glasslogic: (Requiem)
[personal profile] glasslogic








Chapter Four


Are you lost or incomplete?
Do you feel like a puzzle, you can't find your missing piece?
Tell me how do you feel?
Well, I feel like they're talking in a language I don't speak
And they're talking it to me
                     ~Talk, Coldplay


Sam opened his eyes with great reluctance. He focused on the steady red glow of the clock radio display, the time shining with painful vividness as it sat on the nightstand in front of him.

Two a.m.

Barely three hours of sleep. He felt like his eyes had just shut.

He blinked slowly as he lay curled on his side under a heavy comforter, the air conditioner a low, rattling buzz at his back and the distant sounds of traffic on the street a familiar white noise, trying to figure out what had startled him from sleep. He waited, but everything seemed okay. Light from the parking lot seeped around the edges of the black-out curtains, leaving the room in a dim twilight that his eyes adjusted to easily. Distant on another floor there was a faint thump and the faint sound of drunken laughter. Nothing that required his attention.

Sam sleepily decided it had probably been people walking near the window, or maybe unexpected noise from an adjacent room. Things were quiet enough now. Sam gave serious thought to getting up and checking the doors and security again, but the moment was passing quickly as his eyelids drifted shut again. He tried to shift onto his back, but there was something heavy pinning the blankets down. This was just starting to register as being worthy of concern when a hand snaked over his waist above the covers, stilling his instinctive jerk away.

"You can be a bitch, but you're not usually this much of a bitch."

Sam sagged back into the mattress, torn between annoyance and relief. His anger from earlier seemed like too much effort on too little sleep, something that could be revisited in the morning. If Dean would just leave him alone… Sam didn't mind if he just wanted to lie there...

"Did you even know who I was?" Dean asked.

"Sure. Who else would you be?" Sam slurred.

"Might have been a good idea to actually check. For future reference and all."

Sam nodded against the pillow and closed his eyes again.

"I'm sorry about, you know, without telling you first."

That sparked enough of the earlier irritation to bring Sam a little more lucidity. "Asking me, Dean. The problem was not asking me," he growled, eyes still firmly shut.

"Whatever," Dean said airily. "Same thing."

"They're not--" Sam began, trying to shove Dean's arm off in annoyance, but Dean just pressed in closer against his back and showed no inclination towards being moved. Sam gave it up as a bad cause and slumped back again. "Fine. Thanks."

Silence fell in the shadows of the room again for several long minutes. Sam just wanted to drift off again, but there was a sense of wakefulness to Dean at his back that told Sam it would be a wasted effort. "What?" he finally demanded.

"You didn't know it was me. Did you know there was anyone here at all?"

"I said I would check next time I wake up with another person in my bed, Dean. Maybe I'll get lucky and it won't be my brother, you know?" Sam snapped.

"Yeah, maybe it'll be Lilith. Or who was that demon you were making out with last year while I was trying to save the world? Crowley? That would be fun. Or possibly just some axe murderer who walked in through the unlocked front door and decided to try the mattress out for his collection before cutting your throat. This isn't exactly an upscale address."

Sam's eyes flew open. "I left the door unlocked?"

"No, I'm just saying."

Sam rolled onto his back, forcing Dean to scoot over until they lay shoulder to shoulder. "Lilith is in hell for at least a couple of decades, and you might not remember since you were a little out of your mind at the time, but Crowley and I were doing business. I needed the Colt."

"Apparently not," Dean snorted, "since one of your angelic pen pals turned it into a puddle right after you got your hands on it, and things still worked out just fine."

"Well, I thought I needed the Colt," Sam allowed, "so at the time it was the reasonable thing to do."

"They have other names for transactions that involve kissing, Sam."

"Seriously?" Sam propped himself up on one elbow so he could look down at Dean; there was just enough light to make out his basic features. "This, from you? And you can just shut up about axe murderers. At this point in my life, that's a best case scenario. Plus, you know, I have a gun."

