A/N - August of 1988 refers to the incident in my story Divine Intervention. It should be pretty clear what happened without reading the other story, but if you want the full details of what happened that day, they're included in that story.
For four and a half years, Mary Winchester told her son as she tucked him into bed "Angels are watching over you."
Really, it was just one.
The angel was the first to see his vessel.
There was no grand announcement from Gabriel, even if Michael thought there should have been. Actually, no one even knew where Gabriel was at the moment, the little shit, and for whatever reason, Dad wanted to keep Dean Winchester's true purpose in this world a secret for as long as possible.
That didn't stop Michael from being in the delivery room when the child was born. No one else in the room knew he was there, but at the moment the nurse took the wailing infant from the doctor's hands and wrapped him in a blanket, the angel reached over and touched the baby. No one would ever know little Dean had actually been born with only one kidney. Certainly, he most likely would have lived a fairly normal life had Michael not corrected the defect, but this was Michael's vessel and there was no reason for him not to be perfect.
Michael sometimes visited the little house at 485 Robintree Avenue, and later the bigger one on Hamilton Street, mostly when Dean's distress called out to him. He stood unseen in a corner while Mary picked up and petted the baby, murmuring softly. Sometimes John came in and took Dean when Mary was tired or not feeling well. He would walk around, talking to his son about small block engines and positive traction rear ends, but Dean always snuggled into his father's chest and allowed himself to be soothed by the vibrations of his father's voice.
Dad had chosen well for the parents of his vessel.
Michael was there the night everything changed. Dean had been terrified. Michael immediately knew this wasn't a child's nightmare. He landed in the hallway just outside the nursery door as John thrust a blanket wrapped bundle into Dean's arms. The house was on fire, Mary was on fire, the stench of demon was overwhelming, and John was shouting at Dean, who didn't know what was going on.
Michael wrapped his wings around the boys, guiding them down the stairs and out the front door. He knelt behind the boys, with his wings still around them, whispering that everything was all right, they were safe, until John dashed out of the house, snatching both children from Michael's embrace.
He raised a hand to smite the miscreant, but paused when he realized the man was afraid. He didn't know Michael was there. He was afraid, and he was trying to protect his children, but also to draw comfort from them.
Michael didn't feel such emotions, but he was aware that humans had them.
He smoothed an unseen hand over Dean's hair once more, then stepped back, watching silently as the firetrucks arrived.
Michael was with Dean for over a week after the fire.
The poor child didn't understand. He didn't know what dead meant. He wanted his mommy. His daddy was busy, making funeral arrangements, trying to find a place to stay, scrounging up clothes for all of them and a portable crib for Sam and a coat for Dean. He wanted to go home. He didn't want to stay in Uncle Mike's spare bedroom any more. He wanted his blue truck that daddy said burned up in the house, not the new red one some lady from the church gave him.
Sam would cry and Dean would cry, and John's frustrations would overflow, and he would stomp out of the room. Michael would gather both boys in his arms, wrap his wings around them, and hold them until they calmed.
The baby looked at Michael as if he could see him and wasn't afraid.
Dean couldn't see Michael, but he could feel Michael's presence wrapped around him, comforting and protecting him.
He started sleeping wrapped around Sam the same way.
John Winchester left Lawrence, Kansas with two little boys asleep in the backseat and an angel riding shotgun.
Michael couldn't stay with them all the time. He had responsibilities in Heaven. He and Raphael were the only two archangels remaining, and someone had to try to keep things running in Dad's absence.
And despite what the masses liked to think, humans did not have full time, personally assigned guardian angels unless the human happened to be a prophet.
Michael checked on Dean every day.
The child was frightened, overwhelmed by the changes in his life and upheavals he didn't understand. He rarely spoke for the first year.
He channeled his hurt and fear into caring for his little brother, who in turn adored Dean. The relationship between the two was hard for Michael to watch.
It made him realize how much he missed Lucifer, for the first time in many millennia.
Sam grew from an infant to a toddler to a little boy. When Michael was around, sometimes he looked directly at where Michael stood. He couldn't see the angel's true form, but he knew something or someone was there.
