Castiel surveyed the battlefield. From his position, high atop the walls of the city, the stink of the field could almost be forgotten. Human bards and other evangelists of the glories of war generally glossed over that aspect of conflict, but the angel found that when he was on the scene of a battle he couldn’t escape the stench of death.
When people bled, that blood left a stink of one type. When the blood was left to fester in the hot sun for hours on end, drawing flies, it left another. The foul stench of human viscera, had its own olfactory signature. When that human died, its bowels released. Some injuries left humans vomiting onto the field.
On the whole, Castiel suspected that those writing about the glories of battle had never had to be near one.
This particular fight had been brutal. Demons and their allies had besieged Haven for a month. Castiel and his garrison had been hard pressed to push them back. They’d only had success with the help of an elite group of human warriors, Hunter Legion. Angels were not accustomed to needing the assistance of humans, but rather commanding them, and it sat poorly with Castiel’s superiors that they owed so much to these supposedly inferior fighters.
The battle had been hard fought and only barely won, but barely won still counted as a win. Haven was secure. It wasn’t simply the largest city for thousands of miles; it was the largest market. The economy of the dry, dusty plains would recover from this incursion; however unpleasant this last skirmish might have been, it would never rank as more than a footnote to history.
A presence lurked behind him. Castiel recognized that presence. He would recognize it anywhere. He turned to face the commander of the Hunter Legion, Dean Winchester. He’d known Dean for years now, ever since he’d rescued the man from the clutches of a band of demons. Dean still bore the scars of his imprisonment, and he would for life, but they only made him a better fighter at the end of the day. This was the extent of Heaven’s concern with the matter. Castiel might have some private concerns; he might weep for the pain Dean had endured and would always suffer, but no one would benefit from a vocal expression of those sentiments.
Hard green eyes met Castiel’s as Dean’s generous mouth split into a wide grin. “We finally kicked their asses, huh, Cas?”
“We did, Dean.” He’d never understand why Dean insisted on shortening his name this way, but he’d never managed to cure him of it either. “You and your men fought well. The pyres will burn tonight.”
Dean made a face, and Castiel knew he’d probably erred in mentioning the pyres. Why should Dean care about pyres? Haven was not his home. He’d stayed here for a time as a child, but he had no more connection to those people than Castiel had. He wanted to save them from the demons, of course, but he knew that not everyone could be saved. He’d learned that the hard way.
Footsteps pounded up the stairs leading up to the parapet, and the face of Tracy Bell soon joined them. “Commander?”
Dean grinned at her, an expression that came nowhere near his eyes. “What’s going on, Tracy?”
“Gordon and Travis were monitoring the field and they were able to take two prisoners, sir,” the girl reported. She was a pretty young woman, Castiel supposed. She was competent, which was more of a concern for the garrison commander.
“Two!” Even Dean was impressed. “They demons? Or are they just humans working for the demons?”
“One of them is a demon, sir. She reacted to salt. The other one seems to be some sort of… half-breed, I suppose, sir. He doesn’t react to salt or to holy water, but he seems to be attached to the demon. And he doesn’t seem fully human, either.”
Castiel sucked in breath. “An abomination?” He’d heard of demon-human hybrids. They were rare. Few demons were willing to take the risk of creating one, given the power of the creature created. “Filth!”
“At the moment, yes,” Tracy admitted. “Battle isn’t clean, especially when you’re on the losing side. We’ve got them down in the dungeons; we figured the Commander would want to chat with them.” She glanced away.
Few of Dean’s subordinates wanted to be around when Dean “chatted” with a prisoner. Even if the prisoner was a demon.
“Good call,” Dean told her. “You can go ahead and get them cleaned up first, though. I want to see what I’m working with.”
Tracy bowed. “Right away, sir.” The girl disappeared.
Castiel turned to his charge. Or was Dean better described as his friend? His angelic superiors preferred the former term, and Castiel had certainly been assigned the task of Dean’s rescue. He’d been ordered to befriend Dean; they hadn’t come together through any kind of compatibility, but Dean tolerated his foibles and showed him some respect at least, so Cas guessed that they were friends.
