The next morning Joan tried to talk to Grace about what had happened the night before. Grace was still a little shaken when she'd gotten in after Sam had left, and Joan worried also that she might still be a little mad at sending her away. But, when Grace insisted that she was fine, Joan had to admit that she seemed back to normal today. They'd gotten up and out early since this would be the first day of speakers and forums.
The hallway outside of the conference room was buzzing with activity. There were tons of people, and there were booths set up for every organization that ever existed. Joan had papers in her hand from PETA, three crisis hotlines, The Air Force National Guard, some summer camp in Kentucky that worked with at-risk youth, Campus Crusade for Christ, College Democrats, and about five others that she hadn't even looked at.
Grace checked her watch as someone handed Joan yet another flier. "I better go get us some seats. Can you find some coffee?"
"Sure," Joan said. Grace made her way through the crowd to the doors that led into the conference room, and Joan sighed, looking in between bodies and over heads to try and find the coffee booth.
She found it pretty quickly, sandwiched between two other booths near the conference room entrance.
There were no cups on the table next to the carafe, and the woman behind the table told her, "Hold on a sec. Cups are comin'."
"We just got slammed," she said, rifling through a box under the table. "I guess everyone wanted a jolt before going to sit for two hours." She popped up quickly with a large stack of paper cups, which she set on the table. Joan took two from the top, shoving all of her papers under her arm as she poured coffee from the spigot. She moved wrong and dropped the papers, watching as they all fluttered to the floor.
The girl picked them up for her as Joan juggled the cups and tried to not spill the hot coffee all over her hands. She was young, maybe a couple years older than Joan, and her head was shaved almost completely bald. She had a ring in her nose and heavy eye-make up. She was dressed in cargo pants and a white wife-beater style tank top.
"Thanks," Joan said.
"Don't mention it, Joan," the girl said, setting the papers in a stack on the table.
"It's you," Joan said.
"Something on your mind, Joan," God asked, not unkindly.
Joan didn't know what to say. She looked around at the crowd, which was starting to lighten as people began to find their seats.
"I'm sorry," Joan said finally, setting the coffee cups down on the table. She looked God in the eyes, and she felt tears sting the back of her own.
"What for? Did you do something you shouldn't have?"
"I couldn't keep Grace away from campus last night. I still don't really know what happened, but she could have really gotten hurt. You tried to tell me, and I guess I just should have tried harder to keep her at the motel."
"Listen, Joan," God said. "You did your best. I asked you to try to keep Grace from campus. That is exactly what you did. You did well."
God cut her off. "Grace is fine. And she's got you to talk to about all of this when she's ready. I knew Grace would be protected when she went."
"Wait," Joan said. "You knew she was gonna go anyway?"
God smiled a little. "I figured. I know her pretty well, you know. She's got free will. We've talked about this--people have choices. Grace made hers when she went to the meeting." God picked up a sugar packet and flicked it back and forth a couple of times.
"If you knew she'd go anyway, why did you have me try and stop her?"
"She needed to know you didn't want her to go." God sighed. "What's happening right now is very important, and she needed you to try and stop her. I needed you to try." God opened the packet and poured the contents into an empty cup, which she filled with coffee for herself. Joan was getting beyond irritated. She didn't understand anything, and she looked up at the ceiling, trying to gather her thoughts before speaking again. She took a perfunctory look around; her head hurt, and she could feel her cheeks getting hot.
Out of the corner of her eye, she saw Dean and Sam come into through the doors. They were both wearing neat khaki pants and polo shirts with an embroidered moving truck on them. They didn't see her, and God's voice brought her attention back around.
"You're wondering what they're doing here."
Joan shook her head a little. "What?"
"Sam and Dean Winchester," God said.
"You know them?"
"I know everyone. You're wondering what they're doing here, and you're worried that you told them about me. It's okay--telling them was part of the plan." God took a sip of coffee. "I think you knew that last night."
"Yeah. That was weird."
"What was weird about it, Joan?"
"Well," Joan said. "They believed me, I think. I mean. They didn't treat me like I was nuts or anything, which, you know... But then Dean got--he got so angry when I mentioned you. That was weird."
God looked over at them, they were talking to a woman in a pantsuit. "He has a reason to be angry," God said. She looked a little sad.
