John, Mary, Bobby and all of Heaven’s soldiers set off in search of the Garden, found only through one of the last remaining Heaven’s of Sam and Dean. They find the doorway, but the Darkness is hot on their heels.
Eyes are glaring red with a conscious set to kill
Nostrils flared and the eyebrows parallel
Thriving on the chaos and the suffering I have caused on you all
A dispute of man and diabolical beasts
How could one cipher such a malevolent being …
I was wondering when you’d finally figure it out and get here.
“How is hearing Lucifer a good thing?” Dean practically hissed, his tone of voice a combination of confused, pissed off, and terrified rolled into one.
Just hear me out, Sam.
“We came here to find an answer to this,” Sam said, tightening the grip he had on Dean’s jacket. He needed the reminder of his physical proximity. He already felt himself being pulled away, the thing hidden in the shadows eating at the grasp he had on the here and now. “That was the whole point.”
“I want to know what he’s telling you.”
I see nothing has changed. He’s just as bossy as ever. Still doesn’t trust you.
“Shut up. You know why we’re here, which is as much a benefit to you as it is to us. The Darkness is coming. You don’t know anything about my brother. Don’t talk about him again or we’ll turn around and leave you to what’s coming for you.” Sam turned to Dean. “He’s telling me what a jerk you are.”
“Yeah, I got that,” Dean said, eying him briefly before trying to see through the inky black that surrounded them. The bubble of angelic light they stood in did nothing to cut the deepness of it, or the sensation that it would swallow them any second. “Where the hell is the cage?”
Cas got behind them, one hand on either shoulder, nodding them on. “It’s over there.” He started walking and making them walk with him, which neither of them wanted to do and even fought against. “What you’re feeling is a basic instinct for survival. It’s likely to get stronger the closer we get, so this is the last time I can ask you before your answer will automatically be no. Do you want to continue? If this is what you really want, I’ll get you there – if I can.”
“What do you mean if you can?” Sam asked.
“Letting you both go insane isn’t something I can stand by and allow. I won’t do it. You have to trust me that I’ll know when and where that point of no return is – if you reach it.”
“Sure Cas,” Dean said immediately, surprising Sam. “As long as you can get us out of here. You can, can’t you?”
“Yes,” he said. He bowed his head, the grip he had on them increasing until it was painful and light shot out of his hands into them, branding them both yet again. Dean knew it was the same thing he’d done before to get him out of Hell, the same imprint; one that encompassed the soul as well as the physical.
“Through it is,” Dean said and looked to Sam to make sure.
“Through it is.”
Cas didn’t like it, but he expected the identical answer. “You’re going to see things,” he said and started forward. “I’d tell you they aren’t real, except they are. They can’t reach you. I won’t let them.”
“Why can’t you put us in that bubble like before?” Sam asked.
Cas glanced up at him. “That’s where you are.”
That told them both how very bad it all really was and fought to do as Cas asked of them and trust him. That was really a lot harder than either of them thought it would be, each combating a severe fight or flight instinct when the nightmares came. They saw themselves eaten alive, ripped limb from limb and it felt real, like dying a hundred times, slain by a thousand monsters, rebirthed only to be killed again, over and over.
Then it was their innermost fears sprung to life, plucked from the deepest subconscious. Mary died. Jess died. John died. Bobby, Kevin, Charlie. Their family. Their friends. Burned to oblivion, shredded before their eyes.
They endured it, clinging to each other and the only light left to them even as Cas compelled them to keep going. They stumbled on, through the ever night, combating the mental assault the only way they knew how; through faith in each other.
That too was turned against them. Dean lurched to a halt, gasping, his eyes wide and full of fear. Sam heard, down through all the long years his father telling his brother he’d have to kill Sam. He heard John say it, Michael, Cain, and finally Death himself, all of them telling Dean he’d kill Sam. It was a thing he’d been told would happen the last ten years of his life, eternally fought off. Until now.
Sam felt the blade of the demon killing knife slide under his ribs, twist sideways and then with one, swift jerk, slam upward through his heart.
“Look at me. Both of you. See me. Only me.”
With his dying breath, Sam turned to Cas, whose eyes blazed from blue to piercing white.
“Look at your brother’s hands.”
It was a voice from so far away that Sam wasn’t sure of it, or who or where it came from.
“He would never hurt you.”
“You would never hurt him.”
“You know it.”
“It’s the truth.”
“Do you trust me?”
