On a chilly May night in Minnesota, John Winchester’s elder son was nearly murdered by a serial killer.
“Mr Winchester?” The tired but crisp voice, female, came through clearly over the phone. Surprised, he pulled the cell away from his ear to check the screen again. Still hadn’t changed; the number was of the cell he gave Dean to use in case of emergencies. The faint worry sparked by the call threatened to ignite, but he tamped down on it brutally.
“Who is this? How did you get this number?” John demanded. Pushing up from the bed he had been sitting on, he crossed the motel room to pick up the duffel bag dropped in one corner and started packing one-handed. He’d intended to rest for the night before heading back to Minnesota where he’d left his sons, but a restless anxiety had taken root, and he knew it wouldn’t let him sleep until he saw his boys again.
“I’m Glenda Larsen with United Hospital, Blue Earth. Your son, Sam, gave us this phone, Mr Winchester, because he said you might not pick up a call from an unknown number – ”
An icy pit opened up at the bottom of his stomach. He’d only been gone for less than five days; his boys had been alone by themselves for months at a time before and Dean knew the precautions to take to keep him and Sam safe. Knew, especially, to be extra careful with the warding and sigils in a highway motel like the one in Blue Earth John had left his boys in, promising to be back in a week, he just had to make a quick detour to take care of a hunt –
He had trained his elder son well. Dean had the guns and the knives and the salt rounds and the holy water, and had said to John when he was leaving, “See you in a couple of days, Dad. I’ll make sure Sammy doesn’t die of boredom before you get back,” and grinned cockily –
Your son, Sam, gave us this phone, Mr Winchester – ”
Dean would never let Sam talk to any strangers if he could help it, and he would never hand over the phone to someone else. Winchester wasn’t the name Dean would have given to anyone in a position of authority, he knew better than that –
“ – sir? Mr Winchester?” The voice filtered through abruptly, and John snapped back to reality to find himself sitting back down on the bed, left hand pressing the cell to his ear and right hand clenched tight around the bottle of holy water he had been in the process of shoving into his bag, which now lay haphazardly in front of him, contents spilling out onto the ugly green carpeted floor of the motel.
“I – ” His voice choked on the word, and he had to clear his throat. It could be nothing. Someone probably noticed two kids by themselves and reported it, and Dean must have injured himself while trying to get away. “What’s going on? Where are my sons?”
“Mr Winchester, half an hour ago your sons were admitted to United Hospital. They were…involved in an incident. Your younger son Sam will be fine, he sustained a few scrapes and bruises that are being seen to by one of our doctors right now. Your elder son – ” There was a brief pause and a shuffle of paper in the background. “Your elder son, Dean, is in surgery right now. According to Sam, you are on a…business trip.” The woman’s voice was politely neutral, giving away none of her disbelief at the crappy cover. “How soon can you arrive here?”
“Surgery?” He echoed the word blankly.
“Yes,” The woman’s tone gained a note of sympathy, and somehow that was even worse. “It’s too early to make any judgments, but Dean is currently in critical condition. One of the doctors now operating on him mentioned that certain emergency procedures were likely to be carried out as further assessment of his condition takes place, so we would require parental consent. Also, Sam couldn’t provide his social security number, so if I could trouble you – ”
“I can be there in twelve hours,” he interrupted her. “If – if anything happens, please get in touch with me.” He disconnected the call; providing one of his fake social security numbers wouldn’t fly since none of them were attached to anyone named Winchester, and giving his real one would just screw everything up.
He was frozen in place for several moments, numb, a part of his mind skittering away from the fact that at any moment he could lose Dean.
They were…involved in an incident.
Your elder son, Dean, is in surgery right now.
Dean is currently in critical condition.
Another part of his mind – the part that let him make it through Vietnam, through that horrific fire that November night – growled at him, telling him Snap out of it, soldier!
Within minutes, he was throwing the packed duffel bag into the Impala and climbing in. It took him almost a day while driving from Minnesota to Tennessee for the hunt, but if he broke a few traffic laws and rationed his breaks he could make the return journey in less than twelve hours, especially at this time of night.
His sons needed him.
Fourteen hours and twenty minutes. That was how long Dean had been in surgery.
Sam had been huddled next to him for the past few hours on the uncomfortable plastic chairs, dozing on and off restlessly. Now, he picked listlessly at the wilting sandwich one of the nurses had brought him, expression turning more and more miserable as the minutes dragged by.
Dean had left their motel room at around nine the previous night, headed for the gas station convenience store around the corner from the motel to buy some snacks. Fifteen minutes later, Sam had heard a scuffle outside in the parking lot and Dean’s voice shouting. Ignoring all the warnings his father and brother had repeatedly emphasized to him through the years, Sam had left the relative safety of the warded room and run out into the parking lot.
“There – there was this man. He was tall and big, bigger than you, and he was trying to grab Dean.
“Dean saw me, yelled at me to go back in, and call the cops, and that made the man really mad. He – he kind of threw Dean to the ground, and he had a knife in his hand, I saw it, I couldn’t just leave Dean like that! So I went and jumped on him, but he just knocked me away. Then Dean got between the two of us, and –
“There was a lot of blood, and the man wouldn’t stop kicking Dean while he was on the ground, and I tried to help, I really did, but he was so big and just kept shaking me off!”
Sam had descended into hysterics at that point in time, and John had spent several minutes holding his younger son, muttering false reassurances into his ridiculously floppy hair while Sam cried.
“Pastor Jim saved us.”
“Pastor Jim. He’s the pastor of the church ten minutes down from the motel. We’ve been there a few times since you left, 'cause it was really boring without a library or anything nearby, and Dean was really bored too ‘cause he didn’t even complain that much when I said I wanted to go. Pastor Jim's got a collection of books in this little room and he let us stay there for hours and even made us tea and sandwiches. Dean found this Latin dictionary and he was copying down stuff, and there was this book on eighteenth century history that was really good, and – ”
“Sam! Sammy, what happened afterwards?”
“The pastor chased the guy off, shouting about the police being on their way, and the man got really scared, ‘cause he stopped kicking Dean and ran off. Then Pastor Jim tried to help Dean, and told me to run in and call an ambulance. Then we got here, and the nurses asked some questions and I didn’t memorise your phone number like Dean did so I gave them our cell.
“Dad, Dean’s going to be okay, right?”
Ever since reaching the hospital, he had spoken to enough police officers, nurses and doctors to rub his nerves raw. There was plausible deniability, and then there was outright bullshit. He’d never had to lie through his teeth to this extent. Fortunately, the police were more focused on catching the serial killer who had already kidnapped and killed three teenage boys; this slip-up and the descriptions given by Sam and the pastor were the break-through the police needed. The cops hadn’t even bothered to search their room thoroughly; the Winchesters’ bags of weapons and other assorted paraphernalia were untouched.
A quick trip back to the motel to retrieve their belongings had yielded nothing useful. There was no evidence that Dean’s attacker was anything beyond human; just a twisted, sick motherfucker who got off on murdering children. Several of the officers had passed on their well-wishes for Dean, and said John should be proud of his son. John was, of course, because Dean had managed to hold off a man nearly three times his body weight, but John was also furious. He wanted to kill the night clerk at the motel, who had fallen asleep at the front desk and hadn’t heard a single thing. He wanted to kill the bastard who had hurt Dean so badly that none of the doctors who sporadically appeared from the operating theatre could give a positive status report on his son.
He pointedly ignored the tiny voice inside his head that whispered, maybe Dean wouldn’t be in this situation if his father had been there with him.
Next to him, Sam stirred. “Pastor Jim!”
John looked up. Approaching them was an average-height man in his forties with a clerical collar, suit jacket folded over an arm. “Sam, how are you feeling? And you must be the boys’ father.”
John had stood automatically, and he shook the other man’s hand when he extended it. “Pastor Jim, right? John Winchester.”
“I’m sorry we had to meet under these circumstances, Mr Winchester,” the pastor said heavily.
John’s lips twisted in a grimace. “The same goes for me.”
He fell silent, watching as the pastor spoke quietly to Sam. Now that he thought about it, hadn’t Bobby mentioned a pastor in Blue Earth before? If this was the same man, it would be too much of a coincidence, wouldn't it?
John’s exhausted mind struggled to process everything, trying to decide if there was a threat or not. As if sensing his eyes on him, the pastor looked up, and John couldn’t quite hide his suspicion in time. He dragged his manners out from somewhere deep within him. This man had saved his sons, after all, hunter or not. “I’ve to thank you for being in the right place at the right time, pastor.”
“Don’t thank me, Mr Winchester, thank the Lord. I believe it was Him who intervened on your sons’ behalf.”
John stared. “So, what, you got a vision from God telling you to go save Dean from a psycho in the middle of the night?”
Pastor Jim didn’t react to the derision in John’s voice, merely replying steadily, “Not precisely, no, but I was asleep and dreaming. I can’t remember the dream itself, but it woke me up. I couldn’t fall back asleep, so I went out to take a walk. It just so happened to be in the direction of the motel your sons were staying in.” There was a distinct note of disapproval by the end of the sentence.
John bristled at the implied admonishment, opening his mouth to snap a response, but at that moment the door to the operating theatre swung open.
“Dean Winchester?” The call came from an exhausted-looking doctor still wearing scrubs and holding a clipboard.
“Here.” John was in front of the doctor in a few long strides, Sam disengaging from Pastor Jim and following quickly. “I’m his father and this is Dean’s younger brother.”
“I’m Dr Andrews; I was the surgeon overseeing all the operation procedures for your son.” Dr Andrews hesitated briefly, eyes flicking to Sam, a small diminished shape against his father’s side. “I think it would be better if I spoke to you alone, Mr Winchester.”
His heart sank. “Sam?”
“No,” his son said in a small but stubborn voice. “I wanna hear about Dean.”
John almost sent him back to Pastor Jim, but there was fire in Sam’s eyes now, the kind that reminded him achingly of Mary. He turned back to the doctor, steeling himself. “Go ahead.”
Dr Andrews frowned, but eventually acquiesced. “Dean has five broken ribs which resulted in a punctured lung and internal bleeding. The knife used went through his back, missing the spine by an inch. As it is, it needed twelve stitches. His right arm suffered severe trauma and the bones are shattered by what seems like repeated blunt force. We managed to drain and patch the lung and stop the internal bleeding, as well as insert several pins into the right arm to hold it together.
