AN: This is a fic I've been meaning to write since the ending of season four. And now it seems like a necessary gap filler because somewhere between 5x06 and 5x13, Sam and Castiel went from shouting at each other to becoming friends. So this is basically Sam and Castiel getting to know each other and becoming friends while busy fighting for their lives.
Sam heard the starting notes of Why Does It Always Rain On Me and began to curse.
He'd forgotten to set his phone to vibrate.
Scrabbling to get it out of his pocket, his fingers fumbled and he almost dropped the phone, but grabbed it just in time. Travis was thankfully silenced as he hit the answer key.
"Hello," he whispered head swinging back and forth searching the dark alley to see if anyone had heard. Luckily, except for the trash and debris, the alley remained empty, but Sam ducked behind an old dumpster just in case anyone, or anything, decided to show.
"Find anything?" came Dean's voice from his cell.
"Not yet," Sam grumbled as quietly as he could. "But if there are any demons around here, Travis probably just informed them all where I am."
"'S not my fault you chose such crappy music for you ringtone."
Sam rolled his eyes. He risked a quick peek around the dumpster, but everything was still quiet. "What about you?" he asked.
"I've got nothing. I've searched everywhere. This warehouse is deader than that ghoul we shot last week." Dean snorted. "If the demons are doing this ritual tonight, they're not doing it here."
"The ritual has to be done tonight. If they don't summon Berith before dawn, they won't get another chance for two centuries." Sam glanced at his watch. "And we've still got three hours to go. There's one more building I have to check."
"Why don't you wait for me. Then we can go in together."
Sam shook his head. "You should check out that church over on Millerway. There were omens surrounding it as well. We can't risk them finishing this ritual. Last thing we need is to have to fight off another powerful demon along with everything else."
An exaggerated sigh came over the line. "Fine. But if we're going to stay split up, I'm sending you Cas."
"Castiel? When did he show up?" asked Sam forehead wrinkled in confusion.
"Oh, a few minutes ago. He wants help with something or rather."
"Shouldn't he stay with you?"
"Nah, I figure you need him more."
Sam grimaced. "Thanks," he replied sarcastically.
Dean groaned. "I didn't mean it like that. I just thought since I have the Impala, I already have an exit strategy. Cas can get you out quick if anything goes wrong."
"I guess," admitted Sam with reluctance. "But really, I don't need…"
His objection was interrupted by the sudden arrival of a trench coat wearing figure in the middle of the alley.
"Good luck," came his brother's voice from the phone before the distinct sound of him hanging up.
Sam squeezed his cell tightly between his fingers and resisted the urge to throw it in the dumpster.
"Sam," the angel said in way of greeting.
The younger Winchester sighed. "Cas."
Head tilted to the side, Castiel regarded him with his disturbingly intense stare. "You are well?"
"I'm fine," Sam replied curtly.
"Nothing untowards has occurred to you since our last meeting involving the antichrist?"
"Jesse," Sam corrected. "His name was Jesse. And can you keep it down. If there are demons nearby, I'd rather take them by surprise."
"Dean has apprised me of the situation."
"Great. Then just… um… follow me."
The pair left the alley and crept along the back of the building until they found a door. Or at least, Sam crept. Castiel moved in the same stiff yet graceful way he always did. Sam bit his tongue and didn't say anything. He was grateful that the angel at least had the good sense to be quiet. In fact, even if he listened closely, he couldn't hear the sound of Castiel's footsteps. It was as if he wasn't even touching the ground.
The building was part of an abandoned factory complex. Sam had already checked out the factory next door and now he hoped he'd find the demons that were planning to perform the ritual in the office building. He quickly picked the lock on the door feeling Castiel's heavy stare on his back as he did so. He kept expecting the angel to call him on it, but he supposed after starting the apocalypse, breaking and entering wasn't exactly noteworthy. He opened the door as carefully as he could, but the hinges still creaked. Taking out his flashlight, he shone it through the doorway revealing an empty corridor of peeling paint and stained floors. He made to give Castiel the all clear signal only to stop midway through when he realized the angel probably wouldn't understand what it meant. So instead, he just waved for him to follow. Luckily, that was a signal Castiel seemed to get.
