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Summary: After the events of Reading is Fundamental, Castiel starts hanging around Sam - and avoiding Dean. He also has another constant companion, whom he generously allows Sam to see with him. Sam isn't too happy about this, but Hallucifer isn't really Lucifer, right? Anyway, if Castiel is seeing the devil, in whatever form, best he do it where Sam can keep an eye on him... because Sam's really not sure what they're up to when they aren't around. Also, has he mentioned that Lucifer is a complete troll?

Characters: Castiel, Sam, (Hal)Lucifer (or is he?), Dean, Bobby; and... well, someone less expected.

Pairings: Properly speaking, gen. But the story focuses on the following relationships: Sam/Castiel, Sam/Lucifer, Lucifer/Castiel, Dean/Castiel. If I write a sequel, it may go in any of those directions, depending on what the boys get up to.

Written: 16-19 May 2012.

Rating: Teen

Length: c. 12500.

Warnings: Mental illness, although Castiel doesn't see anything wrong with himself.

Notes: Started out as crack-drabble-fluff for [livejournal.com profile] princess_aleera's prompt at the Sassy minibang prompt meme. And it grew, into basically my alternate season finale. Written very quickly between the airings of episodes 7.22 and 23; takes place after episode 21; edited after 23 aired, but the only changes were fixing typoes and replacing some of Castiel's random observations with those from 7.23, because they were far more interesting than the ones I'd written for him! So, spoilers throughout season 7.



--------

“Hello, Sam.”

There was only one person in Sam’s acquaintance who could hit “dreamy” and “gravelly” at the same time, in the space of just two words.

“Hey Cas,” he answered easily, without looking up from the pizza and the Word of the Prophet Kevin. “How’re you holding up?”

“I have been considering my pyjamas,” Castiel pronounced gravely. “The people who wove the cotton were very sad. Such years of exhaustion and hopelessness and narrow vision. I am trying to hunt them down to make them happier.”

“Okay.” Sam blinked up at him. Castiel was standing just a bit too close by his shoulder, like usual, staring dreamily down at Sam with his shoulders and arms all loose and relaxed. His hair looked like it hadn’t been brushed since thrashing around in a mental ward for a few weeks, and he was obviously still pretty out of it, but hey, it was more peaceful than he usually looked. “Okay, well, so long as that’s working for you.”

Castiel cocked his head quizzically at the Page of Kevin, and reached out to lay two fingers gently on the flimsy blue and white paper. He looked almost like he was communing with it. Did angels commune with prophecies? Not that all the usual rules weren’t completely screwed up now. Poor Kevin could probably do with an archangel on his shoulder around about now, for one thing. Sam wasn’t really sure Inias and the tatters of Castiel’s old garrison were going to be much good if a Leviathan came calling.

Then Castiel’s eyes flickered up to a spot on the other side of the table, and the corner of his mouth quirked into a soft open smile. Which, on Castiel’s face, was almost creepy. “It seems that my brother doesn’t hold a very high opinion of Crowley. His epithets are rather virulent.”

Hold on. Did that mean…

“Your brother – Cas.” Sam stared at the empty patch of air, then back to Castiel. “Cas, I thought you said you weren’t seeing him anymore.”

“I wasn’t,” Castiel said serenely. “But that made him lonely, so I let him back in.”

Like it was just that simple. “You let him in?”

Castiel blinked slowly at Sam’s rising tone. “He is much pleasanter to talk to now. Especially when Meg isn’t around.”

Which, yeah, no, Sam wasn’t even going to ask what Lucifer and Meg got up to together. But Castiel didn’t look worried, or tormented, or, well, evil. Just sort of vague, and a little bit puzzled by Sam’s reaction.

“Uh, okay,” Sam tried, and started mentally cataloguing possible ways of restraining a deranged angel if necessary. It was a depressingly short list. “What’s he saying now?”

Castiel looked at him, thoughtful, with just an edge of that old piercing I-can-see-right-into-your-heart-Sam-Winchester intensity. Then he leaned in and, very gently, touched two fingers to Sam’s forehead.

“Hey there, Sammy,” purred Lucifer from the other chair. “Long time no firecrackers.”

Sam really felt he was kind of justified in freaking out, just a bit.

---

Unfortunately, thirty seconds into building up to a really good freak-out, Castiel was looking so worried and upset that Sam had to stop. And, what the hell? Who was the wronged party here? Sam thought they’d had their nice hug-it-(figuratively)-out session last time they’d met and they’d worked it all out then. And he didn’t want to have to start blaming Castiel for things again. It made no sense, and Sam actually had no idea what to do.

He took a deep breath, cut off mid-rant, and just settled on a pleading, “What the hell?”

“Only a little bit,” Lucifer put in, picking thoughtfully at his nails.

Castiel’s eyes were deep blue pools of wounded helpfulness. “You were lonely without him. And he misses you. Don’t you like him?”

Lonely? The hell? “Like him? Cas, he’s the devil.”

Castiel’s face fell. “I don’t understand. You miss him, and he can’t hurt you like this. Why aren’t you happy to see him?”

Sam stared at him, and tried very very hard not to let his gaze slip sideways to the other angel – the non-existent angel – lounging on the other side of the table. He could feel the (non-existent) grey eyes boring into the side of his face, and it was more than a bit disconcerting just how familiar that was. How much that felt like… well, habit. Almost reassuring.

(Lonely?)

“Cas, man,” he said, pitching his voice low and soothing. “That’s… a nice thought, really, but if Dean gets back and I’m seeing Lucifer again, you know he’s gonna freak.” Castiel flinched. Yeah, low blow, suck it. “And I really don’t have time for weeks of sleep deprivation right now.”

“He is not in your head, Sam,” Castiel said, with a hint of his old stern growl. “He is in mine.” Huh. “I chose to share him with you, because sharing is how people demonstrate that they care about the feelings of others.”

… Not touching that one. Although, that was weirdly sweet. In a creepy mental-hospital-slash-kindergarten way.

Sam shoved his hair out of his eyes and huffed. “He can’t miss me, Cas. He’s a figment of a broken imagination.”

“Why should that mean that he doesn’t have feelings?” Castiel tipped his head to one side and stared a little too hard at Sam, a little too hurt. “Is it because he’s an angel?”

Sam gaped.

“Well, this is awkward,” Lucifer drawled brightly. “I feel like the cat in the buttery.”

“You stay out of this,” Sam snapped at him.

Then he froze. Shit. He’d spoken to him again. Lucifer was locked in now.

“Sam, your heart rate is up,” Castiel said, concerned. “Why is your heart rate up? Are you anxious?”

“He said ‘shut up’ to me,” Lucifer explained, sly with an edge of delighted. Then he winked. “Don’t worry if you don’t get it, little brother. It’s our special joke. Just between Sam and I.”

“Ah, I see,” Castiel acknowledged gravely.

“Hold on,” Sam cut in desperately. “If he’s in your head, how come he knows things you don’t know? Like that? I mean, that was just my twisted brain’s version of Lucifer. It wasn’t even real. How can you throw it out there?”

Lucifer cackled quietly. Castiel looked mildly disappointed in Sam’s intelligence, but then, that was fairly usual for him.

“Sam,” he said gently. “He’s an angel.”

Which didn’t help at all.

Then the key scraped in the door of the motel room, Sam jumped, all on edge and reaching for his gun, Dean came in and gave him a “seriously, dude?” look, and – Castiel wasn’t there.

Neither was Lucifer.

Sam slumped back into his chair, and scowled when Dean made an utterly hilarious crack about Sam looking like he’d seen a ghost.

Just a regular day in the life of Sam Winchester. Honestly, who wrote this crap?

---

“Hello, Sam.”

“Cas!” Sam dragged his head up from his beer glass and beamed at Castiel through his hair. It had been three days, and no sign of Lucifer, so, hey, not like he could have kept being angry at Castiel anyway, especially when he looked all bedraggled and dreamy and that was kind of Sam’s fault. “How’re you doing, man? You got a drink? You should have a drink.”

Castiel peered at him from his seat on the other side of the booth. “You seem drunk.”

“Quickest angel in the garrison,” Lucifer commented lazily, flickering into existence in the empty seat next to Sam. “Mind you, that’s not saying much. You should have met Obadiah.”

Sam blinked blurrily at him, distracted. “Wait. Wasn’t Obadiah a prophet?”