“The most worrying injury is Dean’s cracked skull. Preliminary scans show that there wasn’t any brain injury, but we can’t be one hundred percent sure, and we’re still waiting for the full results. Your son’s lost a lot of blood and the multiple operations have put a lot of stress on what is, after all, a child’s body. There might also be complications arising from the internal injuries and the cracked skull.”
The doctor stopped, not quite able to look John in the eyes.
“Doctor, what are you saying?”
“Mr Winchester, we’ve done the best we could, and your son is still in critical condition. Honestly, all the doctors, including myself, are very surprised that he’s managed to hold on for this long. If your son’s condition manages to stabilize within the next two days, we’ll be cautiously optimistic, but I need to tell you frankly that you should start preparing for the worst.”
The next two days were some of the worst in John’s memory.
The alarms on the machines attached to Dean’s body went off every few hours, prompting a mad rush of doctors and nurses.
There wasn’t anything he could do, only watch as these strangers tried to save Dean’s life. Hands on Sam’s shoulders and holding tightly to his younger son, for the second time in his life John felt like the world was dropping out from beneath his feet.
Choking on helpless rage and terror, John prayed for the first time in more than ten years.
Let him come back to us. Mary, wherever you are, help him. Help our son. Just let Dean come back, and I swear I won’t let this happen ever again. He doesn’t deserve this. Please.
“Dad? There’s a man here to see you.”
John tensed, looking away from Dean’s unconscious form to Sam, who entered the room with a handful of chocolate and candy.
“Who is it? And where did you get that?”
“I dunno.” Sam shrugged, resuming his seat opposite him, reaching out to straighten the blanket covering Dean. “Some guy who asked for you. He’s waiting outside. And I got this stuff from Nurse Pauline.”
John wasn’t surprised. His sons were the current darlings of the nurses on this floor of the hospital. It was a poorly-kept secret that Dean was the victim of the serial killer that had been plaguing the area for the past few weeks, and it had resulted in a level of warmth and protectiveness from the nurses that was almost suffocating. Even after Dean’s condition had stabilized, the nurses kept finding excuses to drop by his room, plying John and Sam with food and drinks to sustain them as they kept watch, waiting for their son and brother to return to consciousness.
Outside, the first glimpse of the stranger was the back of a head, military-style brown hair mostly shot through with grey, bent towards the vending machine in the hallway. A brown leather jacket and jeans covered the lean frame. The man straightened at the sound of the door closing behind John, and in that moment before he turned, the posture and stance triggered an intense sense of familiarity which made John hesitate. When he was finally facing John, he could only think, Of course.
“John, how ya doing?” Jack O’Neill looked the same as he did ten years before, only older. Other than the greying hair, the fine lines had deepened around his eyes and mouth. The voice was still annoyingly chipper, but Jack’s eyes flicked over him with the same professionalism and sharpness, pausing for the briefest of moments on where John’s gun was hidden under his jacket.
“Jack,” he responded curtly. This was a complication he didn’t need. The last time he had seen the Air Force pilot had been at Mary’s funeral. They hadn’t been the closest of friends, but they had kept in touch with each other ever since serving together during Vietnam, meeting up occasionally for a beer and a game even after John left the Marines to settle down with Mary. He had even liked the sly fox enough to invite him to his and Mary’s wedding, and Jack had done the same for his and Sara’s. Afterwards, it had only seemed right that Jack be invited for Mary’s funeral, too.
For the first year or so after Mary’s death, there had been repeated calls on his cell from Jack. He let all of them go to voicemail. John had even listened to two or three of them; they were all along the lines of “What hole did you crawl and disappear into, jarhead?”
Jack tucked his hands casually into his jacket pockets. “The kid I met out here was the younger one, Samuel, right? Last time I saw ‘em he was just a tiny thing. They sure do grow up fast.”
“How did you find me?” John demanded.
“You’re hurting my feelings here, Johnny. We finally see each other after a decade and that’s all ya got to say to me?” The false brightness in Jack’s voice would have been mildly irritating ten years ago, but now, with all the strain of the past few days, it grated on his nerves and set his teeth on edge. All he wanted to do was go back into the room and watch his son – even if not awake yet – breathing and alive.
“I ain’t got the patience to deal with you right now, Jack.”
The man blinked and shifted, then nodded at the room John had exited. "I hear Dean's not doing too well."
John stared at him coldly. "No, he isn't."
Jack sighed, rocking back on his heels, seemingly gathering himself to speak. John braced himself; Jack wasn’t usually one for long spiels, but he could talk circles around people when he wanted to. Before he could say anything, however, the door behind John slammed open.
"Dad!" Sam's voice had him spinning around and pushing back inside in an eye-blink, heart hammering. He barely noticed Jack following him, or Sam's excited bouncing, because there, lying on the hospital bed looking up at them was Dean, looking like death warmed over but with hazel-green eyes open and blinking confusedly.
"Dad? Sammy?" Dean slurred. "Whre 'r we?"
Several hours later, after drawing a blanket over a sleeping Sam on the couch in Dean's room, he sat in the canteen across from Jack, feeling like a weight had lifted off his shoulders. His throat ached at the thought of how close he had come to losing Dean.
"So, we going to have an actual conversation now, or you goin’ to keep biting my head off?"
John didn't respond, turning his styrofoam cup of coffee around in his hands.
Jack glared balefully, fiddling with a pack of M&Ms. "Okay, guess I can do the talking and you do the listening."
"Thing is, you fell off the map ten years ago.” The man popped a blue M&M into his mouth, chewing and swallowing before speaking again. “You might or might not have noticed, I left a couple of voicemails. After a bit, I figured, fine, you have the right to grieve, so I stopped trying to get into contact.
“A couple of years ago, I tried looking you up again. Asked a friend of mine who's a computer whiz to poke around. Imagine my surprise when she tells me that John Eric Winchester, formerly of the US Marine Corps, awardee of the Bronze Star, Purple Heart and ‘Nam Service Medal, is wanted for credit card fraud, breaking and entering, and grave desecration.”
Here, Jack paused again, eyeballing him. John drank his coffee and said nothing. There was an extended silence as Jack ate the M&Ms, one after another.
“So then I asked said computer whiz to look up Dean and Sam Winchester for medical records, school records, anything at all. Because even if you’re somehow a travelling salesman, your kids gotta go to school, right? Now imagine what Carter finds! Winchesters Two and Three pop up in schools halfway across the country in the span of a few months, and those are only the ones where you used your real names. Addresses given are all non-existent or rent-by-the-week crappy apartments. Pretty much impossible to get a hold of you, so I told Carter to put an alert out on your family so I’d know the minute you finally decide to stick your stupid-ass head out of the woodwork.”
Jack shook out the last M&M, a red one. He held it in his fingers, staring down at it. His voice was low when he spoke again.
"Two and a half days ago, your sons' names appeared in the database of United Hospital, Blue Earth, Minnesota, somehow linked to a psycho serial killer in the area. See, I haven't taken any leave for some time now. I actually have a cabin out here, so I took a couple of days, told my team I was going fishing, then flew down here to find out what the fuck is going on!"
Jack’s voice had risen to a shout by the end of his sentence, drawing sideway looks from the few occupants of the canteen at this time of night. Neither of the men paid them any attention.
John grimaced into his coffee. Maybe it was for old times’ sake, maybe he still remembered Jack as a friend, but he finally said grudgingly, "I don't see why you're so interested, Jack. I've just been trying to survive."
"Yeah, I'll give you the credit card fraud, and even the B&E if you were desperate enough, but grave desecration?"
John glared, the ridicule in the other man’s voice dispelling some of his melancholy and stirring up annoyance in its place instead. "Miscommunication."
"Miscommunication my ass!" Jack abandoned the candy on the table top and ran a hand through his short hair. "John, I can't help you if you don't tell me honestly what's going on."
"You wouldn't believe me," John growled back. He wouldn’t. People in the normal world were always so eager to cling to their false securities, believe that the monsters under their beds were mere myths. John knew better. He had killed said monsters before.
"You'd be surprised," was Jack’s droll response.
John scoffed, throwing back the last of the crap that called itself coffee. “Overestimating yourself, O’Neill.”
“Maybe, maybe not.” Jack waved a hand through the air. “Okay, pretend I’m generous, put that away for now. Right now you’ve got bigger problems, Winchester.”
“Stating the fucking obvious, flyboy,” he growled.
“Oh, so you’re aware of the fact that your boys have been flagged by Child Protection Services, who as we speak are on their way here?” Jack snarked. He relented when he saw the frozen expression on John’s face. “Carter updated me just now. John, after what I said about your file, d’you seriously think that anyone in a position of authority believes you're capable of caring for your sons?”
John stood abruptly, blood rushing in his ears.
“What the fuck are you doing?”
"Leaving," he responded brusquely, pushing away from the table and going for the exit of the canteen.
Two turns later, Jack caught up to him in an empty corridor, catching a hold of his arm. Spinning him around to slam bodily against the wall, the pilot twisted his arm behind his back.
“Let go,” he spat, bracing his free arm against the wall and trying to shove backwards.
“Not until you can think clearly about this crap you’re pulling!” Jack gritted, not giving an inch.
John couldn’t let anyone take his children. Couldn’t. Digging his feet in, ignoring the burning in his shoulder from the lock Jack had on his arm, he prepared to throw his entire weight back against the smaller man. Abruptly, the grip on his arm released completely, and he whirled around, only to meet an elbow in the gut that made stars appear in his vision.
Countless seconds later, he straightened from the protective hunch he had formed around his middle, panting.
“You don’t understand,” he wheezed. “We have to leave.”
Jack stood in front of him, hands clenching and unclenching, looking frustrated beyond measure. "Dean nearly died after being assaulted by a serial killer! He's in no condition to be anywhere other than that hospital bed!"
“Neither of my children are safe if they get taken away by CPS!” John threw out.
“What’re you talking about?”
“I have to protect them!”
“Jesus fucking Christ, Winchester, from what?”