John's descent into madness was even harder for Michael to watch. Angels didn't have human emotions, but they did understand them on an academic level. That meant Michael understood John's obsession to avenge his wife's murder and protect his children from evil he didn't fully grasp. He did not, however, by any stretch of the imagination agree with the way John treated his children. Michael lost count of the times he forced himself not to smite the man.
It was Dad's plan that these boys should grow up with their father. Apparently these experiences that Michael considered abusive would be instrumental in shaping them into worthy vessels.
Michael was not Lucifer. He would always trust that Dad's plan was the best for humanity and obey to the letter.
That didn't stop him from wrapping his wings around two frightened little boys when he felt Dean needed him.
Or smiting a man in a motel parking lot in Topeka who realized that two children were alone in that room and approached the door with vile motives.
They were never supposed to go to Georgia in August of 1988.
Some rookie Reaper felt sorry for the husband who should have been left behind and took him too, which caused some hopeless romantic newspaper reporter to make a featurette out of the article and brought the vengeful spirit causing trouble in Banks County to the attention of the hunter community months sooner than planned, when John was in Tennessee on another job.
By the time the spirit made headlines, the Winchesters were supposed to be in Idaho, and burning the bones should have fallen to Martin Creaser.
Instead, John had taken it upon himself to work this case, and Dean had drowned in the swimming pool of a rundown motel on Highway 184 just outside Toccoa.
Michael was in a meeting when it happened, arguing with Naomi, who was rapidly becoming a pain in the ass that he did not actually have.
Dean's fear transmitted itself to him first. The child was terrified, more so than he ever had been in his life, more than the first time John left them alone.
Before Michael could politely excuse himself, a sudden pain radiated through his chest, strong enough to bring the archangel to his knees.
His vessel's heart had stopped.
He snapped out of the meeting, no care given for courtesy or protocol.
Dean was laying on bleached white stone next to a surprisingly clean swimming pool while John performed cardiopulmonary resuscitation. He moved back when the paramedics arrived, taking the little brother from the arms of the stranger who had been holding him.
Michael stepped up behind John, reached over the rescuers, and lightly touched Dean's forehead. The child instantly seized, sputtered, and coughed out the water that had been blocking his airway.
A tiny gasp sounded from beside the angel's feet. He looked down to find Sam staring straight at him.
For some reason, Michael's relief that Dean was all right was tempered with anger that Lucifer's vessel could apparently see him, while his own could not.
As Michael left, he allowed the sound of his wings to be heard, wanting Dean to know he had been there.
It was for Dean's own good that Michael backed away further as Dean entered his teenage years. Dean had lessons to learn, hurts to endure, setbacks to overcome, that would mold him into the vessel he needed to be.
That didn't mean Michael turned his back entirely.
He was there, wings wrapped around Dean, when the 14 year old flipped a Maserati. He was there, in the motel room after, whispering soothingly to John to focus on the fact that Dean was safe, that he could have been killed, rather than berate him for stealing an expensive car they didn't need and crashing it, which would draw attention to them.
He watched, clenching the jaw he didn't actually have, as the motel manager, nearly old enough to be Dean's grandmother, told the teenage boy to come to her room and they would see what they could work out for payment until John returned.
He stepped in when the truck driver two rooms down would have approached Dean with a similar offer.
He was there to keep Dean and John from tearing each other apart the first time Sam got hurt to the point of spending the night in the hospital, both blaming each other and themselves.
He manipulated time a few seconds here, moved objects a few inches there, to keep Dean, and in turn Sam and John, from being caught by the police, or to allow him to escape custody, or to even get his charges reduced to misdemeanors for which he could pay a fine and leave.
He made sure that Dean survived injuries that would have killed other hunters with as little damage as possible, and furthermore, that no matter how many scars littered the young man's body and limbs, there were almost none on his face.
Lucifer wasn't the only vain one in the family.
The one moment Michael most closely identified with Dean was the night he stood in shock and denial as Sam walked out the door.
