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In My Time of Dying

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"Look, just hold on, alright? Hospital's only 10 minutes away," Sam said from the driver's seat of the Impala.

It was too much effort to groan an acknowledgement. Dean was in the back seat, most of his focus busy keeping a lock down on his senses. The pain in his chest was a distraction at best, a danger at worst. The Yellow-eyed Demon used his supernatural bullshit to squeeze Dean like a tube of toothpaste. Blood had come out of every pore on his chest – at least that's what it had felt and smelled like. The only senses he kept on were hearing and sight. The others he basically muted.

This wasn't the first time he had to beat his senses into submission. After Mom died in the fire when he was 4, Dean could remember feeling everything more acutely. He spent most of his childhood with a rash or two until they figured out natural fibers and soap kept them at bay. When Dean was 10, Sam was attacked by a shtriga on his watch. Ever since then he could widen his hearing over a mile in all directions. When Sam ran away in his teens, Dean's sight went to a whole new level. He spent weeks looking for Sam. Eventually he caught up with Sam in Flagstaff. Dad accidently got food poisoning when Dean was 22. Since then Dean had a strong sense of smell and taste. Now he can stop them from eating at a crappy diner just by driving by and taking a whiff.

As far as they knew Dean wasn't a monster, but there was no one like him around. Apparently the Winchesters were batting a thousand in life: Mom's dead, Sam's got psychic powers, Dad's hell-bent on revenge, and he has senses on steroids. Go team.

"You surprised me, Sammy. Why didn't you kill it? I thought we saw eye to eye on this – killing this demon comes first. Before me, before everything," John said from the front passenger seat.

There was a pause before Dean heard Sam say, "No, sir. Not before everything."

The sound of both of their voices helped to keep him steady, but the sound of their hearts beating helped even more. He had pulled his hearing in until all he could pick up was Sam, Dad, and the roar of the Impala’s engine. It was so late at night he didn’t worry about monitoring the other lanes of traffic. They were alone. They were safe. A little worse for wear, but safe. Dean would have to worry about centering himself later. Preferably after a shot of morphine.

"Look. We still got the Colt and the one bullet left," Sam continued. "We just have to start over, right? I mean we already found the dem--"

"Sam, watch out!" Dean shouted right before a semi plowed into the side of the Impala.

- - - - - -

The pain was overwhelming. What little control Dean had gained in the car was gone. He wasn't zoning out the world around him. He knew what that felt like. One sense would completely drown out the others and he would be caught in fascination by it. Sammy always had better luck pulling him back than Dad did. His brother's method was to talk him out of it. Dad’s method was to slap him in the face until he snapped out of it. Dad also made sure to tell Dean when he woke that he needed to find a better way to live with his 'disability'. Dean had always let it slide because, either way, he was grateful for their help. Pulling himself back from a zone-out took days, which was never an option when they were hunting.

But this… this was different. He was lost. What he called the Black Hole—where all his sadness and loneliness lived in the back of his mind—had yawned wide and he'd fallen into it. Dean had only ventured to the outskirts of the Black Hole. He hadn't dared to go in it. Part of him understood that entering and staying in the Black Hole meant death.

Shit, I don't want to die.

He ran back and forth, searching for a way out. There was nothingness everywhere. Black and deep and infinite. Choosing a random direction, he ran as fast as he could.

Somebody help!

The only kind of guide he had was the heaviness – or lack of it. The weight he carried most of his life was getting lighter. The pain was less now than it was before, more bearable. It was like he had on ten layers of clothes and the longer he ran, the lighter he became. Losing layer after layer. Part of him wondered if that was a good thing.

Sammy! Dad! Somebody help! Anyone?

Dean skidded to a stop when a blur of white and grey ran past him. When he turned to see what it was, there was nothing.

Who's there?

Emptiness. A void.

If you don't come out right now, I'm gonna kick your ass!

He held his breath for a response, but there was only silence. His voice didn't even echo back. It was unnerving. Dean shook his head and turned. The large white and grey dog in his path growled when Dean made a move to continue running.

Whoa, easy there.

Taking a step back, Dean slowly lifted his hands in the air.Instantly, the growling stopped and the snarl disappeared. The dog—he guessed it was a husky; that’s what it reminded him of, only this one seemed bigger than most—tilted its head and sat on the ground. It regarded Dean with intelligent, bright blue eyes.

Where'd you come from?

The dog just blinked and licked its chops. Dean chuckled.

Somebody need a friend?

Tail wagging, the dog stood and walked over to Dean. He lowered his hands and bent down to one knee to pet the dog. The fur was soft. Warmth radiated off the dog and Dean relaxed, enjoying how the dog leaned into his touch.

You're cute.

Dean smiled when the dog licked his hands.

Hey, you wouldn't happen to know a way out of here, would you?

The dog yipped in excitement and walked past Dean, going the opposite direction that Dean had been running earlier. Without really thinking about it, Dean stood and followed.

- - - - - - -

Dean awoke with a jolt. He gasped for breath like he had been underwater too long.

It took several minutes before Dean really looked around and realized he was in a room. He blinked, wondering how long he’d been in the Black Hole. Pulling the covers back, he got out of bed and wandered into the hallway. Everything was clean and bland. When a nurse walked past him, that’s when Dean realized something was wrong.

He was in a hospital. Obviously… but he couldn’t smell anything.

Normally Dean couldn’t spend an hour in a hospital without zoning out. When Dean heard the roar of the semi engine too close to the Impala, it had been too late. That was at night. There was sunlight shining through the windows that lined the hall. Dean tried to dial up his vision to see past the haze that covered everything, but nothing happened. Panic was beginning to bloom in his chest. He went back into the room to get his phone and froze mid-step.

Lying on the bed in his room was a body. It was hooked up to monitors and a breathing tube, covered in bandages and bruises. A long gash went from the hairline to his eyebrow. The body was his. Dean was looking at his body from the outside.

“Oh crap.”

- - - - - - -

Dean didn’t have to scour the hospital looking for his brother. Sam entered the room not long after Dean woke and before he could get over his shock to come up with a next step. Even with all his senses seemingly on hold, Dean felt better just seeing him. Sammy had bumps, scrapes, and a black eye, but was walking around without difficulty.

“Sammy, it’s good to see you.” Dean smiled. “You look good…. Well, considering.”

Sam made no move that he had heard. He just walked to the side of Dean’s bed and stared down at him.