"That doesn't help you if you don't know they're in the room," Dean said pointedly. He folded his arms under his head and crossed his ankles, fully dressed down to his boots. The thin strip of skin across his belly was pale in the dark room, visible above the waistband of his jeans where his t-shirt rode up. Sam watched him for a long moment, feeling the aching emptiness in places he could usually ignore, a weight pressing heavier against his mind and his body. Like every cell was smothering in his flesh, and Dean was the only air. He'd grown better at ignoring it over time, used to the dull ache and resisting the pull, but there was always a price for dragging it out too long. And a more personal price for even making the attempt.

Sam glanced over his shoulder, but the dark shadow of his duffle bag on the other bed was too far to reach without getting up, and whatever was going to happen in the next few minutes, he had no intention of getting out of bed first. Instead, Sam leaned in against Dean's side and slid a hand into Dean's right front jean pocket. Dean's hand locked around his wrist like a vise.

"Something I can help you with, Sam?"

"Just the usual," Sam answered, suddenly almost breathless. The pocket didn't have what he wanted. Sam tried to twist his wrist free, but Dean only tightened his grip. Sam hissed in annoyance. He was willing finally, and more than ready, and if Dean would just let go--

"Talking first, bleeding later," Dean said firmly. He loosened his fingers enough that Sam was able to wrench free and flop back down beside him with a frustrated huff.

"What the hell could you possible want to talk about now?"

"You really didn't know anyone was in the room with you, did you?"

"I was sleeping, Dean! And you make as much noise as my shadow when you want to."

"That doesn't really answer my question."

"No," Sam spaced the words out slowly between clenched teeth. "I didn't know anyone one was in the room."

"Why not?" Dean asked simply.

Sam started to snap an answer back, but then paused, Dean's question resonating in his mind and distracting him momentarily from other… interests. Why hadn't he known Dean was in the room, that someone was in the room? The press of another mind was usually as obvious to his psychic senses as a person standing in front of him was to his eyes. Even when he hadn't had conscious knowledge of his abilities, he'd always had that subconscious warning. No matter how comfortable he was with Dean, he shouldn't have missed that another person was in the motel room with him. Especially not one lying just inches away on the mattress.

Earlier words stirred uncomfortably in the back of Sam's mind. Accusations of falling asleep between words, lying comatose through things he should have never been able to sleep though. Losing track of days. Sam rubbed at the middle of his forehead, where the low grade headache that never seemed to be very far away anymore was making itself felt. A persistent headache, and constant thrum of… tension? Anxiety? Like he was perpetually waiting for something. Standing on the edge of a cliff. He'd been chalking it up to the stress of the quest-to-nowhere and the relentless shadow it perpetually cast, but… while Sam could recall plenty of stressful and bad times over the past couple of years since he'd agreed to take the quest on, he didn't remember it eating at him constantly like it seemed to be lately.

Sam stared up at the shadowed ceiling, feeling really awake for the first time in days. "I think… maybe you're right. Maybe something is wrong with me."

Dean let out a deep breath beside him. It sounded like relief. "Well, they say admitting it is the first step."

Sam restrained the desire to smack him. "Missouri looked me over pretty thoroughly when I was at her house barely two months ago and she didn't seem to think there was anything wrong. You've told me you didn't see anything either. If it was a spell--"

"If it was a spell, I would have been able to pick it up and burn it off. What I said when I looked you over was that I didn't see anything wrong, and I still don't. But I've got a theory."

"A theory," Sam repeated, deadpan.

"It came to me in a bar," Dean said with great satisfaction.

Sam felt his headache grow worse and draped one arm over his eyes. "I'm listening," was all he said.

"After I left here, I stopped back by that bar to see if anyone else wanted a game--"

"Any takers?"

"No," Dean snorted. "They only look stupid around here. I tried to call you while I was there."

"Why?" Sam glanced over at him.

Dean gave a half-hearted shrug. "Irritation should be a mutual thing. I figured you'd be asleep."

Sam gave him a look while he fumbled blindly at the nightstand until his hand landed on his phone. A glance at the screen showed no missed calls. "It didn't go through."

"Yes," Dean said patiently. "That was the tried part. I left the wifi on from that roach trap we stayed in last night. It was dead."

"The bar?"

"The phone, Sam. Are you actually awake over there?" Dean added, suspiciously.

