Author's Note: This is a continuation of the universe begun in "Semper Familia". It will make zero sense without being familiar with that story. But hopefully it will make perfect sense if you are familiar with that story!
The publication of this story means that yes-I finally have a computer again, so yes-"Miserere" will be updated, hopefully within the next week! I haven't forgotten. Thank you for your patience. I hope you enjoy.
It's been years.
Ten years, to be precise, since the last time Sam had to kneel to anybody.
But as he bursts into the room, gun raised, panic-stricken and pulsing with adrenaline behind his brother, he feels it. As soon as he crosses the threshold, he feels it.
Blue eyes meet his, and there's an unquestionable authority, a dominance, a mastery. It takes Sam's breath away because it never felt like this before, it was never something he felt like a punch to the gut, no matter how much the Hunters tried to drill it into him until it was a physical response. It was never like this.
Dean's yelling that this is "Cas", not to shoot, but Sam's already lowered his gun because you don't raise your weapon against someone like this.
He doesn't even notice he's doing it until he's already on his knees.
Dean's hands are around his arm, trying to pull him up, but he shrugs his brother off and waits for the angel to act. He's fourteen again, at someone's mercy, and while he can't fathom doing anything else right now, he's terrified.
He hears Dean shout for Castiel to "do something", and then Castiel's scuffed dress shoes are approaching, and Sam tenses. The shoes are joined by knees as the angel crouches, and then a finger is placed beneath his chin, tilting his face up. He accepts it, looking wide-eyed into the angel's face.
"Sam Winchester," the angel says, solemn. "This is unnecessary. Stand." Then he extends his hand to help Sam to his feet, which Sam takes immediately. He feels the electric buzz all the way up his arm.
His eyes don't leave Castiel's as they stand, and when the angel murmurs "Perhaps you should give us a moment, Uriel," he doesn't look over to whoever Castiel is addressing. He stays fixated on Castiel's face, because he was directed to look there and hasn't been told otherwise, yet. But there's a soft sound and then it seems like Castiel's presence is even stronger, more concentrated, and Sam shivers.
"Fuck's sake, Cas, make him stop." Dean's voice sounds pained, panicked, angry, and Castiel's eyes flick over to him. They narrow, and he looks annoyed, and Sam shudders again, suddenly fearful for his brother. His brother, who is ordering an angel around, trying to keep him safe.
The same reason Dean always does dumb stuff.
Castiel returns his gaze to Sam, assessing, placid. Sam straightens his back and tilts his head down, his eyes now firmly planted on the angel's chin.
"Fucking hell, Cas."
"Dean, shut up," Sam begs through gritted teeth. That prompts a slight upward tick of Castiel's lips, and Sam refrains from releasing the sigh of relief he feels rising in his chest. Smiles are good. Smiles mean he's done well.
"You can look at me, Sam," Castiel says, his voice dry but not sarcastic. Sam obeys, and there are no clues in Castiel's expression. "I understand your actions. But they are unnecessary. I am here to help you and your brother, not to subjugate you."
"See, Sammy?" Dean steps forward, Sam can hear the shuffle of his shoes on the carpet, but a sharp look from Castiel stops him. Regardless, he says, "You're all right, Sammy. It's okay. Cas is on our side."
Sam wants to look over to his brother, but he was instructed to look at Castiel. The angel notices his struggle and tilts his head, appraising. "You may do as you wish, Sam. I am flattered by your reverence, but concerned that undue submissiveness will hinder us in what needs to be done. In our mission."
"Undue?" Sam blurts before he can help himself, then feels his face flush.
Castiel's expression softens, and Sam feels himself relax the smallest bit under that shift. "Your faith, in the face of all you have suffered, is admirable," the angel says quietly. Sam's face reddens further, flustered by the praise. "But I am not your master, Sam. That trial is finished."
Sam feels, in that sixth sense he so quickly developed in regards to his brother, a shift in Dean at Castiel's words. It sends anxious prickles up his spine because Dean has gone very still, and that is never a good sign. He glances over at Dean, and he is frozen in place, staring at the angel.
Castiel notices a moment after Sam does, and he frowns. "Dean?"
"That trial is finished?" Dean echoes. Sam doesn't groan. It's a close thing.
"Yes," Castiel replies, oblivious to the danger he's—the danger he would be in if he were mortal, Sam supposes. "That part of Sam's life ended when you rescued him. Is this incorrect, in your estimation?"
Sam watches as Castiel understands.
