A/N: That last episode got such an emotional response out of me that not doing anything about it was impossible. This is the first out of three introspective pieces that will parallel to specific scenes in 5.04 and fits into the alternate universe I've created with my "Six Dawns" series. Enjoy!

Disclaimer: Supernatural and all its affiliates belong to Eric Kripke

It was neither hard to articulate nor was it a particularly difficult concept to understand and it matter whether it was five years into the future or five hundred, there was one thing- the only thing, it seemed- that hadn't changed was the truism that in order to live, to survive, one had to follow protocol.

Everything in the world existed and perpetuated its own existence based on a set of procedures. Whether it be the rules of gravity making sure that the roots of plant life and vegetation extended downwards into the Earth or those that regulated the firing of neurons in a man's brain, there was nothing that could extend beyond its natural boundaries, nothing that could break the rules surrounding and safeguarding its being without suffering some type of detrimental effect.

Man was no different.

In fact, it seemed like being the highest thinking and most complex of all the creations put on God's green Earth, humans were the ones with the most rules: those he made to guard others, those he imposed upon himself for the sake of guarding others; the moral, the social, the political and practical- it was a complex cycle of interwoven dictations and loopholes that sought to define the world, and oftentimes to no avail. A man could (and often did) go throughout his entire life without knowing all the rules and which ones to adhere to, which ones he could ignore and which ones he was not to deviate from at all costs. Civilizations rose and fell, man lost his sense of reason and killed his own brother, dynasties crumbled into the dust; their names little more than scribbles in a history book and in the end, the only real tragedy was that with the proper knowledge, such calamity could've easily been avoided.

Dean Winchester was by no means a genius, and it the image of the hunter strolling across a stage wearing a hideous robe and hat to accept a rolled up sheet of paper was indeed laughable for exactly that reason. Sure, he'd gotten his GED but he hadn't ever given higher education a second thought, because right from the beginning, Dean knew that the rules of life were simple, and everything he needed to know in order to survive, he could learn from his father; the same salt and burn routines and silver bullet, sawed-off shotgun models he observed even up to this very day, the rules of being a hunter, a man, a survivor. Because for Dean, all three of those roles were one and the same.

All supernatural entities had their own boundaries as well, ones that Dean knew by heart. Sure, he couldn't tell you the different articles of the Constitution (and it wasn't like any other American out there really could anyway) or explain how blood flowed through the aortas and pulmonary veins into the heart's four chambers, but he could spit out Latin exorcisms faster than cheerleaders rattling off a cheer and land a bullet in a werewolf's heart from twenty meters away. He was quick on his feet and smart when and where it counted; he knew all the rules of the game and bended them as far as they would go, just for the sake of knowing that he could.

And the angels? Dean hadn't really been expecting much from God's warriors of wrath and holy power, so he'd expected the dickery and the deceit. The whole deal with the apocalypse, though? Well, that... that had thrown him for a little loop. But of course the elder Winchester hadn't expected to find an ally in the entire bunch either, and the next thing he knew, he was finding himself seeking approval, calling out for aid, and offering protection to one supposedly heartless bastard in particular with sapphire orbs that held all the hope and faith that a real angel was supposed to embody.

He really didn't know when he started thinking of Castiel as his angel or as more than the holy tax accountant that popped in sporadically to utter monotonous orders, but Dean did know that he sure as hell didn't want to go back to the time before he had the blue-eyed, head-tilting, stick up his ass angel on his side, before the hunter had a brand on his arm as evidence of Castiel's presence and deeds. Before the angel decided to grow a pair and full on rebelled against Heaven, going against everything that had been drilled into his skull after countless millennia of Bible Camp; thereby earning Dean's trust and making the elder Winchester not more than a little proud, too.

But now, looking into eyes that seemed hollow and empty; now, hearing that bitter little laugh that made the one uttering it seem on the verge of hysterical tears and so totally broke the rules of what the hunter knew about angels (because there were two things about those feather-brained bastards that he knew for certain- one, they were downright allergic to straight answers and two, they obviously didn't have the brain capacity for sarcasm or humor), all Dean could do was stare in horrified shock as the question fell numbly from his lips.

