Until the last moment Castiel can't believe Uriel will go through with it. They've fought together for too many millennia; he can hardly recall a battle in his long life where no matter how brutal the fighting he couldn't look over his shoulder and find his brother behind him, laughing as he reveled in the destructive talents their Father bestowed on him. It's why he never draws his sword – he tells himself Uriel only means to frighten him. If he can't make Uriel see reason he can't believe Uriel will really commit any sin greater than binding him, than keeping him silent until his treacherous plan can reach its end game.

Then Uriel grabs him by his vessel's hair and Castiel feels the first cold shards of doubt because there's madness in Uriel's eyes now, madness and rage as if of the two of them Castiel is the sinner. "Why did you drive me to this, brother?" Uriel whispers, his voice twisted with hate. Castiel sees Uriel's sword flash silver in the dim light and wonders how long Uriel has carried this much hatred for him and how he could have missed it for so long. Father, help me.

Yet he still can't bring himself to believe.

Castiel sees the blade glint silver one more time before Uriel pulls it back and drives it into his side; the aim is for his heart but Castiel twists at the last second, purely out of reflex.

He wishes he hadn't. The blade burns like holy fire as it tears through his borrowed flesh, sealing him to his vessel as surely as any binding link. If feels like years pass before the sword stabs deep enough to wound his Grace and Castiel feels something in him...shatter. He hears himself make a sound, something just as broken as the shards of his Grace dying within him. Then Uriel pulls the sword out and lets him drop to the floor like so much trash.

There's a moment when he looks up at his brother and thinks he sees a flicker of emotion behind those impassive eyes, but it's gone so quickly Castiel knows he could well have imagined it. He clutches his nails into the floor; he's never truly needed to breathe but he's choking for air now, each gasp sending pain spiraling through him as his Grace bleeds from the wound, dying in spasms like he's being stabbed again and again. He doesn't know why Uriel just watches, why he doesn't end this. Another whimper forces its way from his throat like it's wrapped in barbed wire and he curls up on the floor. Father, please.

The events of the past day flash through his mind and Castiel can't believe so little time has passed since he stood before Dean and asked him to shed another's blood for him. Suddenly Castiel understands with a sick lurch why his Father isn't answering. He was wrong. About everything, from the moment he'd abused Dean's trust by putting a knife in his hand he's been so very, very wrong.

Castiel stretches his wings and for a horrible moment he doesn't think he has the strength. He focuses all of his mind on Dean, very much like the way he focuses on his Father when he seeks revelation, and he manages to scrape up the energy to make his wings beat once.

He crashes down in a human hospital room, the wind knocked out of him. Precious seconds crawl before he can pick his head up; his vision is hazy but he can just make out Dean lying still on the bed before him, connected to machines Castiel doesn't understand but knows are meant to help him. His legs collapse under him when he tries to stand so he drags himself over to Dean, leaving a bloody trail across the floor. He uses the bed to pull himself up; he can just stand if he supports himself like this, his hands tight on the blood-slicked bed rail. "Dean," he says, not able make his voice any stronger than a rasped-out whisper. "Dean, wake up."

But he can tell at a glance that Dean's injuries are severe; he's familiar enough with humans to know they would sedate someone this wounded to keep them quiet, and in any case the injuries may be too serious to allow him to wake.

Castiel doesn't have the time to wait. He lays hands on Dean and marshals what little of his Grace he has left, the effort spearing a burst of pain through his skull. He rides it out and focuses, forcing his dying Grace to obey him one last time, then he feels a wave of energy rush from him into Dean.

He thinks he screams. He certainly feels like he should be screaming. What he once could do with barely more than a thought rips through him like thousands of knives; he doubles over onto the bed, clutching at the sheets to keep himself upright. When the fog lifts he sees Dean wide awake and staring, his wounds wiped away. Castiel allows himself a moment of pride that he could still do that. "Fuck! Fuck, Cas, what happened?" Dean says, and Castiel feels him trying to move his coat aside to look at the wound.

"Uriel," he whispers. He can taste blood at the back of his throat, metallic and choking. "Traitor. Siding...siding with Lucifer. Broke the trap." He clutches for Dean's arm; Dean's still trying to treat the wound and Castiel needs him to focus on what's important now. "Forgive me." He can't die with this staining him, not a sin this great. "Dean, please forgive me."

