Parts one, two, three, four and five are here, here, here, here and here
Stranded on a boat between the island and the mainland, the vacation in paradise left in shambles, again Dean succumbs to an attack on his weakened soul, an assault that nearly ends his existence. With the Darkness unleashed world-wide, Sam comes to the realization that there may be only one way to stop it; by going to Lucifer and Michael. The newly reached agreement to not keep secrets from each other is immediately put under strain, but Team Free Will reunites in full, firm agreement that the only way they’ll survive is if they work together.
In the Gallery of Heroes
A chosen soul, under control from high above
Shines here below
The final test shall soon be passed
Heaven’s pride dwells deep inside
But now will sprout its wings and fly
They see His face shine in your eyes
As the whole world sees
You take the bullet, and take your place
In the gallery of heroes…
They landed safely back in the Bunker library, home again, and it felt surprisingly good. This was their oasis against the madness of chaos that surrounded them. Sam felt stress leach off of him.
Dean dumped the duffle on the table, semi-gently due to Sam’s laptop being in there, and headed straight for the scotch, pouring all three of them a full glass. “So let’s talk about this,” he said, bringing the drinks over, two in one hand. “This whole idea to ask Michael and Lucifer for help – Lucifer too? Really? How do we even go about it?”
“We get Crowley’s help,” Sam said, still hating the idea, but he’d spent some time thinking about it now. Hell, he’d even dreamed about it and knew it was unavoidable. To get into Hell, they had to have the King’s assistance. “Then we use the Horsemen’s rings to get into the cage.”
“In?” Dean said. “No way. We go in and—”
“I go in,” Sam corrected, “and Cas gets me back out, same as last time, only hopefully all in one piece.”
Dean didn’t immediately disagree other than to shake his head over it. “Isn’t there some way to have this little chat from outside the cage? I mean, Sam, you going in there is a suicide mission. You won’t get back out. We were lucky to get you out the last time and it took two tries.”
“There might be,” Cas said before Sam could argue the point. “The mechanism to even get near the cage is different for a celestial being than a human. That’s never been done. We’ll definitely need Crowley’s help and he might not be willing to give it.”
“He might if it keeps Hell from being invaded,” Sam said.
“How does having a friendly chat with the devil stop an invasion?” Dean asked and then knew the answer. “But you’re not talking about just talking. Have you lost your damn mind? You’re going to go in there and let him possess you?”
“No. No damn way. That is not an option.”
Sam took a sip of his drink and set it down on the table. None of them were sitting. This was a stand up kind of conversation, so Sam drew himself to his full height and folded his arms. In doing so, he reminded Dean with just a look about their recent agreement, which came with the clear understanding that they’d have to listen to each other.
He very much didn’t like the idea and didn’t want to talk about it or listen. It pissed him off that he was being reminded of that agreement and for a second he fell right back into the same habit; when big brother says no, it means no, end of discussion. It was a struggle for him to not react exactly like that, and Sam watched it all play across his face. He didn’t back down this time and waited Dean out. It took a couple minutes of him walking around, muttering under his breath and slugging back the rest of his drink before he slammed the glass down on the table.
“How can you even think you can control him? You gonna go back to the demon blood regime? Is that it?”
“No,” Sam said evenly and without rancor in his voice. He knew meeting anger with anger in an argument was a sure way to make Dean shut down and not listen at all. “I’m not.”
“Cas is going to sear that anti-angel sigil you tried to use with Gadreel right into my ribs, or wherever there’s room for it to go.”
“Maybe on your thick skull,” Dean said.
Sam put his hand over his heart. “Maybe right here,” he said and smiled a little because that stopped Dean in his tracks. Still, he rolled his eyes and turned away. Sam knew it just scared him to death and he needed a minute to process that very ingrained creed that had guided and ruled his whole life; the one that told him to protect Sam at all cost. “That way, the sigil can’t be altered,” he went on, “and I’ll be able to tell if Lucifer will cooperate or not.”
“Say he does,” Cas said while Dean went for the scotch again. “He helps us. He fights the Darkness. It might be that having him Earthside bearing the Mark will be enough to lock them back away.”
“That’s another thing that’s not going to happen,” Dean interrupted. “If Lucifer has the Mark, Sam has the Mark, and we’re right back where we started, only with Sam going down the same damn road I just got off of.”