"What happened to you?"

The man standing before him shrugged, unshaven face pinched and pale, features haggard and listless. "Life," was the simple reply, as if that alone could surmise all that had taken the soldier of the Lord and turned him into a stoned, washed up Buddist; that had reduced Castiel to a mere shadow of his former self. Never mind the fact that just a week ago, the Cas he knew had been scared shitless at the thought of getting it on with a girl and was now hosting group orgies (five years in the future but regardless), never mind the glazed quality of his faded blue eyes that clearly pointed to drug use; none of that mattered when the elder Winchester found himself staring at a shell of the earnest, faithful angel he once knew.

And it was in that instant that Dean Winchester wished that some rules had never been broken, that he'd never tried testing the boundaries in the first place; that he hadn't pushed until the angel saw the truth, until Castiel decided to break the rules himself, because maybe that would have been enough to prevent all this, to prevent the Apocalypse.

Maybe then he wouldn't have ever had to see Castiel so broken himself.


"So, that's it. That's the Colt."

Reesa's voice was a mixture of disbelief and muted condescension, her posture indignant as she leaned against the ladder, glancing at said gun with no small amount of distaste. Dean had a feeling that given another time and another place (funny, given that this situation fulfilled those parameters perfectly) he would've had some type of connection with the smart, tough-as-nails woman, but his attention was focused elsewhere, namely on Castiel as the other sat down with a beer and propped up his feet in a manner so casual that it only carved the lines etched into Dean's brow all the deeper. The Cas he knew would've been standing at attention, eyes narrowed in quiet alertness and-

"If anything can kill Lucifer, this is it."

Dean heaved a mental sigh, grumbling to himself at the awkwardness of hearing his own voice giving response. Of course this doppelganger standing not ten feet away was in fact the real him in 2014, but that didn't make it any less weird. Not to mention the fact that this guy is more of a dick than I could be, even on those days when everything seems like the shit's about to hit the-

"Great," Reesa said sharply, in tones that made it evident in no uncertain terms that she was in fact less than impressed. "Do we have anything that can find Lucifer?"

Apparently growing five years older hadn't completely dulled his senses to humanity, because future him looked up at the woman with a frown. "Are you okay?"

"Oh, we were in...Jane's cabin last night," Dean broke in, saving all of them from what would've been the very heated tirade of a woman scorned. "And apparently, we (I'm going to be needing so much therapy after this) and Reesa have...ah...'connection'."

If the scene was from a bad sitcom, the laugh track would've been rolling but given that this was reality, the only one who seemed to find the situation amusing was Castiel, who bowed his head and grinned in a way that didn't meet his bloodshot eyes. Reesa quirked her brow and looked to her apparently not-so-connected superior while future him had the grace to look a slight bit uncomfortable, but not before turning to him and growling out an embarrassed, "You wanna shut up?"

Raising his hands in surrender, Dean settled for looking away from his future self and his spitfire of a jilted lover, away from his broken down angel with the maniacal smiles that sent a shiver up the hunter's spine, half-listening to the conversation when-

"Our fearless leader, I'm afraid, is all too well schooled in the art of getting to the truth." Blue eyes flickered over in his direction to catch his attention and Dean's back straightened as if in immediate response to the barest hints of sadness he heard imbedded somewhere in beneath the matter of fact tone. You've got to be shitting me.

"Torture?" he queried, spitting the word out like the syllables were acidic in his mouth. Slowly, Dean got to his feet, approaching this future version of himself who was making decisions he would've never made in a million years, who was shooting people in the head at point blank range without batting an eyelid, who was sitting here and talking about killing Lucifer while not giving a rat's ass about anything else. Or anyone. "Oh that's...that's good."

His future self's eyes lifted to meet with his own in a glare and it wasn't like looking into a mirror at all, because there was a coldness there that Dean had never seen before in any of his reflections and it made his flesh crawl. To cover it up, he made a joke out of the uncomfortable revelation, snarking at himself, at this future self who was more of a dick than he ever imagined he could become. "Classy."

