He wakes up.
His breath surges back into his body, his back arching with the force of it. He chokes, lungs burning.
He struggles for air, hands scrabbling against the surface beneath him. A harsh coldness stings his nostrils, mixed with a dampness that smells of earth, and the wetness of soil.
His opens his eyes.
He can’t see.
Oh, god, he can’t see.
He panics, lashing out in the dark.
His hands abruptly hit something solid, and he stills, breathing heavily.
He spreads shaking fingers, tracing the cracked surface above him. Wood?
He inhales sharply, snatching his hands back.
He's in his coffin.
He gasps for breath, feeling the familiar tug of panic blossom in his throat. He squeezes his eyes shut, focusing on the rise and fall of his chest in the damp air.
Gradually, gradually, his heart slows, and he’s left shivering.
He swallows, his throat dry and scratchy.
Who was he?
Castiel, his mind whispers.
“Castiel,” he croaks, his voice breaking on the word.
He's someone named Castiel.
He opens his eyes again, but there’s still nothing but black.
He slowly reaches out, exploring his prison. One palm presses against the wood above him, the other wandering, over the side and down to his leg—pausing when he brushes over a hard lump.
A small rectangle, pressed against the outline of his pocket.
Castiel slowly pulls the lighter out, fingers shaking. He doesn't need to see to recognize the familiar pattern, tracing a thumb over the worn grooves, the name etched in the silver.
He sees another image, a vision…or was it just a dream?—Of hands patching up a dead man’s wounds, changing his blood-soaked clothes, then tenderly tucking the lighter into his pocket—maybe because it didn’t feel right to bury him without it, or maybe because they childishly wanted him to have some light in the darkness.
He flips the catch and the lighter flares to life—a sharp shock after the choking blackness. The sudden brightness burns his eyes and he almost drops it, flame licking against his skin.
The heat burns, and he remembers pain.
Agonizing, burning pain.
He gasps, clutching at his chest. But it’s still whole. No wounds. No blood. Nothing.
It’s as if it never happened.
He closes his eyes, waiting until his breath evens out and the panic recedes. Then he looks up at the hazy tan grain of wood around him, flickering in the light of the small flame.
He has to get out.
He breathes again, but now the air feels stale and hot, suffocating in the cramped space. He tries not to think coffin as he looks again at the wood, checking for flaws. There’s a slight dip above his left shoulder, and he throws a fist against it. It groans under the pressure, cracking slightly.
He stares at it for a moment, heartbeat pounding dully in his ears. Then he makes his decision.
He quickly flips the lighter closed, shoving it back into his pocket. He grabs his shirt and clumsily pulls it over his head, creating a barrier between him and the dirt above.
He exhales, once.
Then he kicks.
Earth crashes around him, roaring in his ears. He curls into a ball, shielding his face from the soil, but it presses down on him, hard, wet, suffocating—
He chokes, lashing out. He scratches and claws at the dirt around him, struggling and pulling. He can only think up, up.
There’s air filling his lungs. Sweet air, forcing its way down his throat—and he manages to pull himself out of the hole, finally tipping over and spilling out onto solid ground. He coughs violently, spitting out dirt, his body ridding itself of the horrors of underground.
He lays there, gulping down the cold night air, his cheek pressed against the damp grass.
After a moment, he lifts his head.
The first thing he sees is a stone angel, its arms spread open in welcome.
He that endureth to the end shall be saved.
He stares at it, panting.
The inscription is familiar, so familiar. How does he know it?
They’re watching over you
One of the verses—one of the passages read to him in the middle of night, when he couldn’t sleep, when his father was gone, hunting some evil thing, another monster in the dark.
Her soft smile would comfort him, her gentle words would wash away the fear as he slowly sank back into dreams.
And he had seen those words, over and over. In the cemetery.
Using the statue as support, he stands, bracing for a fall that doesn’t come. The night is pleasant and warm around him, but his body feels cold. He wraps his arms around himself, shaking.
His name, what is his name again?
Anna, his mind dregs up.
Or is it—
No. No. That's him. He's Castiel.
Castiel. Brother, hunter, recently died, recently resurrected.
Someone—or something—had brought him back.
Back from Hell.
He takes a shuddering breath, looking back at the dark pit of earth he just dragged himself out of.
There’s no marker, no stone, nothing. Just upturned soil and splinters of wood poking through the wet dirt, the only indication that there was ever a body beneath that ground.
And behind it, the tree.
The tree they used to climb when they were children, laughing and playing, picking the cherries from their stems until their fingers were stained red.
She buried him underneath their favorite tree.
Castiel unsteadily lurches up, needing to get away from the grave—he tries not to think his grave—
His mind stabs with pain, and he hunches over, shaking.
He inhales sharply, clutching at the grass beneath his fingers. The touch grounds him, stopping the rush inside his head as memories sift back in, as if he's slowly dragging himself to the surface again.
The world stops reeling, and he opens his eyes.
He is Castiel. And he's home.
He spies his shirt, where it's lying discarded on the grass, and he slowly picks it up, shaking away the last traces of dirt. He pulls it on, relishing in the rough brush of cotton over unbroken skin.
Then he starts to walk. He's not really sure where he's going, but the faint glow of the moon above him lights the way, silver stars scattered around it, urging him forward. Castiel stares upward, his throat choked.
Oh. He had missed stars.
He barely senses the walk to the church doors, but suddenly he’s standing before them, iron handles gleaming dully in the moonlight. He wraps bloodied knuckles around the familiar metal, when a wave of nausea hits him, and he almost doubles over again.
What will she say? She won’t believe him, that's for certain. That he has no idea what happened, that he had dug his way out of his grave no more than five minutes before.
