Here is part 1 if you’re just finding this story. Cutting it a little close before the S11 finale! Enjoy!
Cas returns to the Bunker only to find Jody, Donna, and Claire dead, and Rowena gone. Unable to bear the thought that he’s failed to protect the last member of the Novak family, he goes back in time, giving Claire angel grace to save her life and turn her into an angel. The ripple in time is felt in heaven immediately. Lucifer and Michael are torn from their vessels. Amara attacks Dean and further irreparably damages his soul. Cas uses the Orb of God to revive Dean enough so that he can once again say yes to Michael. Lucifer and Michael then use the Orb to destroy the Darkness, but Lucifer is momentarily absorbed by the power he wields, almost succumbing to the lure of the Mark of Cain he still carries. Dean’s condition is dire but he and the angels agree to hide it from Sam. With the Battle for Heaven won, Sam, Dean, Michael, and Lucifer turn to the next front: Hell.
Waiting for the End
This is not the end, this is not the beginning
Just a voice like a riot rocking every revision
But you listen to the tone and the violent rhythm
And though the words sound steady something empty’s within them
We say yeah with fists flying up in the air
Like we’re holding onto something that’s invisible there
‘Cause we’re living at the mercy of the pain and the fear
Until we get it, forget it, let it all disappear …
They said goodbye to their parents, Michael relaying every word and gesture back exactly like Dean would. They’d sat through all the stories of everything that happened, but now it was time to go. Michael lied very convincingly about how he’d see them again. He saw Sam casting a glance his way though, more than once; that quizzical, suspicious, narrow-eyed look that said he wasn’t sure about what he was seeing.
In reality, Michael had to cut Dean off and not let him watch. A dagger of pain swept through him with the realization that this was it, this would be the last time he ever saw his family and friends. He kept saying he was fine with the idea of not existing, but he wasn’t, and Michael knew it. He was terrified of it, like all men were of the vast unknown. He didn’t yet understand what it meant. Most men didn’t. And he’d forgotten how hard it would be to say the final goodbye. In the end, he couldn’t and Michael didn’t try to make him.
He got yelled at, raged at, over the exclusion for several moments after they’d turned away, leaving the souls of heaven to the task of cleaning up their home. Michael left a garrison of angels behind to supervise that work. Dean didn’t have the strength to go for long, curling back down into the chair, spent. It was harder to hear him weeping.
That didn’t last either. Dean Winchester possessed a kind of superhuman strength of will that came as a continual surprise. Michael thought he knew him, but he kept doing these unexpected things, like getting himself back under control and forging ahead with the plan to take Hell. For Dean, another return to that place held a particularly extreme fear. He knew the place too well, but to listen to the tactician, detailing how best to get in and then get out successfully, it didn’t show at all. There was a greater danger though. Sam was the one to bring it up.
“He won’t survive another attack by the Darkness if you’re separated again,” he said, after asking that they not let Dean listen in. “Is there anything you can do to stop that from happening.”
“You mean aside from not being attacked? There’s always the potential that they’ll be able to reach me. We were separated the last time due to outside, extenuating circumstance.”
“I know what Cas did,” Sam said. “Is there anything else that can pull you out? Other than Dean telling you to get lost?”
“There are spells,” Lucifer interjected. “Amara would know them. And we shouldn’t forget about Death here. She might have taken enough of Dean to set him loose.”
“I thought he had to be … dead for that to work,” Sam said and his eyes narrowed again when he glanced at Michael.
“I can do a binding spell,” Michael said, ignoring that suspicious glance. “But he’s probably going to say no to that. For obvious reasons.”
“Because you’ll be in control? As if you don’t have that option right now,” Sam scoffed.
“Because I could ride him from here to eternity – if I wanted that,” Michael said. “Keeping in mind, I could have done it already without all this talk.”
“Then maybe you should,” Sam said quietly.
“Without asking?” Lucifer said. “Sam. I’m shocked. Except, no, not really. You two, with your hashtag secrets.” Lucifer frowned a moment. “What’s a hashtag?”
“I won’t tell him you suggested it,” Michael said, glancing back over the field of battle. There was already a lot of progress made. Most of the souls who’d come to fight were already sent back to their reconstructed heavens – someplace called the Road House that they all wanted to share. “How about that instead. I’ll leave it up to him.”
Sam wanted to argue because he was so certain Dean wouldn’t agree, but Michael thought otherwise, and when he asked, after a very brief hesitation, he agreed. “It doesn’t change anything.”
“Not really. Not now. I know you have some pretty serious trust issues here, but, rest assured, when the time comes, I’ll let you go. If that’s what you really want.”
“I’m not spending the rest of eternity with you. No.”
“Not even the rest of Sam’s life? Just putting that out there. I’d do that for you. There’d be a few trips to heaven, since I have to run the place now, but I wouldn’t mind spending some time on earth. Haven’t been there in a while. Backseat driver, so to speak. Up to you. Give it some thought.”
He left him to do that, already aware of Dean’s surprise, the initial rejection of the idea, and the ensuing questioning of that decision. Michael knew better than to press the issue. Dean was a fiercely independent-minded man. He liked no part of not being in control. He’d probably say no.
