I apologize for being so late in posting this last chapter. Life has been a bit complicated of late and time is a constant issue. I think I will go back to my resolve to never again post a WIP. It is too hard when you start out strong and have every intention of barreling through a story to hit that brick wall and falter.

I do have several zine stories available to post soon and they are all thankfully complete. Here is the final chapter of The Rack, thanks for coming along on this ride. As always, thank you for choosing to read my stories and if you'd care to comment, I'd love to hear your thoughts. Take care, B.J.


"What lies behind us and what lies before us are small matters compared to what lies within us." - Oliver Wendell Holmes

Chapter Four – At the End Lies Redemption

Dean's voice maintained all his disgust and scorn, "That's not good enough, buddy. Ten years, Cas… Why would God leave me to tear into them for ten freaking years?"


The question haunted the still of the room, hanging silent and unanswered, the quiet unsettling, belying the tension coiled within the man, ready to snap forth in another rage at the slightest trigger. A gentle sigh and downcast eyes the only indication Castiel was unable to provide an answer, either not knowing or not caring to share, leaving angel and man adrift, each contemplating the impact those ten years held over Dean and those he'd tortured. Buried within an unrelenting pain and consumed by the hole eating away at his soul, Dean's contempt and hatred were equally shared by God and himself. His own failings the foundation he set his self-loathing upon.

Castiel sat quietly observing the hunter, his eyes forever curious and probing; his low, sensuous voice finally breaking through the silence, his tone attempting to offer a measure of comfort from his insight. "Dean, do you realize you haven't asked why God didn't save you from your torture?"

"What?" He looked up, confusion filling out his face, tired eyes lost and unfocused staring blankly at the angel, his mouth twisting as he tried to come up with a response, starting to form an answer before stopping and sucking the silent words back. His eyes flickered through a half-dozen changes, the question catching him off balance, truly a foreign concept never before considered. He was hesitant, unclear where to begin to seek out an answer.

Castiel continued in a whisper, a sense of awe wrapping his words in a cushion of tenderness. "Your concern is always for others." Soft eyes gazed gentle upon the hunter, squinting to see him better, longing to better comprehend. "Why is that? Why aren't you concerned with your own pain?"

Dean grew taller; inching upwards, his back straightening while his broad shoulders pulled back, his face determined when he finally answered, his reply found in the manual of his life, in his duty, through his job. "I made a choice, I…" his voice stuttered and silenced as uncertainty swallowed him. His face strained, struggling to come up with a better reply as he sank down onto the bed in frustration, flickering eyes displaying all the anguish bottled within.

Before he could sort out his thoughts Castiel interrupted, "Dean, your empathy for their pain far surpasses your concern for your own."

The hunter's defiance was strong and immediate, quickly reasserting itself. His voice was raw and low, the timbre of it accepting of all guilt, leaning heavily upon his shame and how his actions made him feel. "You know what I did… You know how I made them suffer…" His wide eyes glimmered behind his tears and his voice trembled as he continued in a whisper, "How can you ask me that?" An audible gasp escaped as he choked on the words, the memories, and the pain; his response slow and deliberate… firm, yet utterly defeated. "What I did to them…" His voice trailed off as the memories entombed him.

Castiel sighed, his task becoming ever more difficult as the weight pressing on the man continued to shape his reactions. Dean's refusal to allow any leeway for the man who took knife in hand and betrayed his own beliefs wasn't unexpected, not after what he'd already witnessed from the hunter. Dean remained steadfast in his abhorrence of his actions, unwilling to compromise his high standards, refusing to accept absolution... accept that he was only human. Undaunted, Castiel pressed on, logic his weapon of choice, "Dean, it is… unfortunate you were the hand that tortured them."

"Unfortunate?" he spat back, nervously laughing, his mouth twisting as he struggled with the word, repeating it incredulously, "Unfortunate… Yeah, Cas…" He dejectedly shook his head, turning away for a moment before firmly stating the harsh reality constantly pressing on his soul, "I tortured them." His eyes rose and locked with the angel, all his pain written across his face, shattered eyes and quivering lips, the tense clench of his jaw betrayed by a persistent twitch. With more force and conviction he emphasized the only truth he could see, "I tortured them."