They'd made it a dozen feet down the dingy and dark hallway, checking out two rooms as they went by, when Sam suddenly realized Castiel was no longer following. He glanced back to see the angel standing in the middle of the hall his eyes staring unfocused into the distance.
"What is it?" Sam whispered once he'd backtracked to rejoin Castiel.
"There is a dark presence in this building."
"Possibly," responded Castiel his eyes narrowing in concentration. "However, it may only be the remnants of some past evil committed here. My senses aren't as accurate as they once were. I should be able to discern it more easily as we get closer."
"Alright. Just let me know if you think the next door I open happens to be the one the demons are hiding behind."
They continued on sweeping each room with the flashlight and clearing them as they passed, but all they found were some dilapidated pieces of furniture, the only signs of life being the occasional scrawl of graffiti or pile of broken bottles. Eventually, they reached the end of the hallway which held a large set of double doors that Sam presumed to be the main entrance to the building. On each side of it stood a staircase, one going up and one going down. Sam immediately headed for the one going up, but was stopped by a hand on his shoulder.
"We should head downwards," Castiel explained pointing to the other staircase.
Sam shook his head. "For this ritual, it's more likely the demons will want to be on one of the upper floors, probably right at the top."
Castiel's forehead furrowed. "But demons prefer to be as deep within the bowels of the Earth as possible."
"Yes, but this ritual is all about the alignment of the starts. They'll want to be up high."
"I doubt that will cause them to go against their basic instincts."
The two glared stubbornly at each other.
"I have fought demons for countless centuries," argued Castiel his gruff voice rising as he stepped forward. "And I believe we will find them below. We must go down."
But Sam refused to back down. "Well, I've just been tracking demons all my life, but I think they'll be upstairs. And since you're supposed to be helping me, we are going up!"
"You'll have to excuse me if I find little reason to trust your judgment all things considering."
Sam's eyes went cold.
"If you boys prefer, you could always skip the stairs and simply join us in here."
As one, the man and angel turned towards the source of the new voice. Standing in the now open doorway was a tall, thin man in a beige suit with sleeked back, gray hair and black eyes.
Sam cursed himself. The large set of doors he had assumed led out in fact led into a large entrance room. The demon made his way back inside beckoning them to follow. As Sam and Castiel hesitantly entered, they could see through flickering candlelight that the walls of the room were completely covered in demonic sigils. A wooden table serving as an altar had been placed in the center of the floor. It was covered in several lit candles, various occult paraphernalia, and blood.
"I thought about just leaving you boys out there to bumble about in the dark, but really where's the fun in that?" The demon clapped his hands and suddenly the flames of the candles leapt high into the air changing to a vibrant shade of red. "Anyway, I always work best with an audience."
There were two other people, or more precisely demons, in the room. Both were women: a young Asian in a black business suit and an older woman with curly, red hair. They stood on either side of the altar, their black eyes staring malevolently at the intruding pair.
"I really hope you enjoy the show," said the demonically possessed man as he turned his back to them to continue the ritual. "I hear Berith really likes to make an entrance. I wonder if he'll be hungry from his journey?"
Sam made a quick assessment of the trio feeling cautiously optimistic. Three demons shouldn't be too difficult to take care of, not when he had Ruby's knife and an angel at his side. Putting away his flashlight, he pulled out the knife from the sheath at his back and glanced at Castiel to make sure he was ready, but the angel wasn't looking at him. Castiel seemed to be involved in gazing apprehensively at the floor by the demons' feet.
Then Sam heard it, a familiar deep, echoing growl that sent a sick chill throughout his entire body.
The demon glanced over his shoulder. "Oh, don't mind the hellhounds. They're just here to keep me company." Facing the altar once more, he raised his hands into the air and began chanting in guttural tones.
