edenbound: (Default)
edenbound ([personal profile] edenbound) wrote2010-05-15 12:27 pm

SPN/TDIR: By Pendragon's Sword the Dark Shall Fall

Fandom: Supernatural/The Dark is Rising
Main characters: Dean, Sam, Castiel, Ruby; Will, Bran
Referenced characters: N/a
Pairings: None
Contains: Angst, AU, crossover
Rating: PG13
Summary: When Dean sees Bran and Will in a crappy little diner, he has no idea how important they're about to become to his life. And if he had to pick anyone to be extra special, it'd be the arrogant albino asshole, not the mild-mannered Will Stanton. Which shows how much he knows. Will's the Watchman of the Light, and he's not at all pleased with what he's seeing.
Notes: Thanks to [personal profile] feywood for the beta, and [livejournal.com profile] swing_set13 for the art, which you can find here. If you check the very bottom of the post, there's a file you can download if you have sight issues or want to put it on an ereader.



The guy is pretty easy to notice. He's easy to notice because Dean's never seen anything like him, ever. He looks like he got thrown in a vat of bleach at birth, or something. From where Dean's sat, there doesn't seem to be any colour in him at all. Dean thinks the term is albino -- there's an albino in the Da Vinci code or something, right? -- and he doesn't care whether it is or not, honestly. It's weird, but it's human weird, not rock-salt-and-holy-water weird, which makes it none of his business. Even if the guy is sat there looking superior, looking like he thinks he's so good. Even indoors, he's wearing dark glasses, which normally looks silly, but there's something about him that dares you to think so. Cocky as hell. Exactly the right type to really get up Dean's nose.

He's sat with some other guy, the mild-mannered office worker type, nothing flashy about him, not like the albino. Dean pays even less attention to him, which is stupid, because it's that guy who is looking at him. Staring at him, even. Normally that'd piss Dean off, but hey, he's just that pretty, right? Nothing better to look at in the whole joint -- hell, in the whole town.

"You're not that pretty," Sam says, tapping away at his laptop. Dean gives him an irritated look and Sam shrugs. "I can't help it if you're transparent. I know the way your mind works, remember? He's probably not even looking at you."

If Dean had to pick a moment in his life that was some kind of turning point, it wouldn't be this. It wouldn't make sense. It's just an ordinary day, just a cheap ordinary diner in Ohio, and there's been plenty of high drama to choose from, starting right back from taking his brother outside as fast as he could, the night their mother died. There's one thing Dean can say for his life -- it's high in drama, in action scenes, in all the good stuff, including the sex scenes and the gross scenes with blood and guts, all of it completely uncensored.

This is pretty weak. It doesn't make sense that a life should pivot around a moment when some guy who looks like the most average, most ordinary guy you could ever imagine -- and that's ordinary multiplied by ten or even a hundred, ultra ordinary -- comes up and stands by your table in a cheap little diner.

It's a cliché to say it, but hey: real life doesn't have to make sense.

Dean looks up at him. "Hello?"

"Dean Winchester," the very, very ordinary guy says, in a tone that isn't questioning at all. It sounds sad, Dean thinks. Not in that way where someone wants you to know they're down on their luck, not sad 'cause they got kicked out of their dad's house sad or broke up with their boyfriend sad, and not Alastair sad, which is just a big joke. Just plain old sad, quiet and unflashy. It makes Dean feel very, very uncomfortable.

"Don't know who you're talking about," he says, and looks back down at his food.

"No use pretending, boyo," another voice says. This one isn't like the first one at all. The accent's funny -- all sing-song, up and down so much someone might get sea-sick. "Will knows what he's talking about, always."

Dean is not surprised, at all, when he looks up to see the albino standing there. He's smiling: not a real, proper smile, just a little twist of his mouth. Dean wonders how starkly bruises would show against that skin. Purely scientifically, of course.

"Not always," the one apparently called Will says, mildly. "But in this case, I do. I'm Will Stanton."

Sam clears his throat a little. "Uh... not to be rude, but we have no idea who you are."

"I wouldn't mind being rude," Dean says, but they all ignore him.

"That's why I told you my name," Will says, even milder. "I know your names already -- Dean Winchester, Sam Winchester. This," he pauses, and looks at the guy next to him, and gives him this smile, this real honest smile, that's still sad, but it's also one of the most real things Dean's ever seen, "is Bran Davies."

There seems to be a wealth of importance in that name that Dean's just not getting. Sam doesn't seem to get it either.

"Bore da," Bran says, pushing his hands into his pockets. "That's Welsh. Means 'good morning'."

"You're from England?" Sam asks.

"No, I am not," Bran says. He takes off the dark glasses and gives Sam what most people would consider a very stern look. "I very much am not."

"Wales," Will says, with another smile. "Not quite the same thing, and he's touchy."

"You'd think they'd never heard of us. Do they not do geography here, like? Why does everyone seem to think England and Wales are the same thing?"

"I -- sorry," Sam says, then shakes his head. He catches Dean's eye, and, since he knows Dean so well, reads the impatience there. "Anyway, I... What do you want?"

"I want to help you. You're going to need my help, I think." Will smiles at them again, and Dean thinks maybe mild is the wrong word, maybe the word is tender, which is just ridiculous, but still, it's there. "I think I can help you with the apocalypse."

Dean's about to react to that, but before he really can there's a kind of blur and a flutter and suddenly Castiel is stood next to him, fingers digging into his shoulder like he needs something to hang on to, and his voice sounds like it's rolling out over gravel. More than usual, that is. "Old One," he says, and Dean gets the absurd image of Castiel kneeling at this guy's feet. There's just -- awe. That's the word, and it's not a word Dean has had cause to use that much in his life. It's awe. Like this ordinary guy stood there in his ordinary clothes is something amazing, even for Castiel, who is honestly one of the more amazing beings Dean's ever come across.

He happens to catch sight of Bran's face, just then. And it's not arrogance at all that he sees there then. It's pain. Not the tender sadness that Will seems to carry around with him -- naked pain, raw and real.

"Castiel," Will says, and smiles. "I haven't seen you in a long time."

"It's been a long time since I walked the earth," Castiel says. He seems to have forgotten the way he grabbed Dean's shoulder: his hand is still there, fingers still digging in.

"He can't be that old," Dean says. He probably sounds stupid, but he has to say something. He wishes he could subtly remind Sam to shut his mouth. There's still a bit of food in it, which is just gross.

"Will is as old as the hills," Bran says, in that sing-song way of his, "and young as a new tree. Both at the same time."

"That's poetry," Will says, giving Bran that smile again. "You'll be writing them next. Poems."

"Poems," he says, with a little snort, but Will has stopped looking at him. He's looking at Castiel again.

"Perhaps," he says, "perhaps I should speak to you, too."

"I would be honoured," Castiel says, very gravely. He seems to remember he's gripping Dean's shoulder, now. He lets go.

---


"I'm still confused as to why the hell I should care," Dean says. The motel room is looking pretty crowded, with the five of them, and it feels even more so. Dean doesn't care about the poetic shit but he's in a room with an angel and an Old One, whatever that is. The power is palpable. It sets Dean's teeth very much on edge.

"Show respect, Dean," Castiel says, softly. But Will laughs, his face lighting up -- he has a round ordinary face, and brown ordinary hair, but that smile he sometimes gives his companion, and the laugh, and the look of sadness, they all convince Dean that he's not quite ordinary. It isn't an ordinary joy, no matter how much the guy seems to want to pretend it is. His harmless act wouldn't convince anyone with any sense, but then people mostly don't have any sense. Look how many people deny the existence of ghosts, despite what's right in front of their faces. How many times has Dean been told he's crazy by someone who just got thrown into a wall by a poltergeist?

"It's alright. I had siblings around, growing up, and I'm the youngest -- I'm used to not getting any respect."

Castiel looks baffled at that, but it kinda makes Dean want to grin, and from the look of it, Sam too. "I know that feeling," he says. "Now how about you cut the crap and let us know who the hell you are?"

"He's the watchman," Bran says. He's hovering around beside Will, like -- like a guard, or something. "The watchman of the Light. And he's not exactly pleased at what he's seeing." Bran darts a look at Sam there that Dean doesn't really understand.

"Bran, please." Will looks right at Dean. "I'm an Old One, like Castiel told you. I'm the watchman, too, like Bran said. But that doesn't really tell you anything, does it? I'm... There's the Light and there's the Dark. There always has been and, probably, there always will be. There are some people who are the Light, and there were people who are the Dark. Those of the Light were born that way. Those of the Dark chose it. Bran and I, we... We were part of the last great rising, where the people of the Light threw those of the Dark out of the world."

"It sounds like a fairytale."

"Shut up, Dean," Sam says. "Let him finish."

But Will is smiling again. "It is a fairytale, in a sense. What do you think fairytales are about? I'm here to see that everything goes as it should. That the Dark is banished, forever, from the world -- at least the Lords of the Dark, the ones that could take control. I can do nothing about the darkness in men's hearts."

"Nor should you," Bran murmurs, touching Will's shoulder lightly.

