"I’m Dean Winchester. Do you know who I am?"
"I’ll take that as a yes. Listen, I need you to pray to your angel buddies and let them know that I’m here."
"Our father, who art in Heaven, hallowed be thy name-"
"You pray too loud."
Dean looks up, startled. Didn't he just blow Castiel's ass all the way to Oz? But there he is, big as life and twice as pissed. The angel touches the street preacher, who collapses soundlessly, and then his hands grab the lapels of Dean's coat with an iron grip.
"What, are you crazy?" Dean manages to blurt out before his back is slammed against the wall of the nearby alley.
"I rebelled for this?!" Castiel's voice roars as the angel flings him around to crush into the opposite wall. A powerful fist to the left side of his jaw nearly puts Dean's lights out. "So that you could surrender to them!?"
Another mighty yank, and his back is painfully reunited with the first wall. Cas holds him pinned there while Dean is straining to catch his breath. And then Dean sees the angel's hand reaching out to touch his forehead and the world fades into the now-familiar swirl of the angels' version to beam-me-up-Scotty.
A second later they are standing in Bobby's study with papers raining around them like confetti in a parade. Sam and Bobby are in the hallway between the study and the kitchen, and they both turn their heads to stare at Castiel and Dean, who Cas now holds by the scruff of the neck. Dean gives an experimental tug, but he's as helpless as a kitten in the angel's grasp.
"Where have you been?" Sam asks.
"He was going to give himself over to Michael," Cas says with more than a hint of disdain, and with one swift motion peels Dean's coat off him.
"We don't have a choice, okay?" Dean is getting pretty tired of this argument. "Can't you see that someone needs to let Michael crawl up his ass, otherwise Lucifer is gonna smite the planet?! And it's not gonna be Adam."
"Well, seems like it is gonna be Adam. He's gone," Sam says.
"The angels took him," says Cas.
"What do you mean, the angels took Adam?" Bobby interferes. "You branded his ribs, didn’t you?"
"Yes. Adam must have tipped them."
"How?" Bobby presses.
"I don’t know. Maybe in a dream," Cas looks over at Dean. "We'll deal with this shortly, but first we need to finish dealing with you."
"What do you mean, dealing with me?" Dean doesn't like the look in Castiel's eyes. Doesn't like it one bit.
"You've been acting like an irresponsible fool, tried to run away – twice – to deliver yourself into Michael's hands. And worse, you've hurt the feelings of everyone who cares about you," Dean glances at Sam and Bobby and he knows it's true; he hurt them, on purpose. But he clenches his jaw.
"I had to, damn it. You wouldn't let me go."
"And we're not going to," Sam says. "You know that."
Cas gives him a shake, just a little one, but it makes Dean's teeth rattle. "And still you keep on hurting them. This is going to stop, Dean, here and now. All three of us have tried talking sense into you and to no avail. I think the time for talking is over."
"What are you gonna do, angel-boy?" This kind of tone may not be the smartest way to address an angel of the Lord who can break your neck with a flick of his wrist, but Dean can't really help it. "Beat me up some more? Go on, knock yourself out. Or me." He smirks a bit at his own joke. Nobody else is laughing.
"Not quite, but close," Cas is now moving, dragging Dean along. "You see, we had not succeeded in getting through to you up until now, but I have seen bits and pieces of your memories, Dean, and I have learned of a way your father used in order to convey his messages over to you."
A surge of ice water fills Dean's stomach. This can't be. There's no way Cas is saying what he thinks he's saying. No way, no how.
Cas has reached Bobby's desk and with a gesture of his hand sends the mounds of books on it flying to the floor. He brings Dean over to the narrow side of the desk so he is facing Sam and Bobby. Neither of them looks like he is going to lift a finger to stop this madness.
"Cas, what the fuck are you doing?" He does his best to sound pissed, but the truth is that he's scared shitless. He tries again to yank free from the angel's grasp, with similar results as before.
"I am going to spank you," now there's a whole bucket of ice filling his gut.
