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Castiel paced. The uncharacteristic anxiety the angel was experiencing made clear to his invisible observer in his twitchy movements and in the flicking restlessness of his blue eyes as they continually searched the darkness around him. Eyes narrowed thoughtfully for a moment, before the watcher made his decision.

“Hello, kitten.” The voice sounded out into the darkness just as the watcher allowed himself to become visible within the center of the devil's trap in the center of the darkened warehouse. A confident smile touched his lips as he watched the angel spin to glare at him.

“Crowley.” The name was a growl, Cas' voice roughened and deeper than usual. The angel clenched his fists, his jaw working as he tried to control the wrath threatening to overtake him. It was several moments before he got himself under control enough to speak again, time that the demon used to observe with a smirk the emotions evident in the angel's eyes. It was important that he not threaten the King of Hell in any way, not if his plan were to succeed.

“I want to make a...deal.” Castiel almost choked on the last word, the last deal with Crowley still fresh in his mind. Slowly, he unclenched his fists, letting his hands fall limp to his sides.

Crowley was silent for several moments, his now-red eyes narrowing as he considered this development. In all the scenarios he'd considered when he'd felt the summon from the angel, this one hadn't even remotely occurred to him. “You want to make a deal? With me?” He allowed a soft chuckle to bubble up into the darkness. “You're an angel, you have no soul to deal with.” The words were an intentional echo to the previous deal between the two beings, and Crowley was rewarded with an almost imperceptible flinch from the angel standing before him.

“This is...different.” Castiel held Crowley's gaze steadily, despite the hesitance of his words. “I have been searching for months for a...way. For a solution. I finally found it. But I need your help.” Finally, he let his eyes drop from the demon's, his feet shuffling anxiously.

Crowley's eyes narrowed again, considering the angel's words carefully before replying. Months, Cas said. Like the months since Dean had been trapped in hell, perhaps? Yes, probably. “You want your hunter back.” It was very much a statement of what he was certain was fact, not a question. The angel went still, then nodded slowly, but said nothing. Crowley smirked. “Why not just go raise him yourself, angel boy?”

Castiel's eyes flicked away from Crowley's before he answered in a rough, tortured voice. “I found a spell. I need your help,” he repeated, though it grated on him to ask the demon for help in any way. This was more important. Dean was more important.

Red eyes slid down to the devil's trap painted onto the smooth concrete beneath the demon as he remained silent. 'Let the angel sweat,' was his first thought. Crowley found he was quite enjoying this. But, at the same time, the curiosity for what the angel had planned to save Squirrel burned at him. Finally, he let his face settle on a more serious expression as he turned his eyes back up to Cas' still form.

The angel wanted to deal. Cas must have something he believed Crowley would want in exchange for the hunter buried deep in the Pit. Time to see just what that could be. “Alright, kitten. Let's talk deal, then.” He paused, letting his gaze fall to the trap beneath his feet again before dragging it slowly back up to rest meaningfully on Cas. “After you break the trap. You have my attention.”

Castiel swallowed, his tired blue eyes flicking between the painted trap and Crowley's waiting form as though trying to understand what was being asked of him. After a few moments, he nodded slowly and stepped forward. It only took a simple scuff of his boot to smear the trap into becoming nothing more than meaningless paint on the floor of the warehouse, and when it was done he stepped back warily.

Casually, the demon sauntered away from the former trap and started to pace a wide circle around Castiel, never taking his eyes from the angel. He observed Castiel carefully, trying to decide just how desperate the angel truly was; trying to decide how much he was truly willing to sacrifice for the deal he was going to offer. His searching gaze flitted over the angel's torn and frayed trenchcoat, the ragged striped tie, the dusty dress pants, and the dirty and wrinkled white button-down shirt. Piercing eyes took in every sign of exhaustion and grief and guilt and pure desperate determination on the angel's face and in his bearing. And then, he came to a stop in front of Castiel, holding his gaze as he finally spoke. “What could a broken, fallen angel possibly have to offer me?”

Cas swallowed again, looking for all the world as though he were trying to muster some sort of courage. His earlier rage had already spent itself, leaving him with nothing but bone-weary exhaustion. “I want to trade places with Dean,” he said quietly, his rough voice dripping with sorrow. “I found a spell. More of a curse. It...could work. It should work. A curse to trade away my grace, to make me human.” He took a deep breath and squared his shoulders, for one brief moment looking more like the angel he was than the broken man he'd become. “I want you to clear the way for me to pull Dean out of Hell. In return, you can have me. I want to trade the soul I'll gain for Dean's life, for Dean's freedom from the Pit.”

“Hmm.” Crowley considered the angel standing before him, quietly awaiting his response. “And why this way to save your pet hunter? I mean, not that I don't enjoy the delightful image of you willingly submitting to a curse for your boyfriend. But, really, darling, why aren't you just raising him from the Pit yourself?” He chuckled softly before continuing. “Wouldn't be the first time, now, would it?”

The defeated air crashed back down onto Castiel's expression, his shoulders slumping slightly. “That was when I had the Host of Heaven behind me,” he said, his voice almost a whisper now. “Now, I am alone. And I need your help.”

'The angel's serious,' Crowley thought. 'Castiel is serious.' Despite his surprise, he maintained his smirk. “Well, well, kitten. It seems you have something I want after all. I believe we can come to an arrangement,” he said, satisfaction twining through his smooth British accent.

~*~*~*~*~*~*~

Chapter Text

One week later.

Light from the full moon drifting by overhead streamed down into the empty field somewhere in rural Kansas, lighting the scene with an ethereal beauty that contrasted the dark spell being prepared in the center of that field. Two figures paced out a circle roughly twenty feet in diameter in the dirt, stopping now and again to draw a symbol over the bare earth with blood. They stopped on opposite sides of the circle and stood to look at each other across the empty space.

Crowley stood watching as the angel turned his face up to the clear, star-strewn sky above. Longing and sorrow was etched on Castiel's face as he took what he believed would be his last clear look at the nighttime beauty spread above him. But it was worth it. He kept telling himself it was worth it, no matter how wrong it was. It was worth it because he could finally redeem all of his sins against the man he rebelled for and eventually fell from the Host of Heaven for, even if he had to commit a sin against Heaven to accomplish it.

Castiel's chest heaved once as he sighed and pulled his gaze away from the purity of the stars above and let his gaze settle on Crowley. In unspoken agreement, they both moved to meet in the center of the circle, where a small table stood. On the table was a bowl shining in the moonlight, a knife with sigils etched into the blade, and a few jars with various powders in them. The demon watched Castiel silently, his gaze searching for any signs of going back on the already signed contract. To his satisfaction, Crowley saw only a dull determination in his companion's gaze.

He thought for a moment about that contract. The terms he'd dictated to Castiel had been accepted without a fight, without even a comment, for the most part. He would take possession of the soul Castiel would gain once the curse was completed. He would be free to throw the angel's soul into the Pit, to in turn make Castiel into a demon. And all he had to do in exchange was clear the way for the angel to retrieve Dean's soul from the Pit. Easy peasey, so much so that he'd even generously offered to resurrect Dean's body personally. It was worth what he'd gain. After all, who else could claim to be the one to get to send a former angel's soul to Hell?

The only resistance Cas had shown was when Crowley revealed to him that he wanted his vessel as well as his soon-to-be soul. Crowley had stood his ground on that one point, however. He had plans for that meatsuit, plans that he had no intention to reveal to the angel. And Cas was desperate enough to give in on the point of his vessel, so it had all worked out, and Crowley had cut the deal. It was just too delicious. His musing on the contract he would soon complete was interrupted by Castiel's rough voice, and he turned his attention to the tattered form of the angel standing beside him.

“Have you cleared the way, Crowley?” Dulled blue eyes turned from the demon to stare down at the table as he spoke.

Crowley chuckled, not even trying to dampen his obvious enjoyment of the situation. “Of course, kitten. Make a deal, keep the deal; my only rule, remember?” He hesitated a moment to let it sink in before adding one last barb. “And I keep to it, unlike some.” He was rewarded with Cas flinching, then whirling away from him to pace around the table.

The demon took a moment to enjoy the success before deciding it was time to get this show on the road. “Come on, Cas. You aren't trying to back out of this now, are you?” Of course, he knew Castiel wouldn't back out now. This deal was too important to him. After all, it was his plan, and he had been the one to approach Crowley for his help. But turning the blade was just too much fun, in the demon's opinion.

Crowley's words brought Cas up short. He stopped, now across the table from Crowley, and frowned. “No. I have to do this.” He closed his eyes, took a deep breath, then straightened himself and let his gaze bore into the demon's. Crowley – though he would never admit to it later - couldn't help but take a step back under the force of that look and the power radiating from the angel in that moment. “If you've truly cleared the way for me, then I shouldn't be gone long. You have to cast the curse as soon as I return. If you do not, I will die and you will lose my soul. That cannot happen, Crowley. Do you understand?” The faintest hint of blue-white light flickered in Castiel's eyes as he gathered what remained of his power to himself in preparation for what he had to do.

“I can handle my end just fine, angel boy. You fix up your boyfriend and stick him back in his meatsuit, I'll cool my heels here. I'll be ready when you return to keep your end of the bargain,” Crowley replied with a confident smirk. “You just make sure you don't get distracted by your boyfriend along the way. We'll curse you up all pretty, and I can be back home in time for tea.”

“You really just like to hear yourself talk, Crowley,” Cas rumbled in his gravelly voice. “I'll be back.” And with that, his hands curled into fists and he vanished.

“Hmph.” Crowley stared at the spot the angel had occupied a moment before, then shrugged and busied himself with the jars spread out on the table. He measured out precise amounts of various powders – ashes, powdered herbs, and a blue-black dust that Castiel had casually mentioned was the burnt remains of his wing feathers – and placed the ingredients into the bowl. He added water and stirred the sludgy mess slowly with the knife until the sigil-covered blade was coated in the mixture. Then he carefully laid the blade down on the tabletop and let his gaze wander around the field. If he had to admit – and he really didn't – he was a little nervous about this whole affair. Best that it just be done with as quickly as possible.

Chapter Text

Castiel was burning and burning and burning. He'd known it would be pure agony, even with the way cleared for him. He might not have to fight against the hordes of Hell, but he still had to fight against Hell itself, in a way. Hell was antithetical to his tattered grace, and anywhere the two came into contact, he burned because he simply didn't possess the strength to fight it. No, all of his remaining strength was focused on protecting the tortured soul he cradled so carefully, enveloped protectively within his grace.

It had only been a matter of two weeks since Dean's soul had been trapped in Hell. Only two weeks since the Darkness had finally been defeated. Only two weeks. Two weeks of his own personal Hell on Earth.

The first week had seen the angel giving up some of the waning power of his grace to see that Sam would survive the injuries that had sent him into a coma, though he still slumbered in that state currently. After that, he'd spent every moment searching out a way to retrieve Dean from Hell. He had to fix what he had, once again, broken. When he found the curse buried deep in the archives of the bunker, he knew he had his answer. An answer that would redeem him, and an answer that would ensure he was never in a position to cause damage on the scale of what he had stumbled into time and time again over the past several years. The plan was perfect, if he could just get Crowley to deal with him after his past betrayal of the demon. And, after all, it seemed fitting to him that it would end as it had started. He would grip the Righteous Man tight and raise him from Perdition.

And now, here he was, raising Dean from the Pit and racing as swiftly as his grace could carry him toward Dean's salvation and his own damnation.

~*~*~*~*~*~*~

As per Castiel's instructions, Crowley had left Dean's recovered body waiting safely in the bunker where it could remain undisturbed and unseen until Cas could piece soul and body back together. The job, which seemed to take an eternity because of the care he took with it, in reality only took an hour. He already knew this man, body and soul, better than anyone else did or ever could. He watched over Dean as he took a single breath, and then another a moment later, and then a third. He watched only long enough to be sure that he would survive, and then disappeared in a blink and a flutter of wings now nearly destroyed by hellfire. He never saw the too-familiar green eyes open wide in shock and confusion.

~*~*~*~*~*~*~

Castiel arrived back at the empty field and collapsed to his knees beside the altar table, his grace nearly spent by the last flight he would ever make. Breathing heavily and trembling, he sought out Crowley with his gaze. The demon, unfazed by Cas' sudden appearance and even by his immediate collapse, stood over the angel with the blackened knife in hand. “Looking a little peaked, there, Castiel,” he said with a smirk. “You get the job done?”

Struggling a bit for each breath, the angel nodded. “I'm dying, you ass. Get on with it.” As he spoke, Cas raised his right arm and held it out to Crowley. He saw that the angel really hadn't been exaggerating what his trip into the Pit would do to him; he really was dying, and quickly. Without another word, the demon grabbed the offered arm and held it over the table so it was directly over the silver bowl shining in the moonlight. With one swift, sure motion, he sliced deeply into Castiel's arm and held it while the blood flowed into the bowl.

Once the required amount was drained into the bowl, he shoved the angel's arm away to give himself room to finish the spell that would drain away Castiel's grace and transmute it into a human soul. He held both his hands over the bowl as he chanted the obscure Enochian words that made up the ancient curse the required six times. When he finished, a silence descended on the field broken only by the harsh rasping of Castiel's ragged breathing. He knelt beside Crowley, his head bowed and his shoulders heaving with the effort to simply breathe but otherwise unmoving.

Suddenly, Castiel stiffened and threw his head back, his mouth gaping open and his eyes shimmering weakly with a blue-white light. That same blue-white light began to rise smoke-like in wisps from his mouth to hover over his still body, as though trapped there. Fascinated, the demon took a couple of steps back, but didn't look away. He couldn't, really. He was seeing an angel's grace, and it was so weak that it barely tickled at his awareness let alone burnt him to ash as it normally would have.

The weaken grace began to pulse slowly as the last of it poured from Cas' mouth, changing from the former blue-white to a gold-white color. Blue eyes dimmed, staring sightlessly at the stars above as the body that had formerly housed the angel Castiel simply...stopped.

Crowley pulled a crystal vial from his suit pocket and pulled the stopper, aiming the vial toward the hazy light still drifting over Cas' vessel. He spoke a single word, and the misty light was sucked into the vial where it swirled restlessly against the confinement of the small space. “All snugged in tight, love?” He paused to chuckle as he held the vial up to the moonlight, peering at it with interest before finally tucking it securely back into his pocket. “Wonderful. We're going to have so much fun together, you and I.” And with a snap of his fingers, he and the meatsuit that once housed an angel vanished.

Chapter Text

A year later, topside. An eternity in Hell.