“Man, please tell me you can hear me. Where's Dad? He okay?”

His little brother glanced at all the machines Dean was hooked to before staring at his comatose face again.

“Come on, you’re supposed to be the psychic. Bust out some ghost whispering or something.”

Sam waited a few minutes while he watched the door from the corner of his eye. After he seemed satisfied no one was coming in, Sam slipped a hand into Dean's and slowly turned his arm this way and that. Dean knew what he was looking for. He leaned over Sam's shoulder to look, too. Rashes were starting to form on Dean's skin. Not where his clothes or the bed sheets touched him, but where the tubes and IV were taped to his skin. Dean heard Sam sigh.

"Dean?” Sam whispered. “If this is a zone-out, I need you to come back.” He glanced at the door before leaning a little closer. “Look, we can't stay here long. I have no idea how to explain your senses to these people. Dean? Dean, can you hear me?"

Bowing his head, Dean took in a deep breath. "Yeah, I can hear you. But it's definitely not a zone-out. I… need help. Someone that can get me back in my body."

Sam let go of Dean's hand and opened one of Dean's eyes, waving a hand in front of it. Dean saw his own pupil was wide and unresponsive. Sam saw it, too. Then he took a step back and stuck his hands in his pockets.

"Let's go, Sammy… Psychic mode – activate!”

A knock on the door made both Dean and Sam turn. “Your father's awake. You can go see him if you like,” said a middle-aged man wearing a white coat.

“Oh, thank god,” Dean breathed.

Sam nodded and paused before asking, “Doc, what about my brother?”

The doctor came more fully into the room, sticking his hands into his pockets. “Well, he sustained serious injury. Blood loss, contusions to his liver and kidney, but it's the head trauma I'm worried about. There are early signs of cerebral edema.”

“Well, what can we do?”

“We won't know his full condition until he wakes up.”

Sam nodded.

“If he wakes up,” the doctor added.

“If?” Sam asked, his brow furrowed.

“What’s this ‘if’ crap,” Dean said.

“I have to be honest – most people with this degree of injury wouldn't have survived this long. He's fighting very hard, but you need to have realistic expectations about this. He might never wake up.”

Sam had no reply to that. Dean watched him nod and look at the floor in thought.

“I'll be fine, Sam. Just go find some Hoodoo priest to lay some mojo on me.”

After glancing back at Dean’s body on the bed, Sam nodded again. “Thank you, doctor.”

Sam followed the doctor out of the room, glancing back at Dean's body just before he left. Dean's spirit followed after his brother.

- - - - - - -

“Here,” John said from his own hospital bed. He pulled an insurance card from his wallet one-handed. The other arm was cradled in a sling.

Sam smirked and sat in the chair next to John’s bed. “Amos Diedrich?”

“And his two lovely sons.” John smiled briefly. “So what else did the doctor say about Dean?”

Sam shook his head and then took a deep breath. “If the doctors won't do anything, then we'll have to. I don't know I'll find some… Hoodoo priest to lay some mojo on him.”

“We'll look for something,” John said with a nod.

“Yeah,” Sam agreed, looking at the floor again.

“But, Sam… don’t get your hopes up. I don't know if we're gonna find anything.”

Lifting up his head, Sam frowned. “Why not? I found that faith healer before.”

“That was one in a million. Even then it was a fraud that chained a reaper to him. The chance of finding the real deal,” John trailed off, letting the words hang heavily.

The anger that Sam was so quick to ignite around John cut through the room. “So what? We just sit here with our thumbs up our ass?”

John’s anger cut right back. “No, I said we'd look. Alright? I'll call every contact I have, check under every stone.”

Sam took a deep breath and worked his jaw, nodding.

“Do you have the Colt?”

Sam’s eyes narrowed. “Your son is dying and you're worried about the Colt?”

“We are hunting this demon and now it's hunting us, too. You saw the driver of that semi – he was possessed. That gun is our ace in the hole. Neither of us can do anything to help Dean if we’re dead.”

After shaking his head, Sam said quietly, “I don’t have it. It's in the trunk. They dragged the car to a yard off of I-83.”

“You gotta clean out that trunk before someone sees what's inside.”

“I called Bobby already. He wasn’t far out. He'll tow the Impala back to his place.”

John nodded. “Alright, you go meet up with Bobby, get the Colt, and bring it back here. Understand? And watch out for hospital security.”

Sam huffed and grinned. “I think I got it,” he said as he stood up to leave.

“Hey, I made a list of things I need,” John said, offering up a piece of paper. “Have Bobby pick them up for me.”

Taking the paper, Sam’s lips moved silently as he read the list. “What's all this for?”

“Protection.”

Sam nodded and headed for the door. Just before leaving the room, he paused and turned around. “Dad…. The demon said he had plans for me and other children like me. You have any idea what he meant by that?”

“No,” John said, looking Sam in the eye. “No, I don't.”

Sam left the room and his footsteps disappeared down the hall. John heaved a sigh and let his head fall back on a pillow.

In the far corner of the room, Dean crossed his arms. “Well, you sure as hell know somethin'. And lying to him isn’t gonna help.”

- - - - - - -

Dean wandered the hospital in search of someone who might be able to see or hear him, but no dice. However, he did learn that they had been in the hospital for less than 12 hours. Life-flighted in this morning.

When he came back to his room, he found John sitting in a chair beside his bed. Dean stood on the opposite side of the bed, watching John watch him.

"Dad... Aren't you going to do anything? I can't help you when I'm like this."

John looked at Dean's face, expression blank.

"Aren't you even going to say anything?”

John turned his head to look out the window.

Dean’s anger ignited like a match dropped in a gas tank. “You know what? I've done everything you've ever asked. Everything. Even with my so-called 'disability' I've given everything I've ever had. Everything to protect Sammy and this family. And you're just gonna sit there? You're gonna watch me die? What the hell kind of father are you?"

John stared out the window into the distance, face blank.

Then the ground started to shake.

Dean looked about the room, anger dissolving in the face of his confusion. "What is that?"

Right as Dean turned to face the door, a ghostly white figure zoomed past. Dean glanced at his father, who appeared unperturbed.

"I take it you didn't feel or see any of that," Dean said before taking off down the hall after the figure.