Something snapped. Without thinking, he reached out and grabbed the other man, dragging him closer and hissing in his face, "From the thing that killed Mary!"
Jack stared, unperturbed by the hand fisted in his shirt and the close proximity. "Mary died in a fire. Caused by faulty electrical wiring."
John snorted, bitter, releasing Jack and turning away to slump against the wall.
"You tellin' me it was sabotage? It wasn't an accident?" Jack stalked closer, then stopped. "Thing?"
"I told you, Jack, you wouldn't believe me," he said dully, closing his eyes. Jack was right. There was no way he could move Dean right now. Dean's doctor had been making noises about months of recovery, physical therapy for his right arm and a whole bunch of medication which John had no hope of procuring anywhere. Fuck, Dean was lucky to still be around to take the medication.
“John,” the voice was right in front of him, but he didn’t open his eyes. “Are you saying there’s something after your boys?”
“I have to protect them,” he repeated.
There was silence for long moments, two men standing in a deserted hospital hallway.
“Charlie died four years ago,” came the quiet statement.
John opened his eyes. “What?”
“He shot himself with my service pistol which I forgot to lock up,” Jack said softly, every word laced with old pain and regret. “I lost my only son because of my own stupidity.”
At a loss of how to react, John fumbled out, “Jack – ”
“I couldn’t keep my son safe like I should have, like every father should.” The other man cut him off, meeting his gaze again squarely, fire filling up those eyes. “So you know what, Winchester? You’re trying to protect your sons, and I get that. I get that. You’re trying your damnest where I failed. I’ll be the last person to stand in your way.
"Come with me to Colorado Springs. Convince me that whatever you've been up to for the last ten years isn't what it seems. I work in one of the safest places on the planet, and we have some of the smartest people too. Whatever else is going on, we can hide you and your family."
John had promised himself more than a decade ago, after the fire, after finding out about the monsters in the night and other terrible truths, that he would protect his boys and not let any harm come to them. He would hunt down the Demon who had killed his wife, but he wouldn’t let the bastard take his sons either. That was the reason why he had trained Dean so obsessively; so he could defend himself and his brother. But now… now his fifteen year-old son lay in a hospital bed, possibly crippled for the rest of his life, not because of the supernatural which John had taught Dean to fight against, but because of a human being. Someone of his own species, who murdered children for kicks. It was never supposed to happen; John had never even considered that it would be a human who would be the problem. What else would John not anticipate, not be able to protect Dean and Sam from? Was getting revenge on Mary’s killer more important than keeping his children safe?
He breathed quietly, feeling pieces slot into place.
John Winchester may have lost his wife, but he sure as hell wasn’t going to lose the rest of his family.
But of course, the circumstances were entirely different. They didn't drive there in the Impala, but took a military air carrier which transported the car, too. There wasn't a hunt, only Dad's wartime buddy and their hushed conversations together. There wasn't a sleazy motel, but said buddy's house. There wasn't takeout, but actual home-cooked pasta and baked potatoes for dinner.
Dean didn't get to experience the last one, only heard about it from Sammy, because he went woozy when they finally pulled up to Jack's house and Sammy insisted that he should go get some sleep. It was so unfair, he should be the one telling his little brother that, and he wanted to eat the pasta and baked potatoes, damn it!
Mostly he just slept a lot in Jack’s first-floor guest room.
He didn't even know what they were doing in Colorado Springs, because he could still remember that their previous destination had been Bobby’s house for the summer when Dad had left them in the motel in Minnesota. Then the whole thing with the serial killer happened, and he was still so pissed off about that, never mind that the police in Blue Earth had tracked the bastard down to his tiny apartment, and the coward had shot himself in the head when he was cornered with nowhere to run. It didn’t matter, in the long run. What mattered was that the doctors had said he might never regain full use of his right arm again, not after having it stomped on repeatedly by a psycho. What good was he with a bad arm?
“I think Jack’s trying to recruit Dad,” Sammy announced as they played cards on the bed, Dean propped up against the headboard and his brother sprawled sideways on the covers.
He grunted, using his left hand to awkwardly lift and drop cards from where they were spread face-down across his lap until he found the one he was looking for, then tossed it out. “Yeah?”
“Uh huh.” Sam glanced at the thrown card and returned to examining his own hand, frowning. “I overheard them saying something about Jack’s base, and about Dad earning money the legal way.”
Dean didn’t respond, running his fingers along the cast encasing the whole of his right arm, bound tightly so that it reduced the chances of accidentally jolting it.
“I think it’s a good idea,” his brother continued, staring determinedly at his cards in the way that meant he wasn’t really seeing them at all. “Dad should take the job. Go back to being a Marine. Then we could quit moving around so much.”
This was an argument that had been rehashed over and over again throughout the years, ever since Sam had been forced to leave his first elementary school after two months because there was a hunt in a different state. His brother hadn’t known about the supernatural at that time, of course, and had thrown huge tantrums that usually resulted in Dad storming out of the motel room for hours, leaving Dean to take care of Sammy. Even after finding out that monsters were real three years ago, his brother hadn’t stopped bringing up this topic.
“Dad can’t hunt if we do that,” Dean repeated the same line he always used. He didn’t point out that he couldn’t hunt now. How could he, with his dominant arm useless, and barely being able to climb stairs without collapsing in agony?
“That’s not important.”
“What’re you talking about, ‘course it’s important!” Dean frowned at his brother. “A lot more people would get hurt if Dad didn’t hunt monsters. And we gotta find the thing which killed Mom.”
Sam flung his cards down, sitting up angrily. “I’m not saying Dad’s not doing a good thing, and I wanna know what killed Mom too, but if we gotta stop hunting to make sure we stay alive, then we should!”
“Sammy – ”
“You nearly died!” Sam exploded, curling his hands into fists and glaring at him. “You nearly died, and it wasn’t even because of a stupid ghost or witch or werewolf, it was just some guy!”
“Yeah, well, I’m not dead, Sammy, that’s what matters.”
His brother’s body crumpled, folding to tuck his knees into his chest, blinking wide brown eyes that were suddenly wet with tears. “Not this time, but what about next time, Dean? What if we’re not so lucky next time? What if you died for real? What would I do if I lost you for good?”
Trembling, Sammy broke down into hitching sobs. Reaching out blindly to him, Dean found that he didn’t have answers to any of his brother’s questions.
Later that night, after listening to Sammy falling asleep in the other bed, Dean dragged himself outside and huddled on the couch in the living room. Despite the short journey, his body was already protesting with pain. What use was he like this? In his condition, how would he be able to fight, help Dad with hunts, protect his brother?
As further proof of his diminished capabilities, he didn’t hear the footsteps descending the stairs until they paused, turned towards the dark living room, and a voice said, “Dean?”
Dad went around the couch, switching on the lamp on the side table. Dean forced himself to stop cradling his chest and squinted up at his father. “Dad?”
Even in the dim lighting, Dad’s frown was pronounced. “You should be resting in bed.”
“Couldn’t sleep, sir.”
Dad hesitated, then sat on the one-seater perpendicular to the couch Dean was on.
“I heard what Sam said just now.”
Dean stiffened. “Sir, he was just – ”
“Your brother was right,” Dad interrupted, rubbing his palms against the fabric of his sweatpants.
“This should never have happened.” Dad gestured towards him. “If I had been in my right mind, if I hadn’t been such a goddamn idiot, you wouldn’t have ended up like this!” His father leaned forward. “Jack is seeing about getting me reinstated in the Marines.”
This conversation was taking twists and turns that left Dean utterly lost. “What about the hunt?”
“The hunt can wait.”
"I don't understand. We're not gonna keep looking for the Demon that killed Mom?"
Dean watched his dad take a deep breath and run a hand over his face. What was going on? "Dean, son."
“Your brother’s in danger.”
Brows furrowing, Dean cautiously replied, “I know, sir. From the Yellow-Eyed Demon.”
Dad shook his head. “I know that’s what I’ve been saying for years when I tell you to protect your brother, but it’s not what you think. There’s a bigger picture here that I never told you about.”
Dean’s heart was pounding. He knew his father had secrets he withheld from his sons. Dean knew more than Sammy, by default, because he had to know more to keep his brother safe, but on an instinctual level he recognised that there was a whole lot more that his father was hiding, secrets that would make the puzzle pieces of the Winchesters’ tragedy fit together. Dean had always trusted that he would be confided in when the need arose.
"So tell me, Dad."
In a dimly-lit living room in Colorado Springs, Dad told him. Told him about the warnings given by a psychic called Missouri, about his research on other cases where nurseries had caught fire, about his own suspicions, and about his plans.
In the aftermath of having his world flipped around, Dean tried to think clearly and still the tremor in his fingers. “So, we hide, and flush out Yellow Eyes. Make him come to us, instead of the other way round.”
“Exactly. Let the two of you grow up, become stronger, and in the meantime gather information on what that son of a bitch is up to.”
Dean nodded slowly, mind working over everything that he had just discovered. It was a good strategy. Maybe the only possible strategy, considering his circumstances.
“What is it, Dean?” His father’s eyes were sharp.
He looked away. He was just being stupid. “It’s nothing – ”
“Bullshit,” Dad shot back.
He picked at a loose thread at the bottom of his shirt. “Did you come up with this plan because of me?”
“Son, what are you saying?”
He refused to meet his dad’s eyes. “It’s just – I’m a burden to you like this. It makes sense to stop and hide somewhere while I’m vulnerable.”
There was a long silence. From the corner of his eye, he saw his father move out of his seat to crouch in front of him.
“Dean.” The voice was unexpectedly gentle. “Is that what you’ve been thinking for the past week? That you’re a burden?”
To his shame, Dean felt his eyes burning. He blinked rapidly. “It’s true. I wasn’t fast enough, wasn’t good enough to get away from that psycho. Now like this I’m just a liability to you and Sammy.”
“Dean, no.” There was soft horror in his dad’s tones.
“I can’t do anything like this. I can’t protect Sammy. My arm might just be dead weight for the rest of my life. What good am I – ”
“No,” the sharp word made his mouth snap shut. He was startled enough to meet his father’s eyes, and what he saw there made his throat close up. There were too many emotions in the dark eyes, emotions that were usually kept locked away. “Son, listen to me. I did not suggest hiding because of your injuries. What happened to you knocked the common sense back into my head after I lost it more than ten years ago, but I never considered you a liability.