Joan waited for God to say more about it, but she didn't. "Speaker's going on in a couple of minutes," God said. "Here." She handed Joan the coffees and one of the fliers--the one about the summer camp. "This is the only one of these you'll need." God smiled and winked at her.
Joan began to walk away, but God called her back. "Joan," she said. "I'm going to ask something of you that I've never done before."
"What is it?" Joan asked, intensely curious.
"You'll know when I ask it. I just want you to be prepared. I need you to do as I ask," she said.
"Okay..." Joan said. She opened her mouth for another question, but God cut her off again.
"Speaker's going on. You don't want to be late." She waved, and Joan knew the conversation was over. Just when she thought God couldn't get weirder, he always surprised her.
-- -- -- --
Dean smiled as he and Sam left the conference hall.
"Man, that was almost too easy," he said, tucking the printed campus map into his back pocket.
"I told you the shirts would work," Sam said.
"Dude. We look like tools. I mean, nothing new for you, but--"
"We got what we needed, didn't we?" Sam said.
Dean was still sometimes surprised at the information people would give up so easily. They'd just gone in to speak with the chairperson of the conference, pretending like they were scheduled to move the exhibit back to its original place today, and she just spilled all of the information about where the exhibit was being held and when it was scheduled to move back. All they had to do was come back this evening when the conference let out and then it was salt and burn and good bye Nebraska.
-- -- -- --
The sun wasn't completely down when Sam and Dean climbed out of the car and headed back to campus. The exhibit with the remains of their spirit were being held in the same building as the conference, but in a storage room around on the other side. There were still a few people lingering, and Sam hoped that they would be able to do this without calling too much attention to themselves.
Sam opened the door to the building, and they both walked in. They were still dressed in their moving shirts, but they had their jackets on over them to conceal the guns they were carrying.
"This way," Sam said, checking the map in his hand and turning a corner into a much darker empty hallway. Dean was right behind him. They found the room, and Sam checked the knob. It was locked, so he picked it. Less than a minute later, the door had opened to what used to probably be a small classroom. Now, it was piled with boxes, but the ones they needed were easily spotted. They were clearly labeled. All they had to do was find out which one of these things had the piece they were looking for.
Dean slid a knife through the tape on one of the boxes, and Sam did the same. Inside, he found old headdresses and breast plates made from bone and teeth. There were some pottery pieces that looked like bowls and some flaps of leather with tribal drawings. Every piece was packed in its own box, clearly labeled with had a sheet of information to go with it.
"I think I got it," Dean said.
When Sam looked over, he saw that Dean was holding up a long lock of hair--attached to a scalp.
"That's disgusting," Sam said, walking over. Dean's eyes were on the information sheet, and when Sam got within reaching distance, Dean handed it to him.
"What do you think?"
"Looks like this is it." Sam said, reading over the sheet.
Dean was already digging in his jeans pocket for his lighter. "Let's get this thing salted and burned--I'm sick of this bastard."
"Dean, we can't just light a fire in here."
Dean just looked at him. "Why the fuck not?"
Sam looked pointedly at the sprinkler head at the ceiling. "And, we can't risk all this other stuff getting burned."
Dean sighed. "Fine. We'll take Fugly's weave somewhere else, but we better get goin'. Sun's going down."
They made quick work of putting things back as well as they could and were out the door without a hitch. They'd made it halfway down the footpath in front of the building when the EMF reader went haywire from inside Dean's jacket.
"Shit," Sam said. Then he saw the spirit, hatchet arm raised. He threw it with skill and a silent war-cry, and Sam launched himself at Dean, knocking him to the ground, just out of the way of the tomahawk, which landed in the grass next to them in a powder-fine mist of salt.
"Tonto's pissed," Dean said. The spirit came closer, this time gunning for Sam, and Sam ducked as the spirit swung a new tomahawk at his throat.
Dean ran it through with an iron crowbar, and both of them began to run to the car as fast as they could while checking behind them.
"Dude," Sam said. "It's following us. It's following the remains."
"Damn it!" Dean said, and he pushed Sam out of the way of another flying hatchet. He pulled the scalp out from inside his jacket and called, "Hey, Crazy Horse! Over here!" He was swinging the thing by the hair above his head.
"Dean!" Sam said, incredulous. Why was Dean taunting this thing?
When Dean started to run in between two other buildings across the way, Sam understood. There were people coming. They needed to get this thing done. Sam ran as fast as his legs would carry him to catch up with Dean, who had stopped in a narrow enclosure separating two buildings. They were pretty well hidden here, and Sam was pulling the bag of salt from his own pocket as Dean threw the scalp on the ground, covering it with lighter fluid.