"What does this have to do with something being wrong with me?" Sam asked, impatience lacing his voice.

"When was the last time you had one of your psychic meltdowns? I'm not talking about whatever weird impulses you have, thought maybe I should be since even that seems to be on the blink lately, but I mean an actual full-blown vision. Or a visitation from your special little friend."

"Your special little friend, "Sam said absently as he thought back. "I'm just the intermediary. And I... haven't seen the angel since we blasted open the crypt. That's not the kind of thing I would have forgotten to mention. As for visions... That car accident in Pennsylvania a few months ago? A few weeks before we ended up at Bobby's."

"Pennsylvania."

"I think so," Sam said. "Why is that significant?"

"That's a long way back, don't you think?"

Sam shrugged. "They come when they want to, Dean. I just leave the door open."

"Right, but it's been months."

"What do you want from me, Dean? So it's been months. I went most of my life without seeing things in my head. And it's not like they were being terribly helpful before that either. I've got radio free-whatever in my head now, it's not all-demonic bullshit all-the-time. Sometimes I get something useful, sometimes… not so much."

"Do you remember what else happened in Pennsylvania?" Dean pressed.

"No?"

"You don't remember freaking out in the motel about needing some space and fucking the curse up?"

"First of all, the curse was already fucked up. It was one thing when it just kind of ebbed and flowed around and we had to actively reach for each other, and something else when you were always in my head. I couldn't even think, Dean. I just… I just couldn't, okay? So, yeah, I screwed it up more and things sucked for awhile, and then we spent some quality time with Bobby and now everything is sunshine and roses again."

"And as touching as your recounting is, you're missing my point."

"What's that?"

"Pennsylvania is when I started putting up the barriers."

"Because mine suck. So what?"

"Mine don't," Dean said flatly.

Sam thought about it. "You think the barriers are what are causing this?"

"Stopping things from reaching you? Yeah. Maybe. That's what a barrier is."

"You were supposed to put up barriers to stop us from bleeding all over each other, not stop angels and whatever the World wants to tell me from getting in!"

"It's not a precise science, Sam. The link we have is pretty broad, you told me to wall it up. So I did. Maybe a few other things got walled up too. You think I've have some advanced degree in fucking around with metaphysical engineering? Where do you think I would have mastered this kind of crap?"

"I don't know, Dean! Hell?" Sam snapped.

Dean rolled his eyes. "What I mastered in Hell didn't really revolve around stopping you from getting your delicate feelings hurt." He cut Sam off before Sam could snarl a reply. "Let me ask you a different question. How long has it been since you've made any progress on getting a grip with your psychic whatever? That's also been awhile, right? Maybe the radio's jammed."

"I can't believe Missouri wouldn't have seen something like that."

Dean shrugged. "She said it herself, no one's ever really dealt with something like me. She sees there's entropy shot all through your aura, but seeing that it's there and seeing what it's doing are two different things."

"What does any of this have to do with your cell phone and my being sick, or whatever?"

"What happens when your cell phone keeps looking for a signal it can't reach?" Dean asked simply.

Sam's eyes widened.

"You've been psychic your whole life. Always plugged in, even if it wasn't that active until you grew up. Even if you didn't know it, you've been tuned into cosmic FM since birth. How do you turn off something you never consciously turned on?" He elbowed Sam gently until Sam met his eyes. "I think the barricades are walling you off from more than just me. I think you're burning the candle at both ends trying to reach through them subconsciously, and I'm not sure I can make them any narrower and still have them do what you want. Even if it's possible, I just don't have the skill, Sam."

Sam licked dry lips. "This is just a guess."

"Yeah. But I think it's a good one. And it's easy to check."

"How?"

"You know how. You let me take them down for awhile and we just... see what happens."

Sam wavered in indecision.

"It's the only thing that's changed, Sam," Dean prodded. "And the thicker I've made them, the more screwed up and weird you've gotten. In Pennsylvania, there was just a few and we didn't notice anything odd, and then there were a few more and you still seemed mostly fine. Then there was that whole cluster fuck at Bobby's, where we could still touch each other, but they were already so thick that even with permission it was like reaching through molasses. And since then, every time you feel anything from me you flip out and demand that I shore them up more. I get that you want to be alone in your head, really I do. But there's got to be a line, and that line is wherever it starts messing with this quest or your health."