He looked down. He didn’t have a knife stuck in him. His brother stood beside him, his fists full of jacket, shaking Sam until his eyes cleared. He wasn’t dying. Dean wasn’t killing him. He breathed again and Dean grabbed him, threw his arms around him and pulled him in.
“I’ve got you. You’re all right. We’re all right. We made it Sammy. You with me? Sam?”
Dean pulled back a little, one hand to the side of his face, shaking him none too gently again. It was that all too familiar brusqueness, combined with unyielding adoration that was all Dean that brought him back – like it always did, like he always somehow did. It made Sam laugh and again, Hell shuddered in response.
“Okay then,” Dean said and let him go with something just shy of a slap across the face. He was shaking, but he was going on with it.
They stood before an enormous cage, only it wasn’t wrought of anything real. It wasn’t iron. It wasn’t steel. It was constructed wholly from some magical source; maybe by the hand of God. It hummed with intrinsic power. That in and of itself was enough of a warning to stay back.
There were gaps in the intricate filigree that made up the cage, an ever-changing pattern in constant motion, and confusing to the eye. White, blazing light seeped through the openings but the bands of brilliance were instantly absorbed, muted by the surrounding night and cut in and out by the moving cage. It took them a moment to realize it was the light of two archangels within.
Fear struck them cold, mind numbing and abject.
“Sam?” Dean shook him because he was staring at the cage, blinking too fast. “Sammy?”
Sam nodded, looking to Dean, gulping in a breath of air, his teeth gritted together. “I’m all right.”
“Well, well, well.”
They both knew the voice.
“I’ll be thrice damned. As I live and don’t breathe. You made it. Hey Michael, come look at who’s at the front door.”
It was the voice of Lucifer’s old vessel that greeted them. He was the same nightmare, Dean knew, that Sam had endured for months on end after getting his soul back and the hell wall broken. Dean glanced to Cas, who’d been the one to send Sam on that terrible downward spiral of delusion. Cas, who apparently heard the thought, looked guilty. There wasn’t time to say anything, and Dean hadn’t really meant to even go there – it was just a trail of thought. Michael appeared next to Lucifer, wearing the skin of a young John Winchester rather than who they expected.
“Where’s Adam?” Dean demanded, cutting straight through the preliminaries.
Both angels stared at him. They could see them as though staring through the windows of a fast moving train where they were the only things stationary.
“You’re joking, right?” Lucifer sneered. “After all this time? You’re here looking for Adam? I don’t believe it.”
Michael just shook his head. “Adam is long gone.”
“Dust to dust and all that,” Lucifer quipped as he scraped up a fine layer of grey particles from the cage floor and blew it at them.
“Lucifer,” Michael said sharply. “Knock it off.”
The devil only rolled his eyes, but he moved off the edge of the cage. Through the moving cracks, it was a disjointed view. “You’re no fun,” he said, grumbling like a petulant child. “But then, you never were.”
“What do you want?” Michael asked of them. “You wouldn’t go through the trouble to reach us here without a very good reason. What is it?”
“First, tell us what you did with Adam?” Dean insisted.
“Oh for – he’s in Heaven,” Lucifer snapped. “My brother, being the ever fair-minded, let him go the minute he took him.”
“It’s the truth,” Michael said in a reasonable voice. “He was too frightened and fought me every step of the way. After the holy oil bath,” he said and glared over at Cas.
“Sorry,” Cas mumbled and both Sam and Dean recognized a new danger. Their angel was facing his older brothers – who had never treated him very well.
Michael waved a hand though. “I gave him what he most wanted.”
“His momma,” Lucifer snorted. “A mistake. Another one in a long line of them.”
Michael turned on him. “Are we going to do this again? Seems like there might be more pressing issues here.”
“The Darkness has been released from its prison,” Cas said. “We need help, your help, to find a way to put it back.”
“It’s on its way here,” Dean told them. “Any minute now.”
“How on God’s green earth did you two manage that?” Lucifer said. “What happened to Cain?”
It was a story they didn’t have time for, but they saw the need to tell it, so they did, the three of them in succession, explaining what had happened from the time Dean took the Mark from Cain to facing Death and releasing Amara, and everything that had befallen them since.
“Amara?” Lucifer said, frowning in confusion. “Who?”
“The Darkness,” Sam said. “That’s her name.”
“No it isn’t,” Michael said, shaking his head and rolling his eyes.
“She … He is Death.”