The spirit was not happy. It caught up with them as well, and it threw Sam hard, slamming his right cheek into the side of the building. Sam swung at it with an iron knife and threw the bag of salt to Dean, who caught it deftly with one hand. When the spirit came back seconds later, it threw Dean off to the side just as he was flicking the lighter, slamming him against the wall, lighter falling flameless to the ground. Sam could hear the sick crack of Dean's head hitting the wall before the soft flump of his body hit the ground. The spirit was hovering over Dean, new tomahawk raised high above its head.
Sam hesitated for half a second, deciding. But, then he threw himself on the lighter, flicking it to life. The instant he saw the orange flame, he threw it on the scalp, and it lit up brilliantly. The spirit in front of Dean flickered orange before disappearing into a white mist of powdery salt.
Sam bent at the waist, hands on his knees. Still looking at the ground, he asked, "You okay?"
When he looked up, Dean was pulling himself off the ground. He gave a thumbs up and said, "I'm wonderful. You?" He was still catching his breath, but he was laughing a little.
"Yeah, I'm good," Sam said, but he was already rolling his shoulder and tenderly testing his cheek with his fingers. He'd had worse, but he wasn't going to be pretty in the morning.
-- -- -- --
Grace had showered and left early. She had to meet up with the conference big shots this morning, and she'd be presenting this evening, so Joan had one more day of finding something to do in Lincoln. She thought she might try and find a mall or something, do some shopping. She got ready quickly, tired of the motel and its smell, and she was hungry and in desperate need of a cup of coffee.
She went to the little diner close to the motel, got some breakfast and coffee, and when she got back to the car God was waiting for her, leaning casually against the rear fender with his hands in his pockets. He was in the same form he'd been in when she first met him--cute, a little older than her, but he was dressed a little differently today. His jeans were dirty, leather jacket a little worn at the collar and cuffs. She wondered what happened to his regular brown corduroy jacket. Did God have a closet?
"Good morning, Joan," He said, smiling at her. He straightened up, and she noticed he was holding a paper sack.
"You," she said. She stopped short of getting in the car. She figured he'd be back, but she didn't really think it would be so soon; she thought she'd already done what he'd asked of her for now. "What's that?" she asked, indicating the paper sack with a nod.
"Oh, I picked this up for someone who might want it." He changed the topic. "Planning on doing some shopping today?"
Joan shrugged. "Yes, actually. But, you probably want me to, like, give all the money I was going to spend today on, like, unicycle lessons or something, right?"
God chuckled a little. "Not at all. I have a little shopping to do of my own."
Joan just looked at him.
"But I need a ride."
She shrugged her shoulders. "Okay. Get in." Once inside, she looked at him and pointed a finger in his face. "I get to pick the music, though."
"Fair enough," he said.
She pulled the car out of the parking lot, and when she got to the street, God told her to turn left. She did.
-- -- -- --
"C'mon Sammy," Dean said from the door. "Shake a leg! I'm ready to get outta here." He'd loaded his stuff into the Impala already.
"Coming," Sam said. He had his duffel bag on his shoulder, and they stepped out into the sun and locked the door. Sam loaded his bag while Dean took care of checking out with the motel office.
Once in the car and on the road, Sam said, "Where are you so eager to be, Dean?"
"Anywhere but here," he said, smiling. He put an Iron Maiden tape into the deck and turned up the volume.
Sam turned it down, just a little, so he could talk without shouting. "Have we heard from Bobby? Or Cas? Do we have any leads?"
"Nope," Dean said. "I figured maybe we could head out to the mountains for a couple of days--I'm tired of flat and boring. We could do some research. Surely, there's bound to be some case out there somewhere."
Sam shrugged his shoulders in silent agreement, and turned the music back up. Dean smiled at him and stepped on the gas.
They'd been driving all of an hour, enough to just get them out of town when the car slowed down, whining loudly, smoke billowing from under the hood.
"Son of a--" Dean let the word drop, shaking his head sharply, pulling the car over to the shoulder. Just figured that Nebraska would trap him there. He reached under the dash for the hood release and pulled. The hood popped with a soft clunk, and he got out to check the engine. Sam was right behind him.