He loses the next handful of seconds. When he comes to they're kneeling on the floor, Dean both trying to hold him up and put pressure on the stab wound. He's never lost consciousness before and the terror of it is overwhelming. Cas, you stay with me. The roar in his ears drowns out Dean's voice but he can still read his lips well enough. We're gonna get you fixed up, okay? Don't you dare fucking die on me. As he looks into Dean's eyes he realizes Dean's not going to say the words he needs. Not because he would withhold them, he can see clearly that Dean does forgive him, but because he doesn't understand that Castiel needs the words. He doesn't understand and Castiel no longer has the breath to explain it to him.

He moves Dean's hand away from the wound; there's no point to that anymore. Grief shines bright in Dean's eyes but he buries it deep; Castiel feels Dean cradle his head, feels him wipe away the blood trickling from the corner of his mouth. All right. I'm here. I'm gonna be right here. When another spasm of pain convulses him he feels Dean hold him steady. Got you. Shh, shh. I got you,Cas. They're not the words he needs but there's an odd comfort in them all the same.

There's so much light. He can't see Dean anymore; touch is the only sense left to him and Castiel trails his fingertips along Dean's face, down where his forehead curves into his temple, down the plane of his cheek, along the edges of his lips. Dean's so beautiful. He feels Dean's lips part as he forms a word Castiel can't understand anymore and remembers sculpting those lips, putting so much care into each line, each tiny variation in skin tone, breathing life back into each cell. Making him perfect. He presses his fingers over Dean's eyes, forcing them closed.

Then Castiel presses his lips to Dean's. He's wanted to do this for so long he doesn't remember when it first started, whether the flame first kindled when he saw Anna kiss him and realized what could be or if that had merely stoked an existing fire. He supposes it doesn't much matter now. He feels Dean exhale in surprise and breathes him in deep. "Please," he whispers, twining the fingers of one hand through Dean's hair. He's not even sure what he's begging for. For his Father to save him. For the words he'll never hear, and Castiel means there to be absolution in the kiss because he knows Dean only withholds out of ignorance, not malice.

Just a few more seconds to feel Dean's lips against his. "Please."

It's not long before there's nothing left except the roar, and the light, and the pain.

Then there's nothing.

888

For months Dean heard that last choking gasp for air right before Castiel went limp in his arms. Every night in that twilight time between closing his eyes and uneasy sleep Dean felt Cas' hands spasm, clutching onto him tight the way someone who's drowning clutches for something to save them just before slipping beneath the surface.

Dean had never seen an angel die before. If he was honest with himself he would admit that he hadn't believed angels could die, despite all the times Cas had gone on about it, and he sure as hell hadn't known what was happening when Castiel suddenly ran so hot Dean's hands blistered and he had to drop him to the floor. He was glad he at least had the sense to keep his eyes closed (nights when he didn't quite drink enough to pass out from the guilt that kept him up, that Castiel had been suffering like that and still made sure his eyes were closed) as the light built, like the sun had come down from the sky and squeezed itself into the room. There was barely time to breathe before the wave of energy knocked him down and he heard Castiel scream. He'd been in Hell holding a knife the last time he'd heard something scream like that.

When he opened his eyes again the room was still. "Cas?" he said, propping himself up on his elbows.

The spots cleared from his vision and he saw Castiel lying on his back, his head turned to the side and his eyes open. The room was too still, too quiet, the usual hospital room background noise silenced by that wave of energy. Quiet enough for Dean to hear his own heart pounding as he stared down at the enormous wings burned black into the floor, like someone had ripped the shadow wings he'd seen that night in the barn out of his memory. Dean pushed himself to his knees and traced the left wing's edge; he realized suddenly how much he'd wanted to see those wings again but had never gotten the guts up to just ask. "Cas, get up," he said, the words slipping out. He touched Castiel's hand but there was no response. Dean didn't know why he'd expected one.

Cas' skin was cool, like he'd been dead for hours, not seconds. Of course there was no pulse when he checked; he placed his hand on Castiel's chest and waited to feel the heartbeat, the rise and fall. Finally the shock loosened its grip and Dean knew there would be no miracle. He was looking at a shell; everything that had actually been Cas had vaporized in that wall of light or was burned black into the floor.

