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[personal profile] unadrift
Okay, so I probably shouldn't have written this, since I have so little time and so much to stuff to do. But all work and no play...

Supernatural, gen , PG-13, 5000 words. Set sometime between 5.18 and 5.21. Spoilers up to then. And also: speculation. Beta'd by the fabulous [personal profile] trystings.



Bouncing Back




The move, when it comes, barely takes him a second to perform.

Lucifer lifts his hand, the gesture as undramatic as it is final.

The world goes up in flames.

Or maybe it's Dean himself who burns. He can't be sure.

All he sees is fire.




* * *




In the end, they don't get to choose their battle ground. They don't have a plan. They're not prepared.

Lucifer finds them.

He appears alone, without demonic back-up. Unsurprisingly, the devil alone is more than enough.

If Dean had been asked, before, where he thought everything would be coming to an end, he sure as hell wouldn't have said, "I'm thinking: Sweet Valley Motel parking lot in Tolstown, South Dakota. Or something like it."

It seems appropriate, though. Sam might even point out that, considering the amount of time they spend in cheap motels, it's statistically probable. If Sam wasn't currently trapped in an invisible stranglehold in mid-air, unable to move, he could have pointed that out.

Dean can barely breathe himself. His feet aren't touching the ground, either. Dean hates flying.

With a flick of his finger, Lucifer snaps the bones of Dean's right forearm, just because he can. Because it amuses him.

Through the white hot flare of pain Dean hears the strained sound of terror Sam makes.

So does Lucifer.

"I'm sorry, Sam. I can't focus on you right now." Lucifer says. "Later," he promises.

No, Dean thinks. He hardly feels the bone in his upper arm crack, he's concentrating so hard on drawing in a breath. "Michael, yes," is what he's planning to say, but he doesn't even get the first syllable out. A sudden pressure on his windpipe effectively stops all efforts to breathe, let alone speak.

Lucifer laughs, pleased and delighted.

"Oh, but Dean," he says softly. "It's already too late."





* * *





They're having that argument again.

"Only an angel can kill another angel," Sam points out for what has to be the hundredth time.

"I remember, Sam. I remembered before you started to keep reminding me," Dean says, keeping his eyes on the road. "And I'm still not taking it as gospel."

"But--"

"Angels lie, Sam. Fact of life. Witches are evil, iron crumbles ghosts, motel room towels are scratchy, angels lie."

"I don't know, Dean," Sam says. "Even about this?"

"Especially about this. Who'd want lowly humans to go round trying to off angels? Much easier to discourage the idea from the get-go."

Sam isn't convinced, Dean can tell.

"You're just speculating," Sam says in his best steely voice, the one that he thinks takes no prisoners. "It can't be that easy, killing an angel. There has to be more to it."

Who said anything about easy, Dean doesn't say. He's getting annoyed by this conversation. Again. "What does it matter? Zachariah's done and over with. That's what counts in my book. Can we not pick this apart?"

"But aren't you the least bit curious--"

Dean reaches for the stereo and cranks up the volume.

Sam shuts up.

Dean estimates it'll be an hour's ride until they reach Tolstown.

It's going to be a long and tense one.




* * *




Dean slams the trunk of the Impala shut. "What do you mean, he's close?"

"What I said. He's close." Sam blows out a gust of air in frustration. "I can't explain it. I just-- know." He opens the passenger door but doesn't get in.

"That certainly sounds like reliable information," Dean says mockingly.

Sam glares at him over the roof of the Impala. "Let's just-- Let's be careful, okay, Dean?"

Dean stares back at him. "Okay," he says and gets in the car.

He turns the key in the ignition with an uneasy feeling in his gut. It takes him a moment to realize why that is.

He believes Sam. He believes Sam.

Dean lets go of the key as if he's been burned, and the Impala sputters into silence again.

How can he honestly believe that Sam, his little brother Sammy, has enough of a demon inside him to share some kind of-- of-- connection with the devil?

Then again, how can he not?

He's feeling sick.

"Dean? What is it?" Sam sounds concerned. At least that isn't new.

"Nothing," Dean says. He starts the Impala and pulls out into the street.

Sam looks at him sideways but doesn't say anything.

