We've arrived at the final chapter! Hope you've all enjoyed it. Thanks for reading!
The place was gigantic, even from their vantage point.
King Boulevard rose over the landscape like a freeway while the actual freeway ran perpendicular beneath it. Both thoroughfares were empty. Now there's a good sign, Dean thought.
The building was a giant oval with a white roof. The parking lot was loaded with cars and lit up like a Christmas tree. With the pitch darkness outside the halo of light around the lot, the place was so bright it almost hurt Dean's eyes to look at. He stopped and looked through the – What to call it? Dean wondered, a suicide barrier? – fence on the side of the street and gazed down at the landscape. The others stopped and did the same, Jesse pressing his face into it as if he could phase right through.
Is he taller? Dean compared their heights. Now that he really looked, Jesse seemed older, as well. Slow down, kid. Or you'll be collecting Social Security before the fight even starts.
"The Sports Arena?" Sam shook his head. "Guess he takes 'theatre' part of battle seriously."
"You have no idea," Cas said, sighing.
"I take it it's time for you to exit stage right?" Dean stepped away from the fence and checked the placement of his weapons one last time.
"Yes," Cas said, keeping his back to Dean. "And I'm sorry, Dean. Truly. You…you have no idea how regrettable I find tonight's events."
"Regrettable." Dean smirked, examining the end of a silver stake before shoving back into his bag. "You guys take P. R. classes up in heaven, Cas, or is bullshit just a specialty of yours?"
There was a soft fluttering, and then Cas was gone.
He clapped twice, hard and loud.
"Well, let's go, ladies," he said bitterly. "Time to save the world. Again."
Bobby stepped up beside him. "We gotta worry about you doing something even stupider that what we're plannin' in there?"
Dean cut his eyes at him. "I'm fine. Just sick of feeling like a shmuck."
What did he mean? There was no real reason for him to feel strung along. Hell, there was nobody with a motive to string him along. So why did he feel so much like the frog carrying the scorpion across the river?
"Nothing." The street lights on their route began to flicker; the four of them looked up simultaneously. Dean cast an amused glance Bobby's way. "C'mon. We're pushing the boundaries of fashionably late. Looks like our host is tired of waiting."
There was nobody outside.
Thousands of cars were lined up in rows, not a single one parked outside the confines of the designated spaces. It took their eyes a while to adjust to the bright white glow of the parking lot floodlights – so much brighter than the amber ones that had lit their path to this point – but once they had, the conspicuous emptiness of the place was painfully apparent in the light's harsh relief. The only sign of life was the low roar of people inside the building, cheering.
They walked down the center aisle in a hard, horizontal line, their shadows shifting as they passed light pole after light pole.
"Well, this isn't creepy at all." Sam walked beside Dean, his enormous boots crunching loose pieces of asphalt beneath them. "What happened to the rest of the army? Cas can't have gotten all of them, can he?"
"They're inside," Jesse said quietly. His posture was resolute, determined, and he spoke with a confidence that wanted to be complete, but wasn't. Voice is deeper, too, Dean thought. "Perhaps he sensed the angel and pulled them back."
"You sound a little unsure about that, kid," Bobby said. "You got anything more solid?"
"I'm not psychic. I don't know everything. But he was inside my mind, and I know him in a way that few others do. He's worried, I think. He doesn't have me, he doesn't have the ring, and he knows you're coming. He hasn't forgotten how things went even when he did have those things, and he's likely playing it safe." He was silent for a moment. "Can't say I blame him, though. You lot have a way of surprising people, getting the upper hand. Don't you?"
Dean kept his eyes fixed on their destination, careful not to look directly at Jesse. He could feel Jesse's attention, if not his gaze, and it made him extremely uncomfortable. Jesse sensed that he was being lied to about something, Dean was sure of it, and they really needed to close the curtains on this play before he had a chance to suss it out.
"It's a gift," Dean said, checking the inside of his jacket for the wooden stake.
"Well, as gifted as we may be, it's do or die time, Jesse. There's a mob of people in there waiting to tear us apart, and no amount of talent can even those odds." They had reached the end of the row and stopped, facing the doors. Sam readied one of his stakes, facing Jesse. "What do we do, man?"
"Tsk, tsk," War said from behind them. "Battle plans on enemy ground? Very poor form."
Castiel stood beside a green Mitsubishi, undetectable, watching.
