The first thought that enters Michael’s thoughts when he opens his eyes is Sam.
Not Lucifer, not brother. Just Sam.
He lies on the ground, staring up at the sky, and his second thought is pain. His grace pulses like an electric current twitching under his skin and through every muscle and bone. It fills him where before, there was a hollow emptiness, a piece of Dean that was always missing but could never be found.
His thoughts circle back to his brother. The name repeats like a mantra, Sam Sam Sam, and Michael clutches a hand to his head, letting out a quiet groan. His head aches, and his entire body hurts. He has been human far too long. He wonders if Lucifer felt this way, too, when taking back his grace.
Michael pushes himself to his feet. He takes a deep breath he doesn't need, letting the air fill his lungs, before turning back towards the house.
The moment Michael walks into the living room, Bobby takes one look at him, and closes his eyes.
“Damn it,” he mutters. He opens his eyes again slowly. “So, you’re Michael,” he says, and briefly, Michael wonders how he knew. It occurs to him then, that this man has watched Sam and Dean grow up, knows them as well as their own father once did. Dean loves Bobby as he did John - as Michael loves his own Father.
Michael takes a slow step towards the other man. “I am.” Bobby nods, as if he didn’t already know.
Chuck's eyes widen in awe. Castiel regards him with no small amount of hesitance, unsure whether to avert his eyes or keep them trained on Michael. His gaze flickers from the walls to Michael’s face and back again.
Michael recognizes his Father as soon as he lays eyes on Missouri Moseley. He wonders how he could not have known before, when he recognizes her so easily now.
But Dean is only human, after all. That was the whole point.
Castiel’s reverent gaze when he looks at Missouri says he’s known for quite a while. Bobby and Chuck do not seem to be aware, however, and Michael does not say anything to alert them. The situation is shaky enough without complicating things further.
Instead, he smirks, and Bobby stares. Michael puzzles at his expression, flipping through the extensive mental file in Dean's head until he recognizes it as one of surprise. Bobby stares at Michael as if he isn't quite what he expected.
Bobby shakes his head, expression giving way to one of grim determination. That Michael recognizes – angels are nothing if not determined. “Look, I'm not going to stand here and pretend that I can convince you to do something you don't want to do, because I get the feeling Dean's attitude is an inherited trait.”
“You’re not wrong,” Missouri mutters, but Bobby continues as if she hasn't interrupted.
"Angel or no angel, if you kill your brother, Dean will never survive. And I’ve got a hunch that you won’t either.”
“Lucifer could not kill me before," Michael says, "And he will not this time, either.”
But Bobby will not be deterred. “Just remember that for thirty years, you were human. No knowledge of destiny or a war that pre-dates the damn world. That’s all I’m sayin’.”
Michael almost disagrees once again, but he remembers being Dean - remembers the feel of Sam in his arms, this tiny, defenseless creature of whom he was granted possession and protection practically from birth.
He wonders if this was the plan all along, because this should have been easy, black and white, kill his brother or let the world burn. Yet, he no longer wishes to kill Lucifer. He wishes to save him.
Well. This is an unforeseen turn of events.
“I remember,” Michael says softly, and Missouri smiles, a quick lift of her lips, there one moment and gone the next.
Bobby nods, lowering his gaze to his shoes. He shoves his hands into his pockets. “So, now what?”
Michael shrugs - a human gesture, one he falls back on much too easily. “Now, we save my brother.”
Bobby quickly raises his gaze, eyebrows receding under his cap. “You got a plan?”
“Not yet.” Michael offers him a small smile. “Give me time.”
Night has fallen, stars already high in a dark sky when Michael steps back out onto Missouri’s porch. Chuck and Bobby sleep peacefully, Chuck on the couch, Bobby on a cot Missouri dragged up from the basement. Castiel stands across the room against the wall, staring deeply into a cup of tea. He glances up every so often to watch over them, a guardian angel in the truest sense of the word, keeping their dreams quiet and unplagued by nightmares. Michael’s lips twitch at the image.