He relayed the agreement to the binding spell to Sam and Lucifer, but of course, Sam wanted to hear it for himself, so they delayed even longer to get through all of that. Dean finally just yelled at him, through Michael, pretending to be him, that he knew what he was doing. Sam hadn’t expected Dean to agree and that he did, heightened his doubts even more, thinking that Michael was already controlling his brother. Maybe he could tell the subtle differences between Michael’s depiction and the real deal, but he didn’t say anything more about it. Michael cast the binding spell, and then immediately let Dean talk to Sam again so they’d relax about who was in control at any given moment. It was a lot of trouble to go through.
Michael called Gabriel and Cas next. It was time to get on with the next assault. They sent an advance team to earth as well, with instructions to find Jody Mills. Michael knew everything he needed to about her after a quick memory search. She was one of the last surviving friends Sam and Dean had. He learned how important she was to them and how protective they were of her. There was also that same fear that something they did would end up getting her killed. Not like that hadn’t ever happened before and with far too many people. Donna Hanscum and Alex too, were on that list. A woman named Lisa came to mind and her son, Ben. Michael had that whole story and the pain Dean had endured cutting them out of his life to protect them. There were few others. It wasn’t a very long list of survivors. Michael decided he’d break a few rules in this case, putting those people on an exclusive list.
“Are you done?” Dean asked with some irritation and Michael laughed.
“Yes. I am. We’ll be leaving soon. Are you ready? Would you rather not watch this part?”
“Very well. Brother, are you ready?” he asked Lucifer and included Sam. They both agreed.
Michael turned to the gathered host, but then deferred to Lucifer to give the order. “Our objective is to drive the Darkness to the earthly plane,” he said. “If any demon attacks you, destroy them. Bring the King of Hell to me. I will deal with him myself.”
“What are you going to do to him?” Sam asked.
“What do you want me to do to him?” Lucifer responded, surprised by the question and the underlying hesitancy to end the demon that had cost them so much.
“I don’t care.”
“Uh huh. You know you can’t lie to me right now, right?”
“Oh for…Can we get on with this? Please?” Dean said. “We’ll deal with Crowley when we get that far. IF we get that far. Come on!”
They all laughed at him and his short temper, but he was right, and the call to arms was given. Gabriel sounded the horn, which was a different sound in heaven, and not one angel could resist the compunction to follow it and its owner to whatever end they might meet.
No one liked being in Hell. No one. Not demons. Not the current ruler of the realm. And certainly not Angels. It smelled of evil and a putrid, billowing stench of rotting human flesh that they couldn’t escape.
That was the point, of course, and part of God’s grand design. He knew, in all His infinite wisdom, that evil would stalk the earth, seeking out the weak, who were susceptible to its influence, wheedling its way into hearts and minds. He didn’t want that malevolence existing in Heaven, where it would spread like a poison. So He created Hell, just as He’d created everything else. He created it as a deterrent, as a means to dissuade those on the precipice of depravity, and as a place to contain those who fell when they didn’t turn back. He hadn’t foreseen though, the complete descent of his son so far from the light to which he’d been meant.
And Lucifer had created the demon.
They were the antithesis to everything angels represented, dark against the light, but then, if they didn’t exist the light wouldn’t have the same meaning. So their existence too, might have been part of the same plan. Good existed against evil, order against chaos, and that was the way the universe came into existence. That balance kept it from spinning completely out of control.
Michael and Lucifer were both well aware how close the precarious balance had moved them all to the edge of returning to a kind of chaos that neither wanted to see again. They’d both played a part, some larger, some less, in making this world a worse place than their Father envisioned. Their two hosts had done the same, with the same degree of culpability, except for one thing; their every day struggle to do the right thing by each other. They failed of course, numerous times, but they’d succeeded too. They never stopped trying.
That was the most remarkable thing Michael had learned in his short association with Dean Winchester. He refused to give up. He especially refused to give up on his brother. His love for Sam was completely unconditional. It was a lesson he took to heart and one he knew he would need now.
Here, in this place of ultimate evil, the effects of the Mark could be over-powering.
“What?” Dean tried getting out of the chair but couldn’t.
“He’s got it, Dean,” Michael said, swearing over the fact that the binding spell also opened him up to Dean hearing and knowing everything he thought. It worked both ways. “Sam knows. We’re all going to help him through.”
They swept into Hell, blowing a hole of brilliance through the gloom. The Darkness that occupied every corner, every level, every cell of the damned, fled before them.
The demons fled too, scattering like mice. An angelic invasion of Hell hadn’t ever happened, the rescue of Sam and Dean not withstanding. Those were incursions. This was an army. Meatsuits were left to lie, abandoned without regard. Michael closed all the escape hatches though, every gateway, to keep the demon horde from getting topside. The world had enough demons roaming around as it was.
“Something’s wrong,” Dean said abruptly. They were halfway through the 5th level, on their way to the 7th. They had to clear all the levels. So far it’d been mostly easy, since the Darkness wasn’t fighting them.
“I agree,” Castiel said, coming to land beside them. He still wore the same dour expression. He also wouldn’t look at the fake projection of Dean. Sam noticed. It was annoying how Sam noticed everything.
“Too easy?” Lucifer said.
“Can the Darkness open the cage?” Dean asked. “You mentioned a spell earlier.”
