Title: Fire on Both Sides
Author: Maychorian
Characters: Dean Winchester, Castiel
Category: Gen, Angst
Rating: T/PG-13 (language)
Spoilers: Up to 4.08
Summary: Divine. Demonic. Two fires, both burning bright and hot and lethal. Dean feels only heat, no comfort from the warmth. And he is afraid for Sam.
Word Count: 2250
Disclaimer: Angels belong to God. Dean belongs to Kripke. It's a sad, sad world we live in.
Author's Note: Not sure where this one came from. More disconnected musings, downloaded from brain to page without much of a filter. Behold! You may now be as confuddled as me! ::iz pleased with her master plan:: Also, moonshayde's fabulous beta has made for better Castiel dialog. ::bows to her:: But any mistakes are mine.

Fire on Both Sides

When the world ended, Dean didn't want to be in the arms of an angel. He wanted it to be his brother.

When the world ended—and Dean knew it was coming, perhaps he'd known it all his life—he knew he would be broken, probably dying. He didn't have visions like Sam used to, but in this, he was certain of the future. He would be a victim of that last battlefield, if not before. He would fight to the end, but he would fall. There was a certain crushing inevitability that had been weighing on him since he first saw the glow of fire in his baby brother's nursery, and now it had been given a name, that was all.

When the world ended he would not be standing, gun in hand (Sword in hand? Was a sword more appropriate for a spiritual apocalypse?), comrades at his shoulders, light around him. He would be fallen, bloody, limbs twisted and wracked. Not till that very moment, perhaps. Perhaps until then he would be fighting, leading, charging, planning strategies and executing tactics, roaring defiance in the face of the enemy. But when the end came, Dean would be on the ground. He was certain of it.

When the world ended, he wanted Sam's face to be the last one he saw. Not Castiel. Not Dad. Not Bobby. Not God. Fathers and mentors, teachers and tormentors. Let them fall away. He only wanted his brother.

When civilization fell, when the earth crumbled, when mountains sifted into dust and rolled down into the oceans, when blood turned to water and water turned to blood so that the rivers and streams ran red, when demons rose from every crack and fissure in the crust of reality to sweep over the shrieking, reeling world and angels descended from the skies to beat them back with light and glory…

When everything ended and humanity fell to its knees in awe and terror, Dean wanted to die in the arms of his brother.

The dying itself didn't bother him. Dean had always known that he would die young. Something would go wrong on a hunt, or a reckless driver would clip the Impala on the highway and send him spinning into a tree, or he'd piss off a fellow bar patron just a little too much, or, hell, a plane would fall from the sky and crush the motel where he was staying. Something. He'd thought the end had come so many times already, and he had accepted it each time. But his father or his brother (or his brother and his father, for five minutes standing in solidarity) wouldn't let him go, and again and again he was back, confused and blinking in the light.

In a way, it was a relief to know for certain exactly how it would happen, the damn apocalypse, a relief to have words to put to this nameless knowledge he'd been carrying all his life. Until that moment came, he would scrape and scratch and fight and kill, with guns and knives (swords) and fists and fingernails. He would earn the right to die honorably, no fire waiting. That was all he asked. He had no hope for heaven, but perhaps he would be allowed to just slip away into the deep. It was more than he deserved, but perhaps that mercy would be given him. It was all he wanted.

That, and to be with his brother to the last, and know that Sam was safe from Hell, on earth or otherwise.

But he still wasn't sure what Sam wanted. If Sam would be there. When the world ended and the movie screen turned to black for the final time, who would be the hero, who the villain? He stared across the space at the empty bed, and wondered.

"Dreaming again, Dean?"

That voice, now so familiar, the cool distance of it, the strange hidden warmth, the space between the words oddly stretched, uncomfortable. Dean turned over to lay on his back on the bed, staring at the ceiling, tan trench coat in the corner of his eye, a tousled dark head inclined in listening, but he didn't look directly at his visitor. "I was awake this time, Fluffy. What is it with you and your fixation on watching me sleep?"

"Awake, yes, but still dreaming." Castiel ignored the question. Of course. "What did you see?"

Dean fixed his eyes on the ceiling and refused to let his breath hitch, though he couldn't prevent the muscle that jumped in his cheek. "I saw a giant, juicy cheeseburger and a steaming plate of chili cheese fries. Smelled like heaven."

Castiel didn't shift, but Dean could still feel the weight of him, beside him on the worn motel mattress. He felt that weight everywhere, though. "Your…means of deflection, I understand this is a defense. I don't understand why you feel such a need to defend yourself against me."

Dean rolled back over on his side, preferring to look at the empty bed. "You're kidding, right?"

Puzzled silence. Then, "No."

Dean closed his eyes and pulled his legs up, making his back a wall against the intruder behind him. "You really don't get it, do you? Fuck, I don't know why I even ask. Of course you don't get it. You holy hound dogs, barking around the door."

"I am your ally."

Dean exploded at this, scrambling off the bed so he could turn and face his unwanted guardian, hands clenched into fists, half-raised to a stance. "My ally? You threatened me! Yeah, you pulled me out of the Pit, and don't get me wrong, I do appreciate it, but it wasn't out of the goodness of your feathery little angel heart, that's for sure. You have a use for me, a fucking purpose, and if I don't measure up you'll just toss me right back where I came from, like a fish too small to keep."

Castiel gazed up at him, calm, motionless, dark blue eyes like a stretch of sky, fathomless and opaque. "Is that what you think? Is that what you've been thinking all along?"