She'll most likely shoot him. And Castiel isn’t eager to return to Hell anytime soon.
He straightens, tugging at the heavy door. With his weakened strength, it’s a struggle—but finally he gets it open, just wide enough to slip inside—and the door slams shut behind him, echoing with a grim sort of finality. Castiel falls back against the door, his lungs burning.
It’s just as he remembers it. Hymnals stuffed haphazardly on their shelves, weathered and well-used, the rickety pews in front of the altar—all under a thick coating of dust.
And watching over it all, the golden cross, hanging there silently, slightly off-center.
Castiel slowly pushes himself up, passing the silent statues that cluster around the altar like weeds. He heads down the dark hallway, his steps making no noise on the stone floor. He rounds the corner and abruptly stops, just staring.
There’s a thin strip of yellow shining from a door at the end, the light casting soft shadows on the floor.
Her door is open.
Castiel curls one hand into a fist, exhaling slowly.
Then he steps forward, and into the light.
She’s facing away from him, reading, her face tired and worn.
“Anna,” he croaks out.
His throat is dusty.
She lifts her head, squinting in the direction of the noise. She freezes when she sees him—weary, covered in dirt, alive.
“Hey,” Castiel says weakly. He raises a hand.
She snarls and knocks her chair back, drawing her knife.
Anna lunges, slashing at him. He barely dodges in time, trying to scramble away from her.
“Anna—“ He gasps. “It’s me—“
“Like hell it is—“
She quickly corners him and throws him to the floor, jamming the knife to his neck.
He coughs at the pressure on his throat, trying to inch away from the blade.
“Your—your name is Anna Grace Milton—“ Castiel stutters out. “You were born in 1987, you came to live with us when you were five—“
He swallows, the silver scraping against his flesh.
“Our dad was a hunter, and you’re my sister—“
He grabs her wrist.
“You’re my sister," Castiel breathes.
Anna's eyes widen slightly—but in a flash, it’s gone, quickly replaced by fury. She snarls, tightening the grip on his neck.
“You son of a bitch,” she hisses.
“I am not a shapeshifter, Anna—“
“Then what are you?” She snaps.
Castiel raises his hands, pleading.
“Look—if I was anything—“
He takes deep breaths, darting a glance down at the knife.
“That silver would be giving me a hell of a rash right now.”
She doesn’t move.
But the blade eases up slightly, and Castiel can breathe again.
Anna stares at him for a moment, eyes searching his face. Then she jerks up, backing off him.
She doesn’t lower her knife, but Castiel can read the confusion in her face, fear mixed with a sort of pained hope.
“Cas?” She whispers.
He sits up cautiously.
The knife drops to the floor. She’s shaking.
“It’s really me,” Castiel says softly.
She’s frozen for a moment. But then she’s running forward, throwing her arms around his neck. Castiel collapses, hugging her back. God, he had missed her—
“This isn’t real,” Anna mumbles. “It’s not you, it’s not you—“
Castiel tightens his arms, shaking his head.
“It is,” he breathes. “I don’t know how, but it is.”
She abruptly pulls back, looking him up and down.
“Jesus, Cas,” she breathes.
He gives a feeble laugh.
She ignores his attempt to joke and grasps his hand.
“How did you—“
She helps him to his feet, shaking her head.
“How are you…alive?”
“I don’t know,” he murmurs, grateful for the support. “I just woke up. In the—“
His throat tightens.
“In the graveyard,” he finishes quietly.
Anna pales, blanching as she sees the dirt on his clothes, his skin, his bloody hands.
Her hands knock through the clutter on her desk, scraping for something.
Castiel only manages to take a couple of steps before he gets a shot of holy water to the face.
He wipes his face, blinking drops out of his eyes.
“Not a demon, either,” he says dryly.
Anna grimaces, looking down at the flask in her hands.
“Sorry,” she blurts. “Had to make sure.”
Castiel just waves a hand, sinking into the chair by the desk. Anna grabs the med kit, for real this time, and she sits down across from him, reaching for his hands.
The harsh sting of antiseptic hits his nostrils, clearing his head slightly—but Castiel still feels slightly fuzzy. Nothing new—he had woken up with a headache and the sour aftertaste of whiskey in his mouth too many times for that—but this is different.
This goes darker. Deeper.
So he starts off carefully, the words coming easier with every breath. Anna is completely silent, cleaning the scrapes left by the wood of his coffin as she listens to him speak.
“But it doesn’t make any sense,” she whispers after a brief silence, now taping up his fingers.
She hasn’t looked at him since she started treating his hands. She had seemed surprised…
“Cas, you were—when we buried you—“
She stops, clearing her throat. Castiel looks away.
Even if a demon had managed to get to him—his body had been ruined, completely beyond repair.
“It’s been four months,” she says quietly.
Castiel clenches his fists. Anna draws back slightly, watching him.
He takes a deep breath, trying to relax.
“Four months?” He asks quietly.
“You shouldn’t be looking this good, Cas,” she says weakly, trying to smile.
Castiel swallows, pulling back his newly-bandaged hands. He leans back in his chair, his voice hollow.
“I know. It doesn’t make sense,” he echoes.
They both fall silent, mutely staring at the table in front of them. When Anna speaks again, her voice is cautious.
“What do you…what do you remember?”
Castiel glances up sharply.
“I don’t—not a lot.”
Endless pain, white eyes and blood
He rubs his temple, trying to block out the memory.
“The building was coming down,” he says hoarsely. “And I just ran, and I—“
Chains and iron and a flash of gold—
He cuts off, his voice lost.
He looks up.
Anna is staring at him.
“Then, um…darkness,” he lies. “Woke up in a pine box.”
Anna is quiet for a moment. But then she sighs harshly, shaking her head.