"I would like to -- I would dearly love to. To wipe the world clean. That is what the angels wish to do, in their own way. The lower ranks, like Castiel, may not know it, but it can't be hidden from me. I'm the watchman, and I go wherever I have to, to find out whatever I need to know. The angels want to bring an end to things, an apocalypse... And I can't allow it. Now isn't the time for the angels, or the Old Ones, or anyone, to meddle. The world belongs to humans now. There are things our hands can still accomplish, now, but very little. It had to be a human to break the first seal." Will looks away from Dean, then, looks at Sam. "It has to be a human to break the last seal."

"This looks like meddling to me," Sam says, folding his arms across his chest. "Not just you -- Castiel, too. Pulling Dean out of hell. Not that I'm not grateful for that."

"There are certain things we can do," Will says, shrugging. "I can steer you in the right directions. The angels can try to manipulate you however they want. So can the demons. They can torture people until they break, they can pave the way with good intentions... They can't, however, simply break the seals on Lucifer's prison. That needs to be human choice."

"Dean didn't have much choice in hell."

Dean doesn't want to meet anyone's eyes, just then, but somehow Will manages it anyway. He's got this look in his eyes that Dean almost can't take, because he knows damn well what it is and he doesn't deserve it. "No, Dean did not have much choice," he says, gently. "But the illusion of a choice being made is enough."

Castiel takes a little step forward. "Old One. Are you saying that what heaven is doing is -- unlawful?"

"Yes."

"I must -- I must go and speak with my superiors. I must go and think on this."

Will has that same unbearable look in his eyes when he looks at Castiel, too. "Of course. Although if I were you, I wouldn't expect your superiors to tell the truth."

Castiel leaves, just like that. Which is kinda shitty, because Dean thought he might actually be some help this time.

"So... what are we supposed to do?" Dean asks.

"Use your heads," Bran says. His hands go in his pockets again, his mouth twists up that little bit. "I know it's hard, but -- "

"Bran, don't," Will says, somehow managing to sound gentle still even when interrupting. Dean has kind of had enough of that smart mouth, anyway.

"Who the hell are you, anyway, Bran?"

"You don't say it like that. I'm not a breakfast cereal. It's a longer 'a'. Like in barn."

Dean really, really hates the sound of his stupid sing-song voice by now. "Who the hell are you, anyway, Barn?"

"Dean," Sam says, warningly. Will laughs again, though, like he did before, the kind of laugh that always seems to break tension. Dean's starting to get the feeling that nothing he does is going to offend this guy, and that kinda makes him want to play up more in consequence.

"If you can't behave better than this, I'll leave you behind next time, Bran," he says, though his look is affectionate. He looks back at Dean, at Sam, and shrugs. "I'm the most human of the Old Ones. The youngest, and the closest to the race I was born from. So Bran is with me for a very human reason. I'm lonely, and he's my best friend -- my companion, nothing more."

"Watch who you're calling nothing, boyo," Bran says, but in the same way that Dean calls Sam bitch, a weight of warmth in it, not really belligerent at all.

"As for what you need to do now," Will says, "you could follow Bran's advice. Use your heads. I'll be here to guide you, as best as I can, but ultimately, the choices have to be yours. Keep your eyes open, and watch how heaven and hell move now. Don't take anything they say on faith."

"Why should we take anything you say on faith?" Sam asks.

Will's smile is sad again. "You shouldn't," he says, in that awful gentle way he has. "You shouldn't even take each other on faith."

---


"I thought it'd be different than this, coming with you."

Will doesn't smile, now, like he might have done in front of the Winchesters. He looks too tired to smile. "What did you expect?"

"Adventures in time and space, I suppose."

"I didn't know you liked Doctor Who," Will says, and does smile a little now. Which is good, because that's what Bran was aiming for. Bran sits down beside him.

"There are plenty of things you don't know about me, dewin."

"That's true." A pause. "Bran, do you regret coming with me?"

Bran makes a noise suspiciously like a snort. "Do you have to ask that, Will?"

"Yes."

"No, I don't. How could I regret it? You need me. I don't understand what we're doing and I still have big fuzzy patches in my memory, but I remember the important things and I know that you need me. I'm never going to leave you. And don't -- just don't remind me that I still have a right to death, because I don't know what bee you have in your bonnet about that, but I don't want to die, not while you still need me."

"I was meant to be -- "

"Don't!" Bran shushes Will by the reasonably effective method of clapping a hand over his mouth, though of course he can't shut up the protests in Will's eyes as easily. "Just don't. Just because the Light thought you should be able to do it alone doesn't mean it was a good idea. The Light isn't perfect. It's not even all that just."

"The justice of the Light does not allow for... shades of grey," Will says, as soon as Bran takes his hand away.

"Life doesn't allow for black and white," Bran says, firmly. "That's the whole point. The Light doesn't belong here anymore. Humans have to make the rules, right? That's why we're talking to the Winchesters, and not just waving a hand and fixing it. The Light has no say in me following you around. That's all me."

"How could I dispute your logic?" Will asks, dryly.

"The point," Bran says, "is that you can't."

Another pause. Will looks up, then, raises an eyebrow at Bran. "What were you expecting, anyway? Other than adventures in time and space."

"I suppose... I suppose I expected you to be able to fix it. Whatever 'it' was. Whatever needed doing. I... You defeated the Grey King, you helped throw the Dark out of the world, you... I always thought of you as a dewin. My dewin. Full of power. The Merlin to my Arthur. Was that stupid?"

"No, it wasn't stupid. But the time for Merlin and Arthur... It's gone. The Light worked openly, in those days. It worked secretly, when I was born. And finally, it cannot really work at all. Everything I do, I have to think about the balance of things. Unbalanced Light would be as bad, I think, as unbalanced Dark, for the Light can be hard and cruel and too absolute, and then there is no mercy to temper justice..." Will trailed off and bit his lip, and Bran watched those feelings in Will's eyes that he couldn't change or lift -- frustrated, powerless. "You're right about that much, that the Light's black and whites don't work in the real world. And everything I do, I have to remember, I'm only a watchman. I'm only a guard. I can't, I mustn't, take power into my own hands. Not now, not ever again."

"I feel useless," Bran says, looking down.

"Oh, never that," Will says, reaching up and squeezing his shoulder. "Never, ever that."

"What are you hoping to do with the Winchesters, anyway? And the angel?"

"Sam is on a path that can lead nowhere good. There are shades of grey, but demons don't generally indulge in them... The demon who calls herself Ruby is as bad as any. Dean... I wish he could be spared this."

"He's a prat."

"That's a stupid judgement to make, having met him once, just because he pissed you off. A lot of people do -- and the feeling was mutual, clearly." Will shakes his head. "The things he's gone through... More than you can imagine, Bran."

"That doesn't mean I have to like him. What about the angel?"

"I'm hoping he'll listen to me," Will says, with more worry on his face now. "The angels are misusing their powers. Castiel is... He believes himself to be a lesser angel, and yet -- you wouldn't send the least of your company into hell, would you?"

"I don't know. You always say you're the last and least of the Old Ones."

"That's -- "

"How is it different, Will? You could be alone for millenia, now, with not one of your own people -- no one good enough to -- "

"I'm not alone," Will says, calmly. Just that, and Bran stops.

"Will..."

"I'm not alone. I've got you beside me. We'll do this, somehow."

A nod. "I'll do whatever I can," Bran says, and then falls silent. He doesn't understand -- not really. Doesn't know what part he can play. But he clenches his fists, digs the nails deep into his palm. He'll try. For Will, he'll try.

Although, if it involves getting along with Dean Winchester, perhaps not with good grace.

---


Whenever he has five minutes to sit quietly somewhere, Dean has grown to expect that he'll be disturbed. Sometimes, the disturbance can be quite pleasant -- like a pretty girl of dubious virtue, maybe -- or at least something to do, like a hunt, but he's pretty sure it's some kind of law of nature. Dean Winchester is not allowed to sit still without something then happening to disturb him. The pretty girl scenario is probably his favourite, but he has no particular argument with Castiel showing up, either. As long as he isn't demanding Dean do something, anyway.

Castiel has been sat silently at his elbow for about two minutes, so it doesn't look like this is going to be one of the more irritating visits. Frustrating, though, yeah, maybe.

"D'you want me to buy you a drink?" Dean asks, abruptly. He's not good at the sitting there and not talking gig.

"Why would I want a drink?"

"Never mind. So what's up?"

Castiel looks at him as if he's speaking a foreign language, blinks, and then seems to get with the program. "I have been thinking about what the Old One said."

"Will Stanton?"

"That is not his real name."

Dean really wants to roll his eyes. "Does it matter?"

"You should understand what you're dealing with, Dean. That is what you always do, on a hunt, is it not? The first thing you must do is understand what you are dealing with. He is an Old One. He is the very last Old One. All of his kind are gone. Not dead, but beyond the reach of any mortal. Or any angel. The angels... We have always known what he is, what his existence would be. We have our own name for him, but he's beyond our understanding -- we do not know what his true name is, we have no power over him, and we do not comprehend his goals."

"Higher than the angels, huh?"

"We call him Sorrow," Castiel says softly. "In Enochian."