“Rowena could open it with her knowledge of the Book of the Damned,” Cas said. “And she escaped the Bunker after the attack.”
“Well then,” Gabriel said, looking around them. “This is as far as you two go. Cas and I will handle this.”
“Or get yourselves thrown in the lock box,” Dean said and Sam agreed. Michael did too. “It’s a trap. You go in there, you don’t come out.”
“So what’s the play?” Lucifer asked.
“You don’t happen to have those witch killing bullets anywhere on you?” Dean asked and Sam shook his head.
“No, all that’s back in the bunker with the girls, or in the trunk of the Impala.”
“I’ll get it,” Cas said and zapped out.
“So kill the witch?” Lucifer asked. “That’s a little light for a plan.”
“More like threaten her,” Dean said. “We still need her topside. She’ll help, but only if we can get her away from the Darkness. She’s for herself over everything else.”
“But Dean, we gotta find her first.”
“We have to draw them out,” he said. “Here. To high ground. If she casts a spell without us around, will it work anyway? Does she have to see us?”
“No, she just has to say our names,” Lucifer said. “I know the spell.”
“Great. Is there any counter to it?”
Over in a corner, a line of red smoke swirled, dove, and reanimated a body. They all recognized him, even as he stood. Lucifer stiffened, rage flaring in his eyes.
“Crowley,” he said, his voice silky smooth. “My old friend.”
Gabriel popped over to grab him before he could think to escape, and it was written all over his face that he wanted to. Michael stepped in front of Lucifer to stop him.
“I’m … I’m here to help,” Crowley sputtered, all the normal bravado gone in facing of three archangels.
“We should listen to what he has to say,” Michael said quietly, a hand in Lucifer’s chest to keep him from snapping Crowley out of existence.
“You would side with him against me?”
“No,” Michael said and put a hand where the Mark resided on his brother’s arm. “Not at all. But we can use him.”
He got the message, but controlling the Mark here was more difficult. “And then?” he asked between clenched teeth.
“That’s entirely up to you,” Michael said. “If you want a second opinion, I think Sam wants him dead even more than you. What’s he saying now?”
Michael raised an eyebrow at him. “You know I don’t care what happens to the little slime. He does serve a purpose though. Can we hear him out?”
With obvious effort to control himself, Lucifer nodded, hissing at Sam to shut up. “You should listen to him,” Dean piped up. “He’s the only reason I didn’t go full-on Ripper. I can’t believe I’m saying this, but this isn’t you talking. If Crowley is pissing you off just by standing there, you know, you might want to take a step back.”
Lucifer turned on him. “The thing is, there are a couple things you don’t know about him.”
“I’m sure there’s a lot about him I don’t know and don’t want to.”
“Like he’s the reason any of this is happening,” Lucifer went on without pause. “He knew what would happen when he conned you into taking the Mark.”
“I never!” Crowley protested and Lucifer turned on him, slamming both fists into his chest hard enough that he flew backward into the wall behind him and crumpled to the floor.
The angel followed him, yanking him back to his feet. “Don’t lie to me. It wasn’t about killing Abaddon, was it? No, you knew that was the easy part and after she was gone, you left Dean and Sam to deal with the aftermath, just bidding your time to the end game. You turned Dean into a demon. You let it happen! Polluting the vessel of an archangel. You know the rules, Crowley. No one touches them but us.”
“Wait, what?” Dean said.
Lucifer slammed Crowley into the wall again but kept him standing. “Worse than that though, you knew all along that Sam would get the Mark off of him and you knew – don’t deny it – you knew what would happen. You brought all of this on. You’re the reason the Darkness is here now.”
“All right!” Crowley said, holding both hands up in capitulation. “You’re right. It’s all true. I did know. What can I say? I’m a demon. I was bored. Any chance I get to screw God and you lot, I’m taking. It’s what we do.”
At that, Lucifer took Crowley by the neck, hitting him with the wall again. The other hand rose, poised to snap the King of Hell out of existence.
“End me if you want,” he hissed, “but if you do, you’re doomed. You need me.”
A moment of silence followed that then lengthened as everyone waited.
“Crowley,” Dean said. “Fast talk it here, jackass.”
Lucifer blinked, slowly relaxing his grip and then he turned. Michael saw that it was now Sam in control though he didn’t think Crowley could tell.
“You need my mother,” Crowley said, stating the obvious. “I can give her to you. But first, I need a few assurances.”
Cas popped back in looking a little disheveled, but he was on Crowley the next instant, angel blade in hand and jabbed into the demon’s neck. “I won’t kill you right this instant. That’s the only assurance you’re going to get.”
Clamor from the hall drew their attention. “Guys,” Dean said. “Clock’s ticking.”
“Fine,” Crowley said and Cas let him go but didn’t move away from him except to hand the gun with the witch killing bullets in it over to Sam. “Mother, come out.”
She materialized a moment later, stepping across some angel warding and some sort of invisibility spell. Dean reached over and put a hand on Cas’ shoulder to hold him back. For leaving the girls to die in the Bunker, he was about to launch himself at her, forgetting their purpose and not caring that they did in fact need the witch alive.
Dean turned to Michael. “We really need to get out of here before everyone loses their shit completely.”