He lifted the hood, and it only took a second to see what the problem was. Damn serpentine belt was busted. That fucking figured. He could fix it himself; the belt wasn't that expensive, but he'd need to find a way back to town. He hoped he could find what he needed at the store without having to order it.
-- -- -- --
"I'm not going to have to learn how to build engines now, am I?" Joan asked, when God got back in the car, bag with a brand new something from the auto parts store in hand.
"No, Joan. Remember the boat? I don't think that vehicle mechanics are your strong suit."
"What's that for then?" She asked. This was getting more and more confusing.
"Someone needs it," he said. "Turn up here, and keep going west."
She drove for a while, watching the town disappear behind them, traffic thinning, and she wondered where they were going.
"We're almost there," God said. "In fact--" he pointed. There was a stalled car on the side of the road, hood propped up. She recognized the car. "We're here. Pull over."
She did, and when she made to get out, God held his hand up. "Wait here," he said. Joan opened her mouth to protest, but God was already getting out car.
She huffed, making a face at his retreating back. "I could be at the mall, you know," she said. He didn't even turn around. "Great. Just great," she said to herself before turning up the volume of the radio and grabbing a magazine from the back seat.
-- -- -- --
Dean stepped out from behind the hood as he heard a car pull up behind the Impala.
"Car trouble?" a guy asked, stepping out of the passenger seat of a little blue car that looked familiar. He was a young guy, a little shorter than he was--probably a frat kid from the college coming back from spring break a little early. If anything, Dean figured he might be able to get him to give directions to a decent auto parts store back in town.
"Yeah." Dean said, wiping his hands on his jeans. "Serpentine belt's busted. I think I could fix it pretty easy, but I'll need to get back to--"
"Huh," the guy said. "That's funny. I got one of those in the car. I know someone who needed one, so I just picked one up today. What model do you need?"
Dean told him, and the guy smiled. "You're in luck--I got it."
Dean started to protest, but the guy was already heading back to the car. He could tell that someone was in the driver's side, but the way the sun glinted off the windshield, he couldn't see. Something niggled at the back of his brain. There was something kinda off about this frat guy. Why did he happen to have the exact belt Dean needed, and where had he seen that car before?
When the guy came back, Dean asked, "You know someone else with a classic Chevy?"
"Yeah, I know a lot of car guys. Know a little something about engines, myself, too. Do you need any help?" When Dean looked a little closer, he saw that the guy's jeans were worn to the threads in places and had a couple of oil stains. His jacket was in almost as rough shape as Dean's. Maybe he wasn't just a stupid frat kid after all.
Dean huffed out a short laugh. "Actually, I'd love a little help. I could do it, but an extra set of hands would be good. My brother over there--" He nodded at Sam, who gave a little wave. "Doesn't really know engines too well. More of a book nerd." He smiled at Sam, just to let him know that he didn't mean it as an insult.
Sam nodded, saying, "Yeah. He keeps tryin' to teach me, but yeah. I'm not really very good at it."
Soon enough, the guy was elbow-deep into the engine with Dean, and Dean was surprised to see that he really did know what he was doing. They got the belt fixed in record time, and Dean closed the hood with a contented sigh, glad that his baby was back in working order.
"What do I owe you for the part?" he asked, pulling his wallet from his back pocket.
They guy held up a hand. "Not a thing," he said. "Don't mention it. It's the least I could do."
Dean tried to insist, but the guy wasn't having it, so Dean stowed his wallet away. "Well, thanks, man. Can I at least get you a beer? I think I got some in a cooler in the back."
"That would be great," he said. Dean was glad he could repay this guy somehow, even if he wouldn't take his money. He didn't think people just helped people anymore without wanting anything in return.
He climbed into the Impala as the guy went back to his car, saying he needed to talk to his friend for a minute.
When Dean stuck his head into the back seat of the car, reaching for the cooler, his heart skipped a beat when out of nowhere, Castiel suddenly appeared in front of him, sitting on the passenger seat.
"Jeez, Cas. You've really got to start learning how to use the phone."
"Sorry," he said. "I didn't mean to frighten you."
"What can I do for you today?" Dean asked, sarcastic edge to his voice. He didn't really want to know the answer. These days, when Cas turned up, it was not going to be good news. In fact, when Cas showed up, it usually meant he and Sam were mere hours away from cracked ribs and concussions. Judging by Castiel's crooked tie and dirty trench coat, this suspicion didn't seem unfounded.