They blinked at that news, taking a moment to comprehend the enormity of the revelation, and a number of realizations set into place.
“You just destroyed his vessel,” Lucifer continued. “You didn’t kill him, because you know – you can’t kill Death, you morons. He just got himself a new vessel. Unbelievable! He’s been bound by God all this time and you set him free. He played you! He’s been studying you this whole time, since that first meeting in Chicago when he gave you his ring. Poking at you to see just how far you’d go, and he found out, like we all have, that there’s no way you’d ever kill your brother. Let me guess. He handed you the scythe and you swung it at him instead of little Sammy.” His eyes flared and a fist slammed into the cage, a thing that precipitated a massive crack of thundering noise that reverberated all around them. “You two never learn do you? Always messing around with natural forces of the world that you have no knowledge of, or the consequences that follow.”
“Take it easy, Luci.”
Cas stepped closer to the cage. “Exactly how were they supposed to know?”
“Because it’s written down, Cassie,” Lucifer quipped. “They’re supposedly Men of Letters, right?”
“No one has access to that particular scroll,” Michael said, unexpectedly coming to their defense. “No one. Dad knew it would be too dangerous.”
“Just hold on,” Dean said. “How does hitting Death or Darkness incarnate with that scythe release him? He crumbled into dust.”
“It is written,” Michael said in a flat tone. “Only the bearer of the Mark can release the Darkness unto the world. Only by striking with the weapon of Death will the bonds be broken, and night fall.” He paused a moment. “The failsafe was the Mark. When the spell was cast to remove it…”
“Out popped the big, bad genie,” Lucifer said waving his fingers at them. The constant dripping sarcasm was starting to grate on their nerves.
“Is it written down anywhere that says how to stop it – him?” Sam asked, seeing that Dean was ready to walk away and take his chances without the two angels.
Michael and Lucifer exchanged glances. Maybe they were talking mind to mind. After a moment, Lucifer nodded. “God has the scroll. He took it with him when he left. But, having been down this road before, there’s only one way to stop Death.”
Michael closed his eyes at the thought. It came as a giant shock that the archangel was just as afraid of what was coming. “You have to let us fight him. Archangels and God himself are the only power strong enough to face Death. We can’t be destroyed by him. He’s not coming here for us. There’s no point. We’re safely contained here. But he will come here for you, as our true vessels, and tear you apart.”
“Limb from limb,” Lucifer said. “Oh and Dean – he’ll take Sam first, so you get to watch.”
“Really, Death doesn’t give a damn,” Michael countered. “Would you stop? We don’t have time for your bullshit right now, Luci. They came here to say yes, in case you haven’t figured that out, but you’re going to push them into saying no, all because of ego, and you’ll be responsible – again – for ruining the world. So if there was ever a time for you to step up and think of something else beside yourself, this is it.”
Dean started shaking his head and pulled Sam a step away. “There’s no way. We’ll have to figure something else out. You can’t say yes to him with the way he is. He hasn’t changed at all. No matter what he says, it’ll be some trick and you’ll never get rid of him. We have to think of something else. I can take Michael and maybe that’ll be enough. It’ll have to be.”
“You can’t do it, Dean,” Sam said.
“Well neither can you!”
“It won’t be enough,” Michael interrupted them. “Without God, alone I won’t be enough. It has to be us together – as it was in the beginning.”
“And then what?” Cas asked. “You defeat the Darkness together, and then what’s to say you don’t turn on each other, like you always have? You bring Armageddon down on us like you’ve always wanted.”
“It’s what Dad wanted Castiel,” Lucifer said quietly and for the first time in a normal tone of voice.
Michael looked like he was going to argue with that assessment but then he paused and nodded. “It is, and I did as I was told.”
“And now?” Sam asked while Dean kept shaking his head.
“I don’t want it anymore,” Michael said and Lucifer blinked as if this was news to him and a big deal. Anger seemed to drain off of him and the air around them seemed suddenly less oppressive.
“Really?” Lucifer asked.
“I shouldn’t have listened to him in the first place,” Michael admitted, stunning them all. “He gave you the Mark to lock the door on a problem he created and then ignored what it did to you. We all did. I mean, he had other problems to deal with, that’s true, but I should have done a better job of helping you than I did.”
“Like at all,” Lucifer said and Michael closed his eyes in exasperation, but Lucifer smiled, chuckling in a way that for the first time wasn’t filled with sarcasm or dripping with evil. “Thank you, Michael.”