Sam shot Castiel a desperate look. The angel met his gaze. His jaw was clenched tight, but his expression remained blank. Sam bit his lip wishing it was Dean there with him. All it would take was a couple glances between the two of them to come up with a plan. By contrast, he found Castiel difficult to read at the best of times, but he had to try. He waved his hand minutely in the direction he thought the hellhounds were and raised his eyebrows at Castiel.
Maybe Castiel had learned to read human expressions or maybe he could, as Dean had often suspected, read minds, whichever was true he seemed to understand what Sam was getting at. His clenched hand flashed open once to show all five fingers and then again to show only one, before returning to a fist. Six. Six hellhounds. That wasn't good.
They had to hurry. The demon's chanting was getting louder and Sam could feel the building beginning to shake beneath his feet. They didn't have a choice. They needed to do something now; therefore they were going to have to do something desperate and probably really stupid. Something Dean would undoubtedly approve of.
Putting away the knife and pulling out his gun, Sam caught Castiel's eye again and careful not to raise the suspicions of the watching demons, he subtly indicated with the gun from himself to the head demon. Then he indicated with his head and eyes from Castiel to the altar. Swallowing, he waited a few infinitely long seconds before he saw Castiel give a tiny nod.
With that signal, Sam took a deep breath and fired right at the demon's back. An ordinary gun, of course, wasn't going to hurt a demon, but it did get a reaction. The demon stopped chanting and turned towards him, his face one of shock as he gazed down at the red hole through his body; then his expression turned to one of wrathful anger.
That was Castiel's cue. The angel vanished suddenly appearing on the other side of the altar and swiftly knocking it to the floor. The overturned candles quickly set the altar and its contents alight.
The demons were screaming and yelling, but Sam wasn't paying any attention to them. He was busy listening to the sound of growling dogs and trying to pinpoint their location. Firing his gun, he heard a yelp and saw what looked like a splash of dark blood. He quickly took aim and fired again, but this time all he hit was floor. The hellhounds' growling grew louder and Sam swore he could smell the sulphurous odour of their breath. He slowly began to back away.
Suddenly, he felt the rush of air as something leapt towards him, but even as he realized what was happening, there was a flash of silver right in front of his face followed by another spurt of dark blood and a gurgling howl. Glancing to his left, Sam found Castiel standing beside him a bloodstained sword in his hand.
"I'll take care of the hellhounds. You take care of the demons," he said before quickly slashing out with his sword once more.
Exchanging his gun for Ruby's knife, Sam looked around for the nearest demon, but didn't have to go far as the red haired woman suddenly attacked him. He made an attempt at an exorcism, but only managed to get out a few words of Latin, the woman's attacks making it impossible to concentrate. Dodging her blows, he sliced the blade across her throat with only time for the merest flicker of regret before he felt a steel grip on his arm.
The head demon had a hold of him and quickly used his demonic strength to toss Sam hard against the wall. Sam felt the numbing impact against his head and his back, his vision blackening briefly. Suddenly, a familiar telekinetic force took hold of him and dragged him from the ground until he was standing flattened against the wall. By the light of the fire of what had once been an altar, Sam saw the demon standing before him, hand outstretched.
"I know father doesn't want us to destroy his precious vessel," the demon sneered. "But I'm sure he wouldn't mind us having a bit of fun before we present you to him."
Sam felt his vision darkening again as the air was pushed from his lungs, but before he passed out the force suddenly let go. He slumped against the wall breathing heavily. When he was able to focus, he saw the head demon now on the other side of the room and with another red mark on his precious suit. The demon glared at Castiel who stood in front of Sam, his sword raised.
"Winged nuisance," spat the demon.
Suddenly, Castiel let out a brief cry falling to his knees as blood began to pour from his left leg.
"Cas!" Sam cried. Struggling to make his bruised and sluggish body respond, he headed towards the angel, but before he reached him, Castiel's eyes grew wide and he let out a louder cry, a cry that echoed with a high pitched buzz that shook the entire building.