Dean leaned over and closed his friend's eyes. He realized he wasn't sure when he'd started thinking of Castiel as a friend; he'd been a thing not very long ago, something strange and unpredictable and dangerous. The change had crept up on him so slowly he'd never noticed.

Dean touched his fingers to his lips, feeling the blood still lingering there. He realized he hadn't noticed a lot of things.

888

It wasn't until a full two weeks later that Dean woke in a cold sweat, the memory of Castiel's wide, desperate eyes hovering over him, and realized the words Cas, of course I forgive you had never actually passed his lips.

888

He was never quite sure why he kept the coat. He didn't even remember making the conscious decision to take it; the next day he'd opened up the trunk to grab one of the shotguns and found it balled up in the corner, all the way in the back like he'd tried to push it out of sight. One of the cardinal rules of hunting was that you did not keep things that belonged to dead people, and you sure as hell didn't keep anything someone had actually died inunless you wanted to put a "Hey, evil spirits, come haunt me!" sign on your back. (Although Dean knew deep down he and Sam broke that rule with their dad all the time in little ways; Sam had one of his old shirts, it was the one he wore when they were looking at a hunt that might get messy, and the tapes Dean uses to keep them company had their father's fingerprints all over them. Hell, even the car was John's, really - his name was even still on the title, Dean never able to bring himself to get it changed.) Dean slammed the trunk shut and got back to the hunt; Sam was waiting on him and he had better things to do than deal with the coat. Plenty of time for that later.

Dean didn't actually find the time until three days later, sneaking out of the motel room window and making his way down to the parking lot like the coat was some kind of guilty secret. He grabbed the gas can and fished the coat out, taking both to the empty lot down the street to burn the thing and get it over with.

When he shook the coat out something made him pause. The inner lining was stiff with dried blood; Dean traced one finger along the edge of the tear in the back, long years of experience letting him see the angle the blade had taken through Castiel's side. He hadn't realized the strike had gone all the way through.

Dean stood there in that vacant lot until the sky began to lighten, staring at the ruined coat. Then he folded it up carefully and put it back in the trunk, in an out of the way place where he knew Sam wouldn't find it.

It took four nights of working while Sam was asleep to get the last of the blood out, and then one more to fix up the rip in the back so you would have to look close to know it had even happened.

Dean didn't know why he did any of that either.

888

Anna started dropping in on he and Sam almost the way Castiel always had, as if there was some kind of angelic visitation quota Dean needed to meet. The first time Dean heard that wingbeat he felt his heart seize up, which only made the crash worse when he turned around and didn't see Cas standing there squinting at him like a confused sparrow. "What do you want?" Dean asked, burying that down deep.

"Are you still interested in saving Seals or aren't you?"

Hunting helped. Kicking demon ass helped more, even though the whole thing was looking like a lost cause to Dean, and even though things between he and Anna were so different he could hardly believe that night in the backseat of the car had even happened. He went to kiss her once, stopping himself at the last moment when the memory of someone else's lips pressed against his reached up to choke him.

They only talked about the empty space hanging there between them once, when Anna paused and looked away. "I did go to stop Uriel," she said, the first time Dean had heard that name spoken aloud since he'd woken up to Castiel bleeding to death in his hospital room. "I was too late."

Dean nodded. He hadn't realized he'd been holding that against her, but he recognized the look on her face now. He'd been too late to save Sam at Cold Oak, after all.

"Did he say anything?"

He didn't know how she'd guessed Castiel would go to him, unless it really had been that fucking obvious to everyone except him. Dean, forgive me."No," Dean said. He wasn't anywhere near ready to talk about that and Anna didn't need those images in her head. Just because angels didn't sleep was no reason to give her that nightmare. "No, it was too quick."

If she knew he was lying she didn't call him on it. Dean was glad for the small kindness.

888

It's not that it was the first time Dean had dreamed about Castiel – that happened pretty regularly, quick bloody visions, half-remembered snatches of arguments Dean wished he could take back, the usual nightmares – but this was the first one that felt right. There was a certain feel to Castiel strolling through his head, something different and sharper than a normal dream, and what used to drive Dean up the wall now had him so fucking relieved that even in the dream he thought his heart might stop. It had been so long Dean had started to worry it would never happen. "Hey, Cas," he said, leaning up in bed on his elbows.

"Hello, Dean," Castiel answered back, standing against the wall and watching Dean just like he always had. Dean didn't remember why Castiel watching him sleep had ever bothered him in the first place.

