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The Bystander Effect

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The angel isn't what Benny expected. Well, to be fair, until Dean told him that angels exist and they're looking for one, Benny never thought about what they might be like at all. He didn't think about angels a whole lot in general, actually.

Then again, he never thought about what vampires might be like until he became one either. Life's funny that way.

The best comparison he can come up with, probably, would be that Castiel is a lot like those wandering preachers that came to town a few times when he was a kid. A little backwards, raised on discipline and prayers, having their heads in the clouds and no clue how to interact with real people. Except, like. Ten times that. And dirtier.

How someone like that weaseled his way into becoming Dean's best friend is a complete mystery to Benny, but hey, stranger things have happened.

***

See, the thing is, Benny's not dumb. He can put two and two together. Neither Castiel nor Dean are all that forthcoming about their feelings, but nobody goes and pulls Purgatory inside out for someone they just met on the street. These two mean something to each other. He's had a few good friends in his time, but he's not sure he'd spend an additional day in Purgatory for any of them. For his family, or for Andrea, yes, and Benny wonders what it is that Dean and Castiel have, the latter or the former. Not that he'd mind either way.

They're hardly looking at each other. Castiel does plenty of looking, awkward staring even, whenever he's sure Dean's distracted. It's forlorn, sewn through with worry and regret. And Dean does steal glances too, filled with a lot of things Benny can't decipher. There's worry, but also anger, rejection, and good old confusion, though yet he manages to still seem somewhat fond.

That's true for both of them, and it's clear from more than just the way they both step between the other and a monster without a second's hesitation. He just can't puzzle out why, despite all that, they usually don't exchange more than five words all day long. They have history, long and storied, and it's not like he's not curious. But boy, talk about sticking branches into a hornet's nest. No thanks. His curiosity doesn't go that far.

***

All things considered, Purgatory is quite peaceful. Sure, there's monsters of all kinds around and some of them hunt for fun or pleasure, but without the fervor that comes from hunting for food.

Cue Dean. So much for peaceful. Of course, Dean's not quite easy prey either. The overwhelming majority of Purgatory's inhabitants probably got sent here by hunters, should know better than to underestimate him. But Benny guesses the sole possibility of hunting a real, breathing human being again after god knows how many years is way too tempting to a lot of them to listen to such petty concerns as common sense.

Benny and Dean got a pretty good thing going after a few months down here. They don't need words anymore, for the most part. A few nods and finger signs, and they got their sortie in line.

Castiel's method is... a little less elegant. He smites. Which is pretty effective and would be fine, if it weren't such a wide-reaching beacon. Handing out a flyer throughout Purgatory to inform everyone that the angel and the human are near, hey, have a go, would be more subtle.

And a lot of creatures follow that call. A lot of them. Something's bound to go south at some point, and when it does, it's Dean who takes the fall.

The ghouls attack as a group. A swarm, really. They hunt in clans, at least they do down here, and this one's big. And smart; the first thing they do is single out Castiel.

Two or three of them fall on him at once. They're not bound to last long, and they probably know that, angel and all, but they manage to keep him busy. He's not smiting yet; they had a discussion about that and it's pros and cons just the other day, so Castiel's trying fights like everyone else – which he's not too bad at either, Benny's not sure he expected that.

And that leaves Dean and Benny. Unsurprisingly, Benny's not the most popular target either; most of them hone in on Dean. Two at once, at least, at any time. He's slashing widely, but they the last few days have been hard, attack after attack, and Benny can see his exhaustion in the way he moves. The skill is still there, but his instincts are slower than usual and it's like watching him drag his limbs through water instead of air.

A team of three has him cornered, wildly unimpressed by him slashing his weapon at them, and he doesn't see the fourth coming at him from behind. Benny's helpless to watch when it bends Dean's shoulders back and kicks the legs out from under him. For a moment he keeps kicking and thrashing, but he doesn't achieve anything with it. Two of them get a hold of his arms, a third one uses his own weapon for a long cut down his back while the one who who brought him down bends to bury it's teeth in his neck, and that's when Dean stills.

They're blood drinkers too, Benny remembers. Not active hunters, usually, more like scavengers, the supernatural equivalent of hyenas, but apparently these specimen haven't had a peak into the rule book in a good long while. Or they miss the taste of blood too much to give a damn, Benny could understand that.

Either way, they picked the wrong prey.

Benny bodily hauls the one at Dean's back off him, reclaiming the weapon and driving it through its torso. The ghoul still hanging at Dean's neck either isn't phased or can't make himself let go, so Benny does it for him. He tears him away by his collar, ignoring the pained whimper Dean gives when its teeth get torn out of his flesh, and severs its head before it has the chance to crawl anywhere near safety. The remaining two are on their way into the woods before he can get to them.

That's when Castiel catches on to what happened. He's been shooting glances at them all this time, checking in, and now, when his gaze finds first Benny's face, then Dean's prone body on the ground, his eyes darken. Suddenly he reminds Benny of those old paintings, angels with spears and armor, relentless warriors of god.

In a matter of seconds he smites the ghouls around him, and a good portion of the rest is smart enough to beat it as soon as they realize that the tide has turned. The ones who don't run share their pals' fate and blink out in a bright ray of heavenly wrath. It's over in less than a minute.

The last of them are still smoldering on the ground when Castiel appears right next to Benny, bending down to pick Dean up. He looks around, takes a few steps forward, nervously glancing this way and that, and puts him down again against a tree, gently and careful, into a half-sitting position that has his side resting against the trunk. He holds him in place with one hand so he doesn't fall over while the other first touches his neck, then hovers over the wound on his back. All the while, he doesn't pay Benny any mind at all; he might as well not be there.

Dean blinks his eyes open a moment later. He looks down at the hand on his flank, which Castiel removes instantly, and presses his palm to his forehead. “What happened? Did you …?”

Castiel nods. “Yes. You got struck down by one of the ghouls. I fixed you.”

And there it is. Dean smiles, for just a moment, eyes glowing with amusement and fondness. “Don't you go quoting that sappy song at me.”

“I intended to do no such thing,” Castiel replies, the aggravated indignation on his face that comes from hearing a particular joke too many times.

Dean barks a laugh and hauls himself to his feet, hand gripping Castiel's forearm for support. He pats him on the back once he's upright and standing on his own two feet. “I know, Cas. I know.”

He's still grinning when he turns around to raise his eyebrows at Benny, come on, let's get going, and it only brightens when he looks back at Castiel to see his persistent frown.

Benny marches behind them, giving them privacy to rekindle the flame of their long-lost friendship or something, and considers to get himself a branch after all. Some hornets nests might just be interesting enough to be worth poking.