Wincing and fighting not to be overcome by the noise, Sam drew his gun once more and fired indiscriminately as close to Castiel as he dared. After a couple of shots, he was rewarded by a satisfying yelp and Castiel's screams thankfully stopped.
Grabbing Ruby's knife off the floor where he'd dropped it and quickly sheathing it, Sam ran to Castiel's side and stood over him protectively. The angel knelt curled in on himself one hand clutching tightly to his left shoulder. Sam glanced at him briefly but couldn't see any injury other than the leg.
"Cas, I think it's time you got us out of here," he said eyes darting everywhere as he tried to keep an eye on the remaining demons and an ear open for the invisible hellhounds.
"I can't," Castiel gritted out through clenched teeth.
Across the room, Sam saw the head demon bend down and pat fondly at something by his knee.
"Good boy," crooned the demon before reaching out and taking hold of an invisible something. As soon as he did, the invisible something became visible. Sam's eyes grew wide when he saw the thing the demon was holding was in fact a large clump of glimmering gray feathers covered in bright red blood.
"Hellhounds have always had a thing for angel's wings," explained the demon with a wicked smile.
Fist clenching, Sam fought the urge to shoot the demon's smile right off its face. Behind him, he heard Castiel unsteadily getting to his feet. A quick glance back showed the pale angel shakily standing on his uninjured leg, sword still tightly held in his hand.
"Sam, get out of here."
"We can't let them take you to Lucifer. Go! I'll hold them off."
"I'm not leaving you here."
"You have… Sam, to your left!"
Sam quickly fired where the angel was pointing and heard the gurgled howl of a hellhound. Unfortunately, with it came the sinking realization that he'd just used his last bullet. Dumping the empty, he made a quick grab for the spare clip in his coat, but before he could reach it, he heard Castiel cry out his name once more. He only just had time to put his arm up in front of his face. His efforts were rewarded by the pain of several invisible claws slicing through his skin. He swung outward feeling the heavy weight leave his arm and hearing the thud as the hound hit the wall.
"Sorry. They do tend to get a bit enthusiastic sometimes," said the demon as he and his remaining cohort approached them. "But I'll try to make sure they don't kill you. The angel however will have to be taken care of."
Sam felt a hand on his shoulder.
"I have an idea," Castiel whispered in his ear. "Close your eyes."
"What?" exclaimed Sam shifting back a step from the approaching demons.
"Trust me, Sam. Close your eyes."
With a prayer to whoever was listening, Sam closed his eyes and obeyed. Realization dawned on him only when he felt the intense light appear on the other side of his eyelids. He squeezed his eyes closed even tighter as he heard the screams of the demons and the howling of the hellhounds. After a long minute, the light faded and Sam opened his eyes.
The two demons were writhing on the floor, empty, blood soaked sockets where their eyes used to be. Sam let out a long breath and turned to Castiel with a relieved smile, but frowned when he saw him. The angel leaned against Sam breathing heavily, a trickle of blood coming from his nose.
"Are you alright?" asked Sam.
"I'm fine," replied the angel between gasps.
Sam opened his mouth to argue, but was filled with dread when he once more heard a familiar growl. "Please tell me you took care of the hellhounds' eyes too."
"Hellhounds don't need eyes."
Without waiting for confirmation of what Castiel had just said, Sam dragged the angel out of the room and slammed the door shut. Grabbing his ever ready container of salt, he spread a line across the bottom of the door. He soon heard the hellhounds snarling as they pounded against the invisible barrier.
"That won't hold them," said Castiel as he leaned against the wall. "They'll find a way around."
"Then we'd better get moving." Sam pulled Castiel back down the hallway trying to ignore the winces the angel made as he limped on his injured leg. Sam couldn't help wincing himself as he saw in the dimness the dark trail of blood the angel was leaving behind them. "Can you heal that?" he asked indicating the leg.
"Eventually. Hellhound bites tend to take a while."
"What about your… um… wing?" Sam questioned tentatively.
The angel's face was grim hiding even deeper lines of pain. "That will take longer."
Sam realized he couldn't hear the hellhounds scratching at the doors behind them anymore and tried to move faster.