Castiel digs up a smile from somewhere, plastering it on his face.
“Again, not him. Didn’t manage it in three days.”
Anna gives him that glare, but he can see the smile behind it, fighting to break through.
Castiel desperately wants to see her smile again. Only memories of her had kept him going down below.
She opens her mouth, but then seems to think better of it. Instead, she stands, grabbing the bottle on her nightstand, coming back with two glasses. She wordlessly pours them both a shot, nudging a glass towards Castiel. He wraps his hand around the glass, but he can’t drink it just yet. He watches as she takes a generous gulp, squinting a little at the taste.
“Anna,” he says quietly.
She wipes her mouth, not looking at him.
He clenches his jaw, resolving himself.
“You didn’t make a deal…did you?”
Anna looks up sharply, her expression guilty.
Castiel’s heart seizes. He knew it, he knew it—
“I tried,” she whispers.
“Must’ve summoned over a dozen demons,” she mutters. “But none of them would have it.”
Anna throws down her glass, laughing bitterly.
“Said they had had enough trouble from the Remingtons already. So after a while I stopped trying.”
Anna rubs a hand over her face, avoiding his eyes.
“Shit, Cas.” She chokes out a laugh. “I’m sorry.”
Her expression shifts, suddenly angry.
“I—It wasn’t me! I gave up on you!”
She shoves back from the table.
“I couldn’t fucking save you,” she says, angrily pacing back and forth. “After everything you did, and it was my goddamn fault in the first place—“
Castiel stands, catching her arm.
“And I couldn’t do anything, I—“
“Hey, hey—it’s okay,” he murmurs. “It’s okay.”
She refuses to look at him, her fists clenched.
“Water under the bridge, Anna,” he says softly. “You know that right?”
She slowly looks up.
“I’m sorry, Cas,” she whispers. “I’m so fucking sorry.”
Castiel shakes his head.
“It’s okay,” he says again. “I’m here now.”
Anna stares at him for a moment, but then she nods, dropping her gaze.
She curls her arms around herself, clearing her throat.
Castiel looks up.
She snorts, wiping her eyes.
“’Course I did, dumbass.”
Castiel lets out a laugh, a genuine laugh for the first time, and tugs her under his arm, pressing a kiss into her hair.
“Me too, Red. I missed you, too.”
She gives him a look, scowling.
“I can’t believe you still use that stupid nickname.”
“I can’t believe you still pretend you hate it,” he teases back.
She elbows him, and Castiel obliges, letting go.
“Knew the honeymoon wouldn’t last.”
Anna just rolls her eyes, grabbing the med kit and stuffing it back on the shelf. She pauses suddenly, turning to him.
“Shit—are you starving? I mean—you haven’t eaten in four fucking months—“
She slams her hand on the table.
“What do you want? Huh?” She laughs shakily. “Take out, your favorite, I mean—you just came back from the dead…let’s fucking celebrate.”
Castiel laughs too, but he stands, rubbing his arm.
“I think what I want most right now is a shower.”
“Crap, of course—“
Castiel lets her fuss over him, lets her shoo him towards the bathroom and start digging out towels and clothes for him, mumbling something about ordering Chinese.
“Your room and all your stuff is just like you left it,” she says hastily, dropping the small mountain of clothes on the floor. “Because, I mean, I didn’t—well, I couldn’t bring myself to—“
Castiel stops her.
“It’s fine. Thank you.”
She quiets, nodding sheepishly. She lingers at the door, then turns, drowning him in a hug again. Castiel huffs and squeezes back, ruffling her hair as they part.
She scowls, knocking his hand away.
“Food’ll be here soon.”
She starts off down the hall, calling over her shoulder.
“And I’m getting Chow Mein anyway, so deal with it!”
Castiel laughs a little, closing the door to the bathroom. He turns and sinks his back against the wood, shaking his head.
Pain in the ass, stubbornly loyal…but just as strong, Castiel thinks, rubbing his throat. He’s probably have some nice bruises by tomorrow.
He closes his eyes, just breathing. He had been worried that his death might have ruined her somehow, that his brief stint down below might have altered his sister in ways Castiel couldn’t even begin to name or understand.
Though the same can’t be said for him.
Castiel shoves that thought away, and he’s suddenly conscious of the dirt in his hair, on his skin. He turns on the shower and waits impatiently for the water to warm, eager to wash away the filth and the grime—the last reminder that just a few short hours ago, he had been dead.
The gentle hum of the water swirls around him, filling the air with steam. He curls his fingers around the edge of his shirt and pulls it over his head, letting it drop to the floor. He quickly shucks the rest of his clothes, and he’s about to step under the stream of water, when he pauses.
Castiel turns slowly, looking into the mirror set above the sink.
Angry, inflamed red skin—burning brightly on his chest, not quite healed. Castiel swallows, leaning closer. He lifts a shaking hand, pressing an experimental touch to the mark.
His mind stabs with pain, a howling roar of rage beneath them, then a golden flash—
Castiel sucks in harsh breaths, the mirror before him slowly fading into view.
He had almost fallen to his knees, grabbing the sink for support. He clings to the edge of the porcelain, struggling for breath.
What the hell was that?
He stands slowly, looking at the angry red mark. He gingerly touches the edges of the seared flesh, a tingle running through him. It looks like a burn, but it can’t be. Because this is no accidental burn.
It’s a perfect handprint, set right over his heart.
Castiel swallows. He knows instinctively, this is the work of whoever—whatever—pulled him from the pit. Something that was very much human. Or at least looked like one.
He curls his hand into a fist, his arm dropping to his side. His eyes roam over the rest of his body in the mirror, and he frowns. He twists experimentally, but he can’t see anything. He had amassed too many scars over the years—cuts, burns, the scrapes from various bites and blades—but they’re all gone.
