Mary sipped at the coffee, wincing at the cold, bitter taste. Still, it was better than nothing, and she desperately needed something to keep her awake.
She rubbed her eyes, and then went back to studying the text in front of her. How had things gotten so bad, so quickly? Dean, taken by Michael, and who knew where on Earth? And now...Sam…
She felt her stomach lurch at the memory of Sam’s scream of pain, his voice echoing through the bunker as he’d cried out for Cas.
And when they’d all gone running to him, to see what was wrong…
She’d never forget the sight of that thing he was holding, or the way his fingers had almost melted into it, as if it was slowly absorbing him.
As it turned out, it was more like Sam was absorbing it, or at least it’s nature. Cas had never seen anything like it, and that had told them that Sam was in a lot of trouble.
By the time they found mention in the archive of a group of scholars who only studied the arcane, and had been around for much longer than the Men of Letters, nearly all of Sam’s forearm was made of the same metal as the object they’d found in Tucson but held off examining until they came home.
The one that was meant to save Dean, except now it might cost Mary her other son.
Bobby came to sit next to her, two mugs of fresh coffee in his hands. He shoved one over to her, and she accepted it gratefully and took a sip.
She glanced at him sideways. “You put a little more than cream in this.”
Bobby shrugged and put his hip flask down on the table. “Figured you could use it. Those damn boys.”
Mary couldn’t disagree. Since she’d returned, all three of them seemed to have done nothing but get themselves shot at, kidnapped, or hurt in some other way. And from what she’d learned of the years she hadn’t been around, it was just more of the same.
Well. Once Cas brought Sam back from those people, and once they got Dean home too, she was going to make sure they were taken care of. It wasn’t too late to be the mother her boys deserved, and she fully planned to include the angel in that.
From what Sam and Dean had told her, Cas had never really had a parent, and she cringed a little at even mentally accusing God of being a deadbeat dad, but then he apparently was also a alcoholic novelist.
Still, maybe it was more that she couldn’t exactly cast the first stone. She’d made a lot of bad choices, and not just before she died, and it seemed like her boys had been the ones to pay for it, mostly.
But she had another chance now, and she was not going to lose any of them.
“Cas will bring him home,” she said.
Bobby didn’t answer, but his silence spoke volumes.
Mary glared at him. “You know, I get that you don’t trust angels - and I get why - but Cas is one of us. He’s not like Michael...or the Castiel that worked for him.”
Bobby poured some more booze in his mug and downed a mouthful. “So you say. Where I come from, only good angel’s a dead angel.”
“You’d still be where you came from if not for Cas, and for Gabriel. I mean it, Bobby. Cas is one of my boys. Any of you have a problem with that, you know where the door is.”
Bobby looked at her, appraisingly, and then shrugged as if it wasn’t important. “It’s your funeral, trusting an angel. But you’re the boss.”
Mary started to disagree, but then realised it was kind of true. With Dean gone, and Sam struggling since Michael had taken his brother, and Cas torn between looking after Sam and finding a way to rescue Dean, everybody had started looking to her as the leader.
Dean had left big shoes to fill, but she could do this, keep everything together until they got him back.
And they would, but they had to save Sam first.
That was when her phone rang, and she snatched it up, recognising Cas’s number.
“Is he okay?”
But it wasn’t Cas. It was Sam.
“Mom, mom, we’re on our way back. Cas is…. Mom, I need you to get the infirmary ready, we’re maybe an hour out.”
Mary put the phone on speaker, and set it down so Bobby could hear too. “Sam, what happened? Are you ok? Did they...did they fix you? Did they stop it?”
For a few moments all she could hear was the sound of the Impala, and it sounded like Sam was pushing her as fast as she could go. Fear gripped her; something had to have gone wrong.
“Yeah,” he said, and she could hear the hate in his voice. “Those bastards fixed me. For a price.”
By the time they reached the mansion, Sam could no longer walk.
