"Sam Winchester, the… Boy with the Demon Blood."
Everyone knew the number one unspoken—and sometimes not-so-unspoken—rule of siblinghood: You could do and say anything you wanted to your own brother or sister without restraint, and all would be well. However, if anyone else so much as breathed wrong in the direction of that same sibling, there would be blood.
Everyone knew this rule except, apparently, angels.
"Glad to hear you've ceased your extracurricular activities."
"Let's keep it that way."
There had to be some kind of angelic competition for ticking Dean off; some kind of 'Make Dean Winchester See Red in Twenty Words or Less' Award everyone in Heaven was trying to win.
Because one look at Sam's face, and Dean was done. Because no matter how complicated their relationship had gotten, they were still brothers, and brotherhood was a very simple thing for Dean. So simple, in fact, that Dean could sum it up in three little words.
"Have you stopped th—"
"Woah, hey, no, I don't think so." Dean stepped between Castiel and Sam, forcing their hands apart and staring the angel down just as hard as he would any monster. "You and your fluffy friend over there do not get to barge in and talk to Sam like that. So, either you and Chuckles get snappy with a sorry, or you can flutter and flap your glittery butts back to the Castle on a Cloud."
"Dean, it's okay." Sam put a hand on Dean's shoulder. "Just let it go. It's not a big deal."
"Yes, it is." Dean didn't take his eyes off Castiel. "Well?"
"I didn't say anything that wasn't true," Castiel intoned.
"We owe you nothing, squawking mud monkey." Chuckles wasn't as monotonous.
"Look, I know Sam screwed up with the demon blood, but he was trying to do the right thing." Dean let his glare jump from angel to angel as his lecture continued, heat rising in his chest. "Because, in case you haven't noticed, demons have been playing with humanity a lot longer than you, and we're hunters. We aren't here to serve Heaven, we're here to gank bad guys, and that's what Sam was doing."
"He was doing it through less than admirable methods, Dean." Castiel tilted his head slightly, genuine bewilderment hiding in the subtle crease of his brow. "Tell me you understand this."
Dean drew himself up to his full height and stood toe to toe with Castiel. "How many thousand years have you been off doing your own thing, huh? You left humanity to fight these battles alone, and we learned how to do it our way—we did that, alone, with good, old-fashioned human ingenuity." He let out an incredulous snort and shook his head. "You got no right coming down here and telling us how to do the job we've been doing our whole lives. If you wanted to have a say, you should have stuck around and helped us out."
Castiel opened his mouth to speak, and while he didn't seem angry, it was obvious he was about to argue, and Dean wasn't going to have that.
"Now, me?" Dean extended a hand behind him, gesturing vaguely to where Sam stood. "I can tell him to knock it off. I have been hunting with this numbskull my whole life, and I was hunting years before him, so I can do that. That's my job. I smack him over the head with his own stupidity to keep him in line, not you."
Chuckles turned away from the window, a dangerous venom slipping into his tone. "We don't need your permission to tell you what to do. You cannot begin to conceive the size of the fire you are playing with."
Dean looked at Castiel, hoping he would get a less infuriating answer.
Castiel let out a soft sigh, and while he still lacked Chuckles' hatred, he wasn't backing down. "We need to make sure you both understand the situation and take it seriously."
Dean looked at Castiel for a long moment, and then he looked at Chuckles, and then he looked back at Castiel. "Okay."
Relief washed over Castiel's features.
Dean pursed his lips and nodded, walked to his bed, and then flopped down on it. "Hey, look, a hex bag."
"Yes." Castiel gestured vaguely to the object in Dean's hands. "We found it in your walls. One or both of you would certainly be dead if we hadn't gotten here first and removed it."
"Wow." Dean tossed the bag across the room at Chuckles, smirking at Castiel's confused expression. "Let's play, 'Guess Who Doesn't Give A Crap.' Here's a hint, it's me." He grabbed the remote and started channel surfing, his temper simmering behind a veil of disinterest. "Sammy, get me a beer, would you?"
Sam looked anxiously between Dean and the angels. "Dean, this—this really isn't worth fighting over."
Dean frowned at him, confused. "Of course not, man; it's a beer."
"Dean, they're angels, and they aren't wrong. I mean, I—" Sam shrugged slightly, and the way his gaze flickered downward made Dean want to punch some heavenly lights out. "I know… what I am, Dean, and when you think about what's at stake here, I don't think my feelings are all that relevant." He said the phrase so casually, with a nervous sort of laugh, like he had something to be embarrassed about. "So… let's just hear them out, okay?"