Pain and pain and pain. Pain was all he could remember, all he could feel. There was nothing before the pain. He wondered, when he had a brief moment of clarity to wonder anything at all, if he'd somehow been crafted from the pain. Could pain become sentient? His existence was pain, bleeding and screaming and begging and...sometimes...almost even praying, though he never quite knew to what he might pray.

One day, however, there was a lull in the pain. One day, he could think for more than one single brief moment. One day, the only sounds left to him were a steady dripping and his own whimpers. And he wondered...what came next.

Whispering in the smothering darkness is what came next. A smooth voice whispered to him. At first, he couldn't understand what the voice was saying. He clung to it all the same, because the voice didn't hurt . Then, the words slowly started to have meaning. The voice offered him release from the pain. “I want you to be mine, love,” the voice said. “I can make the pain stop,” the voice offered. “I can bring you out of the darkness,” the voice whispered. “All you have to do is submit to me. All you have to do is obey me. Be mine. Let me remake you into a new thing , into my best creation yet.”

And he knew he would do anything the voice asked of him, if only he could have no more pain . “Please...yes, please.” He felt a touch, a gentle touch, and he slept.

Chapter Text

Months later.

A dark-haired man stood quietly observing the human traffic ebbing and flowing just beyond him as he stood in the shade of an ancient oak tree on the border of a park in a city he didn't even know the name of. Sharp blue eyes flicked back and forth, taking in details about each person his gaze landed on almost instantly. Despite his almost unnatural stillness, no one really took notice of him. Then again, there was no outward reason they should. He blended in perfectly, his charcoal suit not so different from any other businessman hurrying along beyond where he stood. His black tie made a nice subtle contrast against the navy blue of his button-down shirt, and his charcoal trenchcoat swirled around his legs in the steady wind.

With a sigh, he gave up and turned his back on the humanity flowing by him unaware of the demon in their midst. He made his way further into the park, hidden to most observers – not that there were any, really – by the trees crowding in on the narrow trail he followed. As he walked on, his hands curled into fists and then uncurled again, repeatedly, as though he were a mere human trying to work out kinks in muscles. It wasn't the first time he'd been allowed topside in this meatsuit, but it hadn't happened so often that he was completely at ease with the feeling of it containing him yet, either.

He knew his king had gone to great lengths to obtain this particular meatsuit for him, though he didn't really understand why it was so important. But, he had been instructed to never take another meatsuit without his king's explicit permission. If he was good at anything at all, it was following his king's orders to the letter. Besides, at least this meatsuit was always kept ready for him, and was vacant. He'd heard whispers from other demons in the king's court that said sometimes taking an occupied meatsuit could be unpleasant. It was a problem he never had to deal with, as the king's favorite.

“Ah, Cas, there you are,” his king's smooth voice sounded from the shadows to his left.

He stopped, pulling himself from his musings with one last amused thought. 'Speak of the devil, as the humans say.' He turned his gaze to his king, greeting him with a respectful nod, letting his blue eyes flick to an inky black with swirls of blue occasionally threading through them. The corners of his lips turned up slightly as his fellow demon stepped out from the shadows to stand before him.

His faint smile was met with a smirk from the demon standing in front of him, dressed in his usual impeccable and, he was assured, expensive suit. “And did we learn anything about the meatbags today, kitten?”

Cas shrugged, careful to make the gesture as casual as possible. After all, that was one of the lessons he was supposed to be learning from his trips topside. How to pass as closely to human as possible was one of his king's most stressed lessons since he'd loosened the leash and let his favorite start walking the Earth. “They're petty and self-absorbed, Crowley.” He allowed his slight smile to turn to a smirk that mirrored that of the demon before him before continuing. “Some of them looked at me, but not one of them really saw me. It was easy to watch them hurry through their meaningless lives.”

Crowley chuckled and turned to continue along the path Cas had been following when he appeared in the shadows, certain that Cas would follow him. “Yes, I think you can walk among them without suspicion now. You act as human as they do. No one would suspect you're anything but human,” he said with another chuckle, as though amused by some joke Cas wasn't privy to. He was used to that, however. It wasn't at all unusual for Crowley to be amused by something he said or did. If he pleased his king, even unknowingly, he was pleased as well.

They came to a clearing in the manicured wood of the park, and Crowley stopped. He turned to look approvingly at Cas, then let a strangely gentle smile replace his smirk. “Come, pet. It's time we returned home. There's work to do.”

Cas nodded, his inky eyes flicking upward for one last glimpse of the clear blue sky overhead before vanishing alongside his king.

Chapter Text

Several weeks later; almost two years since the deal.

In a darkened room, a man sat quietly on his bed. On the table next to the bed were two whiskey bottles, both empty. The man pulled his bleary gaze from them, letting it drift around the room. Scattered on nearly every surface were more assorted empty bottles: more whiskey, bourbon, and even a couple of bottles of tequila. He sighed, cradling his head in his hands. “Fuck, Cas.” The words were spoken softly, almost like a prayer. There was, as had been the case for close to two years now, no answer.

~*~*~*~*~*~*~

Candles flickered, creating dancing shadows along the stone walls. They drew his eyes, as he let Crowley's voice wash over him, a soothing background noise as the king attended to court business. It was nothing Cas really needed to know about, so he allowed his attention to drift as he stood to the right and slightly behind the throne Crowley was lounging in. Nearly endless patience was one of the things that seemed to set him apart from the rest of the king's court, something Crowley told him was what made him a new and superior breed of demon. He would wait, silently, until his king had need of him.

Soon enough, Crowley had enough of the endless mundane and often pointless – in his opinion, anyway – details of the court. He stood abruptly, startling the underling who had been holding out a scroll to him to be examined and signed. The demon jumped back, earning him a glare from Crowley. Cas, however, simply blinked and noted to himself that the king was particularly disgruntled today and that he should conduct himself accordingly to stay in the powerful demon's favor.

“I'm done,” Crowley growled to the court in general. The underling – stupidly, in Cas' opinion, had he been asked – tried to present the king with the document again. He paid for his stupidity, as Crowley narrowed his eyes at the demon, then allowed a satisfied smirk to darken his features as the underling burnt quickly to ash before he could even move. Cas watched the display dispassionately, not allowing his expression to change in the slightest. “Anyone else?” Crowley let his red-eyed gaze roam the room slowly to be sure no one else needed a little lesson in how to not annoy him. “Good. Cas, come,” he said as he stalked away, out of the room and down the hall toward his personal chambers.

Cas, expecting the curt summons, followed on his king's heels, only allowing a faint smile to turn up the corners of his mouth once they'd left the room where Crowley held court behind and the two of them were alone. His movements were easy in his meatsuit now. He'd remained in it constantly since that last trip topside, and now it was as familiar to him as...well, as anything in his memory. And, had anyone ever thought to ask him, he would have admitted to liking this meatsuit – probably more than he really should. It carried with it a comfortable familiarity that he could never quite understand.

Once Crowley had led the way into his chambers and Cas had followed obediently and silently behind, he slammed the door with a satisfying bang that echoed down the corridor. “Incompetent morons,” he said as he stalked to a a bar kept stocked with his favourite vintages of Glencraig and poured himself a generous measure. “I'm surrounded by incompetent morons!” He turned, sipping at the whiskey, to see Cas standing beside the door with an expression of quiet patience. He watched Crowley impassively, his head tilted slightly. Something in what he saw made Crowley narrow his eyes at Cas thoughtfully for a moment before he chuckled. “Except you, I suppose. I have plans for you, kitten.”

Cas took a step closer, his eyes narrowed as he considered Crowley. After a moment, he visibly relaxed and dropped any formality to his manner leftover from playing guard dog to Crowley in the more public setting of the court. “You keep telling me that,” he said in a rough, almost intimate tone of voice. Cas flopped bonelessly into comfortable chair, one leg flung casually over the arm of it. “I'm ready for whatever it is you want me to do.” He hesitated briefly, cocking his head to the side again as he regarded Crowley. “And I'm tired of playing at being your bodyguard. You don't need one, and those ... morons ...out there should know that.”

“Mmm.” Crowley hummed an acknowledgment of what Cas was saying to him, an amused smile playing at his lips. He moved to sit in a chair opposite the one Cas was in with an easy familiarity. Whenever he was here and not holding court, his favorite place was sitting in this room with his pet project seated across from him. Much of that time was spent imparting his particular lessons to his favorite, training him. But, occasionally, the time was passed with nothing more than casual conversation. After all, even the king of Hell could get lonely for intelligent conversation with someone actually capable of it.

He was roused from his musings by a soft grunt of irritation from his companion. “Crowley. I really am ready for anything you want me to do,” Cas said, the faint irritation clearly written across his expression to Crowley's eyes.

The king considered him a few moments longer, then sipped at his tumbler. “Mmm. I know you are, but the time has to be right.” He paused to sip again at his 'craig, thinking on the reports he'd received earlier in the day. “The time is right.”

Cas straightened up in the chair, leaning forward just a bit as his expression went from irritated to intently interested. “There's a pair of humans – hunters, actually – who have been a problem for me for some time,” Crowley said quietly, looking straight into his fellow demon's deep blue eyes, searching them as he spoke. “For various reasons, I can't – or won't yet – kill them. But I want them to hurt.” Crowley hesitated, sipping again at his tumbler of 'craig. “You possess the greatest potential to make them hurt in deliciously beautiful ways. I created you for this purpose, kitten.” He tossed back the remainder of the whiskey in his tumbler, a smirk gracing his lips.

Excitement rushed through Cas in a heady wave at Crowley's words. “Just tell me what you want me to do, my king. I am yours to command.” Finally, he would be able to prove himself.

“Haunt them,” Crowley said. “Your meatsuit once belonged to someone they knew, someone dear to them.” His smirk grew positively smug at the eagerness and excitement Cas displayed. “You're going to haunt them, torment them, make them suffer. I want them to believe they're seeing things. I want them to go insane.” He paused, this time purely for dramatic effect. “You might say you're going to be my avenging angel.”

Making no attempt to restrain himself, a grin twisted Cas' lips and his eyes flicked to an eerie blue-streaked black. "This is going to be so much fun."

Chapter Text

Two weeks later; two years – to the day – since the deal.

A gleaming black 1967 Chevrolet Impala raced along an empty highway in Kansas, the sunset behind her painting her in glowing pastels. Two men – brothers – sat in the front seat, their eyes both watching the road ahead in silence. The driver, a man with messy sandy hair and green eyes, gripped the steering wheel tightly, so tightly that his knuckles whitened from the pressure. His jaw was clenched and working, anger evident in the set of his shoulders as he guided the car down the highway. The passenger was taller, with longer brown hair and hazel eyes. Unlike his companion, his expression was sorrowful, and he kept sneaking glances at his brother beside him.

“Dean.” He hesitated, sighed, and then tried again. “Dean, c'mon man...”

“No, Sammy. We are not doing this,” Dean interrupted his brother in a harsh voice. He shot Sam a smoldering glare before turning his attention back to the road.

Sam sighed in frustration. “Dean, seriously. This has to stop. It's like you're trying to get yourself killed.” He sighed again, then forged ahead when his brother remained silent. “You know he wouldn't want this.”

“Fuck you, Sam. You don't know anything.” He readjusted his grip on the steering wheel, working out cramps in his hands formed from clenching his fingers so tightly. “I don't want to fucking talk about...him...like he's dead. You don't know! Maybe he Emmanuel'ed up again or something, okay?” He sighed, shaking his head. “Just...I'm done with this, Sammy. He's family, and I'm not gonna give up on family.”

Sam closed his eyes in defeat. It was where this argument always ended up, and just outright ended, because it was the one thing he couldn't argue against. Every instinct in him screamed that the hints Crowley dropped that Cas was still alive somewhere were lies toward some endgame they couldn't see, but Dean refused to believe his instincts. Or, perhaps, he just couldn't make himself let it go. 'Profound bond' and all that.

It was because his eyes were closed that he didn't immediately see the reason Dean suddenly slammed on the breaks, throwing him forward against his seat belt. He gasped, his eyes flying open as the Impala's tail spun to the left across the empty road. His eyes darted to his brother, who was craning his head around to look behind them.“What the hell , Dean?”

Dean – his face drained of color and registering nothing but blank shock – ignored him, simply staring back down the road the way they had just come. Sam, wary of his brother's reactions, turned his attention to where Dean's eyes were directed. 'What. The. Hell .' A man stood alongside the road, just close enough to be seen but far enough to see nothing more than his silhouette against the dying light of the setting sun. But it was a silhouette that was painfully familiar, right down to the faintly mussed hair and hints of a coat blowing around the figure's legs in the steady wind.

“Cas,” came the broken whisper from Dean. He couldn't take his eyes from that sight. It was Cas, it had to be Cas. He fumbled to get his seat belt off and open the door and stand on quaking knees beside the Impala. As he moved to take his first step toward the figure, it – he – simply vanished.

~*~*~*~*~*~*~

Cas stood watching the men, invisible to their sight. His head tilted to the side without his notice, his eyes squinted up as he considered the hunters' reactions to the brief sight of him he'd allowed them. Crowley had been right about the sight of him having an effect on him, though he'd perhaps underestimated how strong that reaction would be.

The one who had scrambled out of the car stood gripping the door tightly, looking for all the world as if that hold was the only thing keeping him from sinking to his knees. The one that had been in the passenger seat, the other man's brother he recalled, tore out of his seat as quickly as he could manage and raced around the car to see to the shaking driver. They spoke to each other, back and forth, but Cas didn't bother trying to listen for their words. He was too deep in thought over what he'd observed to be bothered.

He'd have to be more careful, he thought to himself. The shorter man had almost crashed the car, and that just wasn't acceptable. Crowley had made it very clear he had free reign to psychologically torment these two, within certain limits. No killing them, no letting them have any proof he was a real and physical being, and no hints that he was a demon.

Cas continued to watch the pair silently, unseen, and wondered at the rage he felt slowly rising within him at the brothers. Doing his best to ignore the rage as nothing more than a distraction he just really did not need at the moment, he tucked it away for later thought. Finally, as the pair of hunters gathered themselves together and climbed back into the car – this time with the taller of them moving to the driver's seat and the still obviously shaken shorter brother taking the passenger's side – to drive away into the gloom of dusk, Cas teleported himself away.

Chapter Text

“Well, what the hell was it then, Sammy?” It was nearly midnight now, and Dean was pacing the length of the bunker's library. Sam sat at his usual place at one of the tables, one hand gripping a tumbler of whiskey and the other clenched into a fist on the table. Dean stopped when he reached the end of the room, then whirled to aim a hard look at his brother. “It sure as hell wasn't a ghost. So just what the hell was that?”