"What exactly did you do back there?"
"I momentarily released my true form," Castiel replied. He was resting most of his weight on Sam as they walked and still breathing heavily.
Sam frowned. "So you kind of jumped out of Jimmy's body for a minute?"
"Not really. It's very weakening. And if I hadn't been quick enough to catch the demons off guard…"
They made it to the end of the hall. Sam was reaching to open the door when he heard barking on the other side.
They dove into the nearest room. Once behind the door, Sam quickly poured another line of salt then dashed over to the windows to put lines there too, shaking out the final grains of salt from the container as he did so.
"Now we are trapped," declared the angel.
Sam shot him an exasperated look, but jumped when the snarling and pounding started in earnest outside the room. "How long do you think the lines will hold?" he asked taking the moment to finally put a new clip in his gun. The movement pulled on his injuries reminding him of the slashes from the hellhound's claws on his arm. Not that he was likely to forget. The entire sleeve of his coat was covered in blood.
"Twenty minutes, if we are lucky, but more likely only ten."
Biting his lip, Sam resisted the urge to ask if pessimism was the normal case for angels. Instead, Sam removed his coat and shirt leaving himself only in a T-shirt. He stared at the shirt in his hands a moment before using his knife to tear it in two. One half he wrapped tightly around his injured arm before putting his coat back on overtop. Taking the other half, he approached Castiel.
"Here let me take a look at that leg," he said kneeling down. He pulled up the pant leg and grimaced at the gory marks left by the hound's teeth. Castiel watched him curiously staring at the wounds himself with only mild detachment. Sam supposed he could afford to be detached considering it was only a borrowed body. Using the torn shirt, Sam fashioned another makeshift bandage and pulled the pants back down over it.
"There. Hopefully, that should hold until you can heal it."
Sam wanted to ask him if he'd be able to fight, but a quick look at the angel told him, he was more ready to fall over. His features were a pale gray and he was leaning heavily against an abandoned desk. A feeling of awkwardness prevented Sam from asking about the injured wing, so instead he said, "Are there still six hellhounds?"
"No. I managed to kill two of them. And the others suffered injuries so they will not be at full strength."
"That's at least something."
"They are also much more likely to try and kill you now that there are no demons to hold them back."
"Great." A sudden wave of passing curiosity caused Sam to ask something that he never dared ask his brother. "What do they look like?"
"You don't want to know," was Castiel's reply.
Sam nodded. He was probably right.
The door's hinges were beginning to creak and bend as the door shook and the growling grew louder.
"Though considering everything, they are more likely to go for me first," Castiel said letting out a long breath. "Hellhounds generally prefer angels."
"You mean they find angels particularly tasty?"
Castiel's head tilted to the side as he gave Sam a tired look of exasperation that he usually reserved for Dean. "If you wish to see it that way. It is an instinct bred into them in the deepest pits of hell. They hate everything touched by heaven's light."
"Huh," Sam replied distractedly as he looked out one of the windows. A plan was forming in his mind. "None of the hellhounds are outside?" he questioned examining the glass pane. There was no latch to open it.
"No. They are all currently within the building."
Sam picked up the three legged remains of a metal chair and threw it through the window.
The sudden movement and loud shattering of glass made Castiel start. "What are you doing? The hellhounds may not be out there now, but if we go through there, they'll be on us in moments."
"Which is why you're staying here," said Sam double checking the salt line to make sure it hadn't been broken. Looking up, he couldn't tell if the expression on Castiel's face was one of bitterness or resignation. "I'm not leaving you behind," he insisted. "Like you said hellhounds prefer angels. After I go through the window, give me ten seconds and then break the salt line in front of the door. Once you've lured them into the room, I'll come up behind, fix the line and distract them while you escape."
Castiel frowned. "This room will not hold them for long."
Sam sighed. "But it should give us enough time to get away. You're going to have to trust me."
There was a tense pause as they stared at each other.
Finally, his face a mask of solemnity, Castiel declared, "I will trust you, Sam Winchester."