"So maybe just take a few down to see."

"Or maybe just take them all down," Dean disagreed. "The visions stopped when the first one went up."

Sam crossed his arms tightly over his chest. "I'd like to revisit my earlier question about how exactly you were planning to conduct this little adventure if I hadn't agreed to come along and play tour guide?"

"So far you haven't done as much guiding as you have bitching. And I told you, I didn't have a plan. Something would have come up," Dean said casually.

"Something usually does," Sam said, resigned. "Fine. Do whatever you want. But if this doesn't work, you have to put them all back up, okay?"

"We're probably not going to know if it's working or not immediately, Sam."

"I know that, just… whenever. And in the meantime, stay out of my head." He could almost hear Dean rolling his eyes in the dark.

"Right." Dean drummed his fingers absently on Sam's thigh where it was covered by the blanket for a moment, then stilled. "Can you feel that?"

"Feel what?" Sam grumbled, jerking his leg out from under Dean's hand. He wanted other things from Dean too badly to tolerate a casual touch, even when it wasn't on bare skin. Not if Dean wasn't going to follow through on the teasing. Which Dean almost certainly knew.

"Yeah, that's another one of the reasons I think you have a problem. I mean, it's possible you were this bitchy before and I just didn't notice for some reason…"

"My head hurts, and it's after three a.m. now. Is there any reason I have to stay awake for this?" Sam demanded.

"For this? No. For what we're doing next, probably. I'm still unraveling the stupid barriers though, give me a minute or two."

Sam shifted, restless with impatience until Dean squirmed beside him on the bed for a moment, then pressed something into Sam's hand. It was the pocket knife he'd been digging for in Dean's jeans before. Sam's breath caught despite himself and his fingers closed over the folded blade.

"We could do this first," Sam suggested hopefully. He felt almost lightheaded with the knife in his hand. A tangible promise that at least one of the problems in his life would be sorted out soon, however temporarily. He would care a lot less about what Dean was doing in his mind after the well of demonic power replenished him and eased the awful, yawning ache of emptiness at his core. Even the room felt lighter around him at the thought, like it was bigger than it had been a few minutes ago, expanding into impossible dimensions of openness. The headache that had nagged at him on and off for weeks receded like a steady tide pulling from the beach and left in its place almost… euphoria.

Sparks danced like fireflies in the dim shadows of the room, flares of red and gold and white. Sam sat up and reached to touch one, Dean's knife falling almost unnoticed from suddenly nerveless fingers as the blankets pooled down to his waist. He had a heartbeat for the cold realization of what was happening before the tide came rushing back in, sparks coalescing into images and sounds, and he was buried under a crashing sea of vision. With his natural sight, Sam could still make out the familiar environment of the motel room, but it was layered together with the images in his mind until it was impossible to distinguish from one another. He was paralyzed by the onslaught, unable to sort out what he was taking in.

"Rufus is going to call," Sam heard his own voice as if from the other end of a long tunnel. Dean's hand was on his shoulder, hot as a branding iron through the thin cotton of Sam's t-shirt. It was the only thing stopping Sam from listing off the bed. He had no sense of balance, trapped in a haze of paths and possibilities that didn't touch the reality he was physically connected to.

"Sam?" Dean asked sharply.

"Rufus is going to call," Sam repeated. He felt Dean grab his chin and angle his face up, was hazily aware of his brother's green eyes boring into his own, searching for… something.

"Sam, are you with me?"

When Sam didn't reply, Dean swore and let go, shifting so his back was against the headboard and he could pull Sam in to lean against his chest. Sam went boneless as a rag doll. He could feel Dean's heart beating under his cheek and Dean's arms wrapped around him, anchors in the psychic storm that was causing his mind to seize up. Sam let his eyes fall gratefully shut. It did nothing to stop the nauseating shift of colors and light assaulting his senses, but closing out some of the other stimulus helped a little bit.

From far away Dean's voice echoed through the chaos. "Why is Rufus going to call?"