Every inch of him trembled like he had the worst fever ever, and the pain radiating from his arm rolled through his whole body.
He’d been sick twice, and the second time saw dark metallic filaments in his vomit, the same substance as the thing that was glued somehow to his hand.
It was getting worse.
Cas lifted him gently, and carried him inside. There were men there, maybe fifteen or twenty, all smartly dressed, and coming to stare at him.
He tried to follow what they were saying, but his concentration faded in and out, and then Cas was setting him carefully down on a bed.
When he was tuned in again, he heard Cas reacting angrily to something, he wasn’t sure what.
One of the scholars was saying something about it being necessary to leave him here, and Cas was demanding to know why, why he and Sam were to be separated, why they couldn’t him heal him immediately.
The oldest of the men stepped forward, then, and he was looking at Cas in a way Sam didn’t like at all. In a way that would have made him do something about it, if he’d been able to actually get up.
He said something to Cas about one good turn deserving another, and that they had little experience of angels. Cas didn’t like the way he said that any more than he did the way the man...no, not just him, all of them now, were looking at Cas.
And then Cas sat down next to him. “Sam…. Sam, I have to go with them. They won’t…. They need help with something, and then they’ll heal you.”
Sam tried to grab hold of Cas, and his fingers managed to briefly hook around the sleeve of the angel’s coat, but Cas gently worked his hand open and guided it back to the bed.
“It won’t take long, Sam, and then you’ll be alright.”
Then Cas turned to glare at the oldest of the men. “If you don’t keep your word...or if he gets worse while we’re….
The old man smiled. “Roger will stay with your friend, and make sure the infection doesn’t proceed any further. And once we’re done, he’ll reverse the damage and separate him from the artefact. We’ll even put it into safe storage for you. Satisfied?”
Cas pushed Sam’s hair back from his face. “I’m sorry, Sam,” he said. “But I promise you, I’ll be back for you as soon as I can.”
Cas stood up, and the men moved to surround him, and they were standing so close to Cas, too close, and Sam wanted nothing more then than for them both to be anywhere other than there.
But it was too late; they escorted Cas out and then the doors closed, and Roger took a seat next to the bed.
“Remarkable creatures, angels,” he said. “You’re quite fortunate to have one so willing to give himself over to us for you. Rare for them to be so….self-sacrificing.”
Sam tried to get up, but the pain flared suddenly, and he was out cold before he knew it.
They heard the garage door rolling open less than an hour later - Sam must have broken every speed limit in existence - and they started up the stairs. Before they reached the top, they heard Sam kicking at the door and yelling.
“Mom! Mom? I need help!”
She tugged the large door open and her throat felt like it was closing up on her.
Sam was there, and God help her but her first instinct was to check his hand and see if that thing was still attached to him. Even as her head told her it couldn’t be, because if those people hadn’t saved him, then he’d be dead, not able to drive or phone her to say he was on the way or to…
To be carrying Cas, cradling the angel to him, and then it was there her focus caught and held.
Cas’s eyes were barely opened. He was as pale as she’d ever seen him, even that night in the barn when he’d been poisoned and dying right in front of them…
No. No, that was not happening again, whatever had happened.
He stepped over the threshold, forcing them back, and Cas moaned briefly.
He was wrapped in a blanket, and Mary could see enough of him to know he was bare beneath it.
“What the hell,” Bobby said.
“Help me with him,” Sam said, and Bobby stepped forward and shouldered Cas’s weight, taking him completely even when Sam protested.
“You got him back here,” Mary said, and she took Sam’s arm, and guided him down the stairs after Bobby. He was shaking and she was sure it wasn’t just from carrying the angel inside. “What happened?”
Sam shook his head. “I don’t…. When we got there, I was pretty out of it. But they wanted something from Cas, something in return for fixing me, and then they separated us. I didn’t see him again until they’d got me free from that thing and then they took me to him and he was…”
He motioned to where Bobby was carefully laying the angel down on one of the infirmary gurneys. “Like that. They’d put that blanket around him and he was just lying there on the floor. They wouldn’t tell me what they did, just said they’d kept their end of the bargain and we should both leave. I tried to ask Cas what they’d done, but he was out of it all the way back, and I didn’t want to pull over and waste time in case it was something I couldn’t deal with on the road.”