Sam shook his head slowly, unsure what to say to ease his older brother's mind. “I don't know, Dean.” He sighed and tossed back the remainder of the whiskey in his glass before continuing. “I just don't know,” he said. “There were none of the signs of it being a ghost. And, besides, he shouldn't even be able to have a ghost.” He stopped to consider, then with a slight nod, continued again. “I mean, I don't think he should. Angels don't have souls, which means no ghost when they...” He couldn't bring himself to finish the sentence, and returned Dean's gaze helplessly.

Dean broke eye contact with his younger brother, letting his head hang down. “You did see him, Sammy? Didn't you?” The soft, almost plaintive sound of his brother's voice nearly broke Sam's heart. He sighed and pulled himself to his feet, moving in a few long strides to stand before Dean.

Reaching out to place his hand on his older brother's shoulder, he waited until Dean lifted his head to look him in the eye before replying. “I saw...something. Dean, I did see something...someone that looked like Cas.” A faint smile that never quite reached his eyes tugged at the corners of his lips. “You weren't seeing things. And we'll figure this out.” Dean could only nod slowly, his jaw clenching.

~*~*~*~*~*~*~

At the same time that the brothers were safe in the bunker trying to make sense of what they'd seen along that deserted highway, two demons were sitting across from each other comfortably within a chamber lit only by the light of the fire in the fireplace. Crowley, as was his habit, was nursing a tumbler of Glencraig whiskey as he listened to Cas tell him of the evening's activities.

“I underestimated my meatsuit's effect on them. I don't like underestimating the humans, Crowley,” he said in a rough, disgruntled voice, concluding his account of the evening. Cas swirled the Jack Daniel's in his own glass idly as he spoke, his eyes focused on the amber liquid rather than meeting Crowley's intent gaze. He found that even speaking of the incident brought the rage surging forth, and he didn't like it. He was a demon. Rage was all well and good, but not when it was something he couldn't control; not when it was something he should be better than.

Crowley's sudden laughter startled him into looking back up, forgetting for a moment his rage and shame. “Bloody Winchesters. Bloody denim-wrapped nightmares!” The elder demon shook his head and sipped at his whiskey. “They have a talent for being underestimated. Trust me on that, kitten.” A wicked grin slowly stretched his lips. “At least this time, that works to my favor. You just keep it up. You can track them with the coin, you can follow them anywhere because they will never abandon that car of theirs.” A chuckle fell from his lips. “Whatever it takes, drive them mad. Eventually, they'll come crawling to me. There's no one else for them anymore.” He took another drink as he considered. “Yes, they'll come crawling to me, and I will own them.”

Cas was reassured by Crowley's words, and he allowed his shame to melt away. The rage still simmered behind his eyes, but he could control it now. He tossed back the whiskey in his glass and rose to his feet. “As you command, my king, so shall it be,” he said in a faintly mocking tone of voice. Cas set his glass down on the table beside his chair and tossed off a jaunty, even insolent salute toward Crowley. A grin twisted his lips as he gave the elder demon a nod, then turned on his heel and left Crowley's chambers to cook up his next appearance in the life of the Winchesters.

Chapter Text

Three weeks had passed since they'd seen a figure that looked so much like Castiel on the side of the road. Three weeks in which they'd barely gone back out hunting at all – only one case, and only then because a string of deaths that just kept climbing forced them to realize they still had a job to do. Instead, the brothers spend most of their waking hours holed up in the bunker researching, looking for anything that could explain what they'd seen. But again and again, they came up short of any satisfying answer.

Dean dealt with it as he dealt with too many things in his life – generous amounts of 'hunter's helper' and barely restrained anger. “Damnit, Sammy. This isn't doing any good. I'm done. Done! We need to get out of here,” he said from the chair he was sprawled in. His head was tilted up toward the ceiling of the library and a half-empty bottle of whiskey rested against his thigh, held in his loosely curled hand. “Find us a baddie to gank, will ya?”

Sam sighed, but turned back to his laptop to poke around for anything unusual happening out in the country. After only a few minutes of searching, he was surprised to find something close. A bit too close for his comfort, both in distance and with regards to his own personal history. Still, something this close to the bunker really should be checked into, no matter what else was going on.

“Dean. This might be something. And it's just a couple hours away from here.” He hesitated, glancing toward his brother. Dean's green eyes were turned toward him, his gaze sharper than he'd seen in a couple of weeks.

The older man nodded at him to continue, so he turned back to the laptop to read through what he'd found. “So, get this...two murders in the past week. Both bodies were found with the back of their heads ripped out and part of their brains missing.” He hesitated, his eyes sliding back over to Dean as he continued. “The, uh, the mid-brains were missing in both murders.”

“Great,” Dean said as he rose to his feet, slamming his bottle of whiskey down on the table...perhaps a bit harder than he'd intended. He knew what it sounded like, and it could only be bad news. A thrill of guilt shot through him, taking him by surprise. He shoved it away, and grabbed his jacket from the back of his chair. Throwing it on, he tossed Sam a smirk to hide the hesitation he'd felt. “Kitsune. Milk run. Just perfect.”

Dean grabbed his brother's jacket from where it had been tossed onto a side table carelessly days ago, and threw it at him. “Come on, Sammy. Lets go gank us bitch.” Shaking his head as he caught his jacket, Sam closed his laptop while he put his jacket on, then grabbed the computer and followed his brother to the garage.

~*~*~*~*~*~*~

In the town of Bartley, Nebraska, Cas sat in a bar staring down at the amber liquid in the shot glass the waitress had just set down on the table in front of him. Several more shot glasses were scattered about on the table, all of them empty. The waitress started to gather them up, when Cas' hand reached out to grab at her arm roughly. He turned his attention up to bore into her startled eyes, a glimmer of barely suppressed rage simmering behind his own narrowed gaze.

“Leave them,” he said, his usually gravelly voice further roughened by the boiling anger and the whiskey heating his belly. The waitress gave a jerky nod. She tugged at her trapped arm, and when he released his too-tight grip, she hurried away in fear of him.

He let his eyes drift around the small, shabby bar to the few locals chatting quietly in the dim room. By now, the locals generally ignored the stranger in their midst. After having been in town for a week, he'd started to become a familiar – if sometimes unsettling – fixture in the town's only bar.

Most nights he sat alone, drinking shot after shot of whiskey and occasionally throwing darts at the dartboard with a deadly accuracy and sometimes more force than was strictly necessary. But tonight, a few hours after he'd started his night off drinking, a stranger pushed his way past the bar's front door and stood just inside the room. Cas' attention was immediately drawn to the newcomer, and he beckoned to him.

The young man ignored the hush that fell over the locals as they silently appraised the new stranger and took a seat across the table from Cas. Both men sat silently, until the waitress approached cautiously, took the young man's order – after she was foolish enough to ask him for ID, only to be stared down by Cas' intimidating glare – and scurried off. Not bothering to hide his smirk, Cas' gaze followed the hapless woman until she returned with two more shots, sat them down in front of the two men, and disappeared into a back room. He then glared around the silent room until the locals turned their attention back to their own business.

Finally, he turned his attention back to his companion. “Jacob,” he acknowledged with a nod. “Getting tired of waiting?” He appraised the young man thoughtfully. Satisfied by what he saw, he tossed back one of the shots waiting before him in one swallow.

The boy, Jacob, reached out to his own glass, but only fiddled with it nervously as he answered the demon. “Yeah. Yeah, I am.” He turned his gaze up to meet Cas' own, his jaw clenching momentarily. “I don't really want to...do it again. Are you sure he's going to turn up?”

Cas laughed, a dark and somewhat chilling sound that sent a shiver down the young man's spine. “I'm sure. He's finally got his head out of his ass. He's on the way as we speak. You have to be ready for him, Jacob,” the demon said with a grin twisting his lips. “This is your chance for the revenge you've been seeking. I've kept my end of the deal and brought him to you. Time you kept your end.”

Jacob nodded, determination hardening his youthful features. “I'm ready for him. I've been waiting for this moment for six years.” In a sudden moment, he downed his whiskey I a single swift swallow and slammed the glass down on the table. “I'm ready to watch the life drain out of Dean Winchester.”

Chapter Text

The Impala pulled into the tiny parking lot of the lone run-down motel in town and its engine rumbled into silence. The brothers hadn't even had to talk about whether they'd find a room when they got into town, despite Bartley being only two hours from the bunker. Having somewhere nearby to work was always a plus, and it wasn't like this little town could even boast a library to fill that need. Without discussion, Sam unfolded his large frame from the passenger's seat and made his way to the little office of the motel to secure a room.

Dean, meanwhile, slid out of the driver's side and stretched as he moved to the trunk to pull out their duffels. He slung them both over his shoulder and leaned against the side of his baby while he waited for his brother to finish up getting them a room. The town was quiet this close to midnight, not even much in the way of lights shining to mar the sight of stars glimmering overhead in the cloudless sky. His gaze was still searching the sky as he wandered deep in thought when a sound pulled his attention back to the here-and-now.

“C'mon, Dean,” Sam said as he approached the car. He held up a key and jingled it to make sure he had the elder Winchester's attention. “Room four. We can go over everything, then catch a little rest before starting fresh in the morning. Okay?” Dean just shrugged and, silently handing off one of the the duffel bags to Sam, followed him to their room.

~*~*~*~*~*~*~

Unseen by the brothers, eyes followed them as they pulled into the parking lot. Cas stood completely still, trusting the shadows and the power wrapped around him to hide him from their view. His head tilted slightly to the side and his eyes narrowed, purely unconscious movements born of habits he no longer remembered, as he watched the elder of the pair watching the stars while waiting for his brother's return from his task.

Only when they had retreated into their room did he allow the power cloaking him to dissipate, rendering him visible once more. Cas pulled a phone from the pocket of his coat, tapped out a quick text with the number of the room the boys had disappeared into, and jabbed the send button with his thumb before slipping the phone absently back into his pocket.

The demon let his attention wander back to the car the brothers had pulled up in, a frown creasing his brow. He knew better than to approach the car, of course. It was likely warded in some way against demons, or so Crowley had warned him. Still, he found himself having to tamp down the strangest urge to wander over to the car. He could actually picture himself running a hand along her curves, as though she were a familiar thing.

Cas went still suddenly, his expression going blank as confusion overwhelmed him. 'She,' he wondered silently. It was a hunk of metal and leather, a thing ; where had 'she' come from? His jaw began to work as the rage built, neatly washing his thoughts of further musings. Instead, he wondered where the kitsune he lured the Winchesters with was. The foolish boy should have arrived by now, surely.

~*~*~*~*~*~*~

Dean was in the shower. Sam could hear the water running, and just barely over that, the sounds of his brother's voice quietly singing Highway to Hell . He let himself smirk a little at the long-time habit his older brother indulged in when he thought no one could hear him. After two years of silence and anger and guilt and heavy drinking on the part of his brother, it felt a little in this moment that some semblance of normalcy was returning to their lives. He didn't fool himself into believing that this was anything but a short interlude before the mystery that had surrounded them for the past three weeks intruded, but it was nice to soak it in for a day or two, at least.

He busied himself with a search on his laptop to see if any new information had cropped up since they'd left the bunker. After seeing the size of the small town, he didn't really expect much. Chances were the monster that had been responsible for the two murders had already moved on before it could be discovered.

He found himself sort of hoping that it had, as grateful as he was for the chance to get out of the bunker for a day or two. It hit too close to home for him, roused too many memories he'd rather not think about. It sounded exactly like a kitsune, and he knew full well Dean was thinking the same. Granted, this one was obviously not trying to follow the path Amy had years ago, but thinking about killing one of her kind still made him uncomfortable, even to this day. And he knew Dean had never really completely forgiven him for letting her get away, even if he'd gone back to take care of the problem himself. The last thing they needed right now was something that could cause the slightest rift between them.

Chapter Text

A knock at the door of the motel room just had Sam instantly on alert. He pulled his gun and moved to stand beside the door, even as Dean opened the bathroom door with his own pistol held at the ready. He'd just had time to pull his jeans on when the sound echoed to him from through the closed door, and water was still dripping from his hair and down his bare back. The brothers nodded to each other in silent communication.

Dean remained at the ready in full view of the door, and Sam opened the door a crack to peer out at their visitor. The elder brother could hear a murmured male voice speaking to Sam though the words were too low to make out, and then the door opened a little further and Sam stepped back to allow the young man – barely more than a boy – to step just inside the room. “Just there, wait,” Sam said in a wary tone, his pistol still held at the ready and loosely trained on the newcomer. “My brother's going to keep an eye on you and you're going to explain what you mean. I knew your mother...how?”

“You spared her once, when you could have killed her,” the stranger said, his voice shaking slightly. He appeared fairly short, not even tall enough to come to Sam's shoulders, and quite thin. Brown hair came just shy of flopping down into his eyes, and his hands were stuffed into the front pocket of the hoodie that covered faded and scuffed jeans. All in all, there wasn't really anything very distinctive about him. The boy's eyes darted around the room nervously, until they came to rest – not on Sam, but on Dean. “No one else would have been that kind...Sam.”

Dean's eyes narrowed as the kid stared at him. Something was familiar about this kid, something that set off alarm bells in his head. “Sammy, something's not right here,” he said. He licked his lips and eyed the knife he'd left – carelessly, he'd admit now – on the beside table before he'd gone to take his shower. He gripped his pistol more tightly and edged toward the table and the knife that waited there while keeping his attention on the boy standing in the doorway.

Sam's attention flicked from the boy to his brother and then back again, trying to assess the situation. “Okay. I..okay, that's okay. Look, kid, why don't you just let us know what you're here for, okay?” He tried for a reassuring smile, hoping to diffuse whatever was going on before Dean did something he might regret. “My brother doesn't like unannounced guests. And he can be a bit...dangerous with things he doesn't like.”

“I know,” the boy said with a bitter smile. Still not taking his eyes from Dean's, he continued. “I've seen what he does about things he doesn't like.” Dean stopped in his tracks, his eyes flicking from the boy's to his brother's. His lips fell open slightly, and realization hit him. The boy grinned sickeningly as he watched the elder Winchester realize who – and what – he was. “It's okay, Sam. I'm Jacob, and I'm here to keep a promise I made to Dean.” Sam had one moment of confusion before everything went to hell.

~*~*~*~*~*~*~

Cas stood outside the motel room, watching the drama through the open doorway only a few feet away. He'd escorted the boy to the room's door, then cloaked himself to sight after a few nauseatingly encouraging words – and a promise or two he had no intention of actually keeping - to Jacob. A grin twisted his lips just thinking about the sheer agony that was likely to result from this confrontation, no matter how it actually played out.