It seemed things were going according to plan. War didn't know about the ring, and though he pretended otherwise, he hadn't expected the Beast to assist Sam and Dean in defeating him. Perhaps a forgivable oversight; he hadn't known why Jesse disappeared. War's warning against contacting the Winchesters was based solely on his experience with them and their reputations. A forgivable oversight, yes, but an egregious one.
The demon was right all along, the thought bitterly. War is too volatile, too impulsive, to willful to be of any use gathering souls. It hurt him to think it, that the demon saw things more clearly than he, but in this case, it could not be denied. Perhaps he ought to listen to the demon more. After all, he had much more experience than Castiel with these sorts of things; there hadn't been a power struggle in heaven since Lucifer was banished to hell. Certain viewpoints and complexities critical to battlefield success had faded over the years, especially for lower angels like himself.
But there would soon be no more need to think of battle tactics and the like. Soon, Raphael would be destroyed, the apocalypse would be prevented, and things would be set right.
He fingered the black stone in his pocket.
"Well, son of a bitch," Dean said, shaking his head. "Here I thought you were the warrior for the ages. Turns out you're Chris Brown in Navy dress."
"Hello, Dean," War fiddled with one of the patches on his uniform. He surveyed the group with a critical eye. "I suppose it's good that some things never change."
"You're still relying on the skin of your teeth to save you. Look who you've brought to fight me – an old drunk, a second-class hell spawn, a drug addict with a paper wall holding all of hell at bay, a tortured, co-dependent wannabe Duke of Hazzard."
"A wannabe who kicked your ass so far downstairs you needed wings and an elevator to get topside, if memory serves." He held up his hand and wiggled his ring finger. "Guess you'll have to put your class ring on the other hand, eh?"
War's smug expression faltered, and a quiet rage showed on his face. "I made out all right in the end." He waved at them with both hands. He smirked. "Wish you could say the same, huh, Sam?"
"He's fine," Dean snapped.
War bent toward them slightly. "You stopped the apocalypse, Sammy. A significant victory, even for things like us. Put another archangel in hell, locked up that nasty devil, and caught a ride out of the hot box. In a small contained space for centuries with two bitter enemies who wanted nothing more than to fight one another, and you survived. You were the ultimate prisoner of war, Sam, and you made it over the fence. But you paid a toll to cross the bridge over the river Kwai, no?" He tapped his temple. "And for what? Heaven's embroiled in civil war, earth is the same bitch she always was, and Hell…well, Hell's Hell. Tell me, Sam, in hindsight – was the juice worth the squeeze?"
"There is no us," Sam said. "I'm nothing like you."
War grinned. The light overhead cast the planes of his face in and out of shadow as he talked. "But you were," he whispered. "Not too long ago, isn't that right? I mean, you were a rock star during my glory days, but the old you had nothing on the man I've been hearing about in recent times."
"What are you talking about?" Dean strode ahead of their line, pointing the end of a silver stake at War.
War looked past Dean and addressed Sam. "You should be flattered. I don't give compliments lightly. You've shown enormous promise as a warrior, as a killer." He waved halfheartedly at Dean. "Shame your worse half here stamped out your potential. And after the one who raised you worked so hard, brought you back new and improved…"
"What do you know about that?" Sam shifted uncomfortably, shooting a significant glance at Dean. "How could you know who raised me-"
"-and your grandfather?" War rolled his eyes. "Let's just say we're on…intimate terms."
"Enough," Jesse said authoritatively. "We're here to kill you, you bloodthirsty, glorified jockey."
"And you," he said. "The exorcist's wet dream. Should have figured you for a traitor. Past behavior, and all that."
"Yeah. You should have." Jesse twirled his stake.
"Hold the phone there, Chuck Norris," Dean said, holding a hand up to Jesse. "I have an idea."
"Oh? An original idea? From you?"
"Let's make ourselves a little wager. You'll like this."
War grinned. "Will I?"
Dean looked over at Sam. Here goes nothing.
Sam breathed deep. Go for it.
"We're gonna have ourselves a fight. A battle royale."
"That is why you booked the arena, isn't it?" Dean gestured at the enormous building behind him. "As evil a son of a bitch as you are, you're a good sport. You appreciate a good, fair fight, am I right?"
Sam looked alarmed. "You can't be serious, Dean-"
"And I know we dicked you around before, but circumstances were different, right? I mean, we got no way to cheat this time. You're pretty powerful without your promise ring, and we…well, we're us. So how about it, horse face? One battle. One round. One winner. You win, you get the ring. We win, and you give up the vessel."
