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For A Dream's Sake

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The djinni lets out a blood-curdling shriek and a burst of blue light as Castiel's angel blade punches through her torso. The lifeless body falls to the ground as the angel yanks the blade out again in a spray of blood, then spins around, stabbing into another djinni with glowing eyes behind him.

Three more djinn stand behind him, crouched and waiting, a blue glow around each of their forearms.

Castiel raises his hands, recognising his bad odds. He lets his blade dissolve into the aether as he steps backwards over the fallen corpse behind him.

“I didn't come here to fight,” he growls out, watching more djinni appear from behind a ruined wall to his left.

This damaged country doesn't need any more fighting. Since he crossed the border from Jordan into Syria, he's seen nothing but destruction. Broken shells of buildings stabbing into the sky like grave markers. Farms lying grey under spring skies, untended and abandoned.

He's been helping people as best he can when he finds them huddled in ruins or tent camps, healing a few but trying to keep a low profile. The mission to retrieve the fruit from the tree of life is always on his mind—who knows what horrors are befalling Mary and Jack in that other world? Besides, a worse fate waits for these people if he fails.

He had crept into this ruined castle on the outskirts of Damascus, destroyed long before the current crisis, hoping to find the tree and be out again before dawn. He'd felt ancient power thrumming through the ground as he'd crept into the crumbling building. He hadn't counted on a pack of djinn ambushing him before he even reached the tree, although he’s aware of its presence in the next room.

Castiel eyes the djinn surrounding him, standing tall with his hands still raised in surrender. He counts fifteen in just this room—far too many to fight his way out. “I'm just here to retrieve a fruit from the tree. Let me take one, and I'll leave.”

One large male steps forward, his tattoos swirling on his skin as he considers Castiel. His eyes drop to the corpses of his packmates on the flagstone floor, then back up with distaste. “The tree is ours, seraph,” he snarls, “and you are not welcome here.”

This must be their nest, Castiel realizes. The war-torn city is the perfect place for djinn to hunt, with its supply of scared, desperate humans.

At some signal, the djinn begin to advance. Cas throws his hands out in what he hopes is a soothing gesture. “Please, let me speak. Can I offer you something in exchange for the fruit?”

“There's nothing you can give us, except your blood.” The djinni raises his arm, blue light curling around it as he reaches for Cas.

Castiel tenses, manifesting his blade again and sending a silent apology to Jack. He wishes he could get word to Dean, but he won't go down without a fight.

Just as the djinni is about to lunge for Cas, a voice rings out across the ruined room. “Stop! Stop, Ranim.”

All eyes turn to see a beautiful woman walk through a broken archway—from the room Castiel is sure contains the tree of life. She's slim and lithe, her long, brown hair cascading over her shoulders. Swirling black tattoos cover her face and neck and exposed forearms. Her eyes are locked on Cas, cold and calculating.

“Stand back, all of you. It's my turn.” Her voice is soft but it carries a note of command. This must be their queen, then.

As she walks forward, Castiel takes an involuntary step back. In her long, flowing red dress she might look unthreatening, but Cas has a feeling she's at least as deadly, if not deadlier than the rest of her pack. He holds his blade ready.

“You want fruit from the tree? Maybe we can come to an arrangement.” She drifts further towards him, looking pointedly at the angel blade. “Would you mind putting that away? Let's have a civilised discussion, mm?”

Castiel tucks the blade away and crosses his arms, frowning as he stands tall. “What kind of an arrangement?” Perhaps he can stall for time until he can get to the tree and away. Not for the first time today, he longs for his wings and full grace to smite these creatures.

The djinn queen approaches and walks around him in a circle, watching him. When she gets back around to his front, she looks up into his face from a few inches away. Her eyes have an odd blue glow to them, but Cas knows her magic won't work well on him. “What is your name, seraph?”

Castiel considers. Giving his name to this creature is dangerous, but he needs to play along for now. “Castiel.”

“Castiel, it is known that blood that has held seraphim is sweet beyond measure. I will allow you to take fruit from our tree, if you'll give me a taste.” She reaches a hand up to run her fingers lightly down his cheek.

Castiel tries hard not to recoil at the touch, instead narrowing his eyes at her. Her request makes no sense. “You want my blood? Why not just kill me and take it?”