“You’re a brave, brave man, Dean Winchester. You fought as hard as you could against that bastard. You gave it your all like you do everything else, and I’m proud of you.” His dad’s voice choked up. “I – I’m sorry if I ever made you think otherwise, but I am proud of you, son, and every single morning when I wake up I’m thankful that you and your brother are still here.”
His head was pulled forward into a warm shoulder that smelled of metal and motor oil, of the Impala and home, and Dean was crying now, crying for the first time since that fiery November night eleven years ago. Finally, finally he let himself stop hiding, stop pretending, and simply grieve for a mother taken away, for a childhood gone, and for innocence lost.
An eternity later, Dean drew back, scrubbing his left hand over his face. He couldn’t bring himself to apologise for the breakdown, but Dad didn’t comment, so he let it pass, pretending not to see the shine of tears on the man’s own cheeks as he returned to his seat.
"There're still monsters out there, though,” he croaked quietly. “Not just Yellow Eyes."
Dad's lips quirked wryly. "Jack’s told me a few things recently that’ve made me re-evaluate my definition of ‘monsters out there’. You’re gonna have to take a leap of faith and trust me when I say that taking Jack’s offer still means fighting the good fight.”
There was no hesitation, no doubt. “I trust you, sir.”
“Good,” Dad said gruffly, then cleared his throat. “About your arm, though… Jack said he could help with that.”
He tried to squash the spark of hope that ignited in his chest. “How?’
“The doctors at his base have got access to resources that others don’t. We’ll be going into Cheyenne Mountain tomorrow to see what they can do.”
Yeah, he'd noticed. Level One was right at the top of the elevator console, running down to Twenty-Eight at the bottom. Twenty-One was highlighted.
Next to Dad, Jack smirked and bounced on the balls of his feet.
At Sixteen, the elevator stopped to let in a soldier in fatigues carrying a stack of folders, who stopped short with surprise at the sight of two children. His gaze fell on Jack, the man recovering quickly and stepping in.
"Colonel," the man greeted. "Thought today was the last day of your leave, sir."
"Walter," Jack responded cheerfully. "Just settling some things. Headed down to the gate room?" At the man's nod, the Colonel hit the button for Twenty-Eight and the elevator continued its descent.
"Winchester and Winchester and Winchester, meet Chief Master Sergeant Walter Harriman. He does paperwork for the General, amongst other things," Jack clapped the Sergeant on the shoulder.
"That's a very helpful introduction, sir," Sgt Harriman said dryly. He gave all of them a friendly nod. "Nice to meet you."
Dad gave a quick nod back. "John Winchester. My sons, Dean and Sam."
"I'm Sam, he's Dean," Sammy chirped. "Hi!"
"Sir," Dean greeted politely, unfazed by Sgt Harriman's startled look. Sammy waved goodbye enthusiastically to the soldier as they stepped off onto Level Twenty-One.
The path to the base’s Infirmary involved winding through a maze of corridors that looked identical.
“There’re cameras,” he pointed out.
Jack waved a hand carelessly. “Don’t worry about that. Carter will be doing a little magic to the security records later on.”
The base’s Chief Medical Officer turned out to be a pretty brunette woman who introduced herself as Dr Janet Fraiser.
“Kids, I’m going to take your dad to see the General, so stay here for your check-ups and don’t blow anything up, okay?”
Dean snorted, nodding reassuringly to his father. Sam was already a few paces away examining the medical equipment with fascination.
"Oh, by the way,” Jack threw over his shoulder as they left, “Watch out for the big needles!”
“I can hear you, Colonel!” Dr Fraiser called back. The man gave a jaunty wave as the door closed behind them.
The doctor was efficient, drawing curtains to section off a part of the Infirmary, then ushering Sammy onto a machine that looked like a full-body scanner. While that was going on, she mother-henned him into sitting on a bed and proceeded to use a bunch of high-tech gadgets on him, concentrating mostly on his right arm and making thoughtful noises.
A while later, Dr Fraiser was reading the screen of a device as he and Sammy swung their feet from their perch on the bed when they heard the door of the Infirmary open. Several moments later, footsteps approached them and a man ducked through the curtain, head bent over a thick tome and talking as he went.
"Janet, is Jack here? Walter mentioned something about him headed to the Infirmary, and I need to talk to him – oh." The stranger had finally lifted his head from the book, staring at Dean and Sam with confusion evident on his face. The glasses and the book made the man seem geeky, but on the other hand he was wearing fatigues and was as well-built as any soldier.
"Jack went to see General Hammond, Daniel. Is there anything urgent?"
"Well, no, I just wanted to suggest delaying the mission tomorrow by two hours, because I reviewed the notes I took during the last visit and –"
"Daniel," Dr Fraiser interrupted him.
"What? Oh, yes. Civilians." Daniel blinked at them owlishly. Dean and Sam stared back. "Children. Why are there children here? Shouldn’t you be in school?"
“It’s the summer holidays,” Dean pointed out.
“It’s June,” Sammy added helpfully.
The man, Daniel, looked genuinely flummoxed. “Already?”
Next to him, Dr Fraiser grinned, shaking her head.
Amidst a sudden clatter of boots and voices, a nurse poked her head around the curtain. "Dr Fraiser? SG-9's here for their post-mission check-up."
The woman sighed, putting down the device. "Daniel, you may as well stay here; Jack should be back soon. The older one is Dean and the other is Sam. Boys, I'll be back ASAP. I'll ask someone to get some food from the mess, alright?"
Both of them perked up at the mention of food.
"Thank you, ma’am!" They chorused together.
Dr Fraiser laughed, charmed, and vanished through the curtain.
Daniel was watching them with a bemused air, still clutching the thick book.
"Do you work here like Jack and Sgt Harriman?" Sammy asked curiously.
"Yeah, I do." Daniel set the tome down on the small table and dragged a chair over to sit closer to them. He was eyeing Dean’s casted arm, obviously about to ask.
"Oh, you're a soldier?" Before Daniel could reply, Sammy had already added, "Why d'you need to know about the progression of Archaic to Medieval Latin?"
Dean inwardly winced. Sammy, shut up.
Attention entirely diverted, Daniel gawked at Sam. “Where did you get that from?”
Sam pointed at the book sitting innocently nearby. “Progressio prisca latina ad medieval latina a Litterarum. Progression of Archaic Latin to Medieval Latin: A Documentation.”
Of course both he and Sammy had identified the language of the title of the tome, but adults generally thought they were weird when they - mostly Sammy - pointed it out. Sure enough, Daniel was gaping. "You know Latin?"
"Some, but Dean is the one who's really good at it! He was the one who started teaching me a few years ago!"
He groaned. "Sammy, shut your trap."
Daniel whipped his head around. “You can read Latin?” He demanded.
“A little here and there,” he hedged.
Before he knew what was happening, Daniel had picked up the heavy book and flipped it open to a random page, turning it around and pushing it in his direction. Dean caught it without thought, fumbling briefly with it before balancing it on his cast.
“Can you understand that?” He asked eagerly.
Dean decided to humour him. Shifting the book to a more comfortable position, and nudging Sammy away a little from where he had scrambled up onto his knees and was looking over his shoulder at the book, he started reading out loud a few lines.
“Latin lucratus multi grammaticales praecepta Romani imperium venit in esse. Scriptores, poetae et aliis artificiose inclinatur adoptavit hoc forma Latine. Videtur maxime probatissimi et accurate, Classical Latina docuit in scholis. Latin gained many of its grammatical rules as the Roman empire came into existence. Writers, poets and others artistically inclined adopted this form of Latin. Seen as most refined and accurate, Classical Latin was taught in schools...” He frowned. “Seriously, why are you reading about this?”
“I’m an archaeologist working as a consultant for the Air Force,” Daniel responded absently, still staring at Dean like he had discovered the answer to the universe.
“What, like they’re doing Deep Space Telemetry down here?” He challenged.
Daniel looked taken aback. “Erm – yes?”
“Oh, for crying out loud, Danny!”
Jack’s voice startled all three of them. Daniel jumped, twisting around in his chair to look at where Jack and Dad had just slipped in. Dean shut the book quickly – but carefully, no point in damaging a perfectly good book, after all – and slid it back onto the table.
Jack glared at Daniel. “It’s been almost four years, I thought you’d have gotten better at lying by now.”
Daniel fidgeted. “It’s a rather poor cover story, you can’t disagree with me on that, Jack.” His eyes fell on Dad, and he eagerly seized onto a change of topic. “New friend?”
The Colonel rolled his eyes, but turned to spread his hands towards Dad with a flourish.
“Doctor Daniel Jackson, I’d like you to meet the reinstated and promoted Master Sergeant John Winchester, newest recruit of the SGC programme.”
Okay, so they were mostly there to hide out while the SGC messed with Dad’s records, sweeping under the carpet all the crime charges he had accumulated over the past decade, and creating new identities for the three of them.
Dean was in the Infirmary for the first few days, sleeping on and off. Janet – the doctor had threatened him with big needles until he agreed to call her that – insisted that it was perfectly natural for his body to need a lot of rest, but Dean was antsy for spending so much time sleeping. Eventually, after a whole lot of tests, she sat the Winchesters down and explained about the goa’uld healing device, sounding too good to be true. Janet insisted that the healing device had worked reliably before for the SGC on multiple occasions.
“The only thing I’m worried about is that Dean is still a teenager. Theoretically, it should still work, but we’ve never tried it before on someone Dean’s age. To be safe, we can start out with a short session, then monitor you for any side effects afterwards,” she explained.
There were doubts and suspicion from Dad and Sammy, but Dean bulldozed his way through their protests. If the healing device could do something for his arm, he would give it a shot, alien or not.
The next day in the Infirmary, while Dad disappeared for a briefing with General Hammond, Dean and Sammy finally met the other two members of SG-1.
Major Carter – Dean couldn’t bring himself to call her by her first name, because he already had a Sam and that was his nerdy little brother, not a hot chick in fatigues – was a little awkward at first, like she didn’t know what to do with two kids. She got over it quickly, though, when Janet mentioned she had a Ph.D. in astrophysics, and Sammy lit up like Christmas had come early, practically exploding with enthusiasm for all things Science-y.
