Soft.

That was the first thing Castiel processed upon waking up. He was on something soft, and something soft was on him. There was a soft breeze blowing through the room, and sunlight danced across his skin, kissing him with soft warmth. His breathing was soft and steady for the first time in weeks. Someone had their arms around him, but they weren't holding him tight like his brothers had—they were holding him softly.

Everything was soft, and Castiel felt safe.

He felt safe for the first time in decades.

But I don't know where I am.

"You're in Sioux Falls."

That memory would have been very helpful if Castiel knew where Sioux Falls was, but in his current situation, the information didn't do him much good.

He remembered he was with the Winchesters, though, and he remembered being afraid; yet he felt safe in that moment, and he couldn't quite remember what happened to get him from one feeling to the next.

Castiel slowly opened his eyes, tensing up at the sight that greeted him. Sam Winchester was laying nearby, his sleeping face less than a foot away, and his arm was one of the ones draped over Castiel's body.

Sam Winchester. The Boy with the Demon Blood. Castiel swallowed hard and shifted his weight slightly, hoping he could get out from under the limb without waking the hunter.

That movement, however, brought another person to his attention. His head was resting on a chest, not a pillow, and the other arm around him didn't belong to someone laying nearby but someone laying beneath him.

Dean Winchester. The Righteous Man. Castiel looked between the two faces, trying to figure out how to escape and coming up blank. He was on his stomach with his head and chest and right arm on Dean, who in turn had an arm loosely wrapped around Castiel's upper back. Sam was lying to the left, further down the mattress so his head was level with Castiel's ribcage and under Castiel's left arm. Sam's right arm was lying across the small of Castiel's back, and his left arm was folded nearby, looking ready to wrap around and meet its twin at a moment's notice.

Castiel inhaled slowly and tried to get on his knees, intending to crawl backwards down the length of the bed. He was met with immediate pain, skin pulling apart beneath bandages, bruised and skinned knees begging for his weight to be removed from them.

"Castiel…" Sam slipped that second arm under Castiel and grabbed his waist, pulling him down. "S'okay… s'just a nightmare… you're safe…"

Castiel's instinctive response was to pull away, but that only encouraged the older Winchester to tighten his hold.

"Y'can't move, Cas…" Dean's head turned to the side, eyes closed and underlined by dark circles. "Gonna hurt yourself… calm down…"

Sam inhaled deeply and heaved a sigh, and Castiel realized his eyes were also closed. "S'alright, Castiel… you're not there anymore…"

Castiel frowned slightly, looking between the two of them for a moment before lowering himself back to Dean's chest, eyes boring into Sam's skull.

Had they been with him all night? Had they been trying to keep him still through his nightmares so he wouldn't hurt himself?

"Dean…" Castiel whispered quietly.

Dean moaned. "Sam, for the last time… I don't know what time it is. Bobby said he would wake us up when it was time to change Cas' bandages. Stop… asking…"

Castiel blinked slowly and tried to look at himself.

Dean was right. He was wrapped in bandages, and the places where his skin hadn't been damaged enough to warrant dressing, there was some kind of… salve or ointment.

Castiel looked over his shoulder then, pleasantly surprised to find his wings still attached. More than that, they had been treated to the best of the human' ability.

Sam and Dean Winchester hadn't hurt him. Quite the opposite, they had tended to his wounds and gave up their necessary commodity of sleep to keep him from hurting himself unconsciously.

How much sleep do humans need? Castiel wasn't entirely sure, though he thought it was something like ten to twelve hours every month, but he didn't know how long he had been unconscious, so he supposed it didn't really matter either way. He had no idea how long it had been, but he knew humans weren't supposed to have those dark markings under their eyes.

Castiel looked at his left hand, rubbing the fingers together and feeling some of his grace spark between the tips. It isn't much, but… He reached up with two fingers and—

"Castiel!" Sam grabbed onto the hand before it could make contact. "What are you doing?"

Dean startled awake at the noise and movement, inhaling deeply and looking around in confusion. "What? What's—?"