He’s completely whole, skin untouched. The only mark is the mysterious handprint.
It’s a long time before he tears his eyes away from the mirror.
After dinner, Castiel retreats to his room, quietly shutting the door. Anna had seemed to understand his silence, filling the empty air between them with meaningless stories, anecdotes from the past four months and minor news on how the world had changed while he was gone.
Neither of them said ‘dead.’
Castiel wordlessly helped her clean up the dishes, then escaped as soon as possible. His face had been starting to hurt from smiling too much.
Don’t get him wrong—he’s freakin’ thrilled to be back—anything is better than where he had just been—but something…just doesn’t feel right.
All of him feels prickly. Stinging, like he’s been scrubbed raw. He had been pulled down into the pits of the earth, and then suddenly, mercilessly spat back out. It’s a miracle he hasn’t broken down already.
Castiel sits heavily on the edge of the bed, pressing his hands to his face.
The lights of his room are too bright. Artificial. They’re nothing like dancing hellfire, or the sickly white glow of the demon’s eyes.
You’re safe now, Castiel, he whispers to himself. It’s okay.
He flinches when Anna touches his shoulder.
She immediately draws back, her eyes wide.
“Hey, I knocked, but—“
Castiel plasters a smile on his face.
“Sorry. Didn’t hear it.”
She smiles back, equally false.
“Well, it’s just—“
She’s twisting her fingers, grimacing a little.
“I called and told Gabriel,” she says quickly. “But you know, of course—“
“He didn’t believe you,” Castiel finishes dully.
She nods, biting her lip.
“And he wants us to come over.”
Castiel sighs, hand absentmindedly running over his shirt. Anna fidgets.
“But I mean, it’s okay—it’s only if you’re feeling up to it—“
“Why wouldn’t I be up for it?”
He grabs a jacket from the floor and reaches out to grab his keys from their usual spot on the wall.
Castiel abruptly stops. They’re not there.
He turns. Anna’s holding out his keys.
“Thought it was my car,” she says, shrugging.
Castiel doesn’t say anything. He slowly takes them, then heads towards the garage without another word.
It goes just about as well with his reunion with Anna.
Gabriel attacks him the minute he walks through the door, sending Castiel sprawling. He douses him in salt and holy water before Anna is able to wrestle him off, and Castiel slowly sits up, wiping his face.
“Thanks for the welcome wagon,” he mutters. Gabriel is staring at him, his eyes narrowed.
“Silver,” he orders. Castiel rolls his eyes.
“I told you, I already did all this,” Anna says, still standing in between them, like Gabe might charge any second.
“Silver, you son of a bitch,” Gabriel hisses again.
Castiel raises his hands.
He pulls the knife, grimacing. He gives himself a clean cut on the forearm, slowly letting out his breath. He looks up, holding out for Gabriel to see.
Anna pulls a handkerchief from her pocket, handing it to Castiel and taking Raphael’s knife from him. Gabriel is completely frozen.
“It’s really you,” he breathes.
Castiel holds the cloth to his arm, trying to smile.
“It really is,” he says softly.
Gabriel is still for a moment. Then he’s moving forward, and he yanks Castiel up, crushing him into a tight hug.
Castiel grips him back, fighting the choked feeling in his throat. He shakes his head, laughing shakily.
“Yeah. I missed you too.”
“Shut up,” Gabe says, finally releasing him.
The lie is easier this time. Castiel recounts his story of waking up in the grave, and Gabriel doesn’t interrupt, his hands clasped and his brow furrowed.
“Demon?” He asks, glancing at Anna. She shrugs.
“Not sure,” Castiel says. “But it wasn’t a deal, as far as we know.”
Anna scuffs her boot again the cheap linoleum of Gabe’s kitchen, not looking up.
Gabriel nods thoughtfully, his eyes unfocused.
“I mean, I can dig through the lore, but anything that can pull a soul from Hell, just like that—“
He lets out a slow breath.
“It’ll be nothing we’ve ever seen before.”
The three of them fall silent. Castiel turns over everything in his mind, his thoughts whirling.
“If a deal didn’t do it, then what did?” he muses quietly.
“Does it matter?”
He looks up sharply. Anna is rigid against the counter, her fists clenched. Gabriel looks at her sideways.
“We got to find out what it is,” he says slowly.
Anna pushes herself up, turning on him.
“Are you fucking kidding me?”
Gabriel takes a small step back, utterly cowed.
“No,” she snaps. “Why can’t we just accept this? Take it like the gift it is?”
She whirls, now going after Castiel.
“This could have been a demon, a monster, a spirit—and if we go poking around, all guns blazing, who’s to say it won’t snatch you back?” she growls. “Take your life as quickly as it started it again?”
“Alright, then tell me—”
Castiel pulls aside his jacket, ripping open the first few buttons of his shirt and yanking it aside.
“What demon could have done this?”
Anna and Gabriel freeze. They both stare at the angry red mark on his chest, speechless.
“Cas,” Gabe breathes. “What the hell is that?”
“I don’t know.”
Castiel drops his hand, glaring.
“But I’m the only clue we got.”
Anna is shaking her head, but Castiel ignores her.
“So we figure it out while we still can,” he says quickly. “Because if it comes looking for me—“
“Then we’ll deal with it then,” Anna says sharply. “We’ve had enough trouble.”
Castiel grits his teeth.
She meets his eyes, her anger softening.
“I’m just glad you’re back,” she says quietly. “Aren’t you?”
“Then promise me you won’t go looking for it.”
Castiel opens his mouth, brow furrowed.
“Promise, Cas,” she orders, eyes hard.
Castiel fights with himself, his face struggling to remain neutral.