Lucifer wrinkled his nose delicately, the picture of gentlemanly contempt. “And Zachariah was the husband of the woman the upstairs squad actually cared about, once upon a time.”

Castiel picked dreamily at the salt packets on the table. “I never did understand the policy of elevating a few select humans to Grace.”

“I was not consulted about that,” Lucifer obviously felt obliged to put in at that point. He rested his chin on his thumb, forefinger curling loose and sly against the swell of his lower lip. Then he shuddered, and ran an eye disdainfully over the crowded humanity in the rest of the bar. “Disgusting. Never turned out well. I could hear Gabriel pitching a fit over having to live with that smarmy little upstart from down in Hell.”

“Huh.” Sam’s head felt kind of heavy and spinny, so he let it fall back against the cushions. After all, with two angels here, he didn’t really have to be that alert. Even if one wasn’t really here. And the other one, hah, wasn’t all here. Sam’s mind was kind of witty when he was drunk. Not that anyone else ever thought so. Probably he was saying it wrong.

“Guess Zachariah wouldn’t really have been Gabriel’s type.” Then he giggled. “Poor Zachariah. All… corporate suit…” He flapped one hand, trying to make a gesture that encompassed all of Zachariah’s creepy soulless office persona, then another one that tried to fit Gabriel into that. “Climbing the ladder…” He lost words for a moment in another snort of laughter. “… then, CEO Gabriel.”

Castiel blinked owlishly at him. Sam grinned back, all loose and sort of sloppy. Lucifer chuckled, a rich low rasp of sound next to Sam’s ear, familiar and intimate and Sam’s.

Sam had forgotten that, when he wasn’t keeping Sam awake or being this evil little imp thing, Lucifer’s dry snarky commentary on everything around Sam was actually kind of fun. And often kind of helpful.

So, okay, maybe he’d missed him a bit.

“Why is Dean complimenting that woman on her shoes?” Castiel put in curiously.

Sam snorted. “Because he thinks he’s gonna score. Where?”

Castiel raised one elegant finger and pointed to where Dean was leaning against the bar with his best pulling smile, chatting smoothly to a tall woman with long dark curls and a pink jacket. “I have never noticed in Dean a particular interest in footwear,” he added, frowning faintly.

Sam, who had just picked up his beer again, spluttered into it.

“That, little brother,” said Lucifer smoothly, “is called flirting. And to flirt well, you have to be a master of hypocrisy. Not to blow my own horn, of course,” he added, and flicked an invisible speck of lint from his arm.

Sam eyed him. “Yeah, because you’d know. How much action did you get down there in the last, like, billion years?”

Lucifer’s teeth flashed behind the crook of his finger. “Sammy, Sammy. It’s all about making them hear what they want to hear. That’s where your big bro’s going wrong. Oh, he’s got the hypocrisy down just fine, but that girl? She doesn’t want to talk about her shoes. They’re her younger sister’s, by the way, and they’re too big for her, and she’s borrowed them because she’s got a blister on her right heel from having to walk home from work yesterday when her car wouldn’t start. She wants to hear that she’s capable and attractive, that the stress of the last year isn’t making her look old before her time, and that when her father left when she was in high school it wasn’t because he thought she was a slut.” He paused, and eyed Dean over, one long raking drag of cool assessment and condescension. “Also that he isn’t going to try anything too rough in bed. And he just struck out. Thirty seconds for politeness and she’ll be edging her way out of that conversation.”

“Okay, come on,” Sam huffed. “You’re not even real. How the hell can you know all that?”

Lucifer tipped him a cool look, grey as steel. “Maybe Castiel knows it. Or you’re making the whole thing up. What would you like to hear, Sam?”

And the creepy factor just went up again. Sam scowled at him.

“So,” Castiel put in, still frowning distantly. “When Dean shows an unusual interest in a person’s clothing, does that indicate a desire for a sexual union?”

Lucifer’s eyes narrowed thoughtfully at Castiel, and a sly, mocking twist tugged at the side of his mouth.

“Uh.” Sam blinked. “Maybe? I mean, he doesn’t usually notice clothes at all, just how much they show off the goods, you know?”

… He wasn’t sure, in this light, but it looked like Castiel’s cheeks coloured up a bit.

“Oh my, oh my,” Lucifer said very softly beside him.

Sam was missing something. “What?”

Castiel ducked his head. Then he suddenly looked panicked, and disappeared, along with his non-existent brother.

“… Dude.” Dean was standing by Sam’s table, blinking and swaying a bit, wearing a belligerent scowl. “Wait. Was that Cas?”

Sam sighed, and slumped back in his chair. “Know any other trenchcoated guys in hospital pyjamas who pop in and out of places without using the door all the time?”

Dean glared at the empty chair across from Sam. “Why didn’t he stop to talk to me?”

“Maybe because he doesn’t like conflict?” Sam said sweetly.

“… Screw you too.”

---

It wasn’t always Castiel-and-Lucifer. Often it was just Castiel. Sam got used to him turning up in quiet moments, always when Sam was alone, in pyjamas and trenchcoat and once (in a daring moment) a pair of orange converse.

Sometimes they would talk, soft rambling conversations that kept making the strangest leaps of logic. They always felt oddly surreal, those conversations. Castiel was so very unconcerned by any of the import he would usually have given anything they discussed, was so blissfully free of gravity and doom, that Sam always ended up feeling sort of detached from reality, usually smiling himself. Of course, the fact that Castiel kept getting distracted by board games, or the geometry of light over glass, and the fact that Sam carefully avoided mention of any ‘real’ topics (like, say, Leviathans, or Bobby, or the fact that they were all still being hunted by Crowley and, by the way, needed his blood) added to the dream-like effect. After all, how many conversations did Sam have these days – or, you know, over the past two years – that were about anything that wasn’t essential and life-threatening?

Most often, though, Castiel would just stand or sit in the same room as Sam, watching the world through the window, or staring at the pattern of the dust, or marvelling silently at the stretch and pull of the fine wrinkles on the back of his own pale knuckles, or contemplating the pull of breath into Sam’s lungs and the soft fall of it out into the air again. It was… weirdly peaceful. Sam cautiously enjoyed it.

He had no idea why Castiel had apparently decided that Sam (and only Sam) was a sort of home base for whatever he was doing, but he wasn’t about to argue. It was good to know that he was more or less okay.

Lucifer came and went on his own whims; but also on Castiel’s, which was reassuring. The first time he made a comment that was too sharp and nasty for Castiel’s tastes, Castiel flinched. Sam looked up sharply, ready to rise, bracing himself for a distressed angel and a cackling, vicious Lucifer. But Castiel just gathered himself, looked up at Lucifer with an expression of gentle disappointment, and said, “I don’t think I want to talk to you just now.” And Lucifer vanished.

Half an hour later, when Castiel let him come back, he was glaring and indignantly silent, like a kid sulking because he doesn’t understand the punishment. Sam didn’t comment, just half turned in his chair so that his body language included both angels in the room; and gradually, Lucifer’s tight jaw and defensively clenched hands faded back into usual sharp, fluid grace.

So, yes. Castiel could handle Lucifer pretty well. Sam still wasn’t happy about his imaginary devil being Castiel’s constant companion when he was in this vulnerable state, even if all he could do was talk to him; but it seemed to make Castiel happy, that semi-solid simulacrum of one of the only brothers left to him.

Pathetic, maybe. But, hey, Sam only had his own brother, an illusion, a ghost, and an insane angel for company – and what’s more, he sort of liked it. He wasn’t about to judge.

---

The next day, Castiel got knocked over by a van. The driver didn’t even slow down. Sam had to forcibly restrain himself from whipping out his gun and blowing the tyres.

Castiel was on his hands and knees in the gutter, blinking dazedly. Lucifer was standing over him, eyes narrowed to thoughtful white-hot slits, staring after the van. Then he looked at Sam.

Sam ignored him, and crouched down beside Castiel, shielding him from the eyes of the alarmed and curious nearby. “You okay there, man?”

Castiel raised his head to blink at Sam; and Sam was struck with a sudden sense of disorientation, even of vertigo. He’d forgotten how deep Castiel’s eyes were, and how bright. Sam had been ridden by the oldest and vastest angel of all. Castiel, alien as he was, should have seemed like small fry compared to the incomprehensible scope of Lucifer’s mind, even what Sam had been able to grasp of it. But this wasn’t so much about the fact that Castiel was an angel. Lucifer, in all his enormity, was finally very simple, too steely-frozen to change. Castiel had lived, and Castiel had experienced, and he wore the richness and the pain of that clear for all to see.