Dean can't help but think about Castiel. He's one hundred percent certain the angel is still around, somewhere. He knows that Castiel wasn't killed by that stunt he pulled, taking on five douchebag angels all at once, the crazy idiot.

There's no proof that Castiel survived, but Dean knows that he did.

He can't explain it. He just knows.

"Damn it, Cas, where are you?" he mutters under his breath.

Sam pretends he doesn't hear.





* * *





Castiel goes from zero to sixty in point five seconds. He sits up straight on the bed, suddenly wide awake.

Dean is propped up against the headboard of the other bed. He looks up from the laptop. He's been doing research, and not even the fake kind. Internet porn is well and good as long as there's not an angel in the same room with you, conscious or not.

"Hey, sleeping beauty," Dean says. "You alright? Angel batteries all charged up again?"

"Yes. Where--" Castiel says and takes in the motel room with one glance. "Where's Sam?"

It's a nice save for the "Where am I?" which Dean is sure Castiel was going to ask first thing.

"Went to get some food. He should be back any minute." Dean closes the laptop and puts it on the bedside table.

There's a subtle change in Castiel's expression, or maybe it's his whole posture that shifts. Dean can't put a finger on what exactly it is, but he notices. Slight confusion gives way to-- something else.

"Cas," he says, "I'm sorry about Anna. I know you were--" He searches for the right expression, dismisses 'friends' and 'siblings' and 'kindred spirits', and can't come up with a way to finish the sentence.

Castiel gets the meaning anyway and tilts his head slightly in acknowledgement.

"It's just--" Dean begins and, again, fails to complete the sentence. Strange as it may be, he'll miss her. She hasn't been around much after she got her angel mojo back, but just the idea of another sympathetic angel out there, an angel that might end up on their side, used to be a huge boost for morale where Dean was concerned. And he liked her, back when she was still herself. Even more so when she was still human. "Man, bible camp sure messes you guys up pretty bad."

"It's-- intense," Castiel says and leaves it at that.

Dean is sure there's more to tell where that came from, but he's also sure that prodding wouldn't make Castiel any more forthcoming. He wants to know more. He thinks it would help to know why. Why Anna did it. What pushed her to go completely off the rocker. "If I'd had the chance to talk to her, if she'd appeared sooner--"

"Then what?"

"I don't know. Maybe I could have changed her mind. Talked her out of it."

"Like you did with me?" Castiel asks, and Dean's not entirely sure where he's going with this. Castiel is unreadable as ever. He could be cross at the implication that he was just Dean's first but not only attempt at angel recruiting. He could be practical, just stating the facts, pointing out that it had taken a lot more than a short inspiring speech from Dean to turn him around. He could be mocking Dean, but then he'd have to be a double agent, and that is not something Dean is going to consider, ever, because-- this is Cas.

"There was no time," Castiel adds, and yeah, Dean's money was on option number two.

"Our friendly discussion was cut short. I wasn't really in the mood for chitchat after she put a stake through Sam's heart," he says, as lightly as he can manage. Dean knows that Sam still has a hundred or so occasions of seeing-your-brother-die on him. He wonders how Sam survived it without going nuts.

"I'm sorry you had to watch your brother die," Castiel says gently, then adds, "again," in a way that would totally be funny, if this was the Sam-and-Dean show and not their actual lives.

"Nothing new, right?" Dean flashes Castiel a humorless grin. "And, as a bonus, I got to watch Michael torch Anna. And I mean 'torch' as in literally set on fire, turn to ashes kind of torching, until there was nothing left."

There's not much anymore that can have Dean rattled, apart from his brother being murdered right in front of his eyes. The Michael-torch-special officially goes on the list of things he never wants to see again, although he'd make an exception if Lucifer was on the receiving end.

"Michael is the most powerful of the archangels," Castiel says.

"Yeah, you mentioned that once or twice," Dean says and doesn't roll his eyes. "So Michael can do that to anyone? Burn them up without even touching them? To people, too?"

"Yes," Castiel says. "But he wouldn't."

Dean is momentarily taken aback. "What? Why? Because he's got a kind heart after all?"

As usual, Castiel doesn't get the sarcasm. "No. Killing a human is an easy task for an archangel. It's done with barely a thought."