“Fine,” he says eventually.
She crosses her arms and turns away from him, ignoring the strained silence in the room.
“Now. Who wants a drink?”
Castiel slowly buttons his shirt, watching as Anna starts to pull down glasses, bickering with Gabriel, acting like the argument never even happened. He catches Gabriel's eye when her back is turned, and Gabriel shakes his head slightly, as if to say—
Later. We’ll talk about it later.
They end up out on the porch, talking and joking about nothing, Gabriel and Anna recounting stories of hunts, keeping the air alive with light and laughter. Castiel leans back in his seat, holding his bottle loosely in his fingers—and to his surprise, he finds some of his laughter is actually genuine. Because he’s finally back with the two people he loves most—and he wouldn’t want to be anywhere else.
“There was that one rugarou, nearly took me out—“
“Oh, god, that was horrible—“
“Cas—you should’ve seen it. Sent the thing through a nine-story window and it still came after me. Teeth and claws and all.”
“’Cause your dumb ass thought it would be a good idea to just leave it there.”
“Shut up, Annie, I’m talking—“
“No, you're crap at this, let me tell it—“
Castiel listens, laughing and smiling as fireflies lazily loop around them, buzzing in the late summer air.
But his mind is far from quiet. The question still lingers.
He’s got to know.
He just has to.
He’s back in the pit. Castiel can’t see it, but he can feel it, he knows—somehow he died again, and had been dragged down into the flames, back on the rack.
There’s a milky film clouding his eyes, and he can’t see much. It’s all black and red, smoke and blood. He convulses as the whip hits him, as his skin tears, hearing the cruel laughter of the demon piercing his ears and shattering him apart.
There’s a sharp pain in his side, where the metal bites into his skin, the hooks and wires that torment him every second. He coughs up blood, a salty burn on his tongue as he retches, wrenching forward, pulling at the metal prison around him, his blinded eyes darting back and forth, unseeing.
But even as he chokes back the horror in his mouth, he knows there’s something darker—that the blood on his hands isn’t his own—that the whip is his now.
There’s a soul in front of him, twisting and shrieking in pain as he lays into it, again and again and again—
His heart twitches as the blood spatters across his cheek, his lungs leap and his throat burns. He’s enjoying it, reveling in the rage and hate as he takes his vengeance upon those brought before him. There’s iron and metal, heat and grime, nails that he twists deeper into their skin—punctures, pierces, burns.
But even as he dies, as he’s ripped apart and put back together, every time more painful than the last—a warmth suddenly burns through him.
A streak of gold, a searing flash over his heart—
Castiel wakes with a start. He jerks up, gulping down the cold air of his room.
Then he realizes where he is, and he sinks, falling back into his pillows, pressing a hand to his forehead.
He’s alive. In his bed. Safe.
But the terror still lingers, the echoes of it shrieking and screaming in his mind, burning—
He cringes, squeezing his eyes shut.
It physically pained him to think of it, of the scorching heat and the blind terror of the souls around him. He had pretended he didn’t remember for their sake, pretended that it hadn’t affected him, but…
Castiel hunches over, hugging his knees.
The truth is he’s barely keeping it together.
But even as he huddles into himself, a strange warmth fills him. That light—the light that had saved him, torn him out of that hole—
He presses his palms to his eyes, trying to call back the vision.
What was it? It had been so beautiful, so pure, Castiel knew that, he just knew somehow…
But it was fading, slipping away again.
The vision melts away and he’s left with a strange emptiness, staring at his starch-white sheets.
He throws them back and wrenches himself out of bed, flipping on the light. It burns his eyes, and he sinks back against the wall, breathing hard.
His eyes finally adjust, and he finds himself glaring at the bottle sitting on his bedside table. He grabs it and quickly tips the golden liquid back, hissing as the burn hits his throat. It finally stops the whirl in his head, washing away those bloody memories.
Castiel drinks enough that he starts to feel too hot in his skin, too crowded in his empty room. He stumbles out the door and tears silently down the hallway, finally bursting out into the early morning air.
The silent gravestones greet him, and instantly, all the tension melts out of his shoulders, his sigh turning into a silver stream that drifts away into the dawn.
He really should feel morbid, he thinks, as he clambers onto one of the closer stone seats. This should bother him. But Castiel had grown up surrounded by death. And maybe, for that reason, he had never been scared of it—not in the way most of the parishioners that came seeking his father’s guidance were—but mostly because he had believed there was nothing that came after. That after his heart had shuddered out its last few desperate beats, Castiel would sink into blackness.
And then there would be nothing. No more pain. No more fear.
But he was wrong.
He sticks his hands in his pockets, breath coming out in hot icy puffs that turn white and melt away into the sky. He glances up.
The clouds above him roll ominously. It's all grey and damp, covering the grassy expanse of the cemetery with a mist that doesn’t feel dry, but can’t quite materialize itself into rain. Castiel sighs, willing to just wash away.
There’s the distant cry of a crow. The chiming of the bell tower from the center of the town. Distant. Soft.
Castiel curls into himself, pulling up the hood on his sweatshirt. He tugs on the strings, tucking his legs up underneath him.
He absentmindedly toys with the cord around his neck, staring unseeingly at the graves before him. Anna had given it back to him, pulled it off her own head when she had finally accepted that he wasn’t dead anymore.
He tugs at it for a while, but then leans forward, rubbing his face.
This is ridiculous. He's a grown-ass man, sulking like a pouty teenager on a bench in a graveyard.
But to tell the truth…this is the only time Castiel feels safe. When he's alone. Every word he speaks, to Anna, to Gabriel—he has to constantly monitor himself, to make sure he doesn’t slip up, that they won’t catch him in a lie. It's exhausting.
