A/N: This fic is dedicated to my friend Feathered Filly; it's her birthday today! For those of you who are waiting for "Measures of Reconciliation", I've hit a bit of a writer's block so please accept this one shot as a replacement for this week's update. Enjoy!
Disclaimer: Supernatural belongs to Eric Kripke and the poem "Death, be not Proud" belongs to John Donne
"Death be not proud, though some have called thee mighty and dreadful, for thou art not so…"
A year ago, Dean Winchester stood in an abandoned barn in the middle of nowhere and plunged a dagger into the heart of a trench coat wearing holy tax accountant with an eternal gaze bluer than the deepest depths of the oceans; he'd thrust the blade in hilt deep and watched in fearful astonishment as, without so much as blinking, the angel of the Lord pulled the weapon back out of his chest, unharmed.
"I'm the one who gripped you tight and raised you from Perdition."
"Yeah? Thanks for that."
The dagger had clattered harmlessly to the floor then, a knife based on the Bowie design that could inspire fear in even the most menacing of evil sons of bitches that ever crawled out of Hell with its sawback teeth wet with fresh blood. Its burnished steel glimmered, unintelligible glyphs coated with the crimson of platelets and red blood cells of a mere human being exposed to oxygen because Castiel, the angel of Thursday was one badass soldier of the Lord and it would take a hell of a lot more than some demon-killing knife to best him, vessel or no.
Well apparently, being cut off from the Home Office and rebelling against all of Heaven and all of the dicks up there put a major drain on an angel's mojo, but it wasn't like Dean didn't already know this. What, with having to revert to cell phones for communication purposes or coming right out and admitting to not being able to heal Bobby. Even the little indications, like the nervous little tics the hunter's hawkish eyes could see Castiel adopting, the clenching of his jaw and the tightness of his sometimes cursory glances; like the way the angel seemed to lose some of that creepy otherworldliness, although there would never be a time when Cas wasn't weird in one way or another, these were things the elder Winchester simply chalked up to the same reason that the angel was growing a bit more human, infinitesimal bit by bit.
Of course Dean would never wish to see the stranger of a helpless man from the dark and depressing future of 2014 (the one with the broken smile whose sharp and ragged edges cut him almost as deeply as the remembrance of Sam, his baby brother Sammy being worn by the Son of Perdition), but it was nice to have Castiel loosening up and being able to crack the smallest hint of a smile upon rare occasions, downing alcohol like a fish in water (Dean had yet to figure out whether Cas made better friends with Jack Daniels or Smirnoff), or slowly but surely becoming more than just the best weapon in their arsenal against Heaven and Hell, more than just their only angelic ally and more of a friend.
The elder Winchester had no idea that when Castiel said he couldn't heal anymore, that the featherbrained, stupidly loyal son of a bitch had been talking about being unable to heal himself; he hadn't the faintest clue that the other couldn't exorcise demons with a touch of his hand anymore; he didn't know that a seemingly simple, run of the mill case would lead to Castiel lying sprawled on the rotting floorboards of an old decrepit house that made Bobby's home look like the friggin' Biltmore Estate, bleeding out in a way that was too red, too wet, too real and too human-
He should've, though. Fucking hell. Dean gritted his teeth as he pressed against the wound that was sluggishly seeping out life and blood and goddamn it, he should've known. After all, that was what always happened to anyone who was stupid enough to get close to the cursed Winchesters; they all went up in a blaze of smoke and flames licking greedily at the remains of a friend, a father, a mother.
"CAS!" His breath fogged in the air, a winding ribbon of vapor condensing and dancing its way around the sharp shout that struck the silence, a curse and a plea rolled into one desperate call. His fingers shook although they were being warmed with blood that wasn't his and Castiel's eyes were cloudy and unfocused, eyelids threatening to slide shut and fluttering as the angel fought to stay afloat in a sea of pain- "No, no, no!"
The howl was ripped from his throat by invisible fingers, each with a face and a name: Dean could see his father's gruff smile of approval, the one that John rarely bestowed upon his sons, the one that said so much more than any words could express; he saw Ellen's imploring gaze – Dean, don't miss – and Jo's ragged curtain of blonde curls and God, she'd been such a kid sister in so many ways; and from the back of his memories he could conjure an image of wavy locks brighter than the sunshine, the smell of warm apple pie and a beautiful voice singing Hey Jude, don't let me down before being consumed in a scream of hellfire and deals that lasted ten years and death-
Castiel rasped unintelligibly, his voice low and wrecked but he was fighting still, fighting to raise a shaking hand to cover the hunter's that were pressing against the gaping hole in his abdomen, staining their intertwined fingers a red that Dean knew would remain under his fingernails and in the creases of his knuckles no matter how many times he would try scrubbing them clean afterwards. "Dean."