“Did you know,” Castiel rumbled, soft and eager, “that, when snowflakes are first formed as crystals in the clouds, they are all identical? It is their passage downwards through the air, their individual travails as they are buffeted by winds and eddies and, that shapes each one into something unique.”

It was so eerily appropriate to what Sam had been thinking that he just gaped for a moment.

Then he felt a sharp tug on his hair, and looked up with a scowl at the rough stubbled curve of Lucifer’s chin overhead.

“I’m not one to argue with a little street theatre,” he said, stepping delicately over the words like he thought they might dirty him, “but you two lovebirds might want to get off the road before some kindly soul” (and that was said with a sneer) “calls him an ambulance.”

---

“It was just a truck this time, Cas; but what about next time, when it’s something that can actually hurt you?” Sam was tired, worried, sick of repeating himself and sounding soothing, sick of Castiel being weak when he should be the strong one; and the sharp unreadable edge of a grin he could see out of the corner of his eye was even more exasperating than Castiel’s patient soft-edged bewilderment. “If you’re gonna go outside, you’ve gotta pay more attention to what’s going on.”

“Going to keep him locked up for his own good?” Lucifer asked softly, and his mouth curled like a cat’s. Then, as Sam raised his head and rounded on him, he settled back against the pillows with his limbs sprawled out in elegant disarray, like he was preparing to watch the show. “Well, this should end well.”

“He’s broken, Lucifer,” Sam snapped, “and you’re the proof of that.”

Even with Lucifer effectively powerless now, it was hard to shake the effect of almost a year having to be on edge around him. Sam spoke a little more harshly than he’d meant to; and Castiel winced, and shrank into himself.

The sardonic smirk flickered and vanished. Lucifer tipped his head back against the wall and eyed Sam down the length of his nose, unfathomable and ancient. “We’re all broken, Sam. At least he’s broken happy.”

“I.” The uncertainty in Castiel’s voice drew Sam’s attention back to him like a magnet. His forehead was furrowed up, and his throat bobbed as he swallowed. “I don’t feel broken.” His eyes flickered back and forth between Sam and the illusion of his brother. “But I know things about myself that I’d rather not have known.”

... Sam had never been the one who’d had to take care of Castiel before. Or of anyone, really. Dean had always done that.

Or maybe he hadn’t. Maybe Sam had just assumed he had.

He reached out one arm, snagged it around Castiel’s too-slight shoulders, and swallowed around the sudden burr in his throat. “Yeah. Join the club, man.”

Castiel blinked at the hand tucked around his upper arm like it meant something he wasn’t equipped to understand.

“Speak for yourselves, boys,” Lucifer drawled, bored again. Then, “Come on, brother. Work to be done, no time to dilly-dally.”

Castiel pulled back, and looked at Sam long and piercing. Sam got the feeling he was searching for something; but whatever it was, he had no idea how to answer it, and Castiel turned away without finding it.

“Yes,” Castiel said, as Sam tried to work out what had just happened. “Yes, I suppose we have.”

---

“What work are you doing with Lucifer, Cas? I thought you were hunting depressed cotton-pickers?”

“Secret angel business,” Lucifer whispered rough and dark behind Sam’s left ear. Sam jerked and spun around, but there was nothing there but a trail of laughter skittering away across the room.

Then Lucifer blinked into existence behind Castiel, just long enough to wink and flicker his tongue obscenely out over his lips.

Sam fixed his eyes on Castiel’s instead, and asked gently, “You sure you should be trusting him, Castiel?”

“He is my brother, Sam.” Castiel looked very small and tired. “You must remember that means something quite different in my family.”

Which answered absolutely nothing.

---

Sam felt awful just thinking this, but the fact was that having Bobby standing silent and surly in the corner of the room was just really freaking uncomfortable. And did he really have to glower like that all the time, just because their attempts to contact Crowley had fallen through? It was like he didn’t have anything else to think about. Which was... really disturbing.

The subtle “whoomph” of air like the folding of giant wings was rather a relief. Sam suspected that the smile he felt brightening his face, as he looked up to catch Castiel’s eye, was a bit too enthusiastic, maybe a little manic; but Castiel glowed when he caught it.

It was a bit sad, really, how pleased Castiel got at even the smallest indications that someone was glad of his company. Had they really never thought to make him feel welcome, before? Dean had probably just assumed Castiel knew, like he did with Sam. Either that or he’d been being a dick, of course. And Sam had been following Dean’s lead with the angels, then he’d been distracted by the Apocalypse, then he’d been soulless, then... yeah, okay, not exactly covering himself with glory here either.

Bobby nodded tersely at the new arrival (well, the one he could see). “Angel,” he said, gruff and non-committal. “Looking pretty good for a dead guy.”

“Robert,” Castiel acknowledged solemnly. Then he got on with his important task of staring out the window.

And that was it. No “my goodness me you seem to be a ghost,” no comments on the coruscation of his spectral aura or anything, no stern glares of “you are bordering on becoming a monster.” Not even a simple “You too.” Sam... sort of had to wonder whether Castiel had even noticed that Bobby was dead.

Bobby lifted his eyebrows at Sam. It was the first non-glowery expression he’d made all day. Sam shrugged, and went back to his laptop.

Lucifer just perched on the headboard of Sam’s bed and grinned at Bobby in a really disturbing way, saying nothing. On reflection, Sam was rather relieved about that. He was pretty sure that, whatever Lucifer had to say about Bobby, Sam wouldn’t want to hear it.

---

The trouble was, Castiel might have been happy (by his standards), but he still didn’t have a great grip on reality. And that made him vulnerable.

For starters, Castiel didn’t understand logical progression anymore, didn’t follow conversations, wandered off on his own tangents. He understood need, and he usually answered direct questions, and he read emotion a little too well (and that could really screw him over because he had no shields against it anymore, against all the little cruelties and sorrows and indifferences of everyone around him). But the physical reality of the world and the potential for consequences? Not in the slightest. He’d trip over a rake on the ground because he was too busy pondering the metalwork of the iron teeth to realise that if he stepped on it just so, the handle would spring up and hit him on the cheek.

Anyway. Wandering the streets in bare feet and hospital pyjamas and trenchcoat, looking vague and polite? Not really the way to avoid notice. And the most important thing for him, right now, was not being noticed. Because, sure, he could flap away if he thought he was in danger – unless he couldn’t. Unless something else happened, and they got the jump on him. Too many angels – even freaking archangels – had died in the last four years for that to sound impossibly remote. And Crowley’s gang, just in that first year after angels started showing their faces, had polished up on their angel knowledge pretty damned fast. If anything they’d have far more tricks up their collective bloody sleeves by now.

And, okay, so Sam had always cared about Castiel, never wanted him hurt or anything, even after the angel had broken his wall, but seeing him like this, so small and fragile and so wondrously delighted with the world? Just the idea of anyone laying a violent hand on him made Sam’s neck prickle like he had hackles to raise, got his blood hot with that slow angry burn he always got when he was lying in ambush for the monster of the week. Because, no. Just – no.

Sam coaxed him into jeans and a sweater, but Castiel stubbornly refused to discard the trenchcoat. Sometimes he and Dean were too much alike.

(Sam wasn’t quite sure why Lucifer snickered quietly pretty much all the way through that conversation, then gave him a double thumbs-up at the end. He was sure, though, that he should be deeply suspicious about it.)

---

“Hey, Cas. What’s with the Dean-avoidance?” Sam tossed Castiel a large packet of rolled oats for the shopping basket, and Castiel peered at it with benevolent curiosity. “I mean, you’re sitting around with me like there’s nowhere else you’re ever gonna need to be, then Dean comes to the door and you make like a tree.”

Castiel smiled at him, a little vacantly, and made a thoughtful noise. “Cats,” he pronounced after a moment.

“I don’t follow you, man.”

Lucifer lifted an eye delicately in their direction, smirked to himself, and went back to reading food labels as if they were particularly interesting bugs. Sam ignored him.

“I didn’t follow you either,” Castiel pointed out serenely. Hold on. Was he playing up this whole spaced-out thing as a reproach?

Sam gave him a Look, and some canned vegetables. He was pretty sure he wasn’t imagining the half twinkle under those sly dark lashes.