Teal’c was huge. And apparently an alien. Huh. He was pretty cool, especially when he referred to Dean’s injuries as ‘scars of honour from a battle well-fought’. Dean liked him.
The first session with the healing device went well enough that he was released to share a room with Sammy. They were confined to the floor the guest quarters were on, and most of the time it was just the two of them since Dad was going through SGC initiation exercises, but it didn’t really matter that much because SG-1 made it a point to visit often since they were the only ones apart from Janet and General Hammond who actually knew why they were there.
Jack got them blue jello from the mess, lent them his Gameboy, and brought The Simpsons DVDs to watch with them. Carter gave them harmless alien toys which glowed or changed colours or hummed, and spent long hours arguing with them about the existence of the supernatural. Teal’c taught them how to wield a staff, and coached Dean through stretches and breathing exercises. Daniel brought his work down to their quarters and promptly forgot about their existence, but then according to Jack, the archaeologist would forget to eat and sleep if not reminded by someone, so that was okay. Besides, when he did remember them, he spent hours babbling about something or other, and Dean would pretend not to be interested.
They were alien languages, okay? That was cool, not nerdy.
He didn’t dislike school as much as he did before, even though he was going on a regular basis now and not sporadically. Before, it had been a waste of time, not only because it took away time to help his dad with a hunt, but also because he found himself learning the same topic in a subject over and over again. It was inevitable, what with them hopping states from one month to the next, and schools teaching at different rates, but it sucked.
Now, everything was different. He hated to say it, but school was getting too easy. He sat on it for a while, but finally Sammy’s badgering drove him to action. Because, yeah, if Dean found school easy, then Sammy, nerd that he was, would find it even more so. They waited for the weekend to talk to Dad, two days of the week when – barring alien invasions – the Winchester patriarch was guaranteed to be present, yet another drastic change from their life before.
On Monday, his homeroom teacher pulled him aside to the principal’s office, sitting him down with a bunch of test papers.
Soon after, Dean was moved up a grade while Sammy was bumped up two grades. Dad and Jack each separately brought them out for apple pie and ice cream, Teal’c presented them with hand-engraved silver knives, Carter eyed Sammy speculatively, and Daniel started leaving books outside their apartment which Dean absolutely did not take to read.
Dean only smirked and said, “Increased health and vitality, huh?”
Jon swore under his breath.
That day, the Winchesters added one more to their numbers.
The first two tasks were achievable. The SGC had created new identities for the Winchesters and set them up in an apartment a twenty-minute drive away from the base, with the entire block let out exclusively to SGC personnel and around-the-clock security surveillance. The sessions with the healing device were spaced out over several months, subject to Carter’s availability whenever she wasn’t on a mission or solving SGC-related emergencies, but it worked like a charm, cutting Dean’s daily dosage of medication by half and allowing him to walk around without feeling like his chest was going to split open every few steps. He was still sleeping much more than he liked, physical therapy sessions were a pain in the butt, and on some days all he could was curl up in bed to ride out the pain, but Dean was slowly making his way back to a hundred percent.
The third and fourth tasks, though, Dean wasn’t sure about.
Bobby and Pastor Jim were the only ones they kept in touch with through emails. Staying under cover meant cutting off contact with most of the hunting world, but to get information on the Yellow-Eyed Demon they needed the hunting network. Bobby was the key to that; he had ties and connections to nearly everyone they needed to know. The older hunter promised to keep an eye and ear out for anything remotely related to Yellow Eyes. He also told Dean to pass a message on to his father, which consisted of ‘About time you did something right, you idjit. Saves me the effort of shooting you.’ Dean wisely did not mention anything to Dad.
In between sleeping, physical therapy sessions and hours spent roaming the neighbourhood with Sam and Jon, Dean worked his way through the journal.
He didn’t know what the Demon wanted, but he would find out.
Emails filtered in from Bobby and Pastor Jim every now and then:
Caleb called to say that he’s had people asking about the Winchesters. He didn’t know anything, of course, but I told ‘em to go to ground for a while, just in case.
Do you remember Nurse Larsen from United Hospital? She’s part of my congregation, and last Sunday she mentioned that the hospital’s hired a team to better secure their systems after a hacking a few weeks ago. I know your father’s friends already took care of that years ago, but as always, be careful.
Ellen reported three demon sightings from hunters within the past six months. Wisconsin & Iowa. Haven’t had a single one for decades. Boy, you and your idjit father better know what you’re doing.
Dean drummed his knuckles against the table top, frowning. He only looked away from the screen of the laptop when the door to the apartment banged open and Jon walked in with several bags, kicking the door shut behind him.
Jon dumped everything on the kitchen counter, digging around in the bags. “Yeah. Salt, iron, holy water, food for the road…”
The clone lay out each item as he went down the list, ending with a small ice box which he set down carefully.
“That the – ”
“Dead man’s blood?” Jon finished. “Uh huh. Had a blast getting it from my contacts, let me tell you that.”
He turned, catching sight of Dean’s laptop screen. “Bobby?”
“Yeah. Wisconsin and Iowa.”
He whistled lowly. “Getting a little too close for comfort there. What about ol’ Yellow Eyes?”
Dean tapped a few keys to open up the programme Ash had written and set up a few months ago to track the movements of the Demon via the occurrences of cattle deaths, electrical storms and temperature fluctuations. The last known incidents hadn’t changed. “Still at Montana.”
He shook his head, shutting the laptop down and pushing away from the kitchen table. Hopefully the monsters would be drawn west when he started Recruit Training in a few weeks at San Diego. For now, though, they had vampires to hunt. Freaking vampires.
“Sammy!” He yelled towards the study. “J and I are leaving!”
His brother clattered out, half-awake, with ink imprints on his face that meant he had fallen asleep on one of his books again.
“Are you sure you’re going?” He asked Jon.
“Why wouldn’t I, squirt?”
Sam hesitated, watching as the teenage clone collected the items from the kitchen counter with a too-determined air. Dean, out of Jon’s line of sight, tried to gesture at his brother to shut up, but predictably he was ignored.
“We may get news about Jack and the others today. And you don’t look very well.”
It was true. Jon had dark eye circles and was looking haggard and worn-down. Dean knew for a fact that the clone had practically been living off of coffee the past week. It wasn’t even really because of SG-1’s kidnapping; that happened almost on every other mission.
“I’m sure you’ll pass on updates to us.” Jon shrugged casually. “And I’ll sleep in the car, it’s a few hours’ drive.”
Liar, Dean thought. You’re lying because Daniel Jackson died last week and you haven’t slept since.
But he didn’t say anything out loud, because this was a cycle they had been through before. Daniel might come back to life again like the previous time, but none of them really knew for sure if it would happen this time. That slim possibility didn’t make the grief any easier to bear.
Even Sam wasn’t brave enough to broach the topic. Instead he said, “Be careful, and if things don’t go well, remember what Dad said about Elkins.”
“Knock ‘em out and take the Colt if the stubborn bastard refuses to give it up,” Dean parroted, grinning. He waved goodbye and followed Jon out the door.
Down in the parking lot, Dean paused with his hand on the Impala’s ignition. “J –”
There was an amused huff of breath from the passenger seat as its occupant made himself comfortable, shoving on a pair of aviator sunglasses. “Someone’s gotta watch your back and make sure you don’t get chomped on by a vampire. Shut up and just drive, Winchester.”
Dean didn’t object. The SGC was where he had intended to go, after all, years ago when he had first stepped foot inside.
He was assigned to an SG team. He fought aliens, rescued aliens, babysat civilians, worked through Ancient translations, blew things up, got yelled at by Dad each time he was shot, flirted with the nurses, badgered loud-mouthed Canadian scientists in the labs, broke into Daniel’s office, and studied on the side.
Throughout it all, an internal timer counted the days, months, and years as they passed.
Sam woke to the phantom taste of sulphur and blood in his mouth, rolling out of bed to dry-heave onto the floor. It took nearly a minute before he realised that the ringing in his head wasn’t just in his head, but originated from an external source.
Staggering out of his bedroom, he followed the noise to his laptop which he had left on the kitchen counter the previous night. He stopped, gut churning, when he finally remembered why the alarm sounded so familiar.
It was the alarm attached to the Azazel-tracking programme.
Fingers unsteady, he opened up his laptop which had already booted itself up, thanks to some magic wrought by Col. Carter during a lookover of Ash’s coding. The alarm cut off as a map of the United States presented itself on the screen. The state of Colorado was highlighted in flashing red.
He read the details rapidly. A rash of cattle deaths had been discovered several minutes ago, and had combined with the unexplained temperature drop and freak electrical storms last night to set off the alarm. Heart in his throat, he checked the time of the first freak storm.
More than seven hours ago.
He pressed his palms against his eyes, trying to think around his sudden panic and massive migraine. Dad and Jon were in the SGC. Dean was off-world – wait. Dean was due back this morning.
Logically, the SGC was one of the safest places a person could find. It was why their entire family had intended to work there, after all. But Sam knew, knew without a doubt that it was where Azazel was.
Despite knowing that he was most likely walking into a trap, Sam packed the Colt up and left for Cheyenne Mountain.
He called the others’ cell phones the whole way there, but he already knew today was going to be a difficult one, so he wasn’t surprised when no one picked up his calls. In the elevator, he let his fingers guide him to hit the button to the level the Infirmary was on.
He had only taken a few steps after exiting the elevator when he stopped, turning back. He waited impatiently for a minute, fingering the Colt in his pocket, before the elevator doors slid open again, releasing Jon in his civilian uniform.
The man raised an eyebrow at him. "You used the fake pass again, didn't you? The old man's not going to be happy about that."
Sam ignored him. "Is Dean okay?"
Jon rolled his eyes and started moving again, taking the path towards the Infirmary. Sam automatically fell into step next to him. “He's fine, just had an encounter with some knife-happy natives. A couple of stitches and he'll be good as new.”
The headache, which had ebbed during the journey here, started up again.
“Honestly, though, he's more pissed about having to get the tat redone than about the stitches.”