"Nothing bad!" Castiel insisted. "I have no ill intent. I—I was only going to restore the sleep I took." He swallowed, trying to use what he knew about demons in order to answer Sam's question. Selfish. "I—I was going to restore your sleep as well."

"No!" Dean and Sam said it in unison, Dean barking it out like a command while Sam shouted in some combination of concern and panic.

"Castiel, you're hurt," Sam said, slowly pulling Castiel's arm back down to the mattress.

Dean moved his arm from Castiel's back, but Castiel couldn't see what he was doing. "Yeah, Houdini, we don't have anything some melatonin and a day off can't fix."

Sam gave his brother an odd look. "You know what melatonin is?"

"You don't know everything about me," was Dean's snappish reply.

Castiel didn't like being unable to see both of their faces at the same time.

Sam slowly let go of Castiel's hand. "What we're trying to say is… save your strength. Focus on healing your body and your wings, and if—"

"Oh!" Castiel tensed, a small twist of fear in the pit of his stomach. "I forgot to apologize. I—I didn't mean to bring those out. I'm sure they were very inconvenient."

"No, it's good." Dean cleared his throat and started to scoot backwards, sitting upright and helping Castiel to do the same. "If you hadn't made them… I dunno, appear, we never would have known how bad off they were."

Sam also sat up then, carefully avoiding that which they were discussing, conscious of not only the damaged skin but the feathers as well. "We did our best to clean them up without causing any more damage. We treated them like we would treat bird wings on Earth, so… I hope they're alright."

"Oh, they're… they're fine." They had researched? Or were they already bird experts? "Thank you for not pulling too many damaged feathers."

Sam nodded with a slight smile. "We only pulled the ones that were making you bleed. I read… well, at least for birds, the flight feathers are connected to the bone. Is that true for angels, too?"

Castiel blinked owlishly and nodded his head. They had definitely committed time to researching adequate care. I don't understand.

"Are you gonna be able to grow feathers back? Um, and fly again?" Sam seemed genuinely concerned about the permanency of Castiel's health.

Castiel nodded his head again. Those were very nice questions to ask.

Dean grunted then, shifting again. "You know if human pain meds will work on you?"

Castiel thought about it for a moment and then shook his head. "I do not know."

"Well, we can try it. If it helps, we'll hook you up with some more," Dean affirmed.

Castiel looked between the two of them, feeling something twist in his chest that he couldn't quite identify. Betrayal? His brothers had clearly lied to him about the Winchesters—more Sam than Dean—along with so many other things. Guilt? He shouldn't have judged them without giving them a chance, attempted stabbing aside, especially not Sam; not when he knew the part of Sam that was demonic in the present wasn't something he wanted or asked for. Shame? He had never heard of an angel being reduced to such a state that they had to be nursed back to health by humans. If he ever returned home—which, he realized with a new kind of chest pain, would likely never happen—he would be a laughingstock for sure.

"Hey, you okay?" It was Dean, his gruff voice contrasting with words that clearly displayed concern. "You're not gonna have another flashback, are you?"

"He wouldn't be able to control it, Dean," Sam snapped back, sounding more annoyed than angry.

"Well, nyeh nyeh nyeh nyeh nyeh," was Dean's eloquent reply, his voice nasally and lips twisted into an intentionally ridiculous expression.

"Shut your face, Dean."

They aren't cruel.

"Nyeh nyeh nyeh."

They are kind.

"I'm eating your pie."

What if I had succumbed?

"Don't you dare."

What if this lightheartedness was gone forever because of me?

"I think it's cherry, too."

Castiel burst into tears, but there was only elation in his chest.

"Woah, hey, it's alright." Dean softly ran his hand through Castiel's hair. "You're okay. We're sorry, we didn't mean to scare you. We weren't really fighting. Nobody's gonna hurt anybody here, okay?"

Castiel shook his head, and he started smiling despite the hot tears rolling down his cheeks. His head fell back to Dean's chest for sheer lack of ability to hold it up, and he shook his head again. "No, it's not that."