“There, there now,” Rowena purred. She wore a full-length gown of blood red and sidled over to Sam, who she thought was Lucifer. She bowed her head to him, moving close. “My Liege. Tell me, what is your bidding.”
Sam took her slim wrist in his and stuffed the business end of the gun under her jaw, pointed back just so. “It’s Sam. My ‘bidding’ is that you do whatever you can to get the Darkness back to Earth where you’re then going to cast the spell that’ll lock it back up. Right now. And just so you know; Lucifer hates witches even more than I do, so you try anything? He’s going to come out and tear you apart.”
Gabriel, who had moved over to the doorway, backed away. “We’re about to have company. A lot of it.”
Rowena decided cooperating was in her best interest, since it was, and reached for her bag that was also in the shadows of a spell. “I need a table, a bowl, four black candles…”
“Cas, go. What else?”
“Amethyst, Apache tears – real ones, mind you. Flint, fossil – it doesn’t matter what kind but the older the better, crushed jade, marble – also crushed, obsidian, onyx, a sprig of thistle; I have that here, as well as cedar and bramble leaf, and lastly, the blood of a true demon – that’s where you come in Fergus, and the blood of the last bearer of the Mark.” She turned to Michael. “Which means you have to get out. There can be no trace of angel and it has to flow continuously throughout the spell. Relax, dearie, it won’t be so much that you’d bleed out. With all these angels here, you’re sure to not die from it.”
Cas popped in on that last bit, carrying a handful of items and was about to pop back out to get the rest, but stopped. All the angels stopped, freezing in place for an incremental amount of time. Rowena didn’t notice, busy setting up the bowl and the candles. Crowley was on his way to guard the door, casting a glance back at them, eyes squinting.
Sam noticed though because Sam noticed everything. All the time.
Just as Sam was about to protest the idea that Michael leave Dean, though his concerns were for different reasons, Lucifer froze the tableau. “What do you want me to do about this?”
“Nothing. It was only a matter of time before he figured it out anyway. We don’t have time. Cas, get the rest of it. Sam will be distracted so you have to stay on Rowena.”
While Cas popped back out, Lucifer nodded but turned to the witch, releasing her so she could keep working on the spell. Noise burst at them. The death throes of demons echoed along the walls, getting closer and closer.
“Do you have a spell that can repair a damaged human soul?” he asked.
She didn’t paused. “My name’s not Glinda, you know.”
“I see right through you,” Lucifer said in a low voice and she looked up at him. “Believe me, I know bad when I see it. You ain’t it, honey. Name your price.”
She puckered up and looked likely to dispute his assertion. She also saw she had leverage now. “My freedom,” she said. “For me and my son.”
“Is the spell permanent?” Lucifer asked first, smirking at her answer. He’d known she would include Crowley, proving his point.
“No,” she said, still working over the bowl. Cas came back and handed her the rest of the needed ingredients.
“How long will it last?”
“That depends on how damaged the subject is.” She glanced around the room then, wondering who it was for. When she looked at Dean, she put it together. “I see.”
“There’s a condition,” Lucifer said. “Your silence.”
She rolled her eyes at that. “Let me guess. Samuel doesn’t know. Of course. You Winchesters—”
“Agreed or not? He’ll do it without your help. We’re just trying to make this a little easier.”
“Yes, yes, agreed.” She mimicked locking her lips with a key. “It’ll last long enough. And mums the word. You, flyboy,” she said to Cas. “I need another bowl.”
Cas got it in the blink of an eye, but he reached over and took the gun from Lucifer, putting it to Rowena’s head. “If you do anything, anything at all, to hurt either of these men, I’ll kill you. Do you understand?”
She only rolled her eyes at that too, grabbing more ingredients from her bag for the second spell, which would actually be the first.
“As soon as you’re ready,” Lucifer said with a glance a Michael and he nodded.
Rowena cast the spell to protect and strengthen Dean, having him lean over the bowl as smoking tendrils rose, undulating, before hitting him like a bolt, getting inside him through his mouth and his nose. At the same time, Michael left him, and he staggered back. Cas took the bowl with the spent spell and chucked it into non-existence.
He leaned heavily against the table, trying not to fall and then Cas was there, holding him up while trying not to look like he was holding him up.
Lucifer and Michael, still looking like them, stood outside them. Gabriel joined them in front of the table while Sam aimed for his brother.
Crowley stepped back into the room from the long hallway. “Get on with it, mother,” he hissed just as a wave of Darkness came at them all and the King of Hell scurried behind the two archangels.
Rowena took a jagged knife and pulled Dean’s arm over the larger bowl. She didn’t cut his hand, but a vein, and an immediate spurt of blood filled the vessel. She started muttering under her breath, the whites of her eyes showing.
“What just happened?” Sam asked, reaching Dean’s side and watching his blood drain into the bowl.
“We’re in hell, Sammy. They don’t need us down here.”
He disagreed, but set that aside for the moment. “What’s wrong with you?”
“Nothing. I mean, other than my arm being cut open. Bleeding out and all. Go help. We can’t let them stop her.”
Sam hesitated, knowing something was wrong, knowing that a moment ago he had the witch-killing gun but now Cas had it, and didn’t remember giving it to him. He knew he’d been shut out. The answer as to why came quickly enough, all the concerned looks, the side whispers, the memory gaps. He knew Dean must have gone along with the exclusion.