"What has he got to be sad about?" He hasn't failed to notice that Cas avoided telling him if Will is higher than angels or not, but hey, no point in pushing. He's trying to relax.

"You are not that stupid, Dean. You have seen him, you understand already, without me explaining it. He is alone. He was born to be alone. It does not matter how closely he allies himself with humans. His own people are gone far out of his reach."

"He seems pretty human."

Castiel raises an eyebrow. "I seem 'pretty human', at times."

"You can always tell, though. No offence."

"He was born a human, anyway, as I said. He has led a partially mortal existence." Castiel stops, and then makes a little movement like a shrug, focusing in again on Dean, eyes narrowed. Subject change time, again. "Dean, you have to understand what he is. If he ordered me to do something, even if it were to destroy myself, or to destroy another angel, I would do it. Without hesitation."

"Pretty high in the hierarchy, then?"

"The Old Ones have no place in the hierarchy. By their very nature, however, they are absolute good."

Dean snorts softly. "Sure they are. I'm pretty sure 'absolute good' doesn't exist, Cas. It's a fucking myth. So what are you telling me to do? Are you saying I should obey every word he says?"

"If I said that, would you do it?" Castiel asks, with a kind of warmth in his voice that might be his version of affection. Dean's pretty sure it is, even. But it doesn't pay to be complacent, with angels. With anyone.

"No," Dean says, perfectly truthfully. "And I don't think he'd want me to. He said we shouldn't trust anyone, basically."

"He is unlike his masters. He did not give orders. I... It makes me uncomfortable."

"You're used to knowing exactly what you're supposed to be doing, huh?"

"Yes," Castiel says.

"Me, too. But the world doesn't work that way."

"No," Castiel says, quieter.

"I think he wants you to figure things out for yourself. I don't think you're gonna get told exactly what to do. You're just going to have to suck it up and do what you think best." Dean looks down and finds that he's still holding a glass of perfectly good alcohol. It seems like a shame to waste it, so he tosses it back. "Not that you need the advice from a guy like me."

"I did not ask you for the advice. That does not mean it is worthless. Thank you, Dean."

Dean shrugs. "No problem, man. Hey -- do you know what the deal is with that Barn kid?"

"Bran Davies," Castiel says, and there's definitely an odd look in his eyes. "I believe I may tell you three things. In Enochian, we call him the Sword. He is the son of a man we called the Sun. He is the only mortal who has lived like one of the Old Ones."

"I was asking why he's a dick, not about his family tree. You're not making any sense."

"Perhaps you should ask him yourself." Castiel shifts, gets to his feet. "I must go. I wish to speak to other angels about the Old One."

"See ya," Dean says, too late. Castiel's already gone. Dean's used to that, though.

---


"Never, ever tell me it's just a simple job," Dean says. "Ever. Ever. Have I emphasised that enough, yet?"

It's a wonder he has the breath to say it at all, actually. They've been chased clear across several fields, further and further away from any signs of habitation -- which is good in one way, in that not getting innocent people caught in the crossfire sort of way, but also nixes any chance of them stopping and hiding and-slash-or making some kind of trap. They're just running, like scared little rabbits, and that really pisses Dean off. He is not used to having to run. Also, eventually, they're going to have to slow down.

"If you say it's a simple job, it's bound to get complicated. It's a law."

How Sam finds the time and energy to give Dean his affectionate smartass-little-brother look, Dean has no idea at all, because Sam's just as busy running as he is. "Oh yeah? What kind of law, Dean?"

"A law of nature, duh."

"More like a law of Hollywood," Sam mutters. Muttering is relative, when you're running as fast as your legs can carry you over uneven ground. It's more of a gasp. "This... could've been planned better."

"You're tellin' me! You're the one who was all over the idea -- 'it's just a simple job, Dean'!"

This particular field appears to have decided to be very very irritating and get in their way -- which is to say that it has begun to rise, and it isn't just the normal little dips and troughs. Just as it's starting to level off a bit and Dean is starting to feel something like relief, he sees a path up ahead. There are two people standing up there. "Shit -- Sammy -- civilians, we've got to -- "

Sam curses and then makes a little strangled noise. "No -- it's -- "

But Dean saw just at the same time. One tall white figure, and the one beside him -- so ordinary looking -- "Fuck!"

There was something about Bran, just then, seen from where Dean was running up the slope. The sunlight was on him, glinting on his white hair, lighting him up. He looked almost like he glowed, and Dean could've sworn he saw -- it was stupid, but he could've sworn he saw it anyway -- a sword, shining with its own piercing light --

"You should help them, Bran," Will says, very softly, too softly for anyone but the man beside him to hear. "This is something you can do."

Bran nods. He seems to grow taller, somehow, and his voice is very, very clear. "Stop!"

"He's just telling them to stop?" Dean hisses, in disbelief. It comes out more hiss than actual sound. He has to stop, actually, when they reach the two -- they've been running far too long to get any further now. He fumbles with his gun, but Will reaches out and touches his arm.

"It's alright. Bran knows what he's doing."

"He's trying to stop demons by talking at them! That is pretty much the definition of not knowing what you're doing!"

"If it was in Latin, it might work," Sam points out. He's messing with his gun, too, hands clumsy and slow after all that running. His hair is plastered to his forehead, looking even more stupid than usual. Dean can't seem to catch his breath, the air knifing into his lungs, his muscles burning now with all that effort. Fuck, and he thought he was in pretty good shape.

"Bran doesn't have to speak in Latin," Will says. He sounds serene. "There is no danger."

"Stop," Bran says again, heedless of the three behind him, and then something Dean can't understand at all, another language pouring out in that sing-song voice of his. And the demons -- the demons are -- and the light shines so brightly around him, so it's like he's the one giving it -- and then something Dean does understand, clear and strong: "In the name of the Light and in the name of my father, I command you to leave!"

And the demons are gone. No black smoke, no burning. Just -- gone. The men and women who had been possessed collapse like a row of dominoes someone just flicked. The light seems to sweep over all of them, bathing everything in brilliance, and then it's gone and the scene just looks faintly ridiculous.

Sam looks over at Will, frowning. "Who the hell is his father?"

"Nothing like as dramatic as what you're thinking," Will says, with a little smile. "His father was a mortal man. And the language he spoke was Welsh. He still finds it easiest, after all these years..."

Bran turns to them, grinning, no sign of exertion or anything in his face. "See that, Sais-bach? Perhaps I'll be some use to you after all."

"I said you would be."

"Pretty useful trick," Dean says. His legs are trembling, stupidly. His clothes are sticky with sweat, and he's getting cold in the breeze up there at the top of the hill. They're safe, apparently, and he kind of just wants to collapse. "Maybe you are worth keeping around."

"Pretty stupid thing you were doing," Bran says. He removes his dark glasses again, and Dean can't help but notice his tawny-golden eyes -- they're brighter than they should be, and the wrong damn colour. No one should have eyes like that. "Going up against a whole horde of demons. Could've got yourself killed."

"It was my idea," Sam says. He sounds as tired as Dean feels. "I thought I could... I thought we could handle it."

"You wanted to test yourself," Will says. There's a harder look in his eyes than Dean thought was possible from him. "Don't try it again, Sam. Bran and I were here to save you only by the purest chance. You and your brother could have been killed."

"I -- "

"Don't argue with me. I don't have the patience or the time. Bran and I need to be elsewhere, already."

Dean doesn't like the way Will looks now. From ordinary and mild and even sad, there's something about his face... He looks grim, he looks tired, and he looks as if he'll do whatever he needs to do. The gentleness is gone. He softens a little when he looks away from Sam and catches Dean's eyes instead, but not much.

"Be more careful, Dean. The rules are all changing, when it comes to heaven and hell. You can't count on anything."

"Or anyone?"

Will gives Sam another look, then, just a quick flicker of it. "Indeed."

"I don't like what you're implying."

"Neither do I," Will says, and that sounds more like the gentle guy from before. He turns his back, and Bran moves to his side.

Dean's never sure what happens after that, even when he looks back on it. One minute the two of them are there, and then they aren't. He doesn't know if they faded out, or walked out of sight, or just disappeared -- one minute there, the next gone. All that's left is the radiance of the summer day, and the crumpled bodies in the dirt of the field. He draws a deep breath. "Let's go and see how many are alive," he says. "They can't have been possessed for that long. Maybe they're okay."

Sam doesn't say anything, but he follows.

---


Dean isn't really expecting to find Sam waiting for him in the motel room when he gets back. That's pretty much normal by now: maybe once Sam would have been there, geeking away on his laptop or something, but now he's usually out having his own life and Dean's not sure he wants to know what that new life entails.

He's not really expecting to find Bran Davies sat on his bed quite calmly, either.

"What're you doing here?"

"Waiting for you, obviously."

Dean really hates it when people say obviously, when it isn't actually obvious. Bran could've been waiting for Sam. Or he could have been snooping through their stuff without any intention of being caught there. Or -- something like that. "Good thing you're not waiting for Sammy. He probably won't be back until morning. And good thing I didn't bring a girl back here."