Dean didn't even hesitate, Sam's self-deprecating words and making him that much angrier. "I don't know if I'll be able to stand an entire conversation with these clowns, Sam. You know I'm allergic to bullcrap."
Castiel tilted his head, his expression caught somewhere between a glare and a confused frown. "Do you find this amusing?" His voice grew cold and hard, but his body language still projected some kind of uncertainty. "We are trying to prevent—"
"Touchdown!" Dean cheered to the television, which displayed a basketball game.
Castiel and Chuckles both took a single step toward the bed, and Sam sprang into immediate action.
Because there was a second unspoken—and sometimes not-so-unspoken—rule of siblinghood: the responsible one always jumped in to take care of the irresponsible or unhinged or totally psychotic one.
Demon blood or not, Sam was still the responsible one.
Heaven only knew which of the subsets Dean belonged to.
"Woah, woah, woah!" Sam darted past Castiel and got to the bed first, whirling around and extending both hands in a silent request for them to stop. "Let me talk to him, okay? It's just a brother thing. He's just an idiot sometimes."
Castiel slowed to a stop, but the second angel kept on coming, and Dean immediately sat up. He wasn't about to let Sam get hurt further because of his pride and unchecked protective instincts.
"Just give us five minutes to talk it over." Sam reached an arm back and put it across Dean's chest, trying to keep him sitting, his other hand still extended toward the oncoming angel. "Please."
It happened in an instant, but it felt like slow-motion to Dean.
He was still trying to get up, pushing against the hand on his chest, when Sam turned his head. Dean pulled his gaze from the looming threat and met Sam's eyes, reading the silent demand for cooperation in his brother's eyes. 'I'm trying to keep us from getting killed,' the eyes said, concern and anger battling in the shades of brown with no clear source or target. Somewhere behind Sam, where Dean couldn't see, Castiel spoke to his partner, the low rumble of his voice underscored by the half-distorted sounds of a crappy motel television.
"Uriel, enough. This is chi—"
Sam went flying.
Dean's head followed the movement, every muscle in his chest constricting as Sam was thrown backward, his body half toppling, half sailing over the bed. Sam slammed into the wall dividing the sleeping area and the door. There was a distinct crack as his head snapped back against the wood, and the sound made Dean's stomach twist.
"Uriel!" Castiel shouted—actually shouted—the last syllable leaving his tongue just as Sam crumpled to the floor. "I said enough!"
Time resumed, and Dean launched himself across the mattress. He was on his knees next to Sam in two seconds, taking his little brother's face in his hands.
"Sam! Sammy, hey, look at me." Dean smacked him lightly, relief flooding his veins when he heard a moan. "Sam, can you hear me?"
"Uriel, you need to leave. Now."
"We aren't under orders not to damage the abomination."
Heat flared in Dean's stomach, but he refused to take his attention away from Sam, so he focused on the task at hand and tried to thumb the stubborn eyelids open. "Come on, Sammy, open your eyes."
"Your antagonistic attitude is doing little to help the situation. Now leave, Uriel, or I will make you."
Something happened after that—more voices, a rush of wind, maybe footsteps—but Dean was too busy cursing under his breath to care. Sam's right eye was dilated while his left one was not, and he had yet to form any words since hitting his head. But he's conscious. That's good.
"Sam, I need you to say something. Come on. Sam!"
Sam inhaled sharply and turned his head, pulling away from Dean's hands and screwing his eyes shut. "Don' yell… s'loud…"
Sensitive to sound. Dean pulled Sam's face back and took another look at the eyes, holding them open and trying to see whether or not they were responding to the light in the room.
"Sam, you gotta tell me how you're feeling, okay?" Dean let the eyes close again, but he continued to pull Sam toward consciousness. "How's your head? How's it feel, Sam?" He repeated Sam's name as often as he could, trying to keep Sam engaged by talking to him directly.
"I…" Sam opened his eyes for half a second, and then his face tightened, features screwed up with discomfort. "I don'… feel well…"
Dean looked over his shoulder, knowing the trashcan was beside the TV, and he was simultaneously relieved and angry to see Castiel standing there.
"Hey, why don't you make yourself useful and bring me that trashcan?"