It had taken more than a week of sucking up to the kitsune. A week of making the thing actually think he was aiding him out of the kindness of his non-existant heart. But, it was just so worth it. The demon stuck his hands into the pockets of his trenchcoat and rocked back slightly onto his heels, his eyes flickering to blue-black briefly out of sheer pleasure at what was unfolding in front of him.

~*~*~*~*~*~*~

Jacob sprang into motion, deadly sharp black claws sprouting from his fingers and pupils slitting vertically as he ignored Sam in favor of launching himself at Dean. The kitsune easily covered the distance between himself and his prey before Dean could close his hand on the knife and he went down under the boy's weight. Sam, who had made a futile grab for the monster as he flew past, redirected his grab for the knife Dean had only just missed.

The younger hunter landed hard on his side, the knife only barely remaining in his hand and the wind knocked out of him. Jacob raised his hand, long claws readied for a killing blow. Sam rolled in an attempt to reach the kitsune's back before he could bring his hand down, but his reactions were slowed by his desperate gasps for air.

Chapter Text

“Fuck.” The word fell from the demon's lips almost against his will. These Winchesters, the hunters that Crowley both hated and feared, were utter incompetents. Once again, his actions – hell, his entire plan – were going to get the morons killed instead of accomplishing his goal. Crowley would not be happy. The rage that simmered almost constantly within him now rose up and nearly blinded him.

Letting the cloak hiding him from view drop negligently, Cas he teleported himself into the room to stand over the kitsune that was managing to ruin his plans by not having the good grace to allow himself to be killed by the Winchesters. With a flick of his wrist, he flung Jacob against the far wall, allowing himself a smirk as the loud crack of breaking ribs sounded out in the small room.

Ignoring the shocked look he got from Sam staring up at him from the floor as Cas stepped over him, he strode over to where the kitsune was pressed against the wall moaning. “You little shit, you ruined everything,” he growled. The demon balled up his fist and plunged it into Jacob's chest. He grabbed one of the boy's broken ribs and ripped it out of his body, completely ignoring the agonized scream that the action ripped from Jacob . Holding it up to look at it, his head tilted to the side absently. Then, without warning, he stabbed the rib into the kitsune's heart and watched with a curiously blank expression as the boy died.

He let the corpse drop to the floor with a muffled thud and turned around to look at the hunters. His gaze hovered over Sam for a moment, taking in how he was still frozen in shock with a distant amusement before he allowed himself to look at the moron who'd almost gotten himself killed. Dean had managed to pull himself to sitting, braced against the bed beside him.

As he met that green-eyed gaze, the rage that had finally calmed with the kitsune's death flared up once again. His bloody hand clenched into a fist at his side, and he knew he should go – now – before he did something to further disrupt his king's plans. Instead, he found himself taking a single step toward the hunter, his jaw working as he tried to control the urge to rip the man's heart out and examine it. Finally, confused and angry and murderous and agonized, Cas teleported himself away without a word to the hunters.

~*~*~*~*~*~*~

Stunned and reacting too late, Dean abortively reached his hand out to where the mysterious and frankly terrifying figure that looked exactly like Castiel had stood only a moment before, then let his hand drop. He heard his brother climb to his feet, but he couldn't bring himself to look away from that now-empty spot. Sam moved over to close the door before anyone in the small town decided to take notice of what happened.

As Sam turned back to the room, the blood-smeared wall caught his attention. He shook his head, deciding Dean was more important than the mess that could be dealt with later, and moved over to crouch beside his brother. “Dean,” he said softly, a little disturbed by his brother's continuing silence and lack of response. “Hey, man. Come on,” he prodded as he gripped Dean's elbow, hoping to at least get him up onto the bed behind him.

Dean blinked and focused on his brother's concerned expression. Slowly, he let Sam help pull him up to sit on the edge of the bed. “Sammy.” He swallowed, letting himself focus on his brother, forcing himself to look him over. He had to be sure that Sam, at least, was still here and was okay. “You.. Uh, you okay?”

Sam nodded and sat beside his older brother. “Yeah. I'm.. I'm okay. Just had the wind knocked out of me.” He swallowed and took a deep breath. “So.. I guess our mystery came to us. Both of them.” He searched his brother's blank, almost lost expression for some idea of what to say or do.

Realizing that Dean would need time to process, and that he might do that back at the safety of the bunker, he decided to try to expedite their departure the best he could. “Hey, look, you were already tired when we got here. Why don't you lay down and I'll take care of this mess, okay? And we can haul ass back home and...figure something out from there.”

He didn't really expect Dean to agree to his plan – such as it was – without some sort of fight. So, his surprise was understandable when his brother merely nodded after a brief glance at the corpse against the wall and let himself fall back onto the bed with his eyes closed. Sam watched him for a few moments. Then, with a heavy heart, attended to the all-too-familiar business of cleanup.

Chapter Text

Several days later.

“Cas is not a demon, Sam!” Dean paced the length of the bunker's library as he responded to his brother's ludicrous theory. “Hell, we don't even know that he really was Cas.” He could feel Sam's eyes on him as he paced, but he just really didn't care. A chant of wrongwrongwrongwrong echoed in his head as he fought to deny the reasons Sam had given him in support of his theory. As he reached the end of the library's length, he whirled and stopped to face Sam. “He couldn't be a ghost because he had no soul, and he can't be a demon for the same reason. You're wrong, Sammy.” His voice lost the angry edge and softened slightly as he continued. “You're wrong.”

Sam sighed, rubbing a hand briefly across his face. “I know I smelled sulfur, Dean.” He sighed, then relented. “Okay...okay. But if he's...gone... Well, maybe some demon found his body. Um, his vessel,” he corrected himself absently. It was only then he realized his mistake in saying that out loud, as the expression on his brother's face just shattered apart. “Shit.”

~*~*~*~*~*~*~

Deep in nighttime shadows just outside the bunker, Cas paced. His attention was fixed on the door to the bunker with an intensity that might be frightening, were there anyone around to see. One of his hands was fisted around a small leather hex bag, the fingers clenched so tightly the knuckles were white with the strain.

Since his slip back in Nebraska, he'd gone to great lengths to keep Crowley from being able to track him. He didn't really fear the elder demon, but he didn't want to explain what had happened, either. He didn't have any real explanation to give. He still wasn't sure what was wrong with him, but he instinctively felt it had something to do with the damn Winchesters, and he was determined to wring the reasons for his loss of control around them out of their very hides.

It hadn't been hard to find the hunters' little lair after they'd left that motel in Bartley; all he'd had to do was follow where their car went. When he'd lost it he knew they had to be close and planted in that hidey-hole of theirs that hid the coin from his ability to track it. After that, finding the door to the bunker sticking out of the hillside had been incredibly easy. Once their home base was discovered, he vanished to make preparations for his next set of plans, secure in the knowledge that he could return at his leisure.

And now, he'd returned, ready. All he had to do was wait for one of them to emerge from the warded safety of the bunker and the fun could really begin. ' Dean ,' something deep inside him whispered insistently, and he agreed. If it hadn't been for the elder Winchester, he wouldn't have given himself away. He waited, now, as he had been doing for nearly a full day. He waited, letting the rage he'd suppressed since he'd given himself away back in Nebraska finally have free reign of his thoughts.

Chapter Text

Dean stood trembling, his hands fisted at his sides, just staring at his brother across the length of the library. '...maybe some demon found his body.' The words echoed over and over in a horrifying chant in his mind. He didn't want to believe anything like that could happen. But in his entire life, if he'd learned anything at all, it was that he had to face up to the realities of just what monsters could do...and that life had a way of taking everything he ever cared for and twisting it into terrible things.

Two years, and there'd been no word from Castiel. Not a single sign at all, not since the Darkness had been finally defeated and Dean had once more found himself alive – with memories of the burning depths of Hell in his mind, and the memory of a soft touch that took him away from all of that once again. Most importantly – to him, at least – he'd woken with the memory of words of apology and regret whispered in a rough and oh-so-familiar voice. He knew with certainty that Castiel had survived, and that Castiel had saved him, so he'd had to keep believing that Cas had lived beyond his inexplicable disappearance.

But he couldn't fool himself anymore. Not when Sam made so much sense. Not when he'd seen what he'd seen in that dingy motel room. He knew Castiel's body almost as well as he knew Sam's; he knew how that body moved and looked. And he knew that was Castiel's body, but that what had been directing that body's movements could never have been the angel he knew.

Dean snapped out of his thoughts as his brother gripped his shoulders, saying his name in an urgent and worried tone. He'd been so deep into his thoughts he'd never even realized Sam had approached him. Blinking, he let his fists unclench at his side, meeting his brother's concerned gaze. “I'm...okay. Sammy, I'm okay. And...you're right.” He took a deep breath. “We need to figure out what this...thing's end game is.”

Sam searched his brother's eyes carefully, only pulling his hands from the elder Winchester's shoulders when he was sure Dean had a grip on himself. “That's... Yeah, okay.” He scowled as a tentative plan came to mind; Dean wouldn't like it at all, especially not now. But it might be the only way. “We, uh... We could summon Crowley.”

A little surprised by his own reaction, Dean accepted his brother's suggestion almost immediately. Of course, he didn't like it, but he could acknowledge a plan that made sense when he heard it. He could, however, also acknowledge the surge of pure rage that flared up at the thought of even looking Crowley in the face right now. “Sam, I can't.” He shifted, stepping around his brother and starting to pace the length of the library again. He only got a few steps away when his brother's hand landed on his shoulder from behind. To stall the argument before it started, he continued. “You're right. One of us needs to talk to the bastard. But it can't be me. Sammy, it can't be me . I'll kill him...and we need answers.”

Sam sighed. He didn't like the thought of talking to the demon without Dean there with him. But, he had to agree with his brother's reasoning. Killing Crowley, if they'd even survive an attempt like that, wouldn't accomplish anything. And if his theory was right, Crowley would likely know something about what was going on. Which meant he'd probably known about it for some time, and had hidden that knowledge from the Winchesters for reasons of his own. Yeah, Dean would probably lose it and kill him on sight. “Alright, Dean. I'll go get the stuff and...see what Crowley will tell me.”

Dean just nodded quietly. He listened to his brother leave the room and stood in place for several more minutes before giving in to the urge to have a drink. He'd poured the whiskey and was sprawled in his favorite chair in the library, working on his third glass of the amber liquid, when Sam reappeared in the doorway to the room. Sam had a duffel slung over his shoulder, presumably containing his usual kit and the ingredients to the summoning spell. Dean held up his glass in both acknowledgment and salute to his brother as Sam nodded and headed out to the garage to head to their usual spot to contact the demon when they weren't inclined to being polite enough to simply call him on the phone.

The remaining hunter continued drinking fairly steadily, though at a much reduced pace, for another hour or so before even that activity was no longer enough to keep the edge of anxiety and grief from prompting him into finding something else to do. But, instead of researching or retreating to his room to listen to music or watching some old favorite movie, he found himself snatching up his jacket from where it had been casually flung onto a table and heading up the stairs to the bunker's exit. As he stepped outside into the nighttime air, he took a deep breath and turned his attention to the stars shining in the clear sky overhead.

Chapter Text

Cas continued to watch silently, hidden from sight, as the hunters' car roared to life distantly, then appeared from the side of the hill. To his surprise, the larger of the two brothers was at the wheel of the vehicle, and the other – ' Dean, Dean, Dean ,' the whisper in his mind supplied with a thread of some emotion he couldn't quite pin down – was absent entirely. His eyes narrowed, but he let the car pass by unimpeded. The other one, the one he really wanted, must still be inside the bunker. He could wait a while longer, he decided. If Dean didn't make an appearance before he lost patience, he could always hunt down the one Winchester he could get to.

To the demon's surprise and satisfaction, he really didn't have to wait much longer before the door to the bunker swung open and out stepped his quarry. Still, he hesitated and merely watched, wary of some possible trap. The hunter did nothing suspicious, however. In fact, he acted as though he was completely unaware of any possibility of danger, even to the length of letting the door to his sanctuary remain open just enough to see the narrow band of light stream out into the night.

Dean's head tilted up and his eyes searched the star-strewn sky above as though seeking some sort of truth in the twinkling lights overhead. Feeling almost caught by the sight before him, unable to yet act on his plan, Cas watched as the hunter leaned back against the doorway, not taking his eyes from the sky above. In the light spilling from the bunker, the demon could see a tear leave a streak of shining moisture as it tracked down his cheek.

Unconsciously tilting his head and squinting in curiosity, Cas' hand twitched with an urge to reach out to the man standing unaware mere yards from where he stood. Suddenly, his curiosity and patience erupted into rage and a strange sort of pain. The hand that had twitched in an inexplicable yearning just a moment before now clenched up hard enough to draw blood as his nails cut into the palm of his hand. This meatsack had ruined everything, had made him a traitor to Crowley's explicit orders, and just made him so very angry .

He exploded into action, teleporting the few yards and dropping his invisibility to appear suddenly mere inches in front of his prey. Dean just barely registered those familiar features – those deep blue eyes - so close when the thing wearing Castiel's vessel pressed him harder against the door frame behind him before he could react. Dean's reactions were impaired just enough by the whiskey running through his blood and the exhaustion of his freshly renewed grief that he really never had a chance against the demon's strength and speed. He was helpless to do anything, and he knew it. Cas' features twisted into a horrific grin and then the world around Dean spun as he felt himself teleported away into darkness.

~*~*~*~*~*~*~

The abandoned barn the brothers favored for summoning things that they either wanted nowhere near the bunker, or that couldn't be summoned there because of the warding built into the place decades ago was just about an hour's drive to the west of Lebanon. The drive passed in a blur for the younger Winchester, his thoughts during the trip mostly of concern for his brother and anxiety and determination for the coming confrontation with Crowley. When the Impala growled to a stop outside the barn, Sam wasted no time grabbing his bag and striding into the well-used space.

A table the brothers had long ago left in the barn was turned onto it's side – likely the result of some past storm blowing through the worn down building – and Sam righted it almost absently. He quickly set out the ingredients for the spell to summon the king of Hell, letting himself feel amusement for a brief moment at the familiarity of his actions. Finally, when everything was ready, he touched up the demon trap the table was standing just outside of and lit the fire that would triger the summoning spell.

Almost immediately, a familiar voice rang out into the dimly lit barn. “Hello, Moose.” Sam took one step back before stopping to hold his ground and glare at Crowley. The demon's eyes flashed red and then back to their normal amber color almost before Sam could register it. “Have you managed to lose your Squirrel, or are you boys having another little lover's spat?” One corner of his lips tipped up with his amusement as he regarded the hunter standing before him.