Sam moved a little closer, leaning against the walls of whatever bed-thing they were in. "Castiel… what is it?"

"I'm happy. I'm so happy I didn't say yes."

Sam and Dean looked at each other and then back at Castiel, Dean speaking first.

"What do you mean, Cas?"

Castiel looked up at Sam from where he lay, sniffing. "Sam Winchester. The Boy with the Demon Blood." He looked at Dean then, ignoring the horrified expression on Sam's face. "Dean Winchester. The Righteous Man." He tried to keep looking, but his neck was tired, and his head fell back down. "You were spoken of in Heaven for so long…"

Sam shook his head slightly. "Why… would Heaven be talking about us?"

Castiel looked at Sam with half-open eyes. "Dean was supposed to go to Hell."

Both brothers tensed, and Castiel felt Dean's hold on him tighten a little.

"How did you know about that?" There was danger in Dean's tone, but Castiel felt no fear.

Why, he didn't know, as it would have been the logical reaction to facing an angry Winchester, but he was very certain he was safe. He was certain in a way he couldn't explain, but he was certain nonetheless.

"All of Heaven knows you were supposed to go to Hell… and I was supposed to get you out. But my brothers, they… they wanted me to wait. You are the Righteous Man who sheds blood in Hell and opens the first seal of the apocalypse. They wanted me to wait for forty years to get you out, because they wanted to be sure Hell had time to… to break you… to make you shed that blood."

Dean and Sam both stared at him, wide-eyed and clearly confused.

"Sam, the demon who has helped you from time to time. She calls herself Ruby." He saw recognition in both of their faces. "While Dean was in Hell, she was going to convince you to drink demon blood to hone your powers. It would have given you the ability to kill Lilith, which you would have done with the best intentions, I'm sure, but it would have broken the last seal. But you killed her before she could take Dean to Hell. I was very happy about this, but my brothers… the more powerful ones… they wanted the apocalypse. They wanted to get rid of Lucifer once and for all, but… but the casualties would have been devastating!"

Castiel's voice got faster and raised slightly, and he couldn't help but feel like he was trying to convince himself more than his audience, forty years of torment ringing in his ears. "Father made you, and He loves you, and we are supposed to love you, too. We aren't—we aren't supposed to devastate humankind with a 7000-year-old family feud. I don't—I don't think it's what He wants us to do, but… but it was spoken of in Heaven for centuries, and…"

"… and you've betrayed your kin, Castiel."

"I will betray… every angel in Heaven… if it means… I am still obeying Father…"

"You really think you know our Father better than I?"

"Michael… you are different… you have been… ever since… since—ahh!"

"You have never even seen Him. I could have created the Heaven you know, could have made Him up to give myself additional authority, and you would be none the wiser."

"Heh… no, Michael… I have seen Him… I have seen Him in ways… you… will never understand… and I know… what He has told me… of His heart… and this… is not… it!"

"Well, Castiel, we have four decades ahead of us. Let's see if we can have you singing a new tune by the end of it."

"Do your worst… Michael…"

And Michael did.

Oh, how he did.


"Here, listen to this, 'Local Park Rangers have no explanation for the sudden rash of wild animal attacks in Boise, Idaho.'"

Dean popped another top and took a swig of beer. "We thinking werewolves?"

"No, it sounds like there was almost nothing left of the bodies."

"Wendigo?" he suggested, refusing to acknowledge the four bottles already in the sink.

Sam frowned and shook his head at his laptop. "Except it's in suburbia, not out in the woods."

"Rugaru it is." Dean's beer was most definitely not half-gone, and he could mostly definite see straight. "Time to get the Molotov Cockails, Sammy."

Sam let out a heavy sigh and leaned back in his chair. "So, are we not gonna talk about this… thing?"

Dean shook his head. "Nope. Cas can tell us more when he's up." He opened his mouth to say something else but stopped when he saw Castiel—sans wings, which was absolute proof he was still soberish enough to notice things—standing on the other side of Bobby's living room. "Huh. Speak of the devil, and he shall appear."