“Cats in a storm. They seek out the cat flap.” Castiel looked so very pleased with himself for the explanation that Sam felt kind of guilty for still not getting it. “Dean is angry when he sees me. So I don’t let him see me. This one contains the poison,” he added, handing the can of red kidney beans (seriously?) back to Sam.

Sam sighed. “Great. They’ve struck the canned vegetables. We’re going to have to start hitting the wholefood and organics shops big time when we’re in, you know, a town large enough to have them.”

Castiel looked thoughtful.

“The ubiquitous grain of corn,” Lucifer drawled, eyes sparkling. “Do you think they realise that ninety percent of the beef in their product is processed corn, and the rest is rat and the entrails of pig?”

“Thanks, man. Really,” Sam said drily. “Because I needed to feel better about the state of our groceries.”

Lucifer smiled like an angel. Then he whispered something in Castiel’s ear.

That night, when they both had turned their backs for a moment, three large pizzas appeared on the motel table, steaming hot from the oven. Beside them was a small note in Castiel’s neat, slanting hand.

They’re from Italy.

Dean gave them an angry look, then a sad one. But he did eat.

---

Why had neither Sam nor Dean ever thought of just sitting down and chatting with Bobby? Treating him like they used to, like a person?

Sam snuck a peek over his book at Castiel and Bobby, heads bent together casual and peaceful in the corner over a game of chequers.

This was the fourth time this week. And each time Castiel left, Bobby looked stronger. Not vengeful-spirit stronger, just… more solid, less pale, more comfortable with reality, readier to laugh.

Sam found himself lingering, a little too long to be casual, on the shadowed curve of Castiel’s jaw, and the softness at the corner of his mouth. Contentment, if that was what it was, looked good on him. Maybe it was infectious. When Castiel was around the room seemed... warmer, somehow. Less harsh around the edges.

Sam had been so careful not to ask Castiel for help with the Leviathans, not to ask him to fight, that it had never occurred to him to ask him about this smaller and dearer problem. Or maybe he’d been scared to – asking an angel for help with a ghost, after all, sounded like it would end up even more brutally efficient than burning the flask. But, healing illnesses of a spiritual nature, that was what Castiel had said about his life as Emmanuel, when Sam had coaxed it out of him.

And later, just as himself, harmony and communication.

Well, it wasn’t a bad philosophy, when things weren’t trying to chomp them. As things stood, Sam would rather not harmonise with Leviathans. But, hey, so long as Castiel was keeping Bobby from going all counterpoint on Dick…

Lucifer pointed carefully over Sam’s shoulder at his book. “That’s a fundamental misconception.”

Sam turned his head just far enough to shoot him an enquiring look.

The devil rested his chin on Sam’s shoulder, sharp and vivid as bone (and when had he become solid enough for that?). “Why would a demon turn up just because you stuck hyssop in the fire instead of wormwood? It’s all just timber. If you want Crowley, you’re going to have to offer something he wants.”

“Yeah, well.” Sam smiled a bit, half disdainful and half easy, and pitched his voice low so it wouldn’t carry. “Sorry if I’m not going to take your advice on dealing with demons.”

Lucifer’s long, cool fingers skated down his forearm without rustling the cloth, then traced their fastidious spidery way over the bones of his hand. Sam could see the faint dip and drag of the skin under the tips of his fingers, and was that an illusion? Was that his own skin responding to it?

“I thought you wouldn’t,” Lucifer murmured back, breath hot and damp on Sam’s neck.

Sam shivered, and elbowed him in the ribs.

Then Dean’s duffle hit the floor by the door, and Dean said, heavy and resigned, “Cas.”

Castiel started to his feet, eyes wide as a deer’s. Yep. Perception of physical reality around him, way off kilter. Check.

Bobby looked around to see Dean, and the expression on his face softened to something gruff and worn, something far more like Bobby than the resentful mask of the last few weeks. His pale, rough fingers closed around Castiel’s wrist, and the angel startled, then shrunk in towards him like he thought that would help.

“Don’t you go flapping off, feathers,” Bobby said, firm and fond. “Some things don’t get better by running away.”

“Okay.” Dean closed his eyes, took a measured breath, then let it out slowly. “Well. I guess that’s something I shouldn’t get surprised about.”

“Dean,” Sam began, at the same moment as Castiel said “You’re angry,” bemusement and hurt and explanation all at once.

Dean shut the door, too hard, and Castiel flinched. “No shit, man. You’ve been popping in here hanging around when I’m not about for how long?” The weary glare, all the more effective because Dean just looked so goddamned done in by it all, fell on Sam. “And you thought I wouldn’t want to know about this?”

“Things have been delicate, Dean,” Sam said, pitching his voice deliberately low and trying to glare the message at his brother that things are still delicate, Dean, go easy. “I thought Cas wouldn’t want you to know yet, and that’s what I’m rolling with here.”

Except it wasn’t really that. Not completely. It was protectiveness, and it was that weird sense of having one foot in some sort of semi-detached reality, something pleasant and warm and all his own. Something in his life that wasn’t Dean’s as well. Stupid illusion, unsustainable, obviously, and crashing down around his ears right now.

But, yeah. Not really something he was about to explain to Dean, even if he’d known how.

“We could have used you here, man,” Dean said, too soft not to set danger signals flashing. His jaw was tight, and his shoulders hard and tense, but there was pleading in his eyes, too wide and too bright.

“Oh, I’m sure you could,” Lucifer purred, soft and dangerous over in the corner. “I’m sure you could use him for all sorts of things, again and again and again. Build him up again out of spare parts when he starts to break down, like a good little mechanic.”

Sam closed his book and stood up. The chair rattled loudly over the floor, but not an eye in the room flickered towards him. Castiel and Dean were locked in one of their old eye-duels, full of wordless words and meaning without specificity, emotions running higher and higher, and Castiel, who was so impossibly badly equipped to deal with accusation and anger just now – Castiel looked terrified.

“He’s not fighting anymore, remember Dean? Hasn’t he earned that?”

“I said that I was sorry,” Castiel muttered gingerly. “You didn’t know how to believe me. You wanted other words, and I didn’t have them.”

“It was a damn game, Cas,” Dean snapped, voice rising sharply, and Sam heard his own voice rap out Dean’s name harsh and reproachful over the top of it.

Lucifer whistled, low and taunting; and Castiel’s eyes flickered desperately towards him, as if that was his best chance of rescue.

“Games navigate conflict,” he recited, holding Lucifer in his gaze like a lifeline. “Games make people happier. Games are excellent tools for involving people in the therapeutic process. Rules, cooperation, and the dynamics of fair play -”

Dean’s hand smacked down sharply on the table, sudden as a gunshot. “No, you know what? I’m done. I’m just done, Cas. You’re here then you aren’t, you’re an angel then you’re useless then you’re an angel again only you conveniently forget how to pick up the phone, then you go all secretive and –” His voice broke and stuttered for a moment, rough as Castiel’s breathing, then came back hurt and fast and raw. “Then you’re gone, Cas, you freaking went and died on us then you’re back again and you don’t think I deserve any kind of a ‘why’or a ‘how’? And then you go and do this to yourself – you think I wanted this? What is this, some kind of fucked-up ultimatum? Making us stick around? Making sure you can’t actually do anything to help? And now apparently I’m not worth the fucking time of day?”

Sam split his knuckles on Dean’s jaw. Castiel vanished.

Dean staggered and almost went down, Bobby spat “Balls!” and lost his grip on visibility. And Lucifer was –

Lucifer was still there, staring at Dean with eyes like the ice that burns when it touches.

Sam boggled at him.

“Oh, well done, Sam,” Lucifer hissed, voice curling disdainfully around the words. “That went so smoothly.”

Dean groaned, slumped against the wall, and let his head fall back against it with a thunk. “What the hell, Sam?” he growled, but it was more than a little half-hearted.

Sam did his best to convey “why the hell are you still here?” to Lucifer through the medium of glares.

“He’s in the little park behind the motel,” the not-really-an-angel said, uncharacteristically clipped and curt. “If you think you can spare a moment or two from your brotherly angst, of course.”

“Shut up,” Sam snapped, unable to help himself, even as Lucifer gave him a sardonic look and disappeared. “I’m coming, okay?”

Dean blinked slowly at him. Then he stared at the empty corner. Then over at the chair where Bobby had been sitting, and back again.

Sam exhaled messily, and pushed his hair off his face. Fuck.