"Are you playing with a full deck, boy?" Bobby chimed in, right on time. "You ain't got a ring to cut off! How the hell are you planning to win?"
"Fair and square," Dean said.
"You can't do this!" Sam shouted, circling the group until he faced Dean. "He'll kill you! Are you forgetting all of the other stuff we have to do, Dean? The monsters that are multiplying exponentially, maybe? My soul? Whoever raised us from hell?"
"No!" He grabbed Dean by the jacket. "I won't let you do this again! Why are you always trying to sacrifice your life, man? Don't you-"
Sam flew away from him, landing on the windshield of a blue Sonata and shattering it.
"Enough chattering," War said. "You've got yourself a deal, Dean Winchester. One battle. No tricks. I win, I get the ring."
"That's the gist."
"And the Beast?"
"Once you got the ring, you can do what you want, can't you?"
War peered at him, unblinking. "Yes."
Dean raised his eyebrows. "And if you lose-"
"I won't," War snapped, glaring at Dean. "Not this time."
Dean cocked his head and held out his hand. "Shake on it?"
War took his hand and crushed it, smiling thinly. "Deal." He let go, backing away. "See you in the ring," he said. "Your friends here stay out of the way. No interference, or I kill them all. And…" he looked around, and Dean could swear he saw nervousness on War's face. "Where is it?"
"The car," he snarled. "I won't be conned again."
"It's not here," Dean said. "It's back on the highway."
Sam screamed and Dean's head snapped in his direction. Sam was doubled over on the ground, groaning.
"Don't fuck with me, Winchester."
"It's true," Jesse asserted. "You know it is."
War looked back and forth between them and then released Sam, who gasped and coughed, rolling onto his back.
"How you gonna beat me without all your little toys?" War sneered.
Dean spread his arms in a welcoming gesture. "Got everything I need right here."
War stood still, contemplating them all again. "Inside. Ten minutes." He grinned. "Don't try and back out, boys. You made a deal."
War disappeared, and they all heard the low growling.
"Hellhounds," Jesse said. "Large ones. This had better work."
"Here's hopin', kid." Bobby raised his flask before drinking from it.
Dean ran over to Sam, helping him to his feet.
"That went better than we could have hoped for," Sam muttered.
Dean dusted glass off his back. "Yeah, right."
"I'm fine, Dean."
Dean pursed his lips. "C'mon. We better get inside before he comes out to see what we're up to."
They rejoined Bobby and Jesse. "Everyone know their places?"
"Yes." Jesse was solemn and stoic, and he was still focused on Dean, who did his best to ignore him. "Let's go."
Bobby shrugged and started forward, and they followed.
The arena was packed.
All twenty thousand seats appeared to be full. That can't be right, Dean thought, turning his head as he scanned the room, taking it all in. He can't be controlling all these people at once.
He shot Sam a tentative look. Sam returned it, repositioning the pack on his shoulder.
"Well ain't this just lemonade on a Sunday afternoon," Bobby muttered.
"Don't worry," Jesse said, turning into one of the aisles. "I've brought the ice."
It seemed War had retired the undead soldiers; the twenty people in the front row were all alive. They would remain silent for close to a minute before erupting into loud cheers and screams, waving their arms wildly. Then they'd fall silent again, arms at their sides.
The four of them surveyed the crowd and realized that the entire arena was following a similar pattern.
"What, War got 'em on a sprinkler timer?" Dean waved his hand in front of the woman's face. She didn't respond.
"Something like that," Jesse said. "Lucky for us, they can be reprogrammed."
Dean eyed him suspiciously. "Thought you didn't know anything about all this stuff?"
"I know about this. It's part how I remain hidden. Even with the devil in hell, I give an order and mean it, people follow it."
"What, like anyone? Even me or Dean?"
Jesse raised an eyebrow. "I dunno. You two are exempt from most of the rules."
He touched the woman and her head snapped immediately in his direction.
"Clap," he said.
Jesse turned back to Dean, smirking.
Dean nodded. "Remind me never to seat jack you."
A voice exploded over the P. A. system before Jesse could reply, and they all winced as the microphone squealed. Then the interference settled down, and War spoke.
"Where are you, Dean?" He asked, mockingly. "Come out, come out. You can't hide, Winchester." He laughed, and Dean rolled his eyes, shaking his head. "You don't want to keep our audience waiting, do you? This is the biggest match of their lives."
"And I thought Lucifer was bad about the evil gloating," Sam said.
"I'll see you in the ring, Dean. Don't make me come find you."