The amulet around his neck does not burn when the back door opens as it might if Dean had held it in his palm. He feels his Father down to his bones, grace burning with the knowledge, but with relief comes another emotion, hot and overwhelming, strong enough to surpass all of the others. It makes him feel irrational, like he wants to lash out, scream and yell in a way he so often scolded Lucifer for once upon a time. The same as Dean scolded Sam.
Only with thoughts of his brother does he finally put a word to the emotion - betrayal. Michael feels betrayed.
“You were here,” he says quietly, still staring out at the dark horizon. “The entire time, you were here, and you said nothing.”
“A lot has changed,” Missouri says, quiet and regretful, and Michael’s hands clench into fists at his sides, fingernails biting into his palms. Anger. This is what anger feels like.
“Nothing has changed,” he says roughly, finally turning to face Missouri, though he cannot bring himself to meet her gaze. “I abandoned my brother, sent him into exile, and that still was not enough for you.”
“Do you think I wanted this?” She tempers her voice in deference to the two men sleeping inside, though Michael knows this is not necessary – they will not wake if she does not wish them to. “Do you truly think that when the two of you walked into my house years ago that I wasn’t worried half to death that this would be the result?”
“Then stop them,” Michael whispers, “All of them.”
“The garrison won't listen to me now any more than they will listen to you, and Lucifer would sooner try to kill me than give me the time of day.” She shakes her head. “You are the only one who can stop your brother, Michael. You and you alone.”
Michael bows his head, feeling - for possibly the first time in his entire existence - helpless. This is an emotion he recognizes, yanking it from Dean’s memories - selling his soul to save his brother, watching Sam slam the door and leave for Stanford without ever looking back, Sam’s blood on his hands on the ground on a cold night in the middle of nowhere.
“I don’t know what to do,” he says. He doesn’t know how humans survive this, these feelings rising up, overwhelming and uncontrollable, day after day after day. He feels like he’s being ripped to shreds.
Missouri reaches out a hand, squeezing his shoulder, and the touch feels foreign and familiar all at once. “What are you afraid of, Michael?” she asks softly. “Losing? Or losing your brother?”
Michael stares at the ground. He does not have an answer to that.
What was the saying? Red sky at morning, sailors take warning.
Michael is not a sailor, and neither was Dean, but the advice still stands. The radio blares with emergency alerts, strange occurrences that expand far past Kansas - rain falling from a sky the crimson red of blood, earthquakes in multiple cities across the globe, wildfires on the west coast and a cyclone along the east.
Of particular interest to the local weather men is the unseasonably cold weather in Lawrence, twenty degrees below normal with no sign of warming, and the electrical storms centered solely in the area surrounding Stull Cemetery.
Michael smiles. Lucifer always had a flare for the theatrics.
“Well,” Bobby says as he turns the volume on the radio down, “guess we don’t have to look for your brother.”
“No, I suppose we do not,” Michael agrees.
Bobby scratches at the back of his neck, bends the brim of his cap inwards, and refuses to meet Michael’s gaze. “So I guess that means we’re going to Stull.”
The order flies from Michael's mouth without thought. “We are doing nothing. You are staying here.”
“Now wait just a damned minute.” Bobby moves to stand in front of the door. “What exactly do you intend to do?”
Michael allows him to block the exit, stepping back with his arms crossed though he could simply leave without use of the door at all. Funny things, humans - they seem to enjoy the simple illusion of being in control. “I have no intentions to do anything but find my brother.”
“And then what? Kill him? Do you really expect him to give in so easily? I’m not standing back and -”
“Yes, you are.” Michael presses a finger to Bobby’s forehead, and the other man’s knees buckle as he falls to the floor. Michael catches him easily and carries him to the couch. He does the same to Chuck, just to be safe.
“Do not let them out of your sight,” he instructs Castiel.