“Shut up, Crowley,” Sam said, anger lacing his words. “I need you to answer some questions about what some of your minions are up to.” He hesitated to let Crowley absorb the full import of his situation before continuing. “One minion in particular, actually.” He pulled Ruby's knife from where it had been tucked into the back of his pants, making sure Crowley could see it clearly. “I need to know about the demon wearing Castiel's vessel. Now talk .”

Chapter Text

Crowley's eyes widened almost imperceptibly, the only hint that he was startled by the younger Winchester's words. He forced a slow smirk to touch his lips, purposely relaxing his stance just the slightest bit and just as purposely ignoring the deadly knife the hunter brandished threateningly. “Now, Moose. I'm sure you boys are angry with your wayward angel for wandering off on you, but stooping low enough to call him a demon ? Really, now. Squirrel would be crushed to hear you talk about his boyfriend like that.” He took a step forward so that he was right at the edge of the trap that held him close to powerless, and raised his eyebrows a bit. “Now, how about you put away the little poker and we can discuss this like proper psychopaths, hmm?”

Sam's scowl faltered, but he continued to hold the knife at the ready. “There's only one psychopath here. We saw..it. Damnit, Crowley, we saw it. It saved Dean's life, I don't know why but it did. But that...thing, that wasn't Cas.” Sam's voice caught as the image of Cas' hand plunging violently into Jacob's chest flashed into his mind, and he paused to pull himself together. “The sulfur was rank. That was Cas' vessel, but that was not Cas. Damnit, Crowley. Just tell me what you know.”

The king of Hell was careful to keep his surprise and quickly growing worry from showing. Cas wasn't supposed to give himself away. Crowley had been very adamant about that. The game was up if the boys figured out the truth. He'd wanted them driven mad, mad enough to come crawling to him. He hadn't wanted them to figure out what he'd done; they'd do everything in their power to end him...even if he'd tried to claim it was just a deal like any other. And, worse, if his pet demon had gone off the rails, his own life might well be at risk. After all, he'd kept secrets from the demon he'd personally created – secrets that were dangerous for him as well as anyone who got in Cas' way if he went on a rampage.

He raised his arms slightly, his hands forward and up in a gesture of surrender. “Calm down, Samantha. You'll ruin your make-up, darling.” He pursed his lips, options for salvaging the situation flashing through his mind. “If it's one of mine – and I'm not saying it is until I see for myself – it's not by my order, or knowledge,” the demon said slowly, rocking back on his heels. As though coming to some sort of private conclusion, he straightened his shoulders and tipped his chin up for just a touch of a look of determination. “Which means one of my boys has gone rogue, and needs dealt with.”

Sam let the knife waver as indecision wracked him. Crowley certainly seemed sincere, but he was a demon and demons lied. The demon had helped them in the past, but he'd also gone behind their backs and betrayed them. At this point, he just wasn't sure what to believe.

~*~*~*~*~*~*~

Dean woke to darkness surrounding him, a hot and stifling darkness. The warmth made him realize he was stripped to the waist, sweat dripping slowly down his spine and stinging down into his eyes. He was upright, strapped to...something that held his arms outstretched with metal biting at his wrists and rough against his ankles. The warm thrum of whiskey still sang in his blood, so he knew he couldn't have been out for very long. He could, faintly, hear water dripping slowly. The air smelled musty and stale. 'Great,' he thought to himself. 'A dungeon.'

Just as the hunter finished the thought, he felt the feather-light touch of a single finger ghost across his bared belly. He knew pretending to still be unconscious would be pointless, if he was with who he suspected he was. The demon would know, so he didn't even attempt to still the flinching of the muscles of his abdomen as the finger continued to trace patterns against his skin. This went on in silence for some time, though it felt like an eternity to Dean in the darkness. “Get it over with, bastard,” he bit out finally into the oppressive darkness. He just couldn't take the thought of the thing wearing the body of his best friend touching him in ways he couldn't let himself think about now. “ End it!”

A deep chuckle sounded out into the darkness around him. “Hello, Dean.” The hunter couldn't suppress the shudder that ran through him at the twisted parody of hauntingly familiar words from an equally familiar voice. The presence of the light touch vanished from his belly, only to be replaced in the form of warm breath fluttering past his right cheek as the voice continued softly into his ear. “I don't think I want to...end...this.”

A thin line of pain traced along his ribs on his right side, leaving a sticky warmth to drip down along his skin, but Dean remained quiet and still. He knew he should try to fight back, or at least to struggle against the demon, no matter how pointless it might be. But it just seemed like too much effort to him. It all just seemed like too much to him. Castiel was gone, his vessel being paraded around obscenely by a demon, and there wasn't a damn thing he could do about any of it. Still, he had to know. “Why?”

He was answered by a strange little giggle from somewhere off to his right and, from the sound of it, a few feet away now. Light flared to life in the form of bare light bulb hanging from the ceiling above him, making him squint as his eyes tried to adjust to the light. “I. Don't. Know,” came the demon's answer, his gravelly voice strained.

The form of the demon clarified as Dean's vision adjusted to the harsh light, and he watched him stalk back to stand before him. The dark mockery of the coat the angel that once resided in the vessel standing in front of him was dirty and speckled with tiny tears here and there. The charcoal suit was a much more finely tailored version of what Castiel had worn most of the time Dean had known him, and the black tie resting over an expensive looking – though quite wrinkled at the moment – navy blue shirt completed the dark look. It was as though someone had taken Castiel and brushed over him with ash and dust.

“I need to know, Dean,” the gravelly voice said almost plaintively, pulling Dean out of his drifting thoughts. The demon's blue eyes flicked to an eerie – and quite familiar – black as he spoke, though it was a black laced with a strange blue threading through the inky darkness. The last hope the hunter had held onto withered as he stared back into the depths of those strange demon eyes. Dean's heart constricted painfully, and he let his head drop in defeat.

Chapter Text

Silently, Sam stepped forward and scuffed his boot across the trap holding Crowley, effectively freeing him. As he'd done so, he tucked the knife away again, letting his hands drop to his sides. “I don't trust you, Crowley. But, for now, consider us...allies, I guess.” Despite his words, the scowl twisting his expression made his distaste for the current situation plain. “Okay, so...what now?”

Crowley remained in place, even after the trap had ceased to hold him. He narrowed his eyes as he considered the hunter, his thoughts sifting swiftly through various ways he could turn his shattered plans to his advantage again. There were just so many variables, and so many ways it could all go horribly wrong. And almost all of them were out of his hands, unless he could get to Cas before Cas did any further damage. “I find this rogue demon and make an example of him. You go home and cuddle up to Squirrel. And we all go back to happily avoiding each other, until you need something and remember that there's no one else left but me.” He just couldn't help one last parting shot at the hunter. Sam's hands clenched, and the demon decided that was his signal to go. “Ta, darling,” he said, and vanished, leaving behind only the quickly fading scent of sulfur in the musty air of the barn.

“Damnit, Crowley!” Sam sighed, scrubbing his hand over his face. His words didn't really have the bite to them that they should have. He was just too exhausted to put up a front of anger when all he really felt right now was concern for his brother and disgust at his own weakness. Quietly, he gathered up everything and made his way back outside to the Impala. Crowley was right. For now, there wasn't really anything else to do but head back to the bunker and do whatever he could to help Dean deal.

~*~*~*~*~*~*~

“No, no, Dean,” came the voice the he just couldn't avoid, even as defeat washed over the hunter. “You don't get to check out on me now. Crowley wants you alive, but I need you alive. At least..for now.” Gently, almost tenderly, fingers cupped his chin and guided his head back up so that inky blue-black eyes could stare into his bleary green gaze.

He felt only the slightest flare of anger at the mention of the king of Hell, but it faded quickly into despair. The only scenario he could imagine worse than Crowley using this as an obscure plot against them was some sort of rogue demon out to make a name for himself by taking down one of the Winchesters. Of course this would be the absolute worst case scenario; of course it would.

Cas suddenly jerked the human's head up sharply, and was rewarded with a low hiss of surprise. “Now, Dean. I said no checking out on me,” the demon said, releasing his hold on the man's chin. He moved to pace a slow circle around his prisoner, until he came up against his right side and leaned close to whisper into Dean's ear. “Tell me why. Why, Dean?” The man could only shake his head, unsure what exactly the demon was asking him. Irritated by the lack of an immediate answer, rage flooded Cas' near-scream. “ Why ?”

Dean managed to keep from flinching from the pain of the shout right beside his ear, if only barely. Some of his despair shifted into an anger, and he spat back at the demon in a shout of his own. “Go back to Hell, you fuck! I don't know what you want, and I wouldn't give it to you even if I did!” His words were met with silence at first, but then a reply came written on his body as the knife the demon wielded – which Dean had yet to actually see – sliced another thin line of pain down his side parallel to the first. Clenching his bound hands, Dean dared to answer that slice with more of his building rage. “Get out of Cas' body and just go back to Hell!”

Cas froze. ' Cas' body... ' Unable to stop himself, he began to tremble. “No,” he whispered, his voice rough and low. “No, no, noooo... This isn't my body. Crowley said you knew the body, but this isn't mine. It isn't mine, it can't be mine, it can't,” he babbled almost mindlessly, emotions he couldn't even begin to name swirling chaotically in his mind. He backed away from Dean even as he came around to face him, the blade he'd used to slice into the hunter still dripping blood at his side, confusion and horror replacing the rage that had darkened his expression.

And it was Dean's turn at confusion. He tried to process what the demon was saying, and what it could possibly mean. Did the thing possessing Castiel's body actually think he was Cas? Or...was it just some kind of trick? “You're damn straight it isn't yours, demon ,” he spat with as much venom as he could put into the words. “And I'm done playing with you.” With a sick grin, he started to intone words memorized so many years ago. “ Exorcizamus te, omnis immundus spiri-

Dropping the gleaming silver blade, Cas screamed and lunged for Dean with both hands outstretched as the man started to intone the exorcism. His hands scrabbled at the hunter, Cas' left hand pressing against his mouth to stop the dreaded words from escaping. At the same time, his right hand curled around Dean's left shoulder in an effort to keep him from wriggling away with the limited movement he had. As soon as Cas' hand came into contact with the bare flesh of Dean's shoulder, he stiffened as what felt like a jolt of lightning ran along his arm and seared it's way through him straight to his very essence. He had enough time to register a look of shock on Dean's face when his perception shattered into jagged pieces and light exploded behind his eyes.

Chapter Text

Dean watched the demon... Cas ...slump to the floor before him, blue eyes currently devoid of the demonic taint staring sightlessly up to the ceiling above. He had no idea what had just happened, but even as the contact had done something to the demon, he too felt a sensation run through him. Instead of knocking him out, or whatever had actually happened to the demon, it had felt like a gentle caress that threaded its way from his shoulder deep into his core. And with it had come brief images that flashed into his mind and then were gone before he could fully grasp them. The process was almost instantaneous, but it left him with the sure knowledge that – somehow – the demon wearing Castiel's body really was Cas himself.

Castiel or no, the being lying prone before him was still a demon and probably still a threat. The hunter decided he had no choice but to think of him that way, until he saw some real sign of whatever had happened changing that cold, hard fact. Letting the numbness that threatened creep over him – for now – Dean considered his options, his eyes finally rising to dart around the room. He cataloged everything, evaluating each item – though there were admittedly few things left in the room – for its potential in helping him escape.

The room, maybe 25 feet square, was lit by a single naked bulb hanging above the hunter where he was bound to...well, from what he could see of it, it looked sort of like a large cross made of thick metal bars. Metal cuffs bound his arms outstretched at the wrists and his legs against the upright bar at the ankles, and he could see no immediate way to work himself free of those restraints. There was an industrial-looking metal door set into the wall to his right. A plain metal folding chair sat just beside the door against the wall with his jacket balled up on the seat, and just above the chair was a light switch. Other than the demon at his feet and the crimson-soaked silver tip of whatever blade he'd been using to cut at Dean peeking from under the coat spread out behind him completely out of reach, that made up the entirety of his surroundings. He could see no hope of escape, until something changed.

~*~*~*~*~*~*~

Sam pulled the Impala onto the access road leading to the bunker. The power plant loomed above, barely seen in the light of the stars overhead. But what caught his attention as he pulled closer to the bunker was the thin line of light spilling out from the door standing ajar. That was just...wrong. They never ever left that door standing open with no one there to watch. Something had to be wrong. Instead of pulling the sleek black car into the garage, Sam slammed on the breaks and was out of the car the second he could get it into park.

Cautiously, he crept close to the open door, his gun gripped tightly in his hand. There was no external evidence of any sort of struggle, but he was still certain something had to be wrong. It was a suspicion borne out when he realized he could smell – ever so faintly – the stench of sulfur hovering around the open door. A demon. Though he felt a sinking certainty that he would find nothing inside, Sam shoved the bunker door open fully and dashed inside.

~*~*~*~*~*~*~

Crowley paced the length of his dimly lit chambers. For the first time in quite awhile he was at a loss for what to do. Cas had been...perfect; perfectly trained, perfectly obedient, perfectly loyal. He'd been the perfect tool and the perfect companion. He's molded and shaped the ex-angel until he was just...perfect. And the demon couldn't fathom how it had all gone to terribly wrong.

The question, really, was what Cas was doing now and what he was planning – if anything at all. Crowley had to admit to himself that he couldn't even be sure the ex-angel was planning anything at this point. He could be running purely on some kind of instinct. Whether or not Crowley survived his own plotting in regards to Cas would depend on which set of instincts he was running on at the moment.

“Now, isn't that a terrifying thought,” the king of Hell muttered into the silence.

Chapter Text

As he'd expected, Sam found nothing out of place in his quick search of the bunker . And as he'd feared, he'd found no trace of his brother, either. The bottle of whiskey and tumbler he'd been using were abandoned on the table, and his coat was gone. So, Sam reasoned, Dean left the bunker itself of his own volition, perhaps just to get some fresh air. But he must have been careless, leaving the bunker door open and not paying enough attention to his surroundings, most likely. It surprised Sam, his brother being that careless; but it didn't surprise him as much as he would have expected it to.

Sam ended his search where he'd started it, in the doorway leading into the bunker's interior. Of course, with the quickly fading scent of sulfur, he had no doubt that whatever had taken Dean was a demon. The hunter sighed, scrubbing his hand over his face briefly. Whatever demon was using Cas's vessel as a meatsuit must have done it. Sam just couldn't believe Crowley would be stupid enough to have Dean kidnapped while he talking to Sam.

Still, he should let Crowley know what was going on, since they were playing at being allies for the time being. Scowling, the hunter pulled his phone from his pocket and, deciding to forego the summons this time, dialed Crowley's number. He let his eyes drift up to the cloudless sky overhead as he waited for Crowley to answer, the stars glimmering brightly.