"You knew, you feathery fucking bastard, and you didn't do anything." Dean is advancing on Castiel, who is frowning deeply but looks predictably calm about it since it's not like Dean could hurt him. Sam keeps looking between them, feeling a sick sense of déjà vu to the day when he lay convalescing in bed after the Oschaert attack, flanked by angry Winchester men.
Dean gently shoves Sam out of the way to get closer to Castiel, and when they're practically nose-to-nose, he sticks his finger in the angel's face. "You knew my little brother was alive. You knew an innocent kid was getting tortured. You knew the demons were trying to turn him dark side and you did nothing."
"I had my orders, Dean." Castiel's voice is cold, but Sam hears something underneath...a note of something odd, almost unsure. Almost.
"Screw your orders!" Dean shouts, hands flailing like he wants to hit something but can't decide what. "Sam could have died! He almost did!"
"Sam would not have died. It would not have been allowed," Castiel retorts, his expression darkening. Sam shivers and the angel looks over, making a visible effort to smooth his features.
"Nobody but me stopped it from happening last time," Dean says softly, and Castiel's face blanks completely.
"There is a plan," Castiel murmurs.
"And that plan involves letting my little brother suffer like that for years?" Dean challenges.
"Drop it, Dean, come on," Sam mutters. "It wasn't his fault."
But Castiel isn't listening to Sam and isn't looking at either of them. His eyes are firmly on the wall in front of him as he says, his voice distant and barely audible, "Do you think I wanted..."
He breaks off.
Dean looks suddenly less sure of himself. "Cas?" he says, and Sam wonders briefly how one has the balls to give an angel a nickname.
Castiel's interior struggle is barely visible on his face, but Sam learned quickly as a child how to read expressions people tried to suppress. He had to. And on this face that Castiel isn't yet used to controlling, Sam can see the conflict.
"There is a plan," he repeats dully. "My orders came from Heaven, and Heaven is just."
Dean shifts uncomfortably at the rote tone of the angel's voice. "Cas..."
"I did not and do not understand," Castiel says, his voice louder, intended for the brothers now. "But I am not asked to understand. Just to obey. The fullness of the plan will be revealed in time."
"Okay, Cas," Dean replies quietly. "It's cool." He sidles closer to Sam in a way he must think is subtle, but Sam can't be anything but grateful for the comforting motion. Castiel is kind of freaking him out.
Then the angel turns to him, and he looks more settled, his eyes no longer vacant and glassy. Sam tries to meet those eyes firmly, and he thinks he does an okay job. "For what it is worth, Sam," Castiel says softly, "I regret what has happened to you. I...your suffering...I wish it had not been necessary."
They're in another bar.
Luke is twelve, but he thinks he's been in more bars than most adults. Most adults who aren't Hunters, at any rate.
Walt—Master is laughing with the other Hunters he's met here for a post-hunt victory drink, and they're laughing with him, and nobody cares that Luke is kneeling on the ground and has been for the last hour. Nobody ever cares, but it doesn't make it any easier, each time he's surrounded by grown-ups and everybody acts like this is normal.
Luke doesn't know much about normal, but he knows this isn't it.
This time, Ava is back at the motel because she's sick. She came down with the flu, and she's miserable, but Luke still envies her. Misery loves company, and nights like these are easier when she's here with him.
He's drifted a little, lost focus, and when he comes back to the present he sees that one of the Hunters is staring at him.
It's not one he thinks he's seen before. This Hunter looks soft, but from the way everybody around the table was talking he kicked some serious ass on the hunt. He isn't dressed like the others...he looks like a businessman, in gray suit pants and a white button down shirt spattered with maroon blood, and a gray tie that's fastidiously knotted but backwards, the label facing out. He has short dark hair and piercing blue eyes, and he hasn't touched his beer.
Walt—Master notices the way he's staring, and he gets a weird look on his face. Then he smirks, and says, "Like what you see?"
Luke shivers. He's heard other Hunters say that before his master took their Lilim into another room, to be led back a while later with tears in their eyes.
"I do," the Hunter says, but his voice sounds different from the way Master's does when he says that. He sounds sincere, and a little naïve, like he doesn't know what Luke's master is asking.
Not that Luke exactly does, either.
Master and the strange Hunter speak in quieter tones for a moment, and then the strange Hunter stands. Luke's master kicks Luke and he stands, too.
"Go with him, and you do as he says," Master orders, and Luke nods, baffled, but follows the strange Hunter into another room. "Enjoy yourself," Luke's master calls after them. "You've earned it!"