“Not necessarily,” Cas said, frowning over it. “The Mark is still with Lucifer. I’m convinced of it, but he’s on a different plane of existence than the Mark requires to work fully against the Darkness. I don’t think it will automatically transfer to Sam. Lucifer had the Mark without a vessel before. It could work the way you think, but then we face the same problem the moment we put Lucifer back in the cage. The Mark won’t work. The Darkness comes right back.”
“That’s where Rowena comes in,” Sam said. “She has the Book of the Damned. I’m not 100% sure yet because I don’t have the whole thing translated, but I think there might be another spell that’ll do the same thing as the Mark without actually restoring the Mark to Dean, only the Darkness has to already be contained. That’s the only thing I did get from it. But it’s … pretty dark stuff.”
“And probably comes with unknown consequences,” Cas added. “The very bad kind.”
“What about Michael? Can he be released from the cage, if he agrees to fight, without taking Dean along with him?” Sam asked.
“Yes. But that too will probably come with consequences.”
“Probably nothing,” Dean growled. He kept shaking his head over it all, but finally, coming to some internal resolution, he closed his eyes. “All right. Before we get too far down the road of even thinking about doing this…” He stopped at that and shook his head again. “…We have to find out a few things first. Step one is getting Crowley to go along with it. If he won’t, it’s a whole different plan. How about we find that out now.”
He reached for his phone to make the call but Cas stopped him. “You’ll have to summon him here.”
“Because I consecrated the entire area in a ten mile radius around the Bunker,” Cas said matter of factly. When Sam and Dean stared at him over the magnitude of that action, he was taken aback again. “Well I thought you might like to be able to get out to the store or go to that bar down the road you sometimes frequent so you don’t die the second you step outside.”
Dean cracked a smile and laughed over it. “It’s good to have you back, Cas. All powered up, flying around. That was pretty impressive back there on the dock, I gotta hand it to you. Don’t think I’ve ever seen you bring out the real wings before.”
“It’s my true form,” Cas said, “or at least that part you saw before looking would have burned out your eyes.”
“Right. So let’s summon ourselves the King of Hell, shall we?”
“He might not come if he knows I’m here,” Sam said.
“Then I won’t tell him,” Dean said and went off to get the ingredients to bring Crowley to the Bunker. When he came back, he was talking to him on his phone. “We need to talk and we need to do it here and that’s the way it’s going to be. No, it isn’t a trap. We need your help and more importantly, you need ours. You got trouble coming and we have a plan to stop it.” He wagged his head and glanced to the ceiling, leaving off the questionable parts that Crowley wouldn’t want to hear and wouldn’t likely agree to without a lot of bargaining. “We’re going to summon you now. Show. Don’t show. But if you don’t, you’ll have two big problems coming for you. Up to you.”
With that he hung up on him.
Sam bit back a smile. It never failed to amaze him how Dean was so easily able to handle Crowley the way he did. Partly, it was due to the time the two had spent together while Dean was a demon, but Crowley had to know after the death of Cain and Dean double-crossing him with the blade whose side Dean would forever be on and it wasn’t his. They would have to proceed carefully.
With a glance at his brother, Sam pulled the duffle over and pulled out the demon-killing knife, quietly exchanging the gun tucked into his pants with the blade. He felt better wearing it even though with Cas there, it wouldn’t likely be needed. He pulled out a flask of holy water too and slipped it into his back pocket, hidden under his shirt, followed by the warded cuffs. Those he stuffed into his front pocket and gave Dean a nod.
He set the bowl on the table, down at the other end away from the weapons cache, stuffed in the ingredients and lit the match. It had become so commonplace for them to do this, summon a demon, the worst demon of them all, that there was no hesitation with the final act that would bring the King of Hell to their home.
They didn’t have to wait long.
Crowley appeared in that strange swirl of smoke that barely registered before materializing fully. He was dressed as usual in a black, well-tailored suit and seemed more put out than usual. He arrived in the doorway to the library, maybe to keep his only avenue of escape open to him. Now that he was here, he couldn’t get out except by the main door. And that was only if they unlocked it for him. The fact remained, of course, that he could kill both Sam and Dean, and maybe Cas too. Trying to keep the upper hand with him was like playing Russian roulette.
“If you’re thinking of playing the ‘we’re all in this together’ card,” Crowley said in the same glib tone Sam had come to despise, “don’t bother. I’m—”
“Believe it or not,” Dean said, shrugging. “You showed, so I’m gonna guess you’re in deeper than you’d like to admit. This is everyone’s problem, us, heaven, hell; the whole shebang. Like it or not, if we don’t all play nice on this, we all end up swallowed.”