Dean doesn't know whether to be offended, a little more scared than he admittedly already is, or regretful that they're even having this conversation.

"Michael, or any archangel, must take a different approach to kill another angel," Castiel elaborates. "It's a more demanding act, and it drains him of his power much faster. To put such an effort into taking a human life--"

"Not worth it, I get it," Dean cuts him off.

"That's not how I would have put it, but yes."

Dean mulls this over. "So Michael could torch a person, technically, if he wanted to burn some extra calories in the process."

"Yes."

"But he can't kill an angel the same way he'd kill a human?"

"He can't," Castiel confirms. "But it's not as simple as that. If an archangel were to attack an angel in a way that wasn't completely focused on the core of its being, there could be-- unpredictable results."

"Hold on," Dean says, raising a hand. Following this conversation is getting more challenging by the second. "'Focused on the core of its being', is that angel speak for 'aimed right at the grace'?"

"Yes."

"And those 'unpredictable results' include-- what?"

"I couldn't say. They're unpredictable."

"Right," Dean says, deadpan. "Whatever. It's not like the information is in any way useful, since neither of us is an archangel. Unless you want to tell me something."

"I do not," Castiel says. "I would have been notified, had there been a promotion."

Dean blinks. "Dude, did you just try to be funny?" he asks, eyebrows raised. "That's an A for effort, but I gotta tell you, you better leave the joking to the professionals."

"As you wish," Castiel agrees solemnly. "You're the expert, after all."

Dean spends a few moments trying to figure out what exactly that's supposed to mean. When he does, his face breaks out in a grin. He points a finger at Castiel. "You're getting cheeky. I like it."

Castiel continues to look solemn, which is plainly ridiculous, considering that he's still sitting on the bed with his back impossibly straight and his legs stretched out in front of him. That just has to be uncomfortable, but Castiel doesn't seem to mind.

They sit in silence for a while.

"It's a damn shame," Dean finally says, honestly meaning it. "With Anna on Team Free Will, we'd have totally kicked ass."

Castiel frowns. "Team Free Will?"

Dean explains. Afterwards, he gets Castiel to design a secret handshake.

It's completely awesome, Dean thinks, and Sam is definitely going to agree.

Dean gets the feeling they're going to kick ass anyway.






* * *






It's been a while since Dean last ganked a vampire.

He figures this is just the kind of distraction that he needs to stop thinking, at least for a while, about the pending apocalypse and the fact that the brothers Winchester set Lucifer free to walk the earth.

So a vampire it is.

Dean thinks it'll be like riding a bicycle, which he hasn't done in even longer, but he's not dwelling on the implications of that.

The thing is, for the first time in his life he's tracking down a vampire on his own, with no one there to back him up.

Castiel, guardian angel perched upon Dean's shoulder that he isn't, refuses to come along. "Vampires don't react well to the presence of angels," he explains. "I would most likely endanger you further, rather than be of help."

"Vampires don't like holy things? There's a shocker," Dean mutters, but Castiel has already disappeared.

Personally, Dean thinks it's an excuse. Castiel is just afraid that blood might get spilt on his favorite trench coat. And okay, the angel is not too far off on that one.

It turns out vampires don't react well to Dean's presence either.

They're not a mellow bunch to begin with, but this one goes completely berserk on Dean's ass. As soon as the blood-sucking monster lays eyes on him, it throws itself at Dean, with no strategy or finesse to speak of. The sheer brutal force of the attack and its almost panicked determination takes Dean by surprise. Vampires used to be, well, cleverer than that, with more of a sense for self preservation. If one wanted to attribute any kind of vaguely positive trait to them, which Dean certainly doesn't.

The brief moment of irritation in the middle of hand-to-teeth combat very nearly costs Dean an arm, possibly worse.

It's kind of embarrassing.

"Piece of cake," he tells Castiel later, when the angel shows up unannounced in his motel room again.

By then Dean has already wrenched his arm back in its socket, ditched the ruined clothes, and washed the blood from his hair.

As topics of conversation go, the apocalypse has suddenly gained a lot of appeal.





* * *





Of course the angel can't leave him alone. And of course he scares the shit out of Dean, appearing out of nowhere just when Dean is taking a swig from his beer.

