A/N: I'm going to blame my sick-adled brain Friday for not mentioning my betas for this fic in the first chapter. Thank you to 29Pieces and Miyth!
Castiel was roughly manhandled down a dark corridor by his captors. Whiplashes and resultant screams reverberated from the depths of this hellhole on Earth, but it wasn't demons in residence here. It was angels.
He was hauled into a room at the end of the passage, a dark, dank chamber with chains suspended from hooks in the support pillars. There was another angel there already, one with stringy long hair and a bushy beard.
"Malachi," one of the guards said, and Castiel stiffened. He no longer had the ability to recognize his siblings by sight, but the quiet deadliness in this one's eyes stirred a flicker of memory.
The Anarchist roved a shrewd gaze up and down him. "Hello, Castiel."
Malachi stepped to the side, and his thugs suddenly pushed Castiel forward, spinning him around and slamming his back against the column. His arms were yanked up and shackles snapped around his wrists. Castiel gave them a brief, experimental tug, before sagging in defeat, and then manacles were latched around his ankles as well, pinning him to the pillar.
The guards retreated, and Malachi stepped forward again. "So, Castiel, the one who cast us from Heaven."
He bristled. "Metatron did that, not me."
"But you helped him."
"No, I- I thought he was trying to save Heaven. I had no idea he planned to make the angels fall."
Malachi scoffed, and folded his arms behind his back as he began to casually pace. "You were seen, Castiel. Helping Metatron gather ingredients for a spell. Helping him slip back into Heaven. So…" Malachi paused to face him. "How can the spell be reversed?"
Castiel shook his head. "I don't know. Look at me. I'm human. Metatron stole my grace as the final ingredient. I was an unwitting accomplice."
"Ohhh. A dupe." Malachi smirked, and moved away to stand over a tray holding an angel blade and an array of surgical instruments. "The great Castiel. Valued and trusted Castiel. Top-of-the-Christmas-tree Castiel!" Malachi turned back toward him. "No more than a dupe."
Castiel felt every utterance of his name like a barb. Yes, he'd been stupid. Yes, he'd made a mistake.
But not just with Metatron. He'd made so many mistakes in the past. The Leviathan. Purgatory. The war with Raphael. Every time he tried to help his brothers and sisters, he made things worse.
A distant scream punctuated the silence, followed by a shimmer of blue light from under a door. Malachi didn't even bat an eye. Castiel's heart clenched.
"Angels butchering angels," he murmured. "Is this what we've become?"
"Just following your example, Castiel," Malachi replied glibly, coming close enough his breath puffed in Castiel's face. "How many did you kill in Heaven? How many in the Fall?"
Castiel squinted. The Fall?
Malachi's eyes widened for a second before his expression narrowed. "Oh, you didn't know? A host of angels died when they fell."
Castiel's stomach dropped out from under him. No. No… He remembered the fireballs burning up in the atmosphere as they plummeted to Earth. Hundreds upon hundreds. Castiel was responsible yet again for so much destruction…
"Azrael, Sophia, Ezekiel," Malachi went on. "'Died' doesn't even describe it."
Castiel blinked. Wait, Ezekiel? How could that—
"Devastation. Wings shredded. Unspeakable agony at your hands."
A lump constricted Castiel's throat. No, he hadn't wanted this; he never wanted this.
Malachi took a step back and moved toward the tray of torture implements again. "So I think now it should be your turn, Castiel." He picked up the angel blade. "I intend to find a way to reverse Metatron's spell and take back Heaven. And since your grace was the final ingredient, you must be the key to undoing it."
Malachi turned, gaze dark with malevolence. Castiel tensed as the angel stalked closer, coming right up and using his other hand to rip Castiel's shirt open, exposing his chest. Malachi set the tip of the blade to Castiel's torso.
"Let's start with some sigil work," he mused, and began dragging the tip down.
Fiery pain followed as celestial steel sundered flesh, and Castiel couldn't hold back a cry as Malachi carved a rune straight into his skin. Hot blood streamed down his stomach.
Malachi paused to admire his work, then looked up at Castiel's face. "Oh, and feel free to provide some input on which sigils to use," he remarked mildly. "It could take a while, experimenting with different combinations. But I think after a while you'll be feeling rather cooperative."
He inserted the blade under Castiel's collarbone and sliced again, down and up and arcing in a whorl.
Castiel threw his head back and screamed.
Sam didn't go to sleep until super late last night, when Dean finally declared he was hitting the sack. Dean didn't know if it was just a coincidence, the rhythm of the two of them working a case together, or if Zeke-not-Zeke was manipulating things so he could keep an eye on Dean.
Whatever it was, Dean didn't get a chance to get away until the next morning when Sam was in the shower and he'd hollered through the bathroom door that he was going out for a breakfast run.