Michael had been the big brother once, with a little brother he adored more than he could put into words. He had been the big brother left behind when little brother chose to follow his own ideas and leave his family behind.
He had been the big brother forced to lock away his little brother, knowing if he ever saw Lucifer again, it would be to kill him.
He knew what was coming for both Dean, and for him.
For the first time, he understood why humans got drunk to forget.
Michael had been tied up with Zachariah and Naomi when Dean found Sam in California.
Dean had his brother back, and although he was still worried about his father, the pure joy of having his Sammy by his side again radiated from Dean in waves.
Michael shut Dean out for a few days, thinking he might finally understand the human emotion of jealousy.
He didn't stay away long, however. He had Dean declared legally dead to hide him from the police, and made sure Dean didn't really die when he was electrocuted in that wet basement. He steered the boys to the faith healer who restored Dean's heart, and kept Meg from killing Dean to get Sam.
He stood over his comatose vessel in the hospital while Sam raged and John mourned. He watched John sell his soul with what would be called a sadistic sense of satisfaction if Michael was human. Michael hadn't forced John to do it, would have stepped in and healed Dean if circumstances had come to it, but he certainly didn't make any effort to stop John. It was fitting punishment that the man who had hurt Dean so many times over the years would give himself to eternal torment to save Dean in the end.
He watched the boys go on the road again, watched their hearts and spirits break and be reformed into the vessels they were meant to be.
He made sure the only two SWAT team members tall enough for the Winchester brothers to swap clothes with were in the right place at the right time.
He discovered that Sam no longer appeared to see him.
Cold Oak was never supposed to happen.
Well, actually, it was always a possibility, just not one Michael ever foresaw coming to pass. It didn't fit into the rest of Dad's plan, as Michael understood it.
Daniel Elkins was supposed to kill Azazel. That was why he was given The Colt all those years ago.
But somewhere along the way the old hunter had become obsessed with vampires and stopped hunting anything else, which meant he never killed Old Yellow Eyes.
The situation in Heaven was starting to get a bit out of hand, so Michael was in another meeting when Sam was taken by Azazel.
Michael stood behind Dean and Bobby, ready to protect his vessel if necessary, when Sam was killed by Jake Talley.
Michael did not understand. This was not Dad's plan. Sam couldn't be Lucifer's vessel if he's dead.
Dean's grief was choking Michael, but Michael shut it out, trying to process everything.
There would be no Battle.
Earth would not become Paradise.
Everything they had worked for over the past several millennia had come to naught.
Dean would never be his vessel.
He would never see Lucifer again.
He would never have to kill Lucifer.
Michael retreated to Heaven, leaving Dean sobbing over his dead brother in the mud.
For the first time in his life, Michael had no idea what to do.
If Michael thought his chest hurt when Dean died at the age of nine, it was nothing compared to the agony when Dean sold his soul.
Honestly, Michael should have expected it. Dean was strong, resourceful, and intelligent, and he loved Sam beyond all reason. He just never thought it would have been necessary for Dean to be the Righteous Man to shed blood in Hell. He was certain that Alastair would have eventually broken John.
This changed everything, and nothing.
Sam would find a way to break Dean's deal, or Michael would simply get him back from Hell.
The game was back on.
Michael was in the room the night the Hellhounds came for Dean.
For the first time, he wasn't there to help Dean.
He was there to hold Sam back. He kept Sam from trying to stop the attack, from throwing himself into the fray and being devoured as well, from killing himself with Dean's body in his arms.
He whispered into Sam's ear "You can get him back."
It kept Sam distracted for a while, until Michael's rescue team brought Dean back.
Zachariah provided him with a list of worthy angels to send into the pit. There was a name Michael didn't see on the list, an angel Michael remembered from other missions, an angel who was always sympathetic to humans.
"Add Castiel." Michael instructed.
Naomi asked if he was joking. Zachariah told him that the list he had submitted without Castiel would be sufficient. Both of them tried to tell Michael that sending Castiel on this mission would almost certainly ensure failure.
Michael insisted. He understood others, both humans and angels, better than anyone else except Dad, could read their hearts.
