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“Hope Is a Waking Dream”

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"Hope Is a Waking Dream"



Dean Winchester is dreaming, and he knows it.

For once, he’s also perfectly content with that knowledge.

The cabin is one that his dad used to borrow from his friend Caleb (Uncle Caleb, as Dean used to call him, back in the days when Pastor Jim used to occasionally babysit him and Sam during some of their dad’s hunts) sometimes, for the boys to stay at during the summers or long and/or particularly dangerous hunts, when he and Sammy were still too small to be of much help on the hunts but were old enough that Dad trusted them to be on their own without someone to babysit them, or during the winters, if he was laid up from a bad hunt or in between hunts and prepping for something massive.

Tucked away in the backwoods of Montana, with no cell coverage to speak of if you ventured much more than twenty yards from the cabin proper, small but snug and well made, the cabin had been a refuge in more ways than one, and Dean had mourned it when, at the age of nineteen, he’d learned a demon had torched it in the midst of a particularly nasty case Caleb had gotten himself involved in. So. He’s well aware of the fact that the cabin is no more and that he must be dreaming. At the moment, though? He just doesn’t care. It’s . . . peaceful here. Soothing. Not one of those memory-dreams of Hell (red and black and snarled and jagged and exploding with agony and self-hatred, so real that he can’t understand how he’s still in one piece when he wakes up from one of them). Not something arranged by an angelic dick to mimic real life, for the passing on of orders. Not any of a hundred thousand possible nightmares spun of his failures and fears and past experiences. Just him and the cabin, his weapons and tools for cleaning and polishing spread out before him on a familiar wide oaken table, scarred with years of use, and a window onto the yard, with Sammy making himself surprisingly useful, cutting and stacking wood for storage against the coming winter and the possibility of need, should they return to the cabin’s refuge at any point during the long months of cold when a fire become a necessity for survival, especially if the electricity and the generators should all fail.

Sam’s presence – doing something so mundane and undeniably useful and at least relatively safe (barring splinters or a truly idiotic mistake or freak accident) – makes the dream double acceptable. It’s like a balm to his soul, to be able to see his little brother and not have to worry about him or what he might be getting up to. Even better, there’s an old stereo – battered but faithful – on in the background, playing a tape he made when he was about thirteen, one hundred and twenty minutes of Kansas, his personal version of their greatest hits, the mix somehow never failing to remind of home (the car and the road is their real home, after all), songs like "Play the Game Tonight" and "The Wall" and "Point of Know Return" and "Dust in the Wind" and "Carry On Wayward Son" blending seamlessly into one solidly awesome wall of infectious music, calling forth an absent-minded hum and under the breath harmony as he breaks down and cleans and reassembles and sharpens and polishes and oils, the motions so familiar and easy that he barely needs to look at what he’s doing in order to do it properly, letting him watch idly out the window while Sam works on the woodpile and reassure himself of his little brother’s safety to his heart’s content, face relaxed and calm, a small sliver of a peacefully contented smile softening his face as his hands automatically move through the motions of caring for his weapons.

It makes the intrusion, when it comes, that much more jarring, that much more anger-inducing, even without recent memories to help fuel and fan the flames.

He’s applying a new coating of protective oil (according to that demon bitch, the knife requires no more than regular care and cleaning. The spells on it keep it preternaturally sharp and preserve it from taking damage. He’s checked the first – sharpening is not only unnecessary, but actually impossible. The knife sliced two good whetstones completely in half before he gave up on sharpening it as a lost cause – but not the second, unwilling to risk damage to such a powerful tool in their weapons arsenal) to the demon-killing knife from Ruby when both the peaceful tranquility and his good mood are shattered.

Subconsciously, he knows who it is long before there’s any obvious perceptible sign of another presence. Dean’s not really sure why he always seems to know when this particular visitor has returned to him – mainly because the whole thing still freaks him out so badly that he tries very hard not to think about it a whole lot – but he kinda suspects it has something to do with bonds forged in a place not of the Earth and by powers great enough to leave the perfect print of another’s hand seared into the flesh just below his left shoulder. It’s not like there’s noise to announce his coming or anything (some slight movement of suddenly displaced air, maybe, but not really enough for it to register until after the fact, when he’s thinking back on a visit. When he’s listening for him intently, expecting a visit, sometimes Dean can almost swear he hears the air moving in currents, as though being displaced by vast wings, but the impression is less tangible than it is sensed, like the kind of half premonition and half reaction to unusual changes in circumstances and surroundings that’ll cause flesh to tighten and skin to prickle to goose flesh, warning of the possibility of danger) but there is something that happens, when this specific being drops in for a visit, something that registers on Dean and makes him hyper-aware and ready for a voice, sometimes long before it comes.

It’s a . . . well, not to sound like one of those new age weirdos (dabblers who manage to get in over their heads on a depressingly regular basis) or anything, but it’s like a presence, for lack of a better word. A sudden awareness of power. He wears his power like a great cloak of many colors, visible only if Dean doesn’t look at it (at him) straight on. It flows and billows all around him, moving in the corners of Dean’s eyes; it fills whatever immediate space they happen to occupy and spills out beyond the boundaries of human perceptions, like a dark river surging beneath the world, like wind. The edges of it laps up against him, ghosts of touch, of push and pull, permeating him with awareness of an inhuman presence, an alien regard, the whole of a being focused so intently upon him that Dean has to fight not to hunch in upon himself, pull back, turn away, try to make himself smaller, lesser, unworthy of such intense fascination.

The human form (the face) that he wears (calmly tempestuous and beautiful) is just a mask (as steady and as ever-changing as light), nothing important (nothing fascinating). It’s the sense of him, the vast power only thinly leashed (restrained) by the human vessel playing host to him, that matters. Dean knows that he’s there – can’t help but know it – long before he speaks. He knows the voice (effortlessly capable of hunting down his breath, the rhythms of his heart, of ferreting him out and knowing him, possessing him, sounding in him like a sea) long before it sounds. His body tenses with the knowledge, drawing tight with discomfort and with anger, his right hand clenching convulsively tight around the hilt of the weapon he’s holding, even as the music swells to "Sweet Child of Innocence," the irony gut-churning.

