Chapter 13 – In Which There Are Many Feels

Though there was little worry that Raphael was on their trail, the three got in the Impala and didn't stop driving until they'd left Idaho far behind. They stopped once, letting Castiel off at a truck stop to shower and change, while they took his grimy clothes to a laundromat to get the oil and dirt out. Then they hit the road again, none of the three in the mood for conversation after the initial explanations.

Sam wasn't entirely sure how to feel at the moment; on the one hand, he would never, ever forget walking into that plant and seeing Cas bound, gagged, and bloody because of John Winchester. Sam would never be okay with what his father had done to Cas, just as he would never be okay with how John had raised him and Dean.

But… now his dad was dead. Again.

The younger hunter rarely tried to hide his feelings, and so he let his emotions drip down his face, tight and withdrawn with grief. The crazy thing was, he'd wanted to believe things would be okay just as much as Dean. Sam had refused to blind himself for so long, but he had still been completely taken in when John grudgingly agreed for the four of them to stay together in the end, because it was what he'd desperately wanted. It was what he'd always wanted, for his dad to show himself to be a good, reasonable, kind man.

As though he hadn't known full well that John Winchester was capable of deception. As though his dad hadn't once looked him right in the eye and said he hadn't had any idea what Yellow Eyes had planned for Sam, even though he'd actually known exactly what would happen. No, Sam should never have believed that it would be okay, and now his dad was just gone, leaving a hole that had never been filled for Sam.

But at the same time, his father had ended up defying Raphael, refusing to sell out the angel that he himself wanted to kill. Sam wished he knew what exactly had changed John's mind. He hadn't thought that even possible. Though, the revelation that Raphael had been behind it all – bringing back not only their father, but the Nephilim, just in the hopes of catching Castiel – should have been enough to shock anyone into turning against the archangel.

Actually, Sam wasn't even all that surprised to hear what Raphael had done.

"Dean, we should stop for food soon," the younger hunter said out loud, breaking the long stretch of silence that had cast its shadow over their little group for the past few hours. He glanced at Cas in the backseat, who quickly looked away. Sam heard the angel's stomach grumble in agreement, though, and he frowned. "Cas, you hungry?"

"I… I could probably use some food."

"Good, I'm starving," Dean said. "Cas, maybe you shouldn't go for weeks at a time without eating, huh, buddy? Could have just eaten with us when I said you should."

Sam glared at his brother, but Dean calmly flicked his turn signal on to slide into the next lane, looking for a diner they could pull into. "We're just worried, Cas," Sam clarified. "I know you're not used to needing to eat, but it'd probably make you feel better if you get some food now and then."

"Yes, I agree."

But there was a sense of failure in his voice, and Sam bit back a sigh. He wasn't sure how to get it through to the angel that there was nothing wrong with that, that there were worse things than requiring food. He wished he'd known just how much their friend needed the nutrition that he hadn't been getting.

"Listen," Cas spoke up again, staring out the window as they pulled into the small parking lot of a local diner. "Now that this is over, I'll understand if you want to let me off here. I- I can make my own way."

Sam stared at the angel, baffled, then traded a shocked look with Dean.

"Why the hell would we do that?" Dean demanded. "I mean, what the hell, man?"

Cas didn't answer, still looking out the window. The brothers traded another look, then Sam tried,

"After everything that just happened, why would you think we'd leave you now? Cas, haven't we proven that we're sticking with you?"

"Your father was killed, saving me-"

"After kidnapping you and dragging your ass off to Raphael in the first place!" Dean snapped.

Cas turned to them at last, weary resolve in his eyes. "My point is, any debt you might think you have because of my help with the Apocalypse and… the thing with Sam… your father more than paid. You don't have to-"

"You think we stuck with you over a debt?!"

Sam winced at the anger in his hot-blooded brother's voice, hoping that Cas understood the anger wasn't actually directed at him. Dean snorted, getting out of the car and slamming the door shut behind him. The other two scrambled out after him, the angel looking even guiltier now.

"Dean?" Cas called, sounding downtrodden. Dean just shook his head, arms crossed as he kept his back turned. Sam approached slowly, not getting in his brother's space. As much trouble as he himself was having dealing with all of this, he could only imagine how hard it was for Dean, betrayed by the man he'd idolized.

Sighing, shoulders hunched, Cas closed his eyes. "I'm sorry, Dean."

"No, see, you just don't get it, man," Dean snapped, spinning around to face the angel. "Everything we've been through together, everything we've faced… you know, I was ready to walk out on my dad so you could stay, and you'd cheapen that to be some kind of obligation? What the hell?"