"If you had, I would have told her to get out," Bran says, with a shrug. He takes his dark glasses off, polishing them on his shirt -- it should look ridiculous, that he wore them indoors, at night, but Dean is not at all sure that Bran could ever look ridiculous. Especially when the memory of him crowned and surrounded with sunlight is so clear, so sharp. And Bran's face should look naked without the dark glasses, given that he wears them all the time, but his strange tawny eyes are too sharp for any kind of weakness.

"So what do you want?"

"Will told me I should come and talk to you. Well, explain things to you, like. This isn't a social call."

"Are you going to get to the point any time soon?" Dean asks, flatly. He's fucking tired, after all.

Bran grins, then. "You really don't like me, do you? Don't worry, you're not the only one."

Dean makes a noise that should probably be called a snort. "I'd say the feeling is probably mutual, based on your attitude."

"Don't go getting delusions of grandeur, now. I just don't care about you."

Dean makes an impatient noise. He goes over to his bag and starts rifling through it -- without any real purpose, just to look like he's doing something. He hates sitting still, anyway. You sit still and that's when you get time to think, and Dean doesn't want to think. Not about where Sam might be, what he might be doing, not about what the hell people want from him, not what the hell angels want from him -- and certainly not what hell took from him, or will take from him if they get chance. "You gonna get to the point?"

"Will wanted me to tell you about what your brother's doing."

"It's none of my business. Or yours. Especially not yours."

Bran raises an eyebrow. He has the gift of looking perfectly infuriating, Dean thinks. He'd really kind of like to punch him. "We thought you would want to protect your brother. Keep him from doing something he'll regret. I suppose we were wrong, then?"

Dean can't really help the fact that his hands are curling into fists. It's bad enough that he's worrying about Sam -- not sure what he's doing, worrying what the angels think of him, what the angels expect, and hell with the angels, just plain worrying whether Sam's doing something stupid. It's worse that this guy, with his special powers and his special eyes and his arrogant smile, is trying to butt into it, like he can't look after his own brother. Worse still that he thinks Bran -- or Will -- is probably right, that Sammy is mixed up in something he shouldn't be, that Ruby shouldn't be trusted. Dean's seen enough of hell to know that the good parts of you don't survive long at all. You twist and you break and the good parts are the parts that get eaten up, until nothing but your core remains and that might be fear, or anger, or sadism, but it sure as hell isn't nice and helpful.

Mind you, he could've figured that before he went to hell.

"Just -- get to the point," he says, between very gritted teeth. If Bran says anything annoying, if he... Dean's temper isn't on a very good leash, that's all. It rarely is, these days. Whatever Castiel did, it didn't reverse the effects of the time in hell. Dean's got no illusions about that: he knows his nasty side is close to the surface, and you don't have to scratch very deep to expose it.

Bran gets up. He sounds calm: not serene the way that Will does, but self-assured anyway, that I-can-deal-with-anything-that-goes-wrong voice some people have. "You know about Sam's relationship with the demon, Ruby?"

"I think I've got most of the details. More than I really want."

"During your time in hell, they were extremely close. Ruby is lying to Sam, misleading him. That's obvious, even to you, I'm sure. It hasn't stopped, since you came back. Maybe you've noticed that, too. She's got a plan and you haven't disturbed it at all. Maybe you coming back has added fuel to the fire, even."

Dean takes a couple of deep breaths. That's supposed to help with the urge to hit someone so hard their head's still spinning next Thursday, right? "So what am I supposed to do?"

The look on Bran's face is still calm, self-assured, but it's more arrogant than ever now -- contemptuous, even. "Well, if you care about your brother at all, I'd suggest you -- "

Dean slugs him. The sound of his fist meeting Bran's face makes a very pleasing sort of noise, although Dean immediately finds himself wishing he'd aimed a little differently, maybe broken the bastard's nose. "I care about Sammy a lot," he says, teeth gritted again. "I care about him more than you can imagine, you asshole. I went to hell for him. Don't you dare imply that I don't -- Just get the fuck out of here!"

Bran barely flinches. He doesn't raise a hand to touch his cheek, either, where a livid mark is already forming, startling and horrible against his white skin. His voice is very soft. "There are very few people I would let get away with that, Dean Winchester. I might have even deserved that one. But I do not suggest you ever do it again."

Dean's fists are still clenched. "How about you never give me cause?"

Bran gives him another look -- unreadable, this time, Dean doesn't even want to guess at what it means -- and then he's heading out. He doesn't say anything else.

Dean doesn't really regret punching him. He's had it coming since the diner.

---


It would take an idiot not to realise what was going on in that room, and Dean's no idiot. He didn't even have to see much to know exactly what was going on. Sam was there, and Ruby was there, and there was a demon tied to a chair, and there was Sam with his hand outstretched and a strained look on his face that sure as hell wasn't just constipation. Dean knows exactly what's going on and it makes him feel sick. He stays just outside but he sure as hell isn't planning on looking in there again.

If he did, he might do something he probably wouldn't regret. Like kill Ruby. He's pretty sure that wouldn't win him any points with Sam, at all. Rather the opposite.

He tenses when the door opens, all the same, even after telling himself he's not going to do anything stupid. But it's Sam -- don't ask him how he knows, because that's not how Dean works. He's a creature of instincts and he knows his brother, knows every aspect of his presence and the way he fills up a space. Knows the sounds of his breathing and the qualities of his silences. He knows it's Sam even before the catch of breath, the almost-curse, but that just makes him more sure.

"What the hell do you think you're doing, Sam?" he asks. He meant to be calm -- he meant to let Sam know that maybe things can be okay, someday. But the rage won't go away, won't be pushed down, surging over barriers broken down way too many times in way too many different ways.

At least nobody's bleeding, yet. That's an improvement.

"Dean -- "

"No excuses, okay? Just tell me what the hell you think you were doing."

"I'm going to kill Lilith," Sam says. Dean expected a bit more humility to come out in his voice, somehow, but it doesn't, it doesn't at all. He sounds angry too, and proud, and god, it figures that the rebellious streak in Sam would come out now, the part that always asks about the whys and wherefores, the part that had him clashing over and over again with Dad. Just when Dean doesn't have the time or patience, just when it's really, really important. Dean takes a deep breath.

"I don't think that's the greatest idea you've ever had," he says, and is surprised by how much his voice has evened out. Hell, maybe that taking deep breaths thing does some fucking good.

"Why not?"

Dean shrugs, helplessly. "I don't think you've exactly thought it through."

"No?" Sam's jaw clenches and his nostrils flare, and Dean knows his fists will be clenched too, knows that tension is singing through every part of his brother's body. He wants to call it all back, take Sammy for a drink somewhere, let everything just be. Let everything happen without them if necessary.

"Sam," he says, instead, and knows helplessly that Sam will know this tone, the I-know-best of a big brother. It doesn't work anymore.

"I thought about it, Dean," Sam says. His voice is deceptively quiet. "Oh, I thought about it. Every day of your year. Every day after you died. Every single day, Dean. I thought about how I could've saved you. I thought about what they'd be doing to you. Every single day, Dean. I can't just let that go."

"But I'm here. I'm fine."

"Oh, sure," Sam says, bitterly. "Everything's just peachy. It's not like you're broken or anything. It's not like it's about to be the fucking apocalypse."

"If I'm broken, I'm broken. Nothing you can do about it by taking revenge."

"It's not just revenge," Sam says, through gritted teeth now. "Lilith's causing all these damn problems. Why can't I just kill her and put her out of the equation?"

"And you say I'm broken."

"What?"

"This isn't like you, Sam," Dean says. He tries to put some gentleness in it, tries to bring back something of the Dean who never went to hell, tries to go even further back and find a Dean who knew what the hell he was talking about. "Killing things just like that."

"You don't know everything about me, Dean."

"That's obvious." Dean sucks in another breath, tries to count to ten again. "Sam, look, I'm not saying it's not justified or anything. You don't know half of what happened in hell, what happened to me and what I did. You're totally justified, okay? And... maybe if there wasn't so much going on, I'd be right next to you trying to get rid of the bitch."

Dean might be trying to keep his temper, but Sam isn't. It crackles in his voice, laid bare, raw. "But?"

"But there's way too much going on! First there's Cas pulling me out of hell -- and Jesus, Sam, if you'd seen what I'd done you know I don't deserve it, there's no way I deserve what Castiel's done. I don't want to talk about it, but you've gotta know that, okay? And then there's this... Old One showing up, and Barn Davies or whatever his name is, and they're all giving us warnings and saying that things aren't as they seem, and for god's sake, you're drinking demon blood. And it doesn't occur to you that that might be a bad idea?"

"You don't trust me," Sam says, suddenly, flatly.

"I trust you," Dean says, and somehow that tamps down all the rage in him, all the confusion, leaves him quiet for a moment. He meets Sam's eyes. "I trust you, Sam. I just think we're in deeper than we know."

"I know what I'm doing, Dean."

"Do you?"

Sam turns away. "If you trust me, go back to the motel room. I'll be back by morning."

Dean looks at Sam's back for a moment, at the tense lines of his shoulders, and feels sick inside. But he does turn, he does go.