Castiel buffered for a moment, almost as if he didn't know what was being asked of him, and then he followed Dean's line of vision. Because, apparently, he couldn't figure out which of the objects in the room was the trashcan unless Dean gave him a hint.
You gotta be kidding me.
"Dean… m'na be sick…" Sam spat saliva onto the floor, breathing heavily. "Dean…"
Dean snatched the can from Castiel without thanks and set it on the floor, shifting his position to get a better hold on Sam. "Easy, buddy, just take a deep breath."
Dean ran his hand through Sam's hair, pulling it back and holding it there with a mumbled comment about the need for a haircut. Sam ignored him, a shudder racking his frame as he gagged, and then it was more gasping and spitting as he waited for his stomach to actually purge itself.
Dean saw dress shoes in his peripherals and took the time to look up at Castiel, a frown twisting his features. "You here to make sure it's not blood he's hacking up, or are you just looking for a show?"
Castiel stared at him for several seconds, and then his expression slowly softened, getting as close to regret as Dean had ever seen him go. "I didn't know this was going to happen. I didn't want anyone to get hurt today. I will speak with Uriel at length about what happened here."
Dean snorted, and while he was pleasantly surprised to hear the almost apology, it didn't do much to soothe his anger—especially when Sam was retching violently less than a foot away—and Dean had always been more of a feeler than a thinker.
"Well, since you seem so overwhelmed with guilt about this, why don't you use some of your angel mojo to fix the problem your buddy created?"
"I will," Castiel replied immediately. "If you take Sam and leave this town."
Dean scowled. "Why d—?"
"Dean!" Sam threw a hand out, fingers frantically grappling with fabric in an attempt to find familiar comfort. "D—" He gagged and heaved again, clutching Dean's shirt.
"What's wrong?" Dean shook Sam slightly.
Sam gasped for air, shudders racking his frame. "Felt… like I was… choking… or…" He shook his head slightly—his wince made Dean assume the act was painful—and then he was spitting into the bag again.
"I dunno." Spit. "Jus' felt…" Spit. "Hurt." Spit.
"Well, you're okay now." Dean looked up at Castiel and jerked his head in the direction of the kitchenette. "Glass of water. Box of tissues. Go get."
Castiel narrowed his eyes slightly and opened his mouth to speak, but Dean cut him off.
"Oh, that's right. You're an angel. I forgot you're above all this gross, mortal stuff." Dean scoffed and started to get to his feet, trying to figure out what to lean Sam against.
Castiel glared, and Dean was thrust back down to the floor.
Dean blinked at Castiel—offended, afraid, both, neither—but ultimately turned his attention back to Sam, who was completely oblivious to the dominance display. He was leaning against the trash can and spitting repeatedly into the bag. He kept his face down but started to sit on his own, which Dean found encouraging.
"Are you spitting to get the taste out or because you're gonna be sick again?"
"M'okay," he mumbled, spitting again. "Jus'… jus' my head…"
"Headache?" Dean immediately realized the stupidity of his question. "Ringing ears? Vertigo? Help me out here, Sammy."
"Kinda… spinnin'… hurts… jus' hurts…"
Castiel walked over to them and held the glass of water and tissue box out to Dean, his expression unreadable.
Dean reached out to take them, half expecting Castiel to demand thanks, but only silence passed between them. Dean stared for another second, and then he turned his attention back to Sam.
"Here, clean your face."
Sam reached out blindly and grabbed a few, getting to work while Dean set the glass of water down and rose to his feet. He took a few steps and stopped in front of Castiel, folding his arms over his chest.
"You want Sam and me to get out of town. You gonna tell me why?"
Castiel dodged the question by asking one of his own. "Have you stopped the summoning of Samhain?"
"No. We were working on it, but we got interrupted." Dean gave him a pointed look.
"That's unfortunate. In the future, tell any interrupting persons that you have important matters to attend to." It apparently didn't occur to Castiel that he was the interruption. "Have you located the witch?"
Dean tilted his head sort of sideways. "Yes and no."
"That is not an answer." Castiel wasn't amused.
"We know who she is." Neither was Dean.
Castiel shook his head. "That isn't enough. You need to leave."
"Yeah, you said that. You gonna tell me why, or are we gonna do the question-for-question thing again?"
Castiel sighed heavily, his expression wandering back to that not-quite-regretful regret. "We have to hold the line. We can't lose any more seals. Lucifer cannot rise, and that means… we need to purify this town."