"Been a while."

"This is more difficult than it used to be."

Dean grinned and cracked open a can of beer sitting on the beside table because hey, it was his dream, he could have a beer if he wanted. "How's the afterlife treating you?"

"It's cold," Castiel said. It took Dean a second to realize what he had said. "I've never been cold before. It took me a long time to realize what I was feeling. But it's very cold, and very dark."

Dean froze, the beer forgotten halfway to his lips. "Cas..."

"I'm compelled to wander," he continued on, as if he hadn't heard Dean. "I can never pause to rest and when I think I've found my path it changes under me." Castiel's voice was very calm, like they were talking about the weather. "It's because I didn't die in a state of grace." There was only mild curiosity in Castiel's eyes as he tilted his head at Dean. "Why did you do that to me?"

Dean lurched awake and barely managed to roll off the bed before everything in his stomach came retching out. That woke Sam but he didn't say anything as they got to cleaning up; it was hardly the first bad nightmare for either of them, after all. Dean was shaking too hard to be much help and he sat back on the bed when Sam shooed him out of the way, telling himself that it had just been a dream, same as all the others. Another in a long line of fucked-up nightmares that had become his life over the past few years.

Just a dream.

When he closed his eyes he could still see Castiel standing there against the wall, almost close enough to touch. Dean wondered what would have happened if he'd tried.

888

They only caught one quick glimpse of Uriel in the next couple of months, running into him by chance at an already broken Seal and the guy actually had the nerve to give them a smug little wave before flying off to wherever traitorous bastards went. As much as Dean wanted to watch him burn he was too clever for that, too quick, and Dean supposed he shouldn't be surprised that someone sneaky enough to fool people who'd known him since the dawn of time should be able to give he and Sam the slip, too.

Sam thought Dean was on a revenge kick and okay, fine, that was fair, but he didn't know how to tell Sam that it wasn't that Uriel had killed Cas that had him so pissed off – that he actually got, Uriel was up to no good, Castiel found out, Cas had to go, Dean got that sequence of events. It was stupid and evil but there was an element of self-preservation to it all Dean couldn't knock if he was honest with himself. It was the wayUriel had done it that made Dean see red. He knew what it was like to walk around knowing you might have to kill your brother, he'd carried that ever since his father had whispered it to him that he might have to kill Sam, and as much as he hated himself for doing it Dean had given it a lot of thought. If it ever came to that Dean would make sure it was quick, that Sam would never know what hit him. Uriel hadn't done that and Dean wanted to know why.

But if he couldn't get his hands on Uriel there were other angels. Dean walked around the ring of fire – Anna had taught him that trick, when she'd realized how serious he was about finding Uriel and having themselves a little sit down. The angel trapped inside looked up at him, completely unimpressed the way angels always were; she was called Iosfiel, and while he guessed Sam would know what that was supposed to mean Dean hadn't bothered to ask.

Sam wasn't there. He didn't need to see this. "Guess your boss isn't coming to rescue you."

Iosfiel flipped her hair over her shoulder; the body she was wearing looked around college age, more hipster than party girl. "Uriel isn't my 'boss.'"

"Yeah, but you sided with him, didn't you."

She rolled her eyes at that. "You have no place judging me. He offered the chance to side with Lucifer and I took it."

"You know what he was doing to all your brothers and sisters who weren't taking him up on that once in a lifetime offer, right?"

There was just the slightest bit of hesitation in her eyes at that. "Why do you think I said yes?"

Dean guessed he couldn't fault the practicality of that. A part of him wished Cas had shown half as much sense. "If you knew what he was up to you could have given some warning."

She tilted her head to the side and Jesus, was that just an angel thing? "Kill me if you like. Death has no fear for me now, not when I know I have a place of honor waiting for me with Lucifer."

Dean felt his hand clench tight around his knife. That might even be true, and even if it was BS he could tell she believed it was true. There was no fear in her eyes as she looked at him, waiting for him to let her go or pull her into the flames or something in between.

That Dean knew wasn't an angel thing. Angel or no, Cas had been just as terrified as every other poor son of a bitch unlucky enough to die in Dean's arms over the past decade, and if Dean knew he was responsible for some of that he pushed it away because he was no where near drunk enough to deal with that. He remembered Cas whispering please against his lips right at the end and pushed that away, too. "Where's Uriel?"