“Sammy, is that – are you –” Sam watched Dean’s face through all the little flickers of comprehension through suspicion, to the bludgeon of realisation, to denial. Then, “Oh, hell no,” he breathed.

Really not a conversation Sam had time for right now. He turned away.

“Dean. I have to go.”

“Sam!” The devastation in Dean’s voice froze Sam’s feet to the floor. “Tell me he didn’t – tell me you don’t have Lucifer stuck in your grapefruit again.”

Sam’s hand curled tight against his hip. He wasn’t sure which was stronger: the impulse to punch Dean again for that bitten-off accusation, or to lose himself in relieved laughter at the phrasing of the question. Because that one, he could actually answer honestly.

“I promise I don’t have Lucifer in my head again, Dean.”

“Where are you going?” Too rough, covering the quiver as the adrenalin and the edge of hysteria ebbed out of Dean’s system.

Sam sighed. “Just. Just… stay here, okay? Please.”

---

Castiel was in his pyjamas again. He was sitting on a bench in the dismal evening-grey park, with the trenchcoat folded carefully beside him, looking slight and small and soft. Lucifer was standing over him, fierce and cold, with his hand hovering in the air near Castiel’s shoulder but not quite touching. Everything about his stance looked odd on him, and it took a moment for Sam to fasten, with some incredulity, on the word protective. And then, when Lucifer looked up at Sam with eyes that burned cold and grey and dared him to mention it, the word helpless. Castiel’s brother. Lucifer’s brother. For each of them, effectively the only one remaining, out of multitudes.

Lucifer loved.

Sam’s steps faltered, and he had to stop to take a breath. Because he had known that about Lucifer once. He had known Lucifer to the depths of him, all his cold fire and his ice and his terrible world-encompassing passion. One of the first things he’d understood when Lucifer had entered him in Detroit, understood with perfect terrible clarity, was Lucifer’s capacity to love, that emotion that had driven him to so much that was horrific. And how had he forgotten that?

There had been the cage, after that, and a vengeful righteous Michael, and a bitter betrayed Lucifer; because Lucifer had loved Sam as much as he’d been able and Sam, so far as he could understand, had betrayed him. And Lucifer betrayed was Lucifer vicious. And so that had been Sam’s nightmare, incomprehensible and absolute. When Castiel had broken his wall and flooded him with everything all at once, that had been all he’d been able to remember. That had been all he’d seen in the triumphant teeth-filled grin that had confronted him and mocked him with rape when he’d gone to fetch the blood to open Purgatory, and it had never occurred to him that there was anything wrong with that. That, to him, right then, had been what “Lucifer” meant.

But this creature, this terrifyingly simple angel in front of him now, this was Lucifer. And this was not that. Somehow, somewhere, there had been a disconnect, and Sam didn’t understand how.

Lucifer beckoned, a quick gesture of command and plea, and pointed wordlessly at Castiel.

Both Sam and Castiel could feel Lucifer’s touch – how far that went, Sam didn’t know – but that wasn’t really real. And it sure wasn’t the same as a real hug, if Lucifer even knew how to do those. Sam got the impression Lucifer’s demonstrations of affection were more likely to involve slaughtering nations than hugging.

So, for once, Sam obeyed the devil: settled onto the bench beside Castiel, leaned gingerly into his space, and wrapped awkward arms around him.

“Hey,” he rasped, and left it at that.

He wasn’t quite sure whether this was allowed; but Castiel didn’t object. For a minute he just sat there, stick-like and uncomfortable, until Sam was about to pull back and just give him a manly pat on the shoulder instead. Then he twitched, moved his head, and unstiffened by degrees, like he had to check off each muscle and joint in turn in a hugging manual.

He was unexpectedly warm.

They sat there for a bit, as the last of the evening light faded from the sky. Sam was acutely conscious of the feel of him, surprisingly delicate in his arms. This was the creature who’d dove into Hell and fought his way out with Dean’s soul, with Sam’s body. This was the creature who’d swallowed Purgatory, and declared himself fervently, briefly, a god.

This was Castiel, with all his scars and broken edges, who thought bees were the neatest thing ever. He felt tiny and stubbornly unbreakable against Sam’s body.

“You should kiss him,” Lucifer put in unhelpfully, from where he was leaning against a tree.

Sam rolled his eyes at him over Castiel’s head.

But Castiel was warm and lonely against him. And, setting aside Lucifer’s trolling and Sam’s complete and utter uselessness when it came to physical gestures of comfort... maybe that suggestion wasn’t complete crap. Castiel responded so eagerly and openly now to any sign that he was welcome, any gesture that said he was wanted.

Sam pressed his lips very gently to Castiel’s temple, and was fervently glad that Dean wasn’t there to see him do it.

Castiel sighed sweet and damp into the corner of Sam’s neck. And if Sam shivered, well, the evening wind was cold.

“Maybe there’s hope for a Winchester yet,” Lucifer commented, dry and almost warm. Then, when Castiel completely failed to respond and Sam lifted an irritated eyebrow, “Oh, and - he can’t see me just now.”

... Okay. Castiel not seeing his own hallucinations? Lucifer not vanishing when Castiel did? The solidity of him, stronger and warmer than he’d ever felt when it was just Sam and Lucifer? This whole thing wasn’t getting any less disturbing. And later they were going to talk about it. Just, Sam had more important things right now.

“Talk to me, man,” he murmured, and squeezed Castiel’s shoulder.

“The squirrels in this park are disappointed by the trees. Too are sterile and prim,” Castiel said, distantly worried. “But they appreciate the garbage bins.”

“Guess they would,” Sam agreed. Castiel’s conversational style these days took a bit of patience to follow.

The angel was quiet for a minute. Then he pulled gently back, and rested his elbows on his knees. “You are older than you were when I first met you,” he said, apparently to a discarded candy wrapper on the grass.

“Uh.” Was that profound? Sam was pretty sure Dean was still a hell of a lot better qualified to understand how Castiel’s brain worked than he was. “Yeah, Cas. That happens with people. We grow and we change.”

“We don’t,” Castiel commented, like it was something curious but ultimately unimportant.

There was a long pause. Sam shifted uncomfortably, and fought back the urge to point out that he was pretty sure Castiel did, actually.

Then, “Dean has always looked at me with disappointment,” Castiel said, somehow dreamy and matter-of-fact at the same time. “But the flavour of it has changed, over the years. So fast in so few. At the raising of Samhain, and when he urged me to turn my back on Zachariah to save you, it was full of passion and convictions. Righteous. A few months, and it was bitter and driven. Then it was betrayed, then it was distant. Then you caught me in a circle of fire and he looked at me like a child who should know better, but whom he thought now would never learn. Now... now he is almost too tired to be angry.”

Shit. What a chart for measuring the most eventful years of your life. Being looked at like a disappointment.

Castiel studied his hands for a moment, then said quietly, “I am not sure anymore that it is possible to be the man that Dean wants.”

Lucifer looked away, his mouth a hard and bitter slash of shadow across his face.

Sam’s heart broke a little bit for Castiel. Because, yeah, he knew how that felt.

He cleared his throat, and his voice came out as an awkward rasp. “Pretty sure it isn’t, Cas.” God, they were all so messed up. “I know I can’t.”

Castiel blinked at him, eyes startled wide and silvered in the dark.

Behind him, Lucifer tapped a fingernail against his teeth and quirked a meaningful eyebrow at Sam. Then he mouthed, Let them hear what they want to hear.

Not that Sam was flirting here, but...

Sam took advantage of Castiel’s moment of surprise, and nudged him. “Here’s the thing. I know Dean can’t, either.”

Something painful and incredulous flickered across Castiel’s face, so quickly that Sam couldn’t quite tell whether that was Castiel’s reaction, or his reflection of Sam’s emotions, or whether Castiel had even understood him at all. Then, quite calmly and without taking his eyes off Sam’s face, Castiel lifted his voice and said, “Dean. You should come out.”

Dean emerged from behind a bush, looking sheepish and not very stealthy. Because of course Dean would stay where he was told. If he was tied down and locked behind a solid foot-thick wall.

Sam gave him a “dude, seriously?” look.

“And now for the violins,” Lucifer purred.

Dean flipped Sam off, and shuffled his feet a bit. “Didn’t think you’d be able to feel me there.”

“I can always feel you, Dean,” Castiel said simply. “Every beat of your heart. Your pain burns me more deeply than anybody else’s ever could.”

Dean gaped. Then he blurted, “Well, that sounds freaking unhealthy.”