“I assume you’ll have the usual questions for them?”
“What, you mean like, ‘Why did you come and pester Haven?’ and ‘What does your evil overlord have in mind?’ Yeah, stuff like that.” Dean shrugged. “Why?”
“Nothing about Samuel?”
“It’s Sam,” Dean replied automatically. “No one has ever called him ‘Samuel.’ That’s not even his name. And I’ll ask, but we haven’t heard anything about him in three years, and we didn’t hear much then. I’m not holding out a lot of hope.”
“Perhaps they never had him,” Castiel offered. “Perhaps he simply died or ran away.”
They both knew that wasn’t true, but Dean ran a hand through his hair anyway. “Yeah, maybe. He always was a runner.” He cleared his throat. “Should we wait long?”
“No,” Castiel determined after a moment’s thought. “The half-breed is dangerous, if nothing else. If he is attached to the demon in some way, it is probably dangerous as well. It’s best to interrogate them and dispatch them as quickly as possible.”
“You’re right.” Dean shrugged and walked toward the stairs, no movement wasted. “Let’s get my tools and we can get started.”
Castiel shuddered. At least it would get him away from the image of the battlefield. Even marginal improvement was still improvement, although he had to admit that it was merely changing one grim scene for another.
Dean returned to his tent, stark and white on the dead grass in the center of town. The tent could have slept ten men easily, with room for their armor besides, but Dean was the commander and needed room for meetings and such. That gave him an enormous walled tent to himself, complete with furniture. It was probably as close to a settled home as he’d ever had, at least since his father founded the Hunter Legion, and as far as Castiel was concerned, he’d earned it. He could have lived without the long, thin box of tools that the human retrieved from under his camp bed, though.
Once that box had been grabbed, the pair walked back into the town proper and sought out the dungeons. Castiel had no stomach — angels didn’t need to eat — but if he did, it would have turned at the thought of going down into the bowels of Haven’s repository for the unwanted. He understood the need to keep certain elements of society away from the rest of it – the criminals, the dangerous. And he knew that exiling those elements, casting them out beyond the walls, ran a high risk of handing them right over to the wild bands of demons looking to tear civilization down.
Who was to say, though, that places like this didn’t go just as far toward creating demons as the demons themselves did? He could feel the pain, the misery and the despair as he descended the spiral staircase into the depths of the “justice center.” There were men here who had been thrown into a hole and forgotten except for the occasional crust of bread thrown in after them. There were those who would have prayed for such treatment, if they could remember how to pray.
The room for the interrogation of demons had been set up at some distance from the other cells, which offered the angel some relief. The men entered the chamber in silence and took in the spectacle before them.
The demon was female, or at least in female form, dark of hair and fair of skin. She’d been stripped down and dressed in a loincloth with some of the grime on her face and limbs washed away before she’d been strapped to a chair in the middle of a devil’s trap. Her predicament didn’t seem to distress her though. She watched them come into the room with her head tilted to the side, onyx eyes glittering and mouth fixed into a smirk. Her skin bore a number of tattoos, some of which were tribal markings and some of which were magical or mystical in purpose. This was her own body then – a custom-crafted host body, like unto an angel’s vessel, not a possessed human. This was good – it spared the good guys any pangs of conscience about torturing a possessed host. “Well well well,” she purred as Dean and Castiel entered. “A human and an angel. We should feel honored, Samael.”
Samael was the name of the half-breed, then. Castiel recoiled at the use of an angelic name for a half-demon abomination, although he doubted that such a thing would have been given any choice in his own name. The cambion lacked the easy demeanor of his companion. Where she was petite, he was a massive mountain of a man. He’d been chained with his arms suspended over his head in what was supposed to be a position of stress, but his feet rested easily on the floor. Like his companion, he’d been stripped and re-dressed in a simple loincloth. Castiel’s breath caught in his throat at the stunning detail of the man’s musculature. Chestnut hair reached to his shoulders and he looked out at the world through yellow eyes. Some of his tattoos matched the demon's, some did not. He didn’t respond to his companion with words, but by turning a snarl of unrestrained hate toward Dean and Castiel.
