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"I don't understand."

Sam jumped in his seat. He looked over at Dean, who of course, was completely unfazed by the angels' sudden appearance. If he believed in a God, he'd swear to the guy that his brother was far too used to having an angel pop in at random points. How could he not jump? How could he not startle at the heavy, surrounding - but by no means unpleasant - presence?
Castiel's face creased slightly in confusion, he stared at the brothers in front of him. His gaze switched between the two, intense and calculating. They'd been on the receiving end of that look before, but that had mostly been during the first three months that they'd known him - since then whenever they had done something that he hadn't understood, he'd merely tilted his head and given his 'you-humans-aren't-you-funny' look.
The Winchester's exchanged a look, a feeling of unease stealing through them.
"Cas-?" But by the time Dean had actually turned around, the angel had gone without so much as a flutter of wings.

-~-~-~-~-

Sam slammed the motel door shut behind them.
He was exhausted. He sank, bone weary onto his bed, flopping backwards; barely managing to flip his older brother the bird as he heard him mutter, "I call first shower."
The smell of burnt flesh tickled at his nose, rancid and vile, and yet completely run of the mill - he could still detect the scent of petunia's, the flowery fragrance worn by the coven's head witch. He hated witches. Not quite as much as Dean, but pretty close.
The ordinary hunts, running from the God Squad, and Lucifer at every Goddamn corner he turned to - it was enough to make a guy want to sleep a century or eight away.
The tell-tale soft sound filled the room, the blanket feeling of being stared at - his body warmed under the eyes of the angel standing at the bottom of his bed. He kept his eyes closed, not prepared to meet whatever question that was being directed at him.
He heard the soft rustle of the trench coat, barely breaking out above the sound of the water raining down in their pathetically tiny bathroom. Even for Cas this was weird. Normally he was there to deliver some fatalistic news, to give information on the monster of the day (he would like to say week, but who was he kidding) but no. Lately he'd just turn up, stare at them some and then leave. As if they were one of the most intriguing and contradicting puzzles he'd ever seen.
And, when you consider how long the guy's been alive? That was saying something. Huh. He guessed when you really, really thought about it, it was almost some twisted backhanded compliment - Winchesters. God. Why.
"What do you want Cas?" he winced, glad that Dean wasn't there to hear his exhaustion. He'd have to work on that.
"Why do you tell him no?"
Sam's eyes opened at that. Okay, so not what he was expecting, and he's not entirely sure he can keep the incredulity out of his voice, "Why do I say no to the devil when he's bent on destroying the Earth and turning it into his playground? Gee, I don't know, it seemed the thing to do at the time -"
The angel made a noise of frustration, that intrigued Sam enough for him to actually pull himself up - tears in his eyes? Nope. Allergies. - and watch as the other seemed to shift about, not quite pacing but getting there.
"You shouldn't be saying no-"
"What?-"
"-it should be impossible-"
The youngest Winchester slowly stood up as Castiel became suddenly still, the crease in his forehead belying how furiously his mind was working -
"- they're your compliment, your practically one in the same -"
Sam snorted at that - oh yeah, completely the same, don't mind us, we're all celestial beings here - and that of all things, was what dragged Castiel back to the present.
"You find this entertaining?," his deep voice rumbling with puzzlement, maybe a bit of hurt and confusion, "Since the very beginning of our very creation we knew that everything would end. And then he made you. And we knew again - the Winchesters would end it all - it was written like in our heads, absolute. We all knew, you were Lucifer's -" Sam's skin crawled at that, stated so plainly in front of him, "- and Dean was Michael's, the final play of the devoted older brother taking care of his younger brother -"
"Cas-" a half-hearted attempt at an interruption.
"- but I think they got it wrong."
Sam couldn't breathe. What did he mean they got it wrong? He pushed back the tidal wave of relief that threatened to overwhelm him. Cas could hardly be called an authority on all things angelic - somewhere in the back of his head he knew he'd feel guilty over that slight later, after all he'd sacrificed for him, for them, for them - he was barely holding on to his Grace as it was. But. But. They'd had less hope to go on before, yes, those had been less apocalyptic-scale situations but. Oh God. He didn't think he could deal with a pipe dream at this point, but he still found himself choking out-
"How? How could they have gotten it wrong?"
The angel stared at him, head tilted, considering.
"You trust Dean. Even when you're lying to each other, there's an underlying trust - he will always care for you, Michael and Lucifer had the same bond once."
He could tell where this was going, but he had to hear it from Cas - after a pause, he continued.
"They think you compliment each other - they expect anger to bind you and Lucifer, and the greater good to bind Dean and Michael. But you both overcome these things-" the angel seemed to become more incensed, his face more earnest and sweet Jesus, those blue eyes becoming wider, and Sam was going to properly chide himself later after he'd facepalmed and had a cold shower. A long, cold shower.
"- but imagine if Dean had the gifts and qualities of an angel, offered you protection, love, comfort, family-" and the taller man couldn't help it, he thought about it and his shoulders relaxed the slightest, his forehead smoothed, his jaw not as tense and Cas saw this, saw it was as good as a confirmation for his developing theory - "how could you say no to love and protection of your brother? The only family that has bled, and died for you? And how could Dean say no to an out of control brother? so angry in need of warmth and reassurance after so long without-"
"Sstop. I get it Cas. They....could have it wrong." The words felt gummed in his mouth, difficult to chew. It was a bit anti-climatic, if it was true and the ruffled man saw this and seemed to soften, his voice gentler as he realised the effect of his words.
"Sam-" he made a tentative step forward, he made to reach out and touch -
"Cas!," Dean had opened the bathroom door - when had the shower stopped? the walls were thin -finishing drying his hair with the cheap towel, throwing it behind him "I swear, if you've got anything to say that doesn't involve the words 'sweet dreams' then you can save it. A guy needs his four hours." The smile slipped off his face at the shell shocked look on his brother's face, his eyes darting back and forth between the two.
"What's happened?" and while it was gratifying (worrying) to see that his brother was as fatigued as him he, he couldn't listen to it again, he needed to digest, he needed -
With a strangled, "Cas'll tell you." he made his escape to the shower.
But, not before he heard Dean say, "Jesus Cas, did you flash him?"
Yep. Cold shower.