The crowd erupted, their collective roar deafening. Dean gestured at Sam. He pulled the ring out of his back pocket and handed it to Dean, who slipped it onto his own finger.
"That ought to piss him off!"
Sam squinted and moved closer.
"I SAID, THAT OUGHT TO-"
The crowd fell immediately quiet and sat down in unison.
"-PISS HIM OFF!" Dean shouted in the stark silence.
They all turned and looking into the center of the arena, where War stood, shirtless, with a rag tied around his head.
"What's that?" His voice wasn't raised, but he projected well enough that they could hear him. "Share with the class, Dean, don't be shy."
"Nevermind," Dean said. He started for the opening that led into the arena, stopping to give Jesse, Bobby, and Sam a here we go nod of the head.
He stepped into the ring that War had set up in the middle of the floor. It was an old school boxing ring, the kind you didn't see outside of educations films from the sixties.
"Boxing? A little low key for a guy like you, don't you think?"
"It's an ancient ritual, Dean. One of the oldest, in fact. You should respect it. Besides, any other fight would end too quickly," War said. "This is the only sort of fight you can win. Isn't that right?"
"Yeah, yeah, I can sting like a bee," Dean muttered. Damn it, he thought. Thought he'd pick something with more weapons. This could last for hours. "You don't mind if I keep my clothes on, do you? I'm not really into the gladiator look."
"Sure," War said. "And – just to show you what a good sport I am – you can keep your weapons. Not that they'll help you against me, mind you."
"How magnanimous of you." Dean looked around. "No gloves?"
War shook his head, a smile breading over his face.
Dean nodded. Fabulous.
"Are you ready?"
"As I'll ever be."
A referee appeared outside of the boxing ring, eyes black as night. War waved his hand and a bell rang.
"Always was quite the attention whore."
Castiel scowled, sparing Crowley a judgmental look.
"Look at all this." He gestured at the crowds behind them. "The crowds, the ring, hell, even the rails have been polished. You'd think he was hosting the queen."
Castiel didn't reply.
"Your boyfriend there is a persistent sod, I'll give you that." Crowley appraised Dean as he and War circled each other in the ring, eyes locked. "Never lets up, does he? I can see why you want so badly to get Raphael under wraps. Imagine if the poor dear went to all that trouble and it was for naught?"
"Of course," Crowley said, "there's also the issue of who's gonna rule the roost once Rafe's gone to meet his maker. No reason it couldn't be-"
"Must you speak?"
Crowley held up his hands in a gesture of mocking conciliation. "No offense meant, mate. I'm just covering all our bases here."
"I'm not doing this for glory, Demon," Castiel snapped. "Raphael will destroy the world. I have to stop him. That's all."
If he hadn't felt the fist connect with his jaw, he wouldn't have even known War had moved.
Dean flew backward into a corner pole, one of his knives slicing into the flesh of his side. He bounced onto the floor of the ring, reaching into his jacket for the offending weapon.
"Dean, Dean, Dean." War paced in front of him, his red shorts clashing harshly with his brown skin. "That's what happens when we don't play by the rules."
Dean groaned as he pulled the knife out of his side. It hadn't sunk in very deeply, but it still hurt like a mother. The only thing that hurt more was his face. Fuck, he thought, trying not to imagine how he'd look by the end of the fight.
"Yeah, because you're such a by-the-book monster. Your time in the sun has already passed, remember?"
War paused, thinking. "I don't suppose I can argue with that," he said.
Dean climbed to his feet and slipped his jacket off, tossing it to one side of the ring. Most of his weapons went with it, but they were causing more harm than help just now, and he wouldn't get away with using them at any rate; War was likely to drop the "fair and square" meme if Dean pulled a weapon on him.
War tagged him again, on the other side of his face this time, and as pain exploded in his cheek and eye, he felt a few teeth loosen.
War laughed. "But it doesn't matter." Dean rushed him and he stepped deftly to the side, tripping Dean in the process. Once he had fallen, War kicked him near where he'd been stabbed. "Because it's all coming full circle, don't you see?"
He kicked Dean again, tossing him onto his back. "You don't get to tear up the rule book, Winchester." He went to step on Dean's hand, but Dean rolled, looping his arm around one of the ropes and pulling himself to his feet.
"Oh no?" Dean spit, the blood staining the floor of the ring. "We sure burned your sorry ass, though, didn't we?"
War rushed Dean and picked him up by his midsection.
Sam winced as War body slammed his brother onto the floor of the ring.
"Hurry up, Jesse."