A snarl that cut itself short when he saw Dean. Interesting.
Dean glanced at the guards, who backed up. One of them sported an impressive black eye and another seemed to be favoring his right side a little bit. It couldn’t have been the woman; she wore the demonic cuffs that the angels had provided. Had the cambion fought back? “Good to know there’s some fight left in you, Sam-ay-el,” the commander said, setting the box on the table and opening it up.
The prisoners could both see the contents, easily. All of the knives, blades, and scalpels were laid out on display for just that purpose. Dean had explained it once; he’d learned this while held by Lilith and her band. You let the subject see the instruments and their brains did half the work for you.
Castiel wondered if it worked that way for demons.
“Oh, you have no idea how much fight there is in Samael,” the woman told him. “He was always Daddy’s favorite.”
“He’s your brother, then?” Castiel prodded.
She turned those malicious eyes onto him, and he couldn’t help but feel uncomfortable. Even mostly naked and filthy as she was, she was beautiful. He could see her twisted, horrifying soul and she was still beautiful. “Half,” she confessed. “Same father. Different mothers. In case you hadn’t noticed, he’s only half demon.”
“We’d picked up on that, thanks. The half doesn’t matter. He’s got your blood, he’s fighting on your side.” Dean gave a thin little smile.
“Like he had a choice,” she pointed out. “Do you really think that he’d have been welcome here, among humans, if he’d been found out?”
“He’d have been put down,” Castiel acknowledged. “With mercy, before he could turn to sin.”
The cambion didn’t speak. His lip curled though. It was hard to tell if he was laughing or sneering.
Dean pulled a knife out of the case, one with a wavy blade. It wasn’t the most useful of blades in the heat of battle – too flimsy – but it had plenty of use here. He grabbed a small clay jug of holy water from underneath the table. “Here’s how this is going to go,” he said in a conversational tone. “I’m going to ask questions, you’re going to answer them. We’re going to have a little fun.”
“Oh Dean,” the demon said, shaking her head in a gesture that looked like pity. “I’m sure that you’re very skilled with those little pig-stickers, but you’re forgetting something, aren’t you?”
Castiel’s Grace went cold. How had this woman known Dean’s name? “What’s that?” he asked, trying not to let his fears show in his voice.
“I’m a demon.” She leaned forward, a leer on her face. “There isn’t anything that you can do to me with those that hasn’t already been done, over and over and over again. I know you studied with Alastair. So did I, Dean. So you can go ahead and cut me up, if that’s how you get your rocks off. But it makes you more like one of us than anything else, which is kind of ironic when you think about it.”
Dean snarled. “Maybe I’ll cut into baby brother, then. See if I can get him to make sweet music.”
“Take a good hard look, Dean-o,” the woman sneered. “I know he needs to be dunked into a lake or something, but do you not see the scars?”
“You going to tell me he studied under Alastair too?” Dean quirked up one eyebrow.
“No. Someone much, much more creative.” The woman smiled then, all teeth. “You won’t be a happy man if you cut into him. But you don’t need to... I’ll tell you whatever you want to know. Ask your questions. I’ll answer them.”
Castiel looked at the abomination. Just as the woman had said, his body bore an almost obscene number of scars underneath all of the ink and grime. Samael caught him looking and curled his lip at him. The angel looked away. He shouldn’t be thinking about what the man must have endured to earn a demon’s pity. He shouldn’t be thinking of the cambion as a man at all.
“What’s your name?” Dean barked out.
“You can call me Meg. I’ve had a lot of names, over the centuries, but Meg is the one I’m best known by.” Meg relaxed a little better into her bonds. “And you’re Dean Winchester.”