The strange Hunter walks alongside Luke, his arm slightly behind Luke's back but not touching him. He doesn't say anything, just watches Luke in a little too intense a fashion. Luke doesn't say anything, either.
His mind is whirling, wondering frantically what it is that's about to happen, why the Lilim cry when they come back. He risks a glance up at the strange Hunter, and suppresses a shiver. The Hunter is tall and lightly muscled, but Luke is small and skinny and it doesn't matter how much muscle an adult has, Luke will lose if it comes to a fight. He wonders if the strange Hunter will hurt him. He could. Nobody would stop him.
But Luke wonders, because the strange Hunter doesn't touch him, just leads him wordlessly. Doesn't grab his arm, doesn't manhandle. Just watches, like Luke is something fascinating.
It's a little storage room that the strange Hunter brings him to...a few chairs, a banged-up mattress, some shelving with odds and ends on it and oh god a mattress and Luke suddenly knows what his master was offering.
He starts to cry.
The strange Hunter gathers him into his arms, presses him close to his chest, and murmurs something into his hair. It's not English, and it's not Latin, but it has a warmth in its tones that goes straight to Luke's heart, and he collapses, pliant, into the Hunter's embrace.
The Hunter sits him down in one of the chairs and kneels before him, and no that's wrong all wrong Luke should be kneeling not a Hunter wrong wrong wrong
But the Hunter's hands are strong on his knees and he can't even think of moving.
"I don't understand," the Hunter says softly, but it's not to Luke so he stays silent. "This seems...unjust. You have tried so hard to remain good, despite everything. Your trial should not persist."
"I'm trying to be good," Luke agrees frantically, understanding none of what was just said beyond "tried to remain good". "Sir."
The Hunter nods absently, and one hand moves from Luke's knee to his chest.
Luke doesn't know what it looks like, the thing that happens to Lilim in rooms like this, so he begins to hyperventilate.
The Hunter withdraws his hand, meeting Luke's eyes full-on for the first time since they left the table. "I will not hurt you," he promises. "Neither will I..." Here he falters, then says, "...touch you in any way you do not wish. I would like to help you. You are developing an infection in your lungs. It will become pneumonia, untreated."
"Are you a doctor?" Luke asks, giddy with relief at the promises he knows can be broken without consequence for this Hunter. He believes him anyway. He believes this strange Hunter with the soft, uncallused hands and the too-bright blue eyes. He could do anything to Luke in this room and no one would care or probably ever know, but Luke doesn't think he will. Desperately wants to believe that he won't.
"I am not," the Hunter replies, "but I can help you. Will you allow me?"
Luke nods. The Hunter seems pleased, and he places a gentle hand on Luke's chest, then another. He murmurs something in that warm language and Luke feels a heat spread through his chest, and he gasps. The Hunter doesn't seem to notice, and continues murmuring until he is satisfied and takes his hands off of Luke.
"You will remain well," he announces, while Luke touches his chest. It's not warm to the touch but he can still feel the heat inside. He can breathe easier, now, too.
"Thanks," he says, though he is suddenly afraid. Master must not know this Hunter isn't human. He wouldn't send Luke away with a monster.
No. He might. He wouldn't drink with a monster.
"Does my master know what you are?" he asks quietly. The Hunter shakes his head, and Luke steadies his breathing. "What are you gonna do with me?"
The Hunter simply studies him, a sorrowful expression on his face, his blue eyes boring into Luke like he's looking for something that he can't find. "I want—"
He breaks off, looking horrified. Luke shrinks away, but there is a swirling flood of emotions crossing the Hunter's features, one bleeding into the next before Luke can decipher any of it.
"I want," the Hunter repeats, sounding awed and fearful. "I want to help you. I want...to protect you." He frowns. "There is a plan..."
Luke waits a minute, then says, "Sir?"
The Hunter puts his palms across Luke's cheeks, holding him gently but firmly in place, staring at him with fevered eyes. Luke doesn't move, barely breathes.
"A soul so bright cannot be destined for this," he whispers. "This cannot be the Will. It cannot be the Plan, for an innocent to suffer this."
"I'm Lilim, sir," Luke interjects softly. He doesn't know why he is reminding the Hunter of this; there is always a chance he will say 'oh yes, I forgot' and treat him as Lilim are treated. But there is such a panicked grief in the Hunter's eyes that Luke can't stand it. He has to say something. "I'm not an innocent."