In spite of all he'd witnessed through the centuries, the vast devastation inflicted on mankind from war and mass genocide and every injustice unimaginable, Castiel had never before been so intimately aware of the damage a man could suffer. He struggled to maintain a safe distance, that detachment which had allowed him to walk the earth simply observing for two thousand years, never before feeling this pressing need to interfere. His resolve now fully tested by the man who sat before him, his pain immediate and real, so raw and brittle; the angel's own emotions churned up by the close proximity and intensity of the hurt embedded within the hunter's very being. Calmly, but with a voice steeped in regret, Castiel offered a logical reply, "They would have suffered just the same by someone else's hand. Dean… it's to be expected in Hell." He attempted to put the human's crimes in perspective, still trying to penetrate his defenses, "It doesn't matter that it was your hand."

Dean looked up, dark eyes brimming with more emotion; pain and guilt heavy in the tears gathering there. "You're wrong. It matters…" He choked back his tears, his jaw set firm even as his muscles throbbed from the building pressure, his lips trembling unsteady before stilling, his resolve demanding he regain some measure of control. His voice was low and rough, enunciating each word, punctuating his intent. "It matters that I let myself do it. It matters that it was my hand that cut them…" He stared at his outstretched hand, rolling his wrist in the air to observe it from all angles, his eyes focusing on the trail of blood, long ago wiped clean but forever staining them. Releasing his arm to lay back across his thighs, he closed his eyes and wallowed in the memories, a horror movie played out against the blackness of his lids, his body flinching from the terror of every slice that had laid them open. His voice was whiskey raw, aching and drained, "Oh, it matters… it matters."

Castiel breathed in the pain surrounding him; the hurt defined by the image of this broken man before him, Dean shuddering as strong shoulders bowed from the pressure. Steadying his own heart, he pressed onward, "Dean.., not everyone is given the offer to climb off the rack." Those words succeeded in capturing the hunter's eyes, curious… desperate, waiting expectantly for the angel to elaborate. "Why do you think Alastair gave you that option?"

Releasing a slight gasp, Dean's mouth contorted; a grimace forming as the words came, difficult words for him to voice, Alastair's image crowding his vision as he acknowledged the crushing truth. "He said I showed promise…"

Calm and controlled, Castiel responded in a soft voice, "And what do you think he meant?"

Dean swallowed, his eyes fixed on the worn carpet before they slowly rose, determined to face the darkness waiting to take him, his gaze connecting with the angel. "That I could be like him… like them. I was…" He paused, his shame spreading out to claim the last of his features, his tender eyes sinking back in despair, the waves of his tears filling to the brim and threatening to spill forth. He locked his jaw and his full lips held firm as he forced the words out in a harsh, scathing attack, "I was good at the torture… I was capable… I was… like him."

"No." Castiel let that one work sink in before he continued, "Dean… that's not the reason." The angel spoke slowly but deliberately; his tone commanding, demanding that Dean listen, really listen. "You showed promise because of your strength… because of how long you withstood their torture."

"What?" The voice was small, stunned and temporarily baffled, shattered eyes slowly rising to meet the angel's, the slightest glimmer of hope flickering for an instant before being cast back into the depths.

"Alastair knew you,Dean. Knew what could destroy you. All men have a breaking point… a point where they lose themselves. The right pressure… over time… insures it. Turning you into a torturer was their way of breaking you, their means of claiming victory. No one, Dean…" Castiel captured his eyes, his voice firm and sure as he put additional emphasis on the words hoping his message would sink in, "No one could have withstood more than you did. It was inevitable that you would accept the offer…" Castiel paused, resigning himself to the unshakable truth, the image of this damaged man before him squeezing at his own heart, bringing with it that foreign feeling deep within his chest that he had yet to fully understand. "They were counting on it."

Dean seemed to be considering the angel's words, rolling the thoughts around in his head before offering his next rebuttal. His eyes sank back within his agony, sensitive eyes overcome with emotion as he cut to the core of the matter, "But they did break me…" Defeat saturated the room, seeping from every pore and consuming the man, leaving only the torn husk of who he'd once been. "They won."