The abomination’s response when Dean’s name was mentioned fascinated Castiel. A look of supreme peace passed over his face, just for a moment. As an angel, Castiel lacked the emotional capacity to describe it, but his best reference would be the face of someone who had achieved the end of a long quest. At the same time, his entire body tensed up, as though something about that name in the demon’s mouth caused an instinctive reaction for the youth.
“Why were you besieging Haven?” Dean asked.
“Lilith’s people were besieging Haven because you’re sitting right on top of a nexus of trade routes. They’ve got humans to feed too, you know. They want to take it over so that they can expand their reach, eventually take over.”
“And you don’t?” Castiel stepped forward.
“No, angel, my tribe is a little more traditional when it comes to human settlements. We like to tear things down. Our Master isn’t a big fan of humanity.” She winked at him as though he was supposed to be in on the joke.
Castiel didn’t do jokes. “I assume that you share his distaste,” he commented.
“Humanity hasn’t done much for me or mine,” she shrugged. “Baby brother’s soft on them though.”
Samael rolled his eyes.
“Aw, ain’t that sweet. It’s not going to save his sorry ass, but it’s sweet.” Dean barely spared a glance for the giant in chains. “You say ‘Lilith’s people.’ So you weren’t part of the group besieging Haven?”
“Nope. We tagged along because Samael had someone he wanted to see inside. Wouldn’t shut up about it for weeks I finally took him out sight-seeing.” She stretched her neck out. “I don’t suppose I could bug you for a backrub, there, angel? This chair is cramping me up something fierce.”
“Angels don’t give backrubs.” Castiel wasn’t going to think about putting his hands on her bare skin, and he certainly wasn’t going to think about putting his hands on the abomination’s bare skin either.
“Pity. I’ll teach you later.”
Dean scowled at her, leaning into her space. “There ain’t going to be a later for you, or your brother. This is it, lady. It’s over. Once we’re done here you’re joining your buddies on the pyre.”
She laughed. “First of all, you’re not dumb enough to think Lilith’s tribe would have anything to do with Azazel’s children?”
Both Dean and Castiel drew back. “Azazel?” Dean hissed.
“That explains why the abomination has an angelic name,” Castiel sighed. “Azazel was once one of the Host himself, but Fell with Lucifer.”
“What, the eyes didn’t give you a really freaking strong hint?” Meg shook her head. “Maybe Lucifer’s right.”
“Lucifer?” Dean stepped right up to Meg and pulled her hair back, exposing her throat. “What do you know about Lucifer?”
“The Lightbringer is our Master,” she told him, laughing. “When you killed our father, you delivered us into Lucifer’s hands. Our tribe merged with his. The story’s in the tattoos, if you know how to read them. And Lucifer and Lilith never work together.”
Castiel nodded. “It’s true, Dean.” The words felt like ash in his mouth. “If they were working for Lucifer, they wouldn’t have been part of Lilith’s attack plan.”
“Then why were you here?” Dean sneered. “Oh, right. Little Samael had someone he wanted to see. Tell me who it is.”
“He’s already seen that person.” Meg’s face went perfectly serious now.
“No. Uh-uh. Not happening.” Dean picked up the knife again. “If he’s got a girl in Haven, if someone’s renting herself out to some demonic half-breed, then we need to know about it. We need to nip this kind of crap in the bud.”
“There’s no girl.” Meg’s eyes narrowed. “Your brain just went straight to sex, didn’t it?”
Dean blinked. “Well yeah – why else would he come into a human city and get the two of you killed?”
“There are all kinds of ties that bind people together, Dean. Demons do things for the same reason you do things. If you found out that your little angel friend was in danger, you’d want to see him to make sure he was okay, right?”
“Well of course.” Dean frowned.
Castiel rolled his eyes. Dean shouldn’t be engaging in discussion or debate with a demon. “Your point?”
“You’re assuming that Samael spent his entire life with us, in the tribe. That he has no family ties among the settled men. That’s not true. He wanted to see his human family one last time and I wanted to indulge him. So here we are. He’s done that, so we can leave now.”