-~-~-~-~-

After Sam had finished in the bathroom, after he'd wasted half an hour - "What did you even do for- don't tell me." - Dean had eventually banged on the door luring him out with an "He's gone, you great big girl."
And they had just sat there on there respective singles, facing each other but not looking, knowing that if they made eye contact they'd have to talk about it.
"Sam."
Clearly, the older Winchester was in no mood to respect their unspoken agreement. Jackass.
"Sam." a hint of exasperation which was rich coming from HIM, of all people, he rolled his eyes.
"What, Dean? What do you want me to say?" he dragged his hand through his in irritation.
"What do I want you to say? You could start with a sorry since you fled the room like I'd just caught you with your hands down your pants -" the younger Winchester's face heated - " and I am gonna ignore that glassed out expression for both our barely there sanities. Apparently it'd still work, if we said yes."
Sam focused again, confused, "How would that even work?"
He pointed at Sam, "Crap load of demon blood," and thumb at himself, "He'd wait until the last minute to...wear me." Heh. "I saw that face Sam, don't think I didn't - makes me feel all dirty." he shuddered.
Sam could sympathise, he was exactly fond of the idea either.
"Gives me the warm fuzzies though to know just how wrong Zachariah got it though. Michael's sword my ass. Tch."
He resisted rolling his eyes, barely - he didn't want to strain them.
They were silent for a minute, allowing themselves to soak in the opportunity and bizarre advantage they now had. This information was huge. A game changer, an understatement but still true.
The evening passed that way. Dean eventually started cleaning his guns, just to have something to do with his hands before he started fidgeting and Sam on his laptop to see if he could find anything useful - Cas was out searching for information, how to use the horseman's rings without having to wear them.

-~-~-~-~-

"You tried to steal Death's ring? WHAT IS WRONG WITH YOU DEAN?"
"How was I supposed to know all I had to do was ask? How many of the things we go up against would willing hand us-"
"NOT A THING DEAN, DEATH! DEATH DEAN, DEATH!"
There was the soft sound of wings.
"I have the spell."

-~-~-~-~-

Sam doesn't meet the Devil in Detroit, but just outside of Lawrence, in Stull Cemetary. He almost feels bad for luring Satan to what could potentially be his, not death because they're not lucky (disregarding their cockroach-like ability to cling to life), his incarceration. He feels the steady rise of hysterical laughter at the back of his throat and he tries to ignore the wide eyed concerned look of his brother, but all that seems to do his push a couple of giggles out -
"....You alright there Sammy?"
He can't help the way he has to brace himself on his knees, the laughs wrack him, he convulses in fits of chuckles - but it's almost haunting, they're not happy, they're desperate, and scared, and an inch away from a true bout of hysteria that'll lead to a panic attack, and he wants to sit this plan out because it's laughably easy, they can't stop it, they -
The soft sound is the only warning he gets before there's warmth behind him.
Aaaaand he's now bent over in front of Cas, laughing uncontrollably and minutes away from trying to save the world.
"Dean," and his voice his heavy in disapproval, "What did you do?"
The shorter Winchester prays for strength.