"Do you think I know?"

"I'm thinking you're a good start."

"Then you're wrong. Uriel doesn't confide his movements to me or anyone else save Lucifer. I know nothing that could interest you." She sighed, annoyance finally breaking through the angelic detachment. "What is your quarrelwith me?"

He remembered Castiel stopping him from staunching the wound because he was dying and afraid and wanted someone to hold him. Dean was just glad he hadn't screwed that part up, too. He stepped into the ring of fire almost without thinking about it.

It turned out to be true what she'd said: she really didn't know anything about Uriel.

Still, Dean did manage to put that fear into her eyes right before the end. Good enough.

When he got back to the motel he saw Sam hang up the phone like some teenager whose parents had come home early and then try to hide it by giving Dean one of his most judging looks, staring at his hands and the blood still under his nails. "He wouldn't want you to be doing this, you know."

Dean took a long swallow of cheap bourbon and debated telling Sam that Castiel had kissed him. See if he was such an expert on what angels wanted then. "Who was that on the phone?" he said instead, and that shut Sam up.

He wondered how long it would take before that came to a head. If Sam didn't get by now that keeping secrets only caused problems, Dean didn't know what to do. Sam eventually fell asleep and Dean finished off the bottle, the familiar drunken haze finally settling him for the first time all day. "C'mon, you son of a bitch," he said, part to Cas and part to God and part to the whole miserable universe in general. "You showed up in my dreams once. You don't like what I'm doing, do it again and tell me off."

888

This was an old, old dream. A good one, though, the first one he'd ever actually had about Castiel that didn't involve the guy strolling through his head like he owned the place. There used to be a run down little nightclub in Duluth where he'd hang out whenever they were in the area; it was a shooting range now but when Dean was fifteen he'd gotten his cherry popped in the back alley by a chick whose name he'd never asked and whose fake ID he suspected was subtracting as many years as his own added. Lots of good memories connected to that alley and he went back there in his dreams on a regular basis, so he really wasn't surprised the first time he'd dreamed about Castiel it involved backing him up against that grafittied brick wall. Even back in the early days, grateful as Dean had been to Cas for the whole Hell rescue he'd still wanted to dirty him up a little. Bring him down to Earth, and nothing dragged an angel down into the muck of humanity like pinning him against a wall and taking him then and there, where anyone could see.

So this dream was always a good time but there was something different about it, a sharper focus that made Dean's heart almost pound out of his chest. He watched Cas throw his head back, his wide eyes locked on Dean like he was the only thing in the world and Dean shifted position so they were face to face. He probably couldn't have managed it in reality but this was his dream and he'd take Cas any damn way he wanted; Cas' legs went tight around Dean, his eyes shutting tight as he moaned Dean's name. Dean had never told him how hard that whiskey-soaked voice of his always got him, how many nights he woke with the memory of Cas moaning his name echoing in his skull. No matter how many times Dean dreamed this it always struck him how fucking beautiful Cas was like this, sweat trailing down to the hollow of his throat and his pale skin flushed. Cas reached for him and Dean pressed him tighter against the wall, his tongue down Cas' throat as Cas held on for dear life.

Dean slowed down the pace, wanting to make this last as long as he could and every time Cas shivered and whimpered his name it ran up Dean's spine like lightning. "Cas. Jesus, Cas." Castiel moaned into Dean's mouth as he came, his hands tight in his hair and Dean came with him, his knees going weak under him. He let Cas get his legs back under him, kissing him again as they both shook in that alley. When Dean broke the kiss Castiel buried his face against his neck, letting out a series of shuddering little breaths that were suddenly Dean's favorite sounds in the world. "I want to stay here," he heard Cas whisper, his voice faint and broken and far away.

A second later Dean startled awake in his motel room, looking up to find Sam standing there picking his computer up from the ground. "Sorry, man. Didn't mean to wake you."

Dean swallowed down that first jolt of rage – Sam didn't know, wasn't his fault. "Don't wake me up when I'm dreaming."

Sam nodded, wandering off toward the shower and Dean closed his eyes again, trying to get back to that alley. He could still feel warm breath cooling against his neck.

