Title: Ever This Day
Summary: A series of one-shots of Dean as seen through the eyes of his overburdened, self-appointed guardian angel. Chapter 1 is set days after OTHAP: While still in the hospital, the hunt finds the Winchesters when a mercy-killing ghost sets its sights on Dean.
First off, thanks so much to all who read, favorited and especially all who reviewed my last fic, Crash. Below is a new offering from me, and it's the first of what's going to be a series of one-shots (working on three for now). The title of the series, as well as of each stand-alone chapter are based on a known prayer I remembered from Catholic school :) I'll probably post the whole thing eventually, but for those who want to get a google-ing, you can search for it under "Angel of God." Hope you enjoy the fic and let me know what you think about it. C&Cs are as welcome as always, and so without further ado, Ever This Day 1: Light and Guard.
" " "
Ever This Day
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1: Light and Guard
Days after On the Head of a Pin: While in the hospital, the hunt finds the Winchesters when a mercy-killing ghost sets its sights on Dean.
" " "
"Watch the door."
Castiel did as he was told; he was no stranger to orders or to following them, and it seemed that when it came to his brother, Sam Winchester had that unquestionable tone down pat – Follow me, don't ask questions.
The angel stood by the doorframe, kept an eye and an ear tuned to every nuanced sight and sound of the quiet, midnight hospital corridor, and then the other eye and other ear into what was unfolding inside the room.
Sam had barged in there just minutes earlier, his stride wide and purposeful, conquering every step. Visiting hours have long since past; Castiel had taken it upon himself to watch over Dean in Sam's necessary nightly absences. They never spoke of it, and Castiel doubted that the lately-deathly-quiet Dean told his brother either, but Sam did not look surprised to find him there.
"Watch the door," he had said, simply, and Castiel did so. In perfect contrast, all of Sam's certainty and purpose seemed to melt away the closer he reached his older brother's bed. He laid a gentle hand on Dean's shoulder, all order gone from his tone, replaced by hesitation and earnest imploring.
"Dean?" he called out quietly, "Wake up, man."
"S'm," Dean murmured; recognition and familiarity, always, before waking to true clarity. Bruised, dark-rimmed eyes fluttered open, settled on his younger brother's face, "Whatcha doin'?"
"We gotta get outta here," Sam explained, squeezing Dean's shoulder reassuringly before raking his eyes through the machines around his brother's bed, eyes darting left and right in consideration.
"Okay," Dean said, seeking no explanation, shifted to push himself up. Sam grabbed him by the shoulders carefully, and then leaned him back to sit against the headboard.
"Stay put a sec," Sam said, turning his attention to the banks of medical machinery; he toggled with this lever and that, explaining as he went, "Cops are sniffing around too close, man. I was keeping track of the radio. They're considering the 'attack' against you pretty damn serious, and then they found... that body, you know, in the warehouse. Tortured. Someone brought you up, and it's not gonna take 'em long to figure you're connected, especially after they realize the insurance I've given them is basically crap."
"Okay," Dean said again, his voice breathier now, his barely-recovered body finding the mere act of straightening up exhausting, and even more so after he pulled off the tube feeding him air from his face and over his head. He started removing the leads on his chest, the ones that tracked his vital signs, connecting to the machines Sam had just turned off. Sam sat on the bed next to him, grabbing at his hands to pull at the IVs vanishing into his skin.
"I got this," Dean told him, "Find m'clothes."
"Closet to your left," Castiel found himself saying helpfully; all three of them were surprised, and then let it slip.
Dean winced as he freed himself from the needles, while Sam shoved his brother's feet into his boots, and then draped the leather jacket over his brother's shoulders. The rest of the clothes he grimaced at and then just tossed aside; they were bloodied, irrecoverable. He planted Dean's feet on the floor; the bed was raised high enough that his heels barely reached the shiny linoleum. Dean squirmed closer to the edge, looking embarrassed, and put his weight onto his legs gingerly, even as he knew they wouldn't hold.
Sam wound his older brother's arm over his shoulders, bore most of his weight as he walked them to the door, next to Castiel.
"The way is clear for now," Castiel said, "But if you tell me where you wish to be taken, I can assure you I will get you there safely."
"We're here because of you," Sam snapped indignantly.
Castiel was in no mood to be cowed; "You will be caught without my assistance, Sam, you know it as well as I."
"We've done this before," Sam said, steely, "It's not the first time we've had to—Dean!" his older brother had drifted away completely, falling against him. At the risk of losing fingers, Castiel reached over to help and between them they managed to balance Dean.