Dean arched a brow. "Please tell me you mean you're gonna make it rain holy water, because if you mean what I think you mean, you're freakin' crazy."
Castiel frowned. "We cannot make it rain holy water. We have to… remove this town from the map." He at least had the decency to look outright ashamed at that, his gaze averting for several seconds. "It is one of the sixty-six seals, and while it is regrettable—"
"—it must be stopped at all costs."
"Great, then let's stop it." Dean gestured to the front of the motel room, indicating the town beyond its wall. "You can help me and Sam find the witch, we'll gank her, and everybody goes home happy."
Castiel clenched his jaw, teeth grinding, but Dean couldn't tell if it was entirely from anger—in fact, it might not have been from anger at all. Dean wasn't sure anymore.
"You need to leave. Both of you."
"Oh, thanks for including Sam. Once he stops seeing double, I'm sure he'll be real touched by your concern." Dean looked over his shoulder. "Speaking of, how are you feeling, Sammy?"
Sam shrugged his shoulders slightly, slouched against the damaged wall. "M'tired."
"You can't sleep, Sam. Because, you see," he turned his head to look at Castiel again, "you've got a concussion, and if you sleep, you might not wake up." Unlikely outcome, maybe, but Castiel didn't need to know that.
Castiel exhaled sharply. "I already told you I would heal Sam. You simply need to leave."
Dean, older brother that he was, actually thought about it for a second.
"No way." Sam slowly pulled himself to his feet, quickly depositing himself on the bed. "I won't let you kill people… just so I don't have to deal with a headache." He snorted then, a bitter chuckle rising in his throat as he carefully lowered himself onto his side. "You really must think I'm a monster."
"You're both being stubborn and childish." Castiel shifted his gaze between the two brothers as he spoke, like he couldn't decide who frustrated him more. "Lucifer cannot rise, and if we lose another seal here, it will be your fault. You—"
Dean snorted. "No, it won't. If this seal is so freakin' important, you and your buddy could have offered to help out instead of knocking Sam's marbles loose. You could have been helping from the start. Or is Heaven waiting until the mud monkeys figure out what's going on to be like, 'Hey, that's one of the seals! So glad they got it so we can stay up here and sip espresso.'"
Dean staggered backward when Castiel grabbed him by the shirtfront, his own hands flying up to grasp the angel's wrists.
"I have lost nine brothers and four sisters since the seals began to break, three of whom died getting you out of Hell." Castiel was angry, but Dean saw the grief and helpless frustration hidden in the sharp shades of blue. "No one is sipping expressions. We are spread thin, and we don't have time."
Dean shoved Castiel back, though it had no effect. "Whose fault is that? If you didn't act like you and your self-righteous band have it all together, if you stopped acting like you're better than us, maybe we would offer to help without you dangling your holy authority over our heads. You think I like it that your family's dying? That sucks, man, and I'm sorry." He stopped then, seeing a flicker of disbelief in Castiel's eyes.
Castiel realized he had been made and quickly put on a stoic mask, but it was too late.
Dean took Castiel's wrists and cautiously pulled the hands from his shirt. "I am sorry, Cas. Really. I've lost people. I've lost my brother. I know how that feels. Okay? But I won't let you wipe out five hundred other families because I understand your pain or some sentimental crap like that. Those civilians have friends and family all across the country—maybe all across the globe—and you don't get to punish all those people because you screwed the pooch."
Castiel clenched his jaw again, staring at Dean with fury in his eyes. He didn't say anything, either at a loss for words or too angry to speak. He simply glared and seethed in silence. But it was possible, Dean thought, that Castiel's anger was directed somewhere other than the man standing across from him.
"Castiel…" Sam mumbled the word, still laying on his side. "Can witches use their power on you?"
Castiel continued to glare at Dean. "No. This witch may be able to conceal herself from angels, but that hardly makes her powerful enough to stop one."
Sam grunted softly, and it sounded like he was standing up.
Dean finally looked away from Castiel. "Sam—"
"Just shut up a second, Dean."
Sam walked carefully toward the hex bag Dean had tossed, slowly lowering himself to the floor. He opened the satchel and poured the contents into his shaking hands, panting quietly.
"Do you know… how much heat it would take to, uh, to char this bone?"
Dean frowned slightly, his brain jumping tracks to think about the case. "I take it you're about to tell me, Einstein."