It the last choking entreaty of a man dying and struggling for the chance to utter his last words that held at least some semblance of meaning – and wasn't it stupidly ironic that the word the angel fought to articulate as the blood gurgled sickeningly in his throat and trickled down his chin would be the name of the man who'd gutted him in the first place?
Dean Winchester freakin' hated witches.
So those Puritans and their fanatical witch hunting expeditions and all the obsessive clergymen over in the Old World with their Spanish Inquisition and burning one third of the entire population to a crisp at the stake had been idiots who used such a tool for their own dirty social and political purposes for control and for power, but at least they had the right idea, because witches were a royal pain in the ass.
As a hunter, he hated their black magic and pentagrams, their annoyingly effective hex bags, mumbo jumbo chanting and total disregard for the lives of others so long as they or whoever or whatever they were working for profited, even – and oftentimes especially – at the expense of others. Vampires and werewolves and even rugarus were slaves to their genes or a bite or tainted blood; on the other hand, witches were just friggin' evil. Sure, there was that one lady who wasn't all that bad and who'd actually tried helping him out when Dean had been stupid enough to lose seventy plus years of his life in a poker game, but all in all, he could do without them.
With Ellen and Jo's deaths and the disaster at Carthage weighing heavily on their hearts, both brothers had agreed that a simple salt-and-burn, run of the mill hunt would be the best way to take their minds off the whole Apocalypse and the general failure that had been their efforts against stopping the end of the world lately. Confronting a couple of unassuming ghosts who severely underestimated the fury of a hunter armed to the teeth with gas and rocksalt and matches who was conveniently pissed off at Heaven and Hell and himself always did a soul good. Or at least it knocked off some steam.
"Damn it, Sammy!" Dean yelled for the third time since they stumbled into the midst of group of five witches crowded around some sort of a sacrificial altar instead of the bones of the widow Mrs. Haversham in the basement of the creepy old house on top of the hill that the little kids always dared each other to explore on Halloween night. It was difficult to say who'd been more surprised, the slack-jawed hunters once Dean realized that his luck must've really been this fucked up, to have landed in the lap of a bunch of witches, or the witches themselves, but quick reflexes had provided both of them enough time to scramble for cover just before the shit hit the fan.
The hunter pumped the forend of the shotgun he held, discarding the spent shells and hissed a curse underneath his breath when he reached into his pocket and felt nothing but empty space, revealing that he was in between a rock and a hard place (a wall, quite literally, and a bunch of evil sons of bitches who knew his face and apparently wanted to skin him alive as an offering to Satan, their lord and master. "Sam!"
The sounds of bullets exiting their chambers at around 1200 miles per second and the 'crack' of the mini sonic booms punctuated by screams were the only replies he was going to get that indicated his brother was still holding his own, and Dean peeked around the edge of the drywall; a bead of sweat trickled down his temple and he swiped it away with his shoulder. Aw, shit. It was even worse when they traveled around in covens like their own little packs of mischief and traveling death, and it wasn't like these were mere amateurs; these idiots were in cahoots with demons and all too willing to flaunt their newly acquired powers.
Had Dean ever mentioned that he hated witches?
Three down, two to go. His fingers gripped the bone handle of the dagger tightly; hey, if it worked on demons, it should scare the holy hell out of witches too, right? 'Cause last he checked, they were still only human. Dean craned his neck to affirm his mental body count. Yep, short and screechy with the blonde hair and overexposing top sprawled over by the rotting bed frame had two bullet holes in her chest; tall, dark and uglier than Mick Jagger was hanging half in and half out of the window frame, unmoving; and the Calvin Klein model wouldn't be gracing any billboards anytime soon after the little number the four rounds of rocksalt did on his face.
So that leaves the twins. Sam seemed to have fallen silent, and for a split second Dean worried about his brother (because he'd practically raised the kid, he was always going to be worrying about his Sammy no matter how old they got) before realizing that the Sasquatch probably had more than twelve inches and a hundred pounds on the scrawny little jailbait Mary-Kate and Ashley look-alikes and thus he returned his attention to looking for one of those bitches to gank-
"Looking for me, sweetheart?"
Dean whirled around, catching sight of a small hand and an eyeful of what looked like black powder – "Son of a bitch!" His vision starred, shifted, blurred, and then blackened into nothingness, no matter how many times he blinked; his steps faltered as he swiped at the air about him with his free hand. "What the fuck did you just do?!"