Dean waited until he'd driven all the way to a local donut shop before parking in the lot and pulling out his phone to call Kevin. The line rang several times, in which Dean's nerves were getting more and more frayed, before it finally clicked.
"Mmph?" was the groggy response.
"I need a spell. ASAP."
There was a sigh mixed with a groan. "Everyone always needs a spell, and it's always ASAP," Kevin muttered tiredly.
"Alright, listen to me," Dean said urgently. "An angel can't be expelled by another human, okay, only by the host, right? But, what if there was a way to power down the angel, so that it wasn't in charge for a few seconds?"
Dean had to reach Sam, had to let him know what was going on. And boy was that not gonna be a fun conversation.
"What?" Kevin said, sounding confused.
"For instance," Dean rambled on. "If- if hypothetically, I wanted to speak with the vessel but not have the squatter listen in."
There was a pause, and then a muddled, "Why?"
"Why?" Dean repeated. "Kevin, we've got tons of possessed humans out there. You with me? And when the angels kill each other off, the humans are taking it in the teeth. So what if I wanted to clue the human in so that he, or she, could spit the angel out? That would be a good thing, right?"
"Okay," Dean growled. "So hit the Tablet. Let's go!"
"Now?" Kevin asked, still sounding half asleep.
"Yesterday, Cinderella!" Dean barked, and hung up.
Dropping his phone in his lap, Dean leaned forward to put his head in his hands. He could not believe how messed up things had gotten. But he had a plan. Or, Kevin was working on a plan. Dean could still fix this. He could get his brother out of this horrible mess he had made.
When he arrived back at the motel, he found Sam sitting at the small table, clacking away on his laptop.
Sam looked up. "Any word from Cas?"
"Nothing yet," he replied shortly. Honestly, he had bigger things to worry about, like the sleeper agent probably listening in on them right now.
"And we're not…worried about him, that he just took off like that again?" Sam said pointedly. "I mean, it's not like he does this kind of stuff alone."
Dean dropped the box of donuts on the table and threw his hands up. "It's the way he wanted it, honestly."
Sam just gazed back at him like he was calling bullshit.
"Hey, look, man," Dean went on. "He's been all over the map since he got his wings clipped." Working at a Gas-N-Sip and then playing FBI agent? And okay, some of that was Dean's fault, and he'd fix it, just as soon as he fixed the other pressing issue sitting in front of him.
"What do you got?" he asked, changing the subject. Maybe if they stopped talking about Cas, this Gadreel dude wouldn't feel the need to eavesdrop so closely. Dean came around to look at the laptop. "Obituaries. That one of the bikers?"
Sam shook his head, but turned the screen slightly toward him. "Yeah. His name was Red Dawg."
Dean snorted. "Of course it was."
"It's not what you think," Sam told him. "Look, he's a family guy. Big in the PTA, he played Santa at Christmas parties."
Dean quirked a confused brow. "So, what? Just one day, he up and joined a biker gang?"
"No, he did that years ago." Sam held up a finger for Dean to wait. "Get this. This is weird." He pulled up a photo of said biker gang. "Look. These are all the victims, right? They were all baptized together."
"Baptized?" Dean repeated dubiously.
"Yeah. They were a 'born-again' biker gang."
Dean's mouth moved soundlessly for a moment. "Well, that is not something you hear everyday." Though it did explain how angels and bikers somehow got tangled up in each other.
"No, it's not," Sam agreed.
Dean's gaze caught something in the photo, and he sat up straighter. "Wait, make that bigger," he said, pointing to the leather vest of one of the guys.
Sam clicked on that section and enlarged it, giving them a closer view of a logo on the jacket.
"'Boyle's Boys'?" Dean read incredulously. "Boyle, as in Reverend Buddy Boyle?"
Sam leaned forward earnestly and started rapidly typing. "Listen to this. Red Dawg's widow said he was 'always religious,' but a week before he died, he came home from a prayer meeting and was 'a changed man, filled with divine glory.'"
"So, Boyle's at it again," Dean said in disgust. "Selling folks on being meatsuits for angels."
"Just, what? Talking to smaller groups now?" Sam said.
Dean ran a hand down his face. "I don't know. Maybe, uh, softening up thousands at a time, he wasn't able to control what angels got let in. This way, Bartholomew's followers can jump in just as soon as Boyle does his thing."
Sam's brow furrowed in thought. "So, Red Dawg and his guys were Bartholomew people?"
"Yeah, and they got slaughtered. Which means that this new group is even worse."
For a moment, Dean wished he could trust Zeke, could ask the angel to stop in and give his opinion. He knew more about the angel factions than they did. But 'Zeke' wasn't Ezekiel, and had lied to Dean, and he was doing his best to keep it together, knowing that a potential enemy was in their midst and had Sam's life in his hands.