Jesse's eyes were closed and his hands were on the shoulders of one of War's captives. She was staring blankly at nothing, unblinking.
"Patient Zero wasn't exactly easy to find, Sam," he said. "Give me a break here."
Bobby grumbled as two people beside him started cheering and screaming again. "Patient Zero? He give 'em the Death's Head virus, or something?"
"It's like a wireless network," Jesse replied. "At least as far as I can tell. Trina here is like a router. She's the first one he took control of, and then he moved on to her acquaintances, and their acquaintances, until he had a grip on all the people here now. She's his connection to them."
"So what?" Sam turned away from the ring; it wasn't doing anything good for his nerves. They needed to focus. "You unplug her and everyone loses service?"
"In a nutshell."
Dean grunted loudly, and Sam heard his body hit the ground again. Focus. "Can you do it?"
"Yes. But I'll need a little more time."
"We don't have much more time, kid. Dean's only got so much ass to get kicked. Anything we can do to hurry this thing along?"
"I'm sorry." He frowned, concentrating. "But Dean will just have to hold him off. There's no other way."
"You think– "
War punched him in the shoulder.
"-you're so special-"
Dean's breath flew out of him as War caught him in the solar plexus.
"–that you can stop angels–"
Another tag to the face.
Dean's shirt fell to the floor in tatters.
"–and the End–"
Dean fell next, landing on his side.
War's foot connected with Dean's knee.
Dean tried to crawl away on his belly. There seemed to be three of everything, and it was hard to tell which parts of him were touching the floor and which weren't. Hurry up, Sam, he thought vaguely, trying to stay conscious. We need them out of his control. He tried to will Sam to go faster through force of will – the kid was psychic, right?
"You will pay for your arrogance–"
War stepped on his right hand.
"–your abominable transgressions–"
How did he get over there?
Dean felt himself rising, and for a moment thought he was standing on his own.
What little breath he could draw up to that point was cut off as War's hands clasped tightly around his throat. He wrestled and kicked, but War's grip didn't slip so much as a centimeter. He could feel himself losing it, and just before he would have gone dark, War dropped him. He collapsed, and felt the impact in every bone he'd broken.
War was hyperventilating and grinning like the chick from The Craft. He knelt in front of Dean.
"But first," he said, stroking Dean's cheek, "you're going to watch."
Dean screamed as War yanked the ring off of his broken finger, holding it up to the light.
"I've almost got it!"
"Almost ain't enough!" Bobby loaded a shotgun with regular bullets and handed it to Sam.
"Bobby, no!" Sam shook his head. "We can't! These people are innocent!"
"And they're gonna flay our hides if they get the chance! We don't have a choice, son!"
Jesse released the woman, who blinked, then looked around in confusion. "What the hell is going on?"
"Lady, you don't even wanna know."
Some of the crowd was still cheering, but the roar was dying rapidly as the people came to, looking questioningly at one another.
"Thank god," Sam sighed. "It worked."
Bobby dropped onto the bench again, setting his rifle on his lap and taking another drink.
"I'm getting too old for this bull," he said.
Jesse grinned and started to speak when Dean screamed again and there was another thud as he hit the floor.
Shit. The fight's still happening. Sam squinted, trying to see clearly. Does Dean still have the ring?
Dean didn't know how he was still conscious, but he wasn't going to think too hard about it. It was taking everything he had just to lay in place without screaming. War had stopped beating the shit out of him a while ago, it seemed like, and Dean opened his eyes a crack to see why.
War was looking around the arena, shouting something – Dean couldn't hear what over the ringing in his ears – and looking mighty pissed. That's peachy, a distant part of him thought. Can't wait to feel his fists when he's really seeing red.
But there was something he was forgetting…something important. What was it?
War had it, which meant…
He should be dead.
Why wasn't he?
He doesn't have it on.
"Hey," Dean croaked. "Muhammad Ali." He grinned, blood leaking from the corner of his mouth. "That the best you got?"
War stormed over to him, incredulous. "What did you say?"
Dean managed a wheezing chuckle. "All talk…and no action." He pulled himself slowly into a sitting position, fighting a scream. "Thought you were gonna wear the ring and rule the world, tough guy?"
"Who the hell are they?"
"I don't know, man. I don't even know how I got here…"
"Where's my car? I was driving down fifth…"
"Why are those shorts so goddam bright? Where do you even get those?"
"Did we pay to get in here? I ain't got money for all this front row stuff…"
"Why isn't it working?" Sam said loudly over the noise. "He's got the ring, doesn't he?"