Dean fell to sit on the other bed like a puppet with cut strings, fists falling loose at his sides. He took a shaky breath, and it came out a little calmer. "Look, I get it. I do. You have your part to play in this thing, and for some reason I can't begin to guess, I got tapped for one, too. But don't you dare pretend that we're allies. Don't you act like there's any possible way that we could ever understand each other. Don't you come around giving me confidences I don't want, like we're friends or something. Just…no. It doesn't work like that. You have your brothers, and I have mine."

A stillness fell over the angel on the motel bed, a hush like a lack of breath, but there was a dizzy, rushing sense of kinetic energy in it, too, of a boulder poised on the edge of a cliff, ready to fall, bounding and spinning, destroying everything in its path: endless power held in iron control. Then Castiel tilted his head slightly to the side, and blinked, once. "This is about your brother, not me."

Dean knotted his arms over his chest, hard and close, doing his best to deny the tightness in his throat. "Your buddy, Uriel. Said he would turn Sam to dust the minute he stopped being useful. That's one fucking awesome ally, there."

Castiel was still and silent for a moment that seemed to stretch into infinity. Dean watched his face, saw little flexes and tics, and, damn it, damn it, damn it all, he was beginning to be familiar with the unique mannerisms and body language of a freaking angel. He could see the hesitation, the deep considering, and then the plunge of decision, like that day at the park, when Dean learned far more than he had ever dreamed of knowing. It was terrifying, and he pulled his arms a little tighter around his chest.

The angel stood and walked around the bed, though it seemed that his feet made no sound on the floor. He stood in front of Dean for a moment, looking down on him, and then knelt, putting Dean's head higher than his own. Somehow, Castiel made kneeling seem like standing on a mountain peak, surveying the entire world in a glance. Or maybe that was just the entirety of Dean himself, encompassed in those deep eyes.

"Don't be afraid, Dean," he said.

Dean stared. "What?"

The word was a faint whisper, breathed out on an exhalation.

"Don't be afraid." Castiel sighed softly. "I had forgotten. That is what we always had to say, first, when we visited long ago. Don't be afraid. Even the kindliest of messengers are fearsome to your sight, and I am not one of those."

"I'm not afraid."

"You are always afraid."

Dean gazed into eyes of deep blue, unable to look away, and could say nothing.

"This is not a flaw, not always." Castiel drew his knees up and folded his arms around them, for all the world like a curious, wide-eyed child, sharing what he saw in the clouds. "The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom, after all, and that has not changed. But when we come to bring good news, we always have to soothe the fear first. Please pardon my forgetting."

"Good news." Dean's throat was dry, and he swallowed ineffectively against it. "I'm sorry, I thought you were bringing news of the apocalypse. That's your definition of 'good news?'"

Castiel inclined his head, conceding the point, and Dean was astonished to realize that he was having an actual discussion, a give and take of ideas, with a freaking angel of the Lord. "Delivering you from perdition seemed like good news, didn't it?"

Dean blinked. He was pretty sure that was maybe a joke. An angel joke. Okay then.

"Do you know what separates men from angels?" Castiel asked conversationally.

Dean eyed him up and down, the clothes that still hung at the wrong angles, the loose tie snaking down his chest. "I think fashion sense might have something to do with it."

Castiel let this flow by. "It is free choice. Angels are not entirely choiceless, but should we choose to refuse an order, we are no longer what we are, but something dark and twisted, with yellow eyes."

Dean shivered and looked away.

"You men, though, you are free agents. You were chosen, Dean, but you are not choiceless. And neither is your brother. So I believe, and so I will continue to believe." He spread his hands, innocent and open as only a being of pure light could be. "This is the good news I bring you today."

"And so you want me to not be afraid. Even though my brother could be turned to dust at any time, and you're not even trying to dispute that."

"Yes. It is the same message we have brought to many men, those who had faith and those who had none, Noah, Gideon, David, Paul, mighty servants who did great things in their time. And again I bring it to you. Peace be unto thee. Fear not. Be strong and courageous."

In spite of himself, Dean felt his arms loosening, sliding down around his stomach. He made his voice as sarcastic as possible, though. "Well, thanks for that, Cas. Means a lot to me."

"I know."

Yeah, so much for sarcasm. Dean stared down at his knees, aware of Castiel getting to his feet, then the weight of the angel's hand resting on his head for a moment, light as a bird. A rushing breeze, and he looked up to see Sam opening the motel door, Castiel gone.

"Dean?" Sam's eyes darted briefly around the room before settling on Dean, pausing on the whiskey bottle on the nightstand, the rumpled covers where Dean had been laying before Castiel showed up. His lips pursed, but his voice was neutral, calm. "You have a good nap?"

Dean pulled in air and rubbed his hands over his face before meeting Sam's eyes. "Didn't sleep."

Sam frowned and stepped cautiously forward. "Really? You were falling over, man."

Dean stood and crossed to his brother, reaching out to grab his clumsily held armful of books and papers. "Looks like your library run went well." Information on the hunt, questions without answers, answers without questions. Castiel hadn't actually responded directly to anything Dean had said, but he had still told him a lot, somehow.

Sam kept ducking his head to peer in Dean's face, still worried, trying not to show it, trying to give Dean his space. It was sort of sweet and pretty much ridiculous—the kid was way too obvious to be any kind of subtle. "You didn't sleep at all? You look like you did."

Dean stood there with his arms full of books, looking at his kid brother, his earnest eyes and wrinkled forehead. Not choiceless. Never that.

He still felt the lick of flames on both sides, reaching, caressing, alluring and strong. But the Winchesters belonged only to themselves, and they walked their own path. When the world ended, they would be together, wherever they were. Dean was sure of it.

"I feel better," he said. And that would have to do.