Despite all his training and directives and how he was supposed to handle himself, Castiel liked Dean and it hurt to see him in this much pain, pain that shouldn't be intensified by misplaced blame and guilt, by failing to acknowledge the inevitability of his descent. Determination grabbed hold of him, the chance to fight making him bolder and more aggressive. "No, Dean… not unless you let them." He waited for some sign, an indication he was getting through, when none came he continued on, battering against firm defenses, "Dean, when given another chance you changed the outcome. You refused Alastair's orders. You didn't raise the knife to the man."

"This time." The words were harsh and firm… bordering on broken. Refusing to accept the compassion and understanding offered Dean fought back with what he knew, all he felt. "Before… I…"

"That was before. Dean, you're human. Self-preservation is a natural response. They know that… they've been torturing souls for centuries." With great deliberation he offered up another truth, "You're not the first to break… and Dean, you won't be the last. They all do. You held on longer than any other." Castiel sighed, the struggle to get through wearing at him, unused to how hard the hunter fought against reason, refusing to accept his basic human reaction was understandable… forgivable. He knew if he only felt a fraction of the hunter's pain how debilitating it must be, so he found it hard to comprehend why he wouldn't release it, accept the gift of forgiveness an Angel of the Lord was so willing to offer. It was another example of how special this man was, why he was so integral to their plans. "You had no other option, Dean. Just as you don't feel you have any option in how you feel about it now. Dean, it was why the offer was made."

Still stubbornly resisting, Dean reacted with anger, at himself, at the hopelessness, at the cruel injustice that ripped apart everything he ever believed in. His tone was sure and strong, with the underpinnings of hurt weaved throughout showing how damaged he truly was. "That's not how I'm supposed to react… It's not what I do... It was weak." He slumped further down on the bed, head bowed and hands clasped over his knees, silently staring at the indelible stains on them. After an interminable wait, he slowly raised his head and looked up at the angel. "It was… wrong."

"It's past."

The words exploded out of him, fierce and ugly, "Don't you get it?" His entire body shook, his eyes on the brittle edge of defeat, ready to release another torrent of tears as his anger spewed forth. "It will never be past… it's right here…" He tapped his temple, his fingers brutal as they pounded against his skull. "It's in my head… all the time. Hammering away at my brain, never letting me forget."

Calmly and with a steady voice, Castiel responded, "So now you have a new memory. Now you have back your control."

Fractured eyes gazed upon the angel, the voice small and broken, dejectedly repeating his objection, "It wasn't real."

"Dean, you thought it was. It was as real as before… and you changed the outcome."

Stuck on one simple truth, Dean continued to fight. "But I still tortured them… You didn't change that. I have to pay for what I did." Determination was strong in his voice, the polar opposite to his hopelessness. "I know that."

"Dean, you've already paid." Castiel hesitated, the pain and shame somehow filling the distance between them, drawing him further into Dean's agony, making his own gut shift uncomfortably from the tension. "You've already suffered more than enough. You need to forgive yourself."

"How?" he softly asked. He sat silent, tormented and still, struggling for guidance. "Just how do I do that?" He hesitated, reflecting again on his ever present concern for others. "What about the ones I tortured?" He grimaced, nervous and desperate, shame and regret still raging, and then something changed in his eyes, a new spark lighting another avenue of thought, glimmering with uncertainty. "And what about God?" he bitterly questioned. For the first time acknowledging that perhaps he'd failed to live up to some new holy standard, still convinced he was unworthy of being saved and forever questioning why. "Is that what he expects from me? To be a torturer? Is that why he pulled me from the pit?"

"Dean, God doesn't blame you for what happened." Castiel paused, his words coming slow and deliberate, "He is not unaware of the extenuating circumstances."

"Oh, really? That's a nice way of putting it." Dean offered one of his standard smirks. "So everything's just hunky dory?" he scoffed.

"Dean, it's in the past. God forgives you."

Dean's smirk trembled as he forced out a laugh. "He does, huh? So, what? Now I'm just supposed to accept that God forgives me and move on? Just forget the whole ugly mess?"

"Yes, Dean… as best you can." Castiel offered a half smile, kind eyes trying to relay his concern. "God forgave you before I pulled you from the pit. God forgave you without you even asking. God saw into your heart."

"Into my heart?" he questioned, his eyes glimmering with a distant memory. "What, like Roy said?"

"Yes. Dean, God isn't unjust, he isn't unaware of the suffering you've endured. He knows the pain and he is here to help you."