"I don't know," Cas said in that slow methodical way of his. He turned to look at Dean, expression as dry as ever. He crinkled his brow. "I was called here."
"You were called here?" Dean rolled his eyes. Apparently, Castiel's garrison was still working on a need-to-know basis, even with their own. Angels, man. They really aren't the sharing-and-caring type.
"Yes," Castiel said. "I was called. So I came."
"Well," Dean said, flinging empty fast food bags out of his way. He figured he could at least catch him up to speed. "We just did a job in Lincoln when the belt on the car broke. It's all fixed now, and we'll be back on the road soon. Think we're headin' out to the mountains."
Castiel looked at him, expressionless. Dean grabbed the cooler and hauled it out of the car, shaking his head a little. Castiel opened his own door and was at his heels.
"Hey, Cas," Sam said in greeting when he saw him. "You got somethin' for us? A lead on Lucifer?"
"Hello, Sam," Castiel said.
Dean snorted, answering for him. "No. He was called here."
Castiel nodded once, slow and alien. "So I came."
Sam looked at Dean with raised eyebrows and shrugged.
He saw the guy still standing at his car, head in the driver's side window, talking to his friend. He set the cooler down on the ground, grabbing beers for Sam and himself, popping the tops off with his key as he used the lid as a seat. Sam leaned against the fender of the Impala, and Castiel just stood watching them, unmoving and silent.
As he took a long pull from his bottle, he heard the other car's door shut and footsteps, so he stood up to get another beer.
When he looked up, though, he noticed that weird chick, Joan, was with the guy, and he felt his internal alarm system go into hyper drive. What could she possibly be doing here? Now he remembered where he'd seen that car before - the motel. And the bar. He suddenly felt really stupid.
Then, heard the crunch of gravel under feet and saw that Cas was taking large steps backwards, eyes wide, face slack, chest rising and falling visibly under his trench coat. Dean had never seen Castiel react to anything with more than mild indifference or calm intensity.
Dean felt his heartbeat speed up as adrenaline flooded into his system; something was off. Without thinking, he was reaching for the knife at his back. He noticed Sam, too, was on high alert, also reaching behind him. Dean was just about to draw the knife, when Castiel spoke.
"Hosanna," he said, nearly breathless. "Glory to God in the highest!" And, then he fell to his knees, chest and face falling to the pavement, hands laid out before him.
Dean looked at Sam, who was looking back at him now, just as confused. Castiel did not move, but Dean could hear him singing softly. Singing.
The car guy was not smiling, but he didn't move to attack, either. He calmly looked over to Joan, who was staring at Castiel with her mouth hanging open, and said, "Joan, can you please tell Sam and Dean who I am?"
Dean swallowed, and he noticed that Sam did, too. They hadn't told this guy their names. This could not be good. Angels and demons knew their names without being told. He gripped the hilt of his knife harder. He knew that Joan chick was bad news.
"Um," Joan said, looking uncertain. She bit her lip and stammered a little, but the guy nodded at her, encouraging her. "This is God."
The guy that Joan said was God smiled at her and then at Dean and Sam. Then, he walked over to Castiel and said, "Rise, Castiel."
Castiel slowly brought himself to his feet, but he did not lift his head, keeping it bowed, making himself as humble as Dean had ever seen him.
The guy put a hand on Cas's shoulder and said, "It's all right. You can look at me."
Cas lifted his face. "I've never seen you before," he said to the guy. Dean could see that Cas's blue eyes were watery, which only made this whole thing even weirder, more unsettling.
"Your service and your faith have been tremendous. You have done well," they guy said.
Castiel cleared his throat. "Thank you," he said, bowing his head again.
"Wait just a damn minute here, pal," Dean said. This crazy guy really thought he was God. And apparently Cas thought so, too. Had everyone lost their minds? He couldn't fight the feeling in his gut, though, that was telling him that Cas usually knew what he was talking about when it came to this kind of thing.
"I am God, Dean," he said, calmly. "I think you know that. You can feel that it's true. But if you need more, I can tell you that you are Dean Winchester, son of John and Mary Winchester. This is your brother Sam, and you had a half-brother, Adam Milligan, who you didn't know about until after he died last year. You were born in Lawrence, Kansas and lived there until the demon Azazel killed your mother, and your father became obsessed with hunting him. He died saving your life in a deal with that same demon, who you killed with the Colt at the Devil's Gate in South Dakota. Your first kiss was from Sherry Taylor in the fourth grade, you like your cheeseburgers with mustard and bacon, your favorite songs are "Ramble On" and "Traveling Riverside Blues," you really hate rats, but the only thing that has ever really sacred you was losing Sam when he died and then again when he left last year."