"The hell you are!" He is squirming frantically in Castiel's grip, trying to get his panic under control and failing miserably. Cas doesn't even strain in order to subdue him. Easily as you please, he bends Dean face down over the desk. A mighty weight seems to settle on his back, flattening his upper body on the age-old wooden surface and fixing him in place. Dean presses him palms to the desk and tries to push himself up, but the invisible force of Castiel's mojo holds him down like a bug pinned to a collector's board. "Cas, what the fuck! Lemme go!"
"I'm sorry, Dean, but you left me no choice," and now the angel's hand is feeling its way to the front of his pants and Dean nearly chokes. "Take your hands off me, you fucking perv!" Cas pays him no heed as he undoes the buttons of his jeans and pulls them down, along with his boxers.
Now Dean is officially freaked out.
He looks up at Sam and Bobby. They are standing – sitting, in Bobby's case – grim-faced, watching.
"Do something, damn it! Get that crazy-ass angel away from me!" But even as he shouts the words, he knows he's just wasting his breath. Sam shakes his head.
"I hate to say it, Dean, but Cas is right. We tried talking, man, you won't listen. We can't let you go on like this."
Dean stares at Sam, wide-eyed. His little brother, his own flesh and blood, the kid he raised, cared for, protected, sold his soul to bring back from the dead. That brother is going to watch a mental angel kick his ass and do nothing. Strike that: he's gonna wave fucking pom-poms to cheer the winged psycho along.
Dean turns his eyes to Bobby. "Bobby, Jesus Christ…"
But Bobby also shakes his head. "I'm sorry, boy. I really am. You know I didn't approve of your daddy's methods most of the time, but you have this coming to ya." Bobby's voice sounds sad, and the pain it evokes in Dean almost matches his terror.
Dean turns his head to the left to see Cas has removed his trench coat and is now unbuckling his belt. "Cas, please," his voice has lost the defying, raging tone. He can't believe that he, Dean Winchester, is actually begging, begging like a little bitch; he had never begged his father on such occasions – okay, he may have once, maybe twice – but he is so fucking scared, scared out of his mind. "Cas, please don't do this, please, man, for God's sake-"
"God has nothing to do with it," Cas says, almost gently. He bends a little and pats Dean's cheek. "This is about you, and Sam, and Bobby. And me. I gave everything for you, and this is what you gave to me." Another little caress, and Castiel straightens up again, holds the belt by the buckle and wraps it once around his palm, leaving a good-sized strap dangling from his fist. From where Dean lies, he looks tall, as tall as the Chrysler Building. "But we will set it right."
He steps out of Dean's line of sight. Dean throws another desperate glance at Sam and Bobby, and then, resigning to his fate, he folds his arms and buries his face in them. He can feel himself actually whimpering. Oh, God, this can't be happening.
There are little shuffling noises as Cas finishes positioning himself, then silence. And then the unmistakable whistle of the belt through the air, and a strip of fire brands itself across his bare ass.
Dean flinches and stifles a curse. John Winchester could use a belt as skillfully as he could any other weapon, but Castiel has just raised it to a whole other level. The swats are efficient, precise and incredibly strong. His dad had never whipped him this hard, but to be fair, he was a kid back then; fine, he's willing to admit there might have been a time or two – no more than three, anyway – when he was of legal age when he had his ass handed to him, not that it's anybody's business, thank you very much.
But now, not only is he an adult, and a seasoned hunter at that, there's also an all-powerful angel working the damn belt, and it fucking hurts. Dean can take pain. He can take a considerable amount of pain any day of the week and twice on Sunday. He can get beaten up, thrown against tombstones, kicked, burned, punched and stabbed. And every time he'd get back on his feet, spit the blood from his mouth into the face of his opponent and grin. But he can't take this kind of pain.
Because it's not just the pain. It never was. It's knowing that he had let down somebody who cared about him. That he had hurt them. That he had disappointed them. That he had fucked up colossally. And that somebody should have just turned their backs, walk away from him and never return; but they didn't. Despite everything he did, everything he was, they stuck with his sorry ass, and they were willing to help him atone, to deliver torment until the physical pain could overcome the pain in his heart.
Castiel saw it in his memories, in his soul. And the sonovabitch is going all in.