Castiel watches him cough and wheeze and generally almost choke to death (on a mouthful of beer, for fuck's sake) with a curious mixture of intrigue and mild concern written on his face.

"What are you doing here?" Dean demands, as soon as he can manage to get the words out. He leaves Castiel standing in the middle of the motel room and goes to clean himself up. He's gotten beer all over himself. "Who are you planning to smite now?" he snaps over his shoulder. "Another rebel angel who decided to go and get a life of her own instead of hanging onto Daddy's every word?"

The parallels hit him (again) only after the words are already out. Dean grits his teeth and takes a towel to the wet stains on his t-shirt, then decides that it's a lost cause and throws the towel into the basin. He turns and collides with Castiel, who is hovering just inside the bathroom. He doesn't budge an inch, even though Dean is making it perfectly clear that he's planning to leave through the door Castiel is currently blocking.

"No," Castiel says simply. "I came here to thank you."

And, just like that, all the righteous anger drains out of Dean, like someone opened a valve and released the pressure. He is left staring, stunned. "You-- what?"

"I came here to thank you," Castiel repeats. "While Alastair would not have killed me, the experience of being forcefully expelled from a vessel wouldn't have been pleasant. And it would have left my vessel exposed. I understand the resolve it must have taken for you to raise a weapon against Alastair."

Dean catches himself, instantly on guard, because he's not going there. "No big deal," he says, shrugging it off. "Would have done that for anyone. Can't have demons go round hurting people. Even if they're angels."

"It is, as you say, 'a big deal'," Castiel insists, looking at him intently. "Thank you, Dean."

Now Dean is starting to get embarrassed. "What was up with you there anyway?" he asks, because an attack has not only always been the best defense, but the best distraction technique as well. "When you said you were a soldier of heaven, what you meant to say was that you're a strategist? The one who gives the orders but doesn't get his wings dirty? Because that was some pathetic hands-on soldiering right there."

Castiel takes a step back. It's involuntary, Dean thinks. This time, he doesn't meet any resistance when he pushes past Castiel and out of the suddenly far-too-confining bathroom.

"Dean," Castiel says.

"All that talk about the hordes of heaven, about defending seals and losing your brothers in battle, and you can't even hold your own against one demon?"

"It's not--"

Dean turns to face Castiel, glaring. "Tell me, Cas, are all angels this useless at fighting? Because if they are, we might as well--"

"Angels are formidable warriors," Castiel says, voice dangerously low. Everything seems to grow darker around them, like a thunderstorm is building, dark clouds piling up and energy crackling inside the room. Dean swallows hard when Castiel closes in, getting right into Dean's personal space, close but not touching.

"You would be well advised not to question the power of the heavenly host based upon a single observation of me," he says, and the thunderous look in his eyes betrays the calm in his voice. "I have yet to fully adapt to my diminished--" He stops himself. Despite technically being an angel, Castiel looks very much like a man who already said too much.

"Diminished what?" Dean asks, anger and fear pushed aside, because this is the first time he hears about Castiel being off his game. "Were you hurt or something?"

The metaphorical thunderstorm dissolves, clearing the air around them in an instant. Castiel moves away from him. "I am truly grateful for your help, Dean," he says.

There's the sound of wings rustling, or at least that's how Dean likes to interpret it, and the angel is gone.

Dean takes this to mean that, whatever state Castiel is in, it's none of his damn business.






* * *






Since he came back from hell, Dean can't seem to stop staring at himself.

He hopes no one is going to catch him standing naked in front of the mirror. It's a possibility. He's been spending a lot of time ogling his own body during the last few days.

He doesn't even want to imagine the jokes Sam and Bobby might get out of this. It could last them for months.

Dean has finally had enough when, one time, he comes back to himself and realizes that he and his reflection are shivering. Apparently he became enchanted with the awesomeness that was his own body before he had toweled himself dry after having a shower.

Dean glares at his reflection, throws on some clothes and goes to find Bobby.

Of course Bobby is still busy researching angels. Dean himself has a pile of books he's supposed to be plowing through as quickly as possible. He fucking loves research.

He parks his ass on the edge of Bobby's desk. Bobby looks at him disapprovingly and pulls some dusty old book away from underneath him and to safety. "What is it, Dean? Already out of reading material?"