He paused for a breath, and looked at Dean square in the eye. "How am I doing so far? Do I need to keep going?"
Dean didn't know what to say. He could feel the pounding of his heart in his chest, blood roaring in his ears. He wanted to hit something. This guy, this God was just showing up now? Where the hell was he last year? Where was he when his own angels were killing each other, while his brother was drinking demon blood, becoming a monster for the sake of his war, when the angels kept him from getting to Sam in time to stop the last seal from breaking?
"Go ahead," God said.
"What?" Dean asked.
"You can hit me if you want. I understand why you're angry with me."
Dean took a step back, running a hand across his forehead. He was unnerved at how this guy was just reading what was going through his mind. Without thinking, he drew his knife and stepped right up to him, holding the business end right under his chin.
But, in an instant, Castiel had his wrist. He heard Joan gasp and Sam come closer, but he never took his eyes from the face of the guy in front of him.
"Dean," Cas said in warning, voice hard as steel in his ear. "Don't."
Joan was saying something, too, but Dean wasn't listening to her. He was vaguely aware of Sam saying something back to her. Dean focused everything he had on the person in front of him, mind racing in some sort of plan that would loosen Castiel's grip for just a second. That was all it would take--just a second.
"It's all right, Castiel," the guy said. He had not flinched or made a move to get away from the knife. Then he looked back at Dean, met his eyes, and said, "Go ahead, Dean. Put the knife through my throat, if it will make you feel better." His voice was not unattached like the angels, not sarcastic and oily, like the demons; it held no fear, no venom, but it seemed to Dean that when the guy spoke, he could feel his own chest ache with some unnameable kind of emotion that he wasn't sure he'd ever really felt before.
Dean let out a growl of frustration, lowering his knife, unable to follow through. Cas let go of his arm then and stepped back cautiously.
Sam came to stand beside him, putting a hand on his shoulder for just a second before letting it drop again. When Dean looked at him, he thought Sam looked raw and ragged and vaguely sick, like he would vomit there on the pavement at any second. Sam believed this guy.
"You know," Joan said, voice seeming to come from nowhere. "I didn't believe him at first, either. But it's true. I don't really know what's going on here--it seems pretty... intense, but. This is God."
"Yeah," Dean said, looking at the guy--at God, not Joan. "I got that. Doesn't mean a whole hell of a lot, though. Even his angels don't believe in him much these days. We've been fighting his war without his help for years." Dean threw his knife down to the ground in frustration, metal hitting the concrete with a clink.
There were several long seconds of silence when God sighed and turned his attention to Cas. "Castiel," he said. Cas was kneeling in front of him in an instant. "Please go inform your garrison to prepare to receive Revelation. Tell them that I am coming to talk to them. It is time they started getting their orders directly."
Then, the guy--God--touched Cas in the place where Jimmy Novack's heart was beating. The spot glowed brightly for an instant, brilliant white spilling through the gaps in his fingers, and Cas looked from his chest up at him, eyes wide. "Keep that as the assurance they'll need to have faith in this message."
Castiel bowed his head, and God touched him on the forehead. In an instant, Cas vanished.
They all looked at the blank space where Castiel once stood for a minute before God strode over to the cooler and opened it. He pulled three beers and held one out for Sam, who hesitated for a second before taking it. He held one out for Dean, but Dean didn't want a damn thing this guy was handing out. God smiled a little, almost to himself, and put the bottle back in the cooler.
Joan cleared her throat, and the corner of God's lip twitched upwards. God looked at her and raised one eyebrow.
"I know, I know," she said, rolling her eyes. "There's a Coke in the car." Dean watched as she huffed off to the car and grabbed her drink, noticing that she had spoken to the guy--to God--with the easy comfort of a friend or a parent. Dean couldn't imagine what that would feel like--he could still feel his whole body thrum with anger, it rolled over his spine and tingled in his fingers.
"The problem with the angels," God said, taking a seat on top of the cooler, "is that they tend to take things far too literally." He popped the top off his beer and took a sip.