Sam stopped in his tracks. “Wait, what?”
“The tat. You know, the one all of us have that keeps us from being demonic meatsuits? It got nicked and now the pattern’s broken – Sam!”
Jon caught him as he crumpled, eyes squeezed shut against the onslaught of images. Dean.
He returned to awareness to Jon crouching over him worriedly. “Hey, squirt, back with me?”
“Jon –” he said hoarsely, reaching out to grab his arm, dragging himself to sit upright against the wall.
“What is it?” Jon asked lowly, hands on his shoulders, eyes dark and apprehensive. “What did you see?”
“The Azazel-tracking alarm went off an hour ago.” Jon’s hands tightened, but Sam barrelled on, voice cracking. “Jon, he has Dean. Azazel’s possessed Dean.”
Instead, he was holding a nurse hostage in the middle of a corridor, surrounded by soldiers and guns.
Above him, Walter was saying into the base intercom Foothold situation on Level Twenty-Two. Security teams six to eight, contain the situation. Teams five, nine and ten, secure the level. Base is going into lockdown in five minutes. I repeat…
“Will someone explain to me why there’s a goa’uld in one of my men?” Jack was demanding in low tones from the back of the group as Sam and Jon approached at a run.
“General, this doesn’t make sense. Sgt Winchester went through the standard post-mission check-up, he wasn’t compromised!” A grizzled man Sam recognised as the CO of Dean’s SG team was replying with palpable frustration.
“It’s not a goa’uld,” Jon interjected. “Sam, wait –”
He dodged around Jon, pushing through the gaggle of soldiers until he could see the situation clearly.
The creature possessing Dean had his arms loosely wound around the nurse’s waist and shoulders, using her as a body shield. Despite the light grip, however, the petite woman wasn’t struggling or attempting to escape. She wasn’t doing much of anything; her open eyes were clouded and unseeing, her body still and relaxed. She was evidently under some sort of trance.
Azazel caught sight of him, his lips stretching in a parody of Dean’s usual grin. “Sammy, my boy! What a chase you and your family led me on!”
“Get out of Dean,” he said furiously.
“Now, Sammy, why would I want to do that after I’ve spent years finding you?” The demon laughed, a sound which reverberated around the metal walls, echoing eerily. “I have to congratulate you on a most incredible hidey-hole. I’ve only been here less than half a day, and already I see the endless potential here…”
It was utterly revolting to see sickly yellow eyes staring out from a familiar face. “Let the woman go, she’s got nothing to do with this.”
“Oh, Sammy, my dear Sammy. You mistake me for a compassionate soul.” Azazel smiled darkly, eyes flashing. The soldiers around him tensed, fingers twitching on triggers, only backing off at Jack’s hissed Hold your fire, hold your fire!.
Fear and desperation clawed at his insides despite his best efforts. Sam searched Dean’s face, looking for any sign of his brother, but all the emotions and expressions there were completely foreign; malicious ridicule and cruel mockery did not belong on those features. “Then what do you want?”
“I want a lot of things, my boy.” Azazel smiled again, wide and nauseating. “But right now I’ll settle for the Colt in your pocket.”
His hand froze around the hidden Colt he had been gripping. “I don’t know what you’re talking about.”
The demon chuckled, amused. “You need to work on your lying skills, Sammy. I can see right through you.”
As Azazel finished his words, he looked directly into Sam’s eyes, yellow meeting brown.
He knew what was happening; on some level, he had expected this. They had all expected this. He was sixteen the first time he experienced a splitting headache that left him with echoing afterimages; that night after confiding in Dean, his brother and father had sat him down to tell him everything, Jon listening grimly at the side. Afterwards, Sam learnt meditation techniques from Teal’c, while Dad endured a tongue-lashing from Missouri to ask the psychic for help. His powers weren’t natural, but they were part of him, and if there was one thing the Winchesters were good at, it was making the most of what they had, whether good or bad.
Anticipating this didn’t make it any easier as a dark haze settled over his mind. A soft voice crooned in his head, coaxing, murmuring at him to give in, just give in, everything will be so much better if you just stop fighting. The haze crept in, winding into the crevices of his self, warm and cajoling. It was so tempting to just fall into the abyss beckoning to him.
Let me in, and you can have everything. You’re special, so special, and you can have unlimited power at your fingertips. Just let me in, Sammy…
Except there was a steady, reassuring hand settling on his back, firm and supportive. And the Sammy was all wrong, because only his family got to call him that, and the voice wasn’t family.
Sam shoved back, breaking the thrall and shaking off the darkness twisting around him.
“Nice try,” he rasped. He refocused on his surroundings, letting the light press of Jon’s hand calm and ground him, soaking in the feeling of family and support and not being alone.
Instead of displeasure at his failure, Azazel looked delighted.
“This is more than I expected, child, you’ve been practising! You’re making things so much easier for me later on!”
“There’s no later on, bastard!”
“Oh, Sammy, when are you going to learn that you’re never going to win? You and your family can fight all you want, but this is bigger than just you and me, kiddo; we are always going to walk down this path, no matter what, when and how.”
Sam felt more than saw his dad’s arrival on the scene.
“Azazel, you son of a bitch!”
“Finally here to see the show, John?” Sam could hear the mocking smile in Azazel’s tone, but he didn’t look up to witness it, too busy watching the woman still being held by the demon. “I never thought you had it in you to just give up. I profess I’m disappointed…”
He couldn’t go against Azazel head-on, he knew that much from their brief mental tangle. The demon was much too strong. But there was another option here. Sam knew he would be spending hours with Teal’c after this if it worked and apologising profusely, but this was the only possible solution now.
“…after all, I thought you loved your wife.”
Taking advantage of Azazel’s preoccupation with his father, Sam breathed out, concentrated, and with all of his strength, pushed at the mind of the nurse cradled against the demon.
It felt like breaking through metal chains with his bare hands, but they did break. The woman slid out of Azazel’s loose grip, dropping to the ground and leaving the demon exposed.
In one smooth motion, Sam drew the Colt out and shot his brother in the right shoulder.
For a frozen moment, nothing happened. Then time seemed to speed up, Dean’s body convulsing as blue and white lightning arched from the wound, a palm-sized devil’s trap highlighted. The vicious grin smoothed away, and the yellow left his eyes, leaving behind familiar hazel-green. The itch at the back of his mind died along with Azazel.
Sam had a brief confused moment to think, that’s not supposed to happen, before he locked gazes with his brother, soaking in the awareness in his eyes before Dean collapsed to his knees, coughing.
Two long steps, and Sam was kneeling beside his brother, hugging the hell out of him. Dean would call him a girl later on, but right now he couldn’t care less. Another pair of arms enveloped them both – Dad.
The rising elation as it sunk in that Dean was alive, that the demon who had plagued the Winchesters for so many years was finally dead was cut short, when he finally realised that Dean hadn’t stopped coughing. He drew back to stare at his brother, who leaned forward on his left arm and kept coughing, eyes screwed tightly shut.
“Son? Dean? Are you alright?” Their dad’s worried voice held that thin edge of panic.
“Shit, Sam, look at his shoulder.” Jon appeared next to them, frazzled.
Sam moved his eyes from Dean’s face to his uninjured shoulder, where the edge of a marking peeked out from under his shirt. He blocked everything out, blocked out his dad yelling for the med team, blocked out Jon trying to talk to Dean, blocked out all the other random soldiers running around, and reached to push back Dean’s collar. Symbols and sigils drawn with some kind of red substance marked his shoulder, running down to Dean’s chest.
Sam barely noticed the medical team’s arrival, mentally translating what he could see of the symbols. Souls. Binding. Death.
It was a very bad combination, and the feeling of dread only ratcheted up in intensity when Dean stopped coughing, and instead started fighting for breath, chest heaving.
Numbly, he reached for his big brother, to do something, to do anything, but he was hauled off his feet and backwards by two faceless Marines.
“Sir, you need to let the med team do their job.” Out of the corner of his eye, he could see other Marines similarly holding his dad and Jon back.
“No, you don’t understand, that’s my brother –” his protests fell on deaf ears. He managed to move a few steps towards the huddle of people around his brother before the soldiers dug in their feet and tightened their grip.
“– doesn’t make sense, it’s a gunshot wound –”
“– nowhere near his heart or lungs, shouldn’t be having this much trouble breathing –”
Sam didn’t remember the trip to the Infirmary, but he found himself pacing outside the room Dean and the doctors had disappeared into, his dad and Jon standing near him, faces drawn white with fear.
Dean would be fine. Dean had always been fine. He had been thrown into walls by ghosts, cursed by witches, shot by aliens, and walked away to tell the tale. Dean was his big brother, always there hovering over his shoulder being annoyingly protective. Even when they had been separated, Sam at Stanford and Dean at the base, he had found new and inventive ways to hover, the least of which manipulating Jon into studying at Stanford as well.
A rational part of Sam’s mind repeatedly replayed the last image he had glimpsed of Dean before the nurses had firmly pushed him outside. Dean, blood streaming from his right shoulder, mouth open and straining to draw oxygen into lungs that refused to function, hands scrabbling uselessly in the air. Face slowly turning blue as his body illogically shut down on him.
Sam viciously told that part of his mind to shut up.
It felt like hours before the door to the emergency room opened and Dr Frasier stepped out, quickly shutting the door behind her. The three of them descended on her, and Sam felt ice spread through his veins at the doctor’s expression.
“We tried everything we could think of. I’m so sorry. He’s gone.”
He remembered only snatches of what had happened – the possession, throwing every last ounce of his will against it, Sam shooting him with the Colt, the pain lancing through him, Azazel’s mocking laughter before the demon shredded into oblivion. The damn symbols he had drawn on his chest itching, before his body started failing him. Then a final acute pain in his chest, and Dean had been too tired to keep his eyes open any longer.
As soon as he opened his eyes again, he knew he was in Hell. The air was suffocating, the heat pressing against him almost like a solid wall. Faint screams drifted from the distance, working down his spine in a shudder. The worst was the smell – sulphur and brimstone, yeah, the cliché, but also the thick metallic scent of blood and burning flesh.
At first, all he saw was darkness, but slowly the world focused into shades of grey, brown and red. Then the creatures started appearing.