He hopes to God it's the right thing to do. Since angels apparently exist, maybe it isn't as futile a thought as it used to be.

---


"Dean," Castiel says, and Dean just about jumps a mile. That, of course, moves the steering wheel and the Impala dips almost off the road before Dean's got control again, his heart hammering.

"Jesus! Don't do that. Don't just... appear out of nowhere with no warning. I nearly crashed my baby!"

"Jesus has nothing to do with this," Castiel says, with that little confused tilt of his head. Dean isn't sure whether Castiel's having him on -- there's no way the guy can be that ignorant of what humans are like.

"Yeah, whatever. What are you doing here, Cas?"

There's a little glint in Castiel's eyes. "I am simply sitting, Dean. I do not have any need to breathe, even in my vessel's body. However, it's pointless to subdue his natural reflexes, so I am also breathing. I'm -- "

"Very funny," Dean says, and despite everything, there is a smile, somewhere, fighting to get out. "You came to talk to me, though, right? About something in particular. So... what is it?"

"You may have made a mistake in trusting your brother," Castiel says, without any further preamble. His voice is soft, though: the command and certainty is absent. "Heaven does not trust him. I was told not to trust him. And yet... The bonds between your family are stronger than angels can understand. We don't have feelings in the way that you do. I don't understand the love that binds you and your brother together, because it's so much more personalised and unique than the love an angel has for all of God's creation. I am coming to have that kind of love for you, that kind of faith in you. It scares me. But since I spoke to the Old One, I'm beginning to feel that I should follow these feelings."

"Wouldn't that mean ignoring what heaven has to say?"

"Yes. I told you, Dean. It scares me."

"What're you trying to say?"

Castiel sighs softly. He looks out of the window, and Dean catches a glimpse of his reflection. He looks pained, and confused. "I'm trying to say that I think your approach, your humanity, might be the answer. That you will hold Sam back better than any demand from heaven. Sam's faith is a fragile thing to hang a world on. The love between you, though..."

"Oh, great. You're saying I can fix the world with love?"

"Dean," Castiel says, a little helplessly. "I don't know what to do. I don't know what to tell you. I thought I knew. I thought I could follow heaven's plan without doubt, without fear, with perfect faith. I can't. The Old One... What he says must be true. Heaven is doing something unlawful. And you must realise what that means."

"What?"

"Heaven is fallible."

Dean wants to come up with some smartass answer to that, but then he thinks about it, about where Cas thinks his orders can come from, and he keeps his mouth shut an extra five seconds, trying to find something comforting to say. "Shit, Cas," he says, finally.

"I have no need to, even in this body," Castiel says, but the humour in his voice is very, very thin. Dean reaches across and touches Castiel's shoulder.

"Hey, angels are fallible, maybe. Doesn't mean the big guy is."

There's a silence after that and Dean takes his hand away -- partly to get both hands back on the wheel, because he's probably too tired to be driving and he needs all the focus he can get. Partly because that was a reaching out, a fresh connection between them, and he's too tired for the sharing and caring shit now. And he's too tired, too raw, to stand any kind of rejection now. The silence is bad enough, but he can just about deal.

It seems like an awfully long time later when Castiel reaches out and touches Dean's arm. "Thank you," he says, quietly, which is so unexpected Dean almost jumps again. "It's true."

"Don't rely too much on me," Dean says, awkwardly. "You know what I am."

"Yes, I do," Castiel says, and Dean can't bear this, either, the warm way Castiel is looking at him, because someday that's going to go away, he'll do something to fuck it up, and he won't be able to take that.

---


Dean's asleep. Sam has waited long enough to make sure he's really asleep. After what Sam said, after he asked Dean to trust him, Dean has -- which is an odd thought, because Dean would distrust his left hand if he thought he had cause to, these days. Sam pauses in the doorway and looks at him, and it still knifes into his chest, what Dean did for him, how wildly unlikely it is for Dean to be lying there and breathing, soft and slow. For a minute he wants to shut the door and just stay in, just stay beside Dean and watch him breathe. And then when Dean wakes up, he'd -- what? What would he do?

He'd take Dean for breakfast in a crappy little diner, and he'd tell him he doesn't want to be on the road anymore. He'd say please, he'd beg if he had to, and they'd go off and try to have a normal life. Sam's thought about it over and over again since heaven brought Dean back to him. Over and over he's thought about that conversation in the diner, how awkward and hesitant Dean would be. How he'd argue his case. How they'd go off and then... He can't really imagine it. Getting girlfriends, homes, settling down. Maybe finishing his degree, maybe doing law. Maybe working in a convenience store stacking shelves. They'd watch the game together on the weekend, sat on some sagging couch, shoulder to shoulder. There'd be popcorn. Dean would eat most of it.

It seems too ridiculous. Too many places for it to go wrong. And if they stopped, if they settled down, then Lilith... Then a hell of a lot of demons would still be running around free.

Sam closes the door softly after him. Ruby will already be impatient. And he's impatient, too, when he lets himself think about it. He's craving it -- not that he lets himself think closely about what he's craving.

"Dean is asleep, then," someone says, softly, and Sam spins round to find Will there. He's smiling disarmingly, hands in his pockets, but Sam isn't taken in for a minute.

"What the hell are you doing here?"

"I'm trying to stop you from doing something incredibly stupid."

"I'm just -- "

"Don't give me excuses, please," he says. His voice is still soft, and there's even that odd note of tenderness. "I know what you're going to do. You're going to meet Ruby, the demon, and probably have sex with her and drink her blood. She may have some kind of training exercise for you to do -- some demon you can exorcise -- and you are kidding yourself, right at this moment, that you go just because you might be able to free one more person from being ridden to death by a demon. The saying 'the road to hell is paved with good intentions' isn't just a platitude, Sam Winchester. It's a warning."

"Are you threatening me?" Impatience gnaws in Sam's stomach, scratches over his skin.

Will shakes his head. His round face is serious, and he pushes his hair back from his eyes as if to see Sam better. "No. No harm will come to you from the Light. You're going to be the cause of your own downfall, if you're not careful."

"Why do you care, then?"

"I care about all life, Sam. It's exhausting, in fact. I have to keep an eye on you, though, because you're on the verge of causing something no one can stop. You want to kill Lilith, but if you kill her, you'll start something so much bigger. You'll give heaven and hell the excuse they need to stage an apocalypse, and you'll provide the means for it, all at once."

Sam narrows his eyes. "Stage?"

"Yes, of course. The real apocalypse, it's happened already. There can be no second confrontation. The Light triumphed. Heaven should know that, and yet they're not satisfied... I told you I would love to eradicate the Dark, didn't I? But to do that, I would have to raze this world beyond any return -- for all living things, Sam, not just demons or spirits or the other things you hunt. There is so much evil in human beings, as well as all the good." Will catches his eyes, and Sam thinks maybe the glimpse he catches is the real Will, tired and ancient, powerful and yet helpless, sorrowing for all the things he may not prevent. "That is what heaven wants. And it can't be allowed to happen."

There's a silence, then. Not really silence, of course. There's the swish of cars through leftover puddles, a block away, and the sound of engines, and now and again a car horn or a siren. There's music playing in one of the motel rooms, too. The sound of life -- and it's ugly, actually, Sam thinks, but it's amazing, all humans do, all humans have ever done...

"What should I do?"

"I can't tell you that," Will says, but in that gentle way of his that somehow reassures Sam that there is an answer, somewhere. "You might start by going back into your motel room and sleeping, if you can."

Sam wants to protest, thinking of Ruby waiting for him and the craving that had been scraping at him, the sharp insistent spikes of it -- but he looks at Will again and that's gone, like a shouting crowd suddenly calmed and dispersed. "I think I can."

"Go on, then," Will says, and smiles at him again. "I should go back to Bran."

Sam nods. Will's already turning away, walking off around the side of the buildings. Sam thinks he hears music, faint and high, unearthly and beautiful, and then it's gone and he's alone in the not-silence of the heavy night.

He turns and goes back into the motel. He strips quickly and crawls into bed and lies there, and whenever his mind turns to Ruby, and the missed calls that light up his phone over and over again, he closes his eyes and focuses in on the sound of Dean's breathing, soft and steady, in and out, in and out, in and out...

---


Dean wakes up to the sound of someone sharpening a knife. He doesn't open his eyes for a moment, just lies there in the warm cocoon of his bed -- not quite because he doesn't want to face the day, or whoever is sat there so pointedly sharpening a knife, but also because there didn't seem to be any immediate need to move, and that was just fine with Dean. He doesn't get to sleep in enough, and while this isn't exactly the optimum, he can still grab an extra five minutes or so of shut-eye.

"Dean, I know you're awake," Sam says, and it sounds as if he's almost laughing. Dean cracks an eye open. The first thing he sees is the clock on the table between their beds.

"It's six AM," he says, pulling the covers up over his head. "What the hell do you want?" Well, that's what he tries to say, but it comes out a lot more muffled than that. Sam just laughs for real this time, and there's something about it that makes Dean push the covers aside and sit up, because it sounds almost light, like Sam's been relieved of something. "What?"

Sam shrugs. "I've been thinking about what you said. And about some things that Will was saying to me."