Instead of getting angry about it, besides that there wasn’t time for it, Sam turned into the building fray. By now, he was used to this sort of thing from his brother. He also knew Dean would tell him eventually, whenever he could face whatever it was. Deep down though, Sam thought he already knew, a pang of grief at just the thought striking him numb.
A tendril of Darkness leapt at him, precluding further thought. He had to act. Defend himself and those behind him involved with the spell from being distracted. He, Gabriel, and Crowley were the last line of defense. He had to keep the Darkness from reaching Dean again, and he would, or die trying.
To protect Dean from another attack, Sam suggests a binding spell to keep him and Michael from separating, and is then surprised when his brother goes along with it since it will mean he can’t expel Michael. The angels invade Hell where the effects of the Mark on Lucifer are heightened. The battle goes too easily, and they suspect a trap for the Archangels. On the 5th level of Hell, they find Crowley, who Lucifer nearly destroys. Rowena comes out of hiding, and agrees to cast a spell that will drive the darkness to Earth, where the last battle to defeat it will begin. The catch; she needs Dean’s human blood for the spell. If Michael leaves him too long, he could die, and the Darkness can finish the job. The Battle for Hell begins.
In the house there’s a stairway leading to the attic
People say that there’s a room where this witch did magic
On the 12th day of every month you could hear a yell
Like the curse on the neighborhood was sending her to Hell…
“Earth and blood…”
Sam stood almost surrounded by the Darkness, slashing at the shadowy smoke that sought to reach Dean. The light of the archangels didn’t reach them. He couldn’t see Rowena anymore. Sam couldn’t see anything except his brother, struggling to stay on his feet.
Never one to sit by and just watch while others fought, Dean struck at the Darkness nearly on top of him, angel blade in hand, all the while keeping his left arm steadily bleeding into the bowl for the spell.
“Where you are cast…”
Sam was struck and thrown back, and Dean saw it. The compunction to move to him, to go to his aid was written all over his face. It was the most ingrained instinct he had and Sam knew he couldn’t really help it. Maybe the Darkness knew it too. The spell would fail because Dean couldn’t not help his brother.
“No spell nor adverse purpose last…”
Crowley was there then, red eyes ablaze in fury. Two angel blades in hand, he moved like a cat, slicing into the gathered dark that fell back before him.
Cas was there beside him, fighting in tandem with the King of Hell, white light blaring from his hands into the inky black.
“Now in complete accord with me. As my word, so mote it be!”
Rowena let Dean go and he fell back as Sam staggered to his feet to catch him. Her eyes were solid white and she threw her arms up, yelling in a voice that was deep and inhuman.
“Sinite hoc loco inferni! Convertimini ad terrenam planum!”
A blast exploded over them, throwing the witch across the room and knocking everyone else off their feet. Light blew into the room. A howling scream erupted, popping eardrums as it rose in pitch.
It ended as abruptly as it started. The shadow lifted. The air pressure eased, leaving them all panting on the floor.
Sam landed back in the corner, his arms still securely around Dean, who didn’t seem conscious. With his ears ringing and every part of his body vibrating from exertion, he couldn’t tell if Dean had a pulse or not.
Cas knelt down beside him and immediately sought to heal Dean, light flowing from his hand into his body. Gabriel joined him and then Michael and then Lucifer, all of them exerting the powers of archangels in an effort to save him.
Dean’s eyes fluttered open and he barely nodded. Michael vanished into him. He straightened and Sam let him go, knowing Dean wasn’t there anymore, maybe not at all.
“We need to move,” Michael said as he stood. He went to Rowena and helped her up.
Sam didn’t move for a moment, aware that Lucifer waited for him. He wanted to leave him here. He didn’t care who won anymore. He didn’t want to live through it and knew that he would. The Lord of Light would see that he would.
“I’m sorry, Sam,” Lucifer said, standing over him. “I—”
“Don’t.” He shook his head, fighting to contain the wall of grief that sought to overwhelm all thought and reason, though he didn’t know why he bothered. It would swallow him whole in the end. He pushed to his feet but didn’t look up. He nodded. “Just get it over with.”
Lucifer took him but didn’t take over, residing with him inside that room in his head, waiting for permission to consume the vessel. “If I could save him, I would.”
Sam could only nod. “I want to talk to him.”
“And you will,” Michael said, appearing abruptly beside his brother. “But not here. We’re running out of time, Sam.”
He was gone again and Sam looked to Lucifer. The world was at risk. The thing that was barreling at him couldn’t be delayed. “Do what you have to.”
“You’ll need my demons topside to win this thing,” Crowley was saying.
Michael only looked at him. “I’ll remove the containment wards, but only under one condition.”
“You want to deal? With me?” Crowley sputtered. “You can’t win this alone.”
“All the demons return to Hell when it’s over,” Michael went on as if he hadn’t heard the complaint. “All of them.”
“I’ve suffered substantial losses,” Crowley said. “Those souls need to be replaced.”
“Your meddling led us to this. You have ten years on the clock already. For that length of time, hands off. The world needs that time to recover and you’re going to give it.”
“And the angels?” Crowley said. “Are you pulling them all to Heaven? Because you lot are just as responsible.”