"He doesn't have it on!"
Bobby leaned over the rail of the front row. "Looks like Dean's moving. He's not down for the count yet, at least."
"What now?" Jesse looked at Sam. "You're the hunters! What do we do next?"
"We gotta make him put it on before he kills Dean!"
"How?" Bobby said. "We can barely hear ourselves think!"
But Sam had an idea. A crazy one that would probably get them killed, but…
He raced to the end of the row, beckoning the others.
War advanced on Dean, moving in for the kill.
"You know," he said way too calmly for Dean's liking, "you deserve this."
Dean grinned with the half his face that was still functional.
"A speech? Really?"
War's face twisted into a snarl and he lifted his foot to kick when a gun went off and a bullet caught him in the shoulder. He stumbled, quickly regaining his balance.
"Take that, you son of bitch!"
Sam fired again, taking a chuck out of War's leg. War bellowed in rage, looking over the sides of the ring at Sam, Bobby, and Jesse as they approached.
"Arrrrgggghh!" he cried. He waved his arm and Dean watched Bobby fly across the arena and into the rails along the side.
"Bobby!" Dean tried to move. "Bobby!"
Sam and Jesse kept coming. Jesse threw one of the silver stakes, but War caught it and threw it back at him, striking him in the thigh. Jesse fell to the ground.
Sam stopped and looked back at him.
"Go!" Jesse tugged at the stake in his flesh. "I'll be fine! GO!"
Sam charged ahead again and tried to take another shot, but the gun was out of silver bullets. He tossed it, reaching inside his jacket for a stake.
"NO, SAM!" The pain barely registered as Dean climbed to his feet. "STOP!"
War held his hand up to Sam, stopping him in his tracks. Sam struggled against the invisible force, not moving an inch.
"ENOUGH!" War was breathing in gulps now. He held up the ring. "You're days of wreaking havoc are over, boys. It's reckoning time."
"No!" Jesse was still tugging at the stake in his leg. "Don't let him do it, Sam!"
He slipped the ring on.
The effect was instantaneous.
Light exploded from his eyes and ears and mouth, blinding Sam, who fell to the ground and covered his eyes. Dean watched from behind War as red light burst from the cracks erupting in his skin, bathing the arena in a crimson glow. Dean spared Jesse a momentary glance – he had stopped trying to remove the stake and sat watching, dumbfounded.
The light brightened, blotting out everything else from Dean's view. Its intensity increased until the light was nearly white, then disappeared. War collapsed to the ground, his eyes and mouth burned out and his rent skin smoking.
"Well. Show's over. Better go collect Red Riding Hood before he finds another vessel somewhere-"
"Not just yet."
Crowley sighed, kicking an old cup away and frowning at the dirty seat before sitting in it.
Jesse had finally managed to get the stake out of his leg and lurched toward them, his stride getting less awkward with every step. Dean tried to roll his eyes, and winced at the pain. The people who least needed things like healing powers were always the ones who ended up with them.
Sam wiped his eyes, trying to clear out the red spots.
"Are you all right, man?" he called.
Sam grinned, jogging over to Dean's corner of the ring. Dean slumped to the floor, resting his back against the corner pole.
"Trystane…" Jesse leapt into the ring, swinging his legs over the ropes. He knelt beside Trystane, touching his face and yanking his hand back when it burned. "What…"
"The vessel, kid," Dean said. "It wasn't powerful enough to hold him. When he put the ring on…"
"But…I thought that would only kill War!"
Sam and Dean exchanged uncomfortable looks.
Jesse rose slowly, stake in hand.
"Did you two know about this?" he asked dangerously.
Sam held out his hands. "Jesse…"
Cas appeared in the other corner of the ring, his overcoat clean for once.
Jesse turned to look at him. "What?"
Cas touched two fingers to Trystane's forehead.
"It will be a while before he wakes." Cas walked up to Jesse. "You've helped me here today, Jesse. More than you know. My thanks."
Jesse's expression didn't change.
"Why are you doing this?"
Cas sighed, moving past him and toward Dean.
Sam watched Cas approach with undisguised relief.
"So, War, huh?" Dean chuckled, then groaned. "What is it good for, Sammy?"
It took a moment to register with Sam.
"Nothing, Dean," he said. "Absolutely nothing."
The people of Riverton filed into the parking lot, confused but unharmed.
"I'll send sentries to wipe their memories," Cas assured them as they headed out to the street. "It will be done gradually, but it will be done."