It’s been a week, and he still doesn’t feel like himself. He just feels…wrong somehow, like something in him is shifted, slightly off-center. Maybe it's the way his spine grinds together, how there now always seems to be a prickling at the back of his neck—an itch he can’t scratch. Some dark part locked up inside his head that had been cracked open and set loose.
Castiel can’t help but feel that he had left something behind in that earth.
He inhales a couple times, calming his breathing.
He had made them take care of it, tamp the earth back down and bury the shards of wood that had made up his hellish prison. He didn’t want to remember. He didn’t want to feel.
It starts to rain, but Castiel doesn’t move. He sits there, motionless, until he’s soaked to the bone, shivering, his skin covered in goosebumps.
He curses under his breath as the outside light flicks on. Anna will probably yell at him, she'll scold and tell him to take better care of himself—
He stands, shaking out his frozen limbs before he darts back inside, pulling the great heavy door closed behind him. He sinks against the wood, sucking down the warm dusty air of the church.
He slowly opens his eyes, fixing his eyes on the golden cross above the altar.
It stares back, unseeing.
A man who doesn’t believe in God, calling a church home.
The world is a strange place.
Castiel hops out of the car, slamming the door behind him. Anna comes around from the other side, a strange sort of bounce in her step. She’s beaming, unusually bubbly.
“What’re you grinning about?” He asks, double-checking the expiration date on his badge. “You usually hate this part.”
“’Cause you get the cool suit and I get the pantsuit from Hell, yeah. But—I don’t know.”
She smiles at him as they walk towards the police tape.
“It feels good to work together again. It feels normal.”
Castiel raises an eyebrow.
“Triple homicide seem normal to you?”
“Shut up, you know what I mean.”
They flash their badges and get let under the tape, and Anna tucks hers into her pocket, smirking.
“Besides, for us? This is just another Tuesday.”
They quickly sober, and Castiel is surprised at how easy it is, to slide back into the routine. They talk with the sheriff for a while before she lets them into the room, and it takes Anna all of about 30 seconds to find the culprit. Or what the bastards left behind.
“Sulfur,” she says, crumbling the yellow powder between her fingers. “Dammit. Thought we had something interesting for once.”
She wipes her hands and stands, but Castiel’s pulse is quickening. A demon. Maybe more. And once they track them down, they could be questioned. Castiel could find out if it knows anything, if only he could get away from Anna, how would he—?
He blinks, looking up. Anna is squinting at him.
“They got the witness at the station. Said we could interview them now.”
He tucks aside that thought for later.
“Let’s do it.”
Castiel supposes there are worst places to have a faceoff with a couple punk-ass demons.
He jerks it up, pressing his knife to its throat. The demon sneers.
“That won’t kill me.”
Castiel pulls him to the center of the devil's trap, hissing in its ear.
“Doesn’t mean I can’t do a little damage first.”
The demon musters up its last bit of defiance, weakly struggling against his hold.
“They told me about you,” it hisses lowly. “Hell’s very own VIP. I should have known.”
Castiel tightens his grip, and the demon chokes, eyeing the knife.
“Known what?” He growls.
The demon doesn’t answer. Its eyes dart everywhere, looking for an escape. Castiel snarls.
“Don’t make me hurt you,” he snarls.
“You won’t,” the demon scoffs. But Castiel can see the fear in its eyes.
He pulls on the hatred simmering beneath his skin, dropping his voice down low.
“Do you really want to test me?”
The demon swallows.
“It might have got you out of Hell, but they can never fix it,” it whispers. “You’ll never be able to fix it.”
Castiel tries to keep the shock from flickering across his face.
“You know then,” he snarls instead, shaking to keep his voice even. “You know.”
The demon whimpers, not even daring to struggle.
“What pulled me out?” Castiel whispers. “What is it?”
The demon’s eyes flicker back to brown, full of fear.
“It’s the end,” it whispers.
Anna’s voice, echoing in the hallway. Castiel stiffens. He looks back at the demon, but it’s frozen underneath him. He tightens his jaw, quickly making a decision.
Castiel releases it, backing away quickly. The demon hunches into a crouch, watching him.
Anna's footsteps sound around the corner, and Castiel kneels swiftly, scraping away a strip of paint from the trap.
The demon immediately roars out, a great ugly column of smoke spiraling and disappearing just as Anna bursts in, Raphael's knife in her hand.
The meatsuit collapses and Castiel stands, darting forward to check his vitals. He exhales harshly.
“Other demon’s dead. What the hell happened?”
Castiel tries to support the man, glancing up at her.
“Uh—managed to break the trap,” he lies quickly, pulling the man’s limp form up. “C’mon, help me.”
After they do the dash and drop off at the hospital, Anna drives them back to the motel, both of them strangely quiet.
I had to let it go, Castiel tells himself. It could’ve talked. She can’t know.
But he can’t help but feel uneasy, the demon’s words ringing in his mind.
“Well," Anna says as she unlocks the door, smiling at him. "Overall. Not a bad first run back?”
Castiel shrugs, faking a grin.
“Yeah. Just like riding a bike.”
Anna laughs, then shucks her jacket, heading for the bathroom.
The second the door closes, Castiel yanks his phone out of his pocket, dialing quickly.
“Gabe,” Castiel says, once he picks up. “Tell me you got something.”
Even though he seemed reluctant, knowing full well he's risking Anna’s wrath, Gabriel quickly found the proper ritual, if only because he wanted to prove he could. Castiel had counted on that. Gabriel could never resist a challenge.
So Castiel left the church that afternoon, under the pretense of going over to help Gabriel sort through his perpetually messy library. Anna hadn’t questioned it, saluting him out the door. Probably just glad that they hadn’t asked her to help with the boring task.