"Good." Sam nodded. "Will you be able to get out okay with your leg?"
A sudden extra loud bang against the door made them both jump and caused the whole room to shake.
"I will manage," Castiel shouted over the increased howling. "Go!"
Being careful to avoid landing on the broken glass or breaking the salt line, Sam leapt through the window. He immediately began counting down as he ran around the side of the building towards the back. Only when he had hit zero did he dare open the back door and gaze into the hall. He was very relieved to not be met by the bloodthirsty hellhounds when he did so, but he could still hear them and they sounded even more vicious than before. He dashed towards the room where he'd left Castiel finding the door now wide open and the salt line broken as planned. Drawing his gun, he aimed it into the room.
Castiel was now backed all the way against the window. He had his bloodstained sword once more from wherever he'd hidden it and was carefully watching the center of the room his eyes gleaming with the edge of fear.
"Hey!" Sam shouted following Castiel's eye line and firing into the center of the room. There was the solid thud and howl indicating he'd hit one. He took a moment to quickly kneel down and sweep the salt back into place. But when he got back up, he found Castiel still trapped nervously eyeing the invisible hounds.
"Damn it. Hey! Over here you stupid mutts!"
Sam fired again, twice, but only one shot managed to connect. Unfortunately, the hellhounds seemed much more interested in the angel. Castiel made a slice through the air with his sword and an arc of blood spread across the floor, but the move left the angel off balance and he had to lurch backwards bumping against the window frame and leaving himself vulnerable.
Having no choice, Sam stepped over the salt line back into the room and taking a risk, pulled out a bottle of holy water which he splashed across the floor. Luckily, hellhounds didn't seem to like holy water anymore than demons. Sam could tell by the sizzling sounds and the howls now directed at him. He only waited long enough for Castiel to turn and dive for the open window before he turned as well jumping over the salt line and slamming the door shut behind him for good measure.
Sam didn't wait to catch his breath until he had run all the way back outside and back to the window. He found Castiel kneeling just below it amongst the scattered glass on the pavement.
"You alright?" Sam asked as he carefully helped the angel to his feet.
"I'm fine," said Castiel, but he still leaned heavily against Sam. "I believe we've succeeded. The hellhounds are trapped."
Sam turned back to the window and the continued restless snarling. He was very much aware that only a thin line of salt was currently keeping them safe. "Come on." Slinging their arms across each other's shoulders, Sam supported Castiel's weight as he led the limping angel out across the building's empty parking lot.
It was as Sam noted the lot's emptiness that he started to worry and really doubt the second part of his plan. Since the complex was abandoned, there weren't any convenient cars around for them to jack and use as a getaway. It also happened to be over an hour's long walk into town where the nearest car would be, which is why Dean had dropped him off before going to check out the other locations. Dean had been right when he'd said Sam might need to make a quick exit. Unfortunately, he hadn't counted on Castiel being injured and not being able to provide one. How long had Castiel said the salt lines would hold? Ten minutes?
As they continued their slow walk away from the buildings and out along the road leading into town, Sam reached into his coat for his cell phone, but the phone wasn't there. He cursed as he dug through his various pockets. The damn phone must have fallen out when the demon threw him into the wall.
"Can I use your phone?" he asked Castiel.
"Yes," responded the angel. "But I doubt it will be of much use."
Sam frowned. "Why not?"
"It's out of minutes."
"That's what I came to talk to Dean about." Castiel appeared mildly sheepish. "I was hoping he could procure some more for me."
The noise that came out of Sam's throat was half laugh and half groan. "Remind me to set you up with a plan with unlimited minutes when we get out of this." He let out a deep breath. "Okay. So we've got four injured and angry hellhounds who are soon going to be on our trail, no descent method of getting away quickly enough and no way of calling for help. Great."
"You should leave me and go on ahead," Castiel declared his face grim.
Sam shook his head. "Haven't we been over this? I'm not leaving you behind."
"I am slowing you down," the angel insisted. "Also, the hellhounds will be able to find me much more easily than you. They've been trained to track down angels."