"Tsk, tsk. Such language." The witch tittered somewhere to his left and the hunter jerked in that direction, really, really not in the mood for a lecture and feeling the terror and panic hitching up several notches the more he twisted his head this way and that, straining his unseeing eyes at the darkness. "Maybe I should sew those pretty lips together before I hand you over to-"
She never got to finish her sentence because Dean figured he'd ventured close enough and swung blindly (ha, isn't that just funny as fuck); he felt the blade strike something and sink in before a shriek of rage and cackle in some dead language sent him catapulting through the air and smashing something that hurt, damn it.
With a groan, he pushed himself up onto his elbows, positive that his ribs were now lying at weird perpendicular angles within his chest. He felt Sam's pounding footsteps practically rattling the half-rotten floorboards, smelled a combination of chalk, burnt paper, and sulfur – and heard a deep, familiar voice rumbling out in a deep growl that was low and blacker than the darkness shrouding his vision, blacker than the eyes of a demon or the wings he'd once seen the mere shadows of, sable magnificence cast against a barn wall – "You will do no such thing."
Jesus, Castiel sounded pissed.
Sam was at his side now, apparently having dealt with the other twin, large hands grabbing his shoulders and steadying him, fingers pressing just a bit too hard as his brother searched for broken bones and swore quietly, shitshitshit as he caught the elder Winchester's blank gaze but all Dean could focus upon was the voice coming from the corner of the room, the voice that had once threatened to throw him back into Hell for his impertinence but at this present moment, was the brightest damn beacon he'd ever seen.
"Restore his sight." It wasn't a request or a suggestion; no, it was nothing short of a command and Dean suddenly felt compelled to jump up and obey, even though there wasn't anything he could do, given that he was the one whose sight had been robbed in the first place. No one said no to a demand like that, not when a freakin' angel of the Lord was the one telling you to do so.
However, the moron of a witch somehow didn't get the memo because she obviously felt no such urge to obey. "Why?" Dean could imagine her crossing her arms and jutting out her lower lip in a pout, unaware that she was this close to getting smote. "Because you can't?"
"If you value your life, Liza Brooks Heywood, you will restore his sight and go." It was same ultimatum the angel had issued to his dick superiors after kicking some major ass and right about now, even Dean was rooting for the ditzy girl to tuck tail and run, because Cas wasn't messing around.
Evidently, Miss Heywood understood now too, because all that suddenly Dean found himself sitting dazedly atop a pile of broken birdcages (who the hell keeps birdcages in their basement anyway?), blinking up into a pair of sharp blue eyes that were gazing down at him with the barest touch of concern in their unfathomable depths. "Cas?"
And no one ever said Dean Winchester was a skilled orator, but his lack of eloquence was due to his throbbing head, so he blurted out the first thing that came to mind- "The hell are you doing here?"
At his side, Sam snorted and rolled his eyes, pulling one of his infamous patented bitchfaces., probably the one that read 'my brother is such an idiot'. "Thanks for coming, Cas. Don't mind the jerk here, who should actually be thanking you too."
Castiel inclined his head a fraction of an inch in response, a slight frown etching lines in between his eyebrows and Sam looped his brother's arm around his neck, half-dragging him to his feet – but unless he'd really hit his head that hard, Dean was still confused and unwilling to let the matter drop. "Wait. How did you find us? What happened to the whole art project on our ribs?"
"Sam sent me a message informing me of your location and that you needed help."
He half-heartedly shoved his brother away staring at the angel as if Castiel had just uttered something somehow even more shocking than hey, the Apocalypse is at hand and oh yeah, Lucifer is on his way out of his cage because that was one that had yet to be topped. "You know how to text?"
The lines in the angel's brow creased even further as he straightened, and was it just Dean's imagination, or did Castiel seem to almost sway before catching himself? "No." The angel put a hand to his abdomen with that continued strange look on his face, a look that could have rivaled Sam's 'what the fuck is going on' expression. Or maybe it translated into 'this stupid human is asking too many questions'; the elder Winchester couldn't be sure. "I merely read the text in the message but did…not…I do not know how to-"
"Cas?" And there, there, he definitely swayed that time and Dean rushed forward at the same time Sam did, managing to catch Castiel in between the two of them and hold him upright and the brothers simultaneously cast each other the same look because the angel's knees were buckling dangerously and it was too familiar of a scene:
"You son of a bitch, you made it."