Moose, miss me so much already? ” Crowley's voice seemed filled with his usual confident swagger, making Sam's jaw work in irritation.

“Dean's gone, Crowley,” the hunter bit out. “It was a demon. If you had anything to do with this, I will rip your lungs out and feed them to your hellhounds myself.”

There was silence on the line that drug out for several uncomfortable moments before Crowley finally replied. “ I didn't send anyone to take your brother, Sam.

Sam was surprised to find stark honesty in the demon's tone, and it made him hesitate briefly. He pulled his eyes from the starry sky to try once more to find any clue he might have missed before around the doorway, finally replying to Crowley as he did so. “Alright. I...alright. I'm going to see what I can dig up from here on the demon that took Dean. You just go find Cas' vessel. I have the feeling they're really one and the same, anyway.”

Chapter Text

Light, a brilliant blue-white, exploded behind his eyes. Dimly, like something happening to someone else, he felt his body collapse like a puppet with it's strings cut. But it didn't matter. Nothing mattered but the fleeting images that flashed through his awareness and then away before he could really grasp them. Nothing mattered but the whispering of mingled voices saying things he couldn't quite understand.

Eventually – moments or an eternity, he had no way to know in this place of shadows and light and pain and peace – the images drifted away and the whispering settled into silence. He drifted there in that timeless place, feeling nothing, thinking nothing – until he was again. He grasped for anything in that place, and found...

Hell. He saw a soul shining so brightly in amongst the darkness and the flames and the screams. Even from here, he could see the taint already tarnishing that soul, but it still shone so very brightly. It called to him, and he knew he would answer. Speeding faster than thought, he reached out for that soul and grasped it tightly to himself. His grace burnt the taint, his very being wrapped around the tormented soul as he worked to repair the damaged soul. And, perhaps, a bit of his grace remained tangled with that soul, burned into it forever, when he finally withdrew to complete his task of raising the Righteous Man from perdition.

Hell. Deep in a space within the Pit, he lay chained in darkness. Despair wrapped around him, and through him. Pain was his constant companion, both ally and enemy. The pain reminded him of who he was. But the pain forced him to forget everything he had ever been, everything he had ever known. He was nothing but mindless pain, in the end.

A barn. Lightning flashed and wind whipped around the abandoned building. With no effort at all, he pushed the door open and stepped inside. Sparks fell all around him as the lights were overwhelmed by the power wrapped around his vessel from his barely contained excitement. The Righteous Man was inside, and he would finally be able to speak to him. The violence against him only fueled his concealed excitement. So much courage, even in the face of something the humans could not hope to understand. He couldn't help but admire them...especially him.

Hell, though now somehow a comforting place. The lack of pain was shocking. He was pain, he was made of pain. If pain was absent, did that mean he no longer existed? What was he, then? The answer drifted to him in the comfortable darkness where he was curled, a smooth accented voice whispering in answer to his unspoken question. “You're mine, darling. That's all that's important right now. You. Are. Mine.”

The barn again. “We need to talk, Dean. Alone.” Green eyes boring into him as he pretended interest in the items laid out on the table. “Castiel.” His head came up when the Righteous Man questioned what he was, finally letting himself stare into those angry and fearful and courageous eyes. Windows to the soul, indeed. “I'm an angel of the Lord.” The denial came, of course. He could expect no less from a human with so little faith, in the higher purpose and in himself. Telling himself he had to give the human reason to take hold of faith – and trying to deny to himself the thrill he felt at being able to expose Dean to some small part of himself, of his very essence trapped within his vessel – he let his grace flare just enough for the shadow of his wings to become visible to the human before him.

A room, his king's chambers. Lessons from his maker, his master, his lord and king...his savior. Lessons that went on and on and on. Lessons on what he was, on what he could do, on what he would become. Lessons that went on endlessly, broken only sometimes by periods of...nothingness. The nothingness only came when he'd done something wrong, though he could never afterward remember what. It was a kindness, he believed. If he disobeyed his king, being thrown back into the Pit was his proper punishment. Instead, his king chose to help him rid himself of anything within himself that kept him from being the perfect demon his king wished of him. He stared up at his king with adoration and utter loyalty.

The barn. Still so much rage in the human's heart. He could see right into the soul of the man standing before him. He could see rage and fear and denial and...self-loathing. No, he couldn't let that stand. “Good things do happen, Dean.” He stepped forward as he spoke, the grace used to bind the man's soul back together – his own grace – calling out to him in ways he was almost helpless to resist. “You don't think you deserve to be saved.” It wasn't a question. He didn't have to ask, he could see it written across the beautiful soul and shining out his startling green eyes. How could this man, the Righteous Man of prophecy who had saved so many others in his lifetime, believe he didn't deserve to be saved?

Struggling, Cas reached out for anything to ground himself before the next scene, the next images, might start playing across the wasteland of his mind. It took some time before he realized there was only silence. Two lives, two sets of memories had done war on his mind. Might still be doing war, he believed. Demon essence and angel grace and human soul; he was possessed of all three at once, and none of them could be compatible with any of the other two. Only one could possibly win out. This was merely a calm before the storm. And, just as he had that thought, the storm crashed down on him, tearing his mind to pieces.

Chapter Text

Cas' body spasmed violently. Once, twice, a third time, and then he went still as death once more. Dean's attention was riveted on him, wariness and the tiniest bit of hope warring in his eyes. Slowly, the hunter watched the light of awareness grow in Cas' deep blue eyes. One shallow breath came whispering into the silence of the room, followed by another and a third.

He blinked once, his eyes seeking out and finding the green-eyed gaze trained down on him. A faint smile played on his lips. “Hello, Dean,” he said softly. The hunter's chest clenched up at the familiar words, the familiar tone of them tugging at the hope he was struggling to keep in check. Cas pulled himself to his feet smoothly and stood before Dean with his head tilted slightly.

“Cas,” the hunter started, but then let the rest of whatever he was going to say drift away unsaid. Something, some instinct was screaming at him that this still wasn't Cas, not really. Something was still off, though he couldn't really say exactly what that something was. Dean knew enough to listen to those instincts; doing so had kept him alive so often.

He continued to regard the hunter for several moments of silence, his expression beyond that faint smile unreadable. A soft exhalation of air, almost – but not quite – a sigh, fell from his lips. “Cas,” he repeated the hunter's word quietly. Cas stooped just then to pick up the blade he'd wielded earlier. Dean noted absently that it was an angel blade, that it was Castiel's angel blade – though, like the knowledge that this really was Castiel, he couldn't really say how he was so certain, only that he was.

Straightening, Cas stood and stepped closer to Dean, until he was inches from the hunter. “Personal space,” he murmured. “Does it still bother you, Dean?” The faint smile twisted into an eerie grin. Amused by Dean's silence, Cas reached up with his left hand and drew the pad of his index finger along the hunter's cheek, completely ignoring Dean's attempt to flinch away from his touch.

“I remember you.” Cas drew his finger back along Dean's jaw and Dean turned his head away, unable to continue looking into the familiar eyes with the indecipherable look burning behind them. Cas grunted and gripped the hunter's chin, roughly pulling his head back around. Dean's jaw worked as Cas stared into his eyes, his brow wrinkled in a frown. “I remember...everything. What I was. What I did.” Cas blinked, his eyes flicking to the flat blue-threaded-black of his demon aspect. “What I became.”

Dean sucked in a breath at the stark reminder that his best friend was a demon; he'd almost let himself forget. “Cas, man.” He swallowed, trying to get his racing thoughts straight in his head. “We thought you were gone. We couldn't find you anywhere. We'll fix this. We can fix this. We thought we lost you, but we can fix this, Castiel.”

In a flash, the angel blade was held under the hunter's chin, pressed just hard enough against his throat that a thin trickle of blood trailed down his neck. “You did lose Castiel, Dean,” Cas said in a flat tone. “I am lost. Maybe Hester was right; maybe I was lost the moment I touched your soul in Hell.” A giggle, completely out of place, slipped from the demon. “A demon with the memories of an angel. Imagine it, Dean. Why would I ever want to be...fixed?” Again, his head tilted to the side as he relaxed the pressure of the blade against the hunter's neck.

Dean wasn't sure what to say, or do for that matter. Part of him wanted to rage against Cas. Part of him wanted to plead with Cas to let him try to fix everything. But, there was a part of him that remembered his own time as a demon, and how he didn't feel he needed fixed then, either. But this was different, it had to be. Castiel was a friggin' angel, he deserved so much better than life as a demon.

Trying desperately to ignore the rising feelings of betrayal and regret threatening to overwhelm him, Dean tried to think his way through the situation. How the hell did an angel even become a demon? That was what kept him – and Sam – from even considering that the demon they'd encountered was actually Cas in the first place; he had no soul to twist into becoming a demon. “What happened to you, Castiel? How did...this... How?”

Chapter Text

Cas twitched, causing the blade against Dean's neck to slice another narrow cut. “Castiel is...gone,” the demon answered in a tone strained with barely suppressed rage. “I'm all that's left. Just Cas. That's all. Your angel gave his grace and his life to pull you out of Perdition one last time.” He twitched again, bringing forth another line of crimson on the hunter's neck. "I fell, Dean. In every way imaginable, I fell. I fell from Heaven, I fell from Grace. I...fell in love." Cas twisted his lips into eerie grin once again, another giggle slipping from him.

Dean frowned, the protest he'd been about to voice dying on his lips at the demon's last words. He searched Cas' eyes, frustrated at being unable to read anything from the blue-threaded-black he saw instead of the familiar and more expressive deep blue eyes. “Shit, Cas. Why? I went knowing you and Sammy were alive. That was enough for me. That made it worth it,” he said, deciding he'd deal with Cas' revelation later, when he could take time to really think about it and the clenching in his chest it brought forth. If, of course, he'd ever have that time. Unable to take what he saw before him anymore, Dean squeezed his eyes shut. “What did you do that made you become...this?”

Cas took a step back from the hunter, letting the blade drop until it was poised over Dean's abdomen. “I followed in the Winchester footsteps,” the demon murmured. A quick flick of his wrist sliced a narrow cut across Dean's abdomen. He glanced up to the hunter's face at the soft hiss Dean made, then returned his attention to the blade dancing just above the skin. “I made a deal with Crowley to get you out of the Pit.” Another flick of his wrist, and another shallow cut appeared accompanied by another hiss of pain. “I carried your soul out of Perdition.” Another flick brought forth another line of crimson and another hiss. “I pieced you back together again.” Flick, hiss. “I cursed myself; I gave up my grace for a human soul,” he breathed, looking back up to meet the green-eyed gaze boring into him once again. “And then, Dean, I died.”

~*~*~*~*~*~*~

Alright. I...alright. I'm going to see what I can dig up from here on the demon that took Dean. You just go find Cas' vessel. I have the feeling they're really one and the same, anyway. ” The click of the connection ending sounded far too loud to Crowley's ears. Moose was right, of course. The body and the demonic essence inhabiting it both belonged to the former angel. And it sounded like he was well and truly off the bloody rails. In the silences of his own mind, Crowley let himself admit to the fear that ran a trail of cold ice right through him. His clever plan had gone horribly wrong. The problem now was to figure out who he had the most to fear from immediately – the bloody Winchester brothers, or the angel-turned-demon.

Cas has broken free of his careful conditioning, and there was no telling what he might do. That alone was a threat to Crowley. But, if the ex-angel discovered just how powerful he really was – or, worse actually remembered who and what he'd been before his time in the Pit – well, that was a whole other thing altogether.

On the other hand, those denim-wrapped nightmares would absolutely gut him if they realized he was personally to blame for the state of their pet angel. He knew bloody well that no explanation involving a demon deal with the angel, no matter how truthful that explanation might be, would ever fly with the brothers. And now, to make it just bloody perfect , Winchester jumbo-size expected him to find a demon that didn't want to be found and that was as well versed in spells and hexes as Crowley himself was.

Still, he knew right now his best chance to come out of this clusterfuck of epic proportions with his hide intact was to find Cas before Moose could. Nodding to himself, he strode purposefully out of his chambers, yelling for the nearest demon flunky to bring him a dozen of the most reliable – ha , that was a bit of a joke – demons that could be mustered on short notice.

~*~*~*~*~*~*~

There was nothing more to be found. Sam knew that, really, when he'd told Crowley he'd search for more of, well, anything that he could find on the demon who took his brother. But there was nothing to be found, no way to track a being that could just vanish into thin air.

It galled the younger Winchester that he had to rely on Crowley to find the demon who took Dean. His single hope at this point was that his brother was – probably – still alive. If the demon who took him want to just kill him, he wouldn't have bothered with the trouble of taking him. Probably.

Seated at a table in the bunker's library, his laptop open and useless in front of him, he sighed and scrubbed his hand over his face. “Well find you, Dean. Somehow,” he muttered, his tone one of defeat in contrast to his words.

Chapter Text

“...and Crowley threw you into the Pit? Crowley, or one of his torturers, turned you into this , Cas?” Though trapped in restraints, Dean's hands balled into tight fists as he spoke, his voice rough with anger.

“Yes,” the demon replied, amusement lacing his words. “You know what happens to souls in Hell, Dean. You know what happens in the Pit.” Casually, as though it were pen and paper instead of blade and flesh, he traced out something in Enochian on the human's chest, the blade biting in only deep enough to bring the blood to the surface a few drops at a time. “You know what it's like to be remade there.”

He glanced back up to meet the hunter's eyes, lips twisting once more into the maddened grin. “You did it yourself,” Cas said, his tone turning pitiless and cold. “How many souls do you think you remade into demons, Dean? How many have died at the hands of those souls you remade?” A gasp was his only answer, but it was enough to tell him his words were digging deep. He returned his attention to his blade, carving out another Enochian sigil in the hunter's flesh – slowly, to draw it out as much as possible. “Do you think about it?” The moan that was his answer was music to the demon's ears.

~*~*~*~*~*~*~

Dumb luck brought Crowley closer to Cas' location than he could have ever hoped for. One of the demons he'd sent out to scour for any hint of his wayward pet actually stumbled across useful information. It turned out that, more than just occasionally, demons being self-absorbed backstabbing little shits could be very useful.

One of his flunkies, hoping for a step up the ladder, used to tail Cas in hopes of digging up dirt on him. He never found anything worth tattling about, but what he did learn was incredibly useful to Crowley right now. It turned out there was a power station with a whole section abandoned and partially falling down that Cas had sometimes retreated to.

When the king of Hell heard just where that retreat was, he was torn between a sick amusement and a dawning realization that he'd been in trouble where Cas was concerned for far longer than he'd realized. Crowley decided that maybe, just maybe, he would even let the flunky live. Maybe. At least he finally had a lead, and maybe he could pull himself out of the fire with the Winchesters none the wiser as to the full extent of his hand in this mess by the end of things.