The voice is rough, deep, powerful, like whiskey-rasped velvet, and entirely too familiar, despite the slightest hint of a new scratchiness, as if from damage to the vessel’s throat. Only a single syllable is spoken, "Dean," but it somehow manages to convey depths and mysteries and meanings beyond what he knows would fit in even a torrent of syllables and sound. The urge to respond positively, to let a flood of that voice roll over him and drown him in all of that alien power, all of those subliminal hints at secrets and truths and impossibilities and sheer vastness, is immediate (reflexive) as ever, strong and unsubtle as a shot of espresso on an empty stomach, but he remembers Anna’s terrified face, and pushes the response away, snarling instead of smiling.

"No. Just fuck the hell off and leave me alone. In fact, why don’t you take all your feathered buddies and go directly to Hell? ’Cause I’m not interested in anything you have to say," he flatly declares.

The angel sighs, and, out of the corner of his eye, Dean can see Castiel’s shoulders slump slightly, the movement surprisingly like that of a tired human. "Dean – "

"I said no.Unless you’ve got Uriel up your sleeve and a way for me to pluck all his feather and fillet him," he demands, smirking slightly (expression unabashedly darkly gloating) over the thought of giving that bigoted bastard Uriel the same treatment he would a bird being prepared for butchering, "I’m not buying. Go bother somebody who gives a rat’s."

"Dean, please – "

The beseeching quality to the angel’s raspy voice pisses him the hell off. Hell, Castiel pisses him the hell off, right now. Sure, he’d thought Castiel was weird to the point (okay, so past the point, most of the time) of terrifying, at first, but ever since the whole thing with Samhain and the town that Castiel didn’t really want to have to sacrifice, he’s kinda gotten used to thinking of Castiel as the best of the lot (if Uriel is anything to go by, then apparently most angels are human-hating bigoted dicks who need to have the stupid beaten out of them). After this whole Anna debacle, though . . . Castiel knew her, when she was an angel, dammit! She was the leader of his garrison, before she decided she wanted to give free will a spin and traded her Grace in for a human life. They were friends, even, according to Anna. He just doesn’t understand how Castiel could stand there and speak so calmly of the necessity of killing her, instead of working with them to try to get Anna back her Grace, since it was basically her lack of Grace (when she could still tune in to angel radio and especially once she remembered that she’d been an angel, before giving her Grace up to be born as a human) that was making her such an inviting target for the demons in the first place.

Sure, Castiel came down on Dean’s side, at the end, when Alastair showed up and things started to get ugly (and got himself into so much trouble Dean had to take a freakin’ crowbar to the demon who broke him in Hell, for God’s sake!), but if they hadn’t managed to get Anna’s Grace back for her, he still would’ve let Uriel kill her without so much as a protest, just because of some stupid rule and his damned orders. So altogether, Dean’s not very happy with Castiel right at the moment (he’s disappointed, is what he is, and the fact that he’s apparently come to care about the stupid angel enough to be this upset by Castiel’s decision to obey orders, regarding Anna, just makes him that much more pissed off at the entire situation), and whatever it is that the angel thinks he has to say, he’s really not in the mood to listen.

Scowling darkly, he shoves the dagger into its sheath and slams it down to the table, half hoping the angel will take a hint and cut the visit short, before he feels the need to try to break his fist on the idiot’s face again. "What? What is it this time, huh? Seals breaking? Lucifer escaping? You bastards can’t find anybody else to hunt down and murder in cold blood? What? If it’s not the end of the world, then shove it up your feathered – "

"Dean, please! I have only come to apologize for – "

"What, for trying to make me complicit in an innocent girl’s murder?"

"She was not innocent! She – "

"She didn’t do a goddamned thing to you or anybody else!" Dean cuts him off, voice quickly rising to a furious shout. "All she did was want to be able to feel and to make her own damned decisions! What the fuck’s so bad about that it requires instant death?"

There is a note almost of anguish in Castiel’s voice as he tries to explain, "Orders – "

"Oh, fuck your orders! If you’re told to do something wrong, something evil – "

"Dean, we cannot know – "

Dean snarls, voice going low and cold. "I swear to God, if you’re about to spout some line about divine, ineffable plans and God working in mysterious ways, I will stab you. Again."

"Dean – "

"You don’t think I’ll do it? After defying you and your fucking orders for Anna, you don’t know me well enough yet to think I’ll do it?"

Castiel’s face looks positively stricken, at that, and, bizarrely enough, for some reason, makes Dean even more furious.

Except, if he’s perfectly honest, a part of him knows that it’s not just some reason. There’s something inherently wrong about Casiel – an angel of the freakin’ Lord – begging for anything, especially of Dean. Dean is . . . well. Angels may be douches of the highest possible order, but Castiel did come down to Hell to search for him and not only pulled him out of there after he’d found him – even when he must’ve seen what Dean had become, that he was already at least half demon by then – but put his soul back inside a body miraculously healed and given new life. And while he’ll insist to his last breath, if he has to, that this doesn’t mean that the angels own him, now, it does mean that Dean owes Castiel, big time, and he knows that, can’t possibly help but know that. And yeah, sure, maybe he doesn’t need to worry about being thrown back into Hell any time soon, no matter what the angels might say or how often they might threaten to chuck him back in, but that doesn’t mean he can just forget about what Castiel did for him. Castiel deserves more than that – so much more than that – from him.