"Cas, don't get me wrong, we do owe you everything," Sam pointed out softly. "But this has never been about repaying you. You're one of us."

There was a pause, and the angel turned his head. His voice, when he spoke, was full of anguish so deep that it gave Sam a chill. "I won't ever really be one of you, though, will I? Maybe you don't see me as a monster… but I'm not a human. I'm not… a Winchester. I'm not really anything."

"Okay, you know what?" Dean snapped, storming back towards the Impala. "I can't listen to this. Sam, get him something to eat!"

Sam only nodded, watching helplessly as Dean got in the car and roared away. Great. Obviously Dean needed some space, but he hoped it wouldn't take too long. He chanced a look at Cas, but the angel was staring up at the sky in clear anxiety and frustration.

"Dad really did a number on you, didn't he?" Sam asked, finally catching Cas's eye. The angel frowned.

"I'm almost fully healed, Sam," he pointed out brusquely, as though it was the physical marks that had Sam worried. "You know, everything I'd ever known and been for billions of years is just gone, along with most of my grace. It's a handicap I just can't get used to. I'm almost human, only I'm not, but I'm not truly an angel anymore, either. I don't fit in either world, do you know what that feels like?"

Sam gave his friend an ironic half-smile, shrugging. "Yeah." It hadn't been exactly easy to live down being the boy with the demon blood, after all. His own brother had even called him a freak, and his dreams of a normal life were just that: dreams. "But I've got Dean, and that's the important thing. We don't exactly fit in the real world either, Cas. But we stick together, just like we'll stick with you."

Cas didn't smile or relax, but then again, he usually didn't. Sam thought some of the weight seemed to disappear off his shoulders, though. Cas nodded slowly.

"I'm sorry for doubting your motives," he said with a sigh. "John…"

"Didn't know what he was talking about. You'll see," Sam finished for him, clapping the angel on the shoulder before heading towards the diner's front door. "Come on, I'm starving."

SPN SPN SPN

Dean almost wished a demon or a vampire would cross his path, just so he'd have an excuse to kill something. Anything would be better than being stuck with the memory of his best friend assuring him that some stupid debt had been paid and they could dump him out with the garbage now.

The hunter smacked the steering wheel hard, and then once again just for good measure, ignoring the throb it caused his right shoulder.

"Stupid son of a bitch," he growled, though even he didn't know who that was actually directed at. Why did his dad have to be such a bastard? Why had he himself not seen right through John as Sam had, too lost in his own hero worship of someone who had ended up not deserving it and maybe never had? Why did Cas have to actually let the asshole get in his head?!

Dean hit the steering wheel again, then sighed with a touch of remorse. "Sorry, baby," he muttered, rubbing the wheel more gently. Shit, was he actually pinning any of this on Cas? The angel had been struggling to find his place ever since losing everything he'd ever known. But damn it, how could he have honestly believed that Dean had fought so hard for him only to satisfy a debt?

"Dad, you really are a bastard," Dean grumbled, shaking his head. He snorted. "I could've forgiven you for everything you did to me… but you never should've laid a hand on Sam or Cas. You got what you deserved, you son of a bitch."

Dean's heart twisted, gut wrenching so powerfully that he almost had to pull over, and he felt his eyes burn. Of course he didn't mean it… he hadn't wished his father dead. The words were born of anger, not only for what his dad had done, but because he was gone now. Again. His father had left him, just like he always did, because if there was one person in the entire world that Dean could always count on... it was not John Winchester. True, he had saved Cas, but that wouldn't have even been necessary if he hadn't kidnapped the angel to begin with. God, just remembering the sight of his best friend being dragged away while he could do shit about it.. it was as bad as imagining somebody taking Sam away, hauling him off to be killed, and Dean helpless as- god, no. The thought made him want to panic again.

The hunter supposed he should be relieved that Cas's story had been enough to change John's mind, or that he'd even given the angel a chance to tell his story at all. Truthfully, telling John to ask about it had been a Hail Mary play, and Dean couldn't believe it had worked.

But now, after everything Cas had done for them, how the hell was Dean supposed to help his best friend, to undo the damage that John had caused? How was he supposed to get Cas to see that he did belong with them, that his presence in their lives was borne of friendship and family, not obligation?

An idea was forming in Dean's mind, and he pulled out his cell phone, quickly dialing his brother.

"Sammy."

"Dean! Are you okay?"

"Yeah, I'm okay," he assured Sam, though it was hardly the truth. "Just… god, I can't believe I fell for it. I can't believe I thought he'd ever come around."