“You aren’t in a position to negotiate,” Michael said instead of answering, but he cast a glance to Cas. There was no doubt he wouldn’t agree to leave his earthly charges. “You’ll still have a steady supply of the fallen, but you’ll collect no more. The alternative won’t be pleasant for you. Take the deal.”
There was something in his voice, spoken so low and menacing that set Crowley back a step. The demon recognized power and danger when it stood before him. He didn’t like it, but he didn’t want to get stamped out of existence either and in the face of three archangels, the choice was obvious.
“Very well. 10 years. A blip in the greater scheme of things.”
Michael smiled at that. “We’ll see.”
He waved his hand and while there was no visible sign that the wards were removed, Crowley knew they had been. Michael went to Rowena and took her by a wrist. The next instant, they were all of them topside.
Superior, Nebraska – or rather the field outside town where the Darkness had originally erupted – was none the worse for wear. The cantina shack and the sign outside were still all but destroyed. The grass around the building flattened. Several trees had fallen or were canted over precariously. The sun was shining though, but no one knew how long that would last.
The Impala stood parked in the lot again. Jody, Donna, and Alex were with the car, along with a handful of other hunters they’d managed to gather together in the time they’d been given. They stood huddled together in a knot, wide-eyed at the sudden appearance of the archangels, wearing Sam and Dean Winchester no less, Cas, the King of Hell and his witch of a mother.
More demons came in, black smoke arching through the clear skies, snapping into being or swirling around the periphery. A host of angels descended, filling the field with their ranks. A couple of the hunters took a look and determined the situation was too rich for their blood, turned and left.
Michael didn’t blame them or try to stop them. Even though it was their home, this wasn’t their fight. It was the duty of the angels to win this last battle. It was a rare human soul that could endure even the presence of so many otherworldly beings. They’d probably just end up dead anyway.
“Do we have everything we need?” he asked the witch.
“Almost. The Mark has to exist on this plane in order for the Darkness to be contained again. While Lucifer has some remnant of it, it won’t be enough. It has to be restored to its full strength, but only after … Death appears. If there’s any part of his being that remains hidden, it won’t work. So, he’ll have to be summoned.”
“Can you do it?”
“The Book of the Damned has a ritual.”
“The blood of he who last summoned him. Lucifer. A bit of angel grace. It will weaken him. Permanently.”
Michael glanced at his brother who was over with Jody and the girls; or rather Sam was there. Lucifer would do what he had to. Michael didn’t doubt him any longer.
“And the final Mark?”
“I’ve found a way around the requirement to place it on another human, or any living being. The rock is all but indestructible. Lonsdaleite—”
“It’s a mineral,” Michael corrected and Rowena sucked in a breath of annoyance.
“I know what it is,” she said, rolling her eyes skyward. “It’s rare and of creation itself, but also requires an infusion of blood – pure. Again.”
At that news, Michael stared at her. “That’s information I could have used ten minutes ago, when I wasn’t in him. He isn’t going to survive this.”
“He isn’t going to survive it anyway,” she said with a side glance toward Sam to make sure he didn’t hear her. “Timing, of course, is important. The blood requirement comes last. He dies before then, and none of it works.”
“The same holds true for you, doesn’t it,” Michael said and stalked away from her, rubbing a hand down his face over what he would have to do. “Cas.”
He knew without explanation what was needed. They’d known all along it might be necessary, had discussed this very possibility before, but Castiel didn’t want to do it. To him, it felt like the ultimate betrayal of the man he’d sworn to protect, his friend who’d taught him so much about loyalty and love.
“We don’t have a choice,” Michael said, making sure that Dean didn’t hear any of this. Sam too. “I don’t. If I have to leave Dean again, here, because of where we are—”
“I know,” Cas said. He had that perturbed, really unhappy look on his face that made Michael worry he wouldn’t do what had to be done.
“He has to agree. There won’t be time for a drawn-out plea to cooperate.”
“I know that too.”
“Then you understand what has to happen. I’m sorry to ask it, Cas. I wouldn’t if it wasn’t necessary. I have to be here.”
Cas nodded to that too. It wasn’t hubris or pride, but just unrelenting reality. Michael and Lucifer were the key, which meant Sam and Dean were also. It was a bloodline, long foretold and inescapable. Castiel nodded and went off to recruit the help he would need, turning to Claire; the one angel he knew he could trust. Michael watched the conversation from afar; the realization striking, the shock and denial, and finally acquiescence. She understood as easily as Cas what was at stake and those stakes were astronomically high. They left together.
Of course, Sam noticed. He nodded after the flap of wings and the after image of the angels’ departure. “What are they doing?”
“Collecting the last parts of the spell,” Michael said, lying easily. “I need my brother now. You have to step back.”
“I want to talk to Dean first,” Sam said and Michael knew he couldn’t deny him.
It was a bad idea for a number of reasons, but mostly because Dean was hardly in any condition to speak at all. Michael wondered if he should warn him, either of them, but then didn’t. Instead, he took Sam to Dean, staying only long enough to see that whatever anger Sam had over being lied to evaporated instantly.
It was a nicer room than before, open, full of light, a kind of porch that opened onto a green sward that stretched into the far distance. The sound of water filtered through the breeze that stirred the leaves. It was, Sam knew then, an image of heaven. One that Dean would never see otherwise.