Apparently this new Share With The Class Castiel was disconcerting for Dean too. Huh. Sam felt kind of vindicated.

Castiel cocked his head at Dean. His anxiety seemed to have vanished; but then, so had Dean’s aggression. “It has been true since I first laid a hand on you.”

Something cold crawled down Sam’s spine, and heard again Hester’s voice, furious and grieving: the very touch of you corrupts. When Castiel first laid a hand on you in Hell, he was lost.

“Yeah, well.” Dean looked away, uncomfortable. There was an awkward silence, then he muttered, unexpectedly, “I ever say thank you for that?”

Castiel blinked owlishly. “You did when we first met. Then you stuck a knife in my heart.”

“... Really, Dean?”

“Shut up, Sammy.” Dean took another step closer, wavering. Then he squared his shoulders and settled himself on the bench on Castiel’s other side, leaving a good foot of trenchcoat-adorned space between them. “Seriously, man,” he muttered low, staring resolutely at the swings. “You okay?”

Castiel looked uncomfortable, like he needed time to process something and didn’t get it. “How important are cosmetics to you, Dean?”

This time, it was Dean who flinched, like confronting Castiel’s broken mind caused him physical pain. “Cas,” he muttered. “Focus, man.”

Sam caught Castiel’s eye, and gave him a little rueful smile, the smile of someone who’d had to deal with Dean pretty much every day for three decades. The angel sighed, just a little. “You… resent the elephant for being too strong,” he hazarded, “and the mouse for being too weak.” It was his soft and deep and inexorable voice, and it sounded like a reproach.

Dean blinked, then blinked again. “Wait. Wait, are you the elephant or the mouse?”

Castiel cast him a look that was very close to his old celestial irritation. Dean’s eyes went wide into something Sam didn’t quite understand.

“Dude, no. I just. I don’t wanna see you hurt, man, okay? I thought –” His throat worked, a hurried jump, then he gritted his teeth and muttered, “I thought I had you back for a minute there, and then… now you’re like a freaking child again.”

Castiel huffed out a quick irritated hiss, and stood up. Irritation was better than helplessness, so Sam let him. Apparently Dean’s annoyingness was a universal force for strength. Dean jumped to his feet abruptly in his wake, and caught the trenchcoat up with him. “Just so tired of the big guy giving and taking away, you know?”

Lucifer laughed, long and soft and completely unamused, and Castiel lifted his head with a frown as if he’d caught something on the breeze. Dean took the gesture for encouragement and closed in, one hand lifting to hover by Castiel’s arm; and Sam, keeping a careful eye on them, stood up too, and edged around towards where the other angel lounged.

“What’s going on with you?” he hissed in the devil’s ear.

Lucifer’s chin tilted, just a little, angling the rough planes of his face in towards Sam’s cheek. “My little brother is a far more powerful conduit than you, Sam,” he murmured, caressing the words with his mouth as they came.

Conduit. Sam felt something sickening clench inside his gut. Had he suspected? He honestly wasn’t sure, but the fear of it was so familiar that…

Okay, breathe. No seals broken, no final seal left to break. It might not be true, but it couldn’t hurt to treat it like it was. “Why are you here? What are you trying to do?”

Lucifer shrugged, loose and elegant. “What do you think? Its boring down here.”

Sam blinked, and flicked his gaze sideways to where Dean was leaning in toward Castiel, talking low and earnest and scowling slightly. Castiel was looking at him like… well, like he’d looked at Meg. Like he was broken, and beautiful in his imperfection. But there was something aloof there, something a touch too gentle and distant for the way Castiel usually looked at Dean. It seemed… odd. And kind of refreshing.

“What about Michael?” he muttered, clutching at straws. Because he always thought of Lucifer – the Lucifer of his nightmares, of his hallucinations – as single and monolithic, but if it was really him, the Lucifer downstairs, then he had no call to be lonely. He had the only brother he’d ever really wanted, after all.

“Michael is the good son.” Lucifer’s voice slid cool and bitter through the night air by Sam’s ear, just a hint of self-mockery in it. “He doesn’t say anything to anybody anymore. Like father, like virtuous son.”

… but Sam remembered that too well. He remembered, now that Lucifer’s words called it up, Michael after the first few years of rage and denial. Just sitting, brooding and silent and uncommunicative, in the farthest depths of the Cage. Self-righteous and stubbornly deaf.

Yeah, angels never really had got around to solving disputes like grown-ups, had they? No wonder Castiel kept clinging to whatever little kindergarten dispute-resolution techniques they’d taught him in the hospital – games, ‘sharing is caring,’ and so on.

(But what about Adam?)

“I don’t want that anymore,” Castiel said to Dean, gentle and inexorable. “You should burn it, or bury it. Or whatever you do.”

Dean looked down at the folded tan fabric in his hands, then back up at Castiel as if he’d suddenly started speaking Russian. “But man, it’s your coat.” And under that, Sam heard months of fragile stubborn hope, of taking it out of the trunk of one stolen car and slipping it into the next, of never answering when Sam mentioned it.

Castiel tilted his head and blinked at him, slow and thoughtful. “It was never mine. Perhaps it is yours. I will find my own clothes.”

Sam had no idea what was going on here, but Castiel, small and fragile and shoulders drooped in his terrible posture, still looked like he stood straighter and more centred than he’d seen him for – well, for more than a year. Since the earlier years of his civil war, when he’d still had some measure of faith and confidence in his own choices. When Sam’s soul had still been…

Sam looked at Lucifer, and shook his head. “It isn’t true. You’re only a memory, a vivid memory, and living in Castiel’s head instead of mine makes you stronger. That’s all.” Then, after a breath, “I’m sorry.”

“Oh, Sam,” Lucifer purred tenderly. “Your beautiful, powerful mind has been crying out to me for months, by name and by grace.” His tongue flickered out over his lips, forked and teasing. “I am your angel, Sam, and you are my vessel. Did you really think that I wouldn’t respond?”

Sam blinked, and he was gone, and Castiel was gone, and Dean spun around and punched a tree, hard.

---

... Why was Sam awake? Had something moved?

Oh.

“… Cas. What’re y’doin’?”

The angel went still where he’d been settling his head in on Sam’s shoulder, like he thought that might be a trick question but wasn’t quite sure.

“… I am lying on top of you?” he ventured eventually.

Sam mumbled, and opened one eye. It was full of angel hair. He closed it again. Also there was a warm thigh lying across the top of his. “Yeah. I ge’ th’t. Why?”

“Because the bed is narrow and you seem to take up rather a lot of it,” Castiel rumbled logically, low but not very quiet.

“It’s my bed,” Sam whined plaintively, as he wriggled around on sleepy autopilot to accommodate the pleasant weight draped over his side.

Castiel’s breath huffed uncertainly against his neck. “I wanted company. And you were sleeping.”

There was a note in there that Sam didn’t like. Something like worry, as if he thought Sam was going to kick him out. Sam’s arm reacted to that of its own accord, lifting to wrap around a slim back. Castiel’s ribs felt very human and fine under the spread of Sam’s hand. “Cas,” he reasoned half-heartedly. “Dean’s asleep just over there.”

“No he’s not,” Dean mumbled in the dark.

Sam thunked his head back into the pillow. Great. Just great.

Castiel’s head lifted from its shoulder-shaped pillow. “I apologise for waking you, Dean,” he said seriously.

Dean cleared his throat. “Hey, if you need to cuddle up to a RealDoll to get to sleep, don’t mind me.” The smirk in his voice wasn’t quite convincing, but it was a start. “You can even braid his hair in the morning.”

“Dick,” Sam grumbled, and drifted back to sleep.

When he woke up, Castiel was gone.

There were sandwiches on the table. They were good sandwiches, too.

---

The next time Castiel turned up, a Leviathan had its fingers around Sam’s throat.

Castiel looked at Sam (backed against the wall by two Leviathans), and at Dean (twisted up viciously in wire cabling with the third Leviathan holding his head at a painful angle to force him to watch the other two kill Sam) as if he didn’t really understand what was going on. Then his eyes widened in panic, and he said, in a very small voice, “I…”

“Well, well, look who it is,” sneered one of the two holding Sam. “The little angel battery that couldn’t.”

“Cas,” Dean bellowed. “The borax!”

Castiel blinked, swinging his head back and forth between them in confusion, and Sam cursed every time he’d ever steered the conversation away from Leviathans around Castiel. Because this was their life, who was he kidding.