That only seems to stoke the fire burning behind the man's eyes, and suddenly Luke gets the sudden impression that he is wearing a mask...a human mask, concealing something terrible, something like a hurricane. A natural disaster wearing slacks and a blood-stained button down. "You are," the strange Hunter says fervently. "You are the lamb that is slaughtered. But you are not even granted a quick death."
"Are you going to kill me?" Luke whispers, his face still trapped between the Hunter's hands, forced to meet his eyes.
The Hunter shakes his head, but instead of responding, asks, "How did he hurt you, earlier?"
"Walter. He injured you before coming here. How?"
"I'm fine, sir." Rule number nine. Never let them see your weakness.
The Hunter frowns at that. "That is not true. You are injured in several places. Your legs, most notably. And there is trace intracranial swelling, indicating that you were recently concussed." Luke gapes, and then flinches back when the Hunter presses in and says, "Tell me the truth. What did he do to you?"
"I was bad," Luke breathes.
"You were not, and that was not my question." The Hunter doesn't look mad, exactly, but he's starting to look impatient, and that sends a spike of panic through Luke.
"Just hit me, sir, nothing bad, he just hit me, my back and my knees, sir, and he threw me and I hit my head," Luke babbles before impatience morphs into anger. "I'm fine, sir, I promise, I can do whatever you want."
"Walter Hamilton is a pathetic excuse for a human, much less a self-professed protector of humanity," the strange Hunter growls, and Luke ducks his head against the man's fury. "To harm a child this way. To injure your knees and make you kneel."
"I'm fine," Luke whispers.
"You are not," the man argues, his voice flaring in volume and anger and Luke begins to cry, can't help himself, because when a Hunter is angry he's the one who pays for it and also because for some reason the Hunter's voice hurt his ears.
He's doing it silently, crying with his tears running down his cheeks but no sound escaping his mouth, so he hears the deep sigh that the Hunter releases. He still flinches when a heavy, soft hand comes to rest on his shoulder. He knows better than to flinch again when his head is tilted up. He meets the Hunter's blue eyes unhappily, but obediently.
The Hunter looks unhappy, too. And he looks unhappy in a bone-deep way that is familiar to Luke. It's an unhappiness that sticks like tar, clings to your skin, seeps behind your eyelids. He hasn't looked like this, minutes ago when they entered the room. Maybe Luke did something.
Before he can take a breath to apologize, the Hunter says, "Forgive me. I didn't mean to frighten you."
"I'm—" Luke begins, then breaks off when he sees weary disappointment in the Hunter's face. Instead of that hated word 'fine', he says, "It's okay."
That brings a very slight smile to the Hunter's face. "Thank you. Will you permit me to heal you?"
Luke doesn't understand, doesn't know what this Hunter-creature means by 'permit', but his blood is roaring in his ears and his knees throb like fire, and if the Hunter is going to hurt him he will anyway, so he just nods and closes his eyes.
Two cool fingers press against his forehead, so gently he can barely feel them, and a wave of relief like cold water rushes through his head all the way into his spine. He gasps, and his eyes open wide. He can't remember the last time his head didn't hurt, at least a little. Low-level hunger and dehydration always make him very aware of his pulse by his ears and behind his eyes, of the pressure.
The Hunter isn't looking at him, but takes his fingers off of Luke's head and puts both hands on Luke's knees, now. There's a reverence in his movements, a care taken that confuses and worries Luke. No one's ever treated him like this before. He doesn't know what it means but in his experience, novelty has rarely meant something good for him.
The fire dies down in his kneecaps, and while it still hurts a little for a bit—in fact the pain flares up, just a touch, for just a moment—it goes away altogether eventually. The Hunter reaches for his back last, brushing gentle fingertips beneath Luke's thin shirt and banishing the soreness, the ache of bruises old and new.
The Hunter returns his hands to his own legs, sitting on his heels in front of Luke, surveying his handiwork with an air of muted satisfaction. Luke can't help it, can't sit in front of him anymore like a king on a throne, and slips to a matching position on the floor. The Hunter doesn't move to stop him, just watches curiously, head tilted in a birdlike pose.
"Who are you?" Luke asks.
"It's not of import," the Hunter replies.
Luke hesitates, then swallows his fear as he presses: "It is to me."
Instead of anger at his impudence, the Hunter smiles—a small, sad thing. "Gregory is as good a name as any," he says.
"But not yours," Luke guesses, and he can't hide his flinch, revealing his shock at himself for his daring.
The smile widens a hair. "Yes and no. It is the name of the mouth, but not the voice."