There was a pause, then a sigh. "Dean… Dad- he was still a good man. He might've eventually-"

"No, Sam." Dean swallowed hard, finally admitting the truth he'd always refused to see. "Dad might not have been a bad person, but he was never right after losing Mom. You never knew him from before. I did. I always thought that man would come back eventually, but our dad was gone the minute that Mom died."

Another silence filled the line between them, until Dean snorted with disgust at himself. "Dad was never going to accept Cas, Sammy. I should've known that better than anyone. This is my fault."

"It was DAD'S fault. I wanted to believe it, too."

"Yeah, but you didn't. So, um…" Dean swallowed, eyes flicking up quickly for strength to get the words out, sappy as they were. "Thanks for being too stubborn to let it go. If you hadn't been…" No, he couldn't even stomach the thought. If Sam hadn't been supporting Cas, their angel might well be gone by now, an idea that shook Dean to his core. "Tell me the truth, how's Cas?"

"Um…" Sam hesitated, probably not wanting the angel to know they were talking about him, and his voice dropped lower. "Not too good."

Dean nodded, hearing the unsaid accusation for having probably made it worse by storming off. "Figures. I have an idea, though, I think it'll help."

"What?"

"Something I need to pick up for him. Just make sure he knows we're not gonna leave him alone, alright? I'll meet you back at the diner in about an hour. And hey, grab me some pie."

Dean hung up, eyes burning with intensity. He would never get any closure with his dad now and he had no idea how he was supposed to feel or how to reconcile so many conflicting emotions. He'd lost his father, in every possible way; the hero of his childhood was gone for good.

But Cas was still there, and Dean would not lose his best friend as well.

SPN SPN SPN

They'd been sitting in the diner for over an hour now, and Castiel was starting to feel more guilty. It had been a relief to eat, though, and he seemed to be stronger already; perhaps his grace would remain at optimal levels if he kept his vessel's health as high as possible.

"Dean's going to be pissed when he hears they didn't have any pie," Sam muttered, checking the time again.

There was a loud honk from outside, and the two looked out the window to see Dean in the Impala, waving them out. Castiel followed Sam as his friend grabbed the paper bag of food they'd gotten for Dean and left the diner.

"Okay," Dean announced as soon as they'd gotten in the car. He paused to take the paper bag, digging through it for a second before turning to Sam in the front passenger seat. "Dude, where's my pie?"

"Not my fault," Sam protested, sparking an argument that was becoming comfortably familiar, enough that the angel couldn't help but smile a little. Dean, of course, grumbled for a minute, but at least he didn't seem to be angry with Castiel anymore. The angel was glad; it was too hard to bear the anger of his closest friends on top of everything else.

"Anyway," Sam prompted his brother impatiently.

"Anyway," Dean agreed, before trading the bag of food for another bag he'd had in his lap. To Castiel's surprise, the hunter twisted in his seat and held it out to him. "Cas, I don't want to hear any more crap about you not belonging, got it? So we're just gonna make this official."

Frowning inquisitively, Castiel accepted the bag and examined it. He could see Sam giving Dean a grin in the front seat.

"What is this?"

"Open it and you'll see."

Slowly, leaning back in the center of the backseat, the angel opened the paper bag, pulling out the contents. Castiel caught his breath, a shock running through his system.

"But… Dean, I…"

He trailed off, staring at the handgun – a nickel-plated Colt, identical to Dean and Sam's… the ones they'd each been given on their 18th birthday, signifying that they were men of the Winchester family.

"Nice one, Dean," Sam murmured, and Castiel caught Dean shrugging self-consciously.

"It's just a gun," the older hunter muttered. "I know you've still got your angel blade and all, but… you know…"

"It… says CW."

"Yeah, well…" Dean cleared his throat. "The W is, you know… Winchester. Like me and Sam."

One thing was absolutely certain… this was not "just" a gun. Castiel's throat tightened, the engraved initials blurring slightly as his vision grew moist. "I…" he said, voice growling slightly. "I don't know what to say."

"Don't say anything," Dean quickly said. "Seriously. I don't do chick flick moments."

"It's pretty simple, Cas," Sam pointed out with a grin. "It means you're one of us. You're a Winchester. As long as we're around, there'll always be a place where you belong. Doesn't matter if you're an angel or human or something in between. Family is what matters."

"God, Sam, what did I just say about chick flick moments?" Dean grumbled, before rubbing the back of his neck and awkwardly muttering, "Uh, what he said, though, Cas."

A genuine smile crept across the angel's face as he turned the gun over in his hands, studying every line. The doubts he'd held about just how welcome he'd be here were starting to fade, feeling more like he had with Dean and Sam before they'd ever come across John Winchester.