His brother was held in a chair perfectly molded to his body, sitting up so he could see, but leaned back so he could rest. There was barely anything left of him and Sam understood why he hadn’t told him. He didn’t want to be seen like this, frail, barely recognizable.
None of that matter to Sam at all and he went to his side, kneeling and taking his hand. His opened, recognition registered and he started to shake his head. “He shouldn’t have let you in.”
“He didn’t have a choice,” Sam said, raising a brow. “Did you really think he could stop me?”
Dean smirked at that but wouldn’t look at him. There was too much to say and no good place to start saying it. “You’ll be all right, you know.”
“I’ll do my best not to screw the world up this time,” Sam said because Dean needed to hear it. “I’m not giving up though.”
Dean smiled at that too, but shook his head. “I don’t want you to spend the rest of your life wasting your time on something that can’t be changed, Sammy.”
“We’ll figure something out,” Sam said, refusing to give an inch there. “We always do.”
“On you,” Dean muttered and his eyes closed from weariness. “I won’t be around.”
“I won’t be alone,” Sam said easily. “I’ll find a way. I won’t stop this time.”
“It’s my life, my choice,” he said, struggling to keep his voice even. “You want a say in it, you’ll have to stick around.”
“Don’t be mad at Michael or Lucifer. I asked them not to tell you.”
“I know and I’m not. I get it.”
“You have to focus on the mission. This is on us, Sammy. It’s my fault for taking the Mark.”
“And it’s my fault for getting it off you, I know. I’ve got this Dean.”
“I know you do.” He tried to straighten a little but couldn’t. “When Michael is me out there, it’s really me. All right? Believe that.”
“I do. I can tell the difference.”
“All right then. Go get ‘em.” He smiled as his eyes closed. “I’ll be there in spirit.”
The color of the blue sky changing alerted them to the enemy’s approach. That was something. It couldn’t be disguised, so they all knew they were being surrounded as light slowly faded.
Michael had seen battles for the world’s safety before. The first and greatest; to lock away the Darkness and the threat of chaos unfettered destruction posed to God’s creation. It made him wonder if this wasn’t part of the plan, God’s Great Design, that this should be the end. They’d come full circle, after all.
Lucifer stood next to him, watching as light failed, just as he had the first time.
“Don’t,” Lucifer cut him off. “I don’t want to hear your end-times speech. Save it.”
“For later? And if there isn’t a later?” Michael glanced at him. “I only wanted to say that I’m glad you’re here. You have reason to not care at all, after everything that’s been done. Somehow you put it all aside. I’m proud of you. And I’m grateful.”
“Don’t think I don’t still want to kick your ass, Michael,” Lucifer said but he was smiling. “Just not on this world, since it’s Dad’s precious. We’ll find some uninhabited rock out there that He doesn’t care about, and then brother, we’ll settle the score.”
Michael laughed. “All right. You know you won’t win, but all right.” He nodded back to Rowena, who was stationed over by the Impala.
The car was one of the last remaining objects on earth protected by God himself, though Sam and Dean didn’t know it. Michael knew it the moment he saw the aura around the car. It would end up being the safest place for Rowena, and probably others. The Darkness, not even Death himself, could breach that circle of protection – unless of course they lost. All bets were off then.
“Stay with the witch,” Michael said, trying to shake the sense of impending doom. He felt like he was missing something.
“You always do this,” Lucifer said, having sensed the thought. “Second guess everything. Don’t doubt yourself Michael. It’s a solid plan, with a backup in place. Yes, it sucks that sacrifices will be made. When, down through the expanse of time, has that not been the case.”
“Never. I know. I can’t help but feel what he’s feeling right now.”
“Sam too,” Lucifer said. “But you and I have to set that aside. They understand. We have a job to do.”
Michael smiled at that, having listened in on Sam and Dean’s conversation and heard the very same thing from them. He wanted the outcome to be different though. He wanted the power of God to change it.
Lucifer left him to guard Rowena and Michael looked to the darkening heavens. It had been a time beyond the count of eons that he’d last prayed.
“Hear me now,” he said, standing alone in the midst of the field of battle. “The survival of Your creation hangs again in the balance. Your sons stand ready to do Your bidding, protect Your world and all those upon it. Give us Your strength now. Your clarity of thought. Your wisdom. You’re the only One who can change the course of this day. Please, give us Your Grace. Thy will be done.”
Darkness was the only answer to that prayer.
The ground trembled. Trees fell. Boulders heaved from the ground as pits formed and filled, swallowing land and replacing it with broken earth. It seemed almost that time stopped, except it never did, marching ever onward, pummeling the ground on which the armies stood, dark against light, unrelenting. Back and forth, they fought in an endless, eternal struggle. Not for the first time. Not for the last. But for the present. For the now in the infinite expanse of existence.
The combatants raged, wave upon wave, crashing against the sharp rocks of the shore, a line in the earth, repelled, retreating, regrouping to throw themselves at that line again and again. It undulated like a snake, giving ground, taking it. Thunder rolled nonstop.
It went on for hours and hours, maybe even days. Time no longer held meaning. Until that moment when the wall between the dark and the light ceased to move. All the forces of righteousness pressed up against all the forces of destruction, held in balance, one to the other.