“The question now is, can you withstand the effects of the Mark any better than you did before?” Michael asked. “If they agree and we’re topside, you know how much stronger it’ll be. Can you do it? I’ll be there to help this time, Luci, but mostly, it’s on you.”
For a moment, Lucifer looked like he’d make some snide remark, but he didn’t, pausing as he thought it over, an internal struggle that showed on his face that was even fearful. Dean recognized the challenge and the emotion, more than a little surprised to realize he felt even a little affinity to what the devil himself was going through in answering that question. But Lucifer had been changed by the Mark, irrevocably. The thought of Sam facing the double inherent evil that the two together represented turned his stomach.
While they waited for the answer, a distant but growing clamor reached them, and Dean knew that they were out of time.
Lucifer knew it too, glancing off in the direction of the noise. “All I can do is try,” he said. “I’ll do my best, and Dean,” he said, turning to him. “I’ll let Sam go. I won’t hurt him. As a sacred vow, I’m bound by these words.”
“Cas,” Michael said. “You need to get them out of here. You can’t use the rings here. They only work topside. Cas doesn’t have what he needs for the spell he used before to get Sam out of here and we’re out of time.”
“Are you sure Death can’t reach you?”
“Oh he can reach us,” Michael said. “But he can’t destroy us. He also doesn’t want to come in here with us, now that he’s unbound. He’ll be after you though, so you need to find a place of safety where he can’t get to you.”
“Reaper warding will work,” Lucifer said. “For a little while anyway.”
“Go on. Go think about it, or come up with a different plan,” Michael said. “I’m not sure there is one, but with you two, I’ve learned to not underestimate what you’re capable of.” He nodded to Cas. “Go.”
Cas took them each by the arm, the high-pitched whine of power hit their ears and the next instant, they were back in the light of day. They both sank down into the green grass, the sweet earth, relieved of the terrible weight of dread. Dean suddenly felt like kissing the ground, except he realized where he was.
“What the hell?”
“It’ll be easier to get them out from here,” Cas said, but shook his head over the thought again.
“What do you think?” Sam asked after they’d had a minute to recover.
“I still hate the idea,” Dean said, “but … I don’t know. Cas?”
“Michael is … different,” he said. “I’m not sure about Lucifer. The evil will of the Mark has been with him a very long time. The sigil I carved into your heart should protect you, at least for a little while, and what he said – that’s a binding oath. I didn’t expect that.”
“A binding oath?” Dean asked. “He’s the damn devil. What’s to stop him from breaking it?”
“Experience,” Cas said. “He took a binding oath once before, to protect the Garden. He was cast out of Heaven and thrown in the cage because he broke it. If he breaks this one, the same thing will happen.”
“What about Death being the Darkness? Was that the truth?” Sam asked.
“Yes, and it makes sense. And tells me other things as well. Death can’t be destroyed. If he could, God would have done it to begin with, and it is written, both must exist for there to be life. The binding that God put on Death with the Mark, kept him in check so that he wouldn’t destroy everything, enforcing order on a universe where none existed before. With Death unleashed destruction and chaos will follow, until nothing exists but the dark, returning us all from whence we came.”
“A little less Shakespeare, Cas,” Dean said, looking up at a suddenly darkening sky. “So we’re going with locking he/she/it back up. But right now, we need a plan fellas,” he said and looked to Sam. “What’s it gonna be?”
“Give me the rings,” Sam said, reaching out a hand for them. “I know it’s a risk, a really big one, but … I believe him. I believe them both.”
With a great deal of reluctance, Dean fished the keys to the cage from his pocket, turning the joined rings over in his hand, as uncertain now as he had been going into hell. With the storm billowing over their heads, gathering to strike, he also recognized the lack of options.
“Life as an angel condom,” he said and handed them over. “Fun times.”
Sam and Cas knew fun wasn’t the right term but they forced a smile over it, humoring the bad joke. Dean kind of wished they hadn’t, feeling his throat dry up. Sam was already gulping air trying to drill up the courage to face what was coming.
The next instant though, he tossed the rings on the ground and said the same words that he’d spoken before, what felt like an eternity, ago that had sealed both their fates. “Bvtmon…Tabges…Babalon.”
The next thing out of their mouths, spoken perhaps in desperation, maybe coming from an immense sense of guilt from all the wrong that had happened from their mistakes, but also with a sense of great purpose and an even greater depth of courage.