Then Dean’s Leviathan and one of Sam’s closed in on Castiel.

The first one picked him up by the throat and flung him across the room, limbs flailing loose as a doll’s. He crashed into the wall at an angle that would have broken his neck if he’d not been what he was, and lay there barely moving as they approached. Sam shouted, braced his back against the wall and tried to kick his Leviathan’s legs out from under it. Castiel just looked up at the two looming over him, bloody and bruised and not even lifting a fucking finger, and Dean was struggling with the cabling and roaring at him to fight, fight, damn you Cas, or fly the fuck away.

Then Lucifer was there, blazing cold and terrible as Sam had only ever seen him against the pagan gods the day Gabriel had died, and completely, ragingly useless. Time seemed to slow to a trickle the shadow of the devil closed in on the little tableau, hands clutching helpless and furious at his sides. The Leviathan holding Sam swung his fist back, geologically slow, and Lucifer’s white-hot eyes flickered over and locked with Sam’s.

Lucifer was in front of him in a moment and he reached not for the Leviathan but for Sam’s own hands where they were clutched pointlessly in the Leviathan’s shirt. Those, those Lucifer could touch, burning cold fingers closing around Sam’s fists. And Sam looked into his eyes and didn’t fight him: not when he forcibly jerked Sam’s hands back, tearing the shirt into rags with them, not when he slammed Sam’s fist into the Leviathan’s stomach with the strength that had punched through Baldr’s chest, sending it staggering gasping and incredulous to sprawl on the floor. Sam didn’t even fight when Lucifer used his right hand to draw out the iron knife from his belt and cut a completely unfamiliar sigil into his left palm, shallow and fluid-quick and precise.

Lucifer shoved Sam forward away from the wall, and slammed his bloody palm down on the felled Leviathan’s forehead.

It screamed, and shrivelled like a spider – first all its limbs curling up, then the thrash of black veins under the surface, then suddenly limp with foul-smelling black goo seeping out of its nose and mouth, drying and cracking in filthy rivulets down the side of its face and on the floor below.

Sam gaped for a moment, just a moment, then he was up and running. The Leviathan leaning over Castiel he tackled from behind, one arm across its throat to jerk its head back and the other hand curling around its forehead. The moment its hands jerked and flailed away from Castiel’s skin Lucifer was there, arms around his shoulders too fast to follow, half-dragging half-flinging him across the cold concrete floor toward Dean. Sam heaved the twitching, dying thing aside and rounded on the last one. It had backed up a step to stare at him in utter disbelief, and Sam pressed that moment of advantage, slapping his hand against its forehead even as it reared its head back to go big-mouth on him.

He didn’t look up until he was sure all three corpses weren’t going to start twitching again.

Then Dean said, low and controlled and like he was about to go much louder any moment now, “Okay. What the hell was that?”

Sam raised his head. Castiel had staggered to his feet and freed Dean from the cabling. Both of them looked significantly less bloody and bruised than they had thirty seconds before, and Dean was standing with his shoulder shoved belligerently in front of Castiel’s, like he was going to glare any nasties to death before they could take a swing.

Sam looked past them both to the lonely shadow of the first fallen angel in the corner, and flexed his bleeding hand. “I might ask the same thing,” he said levelly.

Dean followed his gaze blankly. “That… wasn’t Bobby, was it?” he asked warily, like he already knew the answer.

“Nope.” Sam limped over to them, the pain from his twisted knee starting to kick in now there was nothing else to kill. “Cas, do you know this symbol?”

Castiel cupped Sam’s hand between his own. The pad of his thumb tickled warm and gentle over the carved-up skin, barely a flicker of sensation. “No, I don’t,” he decided after a moment. “It is older than I am.”

Dean’s eyes narrowed. “Like Leviathan-old?”

Castiel’s mouth curled up warm at the corner. “Not quite. Sam, should I let him see?”

Sam stepped back and ran a hand through his hair. Shit. So. Castiel didn’t know it. Sam sure as hell didn’t know it. Older than angels, and younger than Leviathan.

Lucifer hadn’t been lying. That had been the devil who’d taken a knife to Sam’s hand.

“Let me see what?”

“Okay. Yeah.” Sam swallowed and nodded. “If you can. I think that’s gonna be the simplest way to do this. Just, let’s behead these guys first, okay? To be sure.”

---

Dean… freaked out less than Sam had expected.

“So you somehow… conjured the devil, by thinking about him too much.”

Lucifer, folded elegantly in the exact centre of Dean’s bed, lifted a sarcastic eyebrow. “What can I say? I’m a lovable guy.”

“But you’re still locked up down below, right?”

“Unless you feel like bringing Lilith back and heading back downstairs to break again.” Lucifer blinked, slow and alien and grey. “I’m afraid those two locks are rather specific.”

“Lucifer,” Sam put in cautiously. “If it’s been you all along – if you knew something that could help – why didn’t you tell us?”

Lucifer looked bored. “Before, they were only trying to hurt humans. Today they were trying to hurt my brother.”

Castiel looked touched and happy. Dean looked annoyed. Castiel stopped.

“And how did you know that?” Bobby asked, nice and level. “Last I heard you need this sword with three bloods on it to kill a Leviathan.”

Lucifer narrowed his eyes, and looked at Bobby like he was a particularly impertinent bug, or worse, a human. Funny. He never looked at Sam like that. “I am the first angel. I was created directly after my Father locked the Leviathans away. Michael and I, we were the failsafe. We were created with the knowledge of how to destroy them seared into our being.” His eyes flashed, old and silver and alien-deep; then he settled back onto the bedspread and examined his fingernails. “But, of course, we’re a little indisposed right now. And that propecy is a fake, by the way.”

Dean looked ready to explode; and Castiel frowned and sat up very straight.

“But it is the handwriting of Metatron.”

“Yes. And about five thousand years old,” Lucifer said, almost gently; then his mouth curled bitterly. “Because, naturally, no archangel has ever lied before.”

“Whoa, whoa, whoa.” Dean stepped forward and held up both hands, reclaiming the reins of the conversation. “Archangel? This guy’s another one? I thought there were only four of you?”

Lucifer blinked at him. “Castiel told you what Metatron means.”

Castiel looked slightly panicked. “I do not understand the purpose of cheese.”

“Awesome melty goodness,” Dean said, without missing a beat.

Castiel looked like he was taking that under advisement.

“It’s a function, not a name,” Lucifer explained, doubtless for purposes of his own. “The angel who writes down God’s word: any of them. Any of the original four, who are the only ones who hear it. That is the handwriting of Metatron, because this is the handwriting we use to write as Metatron. What do they teach them at these schools?”

Castiel’s face fell. Lucifer winked at him.

“Okay then.” Dean looked stubborn. “Who was it? And why?”

“Hold on,” Sam broke in. “So you knew this all along, and you didn’t tell Cas? You didn’t tell us? You’ve been letting us run around trying to summon Crowley and find a live alpha – which would have put Cas in danger, by the way – and never thought you might mention we were wasting our time?”

“Sam,” Lucifer said, gentle and reproachful as if Sam was an erring child. “Would you have believed me?”

Bobby lifted an eyebrow at Sam and shrugged. It was probably a fair point.

Dean rubbed his hand over his mouth and looked tired. “Okay, fine. Anything else you think you should be telling us, sunshine?”

Lucifer’s eyebrows climbed towards his hair. Sam wondered briefly, madly, if anyone had ever called him ‘sunshine’ before.

“Like, say, what you’re getting up to in Cas’ noggin? What’ve you been saying to him? What’re you making him do?”

Lucifer sneered and vanished.

Dean rounded on Castiel. “Cas?”

Castiel looked distinctly uncomfortable. “I think we should get a cat. The cabin needs a cat.” Then he was gone too.

Dean swore. “Dammit.

---

They didn’t see either angel again for over a week.

Dean fretted.

Sam didn’t. Sam just worried. Mostly.

Because, well. Lucifer. Really Lucifer. And he might be limited, but he could touch Castiel. He could make Sam cut himself up, and who knew what he could do to Castiel? And, okay, so he might love him, he might get all protective over him, but terrible things had been done in the name of love. Lucifer himself had a great track record with that. Like, say, trying to wipe out the whole human race because of it. And almost killing Sam because he was bored and wanted Sam back, or because Sam had betrayed him, or whatever that was (and Sam didn’t even know, which was exactly the point – you couldn’t guess).

