Sitting on the edge of his bed in a garishly decorated beach side cabin, Sam looked out at the crystal blue ocean and frowned. If anyone had ever told him he'd be dying to get out of Tahiti, he wouldn't have believed them.
He'd slept for a solid day and a half after Gabriel had siphoned off a sliver of his soul and left him here, and though he was still bone-tired, he was almost back to normal.
The bad part was, he was awake enough now to be edgy. He hated it, sitting there, waiting. He was itching to get out of the room, to get back to Sioux Falls and put his brother out of his misery.
When Gabriel had returned briefly a few hours earlier, he had told Sam that Dean bought it. That he believed he was dead. That he was going to say yes.
And, sure, that was the plan. But damn did he feel guilty.
All things considered, it was the best plan anyone had managed to come up with-none of the good guys would end up dead or in Hell, so he figured that Dean would forgive him eventually-but in the meantime he felt like absolute shit.
The heat was sweltering, and he pulled at his collar as he looked out at the brightly colored bird that had just landed on the railing of his private balcony. The whole place was too damn cheery, and he found himself absently wishing Gabriel had left him somewhere a little less obnoxious.
He stood up and yanked the curtains shut.
He was trying to brood.
This whole tropical paradise thing was making it difficult.
While Castiel paced, occasionally stopping to stare out the window towards the woods, Bobby sat in quiet contemplation. A frown shadowed his tired face as he fixed his eyes on the open book before him.
The book was old-though frankly, that went without saying in a house like his-and what information the author had neglected to include had been added to the margins in black ink. The handwriting was new and unfamiliar; not Dean's small, harsh capitals or Sam's loose scrawl. This print was even and neat, and as Bobby turned a page, he noticed a tiny Enochian symbol in the corner. He ran a thumb over it and looked up at Castiel.
"This your signature?"
Castiel stopped pacing and approached the desk, tilting his head to better see. Recognising his own writing, he nodded.
"The book was technically accurate in parts, but many of the rituals were inefficient, to say the least. I thought you might benefit from a more straightforward approach."
When he got no response, he continued, pointing at the open page.
"This summoning spell, in particular, has a few extraneous ingredients listed, and a number of the incantations were altogether unnecessary. Leaving them out saves time," he shrugged, trying for a smile, "I know that's always in short supply around here."
Bobby closed the book and leaned back in his chair, rubbing his hands over his chin. He looked exhausted, the flecks of gray in his beard aging him far less than the weary look in his eyes. Castiel watched him with concern.
"Are you alright, Bobby?"
Bobby blinked a couple of times and shook his head.
"Of course I'm not."
He pulled his hat from his head, absently bending the brim between his hands.
"I've barely had five minutes to..." his shoulders sank as he shook his head again, "Christ, Sam deserved better than that."
Castiel sat down on the edge of the coffee table. He agreed.
The fact that Lucifer was still out there despite Sam's sacrifice just added insult to injury. Castiel watched as Bobby struggled to hold himself together.
"He was like a son to you."
"Yeah," Bobby smiled; it was a broken thing, "Yeah, he was."
Absently, Bobby thumbed the cover of the book before him. Even without his lost ability to see into souls, Castiel saw clearly on his face what he was thinking.
"There was nothing you could have done."
"I don't know... I still feel like there's something else, something we missed," his brow furrowed, "when I flew to Detroit, Meg turned up."
Castiel was on his feet immediately.
"Why didn't you say something?"
"Kind of stopped being a priority once I got back."
"She possessed Norm. Stupid sonofabitch didn't have his anti-possession charm on him. Tried to steer us into the ground. She nearly did it, too. If I hadn't exorcised her in time, we'd have been a sad story on the 6 o'clock news."
Castiel shook his head. There was something wrong with the whole thing.
"Why would she-?"
"She just said she was trying to 'save her own ass'. But something just didn't sit right... I mean, if she wanted to kill me, there's plenty of easier ways than murder-by-plane-crash."
"Maybe killing you wasn't the plan."
"Yeah," Bobby said, drumming the desk, "But I'll be damned if I can work out what she did want."