Dean shoved his hands in his jeans pockets, shaking his head. "Is there any other way to take things? From where I stand, every single damn thing about the prophecy has been true."
"That's where it gets a little more complicated," God said. "The angels--they were created as warriors, made to follow orders. The prophecies are supposed to help them do that job, but it's when they forget who it is they are protecting, that the choices people make can change things..." God let that thought hang in the air for a while. "When they get too wrapped up in the written word, well, that's when they begin to think they know better than me. Then they stop checking in, making sure." God stopped talking for a second and took another pull from his beer. "This is what happened with Uriel--and even with Lucifer all those ages ago. They have a free will, like you, but in a much different way. It's complicated."
Dean found that as God had spoken, he had stepped forward, closer to God, closer to Sam. Joan had also come up beside them. She'd been so quiet, Dean had almost forgotten she was there.
"Wait," she said. "I thought you said that your system was perfect. What's perfect about angels going all... power crazy, or whatever?"
"That's a good question, Joan." God said with a wry smile. "The system is perfect because things happen how they should within it."
Sam drew his lips in a tight line, drawing a deep breath through his nose. God looked at him, eyes softening, and Dean thought God might say something, but he didn't.
"So, Azazel killing my mom, messing with my brother. Demons killing innocent people. Angels killing each other--this is what should happen?" Dean's voice was gravel rough. "That's bullshit!"
"You misunderstand, Dean," God explained. "Everyone makes choices, and those choices have consequences. What has happened to you, to your family--they were products of supernatural outside influence, yes, but also by choices that were made--by your mother, by her parents, by you, and--" God looked at Sam. "By you."
Sam looked sick again.
"Don't get me wrong, Sam," he said. "I know you were trying to do whatever you thought it took to beat Lilith and stop all this, but... you made some bad choices--choices you knew were very wrong, even at the time. Those decisions, however good the intention was behind them, impacted things. There are consequences."
Dean hated what he was hearing. "And you just let it all happen? What kind of sick bastard are you? How is that a perfect system?"
"The kind where you get to make your own decisions," God said, not unkindly, but very firmly. "If I had stopped your mother from making the deal, stopped Sam last year--that would be taking away their free will. That would have been unfair, untrue to how they were created."
Dean looked over to Sam, who was still looking sick, face twisted in raw anguish for what he'd seen and what he'd done. He knew that Sam blamed himself for the apocalypse, which was only partly true. They'd all had their parts to play, starting with his own mother, and the angels and Ruby--they'd made sure that it all went down exactly to plan. When Sam met his gaze, he lifted his eyebrows, pleading, and then he looked to God.
"I'm sorry," he said, and he huffed out a sob, dry and desperate. Dean felt something inside his chest twist painfully.
Joan walked over to Sam, quietly putting a hand on his back in a sort of half-hug. Her face was full of sympathy, and her lips twitched as she tried to keep her emotions in check. For once, she didn't say anything. She just stood to offer the comfort that Dean couldn't make himself give--not yet.
God also moved to Sam, putting a hand at the side of his neck, close to his shoulder. Joan backed away a little. "Look at me, Sam Winchester." Sam did. He looked miserable. "You were led astray, away from your true potential, your true nature. You messed up, but no one is perfect. You are forgiven." God's voice was kind and firm, and Dean watched as the weight of the world began to fall slowly from Sam's shoulders.
At that, Sam dropped his head and repeated, "I'm so sorry," and Dean saw a tear fall down his left cheek. He wanted to go over, to comfort him in some way, but he still couldn't. His feet wouldn't move.
"You are forgiven, Sam," God said again, but this time it was only perfunctory, a reminder more than anything.
God backed away from Sam, giving him some space to compose himself before he spoke again to all of them, "I know you want answers," he said. "I can't give you all of them today, but I can tell you that I wanted Joan here for a reason. She knows a little about what you're going through."
Dean chuckled as he looked at her. "Right," he said. No way this chick was a hunter.
Joan stood a little taller. "Hey," she said, defensive. Then her shoulders fell a little, and she looked at God. "I do?"
"Remember your senior year of high school, Joan? What was that like?"
"It sucked." She shuddered, and then she said, "We had to fight. Ryan." She shuddered again.
"You see, Joan fought her own battle very similar to this a couple of years ago. It wasn't quite as big as what you boys are dealing with now, but the strategy is the same." Joan's eyebrows had knitted together, and God asked her, "What did I tell you, then, Joan? When you asked if you were going to have to fight Ryan all by yourself?"