And then he didn't bother seeking permission, just spirited them out of there in a flutter of wings and the blink of an eye. Suddenly the they were outside in the crisp cool night, standing next to that infernal black car. Castiel knew where Sam had parked it; he knew where Sam always parked it, within view of Dean's hospital window.
Sam growled, did not bother to express gratitude. He settled Dean in the backseat, leaning against the door and the window behind the passenger side. And then hesitating, he stood in front of Castiel.
"I have to go back inside," Sam said, "His medicine, there's a few other things he'll need..."
"I can--" Castiel found himself saying.
"You won't know what to take," Sam said, eying the entrance to the hospital, and then Dean lying unconscious in the backseat, "I have to. So you gotta... you gotta watch him."
Now this was a command that sounded like it was being wrenched from Sam.
"He gets a goddamn cut on his finger," Sam said, and they both knew he added the curse to be perverse, "I rip your lungs out."
Castiel watched the younger Winchester walk away, again with those possessive strides eating up the road. And then he took up his post again, watching Dean sleep from outside the car, through the backseat window. The hunter still looked ill, drawn and beaten. This was not true sleep but exhaustion, a body pushed to its limits.
There was a frown marring the space between Dean's eyes; it was a manifestation of his physical pain and mental apprehension, and so it was a manifestation of Castiel's inability to aid him. The nagging helplessness was not a new sensation.
Castiel knew this body inside-out, having once restored it, bit by bit, back to Earth and back to health. He knew this vessel by the rings on its fingertips, the lines on its palm. The fresh scars and the bruises were almost an affront to Castiel's reconstructions, mocking his inability to protect, to ease, to comfort, to guide.
Dean was leaning against the glass window at an awkward angle, and Castiel had the compulsion to put his hands into this one fixable thing, if nothing else. He eased into the backseat of the car's other side, and then leaned Dean's head against his shoulder. He wanted to think that Dean had sighed, settled in, became more comfortable. He wanted to think he had some power over all of this madness.
Sam returned to find them that way, said nothing about it. The supplies he had commandeered from the hospital he dumped gloriously on the passenger seat, before setting a breathing mask on Dean's face and intricately arranging an IV line that connected a vein on the back of Dean's hand to a bag of clear fluid he had meticulously hung on the rearview mirror.
"I told you it's not the first time we've had to run from a hospital," Sam said into the quiet, explaining, feeling Castiel's eyes on every movement he made. His tone turned soft, wistful, "This isn't so bad. The first time... the first time I thought I was gonna bawl my eyes out. Actually, I think I probably did. Should ask Dean... maybe later. He might remember."
"What do you mean?"
"We never had a lot of money growing up," Sam went on as he worked, "But I never thought of myself as poor, you know? Anything we needed to buy was a hustle or a bad credit card away, it was almost simple sometimes. But Dean got really hurt, once, had to stay in the hospital for a long time. The insurance was bad, and I could tell dad was worried 'cos he worked two shifts, started borrowing left and right, and I started selling ice cream at this mall after school and... you know, but there was just not enough money, and we were gonna get caught, so me and dad, we busted him out. I never felt so poor in my life." He finished the story with a sick, sour snicker thrown Castiel's way, "And that was when life was easy."
They drove moments after that, took to the road like they knew where they were going, straight and then at random turns, silent right up 'til night melted into morning. Sam pretended more certainty when Dean stirred awake; pulled over to a motel in the middle of nowhere as if he had planned it all along.
Castiel left them after that, did not see them again until he received an urgent summoning from Sam. The summoning was a dark one, a trick he had likely picked up from that demon broad. But Castiel came nevertheless, and learned that a day into having been freed, Dean had taken ill, unable to eat or even drink. Castiel also learned that along the course of debilitating fevers emerged shattering, delirium-confessions: Dean had spilled his toxic secrets to his brother, told Sam that he had broken the first seal. That it was he, who began all of this.
No wonder Sam looked scattered, the first that Castiel had ever seen him so.
Castiel also learned that in between illness and injury, and heartsick hopelessness, the lines have blurred between Dean's physical incapacity and lack of desire to push harder to heal. When Castiel arrived, Sam could not even rouse him from a deep sleep.
"We can't take him back to where he was," Sam said, already packing up his brother in warm clothes, "Bring him here, hurry." It was the name of a hospital four states away, written in a careful scrawl on a piece of paper. Castiel could imagine the care with which these words were written; this was the best that Sam could help his brother.