"Did anything else happen when you got to Detroit?"
"It was quiet. And I mean quiet. Like someone had gone through and cleaned up the place. I'd bet my left one that Meg had something to do with it."
"Your left what?"
Bobby ignored the question and pulled his hat back on as he pushed himself up from his place behind the desk. He look out toward the trees. Castiel moved to stand beside him.
They stood like that a while, silently staring out into the growing darkness. Finally, Castiel spoke, his voice quiet.
"He'll be cast down soon."
With a sidelong glance, Bobby nodded.
"I just hope Michael makes it hurt."
"As do I."
Somewhere deep in his chest, Castiel felt a wave of shame at his hasty reply. Wishing pain on his brother, even if that brother was Lucifer, was not something that rested comfortably on his conscience. He nearly felt guilty about it until he remembered what was left of Sam at Stull, the look on Dean's face when he had realized his brother was gone, the sound of his too-measured breaths as he tried to hold it together and sleep, and thought, I wish I could do it myself.
"How much longer do you think it'll be?"
"It's been two hours so far. If he hasn't already summoned Michael, he'll be doing it soon. Maybe another three hours. Maybe a little less."
Not knowing was the worst part.
"He'd better be careful."
"He will," Castiel replied, raising his chin, "he promised."
His voice was firm, resolute, and a lot more confident than he really felt. Castiel looked back outside, his throat clicking as he swallowed. Bobby clapped a hand on his shoulder and gave it a brief squeeze.
"Come on, lets have some coffee. Staring out the window isn't going to bring him back any faster."
As Bobby left, walking into the kitchen, Castiel's eyes flickered to the book on the desk.
He had faith in Dean, but it was always worthwhile to have a back up plan.
Dean screamed for Michael with everything he had.
A minute passed, then two, and nothing happened. Dean felt a cold sweat breaking out on his forehead.
"Yes!" he shouted again, "You hear me, Michael? I said yes!"
"Don't be disheartened, Dean. He never answers me, either, and I'm his brother."
The voice came out of nowhere, and Dean jerked his head back down. Lucifer, his vessel blistered and barely holding together, leaned against a tree. He crossed his arms over his chest.
"And speaking of brothers..." Lucifer spread his hands, out, looking around with a raised brow, "Where's yours? Not that I'm unhappy to see you, but I'd much rather the tall one."
Dean narrowed his eyes, feeling the rage of his brothers death bubbling up in his chest.
"Wow, your brains get scrambled back there in Lawrence? You killed him, you son of a bitch."
"If he was dead, I'd be able to locate his soul. But I cannot. Therefore, he is not."
Hope flared up, and Dean tried to quell it.
It's a trick, he told himself, he's trying to get your guard down.
He stood up a little straighter, gripping the knife in his hand. It was useless against the devil, that he knew, but at least it was something. Whether it killed the junkless bastard or not, it'd sure feel good to stab him in the face.
"You can cut the crap, Bedazzled. I'm not that stupid."
With a mirthless laugh, Lucifer shook his head.
"Come now. I think we both know that's not true. I don't know what that was at the cemetery, but it wasn't your brother. If you thought you could fool-"
Lucifer stopped, watching the look of confusion on Dean's face and pushed himself away from the tree, frowning. His brow raised as he realized Dean was telling the truth.
"You really don't know where he is?" He spoke softly, almost with pity, "that's... unfortunate."
Dean's grip on the knife's hilt tightened. There was something in the devils voice that made him believe he was telling the truth. Sam was out there somewhere. Sam was alive. Try as he might, he couldn't push the hope away, even as Lucifer advanced on him.
And then, in the space between one second and the next, he heard a voice, something akin to the resonance of a struck bell and the call of a great bird mingling together in perfect harmony. There were words in a language as old as time if not older, and though he had no idea what the words were he understood their meaning as clearly as if it had been in English.
I am the Archangel Michael. Will you accept me, Dean Winchester?
Dean had a list of demands a mile long, conditions that he wanted to lay out in advance, but in that moment they all left his mind. Sam was alive, somewhere, and if he didn't say yes now he might never find him. He didn't know whether he screamed the word or thought it, but with every molecule of his being he said yes.
