifer watched the crow fly overhead, eyes tracking the bird's movement. When he lowered his gaze, he found himself confronted by his brother. "Michael," he greeted. "You look well."

"Lucifer," Michael replied. "It is good to see you."

"If that were true then you wouldn't be here," Lucifer countered. Michael looked away.

"It is the truth," he said softly. "I have missed you, little brother."

"Then why are we doing this?" Lucifer asked, taking a step towards Michael. "Do you ever wonder? Michael...We don't have to do this."

Michael frowned, green eyes hardening. "What are you talking about?" he demanded gruffly.

"Look at us," Lucifer replied, his voice soft, almost seductive. "We're brothers. We love each other. What kind of father asks this of His children? We have another choice. We could just...walk off the board."

A scowl gathered on Michael's borrowed face. "You're talking about violating the plan that has been established since the beginning of time."

"But it isn't our plan," Lucifer insisted. "Don't you see, Michael? This is what He wanted since the beginning. He wanted to turn us against each other, weaken us so we would never question Him. These pathetic creatures of dust can question Him, but we, His firstborn, we must do whatever He asks without question. Without doubt. But together—"

"No." Michael cut him off, his voice hard as steel. "Save your corrupt words for the weaker-minded, Lucifer. I won't be swayed."

Lucifer sighed. "So you insist on this?"

"Yes, because I am a good son," Michael replied.

Lucifer clenched his fists. "Then what are we waiting for?"

The two archangels began circling each other, wings unfolding to aggressive positions and the air going dry and static from gathering Grace.

"Dean! Sam!"

At the sound of the cry, both angels stopped and turned to stare at the intruder. Mary stood several yards away, Bobby further behind her. She took a couple more steps forward. "I know you can hear me," she continued. "It's all right. Everything is going to be all right. I'm here."

Michael frowned at the woman. "Mary Winchester. You cannot interfere with this. Permission has been granted. It has begun. You should leave."

"No, let her stay," Lucifer countered immediately. "I think she'll want to see this."

Mary ignored both of them. "I know it's hard, boys. Dean, I know you think we can't win. But please. Please, you have to fight. You're strong. I know you are. Both of you. You're stronger than I am, than your father. I need you to fight. Fight for me."

Michael took a step toward her. "Mary, please. You must go now. I cannot guarantee your safety and I wish no harm to come to you."

"Those are empty words, Michael," Lucifer shot back. "You're the one willing to burn this planet to ashes to stop me."

Michael whirled on his brother. "You started this, Lucifer," he growled. "You turned against us." He turned back to Mary. "Please. I don't want to hurt you."

"And I want my son back, you bastard," she snarled.

Michael reached his hand toward her, ready to transport her away from the impending battlefield, when a hand clamped on his shoulder and he was whirled around to face angry blue eyes and the cemetery vanished.

The archangel took a step backwards and almost stepped out onto thin air, his heel grinding against the edge of the earth, red dirt crumbling into the void. He looked around and realized that he'd been transported to Arizona. He returned his gaze to his captor.

"Castiel," he rumbled. "You have gone too far."

The warrior angel stood a few paces in front of Michael, wings still outstretched from flight. His Grace was diminished, tarnished and worn from his fall, but it still managed to blaze bright and defiant. "I'm not angry with you," he said softly, his eyes boring into Michael's. "You felt as if you had no other choice. Your brother...you had to stop this. Before he destroyed everything you had worked so hard for. So you made a decision you felt was right. I understand. But it's not too late to end this. There is still hope."

"What right do you have to speak of this?" Michael spat. "You chose to rebel, just as Lucifer did."

Flame burned in Castiel's eyes. "I wasn't talking to you." He strode forward and laid his hand on Michael's left shoulder. "Dean," he said, peering into Michael's eyes, looking through the archangel, searching deeper. "I have faith in you. From the beginning and even now. Keep fighting. You owe me that much."

Michael lifted a hand and blasted the weaker angel to the ground. "Dean has no more say in this matter," he said coldly. "He has given himself to serve heaven."

Castiel pushed himself to his knees and lifted his head to face the archangel. Blood trickled from his mouth. "Dean," he said softly, his voice barely above a whisper. "Whatever happens...don't blame yourself. It isn't your fault. None of this. You're not to blame." His expression turned hard and bitter and he glared up at the archangel. "Heaven is."

Lightning crackled among the pinions of Micahel's flame-colored wings as they spread out to fill the sky behind the archangel. He lifted his hand and snapped his fingers. Blood sprayed the red dirt on the canyon's edge.

XxxXxxX

Lucifer stared at the petite angel standing in front of him. "What," he asked in disbelief. "Could you possibly hope to gain from this?"