“Michael.” Castiel’s fingers on his arm are tighter and more insistent than Bobby’s, but he drops his hand faster. Michael feels the weakening in Castiel’s grace with that touch, aware of the sacrifices he made in his quest to aid the Winchesters. His stomach twists with a strange sensation that he belatedly recognizes as guilt, but that emotion must be Dean’s, a memory left behind. It cannot be his own.
Michael regrets nothing.
“Bobby is right. You can’t do this.”
Michael arches an eyebrow, a perfect mockery of the annoyed expression that so often crossed Dean’s face. “Do you presume to tell me what I can and cannot do?”
Castiel looks fittingly chastised. He winces, and Michael sighs, schooling his features into an expression of bland ignorance. He turns to Missouri, a subtle but instinctive glance.
She crosses her arms over her chest, eyes shuttered and dark, revealing nothing. The expression does nothing to quell the knot of worry coiling in his stomach, slowly tightening until he can no longer ignore it's presence. “Don’t look at me. No one listens to me anyway.”
“This is the only way,” Michael says, wondering who, exactly, he is trying to convince, Castiel, Missouri or himself. “I will not make the same mistake twice.”
“I know,” Castiel whispers quietly, “but Dean was my friend. As was Sam.”
Michael’s patience quickly grows thin. “What would you have me do?”
Castiel’s eyes shine bright in the lamplight. He glances at Missouri warily, but does not back down. “You gave yourself over wholly to serve God and His angels. To follow His will and His word alone-“
“As swiftly and obediently as I did my father’s. I remember Dean’s promise, but do not see it’s relevance. Make your point, Castiel.” He almost does not recognize the demanding voice that comes out of his mouth, so different from that of Dean, tinged with power and the knowledge earned in thousands of years of leading the armies of heaven.
“Free will, Michael,” Castiel says softly. “Children disobey their parents – it is only natural. You are an angel, but Dean was raised human. You are the only one of us who can make that choice.”
The sun is high in the sky by the time Michael arrives at Stull.
The rain still pours down, drenching Michael to the bone, but the sun shines through the clouds, bright behind his eyelids.
Lucifer leans against a headstone with his arms folded over his chest, legs crossed at the ankle, the picture of ease. He still wears Sam’s clothes, looking exactly the same as the moment he turned from the convent. The sight of him makes something in Michael’s chest wrench like a hand squeezing his heart.
An expression flashes across Lucifer’s face, there one moment, gone the next, so quickly that Michael is still puzzling over it when Lucifer uncrosses his ankles and steps forward.
“It’s been a long time, brother,” he says as he approaches, and Michael bites back a smile.
“Not so long.”
Lucifer grins outright, sharp and bitter and not the least bit happy. “No, I suppose not long at all.” His smile dims as the gravity of the situation settles over them both. Only one of them will survive this encounter.
“We don't have to do this, you know,” Lucifer says, and Michael falters, uncertain and unsteady in a way only Lucifer could ever make him feel. “We could turn our backs. Disappear. The world would continue turning, and no one would be the wiser.”
“Michael,” Lucifer cuts him off swiftly, and Michael's teeth snap together in frustration. “Our Father once ordered you to destroy me, did he not? And yet here I stand, alive and well. I disobeyed, and I was banished. You disobeyed, and... nothing. Not even a slap on the wrist. I was forced to fall, but you fell on your own." He steps forward, pressing a hand to Michael's shoulder. "Leave with me, Michael. This time, we'll fall together.”
Michael steps backwards, ripping his shoulder from Lucifer's grasp. “A thousand years among the humans, and you have learned nothing, have you, brother? This is no one's fault but your own.”
That same expression passes over Lucifer's face, but Michael recognizes grief this time, painful and all-consuming. “Michael -”
Lucifer pauses, expression growing shadowed and grim. He shrugs, hands open in a mocked gesture of peace. “Then there's nothing left to say. Che sera sera.”
The punch flies out of nowhere, sending Michael to the ground. He stares up into Lucifer's face, devoid of any emotion but a fierce determination, and Michael swings himself to his feet, punching Lucifer across his jaw. Michael ducks another punch and instead sends his brother slamming backwards against a headstone hard enough that it cracks. He grunts, immediately rising, fist catching Michael first in the sternum, then at the corner of his eye.