"You said that I had to connect, that I had everything I needed." Her eyes looked someplace off in the distance--she was seeing something far away from the desolate roadside in front of them, blacktop and grass. She was remembering.
"Was I right?" God asked.
Joan let out a quiet breath and said, "Yeah," so quietly that Dean barely heard her.
"What does that even mean?" Dean asked, nearly shouting at God. "What are we supposed to do? How are we supposed to win this?"
"It means that this-- This disconnection you two have, that you have had since Castiel pulled you out of Hell--it's making you weaker. I have forgiven Sam, Dean, and it's time you did, too. You will never win this war if you don't start trusting each other again. Think about what you've got--who you've got." Dean looked over to Sam. He thought about Bobby and Cas, Ellen and Jo. It was a short list, he thought.
God shook his head, responding to what he'd just been thinking. "You have everything you need."
"So," Sam said, finding his voice. "What now?"
"I'll let you in on a little secret that Lucifer doesn't want you to know," God said. "This war has already been won. The fighting will be hard; it is a war after all, but the end of it has already been finished."
Dean didn't understand. That sounded a little cocky, even coming from God.
God smiled and responded again to exactly what Dean had been thinking, but apparently it was exactly what Sam had been thinking, too, because it was to him that God was now speaking. "There are things you can't possibly understand" God looked at both of them in turn. "Things you were never supposed to understand. But you do need to know that this is not a futile fight. We will win."
"Then why?" Sam asked. "Why do the demons fight?"
"It's a secret that Lucifer hasn't told them. Lucifer doesn't like to admit defeat. But, it's coming for him anyway. He knows that--he has known it for millennia."
"How can you be sure?" Dean asked, still skeptical.
"I'm God," God said with some finality. "You are doing a good job, Dean," God said. "And Sam."
Dean had a million questions on the tip of his tongue, but he couldn't find the words for any of them.
God strode over to Dean. "You just need to do as I ask, Dean. Trust me. I know you feel like this whole thing rests on your shoulders, and yes, you have a huge part to play, but you are not alone in this. You were never meant to be." He held out a hand to Dean, and Dean looked at it for a second, unsure. But, he took it; he shook God's hand, and God pulled him in closer, using his other hand to squeeze Dean's shoulder, solid and surprisingly reassuring.
Something inside his gut unknotted, and when he looked at God again, he saw the guy who had his hands just as dirty as Dean's, working on the Impala right next to him.
Then, God looked at his watch and to Joan. "Grace's presentation will be soon. We better get you back to campus." He walked to the little blue car and opened the door. "Oh," he said, and he reached inside, pulling out a brown paper bag. "It's a long way to the mountains," he said. "Figured you might want this." He handed the bag to Dean before getting in the car.
Joan hugged them both and said good bye, wishing them luck. She climbed into the driver's side of the car, and God rolled down his window as Joan started the engine. "I'll be seeing you both soon," he said, and as Joan drove away, God stuck his hand out the window and waved.
Dean looked over to Sam, who looked back at him. Neither one of them had any words to say, so they both just silently watched as the blue car disappeared into the distance.
After a long minute, Sam broke the silence. "What did he give you?" he asked, nodding in the direction of the paper sack.
Dean unrolled the top and looked inside. When he saw what it was, he could not help the grin that spread across his face.
"What is it?" Sam asked, looking a little dubious.
Dean lifted out two clear plastic containers. "He gave us pie."
-- -- -- --
"Okay," Joan said. "That was weird and intense--even for you."
"I know you're confused, Joan, but I needed you there."
"What is going on?" she asked.
"Trust me here--it is nothing you need to worry about. The Winchesters will take care of it."
Joan was worried. From the little bits she did understand, there was a war happening, and it didn't sound good. She wondered who those guys really were, what they did.
"Stop worrying, Joan."
When they got to campus, Joan parked, and they both got out of the car.
"Are you going to the presentation?"
"I'll be there, of course--omniscience. But no, I won't be going with you like this." He used his hands to gesture up his torso. "You need to go and support your friend."
"Everything will be fine, Joan. Do as I ask. And, don't forget to call about that summer camp--they'll be having interviews for counselors next month."
"Bye, Joan," God said, waving as he walked away.
-- -- -- -- END -- -- -- --