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            John was force-fed many things after coming back to life. His father dying at the hands of a demon in the future and had not run away like his mom said. And Sammy, whose favorite catchphrase growing up was “I’m never going to be like you, dad” was now actively hunting and enjoying it. Even Mary coming back to life was easier to swallow since he knew resurrections were possible after experiencing his own. But this – what he’s staring at now – has him choking.

            Dean was adamant John couldn’t gank the creature they’ve now taken into their Bunker. Ready to thrust the blade into its non-beating heart, John ordered a disobedient Dean to stand down. His son ignored him.

            “He’s family,” Dean said.

            John scoffed. “Is that why he attacked us?”

            He didn’t answer John’s question, casting doubtful eyes at the creature behind him. The angel – Cas his son called it, Castiel the creature corrected him – glared, struggling in his handcuffs. “He’s family,” Dean repeated, “And we’re gonna figure out what happened.”

            John didn’t trust it for a second. And Castiel mirrored his feelings. Every action of Dean’s was met with resistance and hesitance, unsure why it was left alive just a little bit longer. But Dean, Sam, and Mary vouched for it. Joked with it, when they could. Dean made a passing comment that made his stomach roil. “Been meaning to get you in cuffs someday, Cas…”

            Something must have happened from placing Castiel in the back of the car and arriving at the Bunker. Sam led it down, the creature railing furiously against him, while Dean trailed behind wearing the most miserable mask John ever saw on him. He only broke those out on special occasions, like Sam leaving them for normalcy or when John confessed his deathbed deal. John wished he imagined the tear that leaked, Dean too slow to wipe it away.

            They set it up in one of the Bunker’s many dungeons. A worn, wooden chair surrounded by holy oil and fire; comforts John believes were too comfortable for the creature. Dean wouldn’t look at him as he trudged away towards the library. Sam went with, after a few minutes verbally sparring with John – ‘There’s the kid I remember raising’. He left, Mary taking the first watch over Castiel.

            His boys figured out what happened, and as were the other problems afflicting the world, it was because of him – of John coming back to life. “The timeline was messed with by bringing dad back – as if he never left. So all of our lives were changed. Ours and everyone we ever met. Us and…”

            “And Cas,” Dean finished, voice strained as if he didn’t want to do so. “Because of one stupid wish…”

            He wanted to scream, to tell his son to screw the angel; that a creature has never made the life of any Winchester better. A creature killed his father, killed his wife, damned his youngest – why feel this much over something that’s encoded to destroy their family? John grunted only half of what he was thinking. Dean turned cold, setting dead eyes on him. When he first came back they were vibrant green, like trees in the midst of spring. Now they were barren oaks suffering through a harsh winter. “You don’t know what Cas has gone through for us… with us… how much he’s changed. How much he means to me… to us.”

            Dean stormed out of the room before John could ask how much meaning there was. He confronted Sam about it. “They’ve always had this,” he shrugged, “What did Cas call it…? A ‘profound bond’; they’re connected, and always have been since Cas rescued Dean from hell… except now he didn’t, in this timeline, so…”

            Mary was less helpful. “I had my doubts at first, but you’ve never seen the real Castiel. Watched him with our boys… with Dean. Maybe you can, if they can figure out to fix the timeline and keep you here. Then you’ll understand.” She kissed him on his cheek, leaving to relieve Dean of his post.

            There was more to the story John wasn’t seeing. And it was made exponentially confusing when he found Dean’s legal pad in the library. He just missed him, his computer still warm and papers strewn everywhere. Trying to show he was ready to be civil, he started cleaning. Written in Dean’s tiny scrawl was a list of people with their names crossed off, little blurbs written next to them.

            Charlie Bradburyowns her own startup.

            Kevin Tran – graduated Princeton, valedictorian, NEVER PROPHET

            Jody Mills – still sheriff

            Donna Hanscum – still sheriff

            Bobby Singer – still dead

            Ellen Harvelle – dead

            Jo Harvelle – hunter; wanted

            Ash – freakin’ NASA

            Garth – arrested; poor guy

            Claire Novak – MISSING

            Jack – gone…

            CAS

            The tearstains around the creature’s name mocked him. Evidence of the disruption his reappearance caused his oldest son; the conflict warring inside Dean, the casualties all written out for John to see. Having proof of what his act of coming back did to the world, John understood the course he had to take. Saw the road signs telling him to turn off the highway in a few miles.

            Hearing Dean’s footsteps, John scurried away, dropping his list. There were other things for him to do; that needed to be done if this all ended like he was expecting it to.

            Mary wouldn’t leave them alone easily, which he anticipated. But John knew her, and waited for her bladder to give out like any middle-aged mother of two. When she told him she’d be back in less than two minutes, he nodded. Then, when he was sure Mary was far enough away, he locked the door.

            Leaving him alone with Castiel.