"I'll follow," Sam said, adding in panicked humor, "Tell him I didn't leave his car behind, okay?"
" " "
It was Dean who caught the hunt first.
Flat on his back in the hospital, his breaths still coming in tight and short, throat sore, bruised face swollen and spirit shaken, it was still he who had caught scent of the hunt first.
Granted, Sam was exhausted after practically two days of incessant driving to the hospital where his brother had been moved, aside from worrying about Dean's health and the implications of his own powers and his older brother's limitations. Granted, Castiel was mired in an angelic rebellion and the betrayal of a beloved comrade.
Still... it was theoretically a bit much to expect the broke, disheartened invalid to catch the hunt when no one else did. Especially when those who surrounded him were first, the unimaginably, darkly powerful younger brother who was so sure he could fix all of their problems by his choices, and second, the angel who had fancied himself to be Dean's guardian. The best and the brightest of both the darkest forces and the lightest, and still they both missed it where Dean did not.
On any other day, on any other hunt, this would have meant the problem would be solved. Dean on the scent of a job was relentless - driven by his father's command, or by his protectiveness for his younger brother, or by lonely desperation, or by passion for his work – the motives strong as they might have been were just reasons, and the job was just always simply done.
On any other day.
On any other hunt.
Today, there was a spirit standing over Dean's bed, looking down at him kindly. She'd have been beautiful, Castiel reflected – on any other day – her lips generous but her smile sublime, her eyes warm and engaged, her skin glowing-translucent, her hair the color of liquid gold.
"He is mine," she told the angel.
"Leave him be," Castiel told her, calm and powerful, knowing full-well he could banish her with a thought, "You know what I am and what I can do." Because what was a mere mortal's restless spirit against an angel of the Lord?
"I do not take those who do not wish to be taken," she told him mildly, "What you are and what you are capable of doing to me is immaterial. If you destroy me, it does not mean he will still be yours."
It was emasculating, how truth rang in her words. The realization was abrupt and appropriately chilling; Castiel could banish her into darkness and destroy her, and yet doing so would not restore Dean to him. The Dean of the last few days had been lost, sick, disheartened, seemingly irrecoverable.
"You can smite me where I stand," she went on thoughtfully, "I know that. But you cannot take away that he wishes to join me, that he wishes for all his pain to end. I am more salvation to him than you. Ending me will not bring him back to you. He is broken and ill, and I am relief. Release him."
" " "
"I do not think this is wise," Castiel had told Dean, days earlier. The hunter was more revived after returning to the care of a hospital.
Dean Winchester smiled a little to himself. It was subtle, just the faint glint of ironic humor from the corner of his eye, lips turning up just-so. Most people would not have noticed, but Castiel did because it was Dean's first smile since... since... he could find no reference in recent memory.
Dean's head was lowered as he worked, sheets of paper rustling in his shaking hands. Dean ignored the angel standing by his right elbow, pretending he was not there. There were three other people in the room – Dean's lead physician, the hospital lawyer who had drawn up the papers, and a social worker who was a patient advocate.
"I know it's really not my place to be asking why you're doing this," the young male doctor, whose name tagged him as "Dr. Stewart" said uneasily, "Your prognosis for recovery is excellent, Dean; no permanent debilitating effects, some discomfort but minimal pain until full recovery... why you would do this now is beyond me. You're a young guy with great prospects ahead of you, an excellent future."
Castiel noted that small, ironic smile again, but Dean didn't look up from his work; he just kept signing page after page, "Since I'm doing so well," he said distractedly, "Then there's no harm in signing a 'Do Not Resuscitate' order, is there?"
"No," Stewart conceded, "But you are still in considerable danger now, things can go south at any time. This setback you've had after your last hospital release is proof of that, and I don't see why we should be withholding life-saving procedures if they can bring you back on an excellent track--"
"I've made up my mind," Dean told him easily, "It's against my religion."
"Your religion," the doctor repeated flatly, at the exact same time as Castiel. Dean almost laughed, but his eyes looked hollow, ill, profoundly unhappy.
"I'm very religious," Dean said, mock-gravely.
"I do not think this is wise," Castiel said again.
"This is tantamount to suicide," Stewart muttered, in frustration.
Dean's eyes glinted dangerously. He looked up at the doctor, and almost absently handed the signed papers to the lawyer. It was an accusation that Dean loathed, Castiel knew.