"Help me?" Dean trembled, his eyes lost in his tears, his mouth twisting around the words as he struggled to come to terms. "How? Just how is he gonna make this all right?"

"He can heal you, if you'll only allow him in. If you'll only accept that you did the best that you could… and Dean… it's enough."

"No… it's not… it can never be." The anger again rose as the man faltered under the weight of his sins. "I… the things I did…" he firmly spat out, all his anguish laced within his words.

"Humans are imperfect, they fail miserably at times, but as long as you keep trying, keep fighting… there is always another chance to do good." Castiel gazed upon the broken man before him, his tone soft and tender. "And Dean, isn't that what you want, a chance to do good again?"

Dean fell silent. Helping people, defeating evil, it was all he had; the only thing he'd found that allowed him a moment's peace. But he couldn't hunt 24/7 and he had to sleep… and with sleep came nightmares, the memories constant, pushing and prodding and demanding he never forget. Insuring he'd never be free of the pit.

He hated being weak, needing it, but the truth was he drank to dull the pain, to take the edge off by blurring the visions and stifling their screams. It never worked. They were always there, hazy and muffled, but there…waiting… plotting to take him down. His emotions churned up from deep within, torturing him incessantly and no amount of liquor could drown them and he knew that, but his options were scant… so he did the best he could. It was all he'd ever done… the best he could and tried to live with the results. This he couldn't find a way to live with. He felt like he'd never fill the emptiness within. It was a black hole consuming everything except his pain, keeping that strong and real, rattling around in the dark caverns echoing his weakness. He was so tired of living with that pain.

Castiel had been waiting, watching. He observed the silent man, the pain etched upon Dean's face telling more than words ever could, those expressive eyes unable to hide the harsh truth. He took in a deep breath and ventured forward, knowing this next step was crucial. "Dean, I know this is hard, but I envy you."

The comment drew the expected reaction, incredulous shock. "What the hell?"

"Dean, hear me out. How you empathize with others, how you feel such deep emotion. It's a gift, Dean."

Dean stared at the angel, his brows furrowed as he examined the sight before him, finally speaking when his contempt grew too large to hold inside. "A gift? Are you insane? If it's a gift then I'm returning it," he spat out, a feeble attempt to diffuse a tense situation.

"Dean, it's a part of you… I know the hurts can be… overwhelming, but there is also joy… love… The bond you share with Sam, your deep love and loyalty. It's something to hold on to. Dean… you have to accept the bad with the good."

"The bad? How about the horrific? The unbearable? Don't you get it? I don't want to feel. I don't want to feel anything!" His tears again forced their way into the open, trickling down his face, steady and unrelenting.

"Dean, feeling is what makes you human. It gives you the compassion to understand what others are going through. It offers you insight and wisdom. Dean, it makes you who you are."

He closed his eyes, sucking in a deep breath before opening them and speaking with disdain, "Yeah? Well, I don't like who I am."

"God does."

Dean laughed, a tremulous smile flickering across his lips but failing to reach his eyes, still dark and brooding. "Then obviously God doesn't see all he claims to see. The things I've done.., and not just in Hell…" He lifted his arms up in a bold gesture, opening himself up for scrutiny. "Not exactly a poster boy for good behavior."

"Dean, God accepts the complete package, the bad with the good."

Dean shook from the thoughts jamming his head. He tried to retreat, find solace again somewhere far away from this angel who wouldn't let him be, depressed and miserable. "Stop it… just stop it. Whatever you're trying to do here… it ain't working."

"Dean, what do you want me to do?" Castiel sincerely asked, patiently awaiting a response.


"How can I help you?" he elaborated.

"Are you serious?"

"Dean, I made the offer."

Dean sat silently observing the angel, his mind working on the courage to ask. Dean Winchester wasn't used to asking for favors or help, wasn't comfortable being indebted. He hesitated only briefly. This he needed, more than anything he'd ever before desired. "I can't forget… can you..?"

Slipping in and filling the space the hunter left, Castiel filled in the missing words, "Take away your memories?"

Dean swallowed, his eyes deep in moisture, his lips trembling as he clenched his jaw, short tremors rippling across his face. He looked up and sad eyes answered long before he found his voice, "Yes."

Another sigh released as Castiel offered his apology, "I'm sorry, Dean. I can't. It's a part of you now, but it doesn't have to be the main part."