“There is no leaving!” Dean bellowed. “You’re going to tell me exactly what family he thinks he has!” He slammed his hand on the table. “Is it his mother? Did he come back to see the mother who screwed a demon and gave birth to a monster? Because we’ll throw her out onto the pyre faster than we’ll put you two out there!”
Meg laughed out loud. “No. Believe it or not – I mean you’d have to ask him, but I think he’d be the first to try to convince her not to make that decision. His mother made a deal. Her husband had died. She made a deal with our father to restore her husband to life. Samael was the result – and what Azazel really wanted, after all.”
“So who the hell could he want to visit? Who could love such a thing or want to see it?”
“A brother,” Meg told him simply.
“His brother was taken by demons, maybe six years ago? Lilith’s band. He was rescued by angels, but Samael here, he’s got less than no use for angels. He’s been obsessed with seeing with his own eyes that his brother’s alive and in one piece. He’s done that. We can go now.” She shifted her eyes to her brother. “So can we get a move on already, Samael?”
A crack opened up down the center of the devil’s trap, and the demonic cuffs opened up. The woman stood up, rubbing her wrists. “I made a promise to my little brother,” she explained, walking right up to a stunned Dean Winchester, “that I wouldn’t hurt you. So I’m fulfilling my promise.” She walked over to Samael. “Come on. Get down from there already before I think you look like too much fun.”
“I’m staying, Meg.”
The abomination hadn’t made a sound yet, and his voice sounded hoarse and scratchy. That didn’t seem to surprise Meg, who scowled at him. “Excuse me – the hell you are.” She held up a hand and all of the humans, who had been darting toward her, froze in place. “They are going to kill you, Samael. Painfully. They’re not going to care that you’ve never tortured a human or that you’ve never hurt someone who didn’t deserve it, they don’t care. You’re just filth to them, no different from me, and they’re not going to care that you’re half-human. They’re just going to kill you.”
The creature’s response came with a little smile that was both sad and loving. “I know. Thank you for everything, Meg.”
Her face twisted. “No. No no no. I didn’t come all this way so you could throw away all that potential, all that brilliance, because of prejudice and idiocy. And where do you think I’m going to go once Lucifer finds out I let humans and an angel murder his favorite plaything? No way. This is not happening. Get yourself down, we’re leaving. Right now. You saw what you came to see.”
“Meg,” the man sighed, and for a moment he looked young. Impossibly young, younger even than Dean. For all of the hard lines of his body, and all of the alien stirrings that his body caused in Castiel, what the angel wanted to do most was to wrap this monster up in his wings and take him someplace safe. “It’s okay. You’ll find a welcome home with Abaddon; you know this. She’ll shelter you.” He blinked and the iron shackles fell away from his wrists.
“That’s not the point,” Meg snapped. “You dying here like some kind of … of sacrificial lamb would be the biggest waste of everything since I don’t even know what. We can both go to Abaddon. Come on.”
“She’s not going to be keen to take on Lucifer’s sloppy seconds,” Samael pointed out. “And if she is, then I’m pretty sure that’s not a party I want in on, you know? Just… go. Save yourself.”
Dean, trapped as he was, gave a bitter laugh. “You expect me to believe that you’re just going to give up without a fight now that you’ve seen whoever it is that you came here to see?”
Castiel sighed. “Do you remember your birth family, Samael?”
The abomination glared. “Do you remember yours?”
“Hey!” Dean shouted. “That’s an angel of the Lord! You’d better show him some respect, or he’ll burn you alive from the inside out!”
Meg gestured, and Dean shouted in pain. “Did you forget that he just said he was going to surrender himself for execution, dumbass?”
“Meg!” Sam cried out, and Dean’s face untwisted itself. “You promised you wouldn’t hurt him!”
It was all of the confirmation that Castiel needed. “You were Sam Winchester,” he marveled. He reached out with his Grace to hold the demon Meg in place and prevent her from leaving, even as he turned to stare at the abomination before him. “You were Dean’s brother.”
“No.” Dean swallowed. “Impossible. My brother was human. He was human!”