And then for another moment, Dean wished he hadn't sent Cas away. Cas knew just as much about the angels, could probably even tell him who the hell this Gadreel was. Maybe that was the real reason Gadreel didn't want Cas around. And Dean had gone along with it. Kicked his best friend to the curb over the word of an angel who wasn't trustworthy after all.
"Haven't I always said that angels are dicks?" Dean muttered.
That statement was proven no less true an hour later when they caught wind of another angel attack in Utah. With nothing else to do while Dean waited for Kevin to come through with a spell, he decided he and Sam might as well drive out there and look into it.
Ten hours later, they were at the crime scene: a little outdoor meeting area in a woodland grove. Dean and Sam had split up to talk to the various officials, and then regrouped back at the Impala at the edge of the scene.
"So this was a college Bible study group," Sam reported. He sighed. "They were a bunch of kids."
"Yeah," Dean murmured. "There was a guest speaker, too. Some top-shelf church lady. And get this—her insides were not scorched out and eyes weren't missing."
Sam furrowed his brow. "So, she was an angel, too?"
"Sounds like. Uh, and she sang soprano for the, uh…" He tried to remember the name. "Melody Ministry Glee Club?"
Sam just gave him a blank look. "Okay?"
"The club goes to its gigs on a bus, so I checked with the Wyoming cops, and they said that a witness saw the same bus leaving the biker bar not long before the bodies were found."
Sam's brows rose as he made the connection. "So, church-lady angel was at both killings?"
Dean nodded. "I'm guessing that she and whoever she's running with killed Bartholomew's bikers at the bar and then Bart's boys hit her back."
"When she was recruiting those students to be vessels." Sam shook his head. "This is getting out of hand."
Dean didn't disagree. He just didn't know what the hell they were supposed to do about it.
Sam ran a hand down his hair. "Maybe we should try to find Cas."
Dean stiffened. "What?"
"I'm sure he could help us here. He knows a lot of the players, and could probably help us figure out who this other faction leader is."
Dean's throat tightened as his brother laid out Dean's own thoughts from earlier. But that wasn't an option. Not yet.
"I'm sure if Cas finds anything, he'll call to let us know," Dean said, and turned to climb into the car, effectively closing the door on that avenue of conversation.
Sam huffed, but slid into the passenger seat, and they drove to a local motel where they could wait for the next angel murders to take place. Except right after checking in and changing out of their FBI threads, Sam slipped out without a word and didn't come back.
Dean's gut cramped. Maybe his brother had gone for a walk. Or maybe Gadreel was taking liberties, maybe going to meet up with Metatron. That thought made Dean even more antsy, but if he tried to tail Sam, that could set off warning bells for both parties involved.
He was on the verge of going crazy with worry when his phone rang, the screen lighting up with Kevin's name. Dean snatched it up.
"Tell me you have something."
"You know, a 'hello' might be nice every once in a while," Kevin muttered.
"People are dying out here," Dean growled. "Tell me you have something."
"Alright, alright. Yeah, I got something. Here, I'm texting you a picture."
Dean pulled the phone away from his ear as a notification for a new message popped up. He tapped the icon and pulled up some sigil work he'd never seen before. Kevin's voice started talking again, so Dean hit the speaker button so he could hear and study the photo.
"The sigils are supposed to briefly hobble the possessing angel." He paused. "If the info's correct."
Dean stiffened. "Wait, what?"
Kevin sighed. "I only had time to get a little from the Tablet. The rest came from an old Men of Letters book. As soon as your blood touches the ignition sigil, the spell kicks in."
Dean took a centering breath. Okay. Okay, he could work with this.
"Thanks, man. I owe you one."
"Or twelve," Kevin muttered just as Dean disconnected the call.
Checking outside to make sure Sam wasn't back yet, Dean quickly grabbed a can of spray paint from the trunk of the Impala and proceeded to paint the sigils on the back of the motel room door. He triple checked the markings to make sure everything was right, heart starting to hammer inside his chest. Time to get Sam back, completely.
But he was also worried that Zeke—Gadreel—hadn't healed his brother as much as he'd promised to. Or that he might hurt Sam if he realized the jig was up.
That was a risk Dean was going to have to take, though.
He caught sight of Sam striding across the parking lot then, and moved into position. With one hand on the doorknob, Dean opened the door just as Sam was about to reach for it.
"Hey, where you been?" Dean asked.
Sam quirked a startled look at him. "For a walk. Wanted to clear my head."
"Can we talk?"
Sam furrowed his brow. "Yeah, sure."