"You've spoken to him?"

"Last night," Sam says, with a tone that Dean has reluctantly come to accept means that he isn't going to hear anything else about that particular aspect of Sam's night. He used to get it when he asked about girls. Now it's all the serious stuff. "I... Dean, I think Ruby's bad news."

"You think?"

Sam huffs a little. "Look, Dean, you have to understand... It felt like she was helping me."

"I understand," Dean says, sitting up. There's a pause, and then Dean sucks in a breath and keeps going, forcing himself on through the thought, even though he can't look at Sam while he says it. "Really, I get it. Sometimes things are so bad that you do bad things. You don't even really think about it. Someone offers you something that'll ease the pain and you just do it. That's normal. I don't care what you've done with Ruby, okay, Sam? I know maybe that's stupid, for all I know you've been cooking up the end of the world, or doing other stupid shit like that, but if I don't forgive you, I..."

Sam waits for a couple of minutes, it feels like, before he speaks. "You what?"

"I've gotta believe there's such a thing as forgiveness, for all the things I've done."

"Do you want to talk about it?"

"No." Dean takes another deep breath. It almost hurts, like he can almost feel the chains, the knives, the claws, all the things that ripped him to shreds, tore down every defence he ever had and left him without a single spar to cling to. "I did some pretty bad shit in hell, Sammy."

"You don't have to tell me."

"I'm not going to tell you everything. But I... I broke in the end, you know, Sammy? Everyone always does. Nearly everyone, anyway. Some take longer than others, and I like to think I did, too, but... Every day they'd offer me a choice, to get down off the torture table and take up the tools. Alastair worked on me, mostly. He was a bastard the rest of the day, but at the end of the day when he made you that offer you could swear he was offering you something good. An easy way out. A way to end the pain. You didn't even think about the fact that you'd be causing other people's pain."

"Dean," Sam whispered, but Dean ignored it.

"So in the end, I said yes. There's nothing, nothing you could've done as bad as that, Sam. So I've got no right to condemn you. I've gotta forgive you."

"I forgive you, too," Sam says, softly, a helpless note in his voice. "Jesus, Dean, if I'd known -- "

"If you'd known, you wouldn't have been able to do anything. I'm surprised Ruby didn't tell you, to lead you even further down the garden path." A bitter laugh boils out of Dean, searing, scalding, and he closes his eyes. "And it's not you I need to ask forgiveness from, Sammy."

"They'd forgive you, too."

"Demons don't forgive."

"They weren't always demons." Sam puts down the knife, puts down the whetstone, and crosses to Dean's bed. He grips Dean's shoulder hard, without even noticing the scar under his palm, just squeezes tight.

"Would you forgive me, if I weren't your brother?" Dean asks, raising an eyebrow, and Sam has no answer.

"We've got to do something to end all this," he says, finally, after a long, long silence. He slowly lets go of Dean's shoulder.

"How?"

"We'll think of something," Sam says, firmly. He looks back down at the knives, laid out for cleaning and sharpening. There's a plan, forming hazily somewhere in the back of his mind, and he stays still to let it come. "We could... We should kill Ruby. She's the one trying to twist me into drinking demon blood and killing Lilith. If we can't trust her, then... the things we shouldn't be doing include killing Lilith."

Dean looks up at him. Sam feels a little sick.

"I wish we could kill that bitch, Dean," he says, and Dean shakes his head.

"If anything, it's Alastair you should kill if you want some kind of revenge."

"Alastair," Sam says, thoughtfully, then shakes his head, clearing away those thoughts -- it's not like he's going to forget that name, or the awful edge to Dean's words when he was talking about hell, the awful things Dean says he's done. Revenge can wait. All of that can wait. Right now -- "So we should kill Ruby. Right?"

Dean shrugs. "Can't think of anything better to do," he says, and unexpectedly, there's a twisted little smile on his face. "I might even enjoy it."

---


Sam seems to have been holding the knife since that discussion with Dean. The chill of the morning sank into his bones even in the stuffy confines of that motel room, and it's like a cold finger on his heart. Sam is looking inside himself for some kind of validation, some kind of proof that he's doing right, and nothing will come. But no condemnation comes, either, and the part of him that loved Ruby in a wild and awful way is silent, which might have to do.

If he's honest with himself, he's scared to let go of the knife, because that might leave the door of his mind open that tiny chink more, a chink that would let in the doubt. He doesn't want to doubt. He just wants this over with. He wants to be on the road with Dean again -- that, or settling down in some tiny quiet town where the hunt won't ever touch them again. But he'd take the open road if Dean was at his side, if that was where Dean was going to be.

"Do you think killing is the answer to this?" Will asks softly, from behind him, and Sam's hand tightens on the handle of the knife, until he's sure it's leaving imprints on his skin. "More blood?"

"It'll be the last blood."

"That's what everyone hopes, even at the beginning of a war," Will says. Sam turns and looks at him. He looks so fucking ordinary, dressed in clothes that are subtly out of fashion, a step behind the rest of the world in cut or fabric or something else almost undefineable. He's wearing jeans, worn jeans, faded with many washes. His hair is just as straight and just as brown and just as normal as before. There's nothing about him to whisper of power, nothing about him to whisper of wisdom or whatever. Except his eyes. Sam meets those, and feels them like a touch to the soul. Like Will would know him no matter what -- not whatever facade he's putting up, but the real Sam, underneath. His eyes are ancient and sad and tired and slowly, slowly, Sam loosens his hold on the knife.

"I don't know what else to do."

"You could ask for help."

"From who?"

Will shrugs slightly. He puts his hands in his pockets, which is another ridiculously ordinary gesture, which shakes Sam's understanding of what he is again. "Have you tried asking anyone?"

"Dean," Sam says, shrugging too.

"That's a good start," Will says, with a little smile. "Dean will always back you."

"Even if what I'm doing is wrong?"

Will shrugs. "I don't know. I suspect not. I suspect he could love you with all his heart and soul and still try to stop you. I suppose he'd probably still back you, no matter what. As long as it was you, wholly you, making the decision. And if it wasn't, he'd fight to have you back in your right mind. I don't think he believes you could do wrong in your right mind."

Sam sighs softly. "Who else should I ask for help?"

"Castiel, for one. The other people with power that you know of."

"You?"

"Bran," Will says, softly. It's not exactly an answer. "Bran would help you. But you have no idea what Bran is. Maybe that's why you don't think to ask. I'm not sure even he really knows, most of the time. I've never been sure. But you could ask him. You're still clinging to the idea that you're alone now, Sam. Even though you never were. There were people who would help you, even when Dean was no longer around. Ellen Harvelle. Jo Harvelle. Bobby Singer. You could've had help from them anytime. And Dean's back now, back beside you, and if you don't fight to keep him there, things are going to rip you apart again."

"It was Ruby who came and offered," Sam says, and, his breath catching in his throat, his voice cracking. "If I don't fight, I lose Dean for sure?"

"The others didn't think they had to offer. And yes, Sam. If you don't fight, if you don't try to change what heaven is trying to push you into, you will lose Dean again. I can't promise that you'll keep him by your side if you do fight, but that's the way you have a chance of keeping him."

"So what are you saying?" Sam asks, again, aching for something simple, some easy solution. Nothing's been easy, never in his life. Stanford was the closest to being easy, with his relationship with Jess and his friends there, and the undemanding love he found there. Stanford was simple in a way hunting life could never be. You didn't say goodbye knowing that there was a big chance you'd never meet again. You never had to worry about life and death decisions. Things haven't been simple or easy since his life in Stanford burnt up, and he craves it worse than he's ever done right now, even more than he did in the first few weeks after when the harshness of the hunt was new. He craves a drink of cold juice from the fridge, juice bought by his girlfriend. He craves cookies, baked by his girlfriend and left out for him. He craves homework, or procrastinating on homework, he craves to be told that he's forgotten to take the trash out again.

Will looks at him like he know what he's thinking. "You can't have any of that back if you do this wrong," he says, quietly.

"What if I do it right?"

"Then you have a chance, as good a chance as anyone else on earth has, and that's all you can ask."

"What should I do?"

Will looks away, and finally he says what Sam thinks he's been wanting to say all along. "I can't tell you what to do, Sam. I can only act according to what you say. Have you forgotten what I told you? The Light can't act, now. It's for humans to act. The excuse may only be paper-thin, but if you command me, invoke the ancient duty of my kind to protect yours and guide you away from the Dark, then perhaps I can help you."

Sam looks into Will's eyes one more time, and sees a chilling sort of desperation there. He takes a deep breath, feeling like this is one of the most ridiculous things he's ever attempted to do in his life -- because a part of him still cries out that he's not special, that he has no right to set forces in motion, that he's just one tiny speck in the paths of history. And this, this may never be recorded, but Sam knows that if it's as serious as Will says it is, it will be the single most important act he's ever done. And Will looks tired, so tired, and Sam feels like Will is holding up the world as it is, like he doesn't need any more burdens. That it might be a sin to ask so much.

He takes another deep breath.