"Uh," Dean says and rubs his neck uncomfortably. "You ever come across anything mentioning the, er, process of building a human body?"

If Bobby is surprised by the question, he doesn't let on. "Other than shaping it from clay or carving it from a rib, you mean?"

"Yeah. More like repairing a body that's been damaged."

"So what you're really asking is how that angel made you all shiny and new after he pulled your sorry ass from downstairs?"

Dean winces. "In a nutshell," he says. "Angel or no angel, I shouldn't be-- Like this. Whole. Healthy."

"No argument from me there," Bobby says. "Not that I'm not glad that you were dropped off all healthy and whole."

"I hear you," Dean says. "Any idea how that went?"

Bobby sighs, already sorting through his books. "How about you ask an easy question for once?"

Dean attempts to flash him a grin but suspects he's only moderately successful. "Now, that wouldn't be much of a challenge for you, would it, Bobby?"

"Don't go wise-cracking on me, boy." Bobby shoves a book at him. "This is the only thing I've come across so far."

Dean sighs and pulls up a chair. The book is big and thick and in Latin, but it makes up for all that with lots of colorful pictures.

"There's a bookmark somewhere," Bobby says, gesturing.

Dean opens the book at the page in question. He's staring down at two pages of Latin script. "Bobby?"

Bobby huffs a little sound of annoyance. "It's a miracle you boys used to get by without me," he mutters and pulls the book towards him, eyes scanning the text already. "And he who dies is not lost forever," he translates, tracing a line with his finger. "The Lord, in his grace, grants renewal for those deserving of it, for those whose deeds are not yet accomplished in their earthly existence--"

"Can't you skip the religious mumbo-jumbo and get directly to the good part?"

"All of this is 'religious mumbo-jumbo'," Bobby chides. "Learn some patience, Dean."

Dean rolls his eyes.

Bobby traces his finger along a few lines without uttering a word, then he starts translating again. "The Lord sees fit to send down an angel of heaven, but the soul recoils in fear from its glory. 'Do not be afraid,' says the angel and--" Bobby's voice trails off again, before Dean can complain.

This still isn't the good part.

Bobby turns a page, and now they're talking.

There's a picture on the left showing the angel and the soon-to-be-renewed-but-still-dead man, with something white and glowing floating above them that is probably supposed to be the grace of God or something. On the right-hand side, there's more Latin.

"As is the will of God, the angel reaches into itself for a measure of its-- its--" Bobby hesitates, narrowing his eyes in concentration. He finally decides on, "-- light of life and pours it into the body, damaged and lifeless as the empty shell is. The body is healed, and when its heart beats for the first time, body and soul reunite to make a man again. As the new man draws the first breath, the light of life flares in all its gloriousness, shining from all his-- his--" Bobby frowns, "--orifices--"

Dean blinks. "Hold on. If this is-- Does this mean-- Are you saying I had holy light shining out of my ass?"

Bobby stares at him."Boy, I'd pay a boatload of money to forget you said that."

Dean scratches his head. He's sure he's blushing. "Yeah, okay. Actually-- Can we just--" He waves his hand.

"Gladly," Bobby says and turns another page. "Here, this should answer the question I wisely never heard you ask."

In the next picture, the newly restored man is sitting up, facing the angel, a white glow surrounding him. There's light spilling from his eyes and mouth. It's reassuring, in a way, because his backside remains remarkably dark.

Bobby keeps reading silently. "This is it, I think," he says after a while. "As far as you're interested, at least."

Dean leans back in the chair and stretches out his legs. "That's not really helpful."

Bobby snorts. "What did you expect? An instruction manual, complete with scientific explanation?"

"I don't know," Dean admits. "Something more than an angel pouring the 'light of life' into my rotting corpse. That's just too--"

"Mystic?"

"Try creepy."

"Dean," Bobby says. "You were brought back from the dead. There's nothing rational about that. Short of asking the angel how it all went down, mystic and creepy is all you're gonna get."

"Great," Dean mutters. His eyes linger on the now unmarked skin of his own forearm. The fine hairs there are really fascinating--

"I'm getting a cup of coffee," Bobby declares. "You want some?"