Retrospect didn’t help, no matter how much Sam racked his brains over it. The Lucifer of the meat hooks, of the first few days after Castiel had broken the wall, Sam was pretty sure he hadn’t been real. But by the time Sam had spoken to him and let him in, that had been him, he was pretty sure. Lucifer had implied that Sam, in hallucinating him all the time, had somehow made him real, reached out to the imprisoned angel on a psychic level and gradually opened a connection between them; but Sam couldn’t for the life of him work out when, or how, or if it had been so gradual that there had been no chance of noticing.

Anyway. He was Lucifer, which meant he was pretty much guaranteed to have an agenda. And that agenda was very likely to be either persuading Castiel to follow in his footsteps and destroy the human race (maybe to save them from becoming Leviathan-chow, or whatever), or to work out some way to get himself out of the Cage. Or at least to project himself strongly enough to affect more things than just Castiel outside of it.

And Lucifer, as he had so helpfully pointed out, was seductively persuasive when he wanted to be. Likely Castiel wouldn’t even notice that whatever it was wasn’t even his own idea.

---

The next angel they saw wasn’t Lucifer or Castiel at all. It wasn’t even Inias.

Dean was poking disconsolately through the grocery bags on the motel table (“Bananas again? Seriously?”), when there was a tell-tale rustle of wings behind them.

“Hey there, guys!” they heard, bright and chipper and irrevocably, irredeemably annoying. “What’ve you broken in the last three years?”

Dean whipped around, and shot him in the face.

Gabriel scowled at Dean, and turned the bullet into a bowl of petunias with a flick of his fingers. It felt to the floor and broke with a sad little ‘phut!’ noise. “Dean, Dean, I call that unfriendly. I thought we had something special.”

Sam reached into his duffle and drew out the angel sword he’d lifted from Meg (hey, when you were tired of taking advantage of demons’ distraction to steal their special weapons, you were tired of life). “Except that was back when you weren’t dead. You an angel-shaped hallucination too?”

Gabriel rolled his eyes and pointed at the mess on the floor. “You want I should stick you in a televangelist’s special to prove it?”

“It’s true,” Castiel said gruffly behind them. “He’s alive, and real.”

Dean set his jaw. “Okay then. How about ‘where the hell have you been for the last three years and why couldn’t you step in to help Cas with his little throw-down upstairs’?”

“Dead,” Gabriel said promptly. “And then busy planting some false prophecy a few millennia back and spreading rumours about it for Moby Dick. And then setting a little trigger on it to wake up a new prophet when it came out – did something happen to the little guy, by the way? my prophety senses are tingling - to keep everyone busy and distracted for the last eight months. Especially the Leviathans. And you guys, before you stuck your noses anywhere too dangerous, don’t give me that face, Sam, you know you would. But that only took fifteen minutes, because, hey, time travel! So, bang any more monsters while I was gone?”

“Wait, wait.” Sam turned to look at Castiel. He looked sort of quietly excited, and was staring at Gabriel with a mixture of fondness and incredulous pride. “This is what you were doing? You and Lucifer? Bringing Gabriel back to life?”

Castiel actually blushed a bit. Gabriel, disdaining to walk five yards around the table, popped into existence at his side to sling an arm around his shoulders. “Don’t be so modest, little bro.”

“Gabriel. You should spend time thinking about monkeys,” Castiel said, eager and serene. “They have the strangest logic. And their emotions are so… complex.”

Gabriel grinned at him, and ruffled his hair. “Been chatting with monkeys for the last few thousand years, sugarplum. Some of them even had clothes on. They are kind of neat, aren’t they?”

“Back on topic. Do we even want to know how?” Dean growled.

Gabriel tipped his head against Castiel’s shoulder and smirked sharp and dangerous at Dean. “It’d break your tiny brains. Sorry, you’re just not equipped to know dick about this.”

Sam snickered. Dean glared at him.

“Sorry,” Sam grinned insincerely. Then, “Gabriel, the Talmud. It says you and Michael are meant to be the ones to slay the Leviathan..?”

“And that, boys and girls, is where we need your help.” Gabriel let go of Castiel and clapped his hands. “It was meant to be Lucifer and Michael once, but, well, Lucy went off on a little extended field-trip to warmer climes and guess who got landed with that part of his portfolio? So, before the slug-monsters dick the world over any more –” Dean groaned, like he was totally innocent of making dick jokes ever - “we need to go about breaking Michael out.”

Sam froze.

Dean blinked, very slowly and carefully. “Say again?”

“We need to break Michael out of the Cage,” Castiel repeated helpfully. Gabriel just rolled his eyes.

“The Cage,” Dean repeated. “You mean the Cage that has Lucifer in it? The Cage that needs sixty-six seals broken to open? The Michael who tried to use the planet as the cage in his little Fight Club match with the devil?”

Gabriel whistled, annoyingly. “You boys are getting slower. Yep. Know any other? It’s family reunion time, kids! The Cage is designed to hold Lucifer, not Michael. One archangel at either end, Castiel and Sammy holding the link open, Michael’s strongest vessel here for him to focus on – we should be able to swing it.”

“Hell no,” Dean snapped.

Castiel looked pained. “Dean. This is a sound plan.”

Dean rounded on him. “Yeah? You’re not exactly the sharpest tool in the box these days, buttercup. Letting Michael out? And relying on Lucifer to just hold his end steady and get left behind down there all on his own, all out of the goodness of his heart?”

Castiel glared back, and Gabriel’s face darkened thunderously. “Watch your tone, kid. Lucy may be a dick, but he’s our dick, unlike Dick. Just because he doesn’t like your lot doesn’t mean he wants to see the rest of Dad’s little experiment screwed.”

“Dean,” Sam said cautiously, “have you got a better plan? I mean, sure, there’s a ton of things that could go wrong, but – these two are literally the only thing that can wipe out the Leviathans. And Michael can’t exactly break Lucifer out again without Lilith, so it’s not like he’s going to start the Apocalypse again, right?”

It sounded flimsy, even to him, but... Gabriel had come through for them. He was pretty sure that Gabriel didn’t really want the world to end. And Lucifer hated humanity, and Raphael had been kind of insane in his little grudge match, but Michael had only ever wanted his showdown with his brother. If it was a choice between these two archangels and the Leviathans, well...

They had both done an awful lot of compromising in the last two years, he and Dean. Deals with archangels were really sort of small fry after all those demons and alphas and, well, even some of the humans. They didn’t really have the luxury of self-righteousness anymore.

“Dean,” Castiel said gently. “Michael would not require you as a vessel. He’s still inhabiting your youngest brother. And, as Adam’s body and soul were never separated in Hell as Sam’s were, he will not have suffered so. When Michael returns to Heaven after defeating the Leviathans, Adam will be able to rest as he should.”

... Castiel was sneaky.

Dean bit his lip. “And what about you, Cas? Michael, far more powerful than Raphael, remember? And probably pretty pissed at you still. You really want to just let that loose?”

Castiel tilted his head, startled, as if such a thought had never ever occurred to him.

Gabriel’s eyes glinted amber and dangerous behind narrowed lids. “I’m taking command of his garrison as of right now. Michael can’t touch him if he’s mine.”

“... Creepy,” Sam commented. “But weirdly sweet.”

Castiel reached out, and the tips of his fingers settled light and warm against the back of Sam’s hand. “Sam. Do you trust me to hold you steady through this?”

Sam looked at him, at the earnest blue eyes that had reflected so many strange and difficult choices, and was mildly surprised to find there wasn’t even a question.

“Yeah, Cas. Course I do.”

Dean exhaled, and looked away. “Great. Now we’re going to have two angels hanging around who can’t talk in straight lines, aren’t we. That’s – that’s just awesome.”

“Aren’t we just?” Gabriel beamed. “Let’s get started!”

Date: 2012-10-11 03:41 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] corpium1.livejournal.com
Omg this is fantastic!!! I'm think I'm in love. The whole brother thing between Lucifer and Castiel and now GABRIEL TOOO! :D Just adjksljslsnnxjwokfbkfnskkabfsh ireallywannaknowwhathappensnext!

Date: 2012-12-08 11:43 pm (UTC)
pandalianxx: (Default)
From: [personal profile] pandalianxx
Hey! I really love how you wrote this and the ideas you've planted into the story. It's very interesting! I'm happy to see Gabriel back, too. u w u

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