A quick spell told him his flunky's information was probably right, and Cas was holed up in the abandoned sections of the power station somewhere. Of course, Crowley couldn't actually locate the former angel, thanks to whatever warding he had devised, but the curious blank spot in the area told him all he really needed to know right now. He briefly considered calling the younger Winchester, but decided he needed to go have a look for himself first. Damage control, right now it was all about damage control.

Chapter Text

“Shh, shh now. It's alright, Dean,” the demon crooned softly, his left hand caressing the hunter's right cheek the way a lover might. He laughed – a low, dark sound – when Dean jerked his head away from the horrifying touch. Cas leaned close, a grin twisting his lips. “I bet you dream about it, still,” he whispered into Dean's ear. “I bet you enjoy it in your deepest dreams.”

Resting his cheek against the now-struggling hunter's own, he resumed carving another Enochian sigil into the human's chest purely from muscle memory. “I want to make sure you never forget, Dean. I want to make sure you remember everything. Like your touch made me remember everything. I want you to remember everything you have ever been. Just. Like. You. Did. To. Me.” Each slight pause was punctuated by flicks of the angel blade against the hunter's flesh.

Without warning, the demon jerked back away from the hunter, his eyes wild with the madness simmering within them. Dean's weary green eyes followed Cas' movement carefully, trying to brace for the next assault he could only assume was coming. The physical pain of the blade slicing neat, even delicate cuts into his skin was nothing, really. He'd had much worse, much worse. It was Cas' words that sliced deep, carving away at his control. Bit by bit, the words flayed him alive, leaving him raw and bleeding.

Giggling softly, Cas held the crimson-stained blade up, the deadly sharp tip of it pressed against the hunter's throat. He reached up and tangled his fingers in the restrained man's hair, holding his head firmly in place with ruthless demonic strength. “I gave up everything for you, Dean Winchester,” he said, pressing forward until his lips were just shy of brushing the hunter's own. The shudder that ran through the man's body, if anything, only deepened the former angel's insane desire to destroy what he felt was the cause of the confusion and madness raging through him. “Now it's your turn. Break for me...”

~*~*~*~*~*~*~

Crowley stood in the darkened hallway of a semi-abandoned power station just outside Lebanon, Kansas. He couldn't help the sick amusement that tickled at him at this location. Castiel was in a storage room somewhere down this hallway, in a building that stood practically over the cute little bunker the Winchesters called home sweet home. The former angel's secret clubhouse was right over the Winchester's nesting ground. Wonderful. Even before he went off the rails, he'd been drawn to those damned – Crowley wished, anyway – hunters.

Of course, the king of Hell without a healthy dose of prudence. He knew Cas was somewhere further down the hallway he stood in because he could see – and feel – the liberally applied wards. Caution, however, kept him from moving close enough to risk tripping any of them and alerting Cas to his presence.

He had no way of knowing for sure that Squirrel with was the former angel, but he'd agreed with Sam – well, roughly, since Moose had only the most basic grasp of what was really happening – that the demon who took Dean and the demon 'wearing' Castiel's vessel were one and the same. Scowling to himself, he pulled out his phone and dialed.

Chapter Text

Waiting was not something he was very good at, Sam was realizing. Not when there was nothing he could really research to help make the time go faster. He spent the time trying to research anyway. Then he tried pacing, because going for a run to clear his head now of all times was out of the question. Hell, he even went Dean's normal route, and had some of Dean's whiskey. Not enough to get drunk, or even slow him down; he wouldn't risk that right now. Just enough to distract himself, or attempt to. Nothing helped, until the phone rang.

He nearly lunged at the phone when it sounded, checking the number more out of habit. It had to be Crowley...or Dean, and either was relief from the tension. Crowley, he noted, as he answered. “Crowley, man, what've you got for me? Tell me you've got something?”

Of course I've got something, Moose ,” said the accented voice on the other end of the line, his tone smug. “ Turns out our boy is currently imprisoned. You won't even have to go very far.

“The hell, Crowley. Just spill. Now,” Sam said, anger creeping into his voice. Even as he spoke, he scooped up his jacket and the keys to the Impala, as well as a pistol and the angel blade he'd kept by his side since discovering Dean had been taken.

He's right on top of you, Moose. There's an abandoned section of the power plant over your cozy little bunker, and he's got Dean there. It's heavily warded. He...really knows what he's doing, this demon. ” There was something in Crowley's tone, something in what he was saying – or maybe not saying – that tugged at Sam's instincts. But he shoved it aside as something to puzzle over once Dean was out of danger.

Scowling, Sam dropped the keys back onto the table and raced to take the stairs up and out of the bunker two at a time. “Are you there now?” he bit out as he exited the bunker and turned to stare up at the power station that loomed above their home. And then, he started the fairly short trek toward the area of the plant he knew was abandoned.
I'm here, Moose. You might want to hurry ,” Crowley added as a scream sounded over the line from the depths of the hallway he stood in. Sam hung up the phone, shoved it into his pocket, and began scrambling up the hill as fast as he could without breaking a leg.

~*~*~*~*~*~*~

Tightening his hold on the hunter's hair further, Cas dug the tip of the angel blade into Dean's throat and sliced. Oh, but he was careful with it. He cut just deep enough to be painful, stopping short of slicing the man's jugular, or anything else vital. After all, he wasn't done playing yet. And the whimper the hunter tried so hard to hold back was just so lovely to his ears.

“You'll be beautiful once you're broken, Dean,” he whispered, his lips just barely brushing the hunter's with each word he spoke. “So beautiful.” Cas leaned back slightly, just enough to be able to search Dean's eyes, looking for his despair. And it was there to be found, though there was also still anger and...was that even pity? That was pity shining in those impossibly green eyes that haunted him as they gazed back helplessly.

A growl fell from the demon's lips, rage flaring up once more. Rage, and...something else he wasn't prepared to understand or deal with, something that caused an ache in his chest and a clenching in his belly. He held on to the rage as the only feeling washing through him that he could truly understand. How dare a lowly human pity him. He whirled away from where Dean was trapped by the cold metal restraints, lest he make the hunter's end far swifter than he intended in his rage. When he turned back to the hunter, Dean's eyes were still boring into him, and the demon found himself actually flinching from that steady gaze.

“Cas,” Dean wheezed out, the steady dripping of blood from the many wounds – though mostly shallow – was taking it's toll on the human. He was weakening, and he knew it. Yet, he still had to make one last attempt to reach out to this thing, this demon who had once been his best friend. The demon hesitated, staring at him, and he took advantage of that to continue. “You gotta stop this, Cas,” Dean breathed out, fighting the darkness he could feel creeping at the edges of his awareness. He couldn't give into it, not now, not when Cas was actually still standing, staring at him, seemingly frozen. “You gotta let me try to fix this...”

Chapter Text

“No,” Cas whispered. “No,” he said again, a little louder. Then, an ear-shattering scream was torn from his throat and he charged at Dean, the blade in his hand raised. All Dean really caught was a flash of silver, and then pain washed over him, radiating outward from his left shoulder in waves that left him fighting off the encroaching darkness of unconsciousness. The hunter rolled his head slowly to the side to stare at the angel blade buried deep into his shoulder, then let his head drop to hang limply, his eyes closing, his breathing ragged and pained.

Cas had jumped back almost immediately after his rage-fueled reaction, that same rage draining away as quickly as it had surged up. He stared at Dean's limp form, frozen once more, suddenly unsure of everything. A shudder ran through the demon, and then he found himself stepping forward before he'd given it any thought. He stopped inches away from the hunter, then raised his hand to cup Dean's chin and pull his head up with surprising gentleness to peer with a squint-eyed intensity into the green eyes that opened gaze blearily back at him.

“Just... Just stop this, Cas,” the hunter said, his voice wrecked now with pain as well as exhaustion. Dean might even have finally considered that he might die here at the hands of the demon that had once been his friend, if he hadn't been so focused even now on still trying to reach the former angel he knew still lurked deep inside the demon, somewhere. It was that drive to fix what was broken, and to save his friend as he'd been saved – more than once, even – that kept him hanging on. “Cas... Please...give me...the chance to...fix this,” he tried again in a broken whisper. “Castiel...”

Cas winced at the last word that fell from Dean's lips before he unwillingly succumbed to the pull of unconsciousness. Those compelling green eyes slipped closed, and Cas gently released his head so that it dropped to hang limp once more. 'Castiel,' the word rang in his mind, but this time it didn't bring with it unreasoning rage. This time, that word, the word that had been his only name for millennia, washed him with sorrow. “Dean. I...” Unsure what he'd actually wanted to say, he dropped to his knees before the man who'd once been his friend, the man he fell for, his head bowed.

Chapter Text

Dean was dying. Cas knew this, but he knelt, frozen, unable to act, unable even to think. Angelic nature warred with demonic nature, dragging his awareness deep inside of him. He wanted to kill the human he'd fallen for, given his life for, even damned himself for. He wanted to save the man he'd given everything for, willingly, time and again, with powers he no longer possessed. Unaware of it, tears left streaks down his cheeks as more and more memories flooded through his mind with no order or reason to them, millennia of them – though, primarily focused on the past decade or so since he'd gripped a bright soul in Hell and, in doing so, started his own fall from grace.

The world was so much simpler, yet ever more complex than he'd let himself see in far too long. Sometimes, deep within, he wondered if the madness he'd taken from Sam to atone had been more of a blessing than a curse. But now, Dean's asked him to run an errand, and that's enough to pull him from the distracting task of setting up the game he was going to try to play with himself. Happy to help with whatever doesn't involve fighting – for fear he might slip back to his old ways of destroying what he only meant to help – he agrees. Unfurling his wings, he pulls Dean with him to the location Dean had asked him to. Watching the boys burn Bobby's flask had made him think. And Dean needed him. They needed him. “And at best, I die trying to fix my own stupid mistake. Or... I don't die – I'm brought back again. I see now. It's a punishment resurrection. It's worse every time.” Yes, perhaps it was time he try to fix his mistakes and atone for his sin in thinking he could ever replace his absent Father.

An angel, still young, watched stars come into being, gasses whirling and compressing ever faster, until they suddenly burst into brilliant light and energy. The sight filled him with joy and faith in his Father's creation, and he decided in that endless moment that he would dedicate himself to watching as much of his Father's creation as he was able to. This decision altered him in ways he would never even realize, but started him on a road that would eventually change the course of destiny itself.

He sits at yet another bedside, gripping Dean's still cool hand tightly. This time, though, will be the last time. When he's finished here, he will go to pay the price of the deal he'd made with Crowley. This would be the last time he would have the privilege of giving up everything for Dean Winchester. Done this time not out of a sense of duty, or care over his Father's creations, or even of guilt which may or may not be misplaced. Done this time for a reason that is both far simpler than any in the past, and far more complex, all at once; done out of love. Castiel pushes some of his waning grace into the still body, and deeper still, into the man's very soul where it rests waiting. And then he watches the chest rise slowly, and fall, with the first breath of its new life. The angel leans close, whispering into the man's ear, words of regret and apology at leaving him, whispering words that can't possibly contain how he feels in this moment, the joy that Dean will live once more, the sorrow that he knows will follow. It's worth it. For Dean Winchester, it's always worth it.

Castiel landed in Stull Cemetery silently, having brought Bobby in a last ditch effort to save Dean from Michael, from Lucifer, from himself. In his hand, he grasped a bottle with flame licking from a rag stuffed into the top. He could feel the flame on his hand, and it took every bit of strength he had to not fling it away from himself too soon. The instinct to avoid that fire, holy fire fueled by the holy oil wicking up the rag was inborn and so very hard to fight. But he did it, for Dean, to give him the time he needed. He could see the rage in his brother Michael's eyes, feel it pressing upon his very being. Now, the time was now. He threw the bottle, wincing as it smashed against his brother's vessel, making Michael scream and vanish. “He'll be back - and upset - but you got your five minutes,” he rasped out to Dean. Lucifer turned his cold rage on Castiel, and the younger angel had the time to take one step backwards, away from the death awaiting him, before he knew nothing else. It didn't matter, It had been worth it.

The stink of the decay left behind from Crowley's experiments floods his vessel's senses. But that sensation is nothing compared to the power of the souls roiling within him. The sensation is heady, nearly overwhelming. He eliminates Raphael with a snap of his fingers and the tiniest flick of the power rippling through him, deliberately echoing the death Raphael had granted him when he'd stood in the archangel's path to grant the Winchesters time and space to do what they had to do. He turned to look at Dean, missing the sheer horror that the human radiated. “So, you see, I saved you.” Even then, he thought of Dean, always Dean...at least, until the power swept him up completely.

He stood on a shoreline on the young Earth, watching intently as a tiny little grey fish struggled away from the lapping water of the immense ocean that covered the world. Despite his utter stillness, the voice of an older brother came to him, warning him from stepping on the little creature struggling at his feet. “Don't step on that fish, Castiel. Big plans for that fish,” his brother said, humor lacing his powerful voice. He acknowledged the warning silently, and continued his vigil watching the little fish, some part of him deep inside rooting it on in its quest to change what it was for what it wanted to be.

The struggle to get out of Purgatory, or, rather, to get Dean out of Purgatory flashed through his mind as he showed it to Dean from his perspective. He needed to force Dean to see it as it had really happened instead of how Dean's twisted sense of guilt had rewritten it within his very flawed human mind. His own guilt, the guilt that had required him to stay behind, where he could no longer do any damage, where he could atone for his sins, it twisted inside him all over again as he relived those moments along with Dean. “Nothing you could have done would have saved me, because I didn't want to be saved.” The tinest shake of his head was his answer to Dean, at first. “It's where I belonged. I needed to do penance. After the things I did on earth and in heaven, I didn't deserve to be out,” he said now, desperate for Dean to understand what he was saying. “And I saw that clearly when I was there. I... I planned to stay all along. I just didn't know how to tell you. You can't save everyone, my friend... though, you try.”

He sits in a hospital room at Dean's bedside. His head is tilted back, his eyes distant as he remembers the vivid scenes of raising Dean from the Pit all over again. “It's not blame that falls on you, Dean, it's fate. The righteous man who begins it is the only one who can finish it,” he says, his voice rough with a pain that is new to him, the pain of empathy for this human's own anguish. Castiel turns his gaze to the endlessly fascinating, bewildering, frustrating man as he continues, “You have to stop it.” He knows, even as he speaks he knows, that Dean doesn't believe he's strong enough to do what Heaven demands of him. But Castiel? He's starting to believe in this man. He's starting to have...faith, in a human. And isn't that just the most bewildering thing of all?