"In hell's obedience school?" Sam couldn't help commenting.
Castiel sighed. "To them, I stand out like a beacon. I am drawing them to us."
"So I should just leave you to die?"
"We will both die if you stay. Just go."
"No!" shouted Sam stopping their slow march as he did so. "I'm not going to just abandon you so you can get mauled to death."
Castiel unsteadily turned to face him. "You're being foolish. If you want to survive, you need to leave now. I have no wish for you to die."
"Well, I don't want you to die either!"
The bloody pair glared at each other and uttered in unison, "If I let something happen to you, Dean will kill me!"
They stood there taken aback for a moment before Sam wrapped his arm around Castiel and began dragging him down the road once more.
"We're not arguing about this anymore. You're not going to change my mind," said Sam eyes focused on the path ahead. "Besides, death isn't our only option. If we're lucky, a car might come by and we can hitch a lift." He grimaced as he took in the silent and extremely vacant road. "Or maybe if we face them together, we can defeat them."
"That is extremely unlikely."
"You know you really need to learn some optimism."
Whatever Castiel's response would have been was interrupted when the angel suddenly lost his balance and started tumbling towards the ground. Luckily, Sam caught him before he hit.
"Whoa. I've got you," said Sam helping Castiel right himself once more.
"Thank you," replied the angel, his breathing laboured. "I'm not used to this vessel being so cumbersome."
They paused briefly. It was hard to see in the dim moonlight but Sam could tell that Castiel's skin remained pale and his face drawn with pain.
"How are you doing?" he asked. "I mean I don't know much about angel healing, but it seems like you lost a good amount of blood back there."
"The wounds on my leg are no longer bleeding and I believe I will be able to walk on my own shortly. But I feel… heavy and weakened, and possibly cold?" Castiel frowned.
"You didn't mention how your wing's doing," Sam pointed out.
"It's fine," Castiel replied his voice tight.
"And don't tell me it's fine." Sam rolled his eyes. "You're getting as bad as Dean."
"Painful," Castiel finally admitted with a sigh. "An angel's wings are particularly sensitive and hellhounds are one of the few creatures that can actually damage them."
"But your wing is going to be okay, right? You'll be able to… ah… fly again?"
"Yes, I just need time to heal."
"Is there anything I can do to help?" Sam's face was knotted with concern but Castiel avoided his gaze.
"I'm afraid not."
They continued on, the next few minutes spent in silence as they concentrated on their slow, trudging pace along the deserted road. There were only empty fields to both sides and it was too dark to see anything beyond, but the night at least was clear and the stars shone bright above them. There were no sounds except for the scrape of their footsteps along the gravel shoulder.
After a time, Sam felt Castiel's eyes on him. "What is it?"
"I feel I should thank you," declared the angel.
"For the aid you've given me since I've been wounded."
Sam gave a little shrug which was awkward with Castiel's arm still across his shoulders. "You only got hurt because you were trying to help me."
"But I believe I have been unfair to you recently. I should not have placed the blame for the apocalypse entirely on your shoulders." Castiel's forehead furrowed in reflection and he added tentatively, "I believe I let my anger get the better of me."
"That's understandable. Trust me. I know a thing or two about anger." Sam sighed. "And it's not like I didn't deserve it."
"But you don't deserve all the blame. My choices also led us to where we are now. I'm afraid I'm not used to taking such responsibility for my actions."
"You're just used to taking orders."
"I believed all my actions to be righteous because I trusted my orders to be since they came from heaven. Now things are no longer so simple. I worry about consequences and the small details. It used to be that anything was justified as long as it was for the greater good."
"Like killing a little kid," Sam remarked bitterly.
Castiel's body grew tense and his tone heated. "He was a threat to the heavenly host. I couldn't risk him killing..." He trailed off and looked away.
"Your family." Sam took a sudden breath in realization. "You were worried about your family."
"Even after all they've done. After they killed you?"