But they're not heading towards Gabe’s house.
They're pulling up to a ramshackle building, one that looks like it's been abandoned for years, and Castiel is shaking as he gets out of the car.
He follows Gabriel through a door that’s almost hanging off its hinges, pausing as they step inside, their eyes adjusting to the dim light.
“Alright," Castiel mutters. "Let’s get to work.”
They make a quick job of it, marking sigils on the wall and floor from every faith and religion on the globe—devil’s traps and pentagrams and pretty much anything else they can think of.
Castiel stands back, staring at the paint on the wall. He can only hope it'll be enough.
Blood of lamb, the root of a yew tree, various other ingredients that Castiel doesn’t even recognize—all get tossed into the pot as Gabriel reads from an old leather-bound book, chanting resolutely. Castiel stands next to him, but he doesn’t hear the words. He’s anxiously brushing over the weapons laid out on the table, double and triple checking the barrels, even though he knows he loaded them properly. He fingers the blade of his knife, nails digging into the runes carved on its surface.
Gabriel’s voice drones on in the silence, and Castiel closes his eyes, trying to breathe. His heart is pounding.
He eventually grips the knife so hard that his hand starts to hurt, and he reluctantly releases it, laying the blade back down on the table.
Gabriel completes the final incantation, the words ringing through the dark silence.
They both tense, waiting. But nothing happens.
The seconds tick by.
“Well?” Castiel glances at him. “Is that it?”
Gabriel raises an eyebrow.
“You wanna try? I don’t remember you being an expert in ancient Greek.”
Castiel exhales slowly.
“Sorry. I’m just—“
He bites his tongue.
“Apprehensive,” he says carefully.
“Apprehensive? Jesus, they make you read dictionaries downstairs?”
His back is turned to him, but still, he tries to keep his face neutral.
“I told you Gabriel,” he says icily. “I don’t remember.”
Gabriel holds up his hands.
“Yeah, yeah, okay. Take it easy, bucko.”
He snaps the book closed, flipping it in his hands.
“Apprehensive is just a big word for ‘completely fucking scared.’”
Castiel shoots him a poisonous look.
“I am not scared.”
He picks up his shotgun and cocks it.
“There isn’t anything we can’t handle.”
Gabriel looks at him for a moment, Then he sets the book aside, hopping down off the table.
“Cas…whatever this thing is—if it’s not a demon…"
He sighs, looking at the hasty paint splashed on the wall.
"It’s nothing we’ve ever seen before. You can’t tell me that doesn’t make you a little—“
Gabriel frowns, but Castiel cuts him off again.
“I am confident in myself, I completely trust you, and I have faith that whatever pulled me from—“ He hesitates. “From…Hell…is manageable.”
He scuffs the toe of his boot in the dirt on the floor, throwing up a little dust.
“After all, we’re the Remingtons.” He looks up, letting a cocky smile slide into place. “Whatever this thing is, it should be afraid of us.”
Gabriel’s mouth tightens into a thin line, but he doesn’t argue.
They go back to sitting in silence.
Castiel absentmindedly fiddles with his knife, digging the tip into the wood of the table. He’s barely paying attention to what he’s doing, pressing too hard—and the wood splinters, his hand slipping and the blade clattering to the floor.
He sighs, kneeling down to pick it up. He wraps a hand around the hilt, and pauses.
He can’t be imagining that.
Castiel presses a palm against the dirt. Yes, it's moving—shaking now, the walls around them starting to tremble, shutters banging furiously.
Gabriel grabs his shotgun and Castiel backs up against him, looking around frantically as the building violently shakes around them.
The lights burst, sending sparks flying, plunging them into darkness.
And then—just as the shaking had started, it abruptly stops. Castiel tightens his grip on the knife, Gabriel’s back heaving against his.
The only sound is their heavy breathing in the dark.
A bright light pierces Castiel’s eyes, and he sees a dark figure striding towards them, silhouetted against the glare. He spins, to yell a warning—but Gabriel is unconscious, lying on the ground, completely still.
Castiel bolts forward, but suddenly the thing is standing there, that light burning into him. It seems like it’s coming from everywhere and nowhere, centering behind its head, shining in a hazy ring.
Castiel doesn’t hesitate—he plunges the knife into its chest, expecting the demon inside to fizzle and die.
But the figure doesn’t even blink.
It slowly looks down at the blade, then lifts up a hand, removing Castiel’s knife and letting it clatter to the floor.
“Wow,” it says. “That was rude.”
“It’s dark in here. My bad.”
The figure snaps its fingers, and the lights burst back to life, sparking again as they illuminate the room. Castiel finally can see the thing—it looked like a man—that had burst in, killed Gabriel—
Gabriel. Castiel throws a panicked look towards his motionless body.
“He’s not dead.”
Castiel’s eyes snap back to the creature in front of him.
“Sorry. I just figured we needed to talk first. Alone.” It flashes him a wicked smile. “You understand.”
Castiel takes a step back.
He can’t help but stare at the hole the knife left in the black t-shirt. There’s no blood leaking from the wound, no sign that it fazed him at all.
“Who are you?” Castiel asks, hands moving silently behind him as he searches for his gun.
The man crosses his arms, smirking.
“I’m the one that dragged your sorry ass out of Hell,” he says, grinning.
Castiel’s fingers curl around the barrels of the shotgun.
“Obviously,” he snarls back. “You still didn’t answer my question.”
The man’s smile fades, but that amusement still hovers in his eyes.
“You mean you don’t know?”
He turns to the table, briefly flicking through the pages of Gabriel’s abandoned books, before his eyes settle on a tattered copy of the Bible.
“Seems like you got all the information you need right here.” He glances at Castiel, then back to the script of the summoning spell. He snorts, nudging Gabriel’s leg with his toe.