He finally caught up with it at the other end of the hall. Alarms and voices shouted from inside a room. A middle aged woman was in cardiac arrest. There were nurses and doctors everywhere trying to get the patient’s heart to start. What they couldn't see was that they had no chance, but Dean could see it. The white figure looked like a corpse in long white robes. It was hovering over the dying woman's body. With one bony finger, the figure gently caressed the woman's forehead.

The woman's spirit floated up from her body. She had a small smile on her face as she embraced the ghostly figure. There was a flash of light and then both of them faded to nothing.

Dean just stood there and blinked.

- - - - - -  -

When Sam returned, both John and Dean were waiting in John's room.

"You're not gonna believe it, Sammy. I think I actually saw a reaper today." Even with their previous faith healer case, none of them had ever seen a reaper. All they had to go on was the account of the victim that escaped… the first time. The vic wasn’t so lucky the second time the reaper came for him.

Sam slammed a duffle down on the counter. He stared out the window, clenching his jaw.

"What's wrong?" Dean asked.

"You're quiet," John said at the same time.

Sam spun around. "Did you think I wouldn't find out?"

John’s eyebrows drew together. "What’re you talking about?"

"That stuff you wanted from Bobby. It's not the ingredients for warding off a demon, they're for summoning one. You're gonna call that yellow-eyed bastard here, aren't you?"

"I have a plan, Sam."

"That's my point!" Sam snapped, stepping up to John's bedside. "Dean is dying and you have a plan! You care more about killing this damn demon than you do saving your own flesh and blood!"

"Don't you ever tell me how I feel!" John snapped back. "I am doing this for Dean."

"How? How is revenge going to help him? The only person you're thinking about is yourself. You're obsessed, Dad!"

"Come on, guys. This isn't going to help," Dean sighed.

At the same time John said, "You know what, this is your obsession too! And it damn well should be. This demon killed your mother – burned alive on a ceiling! You practically begged me to be part of this hunt. If you'd killed that demon when you had the chance, none of this would have happened."

"How could I? It was possessing you, Dad. Killing it would have killed you, too!"

"Yeah? And your bother would be awake right now. He wouldn’t be lying on a hospital bed—dying—because of you."

Briefly Dean closed his eyes, feeling like he was 26 years old going on 100. "Please. Shut up, both of you."

Sam sneered down at John. "Go to hell."

"I never should have taken you along in the first place," John continued like Sam hadn't spoken. "I thought having you around might help Dean, but I knew letting you hunt was a mistake-"

"I said shut up!" Dean shouted, picking up the duffle and throwing it to the opposite wall.

It hit the wall and then landed on the floor with a heavy thud. Everyone stared at the duffle in amazement.

Dean was the first to recover. "So if I'm Swayze, where the hell is my Demi Moore?"

John and Sam only took their gaze away from the duffle when nurses and doctors ran past the room shouting orders.

John looked at Sam. "Find out what's going on."

Sam nodded and left with Dean following behind. The commotion led them both down the hall to Dean's room. Dean's body was flatlining. Floating over his body was the reaper.

"Don't touch me," Dean breathed, voice strangled by the tightness in this throat.

The reaper reached out a hand toward Dean's forehead.

"I said don't touch me!" Rushing forward, Dean punched the reaper in the jaw. Both Dean and the reaper jumped back. Dean was shocked he'd actually been able to make contact. He supposed the reaper was shocked that anyone would punch it. He didn't care either way.

The reaper floated down to the ground and stood in front of him. He guessed it was studying him, but it was hard to tell since it was missing actual eyes. There were just black pits where the eyes should have been.

"Aren't you tired?" a voice whispered, a slight echo following.

Everything around them seemed to stop. The nurses and doctors froze mid-motion.

Dean blinked. "What?"

Its lips hadn't moved, but the reaper inclined its head toward him. "Aren't you tired of fighting? Fighting against unnatural creatures. Fighting for thankless strangers. Fighting to keep peace in your family when they would be better served going separate ways. Fighting yourself. Fighting your senses. Fighting your loneliness. Don't you think you've done enough?"

Dean felt the Black Hole widen. Since he was just a spirit right then, Dean literally felt it as a hollow pain in his head and over his heart. The sudden appearance of it took his breath away. "I... I just-"

"You want love," the reaper whispered. "Everyone does. But you must understand by now that you will never find that when you live the life you do. If you could continue to be the glue that holds your father and brother together, it would kill you in the end."

Dean shook his head, pushing back the pain so he could at least breathe. "Everyone's gotta die from something. I just need more time. Can't you give me that?"

The reaper dipped its head. "I cannot put you back in your body. It is not allowed. However, you do not have to come with me. Though I must warn you, you will become the very thing you've hunted if you choose to stay."

The reality of the situation was finally dawning on him. Dean wasn't dying – he was already dead. His choices now were to become an angry spirit or to pass on to... where ever.

"If I follow you, where will I go? Where will I end up?"

"I do not know that."

"So... there's no heaven or hell?"

"There is. I am not told how people are judged. I merely give them the chance to move on peacefully."

Dean bit his lip. Thinking back on his life, Dean honestly didn't know where he'd end up. He tried to help people as much as he could, but then there was the fraud. He was pretty sure that stealing was looked down on. And what about the people the demons were possessing that he had killed. He would obviously do anything to protect his family, but wasn't that murder?

Even with the possibility that he might be going to hell, Dean was giving it serious thought. The reaper was right. He was tired. He was tired of it all. Fighting. Loneliness. Zone-outs. Pity from Sam. Disappointment from Dad. Holding his family together by the tips of his fingernails when all they wanted to do was leave him behind. But he couldn't be left behind. When Sam left for Stanford and Dean dealt with it best he could. Then Dad disappeared. That same week Dean had focused too long on his sight, looking at case photos in his motel room. It took Dean three days to pull himself back. Less than a day later, he was in the Impala and headed toward Stanford.

After Dad and Sam kill the demon, they could go their separate ways. Go and live the lives they wanted, especially since Dean wouldn't be around. And the last thing Dean wanted was to become an angry spirit. A hunter one day in the future would have to get rid of him. That only left him with one option.

Just as his decision was made, Dean saw a blur of white and grey come through the wall. It was a dog. The same white and grey husky that led Dean out of the Black Hole.

Moving to stand in front of Dean, the dog snarled and bared its teeth at the reaper. Neither moved, but it felt like a battle of wills was taking place. The dog's growling grew louder with every passing second. Then the dog barked and jumped forward. The reaper floated back a few feet, slowly fading away.

The world around them thawed and the people began to move at a normal speed.