Dean’s tried very hard – and, alright, mostly failed, sometimes quite spectactularly, especially given how easily they seemed to manage to rub one another in precisely the wrong way, in those earliest days, when Dean was still fighting too hard to try to act like things could just go back to the way they had been before . . . well. Before – to cut the angel some slack, to be patient with him and his sheer otherness, even when he’s being impossibly demanding and seemingly willfully refusing to acknowledge that, since humans have free will, that means that sometimes they don’t take too kindly to being ordered around, especially not when the orders in question are being given by angelic dicks in suits. It’s backfired on him before – just thinking about that awful confrontation over Dean’s supposed lack of respect for Castiel is enough to make him so lightheaded from panic and some strange crushing sensation that he can’t even begin to make himself look at close enough to be able to name that he gets weak in the knees and has trouble breathing right – but it’s Castiel, and, because it’s Castiel, he puts up with it and doesn’t even try too hard to fight back, even though he knows (especially since the whole Samhain thing) that he probably could get away with fighting back more than he does.

It’s never been a matter of actually being afraid that Castiel would throw him back into Hell, for Dean, so much as it is that he’s absolutely, abjectly terrified at the thought that Castiel could ever come to doubt his worth enough to consider that maybe, just maybe, Dean might actually deserve to be back there. Part of him – a much bigger part than he’s at all comfortable thinking about, to tell the truth – feels like he’s a constant disappointment to the angel who rescued him from Hell, and only the fact that his attempts to apologize for his shortcomings always seem to devolve into borderline fights where Castiel ends up insisting that Dean is the one and that his lack of faith is incomprehensible to the angel (and, from the look on the angel’s face when he says such things, hurtful to him, on a personal level) has kept him from trying to apologize for his lacks more often, the guilt that he feels over causing such a look of baffled pain and frustration in the angel’s eyes, in such moments, more than he can stand. That Castiel should ever feel anything like that kind of soul-searing remorse and shame . . . it’s unthinkable. Horrible. Horrifiying. Awful. Infuriatingly wrong, on a level that makes him what to throw himself kicking and screaming at the nearest solid obstacle (even – or maybe especially, given the whole damned mess with Anna – if that obstacle happens to be Castiel).

"Dean, please! I only wish to – "

"I don’t care what you want, you sonuvabitch! After what you assholes did – what you tried to do – you’re lucky I haven’t already invested in a permanent anti-angel tattoo!" The words come out of him in a furious flood, and he finds himself shaking, hands clenched into fists so tight that he can’t even feel the bite of his fingernails into his skin, even though he knows he has to be cutting bloody crescent shapes into his palms. "You threaten me, you threaten my brother, and for what? For what? An angel who dared to think for herself, who wanted to be a real girl so much she willingly traded in her wings for the chance to experience life as a human? That’s so many kinds of fucked up I can’t even begin to describe it!"

"Dean – "

"She was happy as a human, dammit! It was what she wanted! And for that, you think she deserved to die? I thought you two were supposed to be friends, for God’s sake!"

"We were friends! But Anna broke one of the cardinal rules – "

"And for that you think she deserved to die?" Dean’s voice breaks on the last word (he literally can’t help it. If the sin of having given in to one selfish little desire is enough, in Castiel’s mind, to warrant the death of an angel, then what Castiel thinks of Dean must be too awful for words. Really, what can he possibly think of someone as broken and useless and pathetic as Dean, if he truly believed that Anna deserved to be put to death for what she’d done, in choosing to set her Grace aside so that she could live as a human?)

"She was Fallen, Dean. She chose her fate, deliberately, knowing she would be condemned for it."

"She just wanted to be able to feel! To have free will and make her own decisions!" Personal space always seems to fall by the wayside, when Castiel is around, and, sure enough, he’s right up in the angel’s face, shouting (because that’s what he does, when frustrated and frightened. He attacks. And the harder he gets pushed back, the angrier he gets, and the more vicious his attack tends to become), and Castiel, being Castiel, is leaning in rather than edging away or backing down, inclining his whole body in even closer to Dean, even as he raises his own voice in furious rejoinder.

"She abandoned her post and her garrison in a time of great need so that she could selfishly live out a life as a human!"

"Oh, so she’s selfish now, is that it? And that’s a sin worthy of death, for an angel?"

"Dean, please. Angels are made to obey the will of God – "

"And I suppose God’s alright with the lot of you offing each other every time one of you so much as expresses an opinion or a desire of your own?" Dean furiously demands, sneering to show his low opinion of such a God.

"The orders were clear."

"And they were wrong!" Dean practically roars at the angel.

"I came here to apologize for not being able to talk my superiors out of resorting to threats of violence against both you and your brother, not to argue right and wrong with you!" Castiel only insists. "My superiors – "

"Your superiors," Dean spits out through tightly clenched teeth,"have more in common with Alastair and his cronies than I’m at all comfortable with thinking about! I’m seriously starting to wonder if I’m even on the right side here! At least with demons, you know where you stand and why!"

The noise of the breath Castiel takes is so loud, so ragged, that almost (almost) he sounds human. "That is unfair and untrue. You do not – you cannot – possibly mean that – "

The growl is clearly audible, the kind of noise an infuriated animal might make before lashing out, striking down a tormentor. "Don’t you dare tell me what I do and do not or can and cannot mean! I don’t care what the fuck you did for me, buddy, you don’t own me. You do not get to tell me what to believe or feel or do, dammit! You want to throw me back, then throw me back, but don’t you even dare to try to make me something I’m not! I am who I am and what I am and there’s not a damn thing you can do to change either one! You don’t like that?" Dean challenges, his grin wide, manic, absolutely without humor. "Well, maybe then you’ll finally get a fucking clue about the fact that I didn’t ask for or want your help and maybe your superiors don’t know shit from shinola and they sent you down to Hell after the wrong damned guy!"

The expression on Castiel’s face is so very close to being almost human (broken open and grieved, in a way that tears at Dean’s heart and makes him desperately want to have something evil pop up and interrupt them so he can pummel it to death with his bare hands) that, in that moment, he probably could have fooled most people into thinking that he actually cares about Dean (a thought that makes Dean’s heart clench painfully in his chest, the idea itself more than enough to make his head want to swim). "I have no desire to change you, Dean. You are the one chosen by God – "

"Oh, bullshit you don’t want to change me! ‘You have no faith,’" Dean spits out, voice dropping lower, every syllable at least half a snarl. "‘You don’t think you’re worthy of being saved,’" he adds, flashing his teeth in an expression that has more in common with a rictus of pain than a smile when Castiel flinches. "‘I’m the one who brought you out of Hell. I can throw you back,’" he continues, pushing away from the table (chair screeching violently across the floor) to stalk closer to the increasingly hunch-shouldered angel. "‘Dean Winchester gives us Anna Milton by midnight, or we send him back to Perdition,’" he growls, stepping so close that Castiel actually falls back a step, as though buffeted backwards by the sheer amount of rage pouring off of Dean.