"More than you can get from… a fire or oven or stove." Sam held the bone up so they could see. "But a kiln would work perfectly."
"So, Tracy used a kiln from school to char the bone." Dean shrugged. "Nothing to write home about."
Sam shook his head slowly, a wince contorting his features. "Dean, the hex bag didn't appear in our room after we talked to Tracy." He lowered himself onto his side again, apparently unable to handle vertical orientation. "It appeared in our room—"
"—after we talked to Don." Dean sighed and rubbed his face, immediately following Sam's train of thought. "So, what? We were wrong about Tracy?"
"I don't know, but we—"
"It might be two witches."
Sam and Dean both looked at Castiel, who was staring at the floor, deep in thought.
"Two?" Sam echoed.
Castiel looked across the room and nodded slightly. "It takes a lot of power to raise Samhain; possibly more than one witch can provide. That combined power would also make it relatively easy to hide from angels."
"So, we make a pit stop at the school to scope things out and get Don's address, and then we hit his house." Dean smirked, but worry was still knotting his insides. "What do you think, Sammy? You gonna be able to shoot with your brain swimming around in the fishbowl?"
Sam gave him a halfhearted glare. "I'll be fine."
Castiel ignored both of them and walked over to Sam, reaching down and pressing two fingers to his forehead. "There." He straightened up and turned to face Dean. "We need to move immediately. Pray you are right about this, because if we do not find the witches before sundown, Uriel will proceed as planned."
Dean saw Sam get to his feet, but his attention was mostly focused on Castiel. "We?"
Castiel looked at him for a long moment, and then he let his gaze avert slightly. "Following orders and liking them are two different things, Dean. I don't want these people to die any more than you do."
There was silence for a moment, and then Dean slapped Castiel on the shoulder. "Good. We could use some angel mojo on our side."
Castiel looked at him oddly, confusion tainting every feature.
"Do we have everything packed?" Dean asked, turning to look at Sam again.
Sam cleared his throat and straightened his shirt, running a hand through his hair shortly after. "Uh, yeah." He continued trying to collect himself, more conscious of his appearance now that the pain and disorientation were gone. "I just have to grab my laptop. I think we left everything else in the car."
Dean gave him a thumbs up. "Cool. Grab the hex bag. Let the cleaning ladies get everything else." He turned to exit the room, stopping in the doorway to see if Castiel would follow him.
Castiel was staring at Sam, who had approached him.
Sam cleared his throat again, giving a quick smile. "Uh, thanks, Castiel. For fixing my head, and finding the hex bag, and the water, and the… well, just thanks."
Castiel looked at Sam for a long time, his head tilting to the side slightly. "You are… welcome, Sam." He stood there for a moment, unsure of what to do with himself, and then he was gone in a rush of air.
Dean stuck his head out the door and looked at the Impala, rolling his eyes at the sight of Castiel standing by the vehicle, waiting.
"Guy doesn't know how to friggin' walk."
Sam approached his brother with a laptop under one arm and a hex bag in the hand of the other. "It, uh… it really is okay, Dean. They weren't exactly wrong… what they said about me, I mean."
Dean glared at him, disapproval plain on his face. "If you're getting reduced to a label or a single characteristic, there's only one I'm willing to accept."
Sam's eyebrows slanted upward. "Which is…?"
"Dean Winchester's Little Brother." Dean pointed to the Impala. "Now, let's go gank these sons of witches before we start craving chocolate and mani-pedis."
Sam laughed, stepping through the doorway with Dean on his heels. And as Dean followed Sam toward the Impala, he thought back to that simple concept of brotherhood he clung to. Three little words that explained—that described and entailed—everything anyone needed to know about being a brother.
I'll be there.
No matter when, or why, or how, or where; mentally, physically, emotionally; from a punch on the shoulder to a shoulder to cry on; from easing 'first date' nerves to pulling a broken heart through the aftermath of a goodbye; any scenario that could be conceived, no matter how ridiculous, could not change that core element.
Call me, and I'll be there.
I'll always be there.
And that, Dean noticed with a smile, was the best thought he'd had since he got back from Hell.
"I'll grab my magic carpet,
And far away we'll fly.
Until you're ready to come home
From your safe castle in the sky.
Just know, my dear, when you're alone,
And life is just too hard to bear,
Just say my name, my little girl,
And trust me, I'll Be There."
- Author's Big Sister