"They're still family. You don't turn your back on family. That is something I learned from Dean." Head tilted to the side, Castiel gazed over at Sam. "Does he not still love you after all that you've done?"
Sam bowed his head. "I'm not so sure about that."
"I am," Castiel stated with a voice of deep conviction.
Closing his eyes tightly, Sam took a moment to let out a long, shaky breath. "Well… ah… I wouldn't take everything you learn from Dean too seriously. He's not always the best role model."
"Yes. I believe I learned that when he took me to the den of iniquity."
"Den of iniquity?"
Sam tripped over his own feet nearly bringing the two of them to the ground. "A brothel?!" he sputtered. The angel opened his mouth to elaborate, but Sam stopped him. "No. Really. I'd don't need to know anymore."
"Dean is very much the epitome of human indulgence and passion. It is probably best I don't follow his example too closely."
"Yes, but I was referring more to his tendency to hold everything inside, to be ridiculously stubborn, to insist he's perfectly fine even if he's dying."
Castiel wrinkled his nose as he gazed at him curiously. "Then should I try to emulate you from now on?"
"God, no." Sam shook his head. "Do that and you'll really become screwed up. Just try not to pick up too many of our bad habits."
"I'll do my best," exclaimed Castiel. Then he did something that completely amazed Sam.
It was a small smile with only the barest movements of the angel's borrowed lips, but it seemed to make his entire face glow. Sam was so startled to see the smile on the normally serious angel that it took a moment for him to react; then he couldn't help grinning back widely in response.
But the smile didn't last. It faded as Castiel stopped and looked back the way they had come, his expression now one of fear and resignation.
Sam couldn't see anything as he looked back down the dark road, but he trusted the angel's instincts. He pulled out his gun with its few remaining bullets and aimed it down the street. Beside him, Castiel drew his sword. Standing side by side, they nodded at each other then turned to face their fate.
A rumbling could soon be heard, but the rumbling was coming from the wrong direction. The deep sound was quickly approaching and achingly familiar. Sam and Castiel spun around to see the lights of the Impala speeding towards them. Tires squealed as Dean pulled up and rolled down the window.
"Where the hell have you been?!" he shouted.
The previously stranded pair wasted a precious second staring at him in astonishment, before dashing for the car's doors.
"Go!" yelled Sam. "Back the way you came. Now!"
Dean didn't bother arguing with his brother's frantic tone. The moment the two were inside the car, Dean spun the wheel and with another screech of tires, the Impala turned and sped back down the road. Over the sound of the engine, the howling and snarling of the hellhounds could just be made out; then they faded away.
Breathing heavily, Sam leaned back in his seat.
"Please tell me that wasn't what it sounded like," Dean demanded his eyes wide and fearful as he kept constant pressure on the gas pedal.
Sam could only give him a grim look.
"Are we safe?"
It was Castiel who responded. "The hellhounds are wounded and won't be able to keep up. By dawn, they will be forced to retreat back into the pit."
"Good," declared Dean. "Last thing I need is to have them dogging my footsteps again. Are you two okay?" He gazed pointedly at Sam's bloodstained arm.
"We'll be fine," reassured Sam. "We just need a little TLC."
"Well, don't expect any from me. I'm too busy being pissed off at you right now. Why didn't you grab Sam and fly the hell out of there, Cas?"
"Hey. Give him a break," Sam rebuked Dean angrily. "His wings got taken out of commission when he was busy protecting me."
"Alright. Sorry." Dean's eyes shifted back and forth between his brother and the angel. "Did I miss something?"
"No. Not really," Sam replied with a shrug.
Castiel frowned. "Except for the demons."
"Right." Sam nodded. "The demons. And the ritual."
"And the six hellhounds."
"Almost getting mauled to death."
"Almost getting mauled to death again."
"Our slow getaway."
"And a narrow escape from a final fatal mauling," Sam finished grinning at his brother.
Castiel's expression remained completely blank but there was something twinkling in his eyes.
Gripping tightly to the steering wheel, Dean declared, "That's it. I'm never leaving the two of you alone ever again."