"Those are – they are truth, and serious problems. That – that you have no faith, that you do not believe yourself worthy of salvation. You were chosen – destined for this fight – and you have more than proven yourself worthy. This world could not ask for a better champion – " Castiel unsteadily begins to try to reply.

"Bullshit! If I’m the best the world could offer, the world’s already long past doomed and you and your pals are too fucking late for everything but the burning," Dean counters, the noise he makes far less a laugh than it is a series of jagged broken sounds strung together in some form approximating a laugh (if you were a demon, maybe, and didn’t know what honest laughter sounds like). "If your God couldn’t find someone better, it was because the sick fucker’s been too busy laughing at us all and enjoying watching us squirm and suffer like some sadistic little kid pulling the wings off of flies and setting fire to ants with magnifying glasses to bother to even look for someone else!"

"Dean, it isn’t your place to question – "

"If not mine, then whose is it? Who’s up there," Dean demands, gesturing wildly upwards, "who actually gives enough of a rat’s ass to bother to speak up for normal folks down here? Who up there dares to be heard or to question anything at all, if your God’s such a psycho schizoid megalomaniacal ass that every little thing gets the freakin’ death penalty?"

"We are all His creations. His purview – "

"Have you ever even seen the man? Or have they got you so fucking brainwashed that you even take your damned Creator on faith?" Dean only demands.

"Dean!" The angel actually gasps, the look of horrified shock on his face surprisingly realistic. "You should not speak of Him – "

His voice hits registers usually only his family can infuriate him enough to reach, at that. "I’ll speak however the fuck I want to! If the sonuvabitch actually exists and is as all-powerful and all-knowing as they say and He still let that yellow-eyed fucker destroy my family and Lilith have her way with us, then as far as I’m concerned He can damn well go keep Lucifer company in Hell!"

Castiel flinches as though he were human, as if Dean had physically struck him. "Dean! You must not – "

"Oh, I must not, huh? Not just I should. It’s I must, now, is it?" Teeth flash and a growl tears its ragged way up out of Dean’s throat. "And just what the fuck makes you think you get to tell me to do anything? What makes you think I’ll listen to you now? You can flinch and emote and act as human as you want to, buddy. I ain’t buying. And I’m sure as Hell not going to let you bully me! If you were going to send me back to Hell, you would’ve done it a long time ago. And I doubt you would’ve bothered to warn me, first!"

Castiel’s head snaps up, at that, blue eyes blazing. "You are not going back to Hell! I fought for you and I won you and you are not ever going back there!"

Dean half scowls and half smirks. "That’s news to Lilith, I bet. You know she still has my contract, right?"

The angel just frowns back at him. "I won you fairly, in battle. You are mine, Dean Winchester. Neither Lilith nor any other being of Hell can dare to claim you."

If Castiel thought to calm or reassure him, though, he’s sorely mistaken. "Oh, so I’m a spoil of war, now, is that it?"

Castiel winces, blue eyes falling shut as though he were in pain. "That is not what I – "

"Well, then, what the fuck exactly did you mean, huh? Cause it sounds to me like you’re trying to claim ownership of me, body and soul, and I hate to tell you this, you winged freak, but I didn’t make a deal with you, and as far as I’m concerned that means you have no right to any part of me! If I belong to anyone, besides Sam, it’s Lilith, for claiming my contract. And after the way you and your dick pals have acted, I kind think I’d rather take my chances with that white-eyed bitch!"

Castiel visibly recoils from the words. "Dean – "

"Don’t you Dean me, you unrepentant bastard! How many times have you and your pals lied to me? And I don’t just mean about sending me back to Hell, although, gee, thanks a million for using my absolute fucking worst memories against me as a goad to try to keep me in line and make me an good little obedient soldier-boy for God! It’s nice to know that the scions of Heaven are apparently a bunch of spineless sadistic fucks who like to get their rocks off on using fake threats to make people suffer and toe the party line!"

Again, Castiel winces, the skin around his eyes and mouth tightening noticeably. "I told my superiors that threats would only anger you and that we should instead take the time to make you understand the gravity of Anna’s crimes and the seriousness of the threat she posed both to you and to our battle against the forces of Hell. I told them you would not swiftly forget or forgive a false threat, if ever. I – "

"You’re the one who threatened me with Hell first, you hypocritical ass! You – "

"It was a mistake! I was – distraught. I spoke without thinking, first. I – "

"Nice how it never bothered you before now, when it kinda became obvious the whole lot of you were lying about sending me back," Dean interrupts, voice sharp as a knife.

"I have tried three times before this to explain that and apologize to you. Each time you’ve refused to listen and ordered me away before I could even begin to explain or apologize!"

"Oh, bullshit! When the fuck do you ever listen to me?" Dean only incredulously demands, throwing his hands up violently for emphasis, even though he’s standing so close to the angel that the motion actually makes the lapels on Castiel’s trench coat flutter with the motion.

"I always try to listen to you. When I visit you, like this, if you have no desire to speak to me and I have not been ordered to tell you of a threat against a Seal – "

"Liar! You aren’t listening to me now, are you?" Dean snarls, the words less a question than an accusation.

"This is too important to let go for the sake of your temper and your pride!" Castiel replies, the words half a frustrated protest and half an attempt at a conciliatory explanation. "You and Sam may think you have one a victory this day – "

"I don’t think, you sanctimonious ass! I know we won! No murders, no injuries to speak of – hell, I even saved your undeserving ass from being banished back to Heaven, though the fuck if I know why I even bothered – some demons banished back to Hell, and another angel with enough mojo to fight against Lucifer’s rising, if you feathered fucks haven’t pissed her off so much she tells us all to go to Hell. I think we did a kick-ass job, despite all the interference from you assholes!" Dean immediately furiously retorts.