The djinni laughs, throwing her head back. “It's your grace that sweetens your blood, angel. You need to be alive. Give me twenty-four hours. Twenty-four hours to taste Heaven, then you may leave with fruit.”

Castiel considers the deal. If he doesn't take it, he'll have to fight all of them. He might take a few down, but eventually they'll overcome him. But if he goes along with the deal and is overcome by the djinn venom, he'll be helpless.

“How do I know you'll keep your end of such a bargain if I’m unconscious?”

“My venom won't affect you the same way it would a human. You might fall into a fantasy, I'm not really sure, but you'll likely be aware of me. If you do break out of the dream or try to stop me before twenty-four hours have passed, the deal is off. No fruit.”

Castiel sighs, impatient. The idea of this djinni sinking her fangs into him is repulsive, but he's running out of options. He recalls a time standing in the bunker, when he and Dean exchanged what had almost been a vow: “Whatever it takes.” He'll have to go along with the deal. “Very well,” he says.

The djinn queen smiles, baring her sharp teeth. “Come. Let's get more comfortable.” She holds out a hand. As Cas watches, a blue glow swirls around her hand and her spiral tattoos appear to move, unwinding around her arm.

He takes a deep breath, places his hand in hers, and allows her to lead him into the next room, under the crumbling arch. The other djinni melt away into the shadows. “You didn't tell me your name,” he murmurs, catching a glimpse of a faintly glowing tree in the centre of this new chamber. The djinni turns to look at him through lowered lashes. “I am Sacha.” She raises his hand to her dark, soft lips. “Make a wish,” she whispers against his skin.

Castiel's sight dims at the edges, and the world goes dark.

***

Castiel walks down the concrete stairs to the top door of the bunker, digging in his coat pocket for his keys. As he puts the key to the lock he stops, disoriented for a moment. He looks around himself. He's just arrived at the bunker, hasn't he? He turns to look behind him and sees his truck parked in the lane.

He's just been to Syria. But he doesn't have the fruit. He hadn't even managed to find the tree. Oh, this is going to be painful. Things had been strained when he'd left for Syria after he'd stripped the spell from Donatello, destroying his mind in the process. He had argued with the brothers, and he'd hated what he'd done to the prophet. Even more, he'd hated the way Dean had looked at him, like a pet that had just gone rabid…even though he'd done all of it to protect him and their whole world. But at the time it had been the most expedient way to get the spell, and now it's all for nothing because he’s failed.

He nearly turns around right there and heads back out rather than see the disappointment in Dean's face again, but where would he go? He can't be here and not at least check in on their progress on finding the other ingredients.

He unlocks the door and it opens with a creak and a groan. He breathes the familiar, slightly musty air of home.

“Cas? That you?”

Cas smiles, walking forward to look over the banister at his friend. Dean is standing in the doorway of the passage to the kitchen, looking up towards him. “Hello, Dean.”

Dean grins back. “There he is! Come on, we're just sitting down to pizza.” He waits until Cas clomps down the stairs before pulling him into a warm hug.

Castiel puts his arms around Dean and smiles, pleased to see him again. While he was away, he’d missed Dean so much his chest ached, especially when he remembered how they'd parted. He pulls back, his hand still on Dean’s shoulder. Dean looks happier than Cas has seen him in a long while, and it warms his heart. Unfortunately, he bears bad news.

“Dean, I’m sorry. I wasn’t able to find the tree of life. I failed.” He looks down, not willing to see Dean's smile fade, but instead, a hand rests on top of his own and squeezes.

“It's okay, man, we don't need it anyway. Come see.”

Cas meets Dean's eyes again and is caught in the gentle, open look he sees there. Not so long ago, after the Empty had spat him out and he'd found his way back to Sam and Dean, Cas had been full of gratitude and joy that they'd loved him enough to do whatever it was they'd done to get him back. They hadn't, as it turned out, done anything—it had all been Jack's doing. When Dean had called him “pal” it was like a knife to the gut, and the knife had twisted when Dean told him he was back because they needed him back. They might say he's part of the family, but he's more a part of the team, that's all. Not even a very useful part. His eyes drop and he pulls his hand back from Dean's shoulder, suddenly self-conscious.