An instant later he was blinded by a light so bright and dense he could almost touch it, the struck bell sound ringing out into his fingertips, down to his toes. He felt everything and nothing, all at once, and quite suddenly he was looking through eyes that, for the time being, were no longer his. The world seemed distant, and he felt the raw crackling power of the Archangel coursing through him, pushing him back, down into himself. Into a warmth, something gold and vast and welcoming that he recognised as his own soul.
He let it envelop him, and just for a moment he forgot himself. He forgot where he was and what was happening. He was within it somehow, a self within a self, conscious in a way he could never have imagined. Even now, he could barely comprehend it. He looked at his soul and his soul looked back. He was and was beyond, was within and without and all. He saw all the moments that had shaped him, stitched into the brightness of his being, not in images but in feelings, and he knew them all. There was protect Sam and memories of Mom and Dad and music and fireworks and love and dying and Bobby. And he saw where his soul had been broken, where it had been pressed back together with something glowing, pale and blue. The pale blue light drew him in, and he knew it, knew it like his soul knew it. He knew it was grace. He saw the moment it had woven into his being as he had been saved, knew it as the part of his soul that whispered love, love, love, wrapped around it and thought, Castiel. He was overwhelmed.
You are safe. Do not fear.
The words seemed distant, yet they came to him from so near. They pulled him back for a moment, and he remembered where he was. What was happening. He heard his own voice, then.
"Lucifer, what has happened to you?"
He sounded concerned.
Kill him! Dean screamed with every fiber of his being, but Michael paid him no attention.
Lucifer looked at his hands, the skin blistered and crackling.
"Nick is not doing so well. I cannot heal. There was an... incident. An unwilling vessel."
"You are weakened."
Kill him! Kill him now!
Michael stepped toward Lucifer, raising his hand. Relief overcame Dean for an instant, but when the fingers brushed over Lucifer's forehead, the gesture was tender. Michael lowered his hand and stepped back.
"I will not fight you like this. It would not be just."
"Thank you, brother."
They sat down.
The amber glow that was Dean Winchester clouded over muddy gray, and he felt himself fading.
It was well past dark, and Castiel was visibly edgy. Bobby was ninety percent certain that he hadn't moved from his self-appointed post at the window in close to four hours, and had left him moments earlier to make the third pot of bitter coffee.
Outside the low hum of insects lifted on the damp night air, and Castiel kept his eyes trained on the tree line, just barely visible through the gaps between cars. With restless fingers he drummed his thigh absently, his jaw tense and twitchy.
Bobby walked back into the room with two steaming mugs and settled them on the table, hot liquid sloshing over his hand in the process. He swore under his breath. At the sound, Castiel glanced back at him.
"He's been gone too long."
Bobby wiped his hands clean on his flannel shirt and shook his head.
"Way I see it, the apocalypse hasn't started, so he must be okay," he reasoned, "Right?"
Castiel turned back to the window, chewing on the inside of his lip. Bobby felt the anxiety rolling off him.
"Something's gone wrong."
"Give him time, he'll be-"
"It's been hours, Bobby. I'm going."
Moving away from the window, he began to rifle through the drawers of Bobby's desk. He found a pocket knife and shoved it into his jeans. Bobby stared at him.
"Are you out of your damn mind?"
His voice was matter of fact, and he moved a pile of books from atop an old chest to dug through the contents. A frustrated huff, just this side of a growl, escaped his lips when he couldn't find what he was looking for. He looked back at Bobby for the first time, and the hunter had the feeling that if Castiel had still been an angel, this would have been the moment to shield his eyes from the blast.
"Where is it?"
Bobby raised his hands in confusion.
As Bobby spoke, Castiel glanced around the room and saw it, sitting on a bookshelf by the wall. A jar of holy oil. He picked it up and shook it beside his ear; there wasn't much, but it would do.
He held out a hand toward Bobby.
He scanned the room again. A half-empty match-book on the coffee table, and he jammed it into his pocket with the knife before storming out of the house, heading for the woods.
