The house was unnaturally quiet, especially for this time of night. Usually there were at least two people still awake, burning the midnight oil well past 3 am as the moon crept across the sky, but tonight, there was only the quiet of sleeping bodies and watchful waiting. Sam and Bobby were probably in Wisconsin by now; Ellen had fallen asleep on the couch rather than ask Cas to get her upstairs; Castiel himself still stood watch over the panic room where he'd incarcerated Dean's unconscious form on their return.
Upstairs, in the blue room with the bay, Ayden stirred in her sleep, rolling onto her back with a slow, lazy stretch of her limbs. Her eyelids fluttered, blinking open slowly ... and she froze, staring in heartbroken disbelief.
Kate Milligan lay on the bed beside her, as she had done so many, many times before, there to gently wake her daughter up from a nightmare that plagued her. She was herself; no sign of blood or jaundice, no sores, nothing but her familiar old scrubs and the warm smile Ayden had been in the company of since infancy.
Though every part of her was screaming against this impossibility, that Kate was dead, that Ayden should get out of the bed and run screaming for Castiel ... the nineteen-year-old couldn't quite move. She couldn't take her eyes off her mother, feeling all the relief and pleasure of seeing that old familiar smile she'd never thought she'd see again, and tears started to fall down her cheeks.
"I miss you so much," she sobbed softly, shuddering with the force of that grief and pain as her mother reached out to stroke her cheek, wiping the moisture away.
"I know, babygirl," Kate said very gently, sweeping those tears from Ayden's cheeks with a soft brush of her thumb. "And this really isn't your fight. The angels shouldn't have come looking for you - they don't really want your yes, anyway, do they?"
Weeping, Ayden shook her head, wet green eyes fixed on her mother's face, holding onto the hope that somehow this was real, that her mother was back, that she didn't have to go on all on her own once Sam and Dean had done whatever it was they were going to do. "They just wanted to frighten Dean," she agreed with her mother quietly in the moonlit darkness. "They killed you so that he'd say yes to Michael. I've been so mean to him, Mom, and today, he ... He's lost so much."
"Shhh, Ayden ..." Kate reached out to hug her weeping daughter, gathering her into a familiar embrace that now only existed in memory. "I know, I understand. He's a brave boy, standing up to them like that, but the longer he does it, the more danger you're in. He's being very selfish, babygirl. He'd sell his soul for Sam, but he won't even stand up and say his yes to keep his little sister from being hounded to the ends of the Earth by vengeful angels. Does he even care?"
Ayden stiffened in the embrace, a deep frown creasing her pained expression. "What? Of course he cares, he ..." Pulling back from Kate, she let out a sharp gasp of fright and shock, bolting backward off the bed in a tangle of limbs and sheets, shaking with sudden terror.
The arms that had been holding her were not Kate Milligan's. The words that painted her brother as a selfish child were not Kate Milligan's. As Ayden watched, horrified, her mother's familiar worn beauty faded away to reveal the being wearing her face. He was male, blonde, wearing a khaki shirt and jeans, and his skin looked as though it was burning from the inside out in places. But more than that, he brought with him a sense of malevolent intent, a sense of more than simply being evil.
"You're not my mom," she heard herself say in a shaking voice. "You're him, aren't you? You're the Devil."
"You know, Meg said you were smart," the fallen archangel nodded in approval, moving to sit on the edge of the bed looking down at her where she was sprawled on the floor. "Must be the Winchester in you."
"What are you doing here?" Ayden demanded, sounding a lot braver than she felt. "Don't you have an Apocalypse to orchestrate?"
"What, a guy's not allowed to take an hour off?" Lucifer spread his hands, his entire demeanor effortlessly suggesting that he was completely harmless. "I just thought you should be clued into what's really going on, Ayden. You deserve to know. After all, it's why they killed your mom."
"I know what's going on, thank you very much," she insisted, pulling herself away until her back hit the wall, as far away from the Devil on her bed as she could get. "So you're too late to get your lies in first."
Lucifer shook his head, his smile almost believably gentle as he watched her retreat from him. "I'd never lie to you, Ayden," he promised her, and to her shock, she realised she was listening. She was giving Satan the time of day. What the hell is wrong with me? "I'm just here to clear up a couple of facts I doubt anyone has mentioned to you," Lucifer went on, clasping his hands loosely between his knees. "For example, that you're not just the alternative Vessel for Michael. You're of the same bloodline, Ayden, as both your brothers. I'd rather have Sam, but if it comes to it, you would serve just as well."
"Now, I'm not telling you this to scare you," he added hurriedly as Ayden's eyes widened like saucers. "I'm here to give you a choice. Babygirl, you can save what's left of your family here. If you tell me where you are - neat trick, by the way - and you say yes to me when I come get you, I promise you I will keep Sam and Dean completely safe during the fall out from the little fist fight I'm going to have with my brother. I'll even throw Ellen and Bobby in for good measure. You can save all of them, with just one little word. What do you say?"
Ayden stared at him, torn between fright and shock and anger and incredulity. She could save her brothers? That wasn't how this went, and even she knew that. She wasn't the hero in this story; she was the useless sidekick, if anything. She knew what this was; the pastor at her mother's church was very fond of expounding on the subject of temptation, of what happened to your soul when you stepped away from the righteous path and took the Devil's hand. She was pretty sure he hadn't meant literally, but then, who really knew that the End of Days was here?
As she sat there, cramped and shaking against the cold wall, staring into eyes that tried to be warm but really were the coldest she had ever seen, she couldn't help thinking of what Dean or Sam would say if she even gave Lucifer's suggestion headroom. They'd yell, that was pretty obvious. They'd be mad at her. They wouldn't be family anymore, and where did that leave the deal on the table?
"You know what?" she said, her voice shaky but firm as she met the fallen archangel's gaze head-on, clenching her fists against the wooden boards at her hips. "You can go to Hell."
The smile shifted, turned cold, unpleasant, promising punishment for her disrespectful response. The Devil rose from the bed, kneeling down so close in front of her she could feel the unnatural heat radiating from the vessel he was riding into the ground. He leaned close, until all she could see was him, and spoke three words that almost stopped her heart.
"You're coming with."
Ayden sat bolt upright with a tearing gasp, flailing at the bedsheets that confined her as her heart thumped painfully in her chest. She looked around the darkened bedroom wildly, one hand groping for the light by the bed, flicking it on to bathe the blue bedroom with golden lamplight. Everything was the same as it had been before she fell asleep ... no Lucifer, no hellfire, no promise of Evil Incarnate here to try and trick her into saying something her brothers would never forgive her for.
Not this time, anyway.