"We have a pulse," said a nurse.

Dean saw Sam in the doorway, heaving a sigh of relief.

He turned back and saw that the dog was still there, looking at him with sad eyes. He crouched down and looked into those bright blue eyes. "I take it you didn't want me to go."

The dog whined and paced a few steps forward before sitting down.

He smiled, the pain in his head and chest lessened. Dean reached out and scratched behind the dog's ears. It gave a happy grunt in return.

"Stay with me?"

In answer, the dog tried to lick Dean's face. Dean considered that a 'yes'.

Sam led the way back to Dad’s room. Dean and his buddy followed behind.

The brief encounter with the reaper shook Dean more than he wanted to admit, but he was doing his best to not think about it.

“What should I call you? I can’t keep calling you ‘dog’ in my head,” Dean wondered aloud.

The dog just glanced up at Dean with its tongue hanging out, panting as they walked down the hall.

“That was so helpful-”

“Dad?” Sam said ahead of them, already inside the hospital room.

When Sam walked fully into the room to investigate, Dean saw that the bed was empty. Sam came out of the bathroom with his frown deepening.

Dean was about to walk in the room when his buddy yelped and took off down the hall.

“What the– Hey, wait!” Dean shouted as he ran after him.

Either his buddy knew where he was going or Dean was being led on a wild goose chase. They went down floor after floor. The dog never stopped or slowed. Down flights and flights of stairs they went until they reached the basement. When his buddy finally stopped, it was just outside a door marked ‘Boiler Room’.

Dean wasn’t out of breath, but it felt like he should have been. “What the hell was that about?”

The husky looked over at him and then pointedly back at the door. Dean blinked and stepped closer to look through the little glass window. Inside was a man with his back to the door. There were lit candles on the ground in a circle, symbols drawn in red paint inside the candles, and Dean could hear a voice chanting in Latin.

“Dad,” Dean breathed, walking literally through the door.

John was standing outside the circle of candles. After finishing the incantation, he lit a match and dropped it in a bowl sitting in the center of the candle circle. Dean saw blood dripping from John’s fingers from the arm still in a sling. John lifted his head then, looking around for someone.

Dean groaned. “Oh god, Dad. Tell me you didn’t-”

“Hey, what are you doing down here?”

The voice came from nowhere, startling both John and Dean. It was a man wearing a janitor’s uniform, wiping his hands on a handkerchief.

“I can explain-” John started.

“Uh-huh. I bet.” The man stuffed his handkerchief in his back pocket and pointed at John. “You shouldn’t be down here. You need to follow me or I’m going to call security.” He turned, expecting John to follow.

“How stupid do you think I am?” John asked, pointing the Colt at the janitor and pulling back the hammer.

The janitor stopped and then slowly turned around, grinning. “Do you really want me to answer that?”

The normal eyes of the janitor vanished in a blink, opening again to reveal an evil pair of yellow eyes. In a flash, two more demons appeared behind John – outnumbering and surrounding him.

Dean cursed under his breath and edged closer to John. He wasn’t sure he could do anything, but could try. Especially since he could Swayze that duffle earlier. The husky sat in the corner of the room, tracking Yellow-eyes even though the demons seemed not to see either of them.

The Yellow-eyed Demon walked back, looking disappointed. “Summoning me? Really, John? You surprise me. Of all things ways I imagined killing you, I never thought you would roll out the red carpet. Suicide to boot.”

“I’m not committing suicide and I’m not here to kill you.” Slowly, John uncocked the hammer and lowered the gun. “I’m here to make a deal.”

The demon tsked and shook his head, mouth turned up at one corner. “Making deals with demons? It’s unseemly.” Then he lifted his head. “How do I know this isn’t a trick?”

“It’s not, I swear.”

One eyebrow lifted. “Now I’m curious. What could you—infamous hound of a hunter—have that I want?”

John glanced down briefly and turned the Colt in his hand. “I’ll give you the gun and the last bullet, but you gotta bring Dean back.”

Yellow-eyes grinned like a shark scenting blood. “John Winchester – the sentimentalist. If only your boys knew how much their daddy loved them.”

“This isn’t a joke. It’s a good deal. You care more about this gun than any of us-”

“Don’t be so sure,” Yellow-eyes interrupted. The demon stepped closer, studying John.

“Well? Can you do it? Can you bring Dean back?”

“No.” Then the demon shrugged. “But I know someone who can. It won’t be a problem.”

Dean shook his head. “Dad, please don’t do this.”

“Good. Before I give you the gun, I want to make sure Dean’s okay – with my own eyes,” John added empathically at the last.

Yellow-eyes tilted his head. “John, that hurts. Don’t you trust me?”

John breathed out a laugh and shook his head.

The demon shrugged. “Fair enough.”

“So we have a deal?”

“Not yet. You still need to sweeten the pot.”

“With what?”

“Nothin’ good, Dad. Please. Use the Colt and kill him,” Dean begged in a low voice. “You and Sam will be fine without me.”

The demon stared at John without blinking. “There’s something I want as much as that gun. Maybe more.”

John lifted an eyebrow, waiting.

“Mmm, your soul would do quite nicely.”

John frowned. “My soul?”

Dean could only shake his head, violently rejecting the idea but unable to find his voice.

“Of course. Now that is a good deal. The perfect trade – replacing one soul in the Pit for another.” The demon leaned in with a serious look and lowered his voice, “Word has it, Dean was already slotted for the trip downstairs. Date with big boss. Your little Sammy, too, when his time comes.”

The older hunter’s breathing had picked up, grip tightening on the gun. “If I give you my soul and the Colt, will you leave them both alone? Bring Dean back and forget Sam?”

“Forget Sam?” Dean asked, looking at John.

The demon inclined his head. “Figured it out, have you? You know what I had planned for little Sammy and the other children like him.”

For the first time, John looked confused. “Planned?”

“Oh yes, it must have slipped my mind. I found a better candidate in your son.” Yellow-eyes grinned. “Just not the one you protected all these years.”

John’s confusion quickly became a look of horror. “What? Why would you-”

“Because I can,” the demon said – voice flat. “He deserves the best I can find. And Dean? Ain’t nothin’ like him anywhere else. Believe me; I’ve been looking for a while.”

Now Dean furrowed his brow. “Dad, what’s that bastard talking about?”

The shock of this news had John standing completely still, jaw slightly open in horror. Yellow-eyes drank in the sight eagerly.