Castiel chuckled then, a quiet laugh that drew Dean's gaze toward the blue eyes that, for a moment, seemed more lucid, more alive, more like the Cas he knew; the Cas that once chuckled at a stupid joke he'd made while sitting on a park bench (when there still used to be park benches)-but there was weariness in the semi-amused grin, deep-rooted pain behind the haze created by drugs and alcohol and something empty. It was the emptiness that struck at Dean the deepest. Cas...what have these five years done to you? He glared at his future self. What has he done to you?

"What?" Castiel said nonchalantly, both a question and an explanation to the glare he was receiving from the future Dean. "I like past you."

Yeah? I like past you too, Cas.

Future Dean did little more than send a scowl his way, the scathing glare that Dean realized as his own 'who the fuck do you think you are' glower reserved usually only for demons, amped up about five hundred times, before slamming a map down on the tabletop in a way of changing the topic and jabbing his finger at a spot circled in red. "Lucifer's here, now. I know the block; I know the building."

Reesa immediately abandoned her defiant post against the ladder and went to inspect the map with interest while Castiel merely sat up and spared the piece of paper a despondent glance. "Oh, good. It's right in the middle of a hot zone."

"Crawling with Croats, yeah." Future Dean affirmed readily, raising his head to pin the other with a challenging look. "You saying my plan is reckless?"

As he observed his future self and Castiel bickered back and forth, Dean felt his shoulders squaring, his back straightening, his entire posture becoming stiff and defensive for no apparent reason. The exchange was quick and sharp, intelligent, but with no deeper understanding behind the jabs. They were the furthest thing from friendly, sorely reminding Dean of the way John and Sam used to snap at each other right before the youngest Winchester turned his back on his childhood and left to lead a 'normal' life. It was a general ordering his subordinate, Zachariah demanding Castiel's respect and Dean couldn't believe it was him speaking that way but it was, and he had to put an end to it, right the hell now.

"But you'll have backup, right?"

Both of them turned to him and Dean found himself pinned with two stares, one steely emerald and the other an inquiring sapphire. He continued, unsure if anything he said would make any difference, but spoke up anyway just for the sake of having something to do. "I mean...the angels- they need me...us," he frowned at the irregular pronoun use but plowed on regardless. "So are we gonna have Gabriel or someone-"

"Yeah, we'll have backup," his future self interrupted brusquely, something that wasn't quite fire and wasn't quite ice flashing in his hard eyes. "'Cause you're coming too." The gaze flickered over to Castiel, softening for a sparse, near imperceptible moment and Dean looked too, taken aback at the shadows overcasting the blue eyes, at the silence with which Castiel got to his feet and slipped out the door, and suddenly Dean was struck with the queasy gut feeling of having done something incredibly idiotic.

"What was that?" He asked once Reesa too had left, making his future self glance up from the Colt.

"You're coming because I want to you to see something," came the reply, but Dean waved away the answer that seemed to be more of a red herring than anything else.

"That's not what I meant, and you know it." He stepped closer, seeing the muscle working in his future self's jaw, a sure sign of reluctance and guilt. "Where the hell are the angels? The world looks like it's in the crapper and why haven't those dicks shown up yet?"

BANG.

The other dropped the Colt and more or less brought his fists down on the table, jaw clenched and brows drawn tight over a dark stare and it wasn't one Dean recognized and he had the sudden, insane urge to laugh at the irony of seeing a foreign expression on his own face. "Listen to me," was the growl. "You don't talk about the angels, got it? Least of all Gabriel."

"Why?" He shot back immediately, because two could play the game, but the answer that pierced the air in return had an effect that very few could ever boast of making- rendering Dean Winchester at a loss for words.

"Because Gabriel's been dead for two years."

A/N: Next chapter is going to be in Castiel's point of view and expect an appearance from Gabriel and Belial. Until then, please review!

For those of you waiting for the last chapter of 'Brotherly Discord', rest assured that I have not abandoned the story. I finally got my laptop back but the hard drive was completely fried, forcing me to redraft and retype the entire chapter. After the last chapter there will be a short epilogue; it's the least I can put out there as a conciliatory offering. It'll be coming out soon (in less than ten days, and I'm pretty sure my laptop won't die again, so hold me to my word this time!)