"I-I did…I'm very surprised…"
"Whoa, whoa! Cas!" The ever-present trench coat had been flipped open slightly in the struggle to keep the angel on his feet and it was then that Dean caught sight of the crimson smear across the other's abdomen, leaking a sluggish stream of crimson that wasn't sealing itself shut, wasn't mojoing itself back together and wasn't stopping. What the hell? He tried supporting lithe frame that was growing heavier and heavier and the thought of dead weight brushed against the corners of his mind before he squashed it down with a vengeance, but seriously – What. The. Hell. No supernatural creature could boast of getting the jump on an angel of the Lord much less a witch, no matter how powerful, and Liza Heywood hadn't exactly been the textbook definition of powerful in any sense of the word…
A fist slammed into his gut at full force then, because Dean remembered; he remembered feeling the dagger strike and the resistance against flesh and the opening up of a gaping wound as he'd blindly swiped at the sound of beating wings – it hadn't been the witches, it hadn't even been any angel or demon – it had been him. He'd stabbed an angel, his angel, his friend; he'd stabbed Cas…and the bleeding wasn't stopping. Oh, no. No, no, no… His mind chanted, a mindless mantra on repeat within his skull because this couldn't be happening, this shouldn't be happening. Not here, not now, not ever.
Castiel was a ramrod straight soldier, a faithful son to an absent Father and a steadfast angel of the Lord no matter the situation – he'd faced down Lucifer while trapped in a ring of holy fire, he'd been to Hell and back and somehow managed to piece back together the scattered mess of Dean's soul, he'd defied Death at the hands of a friggin' archangel (Heaven's supposedly most powerful weapon) and he was almost always there when the Winchesters needed him damn it, he was still here. He hadn't become weaker in being since being cut off from Heaven – sure, his mojo had been diminishing, but he'd become more self-sufficient – and Cas was far stronger than Dean knew he could ever be, so having the angel fall to a simple stab wound was just wrong, wrong, wrong.
But then again, how right was it that he'd been the one who dealt the blow?
Shit, shit, shit. Great going Winchester, you've fucked up this time. It wasn't the first, either.
"We have to call an ambulance; he's losing too much blood."
Sam's mammoth hands joined his in the vain hopes of covering the deep, jagged gash in Castiel's abdomen, hands of three different shades, tanned by the sun and calloused from a life of wielding weapons pressing against too pale flesh, fingers slippery with blood intertwining with each other in an attempt to lace back together the skin of an angel's meatsuit.
The younger Winchester had his head bent intently over the wet coppery warmth leaking out of the stab wound, talking softly to Castiel in the tone that was usually reserved for small, frightened children or hunted animals and pressing fingers against the angel's neck in search of a pulse. Of course Sammy would be doing all this. Studious, rebellious, headstrong Sammy; he'd always been the smart one. And the stronger one it seemed too, because all Dean could see was the mess his hands had made, again, and then he was facing down a screaming, writhing soul on the rack whose name he didn't know and whose face he would never be able to erase from his mind as Alastair grinned behind him, settling a heavy hand on his shoulder: Good boy, that's it now; make them scream Dean, make them bleed because they deserve it-
Fingers were squeezing his tightly, two different grips; one tight and insistent and the other weaker but no less unrelenting, and the elder Winchester pulled himself from the Hell inside his head that still clawed at his soul, no matter how many times Castiel looked at him as if he was worth enough, as if he was even worth something at all. He looked up and found both Sam staring at him; his brother's eyes were firm and understanding as they'd been ever since they were kids, like when Dean had to tell Sam that they were moving yet again, when John had left them on their own for upwards of three weeks, when they parted once because of Stanford, the second time because of Hell itself, and the third because of pride and scars that had yet to fade. Castiel's eyes were closed and the angel's chest moved up and down rapidly in short, sharp bursts of inhale-exhale-inhale-exhale but he still clung to his charge, still held onto the hand that had forced him into doubting and rebelling and bleeding for Dean.
Because this, this was it: one ex-blood junkie, one dropout with six bucks to his name, and Mr. soon-to-be Comatose in between the two of them, all three of them breathing in the same air and exhaling anxiety and fear tinged with just the tiniest hint of desperation, but their fingers wove together a tapestry of trust and hope and faith if not in God or themselves, but in each other.
Team Free Will.
"…One short sleep past, we wake eternally, and death shall be no more; death, thou shalt die."
A/N: So, apparently I can't write anything besides angst, not even for a birthday present. *Hangs head* Well, I hope you guys enjoyed all the same. In other news, I'm aiming to finish "Reconciliation" before this current hiatus is over, so here's to hoping that I can get over writer's block by then! Thanks for reading and please review!