“So your choices are to die and save your son-”

“I don’t want to save him if that’s the future he’s gonna have,” John interjected.

“Or,” the demon continued like John had never spoken, “you can let your boy die and all the demons in Hell will get a chance to ride him like the village bicycle. From now until the twelfth of never,” Yellow-eyes said, softly singing the last part.

Out of the corner of his eye, the husky stood to attention and growled low. John flinched like he’d been slapped across the face. Dean was too horrified to do anything.

“Tick tock, John. I don’t have all day.”

The oldest Winchester clenched his jaw, cursing behind his gritted teeth. “Fine,” he mumbled.

“Dad,” Dean croaked. “You can’t do this. I don’t want that to happen either, but you can’t give this son of a bitch what he wants.”

The demon smiled and cupped a hand behind his ear. “What was that?”

“I said…” John bit out, glaring at the demon. “It’s a deal.”

Yellow-eyes smiled and clapped his hands together once. “Wonderful!” The demon stepped into John’s personal space and grabbed the back of his neck, pulling John closer.

In a panic, Dean tried to punch the demon. It went right through the bastard. He reached to grab the demon’s arm, but it was like Dean was trying to catch air. “Shit!”

John leaned back, fighting the pull. “What’re you doing?”

A shark-like grin spread across the demon’s face. “My favorite part. Flapping your gums is just detail. You need to sign the contract with a kiss.” John shook his head and tried to take a step back, but Yellow-eyes held him tight. “Rules are rules, John. You want to save your son? Then pucker up.”

A look of disgust took over John’s face, but he closed his eyes and leaned closer.

“That’s more like it,” Yellow-eyes purred.

“Dad, no!”

Bright light suddenly flashed. Dean lifted his arms up instinctively, glancing toward the source from behind his forearms. The husky was glowing with white light. Glancing back to his Dad, Dean noticed that he wasn’t the only one seeing it. John and all three demons were staring at the dog in shock.

“What is-” Yellow-eyes started – only to be cut off by the screams of his demon lackeys. There was smoke rising from their bodies like they were being burned.

The Yellow-eyed Demon turned his mouth to the ceiling, getting ready to smoke out of his janitor meatsuit. The light from the husky burned so bright that Dean was forced to shut his eyes.  

Then he was being pulled backwards. He couldn’t resist – not that he wanted to. It felt like his soul was being wrapped up and blinded by the light at the same time. It was warm and calm. Dean felt like he was floating.

- - - - - -

The first thing that hit him was the smell. Stale air, cleaning supplies, sweat, metal, plastic, blood, food, rotting flesh, and faint scent of death weaving its way through all of it. In the attempt to cover his nose and mouth, Dean realized there was a tube down his throat and he was choking on it.

Touch was the next to hit him and he wished it hadn’t. Dean now felt the welts and rashes where they taped tubes to his body. This mind counted four places: left arm, chest, face, and right inner thigh. But all of that was secondary to how it felt to slowly pull the tube out of his throat. He coughed and hacked, making his throat even rawer.

Opening his eyes was a mistake. He was blinded by the white painted walls, the overhead lights, and the slivers of sunlight coming through the blinds. Dean shut them again and sat up.

Halfway through ripping off all the tape and pulling out an IV, he realized a man was trying to talk him down. “Mr. Diedrich, I need you to stop before you hurt yourself.” Dean heard him press a button and called more nurses to help. The beeping alarms were like nails on a chalkboard.

“Stop,” Dean whispered, then covered his own ears. Even his own voice was too loud.

 He had to get out. There was no way he could stay here. Everything was hitting him at once. It was too much.

“Dean Winchester,” a deep, soothing voice cut through everything. Dean’s head snapped up.

The first thing he saw was intelligent, bright blue eyes. He knew those eyes. He had seen those eyes in the face of a husky for the past day. Now, they were on the face of a man. A man that looked in his 30s, about Dean’s height, dark hair, and a concerned set to his mouth.

“You…” Dean breathed.

Just when Dean felt like he was drowning in those blue eyes, the man pulled Dean forward into his arms. Dean wrapped his arms around the stranger to keep his balance.

“Focus on me. Use all your senses and focus on me,” the man instructed in a whisper.

Dean wished he would speak louder. He wanted to feel that deep voice in his bones again. Instead, he focused on the man’s heartbeat. It was strong and healthy – a little slower than the average male that age, but still strong. It was actually like the best kind of music. Dean found himself slowly swaying with the beat.

The man’s scent was definitely unique. The first thing Dean could pick up was the clothes. He was wearing cotton and leather exclusively, only a hint of metal he could recognize. There was a stronger scent of metal that he couldn’t place. It was stale like silver, sharp like steel, tangy like cooper, and sweet like gold – it was a strange blend of all four metals he’d never encountered before. Pushing past that, Dean buried his face into the crook of the man’s neck. All the hospital smells fell into the background as he catalogued the man’s body: fresh fallen snow, lightning during a thunderstorm, a pleasant hint of a strange kind of oil, and a stress profile that suggested the man was happy and satisfied.

They say animals could smell fear. Well, so could Dean. Stress levels and emotional states affect a person’s hormones, subtly changing how a person smells. Happiness has a pleasant scent, anger and jealousy is bitter, fear is stale, worry is damp, and sadness is sour. This stranger’s stress profile was almost completely happy. Just a slight hint of worry was the only other thing Dean could pick up. 

Closing his eyes, Dean let his hands roam over the man’s back. There weren’t muscles upon muscles over the man’s frame, but the ones he could feel were strong, solid. Dean could vaguely feel that the man was following Dean’s lead and swaying gently. The skin underneath his cheek was warm and smooth. He had an alarming urge to taste the man’s skin, but Dean was steadily coming back to himself. Scaring the stranger away wouldn’t help him. Instead, he took deeper breathes to get a hint of how the man would taste.

“Better?” the deep voice rumbled again.

Dean nodded and stood still, holding on tight. Since latching on to this man, a sense of peace started to wrap around him. He was reluctant to let any of it go.

“Dean.” The man’s voice made him shiver. “I promise you won’t fall back into your senses if we let go. Even if you do, I’ll catch you.”

Deciding to trust that voice, Dean took another deep breath before picking his head up and pulling back. Blue eyes shone bright and the man’s lips were turned up at the corner.

Licking his dry lips, Dean managed to whisper, “Who are you?” His throat was still raw inside from the tube.