"Can you spare the men?" Sam said. "With the war you've got going with Raphael…"
"I'll handle it."
"All right, then." Dean stretched, pulling his arms over his head. "Mind giving us a lift back to the car, Cas? I don't wanna get stuck in this much traffic."
He took Sam and Dean first, then went back for the others.
Sam leaned against the hood. "You sure you're okay?"
"I just got touched by an angel, Sammy. I'm all better. Don't sweat it."
Bobby appeared, and Jesse and Trystane came soon after.
"Pack it in, ladies and gents," Dean said with no small measure of glee. "It's a long ride to Dakota."
"Forget it," Sam said. "I'm driving part of the way, Dean."
"The hell you are-"
"Actually," Bobby said, "why don't I drive the Impala back? Cas can drop you mooks off at my place, and I'll see you in a few days."
Dean was surprised. "It's a long drive, Bobby. You sure?"
"I need a little me time, son." He waved them on. "Go on. I'll see you soon."
"Okay," Sam shrugged.
They were sitting at Bobby's kitchen table eating bean burritos.
"I don't know," Trystane said. He had picked up a faint Aussie accent, and Dean had spent the better part of the last hour suppressing a grin whenever he spoke. "One minute, we were at this Indian place in Sydney, and the next I was laying on the floor of a boxing ring."
"You got no idea who took you?"
"Nada." He shook his head. "But I can't say I'm surprised. After Azazel, my life kind of went to hell, you know?"
Dean chuckled. "You're not alone on that score."
Trystane cocked his head. "So you're Sam and Dean Winchester, huh? Man, I've heard more than I ever wanted to about y'all."
"I'll bet." Sam took a swig of beer. "All good things, I hope."
"Nothing but the best," Trystane laughed. "Is it true you went to heaven and saw the garden?"
Dean blinked in surprise. "Yeah." He shook his head. "Whoever your sources are, hold onto 'em."
Jesse snorted derisively.
"C'mon, man," Trystane said. "I'm fine now. Let it go."
"They lied to me."
"I'm sorry, Jesse, we had to-"
"Shut up, Sam," he snapped. "You and that angel of yours are up to something-"
"Hey!" Dean pointed his bottle at him. "Cas saved your friend here, and didn't kill you," he said. "How about a little gratitude, huh?"
Jesse shook his head. "You're such a fool, Dean."
"We should go," Trystane said, standing. "I'm not in the mood for another battle. Sounds like the last one almost put my ass in the ground."
Sam stood with him, walking them to the door. He handed Trystane a jacket. "You guys need anything before you go?"
"We're good," he said. "And thanks, Sam. For Jesse, I mean."
"I know what it's like to be in those shoes. It was nothing."
Jesse stepped past Sam, silent.
"I'll see you again someday, Jesse," Sam said. "Maybe you'll have forgiven me by then."
"We'll see you around, Sam. Tell your brother thanks again."
Sam watched them take a few steps and then disappear into the night.
Crowley locked the last of the sigils on the suitcase into place and handed it to Castiel.
"Three hundred souls, fresh out of the oven," he said. "He put up a hell of a fight, but I finally got him back downstairs."
Castiel looked at him suspiciously. "Three hundred? Aren't you taking half?"
"You need them more than me just now, I think." He slipped his hands into his pockets. "Besides, we're just getting started." Crowley looked curiously at him. "Nice memory wipe on the vessel, by the by. Now, why would you do a thing like that? Should have just let him die."
"He didn't have to die. It was possible to save him and still…keep things as they are."
Crowley was silent. "You know, Cas," he said. "I hope you're not having second thoughts about all this. You're either in or out, mate. You are in, aren't you, Cas?"
Castiel sighed. "Of course." He looked at Crowley uncomfortably. "Thank you."
"Think nothing of it. Now, where's the stone?"
Castiel handed it to him. He turned it over in his hands, examining it.
"No, but I'm sure we can deduce its function."
"As am I. As a matter of fact, let's start now." He snapped his fingers and a young vampire appeared before them, bound.
"Hello, dearie," Crowley said, taking her chin into his hand. "We've got a few questions for you. Care for a chat?"
Bobby arrived eight days later.
"Where the hell have you been, Bobby?" Dean was furious. He'd called him what must have been a thousand times and hadn't received so much as a text message. "We've been tearing our hair out here!"
"Pipe down," he said. "I was on vacation."
"Vacation? You were on vacation?" Dean chuckled. "He was on vacation, Sam."