888

He gave up drinking. Okay, he didn't give up beer, he wouldn't feel human without that, but the hard stuff, the drinking at night before bed, that was done. He'd started that in the first place to avoiddreaming but he couldn't do that now, and even if it made the hell dreams one thousand times worse it was worth it. It had to be. Even if there was only a one percent chance it really was Cas breaking through his dreams and overactive guilt getting the better of him Dean had to run with it. He owed Cas that. Even if only one dream out of a hundred was real he had to be ready, no more all nighters, no more getting so bombed he just passed out.

Sam actually thought he was getting better, that he was putting the past behind him. Showed how well the kid knew him these days.

Dean's eyes blinked open in the early morning light; he looked over and saw that Sam was already gone. That was happening more often too. He guessed he didn't know Sam that well anymore either.

He closed his eyes again and tried to hold onto the dream, the sensation of icy hands warming against his skin. Dean shook his head; he knew if he had any sense he would come clean to Sam because Dean knew he was falling in love with a ghost. And while that had to be the biggest fucking hunter cliché in the world the worst damned part of it was that Dean couldn't be sure if the ghost was even real.

888

It never took long for Dean to warm Castiel up. Just a few minutes of Cas shivering under him as Dean eased him out of his clothes, Cas' lips pressed against his neck, then Dean could get to work. He never asked if this all made it harder for Castiel when he went back. It was his fault Cas was in this mess, three words from him and Cas could have been in...Dean didn't know. Angel heaven. He hoped there really was some version of Heaven not run by total douchebags for good little angel boys and girls, at the very least, Cas sure as hell deserved that much.

Every time the dreams came Dean tried to say the words but he could never make them come out. Either he'd missed his shot or it didn't count if it wasn't done face to face, he didn't know.

He lay back and watched Castiel stretched out there in the afterglow, one hand still wrapped around Dean's wrist as though if he held on tight enough the dream wouldn't end. Dean shifted Castiel on top of him, already getting hard again from the way Cas sighed and settled against him. He traced his thumb along Cas' lower lip until his eyes opened, then tipped his head up and kissed him. He needed to make up for not kissing him all that time. "I'm gonna find you, Cas," Dean whispered, his lips at Castiel's ear. "I'm gonna pull you out of there, the way you pulled me out."

Castiel leaned up on his elbows and studied Dean, an almost pitying look on his face. He kissed Dean back, a barely brushing of the lips kiss just like the first time. "You need to stop dreaming, Dean."

Dean woke and stared up at the ceiling, rage flaring under his skin. He pushed himself up and got dressed, stomping his way out to the car and grabbing the coat out of the trunk. Dean slammed the door behind him when he got back to the room, glad for once that Sam was God knows where. Cas wanted it to be like that, fine. There was nowhere handy nearby to burn the coat, but if he disabled the smoke alarm the bathtub would do in a pinch, they'd done that before. Hell, Dean knew the dreams probably weren't real anyway and burning the coat would end the delusions before he rode the crazy train down any further. He could say goodbye to the guilt, goodbye to the dreaming, just go back to focusing on Sam and the Apocalypse and everything that was actually important.

The sudden flash of temper simmered its way out of his skin, the way it always did. This wasn't the first time he'd stood in a of a seedy hotel room staring at a battered trench coat but some final voice in his head told him it would be the last. Dean knew that voice. It was the one he'd heard the last time he'd walked through the doors of a high school, telling him he'd never do this again because hunting was his life now. He'd heard it again in the Pit, telling him that the next time Alastair asked him that question he was going to say yes. It was the voice he always heard when he'd committed to something before the rest of his mind had a chance to catch up and realize the decision had been made.

Dean was never going to burn the coat. If there was even the smallest chance it was a connection to Cas Dean had to keep it. If Cas really was trapped in the dark and the cold, if any of that had ever been real, then it was Dean's fault. He had to fix it. "Fuck you, Cas. I'll dream about you if I want. And I'll save you whether you want me to or not."

The irony didn't escape him.

888

Fuck Zachariah. Fuck him and his dream worlds. Like Dean didn't have enough issues with dreaming.

And fuck Ruby. No wonder Sam had been sneaking around like some love sick teenager.

Then before Dean finished reeling from that one two punch Anna fluttered in and dropped the boom about Lucifer and Michael, how he and Sam were destined to be their all-mighty meatsuits once the final Seal broke. Dean was having one hell of a week. "So how does this work," Dean asked, wondering how many sleeping pills he was going to have to take that night to quiet this new nightmare before he could sleep. Sometimes he hated Cas for keeping him from drinking his problems away. "Say we do say yes. What happens then?"