"You’ve given one of the Fallen back her Grace!" Castiel just as instantly counters. "She has power enough now to do deliberate harm! If she in her selfishness – "

"You cold, unfeeling bastard! Anna really was right about the lot of you, wasn’t she? Not a single one of you would know an honest emotion if it came up behind you and ripped off your goddamned wings! You wouldn’t understand the concept of free will if it bit you on the ass!"

"Angels feel, Dean. We exist to glorify God and His creation and to carry out His will. That would not be possible if we could not experience love and other emotions – "

"You could’ve fooled me! The whole lot of you have sticks so far up your – "

"Anna wished to secure your sympathy and your succor. She told you want you wanted to hear!" Castiel immediately retorts, beginning to sound truly angry.

That makes Dean recoil, mind automatically going back to that night in the Impala and the way he’d tried to let Anna find some comfort in him, clinging to her even though he knew he didn’t deserve the closeness because his body craved touch so much that it hardly even mattered to him where the touch came from, as long as someone cared enough to touch him, and the sheer sense of wrongness that had flooded his body when Anna fitted her too small (and wrong, wrong, wholly wrong, in a way that’d had him fighting to keep from flinging himself backwards across the seat, just to get away from her) hand to the mark left below his shoulder by Castiel, when he pulled him up out of Hell and put him back into his body. It’d taken every last shred of strength and restraint he had in him, to keep from reacting in a way that would reveal how uncomfortable (how horrified) he was with her touching him, there, and the fact that his body has betrayed him now, just at the memory of that night, with such an obvious flinch backwards . . . it makes him so angry (at himself, for being so weak. At Castiel, not only for seeing his weakness but for causing it, by making him remember that night and that unwanted, unwelcome, unnatural feeling touch) that his body feels electrified with it, roiling and crackling and powerful with rage as he leans even closer to the angel, so near that their noses are practically touching as he snarls, "Oh, so now she’s the liar, is that it? Is that what you’re going to try to claim?"

"I have already told you that angels are capable of experiencing emotions. What more do you want me to say? We were created to glorify God. Of course we feel! How could we do His will or rejoice in His works or love Him if we felt no emotions?" Castiel only demands.

Dean just scowls a little more darkly, more ferociously, moving backwards only so that he’ll have enough room to move his hands in impatiently dismissive, wildly gesticulating arcs without having to worry about accidentally hitting the angel and hurting himself on the obstinate bastard. "Oh, don’t give me that shit! If you could feel, you’d want, and that means you’d be thinking for yourself and doing things for your own reasons and to hell with orders or whether or not you had orders!"

Castiel’s frown deepens, his expression turning darkly threatening as he moves to close the distance between them again. "I want things, Dean Winchester. I have doubts and desires, as you well know. I’ve done what I can and more than I should to help and to protect you and your brother – "

"Name one – just one – that didn’t have an ulterior motive," Dean only demands.

Castiel steps closer still, his frown nearly an outright scowl as he points out, "I did not permit Uriel to kill your brother out of hand, for one, as I know you love him. Nor did I permit him to destroy the demon, Ruby, for her part in orchestrating the return of Anna’s Grace to her, as I know she has been helping you betimes, even though I do not trust her and believe her a dangerous influence on your brother. I took this vessel so that I would be able to interact with you safely – "

"Yeah, how’s that meat suit working out for you? He a comfortable fit? You not bothered at all by the fact that the holy tax accountant you’re wearing probably has loved ones who think that the man they know and love has been kidnaped and killed and dumped on the side of the road somewhere?" Dean merely cuts in to demand, voice practically dripping contempt. "Do you care at all that your vessel, as you call him, was basically marked for death by Lucifer’s side the instant you took him and that, unless you have some major magic up your sleeve, the demons will probably hunt down his family and friends just for spite?"

Castiel sighs. "This vessel consented to be used for the Lord’s work. He knew it would be dangerous. He did not care. He prayed for this, to be of use – " he tries to explain.

Dean, though, cuts him off again to demand, "You tell him what you’d be doing in his body, before you took him?"

"Dean – "

Dean laughs mirthlessly, shaking his head. "Of course not, I forgot, that’d require you to actually be straight-forward and upright and not fucking cryptic as hell. Your feathers would probably fall out from the shock, if you ever actually told someone that much truth at once."

"There were time constraints," Castiel immediately protests. "I had not expected to need a vessel in order to interact safely with you. I told him what I could in the time that we had. You were calling for me. And your body could not withstand my true voice – "

"That’s right. Not special enough. Think it’d tip you off to the fact you’re betting on the wrong horse, but no, apparently, that’d take too much common sense – "

"Dean. You are the one. How many times must I tell you? There is no mistaking – "

"Then why the fuck are we losing? And don’t try that stupid mysterious ways line," Dean adds, snarling a little in warning. "Seriously. If you guys are so righteous and I’m the right person for this job and your God gives a shit, why the fuck are we getting our asses handed to us?"

Castiel frowns, sighing again. "I cannot tell you what I do not know, Dean."

"Right. And I’m just supposed to believe that. Because you’ve been so honest and so forthcoming with me so far."

"I am on your side, Dean – "

"Which is why you let Uriel threaten Sam to try to get me to behave. Sam."

"I would not have permitted Sam to be harmed!" Castiel retorts, sounding almost affronted at the notion that Dean believes him capable of standing by and permitting Sam to be killed by Uriel out of hand.

"Right," Dean only drawls, plainly scoffing. "Sure you wouldn’t. Real convenient, that we’ll never know the truth since Sam and Anna and I didn’t let it get that far."