“My name is Castiel and I’m an Angel of the Lord.”

Dean blinked, eyebrows lifted toward his hairline. Angel?, he mouthed.

The ma- Castiel nodded and placed two fingers on Dean’s forehead. His body was flooded with warmth and his skin tingled. It was an odd feeling. The tingle was strongest where the rashes and welts were on his skin. By the time the tingling went away, not even his throat hurt anymore.

“How?” Dean asked. He had to close his mouth to swallow.

Castiel smiled. “Simple healing. All angels can do it.”

“No.” Dean shook his head. “How are you an angel? I didn’t think they existed. I’ve never seen one before.”

“You never saw a reaper before today, but you believed they existed. Why would an angel be any different?” Castiel smiled at him.

Again, Dean shook his head. He actually had no answer for that.

Finally pulling his eyes away, Dean glanced around the room. The nurses were running around in chaos.

“Where is he?”

“I don’t know.”

“What do you mean you don’t know?”

“I mean he was here – right in front of my face and now he’s just gone!”

Dean looked down at himself, half excepting to see through his arms to the floor. But he was as solid as any other day.

“Did you make us invisible?” Dean asked the angel.

Castiel shook his head. “Not invisible. I’m hiding us from their perceived senses.”

“But you’re not hiding from mine.”

The angel smiled. “No, never yours.”

“Why?”

“Because you’re a sentinel and I’m here to guide you.”

Dean blinked. “A what?”

Sam barreled into the room, hair going in every direction and a wild look in his eyes. “Dean? Dean!” He rounded on the nurses. “Where’s my brother? Where is he?!”

“Sir, calm down-”

“Don’t tell me to calm down!” Sam turned away from the nurse, walking in the bathroom.

“Sam, I’m fine,” Dean said, stepping forward.

His little brother stormed back out. Absently, Sam checked the closet—as if Dean would be hiding in there—before rounding on the nurses. “How did this even happen? He was in a coma.”

“He woke up,” the nurse replied, shrugging and shaking his head. “According to his chart he shouldn’t have, but he did. When I came in, he was putting the respirator out. Then he went to town on everything he was hooked up to.”

Sam nodded his head, a hopeful look in his eyes. “Which direction did he run?”

The nurse shook his head again. “He didn’t. He didn’t even make it off the bed. I saw him cover his ears and he mumbled something… then he was gone.”

“Gone?”

“I blinked and he wasn’t there anymore.” The nurse shrugged. “If he did run past me, I didn’t see it. He was just gone.”

Sam clenched his jaw and sucked in a breath. Dean knew what that look meant.

“I need to talk to him,” he said to Castiel.

The angel hummed. “Agreed, but it would be unwise to do it here.”

Dean's eyebrows drew together as he thought. How would they convince Sam to leave this room with him ‘missing’?

“Gabriel, Anna – I could use your assistance,” Castiel said to the air.

“Who-” Dean started. He stopped when he felt the air around him change. There were two gusts of wind then a man and woman dropped gracefully through the ceiling to stand in front of them. They bowed their heads to Castiel and the angel bowed back.

Even if Dean hadn’t witnessed them come through the ceiling, he would have known they weren’t human. Their heartbeats were as slow as Castiel’s. Both of them also smelled of lightning during a thunderstorm, that pleasantly strange oil, and the mix of metal he couldn’t identify. The male angel—much shorter than Castiel or himself—also smelled like sunshine through a forest. The female angel’s scent reminded him of a campfire, which fit with her long red hair. All three angels were dressed similarly – dark cotton-based clothes, boots, and a fitted leather jacket.

“How can we help, brother?” the female angel—Anna, he guessed—asked.

“I need you to take John Winchester to the safe house. Gabriel, I need you to take Sam Winchester. Neither will be happy about this, but keep them protected.”

The angel named Gabriel was grinning from ear to ear. “No prob. Oh, thanks for giving me the pretty one, bro,” he said with a wink. Dean watched the angel grab onto Sam—who was in mid-rant with the nurses again—and jump up through the ceiling with him.

Anna smiled and shook her head. Dean blinked. She was shorter than she was a second ago. It was only when Dean looked down that he realized she was slowly sinking through the floor. Like Gabriel’s exit, there was no sound – just a slight rush of air. After Anna’s red hair disappeared, Dean touched the spot with his bare toe. It was solid and intact.

Dean had so many questions, but no idea where to start. He blinked when he felt his hand being pulled, a wave of comfort and warmth washed over him. Dean glanced down to see that his fingers were interlaced with Castiel’s. They had been the whole time now that he thought about it.

“Shall we go reassure your family that you’re fine?” Castiel suggested.

“Yeah. Yeah, sure.”

He was pulled into Castiel’s arms again, clinging on for dear life as the angel took to the air.

As it turns out, angel flight is pretty instantaneous – which was helpful because Dean had never liked heights. One second Dean felt like he jumped into the air, the next he landed on his feet in a different place. In different clothes no less. The hospital gown was gone and he wore his usual jeans, boots, a cotton t-shirt, and a button-up. Even the hospital stink that was in his hair and skin was gone.

Dean grinned. “Thanks, Cas.” He paused, feeling a little unsure if the nickname would be a good thing.

The angel nodded and smiled. “You’re welcome.”

“What the hell are you?” John’s voice filtered through a wall.

“Where are we? What do you want? Are you the ones who took Dean?” Sam’s worried voice followed.

Glancing around, Dean supposed they were in a forest cabin. Cas landed them in one of bedrooms. The floor, walls, and ceiling of the room was all wood. Very little decoration to be seen. Outside Dean could smell a strong scent of dirt and pine. Birds were singing in every direction.

“I second what Sammy said. Where are we?” Dean asked out of curiosity.

“The Colorado Plateau.”

“Oh.” He actually had no idea where that was, but Colorado was close enough to an answer.

“Took Dean?” John’s voice started to rise. “What do you mean they took Dean?”

Dean sighed and headed for the door, listening to the angel follow behind.

The four occupants of the room were divided – two on each side. The angels took the living room area, which was closest to the room that Dean and Cas were coming out of. Anna was sitting on the arm of the couch. Gabriel was sprawled on said couch eating a candy bar. Both were watching the two Winchesters turn on each other. John and Sam were on the opposite side of the cabin in the kitchen area.  Even with his family at each other’s throats again, Dean was happy to see them. He was also happy to see both of them free of bruises and scratches. John’s arm moved freely, no longer in a sling.