-~-~-~-~-

He doesn't know how they do it.
They trap them in the largest circle of holy oil that's ever been drawn on Earth - Castiel distinctly uncomfortable the entire time - they set it alight with the two archangels inside, tricked out of their hidey holes with false promises of yes's; but not before Cas explodes before their eyes. His stomach heaves at the sight - he desperately ignores it, he doesn't give in to the anger, the despair, the useless love that never made it's way into words - and he holds the horseman's rings in his hands, three in one, and Death's in the other.
Dean chants, and he feels a presence in the air - not disapproving, not approving or amused or annoyed or anything. Just curious and, there. He imagines if God was there, watching, that's what it might feel like.
With a venom he hasn't felt since Lilith, he throws three rings into the circle of flames - a rumble of warning threatens in the air, and for a minute he thinks this is it, they've fucked up and they've doomed the world - for good this time - what have they done, what have they done, whathavetheydone...!
but it steadies out, expectant, as if they've been judged, and they passed,and what really settles it is the way the smug look drops off Lucifer's face and they way the ring he's still holding vibrates, hot and angry in his hand, eager to fly off and join its brothers -
"Sammy...!" and he can hear it in Deans voice as the ring slowly drags him over to the pit that's forming, to the flames, the quite truly terrifying glint that's in both the archangels eyes but -
"Keep going Dean." He has to yell to be heard over the whirlwind that's suddenly picked up, the air angry but he hears his brother chant the second and last half of it, his human tongue stumbling over their equivalent of enochian - and for all it's steady and even, he can sense the terror in Dean as he gets ever closer to the fire. Sam is aware he's fighting, struggling, digging in his heels like a stubborn mule. In any other situation it'd probably look funny struggling against some invisible force like a mime, but since he's trying to save his soul from an eternity in the pit with those two, he's pretty sure he can justify not laughing right now.
His knuckle graze the flames, and he'd scream but his throat is raw from that already - and while noise is muffled, he can his brother still, talking so fast, and he knows this bit, almost at the end but he's not gonna make it. Oh God, oh God no, he's going to hell - he feels the ring, impatient, ready to pull him across to where Michael and Lucifer as scrambling back from the ever deepening and growing fathomless hole. He turns his head, one last look of his brother, all he has left, especially now that Cas is dead - but before he can see him. He hears it. And he could cry in relief but he doesn't, his brother would never let him live it down and he is gonna live because those arms around his waist have the strength of an angel and there're rumbled words in his ears, "Now Sam!"
He lets go.

-~-~-~-~-

He wakes up a day later in the motel room where they came up with their master plan. Castiel is watching him, his brother with Bobby if he knows him, and he should find it creepy but he's not gonna lie to himself, all he really wants is Cas to crawl into the bed with him.
Well, shit. By his widening eyes, he's going to go out on a limb and say he's got his powers back, angel mojo in full swing -
"You would be correct -"
"-and you would be eavesdropping" Sam can't hide the amusement in his voice and looks on with the beginnings of a grin tugging at his mouth, he reaches out, because he saved the world with his brother, and they're both alive, and he loves this man, angel in front of him and nothing is gonna stop him-
He hisses in pain clutching the hand he used to sit up with, noticing it swathed in bandages.
He can't help the emotional hurt, "You didn't heal me?"
his hand is taken between to gentle ones, the white gauze slowly stripped to reveal the impressive, and deep, did he mention DEEP, burn on his palm.
"I tried, but I couldn't. Death can do things beyond the limits of our grace..."
He really doesn't care that Cas is still talking, it feels rude but every drawing of breath reminds him he's on Earth, he's whole and he still hasn't so much as kissed the man in front of him, when he could've lost him forever. Forever.
The distress coming from Sam must be what clues Cas into looking up at Sam, he knows what he's going to do before he does it and he sits there and waits a more than willing participant to the raw and needy kiss he's dragged into, and dragged further down, on to his human's bed.