Castiel squinted, confused, and slowly approached the kitchen. "No, that is not true. He is trapped in a cage in the lowest level of Hell. You could not even use a summoning ritual."

Dean didn't know how to respond to that—he was tempted to laugh, yet his brain was fried—so he took another drink instead.

Sam, on the other hand, turned toward the archway with a warm smile. "It's just a saying, Castiel. It's good to see you up." He gestured vaguely over Castiel's shoulders. "Uh, I hope it's not, like… offensive to ask, but… where are your wings?"

"Oh." Castiel glanced back and then looked at Sam again. "I returned them to their metaphysical state. But the bandages went with them, and it is making them feel much better. I appreciate the help more than you know."

Dean rubbed his forehead, feeling warm and dizzy. "Uh, well, that's great. You're welcome and all that." He leaned back against the counter to hide the fact that he couldn't stand. "Uh, so… apocalypse?"

Castiel looked at Dean, then Sam, and then Dean again. "Oh, there will not be one. Or at least, not for some time, and it will not happen the same way."

Sam nodded slowly and looked at his computer for a moment. "So, Dean was going to kill people in Hell, and I was going to kill Lilith, and it was going to start the apocalypse?"

Castiel tilted his head slightly. "There were many other steps and sixty-four seals between those two events, but yes."

Dean cleared his throat. "But we ganked Lilith before I got sent to Hell, so the first and last seals can't never happen, right?" I think I said that wrong.

Castiel looked at him for a moment, probably deciphering what Dean had said, and then he nodded. "That is correct. Even if they were to somehow send you to Hell and make you shed blood, and then somehow break another sixty-four seals after that, they would never be able to break the final seal because it has to be Lilith."

Dean took another drink and nodded. Good. Great. I was gonna go to Hell and get tortured into, what, killing other people? Other demons? Can you even kill demons while you're in Hell?

"So, here's what I don't get." Dean struggled to get his butt up on the counter for a moment, but then he was sitting on the bar, and the room was not spinning. "Sam and me, we ganked Lily—"

"Lilith." Sam and Castiel corrected him in unison.

"Lilith. Whatever." Dean waved it off. "We killed her and screwed up the plan. So, it…" he lost his train of thought for a moment, "…uh, it didn't even matter you weren't gonna do, y'know, the thing they wanted."

Castiel stared at the floor, though he didn't hang his head, which Dean found to be an odd expression of shame. "They tortured me in preparation for what was about to happen. It would have been three months here… but it was thirty years there. Once you evaded Hell, I think they just needed an outlet."

Sam pointed to Dean and himself. "Why not come after us?"

"You are both… very special." Castiel said the words cautiously, his features twisting slightly for a second after. "You are instrumental in more ways than one when it comes to matters of the apocalypse. This attempt may have been stopped, but they will be desperate to find another way, and if they are successful, both sides will need you."

"So, we're off limits." Dean frowned, and it was unfair to suspect Castiel of manipulating them, but he asked anyway. "How did you get out?"

Castiel wet his lips and looked down but kept his head up again. "I didn't. They, uh… they threw me at you."

Sam nodded a few times. "Yeah… yeah, that's right. You said you fell, and then you backtracked and said you were thrown."

Dean leaned against the nearby cabinet, tapping his bottle against the counter idly. "Why give you to us?"

"I would imagine…" Castiel cleared his throat. "Well, the three of us are supposed to be at the heart of the apocalypse. I imagine they intend to keep us together for the same reason you are still off limits. They don't yet know what they will need."

"But they had you." Sam frowned. "They had to know you would warn us if they let you go."

Castiel started to lean against the nearby doorframe, and both Sam and Dean immediately pointed to a nearby chair.

Muttering words of thanks, Castiel hobbled across the kitchen and sat down before continuing. "I don't know… how much of what they told me is true… if they were lying to me, or if they genuinely think…" Castiel sighed, pressing a hand to his ribs. "They told me… you would be worse."