"Dean, I know you care for him – "

"Bullshit.You know I’d kick all of your asses if you hurt him, you mean," Dean flatly retorts. "After all," he continues, with another painfully mirthless chuckle, "I sold my soul to a demon and went to Hell for Sam’s sake. What the fuck makes you morons think I won’t bust Lucifer out of Hell myself, for the express purpose of killing every single goddamned one of you feathered fucks, if you so much as harm a hair on his head?"

"Dean! You should not say such things!"

"Why? You afraid your God might get up off His ass and hurl a lightning bolt at me, if I don’t play nice?"

"Dean – "

"I think I can say whatever the hell I want and do whatever the fuck I goddamned well please and there ain’t a thing you can do about it. You’ve already admitted the whole throwing me back into Hell thing was an empty threat that you can’t follow through on. And you know what I’ll do, if you go after Sam. Don’t think for a moment I won’t. If that line gets crossed, you get lumped with the evil s.o.b.s I hunt and I declare war. There’s nothing else you can do to me that Hell hasn’t already tried and done a helluva lot better than you bastards ever could. So what do you think you could actually do? Yell some more?"

"I have no wish to antagonize you!" Castiel protests. "I came here to apologize – "

"Apologize! Like that’s gonna just magically make everything better! Gee, sorry we left you in Hell for forty years and didn’t rescue you until it was basically already too late and hey, too bad about your family being slaughtered because God couldn’t be bothered to give out any orders about smiting that yellow-eyed sonuvabitch and angels aren’t good for shit without orders, we really regret any excessive pain and suffering on your part, and, hey, speaking of pain, you know how we used some of your worst nightmares and memories against you, by threatening you with Hell again if you didn’t behave and toe the line? Well, that was just a little joke on our part and we didn’t expect you to take it so damn seriously – "

"Dean, I am sorry! What more do you want me to say to you? I made a grievous mistake. I allowed you to anger me and I spoke without thinking and I hurt you. I am sorry. If I could have kept my superiors from attempting to use the same threat against you or kept Uriel from threatening, Sam, don’t you think I would have done so, if only to avoid this very situation?"

"If I assume you’re smart enough to know better but your buddies didn’t give a fuck, I have to assume the lot of you are clever enough and manipulative enough for them to send you to me and try to make nice, so I’ll be willing to trust you and do things just because you’re the one doing the asking," Dean snaps, voice practically dripping with acidity. "That’s not the kind of mistake I make, bud! I may be a little bit too trusting sometimes, but I’m not stupid!"

"I have never suggested or thought – "

"Bullshit! If you didn’t think I’m an idiot, you wouldn’t’ve – "

"Why must everything with you be such a struggle? I am not here to fight with you! I have no desire to fight with or antagonize you! I came her to apologize for what happened, with Anna, to tell you that I’m sorry for ever suggesting I could send you back to Hell – I have that power, yes, but I would never use it! Nor would I ever allow another to send or to take you back there! – to thank you for intervening, when Alastair was attempting to eject me from this vessel and send me back to Heaven. Dean – "

He just sneers at the angel. "You came to try to curry favor, you mean. I’m not some dumb kid or trained pet you can distract with some nice words and a pat on the head! This isn’t the kind of thing you can put right just by saying you’re sorry! You – "

Castiel suddenly drops with artless grace to his knees, silencing Dean as effectively as a blow might have. Sitting up on both knees, his head roughly level to Dean’s waist, he looks up through his lashes at the gaping human. "Dean. I beseech you most humbly, most fervently and

honestly, to forgive me for my failings with you. It is my intent to protect and to aid and to guide you, not to harm you – never to harm you – and it grieves me that I have done so and that I inadvertently continue to do so, by rousing your wrath against me and my brothers. I cannot speak for the entirety of the Host or for God, but for myself, for my sake, I can and I must speak. Time is short and circumstances are dire but it does not excuse the treatment you have received. I can make excuses, but they cannot truly excuse the behavior and actions you have been forced to tolerate. All I can do is grieve for what you have so unnecessarily suffered and beg your pardon. If you could find it within you to forgive, sufficient to at least extend another chance – "

"Oh, for God’s sake! Get up! Shut up and get up! What do you think you’re doing? What’re you playing at? This isn’t a game, dammit!" Dean reaches out, half impatient and half terrified out of his mind at the sight of an angel of the Lord down so calmly on his knees before him (before Dean, as if he were worthy of having anyone – much less an angel of the freakin’ Lord – kneeling at his feet, head bowed in obedience, in supplication, in an attitude far, far too close to that of worship, somehow, something in Castiel’s posture and his attitude reminding Dean uncannily of those women in the Bible who washed the feet of the Savior and then dried them with their hair), catches loose material in his hands – the trench coat’s material crisp, stiff, oddly new feeling, despite the fact that the angel never seems to take the damned thing off – clenches tight, and hauls upwards, desperately, with all his strength.

Irregardless of how hard Dean’s yanking at the angel, he’s not really expecting Castiel to cooperate and actually permit him to manhandle him to his feet (he hasn’t exactly cooperated with Dean a lot before. Like, ever), so he’s shocked, when the body containing the angel comes up with surprising ease (and God, but Dean keeps forgetting that the vessel is smaller than he is, Castiel is so powerful that normally he somehow manages to seem to dwarf everyone else. Alastair was a nasty exception to that rule, and God, God, just remembering that, the way the demon had been able to just blow past all of Castiel’s defenses and gotten so damned close to ripping him from that body, makes Dean want to howl and lash out and kick some demon ass until there aren’t any more left to pummel to pieces), utterly unprepared for the closeness or the contact (Castiel so rarely touches him, despite – or maybe because of? – the handprint that’s blazoned beneath his left shoulder), stumbles in surprise, falls forward gracelessly, heavily, and somehow or another manages to end up with his arms full of an angel who instinctively hugs him so close that Dean’s pressed to him tight as a lover, nose in that windblown mess of half spikey and half wavy dark hair, breathing him in (musk, amber, something like cinnamon or burning incense, bitter astringency like ozone or really strong citrus, something dark and cool and – what is that, wind? – cleanly sweet, something so innocently pure that it reminds him of the scent of a baby’s clean new hair) like a drug.