Chapter Text

Crowley appeared beside Sam as the hunter stepped into the abandoned section of the power plant. Sam flinched, but then got himself under control and nodded to Crowley, surprised and even perhaps a bit pleased that the king of Hell appeared to be keeping to his word to help find Dean and the demon wearing Cas' vessel around like a bad suit. That changed, however, when Crowley grabbed Sam's arm in a grip firm enough to bruise and spoke. “I can lead you to him, Moose. But...we need to make a deal first,” the demon said, a look of cold determination on his face.

Sam's brow furrowed as confusion and frustration warred clearly across his face. "What are you talking about, Crowley?" He yanked his arm away from the demon's grip. Or, rather, tried to. The demon's grip proved too strong for him. "What the hell is going on? There isn't time for this! I need to get to Dean!" The confusion became anger, and Sam was silently cursing himself for being stupid enough to trust the damn king of Hell. Yanking at his arm again, Sam's other hand reached for the angel blade tucked away behind his back.

“Ah ah, let's not fight,” Crowley said, flicking his wrist almost negligently, and Sam heard the clatter of metal hitting concrete behind him. The demon had thrown the blade against the wall behind the pair before Sam had been able to grasp it. “Sam, I'm not going to stop you from saving your brother. But I need to watch out for my own skin, too.” Crowley smirked, though the expression lacked some of his usual smarmy confidence, which made Sam cease his struggles to stare at the demon. “I'm sure you understand,” Crowley continued, eyes narrowing a bit as the smirk dropped from his lips. “I won't even bother with a contract on this one, since I don't want your soul. Swear you'll let me walk away from this, no matter what else happens, and I'll help you save Dean. Simple. Deal?”

Sam regarded him briefly, before the urgency to reach Dean hit him anew. “Yes. Yeah, alright, whatever, Crowley. Help me find Dean and I'll let you go your own way when it's finished. I swear, okay?” He jerked his arm away from the demon again, and this time Crowley released him, making Sam stagger back a step since he hadn't expected the demon to release him so suddenly. “Can we go now?” Not deigning to answer Sam, Crowley shrugged. The confident swagger was back, satisfaction positively radiating from him as he turned and strode down the dim hallway.

Sam turned to grab the angel blade up from where it had come to rest on the floor next to the heavy metal door he'd come through just a few minutes ago. Breathing out a sigh, he took advantage of his much longer stride to catch up to Crowley. “You're going to have to take care of some of the warding if you want any help from me, Moose,” the demon said, his tone growing a bit tense as they approached the first of the wards. “Bastard's managed to ward against me specifically, in spots.”

The hunter shot a glance to Crowley, surprise flickering across his face. “Wait, so...it's managed to ward against you? And you called it a rogue demon? What the hell, Crowley?” Only Sam's urgency to get to Dean prevented him from trying to stop the demon and force some sort of proper explanation from him.

Still, Crowley seemed inclined to offer the hunter something anyway, probably due to the security of the deal he'd wrested from the man. “I may have neglected to mention a few small details. Infinitesimal details, really. But I never lied, not once.” He stopped suddenly, pointing out several designs traced on the walls to either side of the hallway just ahead of them; designs that appeared to be traced in blood and...possibly some sort of ash. “Do you want to argue this now, or do you want to get rid of those things so we can go get Squirrel, hmm?”

Crowley was right, Sam realized even as he stepped forward to rub at the first of the wards with the sleeve of his jacket. Now wasn't the time to get into an argument with the demon, no matter how damn frustrating he was being. Rubbing at each ward to break it in turn as Crowley silently pointed them out, he turned the demon's words over in his mind. He might not be willing to waste time and breath arguing, but it didn't mean he wasn't furiously working at trying to understand what the hell Crowley was up to. Because, if there was one thing Sam was sure of right now, it was that Crowley knew a hell of a lot more about this whole nightmarish situation than he was willing to let on to the hunter right now. Yeah, saving his skin, indeed.

Chapter Text

Dimly, as a distant thing as the demon sluggishly emerged from the insistent pull of memory-visions, Cas felt the wards he'd set breaking, one by one. Somewhere past the memories and the confusion and the pain, he knew this was something that should concern him, deeply so. But he just found stirring to do something about it to be too much effort.

Better to remain, kneeling here. Yes, better by far to stay at Dean's feet and feel him slowly dying. Someone should be here to witness the hunter's passing, the demon felt. Lost and confused and filled with grief for both himself and the elder Winchester, it never occurred to him to do anything to stop what he felt was an inevitable death for the hunter – and at least it hadn't been at the hands or claws or teeth of some random monster who would feel nothing for the man's death. Instead, he felt this was right. It was always going to end like this, with one of them killing the other.

~*~*~*~*~*~*~

Sam had made his way down that seemingly endless hallway, Crowley trailing along after him as sigil after sigil and ward after ward were rendered useless. The hunter was faintly surprised by the realization that the King of Hell, so well known for his snarky and witty banter, had remained almost entirely silent during the strange march down the hallway. The silence was broken only by their footsteps echoing against the walls and the steady, though distant, dripping of water somewhere ahead.

Finally, the pair came to a door that was, itself, warded. Sam knew, even before Crowley spoke, that this was it. “In there, Sam. Dean's in there,” the demon said, his voice uncharacteristically hesitant. Sam shot him a look, then rubbed at the last of the wards determinedly. Before he could throw the door open, however, Crowley's hand shot out and grabbed his arm, where it was already bruising from the demon's last forced grip. “You remember the deal, Sam. No matter what, you remember that deal.”

Sam's head jerked once in a hurried nod, his brow furrowed. He yanked at his arm even as he threw open the door. Crowley didn't release him, and it was actually that grip that ended up supporting him when the sight that met him made his knees weak from shock. Dean was in the middle of the old storage room, shackled to some sort of arrangement of pipes and steel bars, looking eerily like he'd been crucified.

Dean seemed covered in blood that flowed sluggishly from cuts – both what appeared to be random slices and what looked like it might even be Enochian sigils, which seemed vaguely familiar to Sam from something Cas had demonstrated for him once – that laced his bared chest, his neck, and flowed more freely from the angel blade buried in Dean's left shoulder. Blood was pooled at the Dean's feet, and he wasn't moving at all, his head hanging limply. From here, Sam couldn't even tell if his brother was still breathing. He looked pale, too pale. Sam was, unfortunately, well acquainted with the look of someone who had lost a potentially fatal amount of blood.

“Crowley, let me go, now,” Sam growled, twisting his arm out of the demon's grip. Once free, he armed himself with the angel blade, his eyes finally pulling from his brother's still form to stare at the blood-spattered figure kneeling with head bowed in the pool of blood at Dean's feet. Sam's chest clenched, the sight of the angel's vessel still tearing at his heart, despite his belief that it was being worn by some demon bastard as a part of some twisted game.

Sam started toward the pair in the center of the room, watching the demon in Castiel's vessel warily. Sam heard Crowley's footsteps on the concrete, following behind the hunter presumably. His assumption was proven correct when he saw Crowley out of the corner of his eye, moving around Sam as though to approach Dean more from the side further from the Cas-demon. The demon didn't seem to even be aware that they were there, at least at first. At least, until his head slowly rose, and those too-familiar deep blue eyes met Sam's solemnly.

“Hello, Sam.”

Chapter Text

Sam had to force himself to remember that what stared at him wasn't Castiel. Those eyes, the faint, regretful downturn of his lips, even the set of his shoulders as he knelt in the pool of blood – all of it just screamed to Sam that the demon was Cas, even though he knew better. It couldn't be, Cas. It just couldn't. Angels can't become demons; they don't have a soul to be twisted into a demon's black essence. Sam had to keep reminding himself of these facts, lest his heart interfere with what he had to do.

The hunter had to shake mentally shake himself, realizing he'd been caught just returning the Cas-demon's intense stare while Dean was hanging from his bindings, bleeding to death...or worse, already dead. The temptation to just exorcise the bastard and be done with it, Crowley be damned, was great. But, in the end, the desire to see the thing just utterly destroyed won out. Sam drew the pistol, aiming almost negligently at the demon kneeling at his brother's feet. The demon didn't even blink, and made no effort at all to move. Sam scowled, then fired. The bullet pierced the demon's thigh, but the only reaction the Cas-demon gave was to utter a low grunt of pain, his eyes squinting up at the sensation.

“Devil's trapped round,” the Cas-demon whispered, his tone one of detached wonderment. “Interesting.” Sam smirked at the demon, even as he hastily put the pistol away and moved to join Crowley, who had been silently working at removing the restraints from Dean. “Save him if you can, Sam,” the demon said, in that same detached voice. Sam couldn't help himself, glancing down at the demon even as he released the last restraint and caught his brother's body in his arms. The eyes that stared up at him were now the familiar jet black of a demon, yet Sam noted strange threads of blue threading through the ebony, twisting restlessly withing the depths.

Wrenching himself from that strange gaze, Sam turned to Crowley, who had remained uncharacteristically silent. The hunter's eyes narrowed suspiciously when the sight of the king of Hell staring at the Cas-demon with something that he could only think of as fear in his eyes met him. “Crowley, wake up! Take Dean, I'm gonna get the bastard who did this to him.”

Crowley nodded, obviously working to wipe his expression clear of any telling emotions, and took the elder Winchester's body, noting with some relief that he was still breathing, if only barely. “Hurry, Moose. He's breathing, but it's faint.”

Sam, now standing over the Cas-demon, hesitated. He looked back to Crowley with Dean's unconscious body cradled against him, anguish written on his face. “Get him to a damn hospital. Just don't leave the blade with him,” the hunter bit out. When Crowley only stood there, eyes flicking between the demon kneeling and the hunter who stood over him, Sam growled, “now, Crowley.” He stared at the king of Hell until Crowley finally nodded an assent and vanished with his brother.

Sam then turned his attention back to the strangely quiet demon at his feet. Where, he wondered, was the mockery? This thing had tortured his brother. This thing had nearly killed Dean. Where was the taunting? He was standing with the demon right at his feet. If he'd shifted a foot forward another couple of inches, he would be touching the demon's knee with the toe of his boot. Yet, it made no move to even reach out for him. Sam knew the bullet, so long as it remained within the demon's meat suit, would keep it from going very far. More importantly, the bullet would keep it bound within the meat suit, preventing any chance at escape. But he was within reach, purposely so, and the demon still did nothing other than stare up at him, blue-black eyes impossible to reach, expression devoid of anything but an annoyingly passive, distant sympathy.

Sam pulled the angel blade out and crouched down, gazing steadily into those disturbing eyes. “You're going to explain a few things to me. One way or,” he carefully, his hand rock-steady, drew the tip of the blade along the demon's cheek, “another.” The hunter ignored the clenching in his chest that tried to cry out at the disrespect of marking up Castiel's vessel in such a way. He would so this, and worse, before he was finished with the demon. And, he told himself, the disrespect was on the head of the demon that had dared to take Cas' vessel for a its plaything.

Chapter Text

Cas continued to stare at Sam passively, not even flinching at the distant pain the blade caused as it sliced into the skin of his cheek. He noted, absently, that the pain was quite different from the feel of the very same blade cutting the flesh of his vessel as an angel, though no less and no greater in intensity; it was merely....different. Everything was different, however. Those differences, the clashing of sensations and thoughts, perceptions and feelings, all of the contradictions pulling and tugging at him were keeping him rooted in place even more surely than the devil's trapped bullet in his thigh.

Finally, a sigh escaped the demon's lips. “I'll tell you whatever you want to know, Sam.” The look of suspicion the hunter gave him came as no surprise. He was aware that Sam believed he was a demon and just using the vessel Jimmy had left to him so many years ago. Just as he knew that the last bit of his grace left within Dean from where he'd stitched the Righteous Man's soul back together so long ago had been both the thing that caused his memories of...everything...to come rushing in and overwhelm him, as well as being the thing that allowed Dean to recognize that he wasn't just using the vessel, but that he, the very essence of him, was what had once been the angel Castiel. But he had no such method to convince Sam that it was really him. And he was so tired. It might be better to just tell Sam what he wanted to know, and then die to the hunter's vengeance. He deserved it.

Sam considered for several long minutes, the silence between them ringing with the absence of any noises but the sounds of two sets of harsh breathing and water dripping in the distance. “What's your game? What the hell was the point of...any of this,” the hunter asked, gesturing vaguely around to the room. But Cas knew he meant more than just the kidnapping and torture of Dean; he really meant all of it, the whole affair from beginning to end. “And...what happened to Castiel?” The last question was added seemingly as an afterthought, but the demon could hear Sam's need to know the answer to this just as much as he needed to know what the whole thing had been about, perhaps even more.

“Crowley's game. It was Crowley's game. I... I didn't even know, not really,” the demon finally answered. “I made a deal with him to save Dean from the Pit. I gave him the one thing I knew he couldn't resist, the soul of a former angel.”

Cas had been about to continue when Sam interrupted him. “Angels don't have souls. Stop lying to me. You couldn't have given Crowley an angel's soul, not even a former angel, because a ngels don't have souls .” The hunter was glaring at him, every bit of the immense rage he was capable of showing within his eyes, though his expression was eerily calm. Sam shifted the blade still resting against the demon's cheek, running it down along his jaw without breaking the skin, and then under his chin, where it stopped with the tip just barely pressed into the soft, vulnerable flesh there. “I want the truth, or I'll just kill you now.” The blade moved back just enough to allow him to speak again without causing further injury...if he were careful enough.

“At the bunker, there is a book in the bottom drawer of the dresser in my... Castiel's room.” He hesitated, feeling a distant sort of sympathetic pain to mirror the sorrow that swept over Sam's expression. Yet, the hunter held his tongue, apparently willing to listen to the explanation. At least, for now. “Within it a particular spell is marked with a torn piece of paper. The spell is an obscure curse to force an angel's grace to be transformed into a human soul. Before you doubt anything else I tell you, just keep that in mind. I could not have planted that there. I could not – as I am now – enter the bunker without setting off the wards.”

Sam kept his silence even as Cas fell quiet. The demon waited patiently, feeling that once this conversation was over, Sam would kill him. He found he wasn't at all opposed to that idea; in fact, he welcomed it. He hadn't been thinking clearly when he'd made that deal with Crowley so long ago, now. He'd wanted to give himself one last time for the brothers – for Dean – and then to never be allowed to walk the Earth, never be allowed to make world-ending blunders again. He should have known then, that Crowley would never allow things to be that easy for him. But now, if Sam used the blade to end his life, that would be it. Lights out, the end. Yes, Cas thought, he welcomed that.