Sam tilted his head to the side. "Worse than we used to be? Worse than most hun—"

"Worse than them." Castiel couldn't look at either of them when he said that. "I think… because I am not human and you are hunters, they thought you would… punish me further. Until I felt I had to obey not only them but you as well… which would have been very helpful in the grand scheme of things."

Sam stared, speechless and horrified.

Dean slipped off the counter and turned around to face it, grabbing the bar and kicking through one of the cabinets. Bobby's gonna kill me. But he didn't care.

That's how he knows what hunters are, that's why our last name set him off, that's why he knew to promise not to hurt people, that's why he didn't want to tell us what he was, that's why he was so freaking terrified. He was told about us. He was told horror stories about what to expect from us.

"I'm sorry," Castiel said softly. "I know it is unfair. I—"

"Don't say sorry for that." Dean pulled his foot out of the broken plywood and gave the door a significantly lighter, almost defeated kick. "You were trying to stay alive. You… just don't." He looked at his beer, but he knew another gulp wasn't going to make him feel better.

Castiel was silent for a moment, but then he spoke again. "I do not think ill of either of you. I thought being thrown to you was more punishment, but now I realize it was an answer to prayer."

Dean slowly turned around and looked at Castiel, his face screwed up. "Really? You think—after all that, you still believe in God?"

Castiel nodded, and a slight smile pulled at the corner of his mouth. "I begged my Father to send someone to help me. He did."

"That's—"

"Dean." Sam rubbed the back of his head. "I was actually thinking about this last night, when he was talking in his sleep, and it is kinda… miraculous, how it all turned out."

Dean spread his arms. "What are you talking about? Have you both gone crazy? We were on a hunt, we wasted some demons, some angels threw him at us, and here we are."

Castiel tilted his head, neither agreeing nor disagreeing.

"Hear me out, okay?" Sam spread his hands slightly. "We are two of the most infamous hunters out there, but we couldn't bring ourselves to try fire as a method to kill Castiel. We could hardly bring ourselves to try the iron and silver. Then you suggested we bring him with us, and that is not you, Dean. It was like the thought just… hit you out of nowhere. So, we get him in the Impala and speed halfway across the country, during which time we somehow don't get pulled over once, and we get here. We put Castiel in the panic room, and we start researching. Bobby, who happens to have the panic room, also happens to be information central for all hunters everywhere, so we've got tons of material. Which comes in handy when we need to know how to clean and treat Castiel's wings, which we were able to do by the light of the full moon, which prevented drawing any attention to the scrap yard. We also happen to be brothers, so when we realized his brothers had done this to him, we got extremely protective—especially you." Sam spread his hands a little more and shrugged. "I'm not saying it's a sure thing, but if Castiel thinks his Father orchestrated this… I'll go with him on it."

Dean rolled his eyes, but he wasn't about to fight them on it. Drunk Dean was a little more intolerant and wanted to pick a fight, but Sober Dean had long ago accepted Sam's belief in God, and Castiel was a literal angel so…

"Fine, fine." Dean pointed to Castiel and snapped his fingers. "You said something earlier. You said your brothers needed an outlet after we killed Lilith. We killed her a month ago, so… another ten years?"

Castiel didn't say anything, but that was answer enough.

"So, forty years." See? He was so sober he could even math. "You wouldn't let me get tortured for forty years, so they tortured y—"

"Don't." Castiel looked at Dean without a hint of timidity or regret in his eyes. "They tortured me because I did what I believed was right. They chose to mimic your intended fate to get inside your head. I only answered you honestly because I knew if I didn't tell you, they would. They will do whatever it takes to manipulate you." His eyes narrowed slightly, and Dean felt a chill go down his spine. "But you won't disrespect my suffering by allowing them to use it against you… will you, Dean?"

Dean stared at Castiel for a long moment, and he wondered what the angel was like when he was one hundred percent. If he could be incapable of standing for more than five minutes and still get that death look in his eyes, well…

"Message received, Houdini."