"We were worried sick, Bobby. You couldn't have dropped us a line to let us know you were okay?"
He set his pack onto the table and tossed Dean the keys to the Impala. "Not exactly."
"What does that mean?" The keys felt good in his hand; Bobby wasn't the only thing he had missed.
"I went to visit a friend."
Sam was immediately suspicious. "What friend?"
Bobby looked guilty. "Dr. Visyak."
"So you've been getting it on all fucking week? That's why we couldn't reach you?"
Sam and Dean stared at him through narrowed eyes.
"Okay, yes, but that's not all I been doin'. I asked her what she knew about what we've been dealing with."
"You mean War and Trystane and Jesse?" Sam said.
"No, I mean my IBS. Yes, War and Jesse and…"
"Trystane. He's a good dude." Dean grinned. "And he has this accent-"
"What did she say? She give us anything useful?"
"I'll say. She knows Trystane. Knew him, anyway."
Dean set his beer down hard. "What?"
"You heard right. She didn't give it up easy, but she was the one who helped him get out of old Yellow Eyes' trap. He slipped into-"
"Purgatory. Then he got back out. Right."
His head snapped in Sam's direction. "You knew about this?"
"Yeah, sorry. I found this"–he pulled the slip of paper from his pocket and handed it to Dean– "in a hidden place in the wall where Trystane used to work."
Dean snatched it and read it. "Why didn't you say anything about this earlier?"
"Well, you guys had ditched me and kidnapped Jesse with no notice. Thanks for that, by the way. Jesse left me a note about Trystane's old job, that he had something hidden there. I went there and found this and…" He felt around in his pockets.
"What? Lose something?"
"Yeah." He frowned, checking his pants. "There was a stone. A black one…"
"It's not in the car," Bobby said. "Me and Elle…searched it. Before we got here. You know, for anything dangerous."
Sam grinned and Dean looked horrified.
"So this stone," Dean said, shaking his head, "you think you left it at Trystane's old job or what?"
Sam's face fell.
"War," he said. "He caught me there alone, almost killed me. He must have stolen it."
"War tried to kill you?!"
Sam shrugged. "Guess you should think twice about ditching without telling me, huh?"
"You should have waited for us!"
"I wasn't even sure you were alive, Dean."
"Hold on a sec." Bobby leaned against the table. "If War had you by the balls, how'd you get away?"
"Cas came and got me. He was just in time."
"So he fought off War and saved you."
"I guess so, yeah," Sam said. "What are you getting at?"
But Dean knew.
"Cas insisted he couldn't fight with us in Detroit because War was powerful enough to kill an angel."
"Well, so, I mean, maybe he gained some power before the fight."
"You really think so, kid?"
Dean shook his head. "This is crazy. C'mon, guys, it's Cas. Why would he lie about something like that? What would be the point?"
"I don't know, boys, but I don't like it." Bobby scowled. "She's not gonna be happy to hear that someone got that stone, though."
"How does she know about all this, anyway?" Sam asked. "How does she know about Purgatory?"
Bobby looked thoughtful. "I got a few ideas."
"Sharing is caring."
"Not just yet," he said mysteriously.
"Well, in any case, it's not our problem now. War took the thing, and it probably got destroyed when we ganked him. We can worry about your girlfriend later. Right now, we got Eve to think about. And your wall."
Sam started to speak.
"Don't even bother," Dean said. "I haven't forgotten that. So-"
Sam's phone beeped. He opened it up, reading the text message.
"Who's that?" Dean looked over his shoulder.
"I dunno. Call's from Rhode island. Says I should come back. Something's gone wrong."
"Who do we know there?" Dean frowned. "Sam-"
"We have to go, Dean-"
"It could be someone we know who needs help."
"It could be someone you knew when your soul was having a cage match with Lucifer," he pointed out. "We shouldn't do this, man."
"If I hurt people, I need to fix it," Sam said. "If it were you, you would insist on the same thing. Don't lie and say you wouldn't."
Dean tried and failed to summon a retort.
"Thank you." Sam looked far too satisfied for Dean's liking. He looked over at Bobby, who shrugged. I ain't getting in his way again, the look seemed to say.
We're going to regret this, Dean thought, pouring himself a shot of Jack in resignation. We're gonna have so much regret for doing this we'll drown in a sea of it.
Thanks so much for sticking with me through this fic! I know it's been pretty long since I last updated, but I just started graduate school and we had midterms! Anyway, I hope the last chapter was exciting and lived up to your expectations. This is my first fic, so please review if you have the time.