That's too confusing, so Luke lets it be. He's tired, now, exhausted from the faded adrenaline that had been pumping through his body and sleepy from the relief from pain. He's learned that Hunters around him like submission, like for their Lilim to demonstrate that they know their place, and that one way to do that is through placing their bodies lower than those of their owners. So he creeps closer to the Hunter, to Gregory, and he folds himself down, placing his head on Gregory's legs.
It's submission. It's not a sleepy child seeking comfort from the only adult to ever use his power to help him and not hurt him. It's not.
Gregory seems confused for a moment, but then, hesitantly, cards his fingers through Luke's dirty hair. Each touch sends a new wave of comfort through Luke's head, and he quickly feels himself drifting off.
"For what it is worth," Gregory says, "I regret what has happened to you. I wish that all of this, your suffering, had not been necessary."
Luke is too tired to know what to make of that, but it sounds nice. He wishes that, too. So he mumbles, "Thank you," and snuggles in a little more. Gregory continues to stroke his hair soothingly.
"You can sleep," Gregory murmurs, and there's something behind his voice, something that lulls Luke further. "I am here."
Luke has never slept in the company of a strange Hunter before, much less one who is not human. But he can't fight it anymore, and more, he doesn't feel he needs to. So he lets himself nod off.
It's in a half-waking half-sleeping twilight state that he hears Gregory's voice, soft and measured, say, "Don't wake the boy."
"You are off-mission, Castiel." The voice is female, sharp and very crisp. Angry. If Luke were more awake, more certain that this was not a dream, he'd shudder.
"He needed my help. I could not turn my back. Hamilton offered him to me—I did not intervene where I was not invited."
"There is a balance, Castiel. If the other side finds out—"
"Their own agent gave him to me!" Gregory's—Castiel's?—voice does not increase in volume, but it does become harder. Luke shifts involuntarily, uncomfortably. Gregory quiets for a moment, putting a gentle hand on Luke's shoulder to calm him.
"Their human agent, who necessarily knows nothing of their plan. Of the Plan. You should have declined."
"We are meant to be His love, Naomi, not just His might," Gregory argues. "The boy is trying. Eight years of torture, his entire life that he remembers, and he has not broken. Can't you see it? They've lost. If I ask him, he will come with me. We will have both brothers. Without a vessel for—"
"You are coming dangerously close to blasphemy, Castiel," Naomi interrupts, her voice dark. "Do not presume that you understand the Plan better than your superiors. This battle must take place. Each vessel must play his part. Do not interfere."
The hand on Luke's shoulder runs down his arm, tenderly, protectively. Luke melts a little further against Gregory's body. "I cannot leave him to this."
"You can, Castiel," Naomi spits. "It is your duty."
"Then I will not leave him to this," Gregory amends. "He trusts me. He put his faith in me and I will not be another betrayer to him."
A sigh, then, and the rustling of fabric as another body lowers close to Luke. Naomi's voice is much closer as she murmurs, "Your heart will be your undoing, Castiel. I say this every time."
He feels Gregory's body tense. "Every—"
And then Gregory is gone, completely, and Luke hits the floor. He scrambles up to a sitting position, and stares at the woman he knows must be Naomi. She is all straight lines and sharp angles, dressed in an immaculately-pressed business suit, her hair pulled tight into a severe bun. Luke thinks she's beautiful but can't breathe for fear of her. She puts her fingers to his forehead, just like Gregory had, and she says, "Don't take it personally. You are just too important to save."
And then it's dark.
They're in the same bar, and Luke is on his knees.
It hurts less than it did, though, which is nice.
Master looks down at him, and says, "Greg left?"
Luke doesn't know what he's talking about, who Greg is, but he knows he's supposed to say, "Yes, sir."
Master reaches down and takes Luke's chin in his head, tilting his head up. "You were good for him?" he asks.
Luke's not dumb. He doesn't know who he was supposed to be good for, but there's only one answer to that question. "Yes, sir."
Master lets go. "Good. Let's get out of here."
And Luke doesn't know why he feels so sad. He knew that he'd be leaving with his master. He doesn't know why he feels like he'd almost had something better.
Sam stares at the angel in front of him. The face is different—a little bit. The same eyes, though, similar build, the same hair color. The same intensity of gaze and speech. "Illinois," he says quietly.
Castiel says nothing, but tilts his head. Just like Gregory had.
"I didn't remember until just now. Illinois—outside of Pontiac, Illinois. The bar. You found me and—and you tried to save me."
"You're mistaken," Castiel responds, slowly, uncertainly.