Castiel's danger was immediately replaced by confusion. "I still do not understand that."

Sam chuckled softly. "I'll explain it sometime." He clapped his hands together. "So, we definitely need to kill Ruby, and we've got to keep an eye out for angelic and demonic creatures who are doing anything… apocalypse related. Just to make sure they don't find another way."

Dean nodded, and he thought he might have swayed a bit, but he was also pretty sure he didn't. "We gotta figure how to stay and touch with each other."

Sam arched a brow, but he didn't say anything. "Right. Castiel, you don't have anywhere to go, right?"

"You can simply pray, and I will hear you," Castiel replied, avoiding the question.

"Okay, but where are you gonna go? What are you gonna do?"

"Who you gonna call?" Dean said it before he could stop himself, earning a halfhearted glare from Sam.

"Ignore him." Sam looked at Castiel again, asking the question both brothers were already sure they knew the answer to. "What are you going to do, Castiel?"

Castiel looked between the two of them, slowly processing their sudden side interaction. "I, uh, I intend to study as much as I can, learn how to blend in with hum—"

"You ever waste a rugaru?" Dean didn't even realize his lips were moving until he'd already said it, just like in the warehouse, when he'd blurted out the idea to take the then-unknown creature along with them.

Castiel looked up, confused. "Uh…"

"Well, you're about to learn how." Dean finished his drink and set the bottle in the sink. "I mean, you don't have anywhere to go, right?"

Castiel slowly shook his head.

"Then don't go anywhere. I'm sure we could use your angel mojo, and it sounds like we're destinied to start a club or some crap, so…" Dean shrugged his shoulders, smirking. "Sam was s'pposed to be a demon blood baby, he said no. I was s'pposed to go to Hell, I said no. You were s'pposed to kiss a few angel butts, you said no."

Castiel frowned slightly, tilting his head, his expression growing progressively more concerned as he considered the thought Dean had planted.

Sam laughed softly. "So, what, Captain Destinied, we're gonna be the Three Musketeers?"

"No, we're even better." Dean walked over to the table and put both hands down—maybe harder than he intended—grinning devilishly. "We're Team Free Will. We do what we want, and destinied—destiny can go screw itself. We got a family business to run."

Castiel looked Dean, ever-confused. "I… I do not think I qualify for a family business."

Dean snorted. "Course you do."

Sam nodded, still grinning at Dean like he had said something funny. "You're our little brother now, Castiel." He turned his smile to Castiel. "We already decided while you were unconscious."

Castiel blinked slowly. "I am much older than you."

"Hey!" Dean wagged a finger at him. "Don't argue with your big brothers. You're the youngest, period, end of story."

Dean was momentarily afraid his commanding nature and talk of brotherhood would bring back unpleasant memories, but Castiel only began to smile.

"If that is what my brothers want, then… what is the family business?"

"Saving people," Sam replied, smiling.

"Hunting things," Dean added with a shrug.

"Refusing destiny." Castiel nodded, still wearing a small smile of his own.

Sam and Dean nodded. "The Family Business," they said.

Dean hiccupped and pointed to Castiel then. "I think you said destine wrong."

"I… did not say destine, I said destiny." Castiel blinked.

Sam shook his head. "Don't argue with Drunk Dean, Castiel. It never works."

Castiel looked up at Dean. "That is why drunkenness is a sin, Dean. It is very unhealthy, very unwise, and you look very stupid."

"Woah, woah, woah." Dean pointed at both of them, rocking slightly when the support of the table was no longer beneath his hands. "Just because there's two of you now, you do not gang up on your big brother."

But they would. He knew they would, and when he looked at Castiel and saw that spark, that lack of a need to watch his own back, that sense of belonging and family… Dean realized he didn't care. Let them gang up on him. Why the heck not? There was a reason Dean was the oldest. He could handle having an angel for one younger brother and a Sam for the other.

When it came to family, Dean Winchester could handle anything.

And he would. Oh, how he would.

fin.