"Did you think I was going to stand by and let my human die alone?" Amitiel returned, her head up and wings raised defiantly.

"Your human?" Lucifer echoed, raising an eyebrow.

"Didn't you notice?" Amitiel smirked. "I Marked him. Sam Winchester belongs to me."

It took only a second to confirm her words. "You little whore," Lucifer snarled, his face twisting in rage. "He was chosen for me from the beginning! How dare you!" He lunged forward, seizing her by the throat. She didn't resist, her hands coming up to grasp wrist as she struggled for breath.

"Ami!" Mary cried, starting forward.

"Stay back," Amitiel wheezed. "You promised..."

Lucifer's eyes narrowed, blue-hazel irises gleaming gold. "You still think there's a chance he'll win, don't you?" he asked the angel. He released her and she dropped to the ground, couching and choking for breath. Lucifer went down on one knee beside her. He leaned over to whisper. "Angel of truth. Stop lying to yourself. I'm going to kill you all. And he's going to watch." Then he plunged his hand into her Grace.

Amitiel's back arched, head thrown back. A scream ripped itself free from her throat, raw and animal. Lucifer could feel her Grace, hot and burning, like a star hidden inside a clay jar. He bared his teeth in a savage grin. Her Grace began to unravel, threads of fire spooling out from the vessel to burn and die out in the ether. She screamed again, her true voice breaking free of human limitations. Lucifer pulled his hand out of her chest and watched her collapse again to the grass, stirring weakly.

She tried to crawl away, fingers clawing at the earth. Lucifer reached over and took hold of her right wing where it joined her back, pinning her into place. He shoved his hand into her Grace again, seeking out the last, tattered remnants. They were more elusive than he'd expected, and just as he found them, Amitiel gathered her strength one last time and scattered them.

The vessel went limp in the dry grass, still and unmoving. Lucifer withdrew his hand, feeling slightly disappointed. Amitiel had chosen to end her life rather than suffer any more torment. Ah well. He'd always known she was weak. He rose to his feet, squared his shoulders, and turned to consider the two humans. They were staring at him, projecting shock and hatred, fear and anger. Beautiful emotions. His favorite.

"Are you watching, Sam? This is for you."

Lucifer took a step forward, eager with anticipation, when he was abruptly grabbed from behind and spun around to meet the furious gaze of his brother. Except it wasn't Michael looking out from those verdant eyes. Lucifer pulled free and raised a hand to blast the impertinent human from existence. His arm trembled with the effort and then lowered.

"What? No. What is this?"

Dean Winchester lunged forward to grab Lucifer by the front of his jacket. "Sam?" he demanded. "Hey. You in there? Come on, Sam. I know you can do it."

Lucifer snarled, moved to pull away, and found that his legs would not obey him. "Dean," he rasped, except he had not spoken the word. "Dean, I can't..."

"You can," Dean insisted, his face only inches from Lucifer's. "You have to. Come on, Sam. I'm right here. Sammy, I'm right here."

"He killed..." Lucifer tried to close his mouth, stop the words, but they came anyway. "He killed Ami."

Dean's face hardened. "I know. Cas is gone, too. But we're gonna do this, Sammy. We'll do it for them. Come on."

"No! You cannot do this! This is not how it is supposed to go!"

Lucifer stumbled forward, grabbing Dean's head with both hands. "Dean," he said again, voice tight with effort. "Dean."

"I'm not going anywhere, Sammy," Dean replied, leaning his forehead against Lucifer's. "I'm right here, all the way."

Lucifer screamed and raged and tried to crush the skull between his hands, but his body would not obey. "Dean," his voice whispered. "I got him."

"Then you know what to do."

Lucifer leaned away from Dean, reaching into his jacket with one hand but gripping Dean's shoulder with the other. His fingers closed around the rings in his pocket, pulled them out, cast them to the ground. The words formed in his throat and he tried to catch them, tried to silence them, but they passed through his lips, twisting through the air to rip open the earth.

Wind whistled around them, sucked in through the mouth of hell. The two men teetered at the edge, still clinging to each other. "Sam!" Dean called over the rush of noise. "It's time!"

Sam nodded and tightened his grip on Dean. He closed his eyes, took a deep breath, and let himself fall, Dean at his side the whole time. And within, Lucifer screamed in silence as the edge of the earth rushed past them.

There was a clap of thunder as the earth healed itself, and then silence. The wind died. The cemetery was still, occupied only by two shell-shocked humans and the still body of an angel. The sun shone, and the world didn't end.

XXXXXX

A/N: The Angel of Truth Cycle will continue in #4: Time of Angels. Thanks for sticking with me this far. Hope I'll continue to meet your expectations.