Sam wanted to laugh, he had no idea. He almost never did, not until whatever it was had already come to pass. His visions worked great in hindsight.

Sam thought he could still hear his own voice, but the words were indistinguishable now. The world was narrowing down, light burning in from the edges of his vision until it obliterated everything else and reality fell completely away. His awareness of Dean was the last thing to fade, but soon even that was gone. Sam was surrounded all on sides, floating in a sea of shining radiance; harsh and… welcoming. He felt stripped-down and exposed, but strangely unconcerned as the light seeped in through the pores of his skin and ferreted out every thought, every memory.

He felt utterly accepted and totally at peace, embraced in his entirety in a way that was unlike anything he could have imagined before. He reached out, but there was nothing to touch, just a scintillating brilliance that seemed to echo and rebound forever, expanding into an infinite space that Sam felt he could almost grasp.

"Sam."

A shadow passed over him, a momentary flicker in the perfect light that enveloped him. Sam didn't know how long it had been, minutes or years, but the shadow disturbed him.

"Sam. Where are you?"

He knew that voice, it was an important voice. Not… Dean. Sam tried to remember who it was, but the light was distracting, burning in his eyes, scattering his thoughts. He frowned and tried to struggle against it for the first time, trying to think, but it was like swimming in warm honey. Sweet, and smothering, and pulling him back down at every pause for breath. Hard to remember why he was struggling in the first place.

"Sam." Harsher now, the voice was edged with concern. Sam felt the first flicker of his own concern¬, but it was hard to hold onto it. The light was changing, welcoming comfort suddenly twisting around him, tightening into a snare. It dimmed again as the shadow grew stronger and a cool breeze swept around him like an offered hand. Sam grabbed hold and the light went out, as if extinguished by the rising column of icy air and darkness.

When Sam could see again he was facing a neat row of cottage-style shops fronted by a wide sidewalk. A narrow street separated the shops from the recently mowed grass at his feet and the air was thick with humidity. The hard slats of the weathered park bench beneath him were a welcome point of physical contact, but Sam half expected the world to spin away at any minute. When it didn't, he slowly relaxed. The park might not be real, but at least it was familiar.

The park wasn't the only familiar thing, on the other end of the bench an equally familiar figure was sitting. The hair was just as vibrantly red and the skin as marble pale, but this time the dark green band shirt and worn denim had been traded in for some tattered painter shorts and an ivory t-shirt with the Wonderbread logo splayed across the front. The whole picture made it look unreal against the otherwise normal backdrop of the world around them. Easy, then, for Sam to remember that what he was dealing with wasn't human. Though the angel had never tried to pretend otherwise with him.

"What was that?" Sam asked.

The angel shrugged noncommittally. "You should be careful where you let your mind wander, Sam. You have a considerable gift, and not all of the places you can reach are places you are safe."

"Being safe anywhere would be a novelty at this point," Sam said, resigned, "but I am glad to see you again."

"Because you were concerned for my well being?" It raised a thin, skeptical eyebrow the same unnatural scarlet of its hair.

It was Sam's turn to shrug. "It's been awhile."

"Yes. You've been hard to reach." The tone was completely neutral, but Sam couldn't help feeling the sting of censure anyways.

"I know." Sam sighed. "I mean… I didn't know. Neither of us understood how wide the effect would be." Had obviously been, since not even five minutes after dissolving the barriers he'd been flattened by a barrage of vision and then thrown into a meeting with an angel of Hell. Dean being right was going to make him especially hard to live with for awhile.

"What did you do?" the angel asked.

Sam squirmed internally, not thrilled with confessing his mistake. Thinking of it as their mistake made it marginally better. After all, it hadn't been his barriers gumming up the works. "This link Dean and I have, I asked him to kind of build some walls so we weren't bleeding all over each other like we have been. I guess they were a little… much," he finished lamely.

"You should be careful with things like that."

"No kidding." Sam's voice was dry as desert air.

The angel smiled thinly. "The recent inconvenience isn't the only potential problem you face by walling up the connection you share. You risk aspects of your brother fading as well. To greater or lesser effect, of course."

Sam's stomach twisted into a hard knot. "What do you mean? I though… you know, Dean did the demon thing with Entropy and in exchange he's still Dean in this world. That was the deal, right?"