And given it had been a close call for both of them, clearly, she couldn’t blame Sam for wanting them back in safe territory first where they could help Cas.
But first they had to figure out how and that meant figuring out what had been done to him.
What price he’d paid to help Sam.
Bobby glanced back to both of them. “Mary, you want to leave?”
She shot him a glare, and he shrugged, and then carefully rolled away the blanket, uncovering the angel inch by painful inch.
Well, now they knew what Cas had given to save Sam’s life.
They told him he would have to be naked, but when he’d gone to undress they told him to stop. He stared at him, puzzled, until one of them came forward and started to undo his tie.
Cas slapped his hand away, on instinct. The man simply chuckled at him, and continued as if Cas hadn’t just struck him.
“Come now, angel,” the oldest of the men said. “Our agreement was your complete cooperation. Perhaps I’ll explain it more simply. The only thing you have to do is let us do what we want. That’s all. We’ll take care of the rest. Do you understand?”
Cas heard Sam cry out then, sharp and sudden, and he turned towards the door, but a hand on his shoulder stopped him. They were moving in around him, predatory, eager, and he knew what they wanted, he could hear them telling him so, showing him their fantasies.
“Sam,” he said.
“Will be fine. Roger will hold the progress of the Avalacrom at bay and then remove it and reverse the effects once we’re done here. And then you can both go home. Hopefully with your charge being wiser about not touching things when he doesn’t know what they are. Hopefully with you keeping a better eye on him. You rather slipped up there, angel, didn’t you?”
Yes, yes he had, and Sam was suffering because of it.
Cas nodded, and held still as the man finished removing his tie and then pushed both his coat and jacket over his shoulders, letting them fall to the floor.
“That’s a good little angel. Gentlemen?”
They didn’t say much as they worked.
Some of the wounds on Cas were minor - scratches, bites, a few cuts shallow enough to just need cleaned and dressed. They were in the shape of what could have been sigils, though none that Sam recognised, but he considered they might be responsible for Cas still being unresponsive.
He hoped so, because once they started to fade, maybe Cas would come out of it.
If it wasn’t that…. If Cas was like this because they’d damaged him in some other way….
Cas was still so vulnerable. All the ground he’d clawed back had been lost when Michael took Dean, all the old cracks reopened and this…. Yeah, this might just be the thing that broke him finally, permanently, and all because he, Sam, had been so stupid with touching something he didn’t know the provenance of.
But they further they got, the worse it got. There was bruising and several of what looked like puncture wounds that were seeping some kind of greenish liquid.
Mary scooped some into a bowl, in case they needed to figure out what it was, and that left the worst of it to take care of.
Sam sent both Bobby and Mary out for that. Angels didn’t think the same way about their vessels as humans did their bodies, but Cas wasn’t like other angels. That was his body, as much as his true form, and he’d learned, mainly from them, that he was allowed to have boundaries, and he was allowed to not let people cross them.
It had taken a long time to teach Cas that nobody had a right to hurt him, that he wasn’t built solely to serve and to suffer, if someone willed it.
He wondered if Cas had fought or, more likely, surrendered himself as part of this deal. This deal to save him and Sam had never felt so unworthy of being saved as he did then.
But unworthy or not, it was done, and Cas needed him.
A scathing voice in his head said that Cas had needed him long before now, when he was getting abused in that mansion, and long before that as well, but Sam stuffed it down brutally, and grabbed some antiseptic wipes from the first aid kit.
He pulled a stool up to the bottom of the gurney, changed over his gloves, and set to work.
Cas woke up maybe eight hours later. Bobby had chased Sam out of the infirmary, ignoring his protests, since the boy was nearly dead on his feet. He seemed to forget he’d been in the infirmary not that long before he showed up at the door with an unconscious angel in his arms.