“You especially,” Crowley said like he knew something they didn’t.
“What’s that supposed to mean?” Sam demanded, taking a step toward him, but Dean shot him a look to get him to back down. Sam wasn’t inclined to agree but recognized the need. He went on in a slightly less belligerent tone. “They’ve been after him since he got the Mark off. Do you know why?”
At that Crowley dropped the act for a moment and shook his head. “Every demon they take it’s the same question; where is Dean Winchester?”
“Let’s cut to the chase here,” Dean said. “We have a plan. We need to get into and out of hell. We’re going to talk to Lucifer and Michael. They’re the only ones who know exactly what the Darkness is and how to defeat it.”
“Talk?” Crowley said. “Is that all you plan to do, because you and I both know that’s not the answer. No, you’ll have to let them out, somehow control them, lock the Darkness back up since Lucifer still has the Mark and then put them both back in the cage so they don’t go off and start the apocalypse all over again. And then what? You’ll be right back where you started because the Mark won’t be topside. Who’s taking it this time? You?” He pointed to Sam. “How many times do the two of you want to ride the merry-go-round? That’s not a plan. It’s suicide – for everyone, but more importantly, me.”
“We know how to control them,” Dean said before Crowley could go on. “A little something we got off the Angel tablet that will keep them from possessing either of us completely.”
Sam glanced at Dean at that and then to Cas, who did a better job of not reacting. Maybe Dean was misleading Crowley on purpose. It was time to deflect attention though. “We’re going to make Rowena cast a new spell, after the Darkness is contained, that will keep it that way. It’s a spell from the Book of the Damned.”
“You can’t be serious!”
“Look Crowley, if you’ve got a better idea, let’s hear it,” Dean said. “Otherwise, put up or shut up. What’s it going to be?”
The usual placid smirk changed to a leering, murderous sneer of contempt. “I could snuff you out with a thought—”
“But you won’t,” Cas said. He didn’t move but the air popped and the high-pitched squeal of an angel powering up hit their ears.
“All right, all right. Everyone put your junk away,” Dean said, stepping between the angel and the demon. “How are your demons doing out there, Crowley? Taken or shredded?”
“Both,” he said, and turned to look back into the war room.
“Maybe they can be warded,” Cas said.
“Can you ward a demon?” Dean asked, then jerked his head at Sam that he should show Crowley what they meant.
He dug a piece of paper out of the duffle, drew the ward and handed it out to him. “Really? The sign of pi?”
“It works,” Sam said. “It won’t keep them from getting shredded in a crowd, but it’ll give them a fighting chance.”
Crowley looked around the bunker. “It’ll have to wait until I’m out of here.” He took the paper from Sam, eyes narrowed in thought before he folded the page and tucked it into the inside breast pocket of his suit jacket. “And after you’ve convinced Mommy Dearest to perform this spell, what will you do with her?”
“She’ll be your problem,” Dean said before Sam suggested they kill her. “She’s your family and all that.”
Crowley rolled his eyes. “And how do you propose to make her help you?”
“She’ll probably want us to kill you,” Sam said with a smile.
“Exactly my point.”
Dean glanced at Cas, and Sam could tell the wheels were turning. He had that ‘thinking of something crazy’ look to his eye. “And you’re going to let us,” he said. “Won’t be the first time you played dead.”
Crowley looked to object but he paused to think about it, remembering well enough when he and Cas had gone in together in the attempt to open Purgatory, and in doing so, lied to Sam and Dean about the King’s supposed demise.
“A double cross,” he said and looked pleased. “I like it. We’ll work out the particulars – if it turns out that that’s what she wants. You’ll have to hold her until the time is right.”
“We have a dungeon,” Sam said.
“True, and it should do the trick, but, you don’t want to leave her here unguarded even for a moment, because you don’t want her running loose in your little bat cave. She knows that the Men of Letters wiped out the Grand Coven and took all their secret spells. This place would be a gold mine for her, if she managed to get her hands on any of it.”
“We can handle her,” Dean said.
“I can get you into hell,” Crowley said then. “All the way to cage, but, where you’re going – the 7th level – I can’t protect you from the madness and sheer horror of the place.”
“Why don’t you let us worry about that,” Dean said.