All attention turned his way when he walked through the door.

“Hiya, Sammy. Dad.” Dean tried to keep his voice friendly when addressing John, but he knew he failed. He was still angry about the ‘plan’ he had witnessed in the hospital basement.

“Dean – oh, thank God,” Sam breathed out, walking toward Dean.

“There’s another one!” John pulled the Colt from his waist and pointed it to Dean’s left – where Cas was standing beside him.

Dean moved so fast it felt like he had teleported. He ran up to John and slapped the gun out of his hand. Neither Winchester had seen Dean move either because they both leapt back as the Colt slid across the floor. It felt like the hairs all over Dean’s body were standing up. Part of him wanted to eliminate the threat to Cas. The rest of him knew the ‘threat’ was his Dad making another stupid decision. He was breathing hard and shallow through his nose.

“Don’t you ever point a gun at him again. I swear I’ll kill you if you do.”

John and Sam blinked at Dean, mouths hanging open.

Even though Dean was taking deeper breaths to try and calm down, it wasn’t working. He still wanted to take two more steps forward so he could break John’s neck. The sudden warm hands on his shoulders made Dean tense up. The scent that followed—fresh snow and lightning—made him relax though.

“It’s okay, Dean. Everything’s fine,” Cas’ deep voice murmured. Dean let that voice and the scent travel through him. His eyes fluttered closed and he gave in to that voice.

“Dean?” Sam asked softly. “What’s going on?”

Dean shook his head, not ready to speak yet.

“He called for help and I answered,” Castiel supplied instead.

“And what are you?” The distrust in John’s voice was like a living thing in the room. 

Castiel was as calm as ever. “My name is Castiel-”

“I asked what, not who.”

“He’s an angel, Dad.” Dean opened his eyes and glared at John. “They all are.”

John frowned.

Sam’s face looked torn between bliss and shock. “Really?”

Dean nodded.

Slowly stepping forward, Sam offered a hand to Castiel. “Wow, I’m honored to meet you. All of you.”

Castiel stepped up beside Dean and shook Sam’s hand – a grin on his face. “It’s a pleasure to meet you, Samuel Winchester.”

“Just Sam. And thank you. Thank you for saving my brother.”

“We should be thanking you,” Anna said from beside Cas, shaking Sam’s hand politely before he moved on to Gabriel. “The three of you helped bring down a very dangerous demon.”

Dean looked at over at Anna, eyes wide. “You mean Yellow-eyes? You guys got him?”

She smiled. “Yes on both accounts. His name is actually Azazel.”

He waved his hand dismissively at that. “Could be named douche for all I care.” Dean thought Sam would call him on the language in front of angels, but his brother was still too enthralled by their existence. “When’d you get him?”

“Today.”

“In the basement of the hospital,” Castiel added.

That’s all Dean needed to hear. Now he felt like his family could be safe.

John wasn’t satisfied so easily. “Where were you before now? Do you know how many people have died because of that demon – how many lives were caught up in that plan of his?”

“Yes, we know now,” Anna said sadly.

Sam turned on John. “I thought you said you didn’t know anything about his plans.” Out of the corner of his vision, Dean saw Gabriel slowly move until he was standing right next to Sam.

“He lied. In fact, I’d be willing to bet that he went off on his own when he found out what the plan was.” Dean turned to stare at John. “You knew you wouldn’t be able to lie to me, didn’t you?”

John stared right back, but his heart skipped a couple beats.

“Yeah, that’s what I thought.”

“Well,” Gabriel broke in cheerfully, “at least we have John to thank for summoning Azazel so we could capture him.”

Sam rounded on John. “You just couldn’t wait, could you? Even with Dean on his deathbed, you couldn’t wait for your moment of revenge!”

“Actually, revenge would have been better,” Dean cut in.

Sam looked over at Dean, a frown on his face.

“It would have been better than what he was actually planning to do.” He took a deep breath and sighed. “Dad was going to give the demon the Colt and his soul to save you and me.”

Just like Dean knew it would, Sam’s expression darkened. “Save me from what?”

Both sons looked to their father for an answer, but—after a long pause of silence—the answer came from Castiel.

“Azazel was planning on raising Lucifer from Hell. He was tasked to find the perfect body for the fallen angel to inhabit. Sam and many other children were picked as potentials.”

“The night your mother died,” John picked up. “She caught the demon by your crib, Sam. He was bleeding into your mouth.”

Sam stepped back, a look of horror on his face. “I have demon blood in me?”

“Had.” Gabriel said, laying a hand on Sam’s shoulder. “Took care of that when I was healing the rest of you.”

A breath of relief left Sam and he leaned closer. “Thank you.”

“No prob.” Gabriel gave Sam a smile and a wink. Sam was looking at his healed hands like he was noticing them for the first time.

“Why would the devil need a body?” Dean asked when the question hit him.

“Before his fall, Lucifer was an angel,” Cas started. “We are beings of energy and we can accomplish many things in that state. It’s quite powerful and could damage a human if we aren’t careful. But God created us to protect humanity and help their sentinels. So at the time of our creation, God gifted us with a blade and an empty vessel.” Cas indicated his own human looking body.

Dean nodded. “Okay, I’m following you so far.”

“Lucifer felt that he was above humanity – better than them. When he refused God’s decree, he was thrown into Hell by God. His blade and vessel were also destroyed. If Lucifer were to escape Hell at any point, he would cause a great deal of destruction. But, if he had a vessel, he would cause global annihilation—the Apocalypse. The Apocalypse is actually a spell. The spell would raise and bind the Four Horsemen to the caster. They would have to do whatever the caster wants-”

Dean felt his own heart skip a beat or two. “Wait. So any smuck with a spell book could end the world?”

Calm wrapped around Dean as Cas shook his head. “No, there are ingredients to the spell that a human could never gather. A withered blossom from the Garden of Eden, a blessing from a demon, and the heart of a dying star are a few of the easier ingredients. Lucifer could gather these with ease, but the binding part of the spell requires blood from the caster.”

“And,” Anna picked up, “you need a body to give blood. A body for the spell to be grounded in this dimension.”

Sam nodded seriously, soaking up all the information. Dean’s eyes crossed a little at ‘this dimension’ and the ingredients Cas listed.

“So I was picked to be a vessel for…” Sam trailed off.

“You were,” John murmured. “The demon changed its mind.”