And there’s that damn urge again, to relax, to smile, to lean in and let all the power that’s in Castiel wash over and subsume him, to let everything that is Castiel in until there’s no room left for anything else, and dammit, dammit, why does it always have to feel like this, like warmth and safety and lightness and belonging and home and dammit a freakin’ angel of the Lord isn’t his damned home, there’s no logical reason why it should feel like this, like something right, something he shouldn’t be fighting so damned hard all the freakin’ time!

The combination of feels good/safe/right and borderline panicky anger really makes Dean want to hit someone (not Castiel, though, he learned his lesson after the one time he tried that, and he’d prefer to keep all the bones in his hand intact, thanks all the same), but somehow his treacherous hands end up unclenching just enough to slide across the crisp fabric of Castiel’s trench coat, instead, inching their way along until his arms are wrapped around the angel (fingers tangling themselves securely in the material draped across the angel’s back) instead of trapped between them, the motion pulling them into even closer contact, his face turning inwards just the slightest bit, until its buried against that mess of dark hair.

"Dean?"

Castiel’s voice has a quaver in it, for fuck’s sake, and suddenly he can’t stop thinking of the way Castiel got between him and Alastair, during the struggle surrounding Anna’s Grace, the way the demon had so nearly taken him apart and the unremitting fear and fury that had driven him to take up that crowbar and swing at the demonic fucker with all his might. His voice is a little choked when he says, "Oh, shut up. Idiot."

The angel’s chest heaves against him with the force of Castiel’s sigh. "I have upset you. Again. I am sorry. I constantly seem to make things worse – "

"I said shut up. Moron. What the fuck were you thinking, anyway, getting in a fight like that with Alastair? Alastair, for fuck’s sake. You’re lucky I’m still talking to you. Fucking idiot."

Castiel has a habit of slanting an eyebrow when he believes Dean is being unreasonable, and he can practically feel the movement of the damn thing in the pitch of the angel’s voice when he drily replies, "I was thinking that I could not permit that filth to touch you again."

"You were – God dammit, Cas, I swear, if you get your stupid angelic self killed, I’ll – "

"You are my charge," the angel merely flatly declares. "I will not leave you willingly. But I cannot stand by idly when you are in danger. You cannot ask that of me."

"Then fucking well learn to be more careful, will you? If you give me heart failure, you aren’t exactly going to win any guardian of the year awards."

"I – I will attempt to be more careful, when I may. But Dean – "

"Try hard," Dean instantly cuts in to demand. "You have to promise me."

Castiel sighs again, trench coat (and perhaps more) rustling with the movement of his chest, managing to sound both fondly indulgent and exasperated and put upon (as only someone who’s nagged into doing or agreeing to do something can), and allows, "I will try."

"Then I guess I forgive you for being an idiotic douche. But just this once!"

Once again, Castiel sighs, the sound so weary and sorrowful that Dean’s hold on the angel automatically tightens, in a reflexive attempt to offer comfort, like he might do for Sam, under other circumstances. "Dean . . . as much as I crave your forgiveness, I cannot in good conscience accept it under false pretenses. You must know that we are not going to agree, on the matter of Anna. What you did was dangerous and foolhardy and I fear you will be hurt by the outcome of these events."

"She’s an angel again, though," Dean protests, frowning in confusion. "A really powerful one, judging by the way she managed to banish Alastair. And she likes me. She may not be on your all’s side anymore, but I think she’ll be willing to stand and fight with me and Sam, if we need her. As powerful as she is, she should be able to help kick some major demon butt. What’s not to like about having an ally like that?"

"She is still Fallen, Dean. Regaining her Grace does not negate her previous actions, her choice to Fall, to live as a human. My superiors won’t permit her defiance to go unpunished. She may well turn on us all – even you – in the end," Castiel quietly explains.

"But if she only wants to help us – Cas, we need all the help we can get. You know that, right? If you people are serious about protecting the Seals and there’s as many of the damned things as you’ve said there are, we can’t turn away anyone who might be willing to help. You can’t just turn her in to those assholes, no matter what your superiors tell you. You can’t. We might need her help. If she just wants to help – " Dean is repeating himself, almost babbling, but the point is a valid one (they do need all the help they can get, and then some) and it’s insane that the angels might waste time and energy pursing some ridiculous feud with Anna just because they’re pissed off that she successfully managed to live as a human for awhile before regaining her Grace (she’s an angel again! She’s one of them, for God’s sake! She’d make such a powerful ally it’s nuts that they’d want to kill her for some past transgression rather than use her to some good/useful purpose in the battle to preserve the Seals and keep Lucifer from getting out of Hell and starting Armageddon) and Castiel is more than smart enough to realize all this on his own, dammit (especially since he didn’t seem all that upset when Anna got her Grace back, in the end, even if he wouldn’t’ve gone against his orders to help her get it back), so this insistence that Anna is unreliable and quite possibly dangerous because she is still one of the Fallen (like that automatically makes her evil!) is something Dean just doesn’t understand.

"Dean." He cuts short his flow of words, but Castiel is silent for several long moments before, with another painfully tired sounding sigh, finally allowing, "Very well. If she wishes to help and will agree to certain precautions, to ensure that carries us no ill-will and will not resort to trickery, if we let her close, then I will not stop you from accepting her aid, if she offers it."

"And you won’t turn her in to your douchebag superiors?" Dean asks, voice half wary from fear of what Castiel might say and half urgent with hope that he might simply agree, so they can drop the whole stupid subject already and move on.

There’s another long hesitation before, with another soft sigh (this one seemingly more resigned than anything), Castiel tells him, "I will avoid mentioning her unless questioned directly and will endeavor not to say or do anything that would prompt such a direct line of questioning."

"Good enough." Dean’s arms around the angel tighten out of sheer relief, and almost he imagines that Castiel relaxes against him in turn, the sigh that escapes him nearly soundless.