Even when he'd considered himself part of the group, though, he would have never attached Winchester to his name, never would have even thought they would consider him that close.

The angel swallowed hard, looking up at the two, the friends who had come back for him, who would defy orders to protect him… as he had done for them. "Thank you," Castiel whispered, voice breaking in a way he wasn't used to. "I… just… thank you."

Maybe he really had found an actual family again. True, it wasn't his original family, and true, it was a strange one… broken and patched up so many times that it was a crazy quilt of strength, heart, and loyalty. But it was where Castiel wanted to stay.

It was family.

That was all that mattered.

Fin


A/N: Unbelievable but here we finally are at the end of this little tale. ^_^ Thanks first and foremost to the ever talented Aini NuFire, for all the tips, suggestions, and overall encouragement that helped push this along.

Thanks with all my writer's heart to Miyth who pitched this idea in the first place and set a raging plot bunny in motion! I hope this is what you were looking for, and it's been a joy and an honor to fill your request! :D

Thanks to all readers and favoriters, and especially reviewers, who paid me far more than royalties are worth in your compliments, encouragement, and enthusiasm :) Thank you SPN Mum, LadyWallace (I can't wait to catch up on your fics!), BranchSuper, Valeria Aurelia, OntheRun246, Amydiddle, TalarAleya (danke schön!), Trucklady53, shootingstarsonfire, pajasekacka (děkuji!), Once-Upon-a-Slash-Story, Fangirl, Dani, Blue Sailor, sunshine102897, MaddyR, AndiTheMagnificent, LinktoTwilight, Kagalei, HannahMaree, Jinx2016, Thornsword, WarWhales, CallMeAnonymous9, ShivaVixen, ChelGallifreyHookCas221B613, WRATH77, Deactivated123476, SPN Girl 14, KING KERATHINA, jkwhedon1919, Lone Dark Wolf, a.k.a. T.R (hvala!), rettop20, hollybridgetpeppermint, and Mayrachan1.

Thanks in advance to anonymous reviewers for this chapter because I won't be able to reply to you.


Stay tuned for the prequel fic "Worth It", coming soon...

"I'm going after Sam, Dean. If it's in my power, I'll bring him back."

Castiel crept through the Cage as silently as possible, tense and ready for an attack. The angel blade in his hand was really more for his own comfort than for any practical use. If he ran into Lucifer, it would be worthless anyway, but the soldier felt better with his weapon drawn.

A soft cry tore from the angel's throat as he finally caught a glimpse of a shape farther ahead through the branches. "Sam!" he called hoarsely, rushing forward into a hollow as he saw – unbelievably – that his human friend was unguarded. Perhaps Lucifer was elsewhere, fighting with Michael. If so, this window of opportunity might not last long.

Sam Winchester was curled on his side on the dark floor of the massive prison, unmoving. His clothes were in tatters, barely clinging to his wasted form. The poor human was shivering uncontrollably, the only sign that he was alive at all, and while the blood and bruises were bad enough, it was his eyes that nearly drove Castiel to his knees.

There was nothing. Nothing at all. Not even fear, not even despair. Those were the eyes of a dead man, stripped of all humanity, all self, all sanity. Castiel's stomach turned, and his heart quaked; was he too late?

Sam shifted then, and Castiel gasped with surprise and hope. Had the human realized he was there? "Sam, it's me. It's Castiel. I've come to get you out."

Though, he wasn't sure yet how he would do so. The angel frowned, registering now that the shadows had condensed and tightened into solid coils that wrapped around Sam's wrists, binding them behind him. When Castiel tentatively reached out to touch the shadow restraints, they felt smooth and cold, like metal made purely of darkness.

"Hold on, Sam," he urged quietly, not certain if the hunter could hear him or not.

The shadows which wrapped the hunter's wrists were emanating from the rest of the surrounding tendrils that spread across the ground, effectively chaining Sam to the floor. With no other ideas, Castiel raised his blade, striking the shadow as hard as he could.

It was useless. The angel held back a cry as his arm was jarred painfully at the impact, but nothing could silence the resounding clang that seemed to echo off every shriveled tree, every dying leaf. Castiel's fear multiplied; he'd just informed Lucifer that he was there.

"Sam, I will get you free, I just-"

The angel broke off, ice touching his heart as the bottom of his stomach dropped. The shadows… they were whispering.

They were saying his name.

"Castiel… is that YOU, Castiel? Hello, brother…"

And then, Lucifer was standing before him. An insane smile lit the devil's face.

"Oh, now... this is going to be fun."