It shakes Dean out of his most recent body-watching trance. "No, thanks," he says. "I'm good."

Bobby eyes him suspiciously and walks over into the kitchen.

Not having anything else to do, Dean turns another page of the book, even though he doesn't really expect to find anything more.

There is more. There's another picture.

The restored man walks away, presumably to fulfill the remaining deeds of his earthly existence or whatever. He's still surrounded by that eerie white glow, even as he's turning his back on the angel and the swirling God-cloud.

This is just too weird. The whole angel-of-the-Lord business is completely fucking nuts already, but this-- How could this hold even a grain of truth?

And even if Dean believed, he'd have no idea if an ongoing creepy angel glow would be a good or a bad thing.

Anyway, he's not going to think about this anymore, for the benefit of not losing his marbles completely.

Dean lets the book fall shut with a thump and gets up to join Bobby in the kitchen.

He'll go and find something to cover up the mirror later. And if he's really lucky, no one will ask stupid questions.




* * *





The fire doesn't burn.

It's not hot at all.

It's just red, and it's there, and then it's gone.

Lucifer staggers backwards, hunched over, looking impossibly shocked. "What--" he gasps.

And Dean gets it. He finally gets it.

Sam is on his feet and launches for the Impala, specifically for the angel swords in the trunk. He grabs hold of them and points one at Lucifer as he makes his way over to Dean.

But Lucifer-- For once, Lucifer only has eyes for Dean.

Blood is trickling down Lucifer's nose, but he doesn't seem to notice. His hair is singed, his clothes are charred at the edges. His skin is red instead of pale, with blisters strewn in between the spots that were already there. The devil is now an even uglier son of a bitch than he was before.

Dean gets to his feet, clutching his right arm, before taking the sword Sam offers him with his good hand.

They turn in sync to face empty space.

Lucifer fled.

There's a metallic clang when Dean drops the sword again in favor of cradling his arm to his chest. He looks at Sam and grins. Then he giggles. It's completely acceptable behavior, considering the stress he's been under lately. Really, ask anyone.

The giggle turns into a laugh, and soon he's sitting on the cold asphalt in a freaking parking lot in freaking South Dakota, freezing his ass off and not caring.

"Dean?" Sam crouches down beside him. "Are you okay?"

He waves his good hand in what he hopes is a reassuring way. He has to resist the urge to clasp his side because it's beginning to hurt from laughing almost as badly as his arm already does.

"It's just--" he wheezes between one laugh and the next, "--really funny."

It is.

Sam and Dean Winchester have officially been made the butt end of the most cosmic of all jokes.

Dean isn't sure if Sam will be able to appreciate the humor. Best case scenario: he'll laugh so hard Dean will have to hold him upright. Worst case scenario: Sam will fixate him with big, scared eyes and want to sit down and have a nice long talk about it.

Dean has no idea if part-demon Sam will drift further apart from his part-angel brother, or if this is the thing that will finally unite them irrevocably as the freak front.

Dean can't decide what he'll do when Cas comes back; whether he'll hug him, or deck him, or ask him if he's going to need that piece of his grace back at some point.

And as for what it all means-- He can't think about that right now. It's too much. Way too much. He'll save the mother of the freak-out of all freak-outs for later.

"We need to get out of here," Sam says and tugs at Dean's good arm. "He could be back."

Dean doubts it. But that doesn't mean Lucifer isn't going to send some demons to do his dirty work. He lets himself be pulled up by Sam and led to the Impala.

In the car, all buckled in and ready to go, Sam has a moment. "We're alive," he says, in wonder, and turns his head to look at Dean.

Dean doesn't have to form a grin, it's still there on his face from before. "Yep," he says cheerfully.

Sam eyes him with a look bordering on concern. "We better get you to a hospital," he says, starts the Impala and pulls out into the road with screeching tires.

As if the devil was after them.

Dean huffs out another laugh. It's a strangely joyful one.

He thinks he can feel it now, a gentle pressure under his skin, all of his skin, everywhere, a warmth filling him up so completely he wants to burst from it. In a good way. In a way that sends shivers down his spine and makes him feel like he could do anything.

Or maybe that's just the adrenaline.

The thing is--

They're both alive.

They're going to keep fighting.

The world hasn't ended.

Yet.





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