It takes less than a dozen searing swats to reduce Dean to a shivering wreck. The angel doesn't seem to be satisfied with it, thought, because the belt continues to fall methodically. Dean doesn't try to avoid the lashes – he couldn't even if he wanted to – and just lies there and takes it. His body winces sharply with each swat, his cries of pain are muffled by his folded arms, his tears are soaking through his sleeve. And he knows full well he fucking earned it. All of it.
He doesn't notice at first that the whipping is over. He is still sobbing, but slowly he realizes that this is the only sound; there's no more whistling of the belt through the air, no more ugly sounds of leather hitting naked flesh. He weeps a little bit more because he can't make himself stop, but that too subsides gradually to whimpers and sniffles. Then he wipes his face on his sleeves and looks up.
Sam and Bobby haven't moved. Sam is passing a trembling hand over his wet cheeks, his chest heaving with short, teary breaths. Bobby's mouth is drawn into a thin, strenuous line, and the knuckles of the hands gripping the handles of his wheelchair are white. They should be happy somebody finally beat his stupid ass, but they're not.
Dean turns his eyes away from them, but although he can see Cas in the corner of his left eye, he doesn't look at him.
"It is done," Cas says. "I recall your father used to give you permission to get up. Are you waiting for such permission? It is given."
The weight on his back disappears as suddenly as it came, and this time when Dean puts his palms on the desk and pushes, his chest lifts away from it. He is careful to stand up slowly so the pain the movement causes can be manageable, and even more carefully pulls his boxers up. He doesn't bother with the jeans; anything other than sweatpants is gonna hurt like a bitch.
"Dean? Are you alright?" Castiel's voice is as soft as the rasp in it allows. Dean doesn't answer, he doesn't even look at the angel. He just stands there, staring at the desk in front of him, still sniffling.
"If you've seen Dean's memories," Sam says as he walks over. "You must have seen the most important part of the whole thing." And with this his arms are around his brother, and Dean leans against him, putting his face into the crook of Sam's neck. Sam moves one hand up to cup the back of Dean's head and leans his cheek against his temple.
"Shhh, you're okay, Dean, it's over. You're okay. You're forgiven," Sam's whisper caress his ear, and although he already finished crying, there's one last sob that now filters between his lips and dissolves into Sam's embrace.
Sam feels it and hugs tighter. He holds Dean for a long, long time. Long enough for his breaths to even out, for his heartbeat to slow down, for the pain under his ribs to slowly fade away.
"I'm sorry, Sammy," he whispers at last.
"It's okay," he can tell by his brother's voice that Sam is smiling. Sam waits for him to be the first to disengage, and he does. Sam looks into his face, gives him a small nod and finally lets go.
Bobby had rolled his wheelchair to them while he was still in Sam's arms, and Dean turns to him. "Bobby-"
"Ya idjit," the hunter's voice is hoarse, but there is no mistaking the invitation of his outstretched arms. Dean dives down into them, not giving a single fuck about the pain flaring angrily in his backside. Bobby's embrace is shorter, but by no means less warm, and he gives Dean's cheek a hearty pat before he straightens back up.
Dean takes a breath and faces Castiel.
The angel had put his trench coat back on, and the belt is again threaded through the loops of his trousers, looking innocent as if the bitch hadn't done a thing in its life other than hold a man's pants up, let alone nearly strip the skin off Dean's ass.
Castiel's expression is a sort of slightly mystified confusion. To Dean he looks like Data from Star Trek when he is baffled by the oddness of human emotions; he's not really so far off there.
Cas tilts his head a bit to the side and says, "would you like me to hug you, Dean? I see that it is customary after-"
"Shut it, you lame-ass, winged whack-job," Dean wraps his arms around Cas, and feels, with some delay, the angel hugging him back.
"I don't understand, Dean. I believe I have administered the whipping with considerable force, why would you call me lame? And as I'm sure you know, angels do not suffer from mental instabilities-"
Dean can't help but burst out laughing. He is clinging to Cas, because he's laughing so hard he's afraid he'll fall over. Castiel is no doubt more bewildered than before, but he is still hugging Dean, and it feels good; it feels good because he's okay, he's forgiven, he's back with Bobby, back with Team Free Will.
And they're gonna kick some serious ass.