“Why?”

John looked from Sam to Dean. Sam followed his gaze, wide eyed.

Cas saved Dean from having to say anything. “When Azazel possessed John, he learned about Dean’s heightened senses. The idea appealed to Azazel – even more so when he was summoned and discovered that Dean’s spirit was separated from his body.  He allowed you to take John from that warehouse as a test. He was testing Dean’s abilities.”

Dean cursed in every way he would come up with on the fly. He knew that rescue seemed too easy. The warehouse was more like an obstacle course than a stronghold. “He smelled like sulfur. But everything in that damn place smelled like sulfur. I let my guard down when the holy water didn’t burn his skin.”

“A demon’s physical being uses sulfur to ease the transition in and out of a host. The longer it stays in the host, the weaker the smell of sulfur,” Anna said, voice gentle.

“And a demon of Azazel’s position wouldn’t react to water blessed by a priest,” Cas added, just as gentle. “Water blessed by an angel is a different story.”

All three Winchesters looked in Cas’ direction.

The question was on the tip on Dean’s tongue when Cas said, “Of course. We’ll bless a supply for you to use while hunting.”

Dean grinned. “You’re awesome.”

“Can we go back to the part about sentinels?” Sam interjected. “You said earlier that angels were created to ‘protect humanity and help their sentinels’ – what are sentinels?”

All three angels looked at Dean, which caused Sam and John to look at Dean as well.

“Me?” Dean vaguely remembered Cas calling him that in the hospital, but shit was happening so fast that he’d forgotten.

“Yes. Sentinels are humans with enhanced senses. They were created by God when evil began to take hold on Earth.”

“But,” Sam started. He was thinking so hard Dean could almost hear it. “Why haven’t we heard about them before? Wouldn’t there be lore about them somewhere?”

“Sentinels protected humanity from evil for centuries – before language was invented. But, in the times of peace, their senses went to sleep. The bloodline was passed down throughout the centuries, but none of the sentinels woke. Dean is the first sentinel to wake in over 6,000 years.”

“Why now?” Dean asked.

“In recent years, there has been an increase of demon activity. It was only in the last few days—with your help—that we were able to discover why.”

“If demons were crawling out of the woodwork,” John began, voice dangerously low, “why couldn’t you figure out what that demon was up to years ago?”

“Cause we’re not God or mind readers, buck-o,” sniped Gabriel. “The mind reader thing wouldn’t have worked anyway. Azazel was smart for a demon. Only he knew the plan. All the demons he used to help him? They only knew bits and pieces – some of it false on purpose. He was a hard guy to find, but I gotta say… We never thought to summon him. I’m not sure if we should give you a medal or make you take a psych eval.”

“Gabriel,” Anna admonished.

The angel shrugged. “Truth hurts.”

Dean noticed a vein popping up around John’s temple and that Sam was scratching his cheek to hide a smirk.

Sam cleared his throat, dropping his hand. “So what do we do now?”

Gabriel waggled his eyebrows. “Anything you want, big boy.” 

Dean coughed to cover his laugh. The other two angels in the room both frowned in Gabriel’s direction.

Sam tilted his head and frowned. “No, I meant are you guys going back to Heaven… or where ever?”

“We’re staying with you.”

Sam blinked. “Really?”

Castiel nodded. “Yes. If Dean was able to awaken, there’s a chance the two of you might as well.”

Both John and Sam spoke at the same time. “How is that even possible?” “Wouldn’t we have woken by now?”

“As I said before, the sense abilities of a sentinel were passed down through generations. Your family is of a sentinel bloodline. A traumatic event usually triggers the awakening.”

“The fire,” Dean murmured. “One of my most vivid memories about that night was the heat from the fire. I felt it everywhere when I carried Sam out of the house.”

“You carried me out?”

Dean blinked and nodded, resurfacing from his memories. “Yeah. You didn’t know that?”

“No.” Sam looking a little wide eyed, voice far away. “No, I didn’t know.”

“But, wasn’t it as traumatic for them?” Dean asked. “Why was I the only one?”

“Sam was too young,” Anna said. “He wouldn’t have survived if he awoke as a sentinel at that age.”

“John was an emotional mess—still is—but if his senses woke it would have taken him down the rabbit hole. And I would bet he’d never come out of it again,” Gabriel added. Castiel and Anna shot the angel a look, which Gabriel ignored. Dean heard John take a deep breath.

“So you’re going to stay with us,” Dean spoke before John could. “What does that mean exactly? Are you going to hunt with us now?”

Castiel smiled. “If you wish to hunt, I will hunt with you. If you wish to do something else, I will be there with you then. Your options are open.”

Dean leaned closer, feeling the corner of his mouth tug up. “Hunting is good for me.” The angel nodded and reached for Dean’s hand, interlacing their fingers.

“So what do ya say, Sammy? Are we going back to Stanford or hitting the road with your brother?” Gabriel asked, crossing his arms and pointing in opposite directions as he spoke.

“I… I honestly don’t know.”

Gabriel shrugged. “You have time to decide. School year just ended anyway.”

Sam nodded, face scrunched up in thought.

Anna looked to John. “So I guess it’s you and me.”

John nodded and frowned, but Dean could see the lack of tension in his shoulders and around his eyes. He suspected John was just glad not to be stuck with Gabriel.

Castiel tugged on his hand. “Should we go collect your things and your car?”

Dean groaned. “Oh, shit. Sammy, how bad is she? No – wait. Don’t tell me. That semi wasn’t screwing around. I’ll probably have to rebuild the frame from scratch…”    

“I can help with the repairs,” Castiel offered. “It would make things go much faster.”

He breathed a sigh of relief. “I know I’ve already said this, but you’re awesome, Cas.”

The angel grinned in amusement and stepped forward, wrapping an arm around Dean’s waist.

Dean turned and smiled, saluting both Sam and John. “Oh. Hey, Anna?”

“Yes, Dean?”

“Keep him from summoning any more demons, will ya?”

Anna nodded and imitated Dean’s salute. John had the grace to at least look abashed. Sam and Gabriel grinned.

“See you guys soon,” Dean said before wrapping his arms around Cas. It should feel weird that another man was holding him like this, but Dean couldn’t bring himself to care. Surrounded by that pleasant scent and wrapped up in calm, he felt like he found a place he could call home again.

Cas wrapped his other arm around Dean, tightening his hold before jumping in the air and taking flight.

 

END