Bobby was hot on his tail.
Castiel ignored him, his strides long and purposeful as his feet crunched down on the gravel. Bobby ran to keep up, but his legs failed him. He shouted out again.
"What the hell are you planning to do?"
Castiel's eyes shifted guiltily.
"Anything I can."
"You'll get your fool ass killed."
Pausing to look back at him, Castiel gave Bobby a weary smile.
"Then I'll see you on the other side"
With that, he turned and sprinted into the trees. Bobby watched him go, then, grudgingly made his way back inside.
On his desk, the book of Enochian magic lay open, though he knew he'd closed it. With a quick glance over the page, Bobby felt his heart clench in his chest.
"You stupid sonofabitch."
Trees hung low, branches scraping his arms and pulling in his hair as he made his way through the woods. He was close to blind, the pale moonlight barely making its way through the thick canopy above, but pressed on at a near run. After almost an hour, his legs lactic and wobbly from the exertion, lungs burning with every breath, he slowed his pace. The ache in his limbs told him to stop. He gritted his teeth and kept moving forward.
When he finally heard Dean's voice in the near distance, his first instinct was to break into a run, but all at once he noticed that the inflection was all wrong. Dean's vocal cords, but not his voice. Not his words.
Michael, he realized, and felt his mouth go dry.
He paused, trying to see through the gaps in the trees, but the strain on his eyes was fruitless. The world was cast in black and grey, and he cursed his mortal eyes as he moved blindly forward, carefully placing one foot in front of the other as softly as possible. His fear rose to a fever pitch as he approached, and all at once he found himself on the edge of a clearing, bathed in moonlight.
At the center stood Michael.
He wore Dean's skin too stiffly, held his neck too straight. His movements were too precise, too slow, and Castiel felt a surge of anger at the sight. He watched as Michael walked, and suddenly saw who he was talking to. Lucifer, perched on a tree stump in his damaged vessel, completely at ease.
They were not fighting.
Castiel crouched down in the trees, placing the jar of holy oil on the dirt as he pulled the knife and matches from his pocket.
It was going to be painful, but Dean would be safe. He repeated it in head head like a mantra.
Dean will be safe, Dean will be safe.
It was similar to the banishing spell he'd used in Van Nuys, only with the added holy fire burning into the sigil on his chest, this would blast any angels out of their vessels before it sent them back into the ether. He didn't think about the pain.
He hoped he wasn't too late.
He unbuttoned his shirt with trembling fingers, keeping one eye trained on the Archangel and the devil as he carefully carved a complex sigil into his chest. The blade caught on the edges of the scar there, overlapping it in places and veering off in others, and he felt the blood run freely. His heart was racing, pushing his blood from him too quick, and he felt dizzy as he turned the knife to his left hand to cut a second sigil into the palm.
Without delay he picked up the jar of oil, dipping his fingers into it and tracing over both sigils. One deep breath in and he was back on his now slightly unsteady feet, pulling a match from the cardboard. As he moved to strike it and step out into the clearing, he heard the crunch of leaves behind him.
There was something moving toward him. Dean could feel it. No. No. Not Dean. Not the soul. The other part. The pale blue light. The grace. It was reaching out as much as it could, testing the boundaries. There was something. Dean felt it. No. Not Dean. Not Dean. He tried to catch hold of the feeling, but everything was fluid, slipping, slipping. Everything dripped away, slipped through his fingers like sand, like water, like the pale blue light, the pale blue light that reached, reached out toward... what? The thing. The moving thing. The moving soul. Soul. The murky gray of his universe pulsed gold for a moment, and Dean had a second of clarity. He was trapped. A soul in a shell being used by someone. Someone else. Someone wrong. Michael. Archangel. Michael. Michael was... the gray returned. Dean was lost, but where? Something was moving out in the dark. Outside of this place. Beyond. The pale blue light could sense it. It reached out, flickered. A pulse of gold. Another. Another. Not something. Someone. The pale blue light reached out. Someone. Beloved. Blessed. Love, love, love, it said. Castiel, it said. The pale blue light glowed brighter, and Dean remembered. He remembered. The swirling mass of gold grew stronger. The pale blue light sang. And now he could feel it, too. Love, love, love, the pale blue light sang, and the gold sang back. It was helping, stretching out toward Castiel, out there, somewhere, searching. Love, love, love, it said, and then Castiel was gone. The gray started to seep back in, a dark cloud around the edges of reality, but the gold pushed back. The pale blue light was singing. The gold was singing. Love, love, love, it sang, Castiel, it whispered. And Dean knew. He knew. He knew.