            “If you’re going to kill me, then by all means,” it said, “I’m getting rather tired of this.”

            “I’d like that,” John told him, “Nothing would make me happier to stick an angel blade where the sun don’t shine and watch the life drain out of you. But that wouldn’t solve anything…”

            Castiel tilted his head, squinting. “Are you under the delusion that you can get me to ‘remember’ as well?”

            “No, I know you won’t recall anything they’re asking.”

            It sighed. “I wish the others were more like you. Straightforward, cruel… everything we expected of humans. But they… they are so muddled.”

            John’s interest piqued. He stalked closer. “Muddled?”

            “It’s… how do I explain,” Castiel said, “humans give off these wavelengths that angels can pick up on. All the ones that stood guard over me, their minds were clouded with so many… feelings and opinions. And what was surprising was that many of them were about me. About things I have never experienced. The woman tried using kindness, the tallest one joked, but it was the one called Dean…”

            John frowned. “What about my boy?”

            “His longing was the strongest,” Castiel confessed, “the most confusing. So many feelings poured over me every time he entered the room – even now I feel their trace, through the thick, most likely protected walls in my prison. There was so much longing… angels are used to channeling it, but to be the cause, the center, the drive of such emotion is unheard of. It hurt. Being exposed to it for long periods of time, like in that car, caused me great pains! So I –“

            “What did you do?”

            “I shouted at him to stop! That he was out of his depth – living a fabricated lie! Angels know everything, are all-powerful. We’ve seen creation through from the very beginning; have shone in the light of God, himself. Why would they sacrifice that for humans? Why would I turn against everything I knew for one man? Angels are made to serve God not humans – not him. We’re weapons. We have no thought of friendship or love. To love a human would debase ourselves, making us no better than you.”

            Mary banged at the door, begging him to let her in and stop whatever he has planned. He can’t though. John slammed his foot on the gas pedal and hurdled down towards that shiny tunnel. Castiel confirmed a lot in his little tirade. Things John wasn’t willing to accept at first. That differed from the boys he knew and raised.

            ‘But they aren’t who I know anymore,’ he realized, ‘and honestly… I never raised them.’ He impacted their decisions like a heavy shadow hanging over them. But the qualities he saw in his boys now were nothing John had in stock. His sons became better men than him, and any choice they made was right because it was the exact opposite decision he would have come to.

            Overcome with guilt for the first time, John cried.

            Castiel shot him a withered glance. “Of course… you go and become muddled as well.”

            Wiping away the tears, John kneeled down to face Castiel at eye-level. “Listen up,” he started, “I’m only going to say this once. Now, when things get put back right, you might not remember this. Or maybe you will… who knows. Either way, I have to say this, to make things right with my boys.”

            “I don’t know why you’re so important to them, why they let a creature like you become their friend, or why my son decided to fall in love with you even though you’re clearly wearing a man like a cheap suit. And I might never know, because I don’t deserve it. The man who did, he died years ago in a fire up in Lawrence. All that was left for them was a burnt out husk of a man with nothing fueling him for revenge. Figured my boys were nothing but the same. You’re so damn lucky that’s not true.”

            He’s just a man, but it’s clear to him the terror he struck within Castiel. John continued. “I can’t wipe away all my sins, but I can try asking for forgiveness where it counts. Then maybe I’ll deserve that peace I had. But you – youll be here with my family. And all I can say… all I ask… is you watch over them.”

            “…What?

            “Do what I couldn’t do for them. Protect them, show them each day that not every creature is past saving. Keep ‘em tied to their humanity.”

            “I don’t know what you are –“

            “And show Dean the love he deserves,” he whispered back, “Some nights, even back before I died, I did wonder if I robbed him of a normal life. Broke him, and that he could never work right. That’d haunt me almost as bad as Mary’s death and Sam’s affliction whenever the booze ran out. Castiel you performed a miracle and gave him a second chance. I can’t be selfish anymore. I’ve had my shot at happiness… it’s about time he has his. That they all did.”

            “This makes no sense,” Castiel shouted, fighting his chains, “Your prayers… so much grief and guilt… I can’t –“ It carried on like that, even as he spun around to leave. John opened the door.

            Mary barreled in. Eyeing a distraught Castiel, she turned to him. “What did you do?”

            “Casti… Cas and I shared a few words,” he said, “I’m gonna go speak to the boys. And Mary?”

            “Yes, John.”

            “I… I love you.” He dropped a kiss onto her, a gentle brush of their lips before slipping out into the hallway.

            He saved her for last, their goodbye too painful he wouldn’t finish what he had to if he began it there. John still had loose strings to tie up before the fabric of reality was corrected. And he had to work fast so that it wouldn’t completely unravel by the time hew as done. The world asked of him one last time, to prove that there was no one left on it that truly needed him.

            His boys were waiting. Mary was waiting. And so was his Heaven.