Dean stepped back so Sam could come inside, and then closed the door, making sure to bodily block any view of the sigil as he whipped out a knife and slit his palm. He slapped the sigil, igniting a flash of light.
Sam spun around, eyes wide and alarmed as he took in the smoldering rune on the door. "What's going on? What are you doing?" He raised his hands warily as Dean took a step toward him.
Dean tucked the knife away. "I got to tell you some stuff fast. It's gonna piss you off."
Sam was still staring at him warily. "Okay…"
Dean swallowed. "Those Trials really messed you up."
Sam's worried expression morphed into irritation. "Yes, I know that, Dea—"
"No, you don't," Dean cut him off. He didn't know how much time he had, and he needed to get this all out so Sam would understand just how serious things were. "I mean messed you up like almost dead. No more birthdays, dust to dust. Well, that messed me up, so I made a move, okay, a tough move about you without talking it over because you were in a coma."
Sam gaped at him in disbelief. "Wait, what? When?"
"You were in the hospital, okay," Dean said, voice cracking as that fear and terror tried to grip his heart again. "And they said you were gonna die."
Sam's eyes widened. "What did you do?" he demanded.
Dean faltered for a moment. God, how was he supposed to say this? He'd been hoping he'd never have to, that Zeke would heal his brother and then leave, and Sam would never have to know…
Dean steeled himself. "I let an angel in."
Sam frowned. "In what?"
"In you," he confessed.
Disbelief, anger, and confusion all flashed through Sam's eyes.
"He said he could heal you and he is," Dean went on, pleading for his brother to understand why he did what he had to.
"He's still in me?" Sam blurted, fear joining the myriad of complicated emotions on his face.
Sam shook his head, a half delirious smile breaking the lines of tension. "Wait. That's impossible, Dean. That couldn't happen. I never invited him in."
"I tricked you into saying yes," Dean insisted. "It seemed like the only way."
Sam reeled back, mouth open in shock. He turned around and took a few steps toward the back wall. "So…" he said shakily. "Again." He turned back angrily. "You thought I couldn't handle something, so you took over!"
"No, I did what I had to do!" Dean shouted back. "You would've never agreed to it, and you would've died!"
Why couldn't Sam see this? Why couldn't he see that this was the only way to save him?
Sam threw his arms out. "Well, maybe I would've liked the choice, at least!"
"We can do this later," Dean snapped. "You can kick my ass all you want. Right now we got bigger problems." And they were running out of time.
Sam gaped at him. "Bigger?" he spat in accusation.
"The angel lied to me," Dean said urgently. "Okay? He- he's not who he said he was. He said his name was Ezekiel. Cool guy, according to Cas, but it's not Ezekiel."
"Then who is he?" Sam sputtered.
"Some dude named Gadreel. And he's teaming up with Metatron. Look, this guy can end you in a heartbeat if he wants to, so you have got to dump him."
Sam just stood there, shoulders heaving and harsh breaths punching from his chest.
"Are you hearing what I'm saying?" Dean pressed frantically. "I think you're well enough now, but you got to expel him!"
Sam staggered back a step and squeezed his eyes shut. Dean watched desperately as Sam gritted his teeth and craned his neck as though in intense concentration.
Please, please, please…
A moment later, Sam threw his head back and an explosion of blue light erupted from his mouth. Dean's legs nearly turned to jelly in sheer relief as the stream of grace slurped out the window and into the sky, but it was Sam whose knees hit the floor first.
"Sammy?" Dean's heart skipped a beat and he lunged forward to catch his brother.
Sam was gasping in ragged breaths, but as soon as Dean gripped his arms, he was shoving him away. "Get the hell away from me."
Dean cringed at the venom in Sam's tone, but his little brother was right to be furious. "Are you okay? How do you feel? Sick? Dizzy?" He instinctively reached out again, but Sam slapped his hand down and scrabbled to his feet.
Okay, okay, he was able to remain upright, so that was definite improvement. Maybe Gadreel hadn't lied about healing Sam. But he'd also said he hadn't finished yet.
"Look, I know you're pissed," Dean rattled off, "but we should make sure you're not gonna have a relapse."
Sam's face twisted in disgust. "Why? It's not like you're gonna get that…thing, back inside me," he snapped.
Dean's throat constricted with a spiky lump. "I'm sorry, okay? But I had no other option."
"You could have let me go!"
"That's never an option," Dean growled.
Shaking his head, Sam took a stumbling step past him toward the door.
Sam spun with a right hook so fast, Dean didn't see it coming. He felt the impact in his cheek bone that snapped his head to the side and sent him crashing to the floor. Spots darted across his vision, and before he could clear them, he heard and felt the door slam shut.
Dean dropped his head back against the carpet and squeezed his eyes shut in anguish and regret.
But Sam was alive and well.
He'd done the right thing.