They could tear each other apart without batting an eye, probably bring the world to it's knees at the same time. Instead, Michael's fist collides against Lucifer's cheek with a solid crack. Lucifer's boot crashes into his rib cage, snapping bone.
This is thousands of years worth of pent up anger and frustration finally exploding out in a flurry of pummeling fists. This is physical. This is personal.
Michael flips Lucifer to the ground, pinning him there with his full body weight, both hands tight around his neck. Lucifer clenches his fingers into a fist, and Michael braces himself for the hit -
That never comes. Lucifer drops his hand to his side, going completely limp, deceptively docile.
“Looks like you won,” he rasps. Michael raises one arm and pauses with his hand in the air, fighting the urge to look away as he makes the killing blow.
When Michael looks into Lucifer’s eyes, he doesn't see his brother. He sees Sam - a baby in a burning crib, held in his arms, a child running towards him with chubby arms outstretched, tongue sticking out while he learns to tie his shoes, the weight of his arms while he learns to shoot, a smile, a hug, tears and laughter. Twenty-six years worth of memories flow through his mind until only one remains, but this one does not belong to Dean.
The day God disappears, Azazel makes a deal with Mary Campbell for John Winchester's life. Zachariah declares war with the mutinous garrison at his back.
Michael has watched Lucifer over the passing years, found him in every one of his incarnations across the globe, fought the urge to reveal himself, despite the fact that Lucifer would never recognize the stranger for his brother. They will destroy all hope of Michael ever seeing Lucifer again, alive and whole.
The decision is made before Michael takes a moment to stop and think. He rips out his grace. He falls.
Michael releases Lucifer with a gasp, hands dropping from his brother's throat as he falls to his knees.
“Lucifer...” he whispers. He tries to express a million things as he says his brother's name, apologies and explanations all rolled up in a single word.
Lucifer leans forward, gripping Michael’s shirt and pressing his forehead to his shoulder. “I’m sorry,” he says quietly, and Michael closes his eyes.
A searing heat flashes across his eyelids, and Michael’s eyes snap open. Lucifer reaches into his own chest and pulls. His grace is a bright light in his hands, a shining thing too bright for human eyes, brighter than most angels.
Lucifer’s nickname is the Morning Star for a reason. He always burned the brightest.
“Destroy it, Dean,” Lucifer whispers before collapsing into his brother’s arms. Dean - not Michael, but Dean, the name of the human he was, Mary and John Winchester's son. When Michael looks in his brother’s eyes, he sees only Sam.
Michael holds Sam’s life in one hand and Lucifer's grace in the other. He needs to destroy his brother's grace - those were his orders, and it’s what Lucifer wants.
Save Sam or kill him. Dean was right - there was never a choice, really.
Anna was wrong - removing his grace doesn’t feel like someone cutting out his kidney with a butter knife, but with a toothpick, lit by a flame so his entire body burns like it’s on fire, like he’s dying, slowly and painfully. Michael closes his eyes, infinitely falling, hurtling down towards earth -
Dean comes to on a motel bed, fully human and fully healed. He opens his eyes with caution, expecting pain to flare up along his bones and surprised to find none. He turns his head, staring at the body on the opposite bed.
Sam lays on his back, eyes closed, chest rising and falling slow and steady in sleep. Dean swallows, because he’s too damn quiet, too damn still. For a brief, terrifying moment, he wonders if Michael destroyed his brother after all.
“He’ll wake in his own time,” Missouri says, and Dean sits up quickly, turning in the direction of her voice.
Missouri gives him a genuine but smile. “Hello, Dean.”
Dean swallows. “Hello,” he rasps, then attempts to clear his throat. He stares at Missouri, truly stares, but she looks the same as she ever did – no one ancient and all powerful, just yet another normal person who happened to know the truth about what really lurked in the dark. He does not see what Michael experienced through his eyes, though that same burst of familiarity flares up his spine.