"Does my judgment look compromised?" Dean snapped at him, "Do I have a history of suicidal tendencies? Are you implying I'm not in any position to make this decision?"
"Doctor Stewart is simply making sure you're properly informed," the lawyer filled in, looking at Stewart pointedly, "The hospital respects your decision and fully recognizes your right and capacity to--"
"Are we done here?" Dean asked, rubbing his face tiredly. His energy was sapped, and he sagged back against the pillows on his back.
Stewart tsked and re-settled the tubes running from his patient's hand and the oxygen canula on his nose, which he had dislodged slightly by his movement.
"I'm fine doc," Dean growled, waving him away in embarrassment.
"I believe you will be but you're pretty damn far from it," Stewart said firmly, "Your temp's still not back down where we want it, we're looking after the fluid build-up in your--"
"Well I'm in great hands," Dean said, and his eyes could be so deep sometimes, conveying sincerity and gratitude when his mouth could not. Stewart was taken aback, stunned into silence and compliance.
"I'll be back," Stewart said quietly, and stepped out of the room with the lawyer and the social worker in tow.
"Are you?" Castiel asked Dean, when they were finally alone.
"Am I what?"
"Trying to die?" Castiel clarified, plainly.
"I should be dead," Dean said, "I should... be a lot of things."
"Remaining in hell one amongst them?" Castiel challenged him.
"I'm tired," Dean said, "And you got a shit-load of work to do, looking for someone else to solve the problems I gave you. What the hell are you still doing here?"
"I told you," Castiel said, patiently insistent, "Our fate rests with you. It is your curse to have been the righteous man to break in hell, Dean. But ours is a kind God, the God of redemption, and it is your blessing to be the only one who can save us also and in this way, save yourself."
"And I told you," Dean growled, "Find someone else!" The angry exclamation irritated his healing throat, doubling him over with a deep, wet cough.
Castiel winced in sympathy, "Have you discussed this with Sam? He should be arriving in a few hours."
Dean shifted in bed, his eyes lidded and heavy as his chest rose laboriously, chasing after his lost breaths.
"What am I, suicidal?" Dean asked wryly and after a few seconds, again with those sad, penetrating eyes, "You gonna tell on me?"
"Your burdens are heavy," Castiel told him gently, "He is your brother, and he cares for you deeply. Let yourself be comforted. You deserve to be eased, just as you deserve saving. Speak with him."
"I think I've been yapping a little too much already," Dean muttered, before folding in on himself, both in pain and in misery. He caught his breath and closed his eyes, "What did he look like, Cas, when he told you... when he told you I told him what I did?"
It was the first time Castiel contemplated lying.
"You know what?" Dean said quickly, like he read the angel's beat of silence, "Please just leave me alone, Cas. You keep... keep screwin' with my head, and I can't... can't come out to play right now."
Castiel stared at him for a long time, as he drifted off to sleep. The angel reclaimed his seat by the bed, feeling at a loss.
" " "
Of course he knew something that they didn't.
When Dean had signed the DNR, he knew something that Sam and Castiel – occupied as they were with worrying about Dean and the world coming down around their heads – decidedly did not. The ICU of the hospital had been getting an above-average rate of deaths across age-groups, across disease-types, just simply across the board. They had nothing in common except... except in every situation death could be looked upon as a kindness.
There was that 93-year-old who was always alone; the teenager with terminal cancer who was taken off of treatment; the comatose woman; the virtually-unscathed man who had lost both wife and child in the same car wreck he had just been in... the list went on. Dean had realized something was going on, but he kept it to himself.
Signing the DNR had been like a summoning, and Castiel did not put two and two together until he appeared in Dean's room – visiting hours had ended, which meant Sam was out and Castiel was in – and found a spirit standing by Dean's bed, her spectral hand touching Dean's forehead.
"Step away from him," Castiel had commanded, the moment everything made perfect sense.
She looked up at him, blinked in realization that he was not quite like the other beings she's ever come across. "You can see me," she said, and her voice was soothing, echo-like in the space between them. The walls seemed to embrace the sound, absorbing it into nothingness, so that he knew it was only he who could hear her and – to his profound fear – Dean, whose half-lidded eyes were watching her every move.
"You are not to take him," Castiel said, stepping forward threateningly.
"I do not take those who do not wish to be taken," she said, tilting her head, "I have heard of your kind - Angel."
"Then you should heed my words," Castiel threatened.
"He is mine," she told him.
"Leave him be," Castiel told her, "You know what I am and what I can do."