“And this jackass certainly seemed to know what he was doing—“
The rock salt shells hit him deep, and the creature jerks back a little with the force of it. He looks down at his chest, then back up, meeting Castiel’s fiery gaze.
“Dude,” he hisses.
Castiel tightens his grip on the shotgun, still warm in his hands.
“Don’t touch him.”
The man raises his hands in surrender, his eyes unreadable. Castiel keeps the barrels trained on him just in case, even though it had been just as effective in hurting him as the knife had been.
“I’m not an idiot.”
The man raises an eyebrow, but Castiel continues.
“The weapons I have are useless, I obviously can’t kill you—“
“Damn right,” the man mutters under his breath.
Castiel reluctantly lowers the gun, but keeps his fingers locked tight around the trigger.
“So what do you want?”
A strange expression passes over his face, but then it’s gone. The man sticks his hands into the pockets of his jeans and leans back against the table, looking nonchalant despite the tension in the air. It makes Castiel’s skin crawl.
“You tell me. You’re the one that summoned me here.”
Castiel briefly shuts his eyes. Whoever—whatever this thing is, it's extremely irritating.
“Who are you?” He snaps. “Can you tell me that at least?”
The man smiles.
“The name’s Dean.”
“Dean,” Castiel repeats.
“And I’m an angel.”
He steps up closer, and Castiel hikes the gun back up, but Dean wrenches it out of his grip, throwing it on the table behind him.
“I,” he says, leaning in closer, “am an angel.”
Despite the fear humming underneath his skin, Castiel rankles.
The thing in front of him looks taken aback, just staring at him. Castiel tenses.
But then it laughs, face splitting open into a genuine smile.
“Not exactly the reaction I was going for,” he says, swiping a thumb over his lips. “But hey. I’ll take it.”
Castiel glances around him, mind racing wildly.
He stops dead when he sees his gun—or the remnants of it. It’s barely anything but a twisted scrap of metal, the barrel bent at a crooked angle and the handle lying in pieces. Dean had done that with a simple brush of fingers.
Castiel swallows. Maybe he wasn’t lying.
He turns back to Dean, who’s resumed his easy position against the edge of the table.
“Angels don’t exist,” he says bluntly.
Dean’s eyes widen in mock surprise.
“Well, shit.” He shrugs his shoulders. “Guess I didn’t get the memo.”
Castiel narrows his eyes. Dean sees the squint and huffs, scooting closer.
“Look. I’m here. Choose to believe me or don’t, but it’s true.”
Castiel shakes his head. His father had been a preacher, for Christ’s sake, but after Mom died…
“So…what?” Castiel asks sharply, glaring at him. “There’s a god too?”
Dean slides down into the chair by his side, propping his feet up on the table.
“Yup. One and only. Big man upstairs,” he says, pointing skywards.
“And he was the one that gave the order,” he says, leaning back.
Dean looks at him.
“To save you.”
Castiel curls his lip.
“And why would God want me out of Hell?”
Dean stares at him for a moment, his eyes wide and dark. Castiel doesn’t dare blink.
Then Dean hops up, the bounce back in his step.
“I dunno. Big plans. They don’t tell me much. But apparently you—“ He pokes Castiel in the chest— “And your little sis are gonna save the world, or some shit like that. So they told me to strap on my wings and pop on down, and—“ He spreads his arms wide. “Here I am.”
Castiel looks him up and down, narrowing his eyes. Even if he did believe him, which he doesn’t, why would they send this sorry excuse of an angel down to save him?
Dean’s smile fades, his arms dropping to his sides.
“You still don’t believe me.”
“Not for a second.”
Dean steps closer, peering intently at him.
“You think you didn’t deserve it,” he murmurs sadly.
Castiel stares at him in shock.
Then the angel smiles.
“That’s where you’ve gone wrong, dude. It’s all about faith.”
Castiel narrows his eyes, but he doesn’t break the gaze.
Dean looks down at the ground, his eyes closing as he clenches his hands, concentrating.
Castiel takes a step back.
The room is filled with a flash of hazel as Dean opens his eyes, staring him down.
Castiel stares in awe as a vast expanse stretches out behind Dean, golden streams of light, flecked with a deep blue.
And maybe he’s imagining it, but Castiel swears they look like wings.
The light fades, and Dean relaxes, his shoulders settling. Castiel realizes his mouth is open and quickly closes it.
“What’s the matter?” Dean says, his eyes dancing. “Cat got your tongue?”
Castiel darts his eyes back and forth.
Dean steps closer, his eyes smoldering.
He towers over Castiel, right in his face. Dean only has a couple inches on him in height, but Castiel feels unbelievably small. He swallows, but doesn’t back away.
“Need more convincing?”
Dean’s breath washes over him, and Castiel flinches. There’s a strange buzzing underneath his skin, but it doesn’t feel like fear. He knows that this is a creature that could rip him apart, destroy him in a flash of light, but Castiel feels no fear. Only exhilaration.
He opens his mouth to speak, when Dean cocks his head, his brow furrowing. He quickly turns away, as if he was responding to a call Castiel could not hear.
“I have to go.”
Dean steps away, sweeping over to Gabriel, laying a hand on his forehead. He looks up, catching his eyes.
“I’ll see you around. Castiel.”
There’s a rush of sound, the papers on the tables flying up in a whirl, and Dean is gone.
Castiel looks around wildly.
He had just disappeared. Vanished into thin air.
Castiel snaps out of his haze when Gabriel sits up, groaning. He rushes to his side, helping him stand.
“Cas,” he manages to say, breathing hard. “What the hell happened?”
Nervous laughter escapes Castiel as he shakes his head.
“You are not going to believe this.”