“A lot of mistakes have been made over the years, Dean,” Missouri says, quietly serious. “Some of them were mine.”
Dean blinks back shock, and Missouri smirks. “What? No one’s perfect. Not even God, contrary to popular belief.”
She reaches out and twists the amulet around his neck between her fingers. A lick of heat flares against his chest. “I gave this to Bobby years ago. Told him it would be a good present for one of you boys to give your father.” She lets go, so the amulet rests heavy but familiar against his breastbone. “I always knew it would make it's way back to you.” She glances at Sam before turning her gaze back to Dean, open and honest. “I don't often get the chance to actually say I told you so – but I told you so.”
Guilt wells hot and thick, twisting his stomach into knots. He doesn’t understand, the emotion something Michael left behind, and he swallows past the lump in his throat.
“I’m sorry,” Dean whispers, and he bows his head.
Missouri kisses his forehead. “There is nothing to forgive.”
The eyes that closed belonged to Lucifer. The ones that open belong to Sam.
Sam's eyelids flutter, opening to stare at the white ceiling. Dean watches as he takes in his surroundings - the dingy, floral motel room wallpaper, the water-stained carpet. His eyes quickly swing from the empty double bed beside him to Dean, sitting in the chair next to his bed, hands clasped tightly in his lap.
"Sam," Dean whispers, leaning forward. His amulet catches the sun, casting a shadow across the sheets, and Sam stills.
Dean could not destroy something so beautiful - nothing changed in two thousand years. The amulet around his neck burns with the weight of their combined grace, two bright, shining forces tucked away, hidden in something as seemingly insignificant as a necklace.
Michael chose Sam, but Dean saved this.
Sam reaches out; his fingers hover along the surface of the amulet before he slowly pulls his hand back. “Why?” He pleads hoarsely.
“Because we’re not just Lucifer and Michael anymore. I’m still Dean. And you’re still Sam.”
Sam swallows, and tears well up in his eyes.
Dean presses his forehead to his brother’s and whispers, “This time, we fell together.”
"Amen, I'm checking out."
Story Art | Outtake
Kurt Halsey is to blame for this fic. No, really - after seeing this picture while watching the Season 4 finale, I looked up the lyrics to the referenced song. One round with said lyrics, and somehow, my muse took off and ran and came up with the fic's first and final scenes. It took years to finally write everything in between, full of frustration and many moments, especially in the past few weeks, where all I wanted to do was give up and delete the entire thing.
Recently, J.K. Rowling said, "As a writer, you have to write what you want to write; or rather what you need to write," and that quote gave me the drive I needed to finish. This was a story that I needed to tell, from the first words I wrote three years ago to the last words I put on the page just this morning.
First, to tiggeratl1 for the all of the beautiful art. The story banners are perfect, the dividers are gorgeous. I'm so glad we had the chance to work together :)
herbeautifullie, who listened while I was freaking out at the eleventh hour and offered to read the fic through, even though she hasn't gotten this far in the series yet. Her advice and encouragement was invaluable and got me through the final, shaky hours I spent finishing the edits.
geckoholic, who reigned in my characterizations, as always, and pointed out plot issues I was hoping no one would notice. Without her, Dean would not have sounded like Dean, and the entire fic probably would have fallen apart.
To faege, not just for making suggestions, but for demanding that I make this better. I'm almost positive she didn't intend for her words to be taken that way, but I took all of her suggestions like a challenge - "Fine, you want me to fix this? WATCH ME MAKE IT AWESOME." It's one of the reasons I feel like this is one of my best fics to date, so thank you, dear <3
Last, but certainly not least, to dream_mancer, who has been with me since this fic's inception and has made countless invaluable comments from the very beginning. She held me back when I went to far, and pushed me forward when I wasn't going far enough. Love you, my brain twin <3
Finally, to the mods over at samdean_otp who put this awesome challenge together - I had an absolute blast.