"I do not take those who do not wish to be taken," she told him mildly, "What you are and what you are capable of doing to me is immaterial. If you destroy me, it does not mean he will still be yours. You can smite me where I stand, I know that. But you cannot take away that he wishes to join me, that he wishes for all his pain to end.
"I am more salvation to him than you," she went on, absolutely certain, "Ending me will not bring him back to you. He is broken and ill, and I am relief. Release him."
"He just needs time."
"He is lost," she insisted, "He is broken and ill, and I am relief. Release him."
" " "
Castiel could not, he never could, not from the day they met.
Laying siege to hell was foul business. The flames were hungry there, tongues of fire that licked at the skin of his soul, burning, scalding, seeping inside to the very core of him. The very center of his bones felt brittle and charred, the very vileness of the place making a home into his deepest self. Never had he been in hell; not for a moment before this, not for a breath. When he had breached that entry he had broken something inside, as one wrenches away a part of one's body, like he had taken out his own heart. The hurt was unimaginable, all-encompassing. He tasted fear in the air like it was a presence in his mouth, like blood clogging his throat or lodged tears that made his eyes pregnant, explosive, unbearable. There was nothing of his experience that compared. He did not know how he had kept his head and his purpose. He did not know how it was he, of all the angels who had taken to Lucifer's burning house to save Dean Winchester, could have been the one to find him.
A mass of blood and burns and anguish, Dean stood at his most feral and naked and brutalized; he was victim and tormentor all at once, a rabid dog abused and then unleashed. He was hell's chief sufferer and tormentor. His hands were unarmed but his fingers were clawed and his eyes were steeped in madness.
Castiel saw him from afar; even from a distance he stood apart from the rest, glowing by both his menace and his unparalleled anguish. Castiel fought to reach Dean, even as the human tore into one soul after another, crying in bliss and release and suffering all at once. He was a sick dog that should be put down, un-salvageable, and for a long moment, Castiel wondered if they were doomed after all because their fate rested with him... with this abomination.
He fought to get to Dean Winchester, and was almost wishing he would fail. He did not want to be the one to reach him and touch him and be the one to realize before anyone else that all hope is lost; that the one they hoped could save them was doomed and broken.
But he reached Dean's side, blinked in indecision about what to do next. Dean whipped to face him, bared his bloodied teeth, dulled with misuse. But then the human blinked with indecision too, as if sensing that Castiel was different. Time stopped.
A low, keening sound started at the base of Dean's throat; it was animalistic still, devoid of higher thought, but strained with... with... an elusive sort-of despairing hope. His body started to tremble and he rocked, as if to comfort himself.
Castiel looked him in the eye, "You are with me, now."
And gripped him tight and raised him from perdition.
" " "
"You will not take him," Castiel said, doubtless.
"But you cannot have him," she pointed out, "Must he linger like this?"
"He will heal," Castiel determined.
"He has chosen freedom," she said, "He has chosen relief."
Castiel looked at Dean's face, staring up at the spirit willingly, seeing nothing but her, seeing nothing but an exit. His chest rose in a massive exhale, like a sigh, like a goodbye. The machines around him started beeping frantically.
"Dean-!" he cried out, as doctors rushed the room past Castiel and surrounded the emptying body, oblivious to the spirit who was stealing Dean from their cause, and the angel trying to save him. Someone started on working to revive Dean, until another doctor called out for them to stop.
"He has a DNR," they said.
Everything stopped. Dean had stopped moving, stopped breathing, just... stopped. And everyone around him just watched.
It was not so drastic a change then, when the room came to a more literal standstill, just before the spirit taking Dean suddenly dissipated before Castiel in a despairing wail. In her place stood Castiel's superior, the angel Zachariah.
"You could have dispatched her more expediently," Zachariah chastised.
"We are supposed to respect the choices he makes," Castiel said nervously, looking down at Dean who looked very much to be dead.
"You can manipulate these choices, Castiel," Zachariah told him, "There is much to be said about the things that influence free will." He bit his lip in thought, "But you're right, he is languishing. He needs to return to his true path."
"His true path...?"
"He is a hunter," Zacahriah said emphatically.
And then time started up again, and Dean Smith had to wake up and go to work.
May 4, 2010
The Next Chapter: Be At My Side
Before, During and After The End: It's 2014, and Castiel is not quite sure what he wants back more - his old self, or the old Dean.
Thanks for reading and I hope you enjoyed :) 'Til the next post!