Castiel wouldn't leave Hell without Dean.
By the time Dean returned to earth, Sam's downfall had begun.
He was sleeping with the demon whore, drinking demon blood, developing powers no human should have.
Michael ordered that Sam should be warned to stop. That Dean should be made to understand that Sam's abilities needed to be curtailed. Sam needed to drink some demon blood to contain Lucifer, but not so much as to strengthen him to the point of giving him any advantage over Michael.
Lucifer would not win, could not win, but that didn't mean he wasn't willing to take advantage of any opportunity to try.
The Winchester boys spun around their destiny and each other in crosscutting ellipses, at times moving closer to one another and at times further apart, but always just beyond arms' reach of fate.
Michael relinquished guardian duties to Zachariah, due to the degenerating situation in Heaven. The demons had become aware of Chuck writing the Gospel of Winchester, so Raphael had to spend more time on prophet duty. Despite Michael's repeated assurances that everything on the Apocalypse front was proceeding as planned and the earth would soon be a paradise, there were several factions who seemed determined to take matters into their own hands.
Dean's fear called to him when Lucifer's crypt began to open. Michael couldn't go to him, couldn't get himself that close to Lucifer before the appointed time, but he snatched Dean out of the church and onto a plane. Thanks to the death grip the brothers had on one another, Sam was brought along for the ride.
Zachariah finally told Dean about his true purpose.
Dean, incredibly, wasn't interested.
Michael had honestly never considered this possibility.
Zachariah told Michael there was nothing to worry about, that Dean just needed more time to get his head around the idea. Zachariah had never failed to close a deal.
Players on all sides kept joining the game, and the motives and circumstances changed faster than Michael could keep track of them. Zachariah kept assuring Michael he had everything under control, and since Michael had his hands full with the rebellion in Heaven, he had little choice but to trust Zachariah to do his job.
Michael even had to leave all the chaos to come to earth once. A rogue angel decided to travel to 1978 to kill John and Mary before their sons were born to prevent the Apocalypse. Michael found himself in John's body to save Mary.
It wasn't the way Michael expected to meet his vessel face to face, but it couldn't be helped.
For the first time, he talked to Dean directly. He explained the situation to Dean. He didn't want to do this, he knew Dean didn't want to do this, but it was their destiny. They both had to say yes for the greater good.
Dean was a good man at heart, whether he believed it or not. Michael trusted that given time, Dean would realize what was right. Especially after Sam said yes. Nothing any of them did would stop Sam from saying yes eventually.
Michael fixed Sam, although everything would have been easier if he hadn't. If Sam was dead, Dean wouldn't have to kill him. Michael wouldn't have to kill Lucifer.
Dad's plan would never come to fruition.
But that wasn't how it was meant to be.
Michael healed Sam, and whispered to Dean "You can trust me."
He had a moment of panic when Dean's heart stopped again, but Zachariah assured Michael that Dean and Sam's trip to Heaven was part of the plan to convince Dean to say yes.
The Winchesters were returned to earth, and for a moment, it seemed that Zachariah's plan to drive a wedge between them had worked. Dean threw away his necklace and was barely speaking to Sam, Zachariah reported.
It didn't last. It never did.
In no time at all, the brothers were in each other's pockets again. And then they weren't.
Frustratingly enough, a handful of times Michael thought Dean's yes was imminent, but each time Sam or Castiel stopped him from going forward.
Castiel had fully rebelled, refusing to obey his orders to bring Dean in. Michael approved cutting off Castiel but stopped Naomi from sending the guard after him. Michael would rather Dean have an estranged angel for a body guard that to be left vulnerable.
As time grew desperately short, Michael finally had to put his foot down and institute a plan he never wanted to use. He had Naomi send a team to retrieve Dean's other brother. Dean had, many times, sacrificed his own happiness, his safety and well-being, even his soul for his family. He would never let his baby brother be used as Michael's vessel in his place.
It was playing dirty, but a good hustle with a bait and switch at the end had always been a part of the Winchester repertoire. Being a vessel wasn't the only thing passed down through the bloodline.