Several long moments later, Castiel asks, voice low and words coming slowly, as though reluctantly, "Do you wish me to leave you, now? I interrupted – "

Dean shrugs a little, aiming for casual and probably falling short, considering how strangely choked his voice sounds, when he speaks. "Nah. It’s alright. Come sit down for awhile. Unless you’ve got somewhere else you need to be – ?"

"No, Dean. I can stay, if you wish that."

"Then come sit down. I was just giving my weapons a good once over. What do you know about proper weapons’ care, Cas?"

Castiel blinks at him, carefully taking a seat in the chair Dean pulls over from the far side of the table, so there are two chairs facing the window. "Theoretically?"

Dean blinks back, more than a little aghast, before sighing out, "Okay," stretching the word out into about a dozen syllables. "Now, that? That ain’t gonna work for me. If I’m going to trust you to be my protector, I think it’s only fair that you learn how to handle and care for the weapons I depend on to protect myself. That sound fair to you?"

Castiel blinks at him again, slowly, apparently stunned, asking, "You wish for me to learn how to care for and utilize your hunting weapons?"

"Yeah. That a problem?"

For a moment, Dean can’t even breathe, afraid that he may have pushed too hard and that the angel will leave, but then Castiel’s face softens, and a downright beatific expression slips across his face, a smile curving his mouth softly but distinctly, making the breath that Dean’s rather shakily just begun to draw in catch momentarily in his throat and his heart seize painfully in his chest. Then, as if he’s not already having enough trouble breathing (and beginning to feel more than a little grateful that Sam’s not where he can see Dean behave like such a damned sap), the angel replies, "It would not be a problem, no. It would be an honor to learn from you," and not only can he not breathe around the lump in his throat, he can feel an idiotically enormous grin spreading across his face, so wide that his cheeks hurt a little from the strain of smiling.

Castiel, thankfully, doesn’t seem to notice anything wrong, and, eventually, he manages to choke out, "Awesome," and clap the angel on the shoulder as he moves to take his own seat at the table, hands reaching out blindly to snag one of the weapons still meticulously laid out across the table’s scarred surface. "This is a Beretta M92. It’s one of the spares I keep for Sammy, cause he tends to be a bit harder on his weapons than I do but is too damned stubborn to admit it and I don’t want to have to worry about him being without if he loses his main gun again. His main gun is a Taurus PT-92, but Taurus based that model on this gun, so it’s close enough to be a good choice for a backup for him. I’m gonna break it down and then reassemble it so you can try it, alright? Then we’ll see about getting this baby properly cleaned and oiled. And then, if you feel up to a challenge, we can try the Taurus PT-99 and you can tell me everything you notice that’s different about that model and this gun and which one you think might be better to take on a hunt and why."

Castiel nods gravely, eyes locked on his hands, tracking his every moment with the kind of focused intensity that Dean knows would get him pegged as nonhuman or at least deeply, weirdly other among even the most mundane of company. The stare practically has weight to it, it’s so fraught and heavy with concentration, but it’s also pretty much the same kind of look that Castiel often bends on him (like he’s trying to read the movements of Dean’s heart and soul, just by observing him and listening to his words), and the familiarity of it is soothing in much the same way that the solid heft of the weapon in his hands as he deftly disassembles it is, calming his nerves and letting him breathe easily again.

For someone who has difficulty remembering that humans tend to freak out if someone (especially a stranger) stands close enough to them for the edges of their clothing to brush together, Castiel turns out to be an awfully quick study, when it comes to proper weapons maintenance, care, and cleaning.

Perhaps even more surprisingly, once they no longer have the whole Anna thing hanging over them, apparently they’re able to get along well enough that they can relax, to a point where Dean even finds himself cracking jokes and smirking wryly at the angel’s drily given and occasionally downright wickedly barbed responses.

When he eventually wakes back in his bed in the cheap motel he and Sam ended up at, when the dust had settled after the struggle and they’d moved on from the abandoned farm, it’s to a pang of wistful regret, to find that he’s not still in the cabin in the Montana woods, even though he knows that the building itself is no more.

When he turns his head to find Castiel silently standing at his bedside, he smiles – one of those rare, absolutely genuine, one hundred percent entirely delighted grins that can light up a whole room and turn every head within a hundred yard radius – quips, "Afraid I’d change my mind about forgiving you, once I’d woke up?"

There’s a softness to Castiel’s face that makes it seem almost as if he’s smiling, even though he’s not (quite). "I merely wished to make sure you had truly taken no ill effects from the struggle. You seem inclined to disregard or treat your injuries as lesser than they are."

Dean snorts. "I’m fine, Cas. Really. No need to get all mother-hen on me."

Castiel slants an eyebrow at him and serenely replies, "As you say."

That raised eyebrow somehow manages to convey nothing but mild amusement, and so Dean shrugs, grins a little more, and aks, "Wanna see if your dream-acquired skills translate to the real world, while you’re here?"

The softness to the angel somehow deepens, a sliver of a smile gracing the angel’s face. "I would like that very much, if there is time."

Dean’s wearing a comfortable pair of plaid flannel sleeping pants and an even older tee-shirt, so he slides on out of bed and pads over to where his gear’s piled up on the nearer dresser, turning slightly to look back over his shoulder at the angel as he tells him, "Been awhile since I saw to some of the weapons. They’re due for a good going over. Come on. Sasquatch over there will be dead to the world for at least another hour, as long as no one comes in here with coffee. Let’s test that memory of yours."

"Yes," Castiel agrees, eagerness leavening the flat baldness of the statement and making Dean’s smile widen.

Sam, as it happens, sleeps for nearly another two hours.

By the time he wakes, Dean’s gotten dressed for the day and collected Castiel and gone for a little trip, leaving a note prominently taped to the door for Sam.

Taken Cas for some target practice. Figure he should know how to shoot, just in case. Don’t worry. We’ve sorted some stuff out. Back in time for lunch. Call if you need anything.

If it’s closer to dinnertime than lunchtime when they get back, Sam doesn’t complain, and Dean is just in too good of a mood to notice.

Sometimes, apparently even not so very minor miracles do still happen . . . occasionally.

*********