Hurt eyes responded, his resigned smirk trying to regain some composure. "No? Tell it to up here…" He again pounded at his temple, his anger rising. "It's all I can think about, it's always right there."

"It was…, but you have another memory now," Castiel offered, still trying to guide the hunter toward forgiveness. "Dean, you changed the past. When you knew what the future held, how you'd feel after stepping off the rack you didn't do it. You couldn't… you need to hold on to that."

"It wasn't real." The words came soft, his manner softer.

"You didn't know that… it was as real to you as the first time." The awe in Castiel's voice swelled; his admiration ever present. "Dean, you chose to put yourself back on the rack rather than feel the pain of torturing the others. You did that. It was your choice. It truly was the move of a noble man… a good man."

"It doesn't change what really happened… it doesn't take their blood from my hands," he fought back.

"No… but it's a start. Dean, you have to take the blessings you're offered. This is a chance to make a new ending."

He withdrew back into himself. It was a long time before he again spoke, confident and sure, his simmering anger surging as he went on the attack. "You could take away the memories… You just won't." He offered a mix between a grimace and a smirk, his eyes focused and probing as he tried to reach the truth. "Hell, you can bend time, hurl me back forty years… and you can't wipe clean my thoughts?" Dean questioned with contempt. He looked up, forlorn eyes searching, dark thoughts creeping in. "And that's not all.., is it?"


Cold and deadly the hunter spoke, the truth finally revealing itself through his sensitive eyes, "You want me to remember the pit."

Shifting uncomfortably, Castiel answered, "It is necessary."

"Why?" he barked out.

Castiel sat silently observing him, his eyes maintaining the connection as the hunter's eyes bore into him, but he didn't speak, instead waiting for the man to continue.

Nervously his tongue swiped across full lips as a forced smirk emerged, the fine lines around his eyes pronounced and framing the hurt. "You won't take away the memories because you need to control me," he stated slowly. "What, the threat doesn't hold as much juice if I don't remember how bad it was? If you threatening to toss me back into the pit doesn't have that up-close-and-personal feel to it?" The venom in his voice rose. "God… you are a bastard."

"We've already established that."

"So what does God want from me? Why does he need the leverage?"

"You're not going to like it."

He chuckled, forced and full of further disgust. "Yeah, I gathered… so, let it drop. Just tell me and get it the hell over with. I'm sick of waiting for you to grow a pair," he spat back, finding strength through his anger. Dean Winchester had always found control in the fight. He knew how to fight. His training and determination serving him well as he stepped into another arena.

Softly Castiel replied, "Not yet."

"And why the hell not?" he snarled.

"The time's not right."

"And when exactly will the time be right?" he pressed, a fire growing in his belly, the hole pushed down deep and ignored, more pressing concerns demanding his focus.

"Soon, Dean… soon. If I were you I wouldn't be looking for trouble. You already have enough to keep you occupied," he solemnly replied, his manner and short glance to the motel door clueing in the hunter.



Dean cleared his throat, all concern for his own pain swept aside as he focused on his job, on protecting his brother. "What's this got to do with Sam?"

"First, Dean, tell me how you felt when you were torturing them."

"Why? What the hell difference does that make?"

"Dean, you want answers… you need to tell me."

Dean sucked in a deep breath, determined to do whatever was necessary to protect Sam, to play any game the angel and God demanded… anything to find out their plans. "It felt good… to be off the rack, to not have them carving into me. At first I just wanted to feel nothing, to not be screaming at the top of my lungs." His voice was small and childlike, so hurt and scared, "I just wanted the pain to end."

"And then?"

Dean glanced up, more anguish filling his eyes, his tears again building. He took another breath and blurted out the truth. "I liked it." He licked his lips, a tremulous grimace struggling to control the shaking as he tried to find the words. "And I was good at it… The power I had over them… to be able to do whatever I wanted and they just had to take it." He struggled against himself, how much he'd reveal, how far he'd admit to going. "I made them scream and the louder they screamed the more I felt in control… the more I got off on it." He stopped, shame mixing with a certain relief from revealing his darkest truths.

"Dean, it was a natural response."

"No… it was sick… twisted."