Bobby hadn’t forgotten, and the angel’d heal. Or not. Seemed like that was pretty much out of their hands, though Sam seemed to feel differently.
He was no good to anybody without sleep, though, and a chance to recover, so now he was hopefully doing just that, and Bobby had offered to sit with the angel.
He had one of those blades the boys used, that he’d snuck out of the armoury, and it was tucked in his belt. Just in case.
Mary, and the boys, might think this creature was family, and he could see they had some loyalty to it, but they didn’t know what it was like to be under attack, to see the world turned into some kind of nightmare wasteland and to learn that angels were in fact devils.
Or something like it.
And maybe this thing had fought for them, and by their sides, but Bobby couldn’t reconcile what he knew about angels with the creature lying helpless in front of him.
Besides, from what he’d heard this one was mostly the exception to the rule.
Maybe the Winchesters thought Castiel was family, but to Bobby he was just another angel and that wasn't going to change no matter how many times Mary vouched for him.
He looked up when he heard a hoarse whisper.
“Is Sam alright?”
The angel was looking at him, eyes bloodshot, and he was shaking hard enough that Bobby was surprised his bones weren’t ratting.
“Yeah, he’s okay,” Bobby said.
Castiel nodded, but even that movement seemed to cause him pain. Bobby hurt just looking at him.
It took the angel a moment to reply. “I’m...I’m fine.”
Yeah, angel had more in common with those Winchesters than just an address it seemed.
“Bullshit.” Bobby personally didn’t give a damn, but he’d only gotten Sam to go sleep by promising he’d look after Castiel like Sam would, or Dean, if that dumbass hadn’t gotten himself possessed by Michael.
He grabbed another blanket from the next bed, and spread it over the angel, tucking it in around him.
“Thank you,” Castiel said. He looked awful, and Bobby wasn’t sure that he’d still actually be there by the time Sam woke up again.
He didn’t know what those creepy bastards the angel had taken Sam to had done to him, at least not the gritty details, but it had been pretty clear they’d forced him at the very least, and Bobby wished he could have found it in him to have some sympathy.
Well, he did, to some extent. Maybe he didn’t care for angels as a species, but this one seemed to have a place in the Winchesters’ home and their hearts, and he figured the angel must have done something to deserve it.
And nobody deserved to be…. He shook his head, still struggling a little to accept what Castiel had allowed to be done to him for the sake of saving Sam.
Yeah, he was nothing like the angels Bobby and his people were used to.
“I know you don’t trust me,” Castiel said.
Bobby shot him a sharp look, aware that angels here had the ability to read minds, and ready to think all kinds of shit if Castiel had been poking around in his. Right before he punched him in the face.
Either that, or his thoughts showed on his face, because Castiel looked a little fearful.
“You’re always armed around me. You’re carrying one of our weapons right now. You never leave me alone with any of your people, and they take their cue from you. I can hear what you say when you think I’m far enough away not to.”
Bobby shrugged. No point in denying the truth. “You blame us?” Not that he cared.
Castiel shook his head. “No. I saw how you all lived. And I know…. the mercy of angels.”
There was something there, Bobby could feel it, but he pushed it aside. “So you know it’s nothing personal.”
Castiel didn’t answer. He looked away, and Bobby felt a sudden stab of guilt, and why and where it came from he didn't know. Why should it matter to him if this one angel had hurt feelings?
Why should anything about it matter to him?
He startled when Mary came in, quiet enough to surprise him, and then slowly approached the gurney.
“Cas,” she said, softly. She pressed a kiss to his forehead, and then ran her hand lightly through his hair. “How are you?”
He forced a smile, and Bobby doubted Mary was any more fooled than he was. “I’m better. Sam, is he resting?”
Mary nodded. “He made me promise to wake him as soon as you came around.”
“Please, just let him sleep. He needs to rest.”