The demons looked like people, but their faces were twisted into ugly caricatures, something fundamentally wrong with their presence, as if Hell stripped away all the pretences and revealed them for the foul beings they were. Large, growling canines snorted smoke and sparks, and snakes slithered along the ground, hissing menacingly. A huge, dragon-like monster crouched, leathery wings twitching and coal eyes hungry. Other unidentifiable creatures lingered in the shadows, their aura of evil palpable.
“Well, well, look what we have here. A Winchester.” The speaker, a short, curvy blonde cooed the last word with relish as harsh, mocking laughter sounded from the audience.
“What’s it to you, bitch?” Dean snapped, turning in a circle, realising that the creatures had him surrounded.
The woman, if one could call her that with her ugly mug, smiled widely as she noticed what he was doing. “Don’t worry your pretty little head off, Dean. You’re trapped here in Hell. Azazel made sure of that.”
“Good for him. Too bad he’s not here to see it for himself.” There was no gate or doorway of any kind he could see, just burning walls and hungry beasties. Shit.
“That was unexpected, Azazel always said he’d love seeing you down here. But I have to hand it to him for coming up with last-minute plans. Azazel knew what he was sacrificing himself for. Believe me, sweetheart, getting you down here is worth much more than you can imagine.” The woman stepped closer, and the creatures followed her cue, closing in around him.
Fuck, fuck, fuck. “What, so that the demons I’ve sent down here over the years can get a piece of me? Petty much?” Dean went for mocking casual, and mostly succeeded, not betraying the fear and panic crawling up his spine.
The woman bared her teeth in a malicious grin. “Oh, no, Dean. You won’t be going to just any low-level demon that was dumb enough to get exorcised by you and your little family. You’ll be going straight to Alistair, and then the real fun begins. He’s been waiting for you, darling, waiting for you and your father for such a long time. “
“You won’t get my dad, you crazy bitch!” Dean snarled. The circle around him tightened, the smell of fire and brimstone wafting from the creatures of hell overpowering and choking.
“Oh, it doesn’t really matter, Deanie. If your daddy trades for you, then we get him instead, and eventually you as well. You Winchesters are a self-sacrificing lot, so predictable. If that happens, the schedule gets pushed back a few years, but it’s still going to play out like we want. It’s a win-win situation for us.”
Dean had no idea what the fuck she was spewing from her mouth, but he didn’t get the chance to demand answers as the she-demon continued talking, voice honey sweet. “While we wait, darling, we should get you on the rack and ready for Alistair. You’ll be getting intimately acquainted with him, whether now or a few years down the road.”
Three things happened at the same time. A dozen demons and other monsters lunged forward at him. Dean raised his arms and braced himself to go down fighting. And a brilliant, white light blazed in the cavern, accompanied by the sound of fluttering wings.
When his vision cleared, denizens of hell lay scattered across the ground, dead or dying. Those still alive had backed away, cowering in the shadows away from the glowing figure standing just in front of him.
It was hard to say, exactly, what the figure looked like. It was man-shaped, yeah, and it was wielding a freaking flaming sword, but if he stared too hard his eyes started to water, so Dean averted his gaze and watched the whatever-it-was in his peripheral vision instead. White, strong radiance spread from the figure, bathing the ground in soft light. Where the hell-creatures emitted evil and foulness with their very presence, this one gave off an aura of purity and grace.
“You have made a grave error in dragging Dean Winchester down into the Pit, first creation of the Fallen.” The voice was grave and musical at the same time. It addressed the she-demon, who unfortunately was still kicking, though standing much further away now. Dean should have been worried that this thing knew his name, but for some reason it was also protecting him, and right now Dean was not going to look a gift horse in the mouth.
“You have no business here!” She hissed angrily, but most of the menacing effect was lost with the way she flinched away from the pulsing light reaching across the ground.
“On the contrary, Dean Winchester is very much our business.”
“He died, and his soul descended here, so he belongs to us! You have no right to interfere!” The woman spat.
“It is true that he died. However, in normal circumstances his soul would have gone to Heaven, had Azazel not bound Dean’s soul to his.” The figure spoke in a calm, measured voice, as if it wasn’t throwing around words like soul and heaven. “This is an act of desperation in an attempt to reconcile events that diverged years ago. It merits our involvement.”
“This is meant to happen! Events have been leading up to this for centuries, and Mary Campbell’s deal with Azazel cemented this path! Even you all-knowing fireflies can’t deny fate!”
“We may not be able to,” the glowing figure acknowledged. “But humans were gifted with free will, and we underestimated the extent to which the future would change because of a single decision. Nonetheless, we follow our Father’s orders, and we cannot allow you to strip away the free will of a human, particularly Dean Winchester’s.”
The she-demon snarled, but a moment later, glee overtook her features. “If his daddy makes a deal, you feathered bastards can’t do anything about it!”
“No, we would not be able to interfere if that occurred.” It conceded that point, but the radiance started to increase in intensity, the light getting so bright that Dean had to squeeze his eyes shut. The figure continued speaking, voice rising in volume, vibrations travelling across the ground. “Meanwhile, however, return to the dark recesses from which you crawled, filth!”
There was a roaring sound, the ground rumbling in a pseudo-earthquake, then silence and stillness, so sudden like someone had hit the stop button in the middle of an action sequence in a movie.
Somehow, Dean found himself still standing even though it felt like the world had just shaken apart around him. Cautiously, he opened his eyes for the second time.
The hell-creatures were all gone. Oh, he was still in Hell, he could feel that in his bones, but not a single demon or monster was to be seen. Glimmers of light threaded through the air, wavering in and out of existence, suffusing the area with a comforting mist. The blistering heat had given way to mild warmth, and the choking smell of blood and burning flesh had faded to become barely noticeable.
Dean turned, and nearly jumped out of his skin. “Fuck! Don’t you know the concept of personal space?!”
The being who had somehow driven off all the evil stood less than a foot away, way inside his bubble. Dean scrambled backwards to put a good seven feet between them.
“I apologize.” The figure intoned. Its voice still held that faint edge of power to it, carefully leashed.
“Look, could you turn down your light a bit?” Whatever-it-was was still fucking glowing, and it was making Dean’s eyes ache. “I’d really like to look at you without burning my eyes out.”
Somehow, the other being managed to project sheepish embarrassment without saying anything. A moment later, the light dimmed enough that Dean could finally look directly at it. This really wasn’t much help, because all Dean could see was still a man-shaped figure, outline blurring into spools of light. The sword had disappeared somewhere.
“Who are you?” Dean couldn’t muster enough paranoia to be wary. He had just cut down dozens of hell-creatures, saving him from a potentially painful eviscerating. He didn’t know why, but his instincts were also not screaming danger danger danger, and his instincts had always served him well.
“I am Castiel.” The man – weird name or not, it was a guy’s name, right? – continued to stand motionless, watching him – or at least, Dean thought he was watching him, because he couldn’t make out the details of his features.
“Okay, okay, I think what I really meant to ask was what are you?”
Whatever Dean was expecting, it definitely wasn’t what Castiel said next.
“I am an angel of the Lord.” The statement was said with perfect seriousness, as if he wasn’t uttering the most ridiculous words.
“There’s no such thing.” The response slipped out of Dean’s mouth automatically.
“Do you really think so?” Castiel countered calmly.
Dean opened his mouth to say “Yeah, I really do think so.” but the words stuck in his throat as he mentally replayed the events of the past few minutes. The sound of fluttering wings just before Castiel’s arrival, the flaming sword, dead monsters, the she-demon calling him a feathered bastard, and the aura of purity Castiel was projecting even now.
When Dean was little, his mom had always said that angels were watching over him, but he had never for a second thought she had meant it literally.
“There’s no God.” Dean said, but he could hear the frisson of doubt in his own voice.
“That’s your problem, Dean.” Castiel stepped closer, pinning him in place with his intensity. “You have no faith.”
That knocked him out of his stupor. “That’s not true,” Dean snapped. “I have faith in my dad, my brother, J, other people I work with. I have faith in people who I know I can trust. I just don’t have faith in higher beings that are supposedly all-knowing and all-powerful, because they don’t exist, whether they’re gods or God.”
“The Goa’uld you fight are not true gods, but I assure you, Dean Winchester, that my Father is real.”
That was a security breach, right there. “How do you know about the Goa’uld?”
“We have known about the Goa’uld since the time of their creation.”
“So if there is a God, why didn’t he smite those bastards? It would have saved a lot of lives!” Dean growled.
“I do not question my Father’s workings. I believe He has His reasons for what He does, and what He does not do,” Castiel spoke with the voice of a true believer, solemn and sincere.
Damn it, Daniel would have a field day talking to this guy. Dean metaphorically raised his hands in surrender of this argument. He didn’t do philosophical crap, that was Sammy and Daniel’s department. He didn’t believe in God, but everything he had seen and heard so far supported Castiel’s claims of being an angel, so maybe there was something in that. Heck, the guy had killed dozens of hell-creatures with a flaming sword, which was pretty fucking awesome all by itself.
Whatever, he had more immediate concerns. Like the fact that he was dead and in Hell.
“You will not remain dead for long, Dean.”
Dean stared. “What?” Then it clicked. “Holy crap! Dude, you’re reading my mind? That is so not cool!”
For a glowing, featureless figure, Castiel managed to convey polite confusion pretty well as he tilted his head. “I do not understand.”
“Look, there’s something called invasion of privacy, okay? People want their thoughts to remain private; it’s rude, not to mention creepy, when you read what someone is thinking.” Jeez, he felt like he was dealing with an alien off-world.
“I apologize. I have not interacted with humankind for millennia, so I am unaware of these social rules.”
Okay, that was…freaky and kind of terrifying. This guy was thousands of years old? Dean wanted to ask, but he had the feeling it would lead back to the God discussion again, so he didn’t.
Then he frowned. “What do you mean I won’t remain dead for long?”
“Once we realised what had happened, I was sent here to retrieve your soul and return you back to the living.”
“So, you’re going to bring me back to life?” Dean couldn’t help the sudden blooming of hope in his chest.
“Awesome! Why are we still here, then?” Dean was reminded of Sammy, Jon, his dad, his teammates; wondered how they were taking his death. More than anything, he wanted to get back to them.