"No, Dean. You'd been taken to the very edge and beyond… made to endure suffering unimaginable and when given the option, it was only natural for you to take back whatever control you could. To place yourself on the side that held all the power. It's been studied and documented, how a man will align himself with those who'd tortured him, just to do precisely that… regain some semblance of control."

Dean shook from the intent gaze upon him, all his inner demons on full display and he felt so open and vulnerable, so totally shamed by his actions and how they made him feel, both then and now.

Castiel continued, his voice low, sensitive to the pain before him. "Dean… think back… when it first started, when you first raised up the knife… what were your very first thoughts?"

Dean pulled his bottom lip into his mouth, worrying it before gasping for breath, the memories so sharp and fresh, so real. His voice remained soft and broken, letting the memories slip free. "I couldn't feel… I couldn't feel anything… The pain was gone and that was all I cared about. I remember thinking I couldn't feel my blood running down my sides, I couldn't hear it dripping to the floor and I was so relieved… so relieved." He took in another deep breath, his strength returning as he faced up to his actions. "I couldn't believe what I was doing… I had to shut it down, just go through the motions… blood was covering my hands and arms, splashed on my face… across my chest, but it wasn't my blood and that's all I cared about… it wasn't me being ripped to shreds, it wasn't me… it wasn't me… it wasn't…" He gasped, heavy and broken, his chest heaving from the weight pressing down.

"And it was later that you felt the power in your actions?"

"Yeah…" he softly replied. A small tremor rolled down his spine as he offered a quick glance to the angel staring at him with such concern. Rubbing his hands down the front of his jeans, gripping his knees as he spoke, he lowered his eyes and focused on his clenched hands. "The more I tortured them, the more I liked it until I wanted them to scream… I wanted to hurt them..." He nervously licked his lips, biting down on the bottom lip as he pulled it back into his mouth.

Gently Castiel pushed him to reveal more. "Why, Dean? Why did you want to hurt them?"

His voice cracked as he choked out his response, "It helped."

"Helped how?"

"It helped me forget before… How I screamed… how scared I was… all those terrors I'd felt for thirty years."

"Dean, you had a lot of pain to erase."

He nodded, slowly raising his head to tentatively make eye contact. "The more I hurt them the less I felt."

"And now you remember, don't you? All the pain from before on top of the pain of making them suffer."


"But the worst is how you feel now, isn't it? The pain of knowing what you did… what you were driven to do."

Another soft sigh released as he answered, "Yeah."

"It must be terrible, I realize that… but how you feel will help you stay the course. You now know how it feels to fall short. God chose you, with all your faults and missteps. Everything happens for a reason, Dean."

"So, why did this happen? What's this got to do with Sam? With what God wants from me?"

"Sam is facing a test. He has to decide which road he'll take. It is a very dangerous time for him, Dean. These powers of his… they are very intoxicating." Castiel waited for the rise of the head, the look of realization in the eyes. "You know how exhilarating power like that can be… how true evil can make you do things you'd never before considered… what the ramifications can be." Castiel capture the hunter's eyes, his words carving out the truth. "How devastating it can be to make the wrong choice… to align yourself on the wrong side."

"You want me to pull Sam back… like you did for me?"

"Yes… if he goes over the line."

"Will he?"

"The future isn't set, Dean. We don't know what lies ahead for your brother. We only know the dangers. You need to be there in case he loses his way."

"So why the dream? Why not just tell me? Tell me what you wanted. Why mess with my head?"

"To remind you of the danger… how easily evil can use your humanity to break you, but you can fight back. You changed the outcome… you now know you always have a choice. You can't alter the past, what happened to you, but you can change the future, Dean."

"You make it sound so easy…" Dean stopped, his voice ground down from the pain, his eyes again filling with tears.

"What is it, Dean?"

"I don't know that I could hold out again… that I would make the right choice. This… this was a dream… I might end up doing the same thing… until you've been there, you don't know…"

"I understand, Dean. We all do. You did the best you could at the time."

"What if I choose wrong again? What if Sam does?"

"You won't Dean… you remember what that feels like. I have faith in you. Dean… God has faith in you."

The man silently stared at his hands, clenching them tight before releasing the pressure and laying them at his knees. He looked up with those same hesitant eyes, somehow asking for forgiveness, shattered eyes begging for absolution, knowing he needed it even if he felt he was undeserving. Unable to voice his need, his eyes did all the talking he wouldn't allow.