"We agreed to retain and return to him, or at least make available to him, the traits and memories of his human life. But he is still, at his core, what he has become. Wearing the mask doesn't change what he is underneath."

"I understand that," Sam said tightly. It was a lesson that had been harsh to learn and harder to accept, but he had stood with Dean in the hollowing void, and felt Dean's joy in it. Not Dean truly, not there, but still his brother in ways that went deeper than names and the waking world. Sam didn't like it, but he understood it.

"Then also understand that the way he presents himself to the world now, and the way he would if he was without you, are not the same thing. Much of how he portrays himself is based on the subtleties of your influence. It is unlikely the effect would appear so seamless if there was not an open channel running deep between you."

Sam sat up, brow furrowed. "So you're saying that it's all an act? That Dean being Dean is some kind of role he's playing for -- why?"

"A façade, but not an act," the angel replied patiently. "He is Dean, as much as is possible. He has all the pieces of his former self, but the blueprint of how those pieces worked together comes more from you than from something intrinsic to him." The angel took a long sip of the ever present Slurpee and watched Sam struggle with the idea for a moment. "Two people with identical space and materials will still create two distinct rooms. To recreate himself perfectly, Dean's needs the template of your impressions as well as his own."

Sam thought about the last few months. About annoyances that really shouldn't have been, and the odd feeling of disconnection. About barriers wide and strong enough to sever him from the psychic plane and hold angelic visitors at bay. "Does he know?"

"He thinks of himself as your brother, Sam. I'm sure he's aware that he takes some cues from you, but it's not something that can be quantified and examined. Our wards keep him from the greater part of what he is now, and anchor him in your reality with his memories intact. But the finishing touches…" It waved a hand lazily in Sam's direction.

Sam remembered Dean when he had first returned. Remembered months of isolation and fear, watching a stranger with his brother's face. Remembered realizing slowly that the stranger wasn't, not really. Accepting that Dean was Dean, and not just another monster with an agenda of pain. With this new information…. Maybe he hadn't just been irrationally opposed to the idea that Dean had come back. Maybe Dean had changed during the long months to be more of what Sam remembered, and less of what he feared.

Sam didn't doubt Dean's honesty -- he'd been with Dean in places that brooked no deception, where no half-truth or pretty words could change what was revealed.

Dean's stability was more debatable.

Sam felt ill thinking of how close they had come to severing the bond. He had damaged it, and more than once. But Dean had still always been the same. That trying to get some space in his own mind might have choked off enough of whatever was between them to cause actual personality changes in Dean was an unpleasant thought. It was also an unusual topic of discussion for the Entropic Angel, who tended to be more concise in vaguely helpful ways than given to long rambling discussions on topics not directly related to its agenda. Sam gave it a suspicious look.

"So is this why we're having this meeting? A graduate course in demon psychology 101, with helpful tips and refreshments?" Overhead a stiff breeze stirred through the trees and sent a few yellowish leaves drifting down to dot the grass around them.

"I thought we were just exchanging pleasantries. 'Chit-chat,' I believe you humans call it."

Sam crossed his arms and leaned back against the bench. It creaked ominously as his weight shifted. "Yeah, we usually try to limit that to the weather."

"Ah. It seems pointless to discuss something that is mutually observable."

"Sunny with a chance of leaves," Sam agreed. "Anything else?"

"Are you in a hurry to be somewhere?" it asked archly.

"I'm in a hurry to find out what you actually wanted to see me about," Sam said impatience edging his voice. There had been a time in his life where he would have tripped all over his own feet in an effort to be polite and respectful of an angel. It was amazing what time could change. "You don't usually make drop-ins just to shoot the breeze and criticize my manners."

"Maybe I've missed your company."

"You should have plenty of company where you are. We just send a whole pack of annoyances back to the Pit to stew in their own juices for a century."

"The Rendering," the angel said, dismissively. "Though I admit Lilith's frustrated howls add a certain ambiance to the place that we had been missing since she slipped her leash." The smile was a momentary slash of malicious satisfaction. Sam reminded himself firmly that this angel was an ally he wanted to help, freeing the Entropic Angels was a good thing, and that, as Dean said, Hell was what you made of it. "You can't think you're safe from her though," the angel added offhandedly, snapping Sam back to sharp focus, "or depend on her staying put for any specific length of time."