Then his elation dimmed when Castiel was silent for too long. “What? C’mon, man, answer me. Why can’t we go now?”
“We need to wait just a little more, Dean.”
“Why? What are we waiting for?” He demanded.
Castiel avoided his question, instead turning away to watch something in the distance. Dean looked in that direction, but saw nothing except for the misty flickering light still winding through the air.
Dean felt something a little like panic begin to form. He had the urge to grab the guy by his shoulders and shake him for answers, but he settled for asking again, “Talk to me. What’s going on, Castiel?”
Castiel shifted at the use of his name for the first time. For a moment, Dean thought he was going to ignore him, but eventually he answered. “You will return to the living no matter what happens, Dean. The only question is by what means.”
“What are you talking about – no. No.” What the she-demon had mentioned about deals finally made sense. “They wouldn’t do that.”
“It is your family’s choice, Dean.”
He was sure that Sam and Jon wouldn’t do anything so stupid. Sam because he knew Dean would never, ever, be able to forgive himself, and Jon because he was too acquainted with losing loved ones and letting them go, knowing that life carried on. But Dad…Dad had never been able to deal well with loss.
Dean paced, stalking the edges of the cavern, worrying himself sick.
Don’t. Don’t. Please don’t.
It felt like an eternity, so much so that when Castiel spoke again, it was a shock.
“Humans never cease to amaze me,” Castiel murmured softly. Before Dean could demand to know what the heck that meant, he turned to face him. “It is time for us to go, Dean.”
“No one dealt for me?”
“I believe it was a very difficult decision, but you are correct, no one did.”
Relief was too inadequate a word to describe Dean’s feelings as the vice around his heart vanished. Laughing, pretending that it didn’t hold an edge of hysteria, he clapped his hands together and bounced on the balls of his feet.
“Okay, so how do we bust outta here?”
“I will bring us out of the Pit.”
“I got that much. But how are you gonna do that, wise guy?”
Castiel didn’t respond verbally. The air around the self-proclaimed angel shivered. On the walls behind him, silhouettes of two great wings appeared, shifting and stretching to occupy the entire cavern.
“You mean we gotta fly?”
If only it was that simple.
“Oh, for cryin’ out loud!”
The exclamation from Jack almost made Dean grin, but he resisted. Mostly.
“So what you’re saying is that an angel pulled you out of hell? A real angel, with a freaking halo and wings, pulled you out of the actual, biblical hell?” The disbelief on the General’s face was reflected in a lesser degree on Jon’s face. His dad’s features were inscrutable, while Sam and Daniel both looked endlessly fascinated.
“Well, I dunno about the halo, but there were definitely wings,” Dean paused, then added, “and a sword, too. A flaming sword. It was awesome. Made me want one, too.”
“A flaming sword – oh, for cryin’ out loud!” Jack repeated for the second time in as many minutes. He glared at Dean, as if that would make him change his story. It wouldn’t. Dean had evaded Janet’s questions for several hours in the infirmary, claiming he didn’t remember, until the woman had been forced to release him because there wasn’t anything wrong with him. All of his wounds were gone and his tests had come back clean. Sam had dogged his every footstep, while Jon and his dad had hovered in the background. For once, Dean hadn’t minded the mother-henning. Once clear of the infirmary, Jack had dragged him into the conference room for a briefing, with Daniel tagging along. And here he was, being looked at by the General as if he thought that Dean should go back to Janet for another round of scans.
“Well, that would explain the scar, wouldn’t it?” Daniel said brightly, watching Dean with the expression he usually reserved for dusty books and ancient rocks. “And the complete disappearance of his other scars.”
The mention made Dean rub his left shoulder self-consciously. That was another reason why the doc had been so reluctant to let him go. All of his old scars had vanished, as if he had never faced down the wendingo in Alabama, or the skinwalker in San Diego, or the axe-wielding natives on P3X-578. Instead, all that was left was a red, raised handprint on his left shoulder.
“So, what, you believe in the supernatural, but not angels?” Dean challenged.
Jack’s eyes narrowed. “Dean, I’ve seen demons and other monsters. Watched ‘em get exorcised, even did one myself during those damned hunting trips your father dragged me on. I know that thing which possessed you yesterday was a demon, and you’ve told me about the Colt. Monsters under the bed are one thing, but real, live angels? You telling me God exists?”
“Oh, believe me, I asked Castiel that. He seemed pretty convinced that God’s real. But that’s not the point. I’m not sold on the God idea, but angels sound pretty reasonable, from where I’m standing. The dude saved my life, General.” Dean struggled to put into words what he knew on an instinctual level. He just couldn’t say how, or why. “I don’t think he was lying.”
“Doesn’t mean he’s telling the truth, either,” Jon pointed out. “He could be an Ancient.”
“Yeah, but those guys have got a strict no-interference policy, don’t they?” Sam said, leaning forward.
Daniel was nodding.
“In my own past experience – ” the annoyance on Jack’s face deepened, but Daniel resolutely ploughed on, pretending he hadn’t seen it. “I actually Ascended, before I was kicked back into this plane by the Ancients. Dean was medically dead. We had his body with us; he didn’t vanish in a flash of light or anything along those lines. Hence, he never Ascended. Which rules out the possibility of Ancient interference.”
The argument went back and forth between Jack and Daniel for several minutes. Sammy had buried himself in the laptop he had gotten from somewhere, probably Carter. Dean would bet a hundred bucks that he was Googling “Castiel the angel” or “Mythology behind angels” or some crap like that.
Jon was slouched in his seat, fiddling absently with a pen. His eyes were fixed on a point on the metal conference table. Every now and then, his gaze lifted to sweep the room. Dean didn’t miss the fact that every sweep always started with him and Sam, as if he was checking that they were still there. It was a habit that Dean didn’t think Jon was fully aware of. Less often, Jon’s eyes flicked to the General and Daniel, bickering like six-year-olds. The look in his eyes was a sad sort of wistfulness. Dean kind of wanted to hug Jon every time it happened, but he wouldn’t do it, because hello? Dean Winchester here. Rule number one: no chick flick moments.
Dad was thinking hard, seated across from him, keeping all of them in his direct line of sight. He looked up at Dean occasionally, too, but the look was one that promised thorough questioning later when the family was alone together.
That was fine. Dean wanted to talk, possibly yell, at them for even considering making a deal.
“Fuck!” He was half a second from throwing the knife he had been sharpening at the intruder in his room before a sense of familiarity stayed his hand. Dean stared at the skinny blonde youth with glasses, who was watching the knife he was still clutching with detached interest. He didn’t recognise him, but the low, gravelly voice was out of place coming from the kid, and tugged at the edges of his memory. When Dean didn’t respond, only continued to stare, the kid blinked slowly at him, and tilted his head to the side like a bird. Which reminded him of wings. Which reminded him of…
“Castiel?” Dean asked incredulously.
The kid – who couldn’t be more than eighteen – blinked in response, and said gravely, “Yes.”
Dean struggled to find something to say. He had had a few weeks to come to terms with what had happened, and when nothing out of the ordinary had happened in those weeks, he had almost convinced himself he had been dreaming. Dreaming of souls and angels and hell. Except the handprint had still been on his shoulder, and the memory-scents of fire and brimstone were too vivid.
He settled for saying, “This isn’t what I thought you would look like.”
Castiel’s face clouded in confusion. “I do not understand.”
“I mean, you’re an angel, right? Shouldn’t you look more…angel-y? The geek look isn’t exactly living up to expectations.”
Castiel’s face cleared. “This is only a vessel.”
“Wait, so you’re possessing some poor bastard?” Dean demanded.
“All vessels of angels must consent willingly to being taken over. This vessel, Kenneth, agreed to allow me use of his body temporarily.”
Dean frowned, unconvinced. “So is Kenny still aware in there?”
“He is asleep.”
“Won’t his parents be missing him?” He asked persistently.
“Kenneth is on…I believe the term is, a road trip. He is not expected to contact his friends or family for another three days. I will relinquish my hold of this vessel by tonight, and he will not remember anything. You need not worry about his safety, Dean.” Castiel added the last, seemingly catching on to the motivation behind his line of questioning.
“Hey, just checking.” He shrugged, eyeing the angel as he drifted over to the wall, raising a hand to run over the section directly beneath the mirror. He resisted the urge to ask if Castiel could sense the line of protective sigils painted there in translucent holy oil. From the way deft fingers were pausing at intervals, it was obvious he could.
“This place has been compromised, Dean.”
“Sam killed Azazel,” he pointed out, sliding the knife back into its sheath.
“Azazel had children who he informed of his plans before he entered this place. It is no longer safe for you here,” the angel repeated.
Over the sudden hammering of his heart, Dean managed to say, “So are you saying that we should run and hide again? That doesn’t help anyone here at the base when the demons come looking for us!”
“That is not an issue. Michael has stationed several of my brothers in the Mountain to wipe out any evil which steps foot in here,” Castiel shook his head, a perturbed expression crossing his face for the first time. “And it is not only the demons you are in danger from.”
Dean made a ‘go on’ gesture impatiently.
“There has been dissent in our ranks recently,” Castiel admitted. “Some of my brothers believe that the Apocalypse should be put back on track.”
“You know, you keep using big words like that, but you never bother explaining the hows and whys and whats,” Dean snapped.
“At a later time, perhaps,” Castiel brushed off. “It is essential that you and your brother remain out of reach while things blow over.”
In an eye-blink, the angel was suddenly across the room and in front of Dean, laying a hand across his brow.
‘Angels do not usually extend their awareness beyond Earth. You and Sam have always had an interest in travelling to the City of the Ancients.’
“Hey!” He batted the hand away. “No more mind-reading, remember?”
Castiel backed away, head bowing apologetically.
Dean huffed. Atlantis was an alien city in another galaxy. How was that not cool?
“Alright, alright, I got it, Cas, I know what to do.” He rolled his eyes. “So you’re just stay gonna stay here and smite demons while we’re gone?”
“I will be following you, of course.” Castiel tilted his head, bemused. “You are my charge, after all.”
“Awesome,” Dean muttered to himself. “The Winchesters and an angel in Atlantis. Fun times.”