Anna just raised one eyebrow. "Considering their power, Michael especially? You'll die. Or be so damaged it won't matter."

He and Sam just stared at each other for a while when she'd left. "Obviously we just say no," Sam said, as if that would be that. "Hell, we kill Lilith we never have to worry about it."

Dean didn't mention the other talks Anna and he had been having about Sam. His little brother couldn't say no to Ruby, what chance did he have against Lucifer? "Sounds like a plan."

888

Dean woke up in the hospital, San sitting next to his bed with those stupid puppy dog eyes of his. "Why'd you do it, Dean?"

Dean didn't know what Sam had been going on about until later that day, when a shrink swanned in and started asking the same questions and Dean realized how stupid this all was. The sleeping pills he was on were strong stuff, they had to be to take the place of the booze he'd been using as a crutch for so long. Dean had just forgotten how many he'd taken.

The doctors didn't believe him and kept him the seventy-two hours anyway. He thought Sam would believe him at least, but when he was discharged Sam just sat down and started a tearful speech Dean knew he'd practiced in front of a mirror. "You're depressed, Dean," Sam said, as if Dean didn't have any right to be. "You need help and I don't know how to do it." There was more but Dean tuned it out because he knew what was coming; they needed distance, Sam was going out on his own, more words that descended into white noise.

Dean didn't say a word to stop him when he left. He could tell Sam kept waiting for him to, disappointment and betrayal bright in his eyes when he finally walked away. Letting Sam go was for his own good. He couldn't save them both, it was either Sam or Cas right now, and Dean didn't look at it as choosing one over the other so much as practicing a little triage. Sam was alive. He was making stupid decisions but he was alive to make them and Dean believed in his brother the same way the angels believed in God. Sam could right this ship. Even if he said yes to Lucifer, and Dean thought there was a good chance he would, Dean thought he'd win that fight. It didn't make logical sense, but Dean guessed that was how faith worked.

Cas had crawled to him choking on blood and Dean had let him fall. He couldn't let that happen twice. Cas was drowning; Dean had to jump in after him and he couldn't let Sam tag along.

And besides, he needed Sam pissed off at him. This whole thing wouldn't work otherwise.

888

When Sam called in tears about Lilith and final Seals and freaking teleporting onto an airplane all Dean could think was Yeah, that's about right. That was absolutely how their lives worked these days. "Hey, hey Sammy," he said, cutting him off.

"Yeah?"

"Listen to me for once, okay? Everything that happened, everything you did, as far as I'm concerned it's like it never happened. Okay? Forgive you for all of it. We're cool."

The relief in Sam's voice brings tears to Dean's eyes. At least he managed to get it right on his second try. "Really? Jesus, Dean, I'd hoped..."

"Yeah, I know. It's important to hear it."

"Yeah. Yeah, I guess it is." He heard Sam sniffle. "We should meet back up. Try to fix this."

Dean took a deep breath. "How about Bobby's? I can get there in about six hours or so."

"I'm closer, I'll be waiting. Don't you dare fucking be late."

Dean ended the call before it could get any mushier and stared at Sam's number blinking on the screen.

Why did you lie to him?

The voice is majesty and power and wrath and quiet as a whisper in the back of Dean's mind. No wonder Castiel assumed Dean would be able to hear him if he'd been born able to hear this. He was absolutely going to kick Cas' ass for never mentioning Michael to him before. "Had to. Glad he called, though. Stuff needed to be said." He let out a deep breath. "You gotta promise me you make Uriel bleed. That's gotta be the first thing, and it's gotta be slow."

All the traitors will be put to the sword. Have no fears about that.

Michael sounded so eager to go slaughtering that Dean almost started to like the guy. "Too bad I won't be awake for it. I can be a help. Kind of an expert at that."

You will be much too busy basking in the light of Heaven.

"Yeah, not interested." Dean shook his head. "Kid's never gonna forgive me for doing this."

Would you like to speak to him again?

"Nah. Kind of the point, y'know?"

There was an instant where light overwhelmed him and Dean had just enough time to whisper, "Hold tight, Cas. On my way."

Dean waited for pain, for pressure, braced to find himself surrounded by the cold and the dark.

But instead he felt nothing. Nothing at all.