---


There's blood dripping down from where the blade of the knife touches Ruby's skin. Sam holds her immobile, somehow. Probably because she doesn't think she need to fight back yet. She might be right. Dean doesn't know what the hell he's supposed to do, except just stand there and watch. There's a curl of dread, a sickness, in his belly, because he knows how easy it will be for everything to fall apart. For Sam to falter. For Sam to give in to whatever feelings he's nurtured for Ruby. Because Dean understands, he really does. There's something about the person beside you who stops you from falling right into the pit, something you can never shake. A kind of love, even if it's sick, even if that person never did you any good anyway. He has it with Alastair, which is just ridiculous, but Alastair was there when he was twisted, when he broke, when he became something new. Whatever was rescued from that pit has Alastair's stamp all over it.

That's the kind of thing you can never shake, a mark on your soul. And Ruby was there for Sam, Ruby might even have been the one who pulled Sam back from doing anything really, spectacularly stupid with no back up, with no real plan.

Hell, Dean feels a little bit grateful to her, in a weird way, himself.

Still, he's not the one who's important right now. This is between Sam and Ruby and all he can do is watch. He's scared that Sam's anger will surge up, past the barriers broken down in a different way to Dean's but no less completely, and he'll kill the bitch. He's afraid that Sam won't kill the bitch, that he'll lean in and lick away that bright line of blood, and he'll lose his Sammy, his baby brother, in that red sea, that salt taste. He knows it's possible.

He knows anything could happen right now. This is a point of decision, a turning point, a crossroads -- all those damn cliches.

And all he can do is watch, and feel the sickness curl inside him, heavier in his stomach with every second that passes, with every blink and every sighed out breath.

He feels it, when the decision's made, when the balance tips. He doesn't know how, but he feels it, and he knows. He feels Sam's resolve before Sam actually moves, knows he's going to move before he does, and he kind of wants to cheer because he knows his baby brother's made his choice, over and over again by now, and he's about to back it up with actions.

"Bitch," Sam hisses, and Ruby's trying to look confused but it doesn't quite wash, which Dean is fine with because the look of guilt on her face is another push for Sam, another proof. She's not as good an actress as he figured. Sam pins her harder, holding the knife against her skin still, but the threat is different now. "Don't move. I'm not planning on killing you."

"Sam, what the hell -- "

"Don't talk, either," Sam says, shuddering a little, and Dean knows that the craving must be spiking inside him again -- doesn't know how, just knows it's got to be happening. And he blesses it, curses with relief, when he hears the sound of Castiel's wings, when Castiel reaches out and jerks Ruby away from the wall with that impossible angelic strength, and shoves her right into the middle of the trap that Will told them to make, showed them how to make. Blesses Sam for holding out long enough for the trap to be sprung.

And he blesses it again when he hears Will and Bran come into the room. He didn't think he'd ever be glad to see Bran, but he is, because this is nearly over and they're doing it right -- oh god, they are finally, finally doing something right. It has to be right. Will, he remembers Castiel saying, can't do anything wrong. Old Ones just can't.

"Is there even anything for me to do?" Bran asks, the lilt in his voice almost one of laughter as well as that ridiculous accent of his. "I feel a bit left out."

"I can't really do anything," Will says, shrugging his shoulders. "I'm not the one who fights. I'm your dewin, not a knight."

"So this is why you keep me around," Bran says, smiling crookedly. He takes off the ever-present sunglasses and slips them in his pocket, looking at Ruby who twists, silenced and bound by the trap that Will had them draw. It was simple, Dean thought, too simple, but it seems to be holding her. It's just the shape of a circle, quartered by a cross. Will showed them how to draw it by showing them a scar burnt into his arm, as fresh as if it had just healed yesterday.

"Not entirely," Will says, as if he has to be utterly serious and truthful right now. He gives Bran a smile. "Go on, Bran."

The words aren't Latin. Dean expected that they would be, even after the time before, with all those demons. They sound almost like a chant, and in Bran's voice there's the same kind of focus and reverence as a priest might have when reciting Latin, but it isn't Latin. Dean guesses it must be Welsh, Bran's first language. It sounds oddly beautiful, more beautiful than it should, and each word rings and resonates in Dean's head, makes a pain in his chest that's almost welcome for its strange sweetness.

Or Dean's having a heart attack or something, but he doubts that'd feel like this.

It seems too easy. It just seems like too simple a plan -- but then Dean thinks about the struggle Sam had to go through, the way he had to set aside feelings and cravings and the bone-deep desire for revenge, the revenge that the bitch deserved. It wasn't easy. It could never be. No matter how simple it sounds now with Bran chanting in his soft lilting voice, this hasn't been easy.

"Is it done?" Dean asks, looking at Will. "Is this it?"

Will shrugs slightly. As they're watching, Ruby begins to fade out. Dean had expected some kind of exorcism, some kind of ending, something dramatic -- he knew there couldn't be blood, beyond that thin and unthreatening trickle, but he had thought there would be death. But she just fades out, quietly, taking the symbol chalked on the floor with her.

"What have you done to her?" Sam asks, softly.

"I sent her out beyond time," Bran says. He takes his glasses out of his pocket and puts them on. There's something sour about the look on his face, the slant of his mouth.

"What does that even mean?"

"It means she won't trouble you any longer," Will says, quietly. Which is no kind of answer at all, but Dean suddenly gets the feeling that they don't really want to know what it's like, being sent out beyond time. "It's something that was done to those of both the Light and the Dark, to put them out of the fight for eternity."

"It's better than war," Bran says, with a shrug. He's tired, though, and it shows. He and Will look so tired, so worn, as if they really have been fighting a battle. He looks to Will. "She was the source of it, wasn't she? Tell me that's not to do over again?"

"She's the piece we needed to remove," Will says, which is making very little sense to Dean, who is also suddenly, horribly tired. He doesn't remember lying down on the floor to sleep, or Will and Bran walking out of that room. He doesn't remember any of that later. The last thing he remembers is Will's eyes, looking into his, and suddenly being able to accept the things he saw there.

---


Dean wakes up and has no idea how much time has passed. For a moment he doesn't even know what's happened or where he is, but then he realises that his head is resting in someone's lap, and that Castiel is looking down at him, and so logically the lap his head is resting in probably belongs to Castiel. He also notices that Castiel's eyes are ridiculously blue, for some reason, but after a moment the disorientation mostly clears and he manages to sit up.

"How long was I out?"

"About three hours," Castiel says. He glances over at Sam, who is still lying on the floor, one arm outstretched like he was about to do something before whatever made them fall asleep. "Sam's still asleep," he says, unnecessarily. Dean rolls his eyes.

"I can see that. What happened?"

"I'm not sure," Castiel says, and Dean realises how very troubled those bright blue eyes are. "They sent Ruby out beyond time. I do not know what it means. I know that I don't want it to happen to me."

"Doesn't sound like it's on my top ten list of things to do, either. Do you have any idea what happened? Why did we suddenly go to sleep? Did you sleep? What happened to Bran and Will?"

"I did sleep," Castiel says. "Which is troubling, because even when in a human vessel, I have no need for sleep. I have a theory about what happened, no more. I believe that the spell Bran used drained us all, a little. Mostly him, and mostly Will, but it also took energy from us. Even me. That is why we had to sleep when the spell was done. Will and Bran have presumably gone to rest."

"If it used so much power from them, how come they're not down for the count too?"

"They had much more power to begin with. Did you never understand who Bran Davies is?"

"Should I have done?"

Castiel sighs softly. "He's the son of a king. A great king. I suppose he would be more readily recognised for who he is in his own country."

"That's not an answer."

Castiel shrugged, seeming suddenly very human with that little gesture. "I can't tell you. I don't believe he really knows himself, not in a way that stays with him when it isn't needed."

Dean sighs and rolls his eyes, but actually he finds that he doesn't care so awfully much. He doesn't care because maybe now, finally, all the secrets and the lies and all of the rest of this shit, maybe it's over. He's going to ask, in a minute, but first he basks in the thought. Him and Sam, on the road again, maybe, with his baby. Maybe they'll take a break, go somewhere with hot girls. Hell, maybe they can take Castiel along and introduce him to sex. Dean's pretty sure the guy's got to be a virgin. Angels probably all are, after all. So maybe they could go somewhere where there's sun, where the days are long and the girls are pretty and the motels are cheap and nice -- a place like that has got to exist, somewhere, somehow. And maybe he'll even persuade Sam to get a haircut. It looks fucking ridiculous now.

After that, they'll get back on the road again. Probably just him and Sam. Saving people, hunting things, and no mess with the apocalypse or angels or anything, except maybe Cas. Just the kind of hunting they always knew, the kind of hunting that's a part of their blood, the kind that doesn't ask any questions. The kind where you know every minute of every day that you're fighting the good fight.

He clears his throat. Dreaming is stupid anyway, because he's not going to get that. Not him. No way. He's not going to get those sunlit lazy dreams. That's not the way the world works. "So... is it over? Is heaven goin' to make any more demands of me? Am I gonna be going back to hell?"