Gabriel's hand covered his mouth before he had a chance to react, and a split second later he was back in Bobby's kitchen, stumbling as he dripped blood and oil all over the tile. He dropped the book of matches. Bobby stood in the doorway, and when he saw the state of Castiel he hurried forward to help him stand. His voice was gruff and concerned, and just like Dean, he tried to pass it off as anger.
"What in the hell were you thinking?"
Castiel ignored him, looking at Gabriel.
"Take me back."
Gabriel made no response, and Castiel advanced on his brother as Bobby spoke.
"Of all the stupid things-"
"TAKE ME BACK, NOW."
The fury there would have cowed any man, but Gabriel stood his ground.
Gabriel touched his forehead and the cuts on his chest and hand healed. Castiel gritted his teeth.
"They aren't fighting, Gabriel."
The archangel let out a huff and sat down.
"Funny how Michael only seems to have honor when it's convenient. Can't close the deal on Lucifer until the little bastard's in fighting shape, but you can bet your baby blues that he'd have taken me out without a second thought," Gabriel shook his head, "Sometimes I wonder what our Father sees in him."
Bobby crossed his arms, looking between them.
"What do you-?"
Gabriel tapped his temple.
"Been listening in. Michael's refusing to fight Lucifer while he is weakened. He wants a fair fight. Dean didn't have time to negotiate terms, and Michael's not leaving."
Castiel's mind was racing. Every minute that Michael walked around in Dean's skin, Dean was slipping further away. An archangels power was too much for a human body, and strong as Michael was, Castiel was not convinced that he'd be able to destroy Lucifer once he had his strength back. Gabriel's words had done nothing but tell him his plan had been their best shot.
His voice dropped low, imploring, as he addressed his brother.
"Please, Gabriel. You have to take me back," he begged, "Please. I can stop this."
"No, Castiel. You can postpone this. That's all. And you'll die in the process."
"Dean will be lost, Gabriel."
His voice broke, and Gabriel laid a hand on his shoulder. Castiel searched his face, looking for some sign of acquiescence.
"No, Castiel. I'm not taking you back there so you can kill yourself."
With a guilty look toward Bobby, Castiel opened his mouth to deny Gabriel's words, but Bobby spoke before he could.
"Don't. I saw the spell, Cas. I wasn't born yesterday, so don't try to convince me that you didn't know what it would do to you. If you didn't bleed to death first, the fire trauma would have done it," he shook his head, "Don't you think there's already been enough pointless death this week?"
"If I can save Dean, it's not pointless. More people need him than need me. It's a purely logical solution, so-"
"You know, for someone who's been around since the dawn of time, you can be a real fuckin' moron, Castiel."
He snapped his mouth shut, taken aback as Bobby stepped right up into his space, practically spitting the words at him.
"You know how much use Dean would be if he lost you as well as his brother? He'd be catatonic whether he'd had an Archangel-administered lobotomy or not. I'd be surprised if he didn't drink himself to death within a month."
Bobby's voice dropped and he stepped away, composing himself. He looked at the floor for a moment, rubbing a hand through his beard as he spoke.
"Gabriel's right. You can't do this," he glanced back at Castiel with a threat in his eyes, "I'll lock you in the panic room if you try."
Castiel didn't get a chance to reply. A low rumble in the distance shook the glass in the windows, and they stood up to look out into the darkness.
Far off in the clearing, a single pillar of light shot into the sky. For a split second, Castiel felt a sharp pain splitting through the center of his chest.
And then, he didn't feel a thing.