Dean moves towards the kitchen and Cas follows, now curious about the sound of laughter he can hear.

“Castiel!” Jack barrels into him as they walk through the door, hugging him tight and laughing.

“Jack?” Castiel pulls back, then blinks at the others sitting around the table. “Mary? Bobby? How did you…”

Dean claps Cas on the shoulder with a laugh. “Crazy, huh? Turns out these guys had an epic battle with Michael, Jack busted up his ass and they escaped back here!”

“And…Michael?”

Mary smiles as she waves him over. “Come on, Castiel, sit down. Don't worry about that now, you just got back. You must be exhausted.”

“That's right, I did. I…am.” There's something not quite right about that statement. He crosses the kitchen and sits at the bench next to Mary.

Mary hugs him with one arm around his shoulders. “It's good to see you again.” She turns to Bobby and says, “Bobby, you know Castiel?”

The grizzled alternate-world Bobby Singer nods to Cas, then replies to Mary, “We met the first time your portal got opened.” He turns back to Castiel, saying, “We were with Mary and Jack when they made the portal to escape. Jack's gonna send us back again soon so we can find the rest of our people.”

As Cas nods thoughtfully, Dean sits down on the bench next to Cas and pulls the nearest pizza box towards himself, opening it.

Dean and Sam must be overjoyed to have their old friend back, even if he is a little more battle-hardened than his doppelgänger. Cas turns back to Mary. “And Michael? He's still alive?”

“We're not sure. Jack blasted him away, but we never saw a corpse, or burnt wings, so…” She shrugs. “He could still come through, I guess. But he'll need to regroup, and so do we.”

Sam speaks up, smiling, “And now you're back, it's a proper family reunion.”

Echoes of agreement sound around the table, and Dean nudges Cas in the side with his elbow. Cas smiles, a warm pleasure rushing over him. This is why the bunker kitchen is his happy place. He’s never in his life felt more at home than he does here.

“Thank you. I'm glad to be back.”

Contented eating sounds take over for a short while, and Dean gets up to fetch more beer from the fridge, passing one to Cas as he returns.

Cas clinks the neck of his bottle with Dean's and he takes a sip, then puts the bottle down again. “Bobby, you said, ‘Jack's gonna send us back.’ Someone else came with you?”

Before Bobby can reply, a voice comes from the corridor. “Hello? Sorry I'm late!”

Castiel looks up as a dark-haired woman wearing a flowing red dress walks purposefully into the room, smiling. She looks familiar, but Castiel can't place her. Sam's face lights up like the sunrise as he hears her come in, and she moves to stand behind him, placing her hands on his shoulders.

Dean says, smiling, “Cas, this is Sacha. She came through from the other world as well. Sacha, Castiel.”

Sacha looks at him through her lashes, and the world grinds to a halt. It’s her. Reality flickers and he sees strobing flashes of her tattooed face, the curling marks down her arm, her eyes glowing bright blue. He opens his mouth to shout but can’t make a sound. Her face darkens and she snarls at him, “Don't say anything.”

The world flickers again and Castiel is back in the bunker, squinting at a happily smiling Sacha.

“Um,” he tries. His voice doesn't seem to be working properly. “Nice to…meet you.”

He glances at Dean to see him giving him a strange look. The hunter shakes his head and goes back to munching his pizza. “Sacha ’n’ Bobby gonna crash here for a little while, until we've got a better idea of how to take down the archangel.”

“Right.” Cas’ heart is beating hard, every nerve electrified. This isn't real. None of it. But it’s so realistic! He looks around the kitchen, taking in the perfect placement of each item, every detail exactly as he remembers.

He turns to Dean, hearing him say, “Cas?” It sounds muffled, like he’s underwater, until he lays eyes on Dean. He snaps into focus, every part of him sharp and real—every freckle on his currently concerned-looking face. “You okay?”

The rest of the room is now soft around the edges of his vision, and he realizes he can no longer feel the souls around him. The dream had been so realistic, but now he's aware of it, it's starting to disintegrate.

He shakes his head, standing up abruptly. “No, I’m not. Will you excuse me? I’ve had a long day, I need rest.”

He climbs off the bench and flees the warmth of the kitchen.