Unfortunately, they all underestimated Dean. The Winchesters plus Castiel managed to break into the Beautiful Room, kill Zachariah, and very nearly escape with Adam.
Adam, by that point, was ready to go to Heaven, Hell, or Home, with or without his brothers. He wanted no part of any angelic war.
Michael was needed back in Heaven, so it was left to Naomi and her garrison to get Adam's agreement. Michael told her that he never wanted to know what it took.
He never believed Adam was the final answer. Dean was The Righteous Man. When he came to Stull Cemetery (and he would come) and saw Adam as Michael's vessel, he would offer himself instead.
At the dawn of the morning in Stull Cemetery, Michael was more concerned with the realization that he had to kill his brother today than he was about the fact he was in the wrong vessel.
He and Lucifer were much like Dean and Sam, really. Closer than nearly any other brothers, with a bond forged of shared experiences and love and something more, something intangible that couldn't be explained with human words.
And Dad wanted one to kill the other.
It was not up to Michael to question why. It was simply up to Michael to be the good son, and obey.
He really expected to find Dean at the cemetery with Sam, even if Sam was no longer Sam. But the expectation was gone in a second, as he faced the little brother he hadn't seen in millennia.
"Michael, it's good to see you." Lucifer greeted, as if they weren't there to kill each other.
Lucifer made a suggestion. They could just walk away. As if it was that simple.
It could have been.
That was what hurt the most.
But it would not be, because to walk away was not what Dad wanted them to do.
They were milliseconds from delivering the first blows when Dean arrived. He was irreverent, cocky, and full of bravado on the surface, but inside, he was more frightened and broken than he had ever been in his life.
Michael knew in that moment that had Dean asked Michael to leave Adam and claim his true vessel, he wouldn't have done so.
Adam had little emotional attachment to Sam. He would be scarred mentally by killing what he saw as another human being. But Michael could return him to Heaven when it was all over, and Adam could go on with his eternity.
Dean, on the other hand, would never recover from killing Sammy, if he had to. Michael could at least spare one of them this fate.
Before Michael could snap his fingers and send Dean back to Sioux Falls, he was hit with burning holy oil.
Had his vessel not been disintegrating, Michael would have laughed out loud.
It took a moment to regroup, reform the vessel, and return to Kansas.
When he returned, he found Castiel's vessel and grace had both been atomized, and smiled because Lucifer was still his brother.
Then he turned, and saw Sam, not Lucifer, Sam talking to Dean.
Apparently, all of Heaven had underestimated both Winchester brothers. Sam had been able to do what no other vessel had ever done, and actually suppress an archangel.
"Sam!" Michael shouted. "It's not gonna end this way! Step back!"
Sam shook his head. "You're gonna have to make me!"
Michael pleaded for Sam to understand, to not make this harder because it's already the hardest thing Michael has ever faced. "I have to fight my brother, Sam! Here and now! It's my destiny!"
Sam didn't answer. He looked at Dean one last time, both of them struggling to hold back tears. Then he closed his eyes and spread his arms wide.
Michael surged forward, to grab Sam, to make him relinquish control to Lucifer.
Instead Sam grabbed Michael's arm and dove into the pit, pulling Michael along with him.
They fell, for what seemed like years.
Many thoughts passed through Michael's mind, but the one that made its way to the forefront over and over was "Neither of us is dead."
Five hundred years later, Michael is more or less resigned to life in the cage.
Adam is a really a great guy. He's smart enough to ask questions that keep the three of them in conversations for years, he has a wickedly dry sense of humor, and he plays a mean game of five card stud.
No matter what transpired between the two of them, or between Dad and Lucifer, Michael and Lucifer are still brothers, they still love one another, and if Michael had to choose someone to be trapped with for eternity, Lucifer probably would have been the top of his list.
But there are two thoughts that will always keep Michael from being happy in the Cage.
Surprisingly, not knowing what is going on in Heaven, whether things have calmed down (doubtful) or a full-fledged civil war has erupted is not one of them.
He feels like a failure, for not completing Dad's plan.
And he misses Dean.