"Why not?" Sam demanded. "It's supposed to take her and the other major players caught in the blast a full century to power back up to escape."

"That's assuming no one is generous about sharing themselves with her. Which, granted, would usually be a good assumption, Hell not being a place where a lot of the inhabitants go in for helpfulness and mutual aid. But Lilith is special. Many try to curry Lucifer's favor by aiding his shining star as she goes about her tasks. When their master returns, they wish to greet him with proof of their loyalty and sacrifice on his behalf," it added distastefully. "Even so, recovering enough power to pull herself free should take her some time. However, though she still lacks technical freedom, she has legions of foot soldiers able to move in your world that have not been hampered at all."

"We can handle a few garden variety demons."

"Until you can't."

"Is this what you wanted to talk to me about?"

"No. I simply wanted to warn you that certain things have started to shift again in the multiverse. Portents and possibilities, great matters of cause and change."

"Is that supposed to be some kind of helpful clue?" Sam demanded.

"The clues don't come from me, Samuel. I am not the architect of this masterpiece, and I don't know where the lines are drawn. The World seeks balance, and you and your kind are children of her nature. She has no patience or sympathy with the plights of me and mine, we are wholly apart from her… grandiosity. She tolerates us, and can be coaxed into cooperation when her interests are involved, but she is the gem in my Father's crown, and she generally prefers that we keep our proverbial hands to ourselves. She will tell you what you need to know, if you know how to listen in the quiet places."

"I picked up on the clues last time well enough."

"Yes," the angel agreed solemnly. "So I have great hope for this endeavor as well."

"What's changed?" Sam asked abruptly.

"That's a nonspecific question," it observed.

"What's changed that now you want to talk to me," Sam clarified. "Why are things suddenly starting to happen? It's been more than two years since we moved the Cage door, what makes now a better time than then?"

"Moving the door, as you say, took the combined efforts of angels of Entropy and Creation, an Entropic demon, hundreds of human lives, thousands of years of prophecy, one of the most powerful human psychics alive, and the World itself -- and that was just moving a door. The prison of one rebellious angel. Do you think unraveling the magic that traps half of the Host in the bowels of the Pit would be the work of an afternoon?"

Put that way…. A heavy weight of resignation settled over Sam. He wasn't even sure he should be arguing its estimations of his ability, since he was having an afternoon chat with a biblical creature from another Plane of existence. "How are we supposed to do this again?"

"The same way you accomplish any great feat of this nature. One step at a time."

"Thanks. That's… very unhelpful of you."

A cloud passed over the sun and the balmy air took on a cool note for a moment. It reminded Sam of the embracing warmth of earlier. Of light that burned brighter than the sun. He shuddered, and didn't know why.

The angels face was very serious when Sam met its eyes. "This path is untraveled and I know little of the road. The beginning and the end alone are set, but the tools you will need and the knowledge to use them exists. Must exist. Nature itself abhors absolutes. There is nothing that is done that cannot be undone, even if it is done by my Father. Much less something done by any lesser being."

"No absolutes," Sam echoed. The ghost of a smile brushed his lips. "I should ask you the same thing I asked Dean. What was the plan if I didn't agree to help out with this?"

"There was little chance of that if Dean's original goal was accomplished."

"So this was just one big calculated risk?" Sam asked, incredulously.

The angel shrugged gracefully and turned its attention back to its drink.

Sam fumed on the bench for a few minutes but the angel said nothing else. The strangeness of just sitting there together seeped through Sam's irritation. "If you can't help me, and don't have anything else to say… why am I still here?"

"The road is that way," it pointed with its free hand to the narrow strip of asphalt that faded into a distance Sam had never explored. "Don't think that I am keeping you here."

Sam jumped to his feet, he shot the angel an annoyed look and stepped out onto the sidewalk.

"Sam?" the angel called before he could get more than a couple of feet away. "You must be very careful about things now. Not all of your enemies were born in Hell."


Section IV
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