"No, you did," Sam insists, his voice rising with fervor. "You took me to that utility closet because Walt gave me to you—"
"Jesus," Dean exclaims, looking pale.
"—and you healed me," Same barrels on, ignoring his brother. "I had bronchitis or something and you healed that, and you healed a concussion and some fractures in my knees and—just everything. You tried to bring me with you."
Castiel looks distinctly uncomfortable now, a little pale himself. "That's—I'm sorry, Sam, but that's not possible. I wouldn't have—"
"But she wouldn't let you," Sam presses. "Naomi. Naomi wouldn't let you, and she took you away."
Castiel freezes, his eyes wide.
His voice is half the volume it had been and Sam can detect what he's pretty sure is a tremor in it when the angel says, "I'm sorry, Sam. You're wrong. I wish you had not suffered such trials, but I was not allowed to intervene. The Plan is beyond my understanding but it is just."
Sam doesn't know where the courage comes from but he takes a step closer to Castiel, putting him within arm's reach. Five minutes ago this would have been terrifying to him. Now, he knows that Castiel—that the Gregory of his childhood—would not hurt him, even though he so easily could. "You let me sleep on you," he says. Castiel looks like he wants to bolt, but doesn't. There's a struggle in his eyes. "You healed me and you said I was important, that you knew I was trying to be good, and then I put my head on your lap and you just touched my hair until I fell asleep." Sam swallows. "You were the first adult I ever trusted that way, the only one before Dean in all my life that I can remember, and I didn't remember it until just now."
Castiel studies him for a long moment, his blue eyes searching and a little uncomprehending, almost to the point where Sam begins to feel frightened. But then he lowers his eyes, visibly composes himself, and he says, "I must go. I will be in contact with you." He digs in his pocket and pulls out a hex bag, and Sam takes a step back. Dean begins to say something behind him, but Castiel interrupts. "This was in the walls of your room. Kill the witch, and kill her now, because if we have to use Uriel's plan, many will die."
"What's Uriel's plan?" Dean demands.
"To destroy the entire town," Castiel replies, an alarming lack of emotion in his tone. "I would recommend finding the witch, now, or leaving town immediately."
Sam shakes his head, and Castiel looks back at him. "You wouldn't let him do that," Sam says, and he's sure.
Castiel frowns. "You don't know me, Sam Winchester," he intones. "You have no idea what we are capable of."
"I didn't say you couldn't," Sam agrees. "I said you wouldn't."
There's a pause, and Castiel repeats, "You don't know me."
"I do," Sam says. "I don't know why you don't remember. Maybe the same reason I didn't. But you let me fall asleep on your lap when nobody else on the planet cared if I lived or died, and whether or not you believe me, you defied orders to try to keep me safe. You won't let Uriel destroy the town."
Castiel steps into Sam's space, eyes narrowed, and Sam's breath hitches. His skin prickles in warning. But he doesn't step away, and he meets Castiel's eyes. When he finds his voice, it's to whisper, "Thank you for caring."
All of the threat drains from Castiel's face, leaving him looking small and a little bit frightened. There is also something else, something like warmth in the very back of his eyes. His lips thin as he presses them together, and he says, "Find the witch" before he disappears.
Dean is there before Sam sags to the floor, arms under Sam's, helping him to the bed. Sam feels like a kid again, being manhandled into bed by his brother, even before he knew that Dean was, in fact, his brother. Being taken care of like that, by the only person who'd ever cared.
But not the only person.
"Cas did that?" Dean's asking, breathless and concerned but also sounding young and more than a little awestruck. "You knew him? He—he tried?"
Sam looks up at his brother, sees the desperate desire in him to believe that they're not alone, that Dean is not alone in fighting the world to care for Sam. And he nods. "He tried, Dean. I don't know what happened, but he tried. He helped me."
Dean nods, too, and he smiles a little—watery, relieved. "Okay. Okay." He runs his hands over his face, and then, putting his façade on, grins and says, "Ready to hunt us a witch?"
And Sam would have been anyway. But the idea that he could prove to Castiel that caring about him as a kid had been worth it—that he'd grown up to be worthy of that concern—that's so important. So even though he's tired, and even though he's worn down and the scars on his heart are throbbing from being opened, despite the fact that Luke is in his head screaming at him that he's just going to disappoint Castiel, too, and that he won't survive disappointing an angel, he stands up.
And he says, "Let's go."
Because even Luke was protected once by an angel, so he's going to pay protection forward and save this town.
And both Dean and Castiel will be proud, and he'll deserve the care they gave him.
Both of them.