“You can’t go,” Crowley said and at that Sam looked up at him sharply. He knew. Somehow he knew. “There’s something wrong with you. I’m a demon, you morons. I can see right through you. Your Moose at least stands a small chance of getting in and getting out without loosing all his marbles. You won’t come out unscathed no matter what you do, but if you go Squirrel, that place will stamp you out of existence just – like – that.” He snapped his fingers.
Sam jerked, unable to disguise what had become an innate reflex to that gesture. Crowley saw and didn’t refrain from smiling over it. “You son of a bitch!
“Son of a witch,” Crowley said, unmoved when Sam went for him.
Dean was there, putting both hands into his chest to stop him, followed by grabbing him when that didn’t slow him and pushing him back. “Sam!”
“What’s wrong with him is, every bit of it, your fault, Crowley! You knew what would happen to him if he took the Mark. You knew what a bad deal it was and the only reason you got him into it was to save your sorry ass from Abaddon. Or maybe it was to get him turned into a demon in a twisted bid to make all your little minions think you were something more than a pathetic excuse of a salesman.”
He knew he was out of control, a blind rage filling his mind so that he didn’t really realize he was throwing his brother out of the way to reach his target. The plan to get Crowley’s help vanished. They had Cas. What did they need the King of Hell for? The thought of putting their lives in his twisted hands was more than Sam could stand, particularly while he stood there, knowing what he’d done to Dean, a self-satisfied smirk on his face.
As if off in the distance, the sound of something falling heavily to the floor seeped through the pounding of his heart. Crowley’s attention diverted, his eyes snapping beyond Sam and then Cas jumped between them, yanking Sam around so that he would see.
Dean was on the floor. The realization that Sam had caused this latest collapse slammed through him and pulled him off his feet. His knees hit the hard marble floor and he reached for his brother.
He needed time to stop its crushing forward march again. This kept happening. Dean kept dying right in front of him. Sam kept telling himself he’d get him back again. There wouldn’t be a last time. It was too soon. He couldn’t accept it. He wasn’t ready. He’d never be ready. Not for this.
Time didn’t care. Dean wasn’t breathing. His heart wasn’t beating.
Again, as though he existed in some strange bubble that muted the rest of the world, he heard Cas telling Crowley to get out and Crowley asking, in a tone of voice that was devoid of his usual sarcasm, what was happening. Cas didn’t answer and Sam heard him pushing the King of Hell toward the entrance of the bunker. The echo of it opening and closing seeped through as Sam stared at his brother’s face.
He didn’t move. His eyes were half closed and behind them, there was nothing.
Cas popped in beside them, fully powered up, light blaring from the hand he set on Dean’s chest. His head bowed in concentration. An eternity passed in that one moment.
The light sputtered and went out. Cas seemed suddenly in pain. No, not pain, but grieved. He gritted his teeth together and tried again, with both hands this time. A high-pitched whine grew. Three lamps in the library and two more in the war room burst. The sound increased until it hurt Sam to sit so near its source and he cringed away, turning his head and screwing his eyes closed against the blaze.
The sound diminished. The brilliance faded. Sam snapped back around, looking expectantly to Dean, fully expecting him to be awake. Nothing had changed. Sam stared from him to Cas, in confusion and growing denial.
Sam Winchester had an ability, a talent far greater than the greatest of his hunting skills. It wasn’t in physical prowess, brute strength, or just the sheer size of him. Dean frequently called it the puppy dog eyes look. Cas knew it for what it was; those rare moments when the barriers dropped, the outer shell the man usually walked through his life securely within vanishing to reveal what was pure Sam.
And there it was, still. Hope. All of it placed in Cas’ hands, the unadulterated belief that it could not end like this. He believed with every fiber of his being that there was an answer, a way out of this, a solution that would let Dean live.
Cas had a possible answer, but…
There were still rules he was supposed to live by, inviolable, absolute, in the top ten list of things angels were not supposed to do. It didn’t matter that he’d already broken that rule once before, for much the same reasons as now; to save Sam and Dean Winchester. He wasn’t supposed to take this risk because the end result might mean the destruction of them both. There were several prime directives in complete discord with one another. It wasn’t true that they both had to live to secure the world, but just one, even if that meant the other was left bereft. At great cost, Cas had defied those tenets before.
All it took though, was one look from Sam, that open, unguarded entreaty for help that Cas couldn’t refuse.