Castiel offered a knowing smile, a gentle nod acknowledging the terrors still lingering within the hunter. He didn't wait for the hunter to speak, instinctively knowing what he needed to hear. "Now, after knowing how you'd feel, how it would all turn out… it simply gives you more insight, more compassion for others too. It was a learning experience. It was necessary to help you see the true course… to give you further insight."

"I hope to god I never have to use it."

"But you will… not in Hell, but in life, in the choices you'll make as your journey continues. All of life's lessons are not pleasant; in fact, some of the most enlightening are painful. But that's how you grow… It's how you learn. That's all you can do, Dean, learn and make better choices the next time."

"And Sam… how do I help him make the right choice?"

"Watch him, Dean… He's walking a very dangerous path." Castiel solemnly paused, his eyes tender and subdued. "Dean, it's what you've always done… be the big brother… guide him to the right side."

"Sam's not a kid anymore… He's not going to do what I tell him just 'cause I tell him. So… how am I supposed to control him?"

"Dean, I don't have all the answers. And more questions will arise. I only know that I am here to serve you, to guide you and help you make the right decisions."

"How? How will I know what's right?"

"Listen to your heart."

"What? Lilith…" Dean trembled from deep in his gut, the air sucked from his lungs as he panicked at the thought of that child, her sweet face holding so many lies, hiding so much evil. "Lilith told me to listen to my heart… It was pounding, bursting… Why would you say that?" He stuttered slightly, his voice again hesitant. "Why did she?"

"Lilith knows your true purpose. Why do you think they wanted you in Hell? Why do you think it was so crucial that they break you?"

"Because I'm a hunter… because I sent so many of them back to Hell…" Dean suddenly stopped, his eyes connecting with Castiel's as his realization grew. "Why? Why me?"

"It is your destiny."

"To save Sam?"

"Dean, that's only a small part of it. You have your own path to follow."

"Just tell me… How can I know what you expect if you don't tell me?" he demanded, his frustration growing, wrapping tightly around him and only bringing more questions.

"You'll know… Dean, somehow you've always known what the right course was. It's why God chose you. When the time comes… trust your heart."

And then the angel was gone.

Somehow Castiel was always the one to end their conversations, offering up his latest threat or final words of wisdom and fluttering away on angel's wings. It was one of the most annoying things about him.

Dean was left to ponder what he'd learned, what little that was… Still, he found himself revisiting the words, testing how far he could venture into the forgiveness Cas offered. He could be stubborn and headstrong, but he also realized what he needed… and what was offered. He wanted to believe he was worthy of being saved, that one day he would do something that could offset the horrors he'd imposed on the others, enabling him to finally release his guilt. He wanted to trust that somehow the constant pain would eventually diminish. He hoped to god Castiel was right about that… that he would one day find the absolution he so desperately needed. Even if his mind was never totally free of his time in Hell, he hoped at least the painful memories would start to lose their hold over him and he would at long last be released from this purgatory.

Time, he just needed to hang on until the time was right, until God's plans became clear, as frustrating to hell as that was. In the meantime he had his brother to protect and evil to slay. He supposed that had to be enough. Always before it had been… the only things that kept him moving forward.

He was still sitting on the bed contemplating what the angel had revealed when he heard the key in the motel door. Slowly it opened and Sam stepped into the room, quiet and stealthy as if to not disturb. Sam looked surprised to find him awake, calmly sitting on his bed.

Their eyes connected and Sam shuffled in, depositing a small bag and two covered cups of coffee on the small table by the door. "Hey, you're up," he stated with too much enthusiasm.

"Where were you?"

"I, ah… just went out, was checking on those records over at the courthouse."

Dean studied him, his eyes just short of accusing, not liking how he questioned everything his kid brother told him these days. "You should have woke me."

"You were exhausted… looked like you could use the rest…" Sam hesitated, worry and concern evident in his tone. "Dean? You all right?"

Dean paused before answering, his eyes conveying an overwhelming sadness, moisture filling them until the light reflecting off of them made them sparkle. He looked deep into his brother's eyes, forging a bond with him as he released a tense sigh. "No… but I will be."

The End


February 2009

All standard disclaimers apply.

Thanks for reading, any and all comments are appreciated. Until next time, take care, B.J.