Samael – Sam – gave a little huff of laughter. “Not so much.”
“You came all this way to see him again,” Meg sneered, “and he won’t even believe you’re you.”
“Well I wasn’t exactly planning to do a big reveal.” Sam gestured and Castiel’s hold on Meg was severed. “Go, Meg. Save yourself.”
“I’m not leaving you alone with these bastards,” the demon insisted. “Not in your current mental state; you’re clearly not in your right mind if you think just baring your throat to these zealots is a great plan.” She stepped forward and put one hand on her brother’s arm. “Look at these people. That brother you were so desperate to see ‘one last time’ doesn’t give a crap about you, Samael. That angel? He wants to smite us both. And these guards? Yeah, they want to put you ‘in your place’ before they kill you. None of them cares what happened to you out there.”
“I know.” Samael put a hand – a huge hand, proportional to his body, and when did Castiel start thinking about hands or what they might feel like? – onto her tiny shoulder. “I need to do this, Meg. There’s no place for me anymore, and I want… I want it to be Dean.”
The demon looked stricken. Castiel hadn’t known that demons could feel, not like this. “This is stupid, Samael,” she insisted. “Come with me. I’ll keep you safe in Abaddon’s tribe.”
“This is what I want, Meg.” He kissed the top of her head.
Dean found himself released from his invisible bindings. “Lot of help you are,” he muttered, glaring at Castiel.
“Demons with bonds of affection,” the angel defended. “It’s new to me.” He reached out and grabbed Meg again, this time physically. “I’m afraid that she’s not going anywhere,” he informed the abomination. “We can’t let so valuable a target as Azazel’s daughter out into the world.”
Sam frowned at him. “Look. I’m giving you what you want. Azazel’s son, not even fighting. A powerful half-demon that you can wipe from the face of existence with a thought in exchange for letting my sister go.”
“Oh, she’s your sister now?” Dean spat, drawing closer to Sam. “I thought I was supposed to be your brother.”
Sam looked down to meet his eyes. “You are.”
“Then how can she be your sister?”
“Different sides. Look, it doesn’t matter. You’re going to kill me, that’s why you’re here.” Sam’s breathing sped up and his hands clenched loosely at his sides; he was starting to panic. That wouldn’t be good.
Dean’s eyes narrowed. “My brother didn’t have any other siblings.”
“Not true. I had a different father. Your father, by contrast, had another, secret wife by whom he had another son.” His jaw clenched. “Look. I don’t care what you do to me, just let Meg go.”
“Anyone pretending to be Sam Winchester wouldn’t go asking me to let a demon live.” Dean raised his knife.
Castiel sighed and touched two fingers to the monster’s brow. The demonic stain was there, certainly, but he could feel the memories there as well. “This is your brother, Dean,” he said. “He is telling the truth.”
Sam blinked, and gold eyes were replaced by hazel. “Now will you please let Meg go?”
Dean and Castiel exchanged looks. “I’m inclined to let her live, Dean,” Castiel told his comrade.
“Is that because she’s got a nice rack?” the human shot back. “Because I can give you an hour with her before we gank her.”
In spite of himself, the angel blushed. “No, Dean. This…. This abomination is your brother. He is very attached to this demon, who is his half-sister. We can use her as a hostage for his good behavior.” He saw the doubt in Dean’s eyes and pressed on. “If we kill her, he’ll not only dig in his heels, he’ll be enraged. Do you really think he’ll leave anything standing in his path toward revenge?” He swallowed. “It’s only until we decide his final fate, Dean.”
Dean moistened his lips. “You say he really is my brother.”
“He is, Dean.”
Only now did Dean turn around and really look at the abomination. Sam stood still and let it happen. “Get him cleaned up,” he ordered finally. “Get him set up with a tent and a bed and everything. The girl – she’ll get a cell she can move around in, but she stays on lockdown. I want a guard on him at all times, until I come for him.”
Dean walked out of the room as fast as he could without it being classed as a run. Castiel took another look at Sam, fixing him in his mind before chasing after his charge.