“Take off your belt and lie down,” he said and at the same time, set his fingers to Dean’s forehead. Putting him in a kind of stasis would help with the transfer and was necessary to prevent further damage from the lack of blood flow and oxygen. It would also preserve that last, nearly infinitesimal sliver of his soul that remained but would not survive much longer than a moment.
Sam did as he was told without question. Maybe he had some idea of what was coming. Cas hesitated in telling him the truth, wondering if it was better that he didn’t know the terrible risk his life would be in, but shook his head at himself.
“I have to touch your soul,” he said, moving between them in the small space Sam had left him. “I’m going to take energy from you and give it to Dean, but Sam…” Again, Cas paused, but time wouldn’t let him couch his words more carefully. Sam needed to know all of it. “If I don’t do this right, or if Dean doesn’t accept this power from you, it’ll rebound and … it’ll destroy you. Your soul will explode and, well…”
Sam nodded without even a hint of hesitation over the prospect of the end of his existence. Cas knew he would of course. He’d half hoped he would say no, but he was a Winchester and throwing themselves on the grenade was part of their genetic code.
“Bite down and try not to move,” he instructed and Sam nodded again. Lying on the floor next to his brother, Sam turned to him, looking at him with the same unguarded openness, knowing full well it might be the last thing he ever saw. A kind of peaceful calmness softened his features and he pulled in a breath.
Cas emptied his mind of questions and doubts, focusing all his angelic powers on the delicacy of the task. If he went too fast or too slow, if he took too much or not enough, if he hesitated even a fraction of an instant once the transfer began, everything had to be exact or it would end the lives of both these men; one horrifically, the other without even a sound.
Dean didn’t move, but Sam shook from the effort to remain still, combating instinct that made him want to escape this pain. Somehow he fought that off. Before long, Cas wasn’t aware and couldn’t hear the choked gurgling noises that escaped from clenched teeth. Light surrounded him and then the power of a human soul coursed through ever fiber of his being.
It was an enticing feeling, beguiling in its lure. He was flooded with it. Sam was different from Bobby, unique, and so much stronger, far more than even all the souls from Purgatory. Here was the most powerful soul on Earth. This was why he was the vessel of the most powerful angel in all of Creation.
Another angel most certainly would have failed at that moment, but there existed in Cas another equally potent force, far greater than the allure of all that power he could take and keep for himself. It was an emotion angels weren’t supposed to have, but one that had saved Cas before and was now his greatest strength. He hadn’t been born with it, hadn’t come to know it until relatively late in the ages of his existence. He’d learned it from these two brothers; the capacity for unconditional love.
It had saved the world several times over, the bond between them, that Cas had studied ever since the day Dean had taken his day-old baby brother into his arms for the first time. It made him smile to think that it had saved the world again, because Cas knew it, understood it, and he felt it through to the core of his angelic being for these two men. In that moment, he felt he understood the enigma that was God, his father, and he smiled again.
He let go of Sam, easing back from the flow of energy until he was free of it and let what remained pulsing through him to move freely to where it was bequeathed.
Dean pulled in a breath as Cas released him, his eyes fluttering open for the briefest of moments before what had just been done to him pulled him back to unconsciousness. Sam was already under.
Cas sank all the way down to the floor, drained, and for a while he didn’t move. He watched them both, looking back and forth between them, aware that he’d succeeded, at least so far. While Dean’s full condition was as yet unknown, he breathed and his heart was beating, and Sam had not exploded. There was something in that.
Still, it would be some time before they knew whether the cure actually took, and there were consequences ahead for all three of them. Cas chose not to think about them just yet and wearily, dragged himself to his feet.
He picked Dean up off the floor and teleported him to his room, laid him on his bed, and made him comfortable. It was a good sign that he was breathing, living, and also a good sign that he did so in peace. If he was going to reject the newly imparted energy he’d been given, the effects would show. The body was an interconnected thing; heart, mind and soul. All they could do now, was wait.
Before he left him, Cas did something that awake, Dean Winchester most certainly wouldn’t have allowed, but it was a potent healing tool in Cas’ arsenal. Dean needed all the help he could get. Cas leaned over him, smiling over the thought of him waking at just the wrong moment, bent down and kissed him. He imparted as much strength as he could and still remain standing. Dean didn’t move.
Cas left him for Sam and did the same with him, and once the ritual was complete, the kiss of an angel bestowed, he sat heavily in the nearest chair to begin the vigil of waiting. He was an angel and waiting was not his forte.