"I will not let them send you to hell," Castiel says, firmly, surprisingly firmly in fact. He is still touching Dean, Dean realises, ever since he woke up, a hand resting lightly on his arm. There's something almost protective about the way Castiel is sitting there, like before he woke Cas had been watching over him. He's shockingly okay with that. The guy pulled him out of hell and brought him back to life, and no doubt that was no cakewalk. Small wonder he wants to make sure nothing undoes all that work. "You have done what they asked. You have prevented the apocalypse."

"I get the impression this ain't the way they meant things to go, though."

Castiel shrugs slightly. "It doesn't matter. The way they phrased their orders to me, to the rest of my garrison... you will be free to go now, Dean. You and your brother." A faint smile touches his mouth. "Before he left, did Will say anything to you?"

"No," Dean says. And then, being honest, and because it's Castiel who's asking: "He didn't have to. It was all in his eyes."

Castiel nods slightly. "He said something to Sam."

"Yeah?"

"He said that he would be pure again. I believe he negated the effects of the demon blood Sam has been using. He will no longer have superhuman powers, but he will also no longer have the taint. He's been freed of it."

"He freed himself," Dean says, thinking of the control Sam must have had, not to take the blood when it was trickling down from the knife's cut, when he could no doubt smell it, almost taste it on the air. "He freed himself when he didn't take any blood."

"That's true," Castiel says, smiling again. "If he hadn't, Will wouldn't have been able to give him purification."

"So... everything's gonna be okay now?"

Castiel looks at Dean, his blue eyes more intense than ever, and an honest-to-God smile on his face. "I believe so, Dean, yes. As far as things are ever okay, they will be okay now."

Dean tries to absorb that. He felt the promise of it in the way Will looked at him, before. It's hard to think about it, hard to believe it, and oh god, he's so tired, and he aches inside from the knowledge of all he's done. But he saw the possibility of forgiveness, of healing, and for the first time he could accept it... Him and Sam both, maybe, purified and forgiven and ready to live new lives. It almost makes his eyes sting, makes the back of his throat tight. If he had to speak, he'd sound stupid, his voice cracking and breaking...

A meter away, Sam is stirring, his eyes flickering open. He looks up at Dean and it's like he knows everything he and Castiel said anyway, without needing the confirmation. Knows a new life can begin, now, more real than the new life they both felt should have come when Castiel pulled Dean out hell.

Dean pulls right out of Castiel's touch and goes over to Sam and puts his arms around him, like it's simple and easy again, like their relationship is just the way it's meant to be again, even though maybe it hasn't ever been all that perfect. He holds Sammy tightly, and his brother smells of blood and sweat and clothes that needed a wash two days ago, and it's perfect, just fucking perfect. He closes his eyes and feels Sammy holding him too, and damn it, they don't even need to talk.

---


"Is it over? Really?"

Will looks up at Bran. "It's never over, Bran."

Bran grimaces. "I meant, for now. Is it over for now?"

"For this time and place, yes. I think it's over. They meant to use the two Winchesters, even the angel, but I doubt those three will let themselves be used. They started something here, but they can't push it any further. Not now you've removed the demon from the equation." Will sighs softly, leaning back against the wall. "We should go, though. There are other times and places that need our attention."

"You're tired," Bran says, shaking his head. "Iesu mawr, will you never allow yourself rest? I'm not an idiot, you know. You've done more than you said. They were trying to stage a freakin' apocalypse."

"I don't need rest."

"Liar. And what's so urgent, anyway? Five hundred years ago will still be there in the exact same place tomorrow, or in a week, or a month. Why is there such a rush?"

"Bran -- "

"I worry about you, boyo," Bran says, fiercer now. "You deserve a rest. You wanted company, you want me to stand with you -- I will, always! But I will not stand by and watch you grind yourself down, human or not. You could enjoy life a bit. You watch the world and all of time, fine, but I watch you and I don't like what I'm seeing, not one bit!"

"Nothing ever said you couldn't have rest," someone says, from just behind Will, and he turns slightly to see Castiel there. The angel is smiling, just a little. "Dean asked me to bring him to you. To say thank you. And... I wished to... offer my services to you and walk beside you. I believe you would be... a more fitting master. Or guide, if you prefer."

Will looks from Castiel to Dean, standing beside him, and notes the annoyance on Dean's face at that pronouncement. "Thank you. But I have Bran to walk beside me and, as you can see, he is looking after me quite well enough."

"But I -- "

"I believe there is someone else you should walk beside," Will says, in that tender way of his, and his eyes flick over to Dean again.

Dean clears his throat. "Look, uh, let's ignore the sap fest for a moment. I just wanted to say thank you, that's all. Sam did too, but we did rock, paper, scissors, and I won, for once. Besides, he still can't stand up."

"You, and your brother, and even Castiel, you all acted for yourselves. I had little to do with it. Bran had more to do with it than me."

Dean and Bran make a derisive noise, at exactly the same time, and Will wonders if they realise that that's possibly the first time they've ever agreed about anything -- and smiles a little, to himself, at the thought that it's likely the last, as well. He's surprised by the brief grin that passes between the two of them.

"Take care of him," Dean Winchester says, and Bran Davies nods, tossing his head a little in that proud way of his, almost affronted that anyone thought it had to be said.

"Of course."

"Let's go," Will says, and Bran raises an eyebrow.

"Where?"

"How about Italy?"

"I'm going to burn to a crisp," Bran says, but there's a smile in his voice.

"We could even go in Roman times," Will says, and there's a kind of eagerness in his voice which surprises Dean. "How's your Latin?"

"Pathetic," Bran says. "Let's go."

Will looks over at Dean, at Castiel, that fond and tender look on his face again. "Be well," he says, and Bran echoes it with something in Welsh. Dean watches in some bemusement as they both turn, walking away into the center of the car park -- bemusement that morphs into wonder as two great doors appear in front of them. Dean thinks he can hear music, but it's elusive, fading the more he tries to listen. Will looks younger all of a sudden, somehow, a kind of joy in his face that is still alien and inhuman and ungraspable, but better than that awful sadness that weighs him down much of the time.

He watches them go through the doors together, the pale kingly figure and the boyish, ordinary, extra-ordinary one. He watches the doors fade out of sight.

Castiel clears his throat and Dean nods without looking at him, fighting back an odd sense of yearning of his own. "Yeah. Let's go. Sammy's waiting for me." A pause. Castiel's hand touches his shoulder and Dean turns a little to look at him. "Wait. Who do you think he meant for you to, uh, walk beside?"

Castiel's smile is soft, something close to human. "Oh, Dean," he says. "You know who he meant."




Art: Here.
Comment: Here on DW, or here on LJ.
Download: You can get a .rtf file here. This is primarily so that anyone with sight issues can download it and adjust the font so that it's best for them, but if you want a copy for your ereader or to save to read later or whatever, you're welcome to it. It should be easy to make a PDF or change it into any format you need. If the link goes dead or you have some other downloading issue, please let me know.
tanaqui: Illumiinated letter T (Default)

[personal profile] tanaqui 2010-05-15 03:25 pm (UTC)(link)
Ooh! This was great. I really like how you've woven the two mythologies together. And Bran and Dean would definitely so not get along - I think you really nailed how they'd rub each other the wrong way.

(Also, you played perfectly the thing with Sam making a fairly common American mistake of conflating England with the whole of the UK, and then directing the remark at Bran! The moment I read "You're from England?" Sam asks. I winced at how badly that was going to go down....)

Thanks for writing and sharing!
ellia: gold fountain pen nib (fountain pen)

[personal profile] ellia 2010-05-15 05:28 pm (UTC)(link)
This is absolutely wonderful. I love how you've blended the canons and kept the mythologies of both worlds intact. It's not a crossover i ever thought i'd see, and i was thrilled when it popped up on my network. Bran and Dean snarking at each other like that was so much fun to read. I loved every word of this, thanks for sharing it.
ilyena_sylph: picture of Labyrinth!faerie with 'careful, i bite' as text (Default)

[personal profile] ilyena_sylph 2010-05-15 05:55 pm (UTC)(link)
Oh, this is fabulous.

And better than whatever the canon is going to do.
lisztful: dean/cas kissy (dean/cas kissy)

[personal profile] lisztful 2010-05-18 05:36 am (UTC)(link)
Oh yay, two of my very favorite things, combined! Lovely story, I thought the tone was a perfect balance of Spn and DiR style dialogue and narration. Loved the dynamic between Will and Bran, and also Dean and Castiel. Delightful!
mjluvspolar: Reading glasses heart (Love Reading Icon)

[personal profile] mjluvspolar 2010-09-19 03:18 am (UTC)(link)
Wow. This was not at all what I was expecting when I started reading, but who can be upset when sending Ruby out of time sorted everything out! Man, I can only wish show sorted things out so elegantly! I loved your Will and Bran and the idea of Castiel now walking at Dean's side made my inner fangirl squee with delight, so yeah, I really, truly enjoyed your fic. Thanks for sharing
lostcloud: (Default)

[personal profile] lostcloud 2010-12-02 04:07 am (UTC)(link)
Oh man. Oh man. I've never read The Dark is Rising, but you totally make me want to just for Bran and Will. And Castiel and Dean's interaction! The hug that Dean and Sam share! *hugs* That was lovely~!