And then Death came, summoned at last at the pinnacle of time’s march, the crest of the wave, and silence came in his wake. A boiling cloud of pure black touched the ground that heaved and broke at each footfall.
“Did you really think,” he said, facing Michael alone, “that you could defeat me?” He swung the cane he always carried, grinning in a smirking, condescending leer. “Look at you. Your vessel is failing. All I need to end him, and you, is take that last fragile spark and crush it.”
Michael matched him step for step, until a full circuit was reached, his back still to the light. He felt Castiel behind him, cloaked. Lucifer was there, hidden and ready to spring, and Gabriel with him. Michael prepared himself for the shift, for that moment when they’d all be vulnerable.
“You can try,” he said, “but I think you’ll find my host unwilling to do what you expect. He’s a Winchester, after all.”
Castiel pulled him from his hiding place, the young man on the cusp of adulthood, tall, muscled, a fighter like his father. Ben Braeden Winchester said yes.
Michael left Dean. Lucifer grabbed him up and took him, still alive, still fighting to remain in this world, to Rowena who stood ready to take his blood and infuse the living rock and cast the spell that would seal it with the Mark.
Gabriel attacked. Michael, now in the vessel of a fully healthy young man, drew back his sword and plunged it into Death.
All of Darkness broke the fragile line, streaking toward the witch to stop her. Lucifer stood alone before her. Death howled. The words were spoken. The Mark flared red into the skin of the stone.
An earthquake of noise took the ground out from under them all. Angel, demons, the whole host fled before it. All but Michael, who withstood the force of implosion, holding it back, containing it so it couldn’t pull anything but what belonged in the expanding, contracting prison. The force of it sought to take him too, but he felt hands on his arms. Lucifer pulled him back, one hand held out against the cataclysm. A white stone appeared in the air, and amidst one last booming echo, fell to the ground at their feet.
Lucifer stooped to pick it up, no larger than his palm, turning the stone in hand.
“It is for you to guard,” Michael said, “from now through all eternity, to the end of time.”
He pulled from underneath his armor, a pouch. Castiel appeared again. He wasn’t alone. Lucifer’s old vessel, Nick, stood blinking in the aftermath, staring around at the land laid a barren waste.
“What … what’s happening?”
Lucifer knew when he saw the ring in Michael’s hand.
“You still carry the Mark,” Michael said and held it out to him. “The Mark needs to be fed, and someone I trust needs to take this burden.”
“You think it will help?” Lucifer asked, shying away from Death’s ring, wincing from that long, never ending responsibility. “You don’t think I’ll just get out of control?”
“No. Because I’ll be with you.”
Lucifer nodded to that, smiling because he didn’t doubt it. “Maybe this time, we’ll get it right. What do you say, Nick? Don’t worry, I’ll put you right back where you came from.”
Nick, who’d been in heaven since Lucifer sent him there, agreed easily enough. He closed his eyes as power struck him, light blaring from within until he wasn’t Nick anymore but Lucifer once again.
That left Sam Winchester yet to deal with and he knew, because he always knew, exactly what they’d done to coerce Ben Braeden into saying yes.
“She’s all right. Already set free. She wasn’t hurt,” Michael said.
“How could you do this?”
“Because we had to. You know it as well as I. Dean doesn’t know and Sam, he doesn’t have to know.” Michael nodded to the Impala where Dean was propped up against the wheel with Cas beside him, pouring strength into him. “I’m sorry. You should be with him.”
He set his hand to Sam and sent him to his brother.
“What’s next for you?” Lucifer asked, watching the reunion for a moment before he had to turn from it. He looked at the ring he still held.
“Time for me to put Heaven back in order. I’ll see you again soon. Between us, there are no more goodbyes. Oh and let me know when you find that uninhabited rock you want to destroy. I’m taking the kid home,” he said and vanished.
Lucifer turned the ring, hesitated a moment longer, but accepted the wisdom of it and became Death.
“It’s going to be all right, Dean,” Sam said when that was as far from the truth as ever.
“Did we win?”
“Yeah, we did. You saved the world. Again.”
He laughed at that, only it came out as a wince. He looked to Cas and nodded that he should stop. “I can’t feel anything.”
“I’m right here,” Sam said, taking his hand and putting his arm around him, pulling to him, holding on when holding on wouldn’t work. “I’m right here, Dean. Remember what I told you.”
“I’m here. I’m right here, Dean.”
He heard the last breath, his name the last word spoken. It happened too fast. He needed more time, desperately needed for there to be an answer.
Dean was gone though. Dead.
Cas sat down in the dirt, and folded Dean’s hand over his heart and let him go, his head bowed. There were others there, who came by to tell him they were sorry, but Sam hardly heard, lost in denial and anger and fear.
For hours, or he didn’t know how long it was, but the first hint of dawn touched the sky and still he sat there, holding his brother. Cas stayed with him, talking to him, telling him he’d always be there, until that moment came when he told him he had to let go.
“I’m taking him to Heaven. I thought … you’ll be able to see him again that way.”
The reality of it had seeped in by then. Dean was dead. His soul destroyed. There wouldn’t be any Heaven for him.
“Sam. It’s time.”
Finally letting Dean go, Sam looked at Cas with full fierceness of conviction.
“I’ll get him back.”