Bobby watched as Cas reached for Mary's hand, and she took it, squeezing his tightly.
“Well, since you’re here,” he said, and got up, stretching out the muscles that had knotted up from the hours he’d spent sitting on that stool.
“Thank you,” Castiel said.
Bobby paused in the doorway to nod at him. “Yeah. Okay.”
He watched Mary take his seat, and lean in to whisper something to the angel. Cas turned his face to her, and leaned forward enough until Mary could rest her forehead against his.
He left them to it, and headed down to the kitchen to grab some coffee.
Burns was there, with a couple of the other guys, and they perked up when he came in.
Looked like they’d been helping themselves to the pantry, and Bobby shot them a look of disapproval. The Winchesters didn’t have unlimited resources. Just because Dean was gone, and Sam had got hurt, didn’t mean they could start taking liberties.
Burns followed him to the coffee pot. “So, is it true?”
Bobby poured the last out into a mug, and then changed over the filter and set a new pot to start. “Is what true?”
“That somebody hurt the fucking angel? Come on, Bobby. Reece said he saw Sam carrying him to the infirmary, and he looked like he’d been run over by a truck.”
“What a fucking pity. I mean, if he didn’t, you know?”
Bobby put down the mug and turned so he was facing Burns. “No, I don’t know.”
“Look, all I’m saying is we may never get a better chance. If he's hurt, he’s weak, and it’ll be easier to finish him off. We can go do it right now, just you make sure the coast’s clear, and-”
He never got to finish. Bobby had him by the throat, and slammed him hard against the wall, and pinned him there. Burns clawed at his fingers, face turning red, but Bobby wasn’t looking at him. He glared at the other men.
“Let’s get one thing straight. The angel is off limits. Nobody touches him. Nobody fucks with him. I hear one word about anybody giving him a hard time, I’ll deal with that person myself.”
He let Burns go then, and the man collapsed to the ground, wheezing.
When he could speak without coughing, he looked furiously up at Bobby. “What the fuck. You siding with an angel?”
Bobby crouched down next to him, and Burns flinched. “I’m not siding against him. This one…. This one’s different, and he’s been through enough. Just leave him be. I mean it.”
He grabbed his coffee and started towards his room, pausing half way when he realised that he still had the angel killing blade he’d pilfered from the armoury.
But then he kept going. Because better he have it than one of those brain dead shits. Clearly, he was going to have to keep a closer eye on that angel because he didn’t think for a minute that Burns and anybody planning to hurt Castiel would just give up on it.
And with Dean out of the picture, for now, another person watching out in general couldn't hurt.
Three days later
Sam was careful.
Once it was over, he made sure to wipe down any surface that might have had his fingerprints on it. He found their surveillance system, and wiped the footage from the past few days, and made sure there was no back up he had to dispose of as well.
And then once he was certain he’d left no trace, he stepped over their bodies on the way to the door.
It didn’t make up for what had happened to Cas. It didn’t change it, and it wouldn’t get Cas back on his feet any sooner; the angel was out of the infirmary, but he’d spent the hours since then in his room, dressed in a pair of Sam’s sweats and one of his old Stanford hoodies, and Sam was afraid for him.
It was too like when Cas had been recovering from Rowena’s spell, and had barely left his room. Sam wasn’t sure how he could stop that from happening again, but his mom was here now, and Sam was beyond grateful that he wasn’t fighting this battle alone.
And, yes, maybe killing the people who’d hurt Cas wouldn’t help his recovery, but they didn’t deserve to be breathing after what they’d done.
Dean…. Dean would have done the same, and when they got him back, Sam wanted to be able to tell him that he hadn't allowed the people who’d done this to Cas to just carry on with their lives.
He wanted to tell Cas that too. It might not help Cas any, but Sam knew that after Dean killed Lucifer...it had helped.
Maybe it wouldn’t do much until Dean was home, but for now...it was all Sam could do, other than be there for their angel.
For their brother.