Title: Crusade
Author: HigherMagic
Pairings: Dean/Castiel, Michael/Lilith, mentions of Sam/Ruby
Rating: NC-17
Word Count: ~30,500
Spoilers: None. It's AU.
Summary: Dragons have returned to King Michael's lands, ravaging the country, and he needs the best hunter available to take them down. What he gets is what no one ever saw coming, and to be fair, the Hunter's a little in over his head as well.

Notes/Warnings: Violence, semi-slutty Castiel, plot twists with a flimsy storyline to link them all together…smex, language, and a disturbing similarity to every other dragon-related book ever written.

Okay, so basically I had this little vague idea, and then the idea grew, and then it went on a road trip, picked up some hitch-hiking plot twists, and managed the whole journey in a very beat-up story-line that not even Disney would endorse. Enjoy! :D

Michael paced his chambers, brow furrowed deeply in thought and carving heavy lines into his handsome face. He was going to wear a track in the stone floor and through the carpet if he kept going. With a sigh and a dissatisfied air, he strode over to one of the larger windows that overlooked the grand courtyard, with the portcullis and drawbridge up and closed, and out beyond the moat into the outer reaches of the city he commanded.

His kingdom was surrounded by mountains and valleys – natural defenses that his ancestors had deemed perfect for the growth and expansion of an empire. There was only one easy way in for an army, and that way was heavily fortressed and guarded at all times, so Michael would know many days in advance if he were under attack.

It wasn't men he feared, though – all neighbors were either vanquished or allied with, and therefore Michael feared no threat that any mortal creature could give him.

No, his foes lay more in the realm of the…supernatural.

It had been twenty years since the beasts last plagued him – could they have reawakened? If so, why? What would have disturbed their fathom-deep slumber and caused them to rise and terrorize his people once again?

Michael sighed, rubbing a hand over his brow in an attempt to soothe the furrows. He needed a courier and he needed his best soldiers. They needed to prepare. "Balthazar!" he snapped, having to wait for barely a moment before his trusted servant came forward, ready as he always was to carry out the King's wishes. "Send for that serving girl, Ruby, and bring me a courier immediately."

"Yes, your majesty," Balthazar replied with a low bow and a carefree smile, disappearing again down one of the staircases that only the servants used. Michael sighed, rubbing his forehead again and leaning heavily against the flat stone of the windowsill.

Hard times are coming, he thought to himself. It might be time to send out for him again.

"You sent for me, my Lord?" Gabriel asked, adjusting the messenger bag slung around his shoulder that carried the scrolls for him to deliver. It was empty now, the only detail visible being Michael's shield on the mass part of the bag. Gabriel's quick eyes darted to the King's face, a frown of concern on his own.

Michael liked Gabriel. Before he became King, Michael used to be quite close to the younger man, but Gabriel went his way and Michael went another and they ended up as sort-of-friends. At least, Michael considered him a friend – it was hard building and keeping a close relationship when Gabriel was always off in the outer reaches of his lands, proclaiming decrees from him and bringing back reports from the neighboring homesteads.

"Yes, Gabriel," Michael sighed, rising from his throne. Gabriel rose with him to a standing position, out of the one-kneed kneel he'd taken upon approaching the King. "I need you to assemble your fastest team and go to all reaches of the lands. We need Winchester."

"John Winchester, my Lord?" Gabriel asked in surprise, raising his face to the King's.

Michael nodded gravely. "What plagued our country before I fear has returned. We shall need the likes of him again. Go, and may the four winds carry you swiftly."

Gabriel made a low bow. "I shall leave immediately, my Lord," he said, and then turned away without waiting for Michael's dismissal, because when he says leave immediately he means it. Gabriel's not one for lollygagging. The Chief Messenger went to the courier's dwellings, calling those up that he knew had the fastest horses and told them the same message; 'Summon John Winchester', and then went to his own horse. The stallion was small but flighty and had carried him far and fast, and when the horse was too tired to run Gabriel ran by its side while it trotted. Gabriel's Messengers take their job seriously and this was a matter of great importance. He straddled his steed and dug in his heels with a loud cry of encouragement, and the drawbridge was barely down, the portcullis barely raised before he bent low and galloped out of it, leaving the citadel behind.

Three days later, the Hunter rode into Michael's city.

The garrisons had seen him coming a long way off, and they'd lit the flames that told Michael that his lands' savior was on his way. John Winchester was legendary – the finest Hunter and slayer of beasts that ever roamed the plains. Legends say he single-handedly fought demons, dragons, ghouls, goblins, manticores and all sorts of evil things from all places, performing great feats of heroism just because someone needed help. He was a noble man and Michael was privileged to have met him once in his teenage years. He'd seen John Winchester take down a Gryphon with nothing but his sword, severing the creature's head just a mile from the city. It would be amazing to meet him again.

The Hunter rode the largest black mare anyone in the outlying villages had ever seen. Normally Hunters and knights rode stallions – big, wild things with the Devil in their eyes after what they'd seen, and a high whinny that pierced the very soul, but not this man. His mare was just as fierce and, though she was muscled and carried the weight of him and his armor and provisions with ease, she was also fast; faster than many horses could claim to be, aside from possibly those of the Messengers.

The drawbridge was down and the portcullis rose for his arrival, and the Hunter rode in with a throng of villagers behind him, for rumor had spread and they knew what he was to save them from. A few women cried out 'We are saved!' and laid woven woolen blankets at the mare's feet, but mostly there was silence, awe-filled and heavy as he entered the citadel walls and the gates closed behind him.

He watched from behind a slit-eyed helmet as Michael and his entourage rode out to meet him, and then bowed his head once towards the King in respect. Michael returned the gesture. Then, Dean Winchester took off his helmet and set it on the padded pommel, to the general surprise of the witnesses gathered there.

Michael blinked, but hid his surprise well enough. "You've grown younger, John Winchester," he said with a slight sardonic smile.

Dean cocked his head to one side, jaw clenched slightly as though he was fighting to keep an anger under control, inside of him. "John Winchester is dead. I'm his son," he said shortly – rudely, really, but Michael paid that undertone no mind. "My name is Dean, your majesty," he added as an afterthought, with the same kind of petulant sarcasm that would grate on the nerves of any lesser noble. Several members of Michael's entourage stiffened at his blatant lack of respect, but Michael was merely…calculating.

"I believe I sent for John Winchester," he said slowly, looking over the young man. He couldn't even be over twenty-five. Maybe not even that old. Barely a man.

A man with cold fire in his eyes and a set to himself that clearly stated he would rather be anywhere but exchanging pleasantries with snooty nobles. "I'm just as good," he said tersely, though not defensively – Dean was sure of himself, of course, but not arrogant or proud about it. He was stating fact.

"Indeed," Michael said, and then gathered the reins of his white stallion, who tossed its head, nostrils flared. "Well, good Hunter, let me not keep you waiting. Please, settle yourself in the quarters my men will show you and then join me for the evening banquet. I'm sure you have many tales to tell us."

"If it so pleases your Grace," Dean replied, still in that hard, near-angry tone; "I would rather just hear the mission now, and then be on my way as soon as possible. Evil doesn't rest, your majesty."

Michael paused again, and there was an uneasy susurrus in the crowd. "No, I suppose it doesn't, but it can wait for a few hours, good Hunter," he replied, a little harder this time to show there was no room for argument. Dean's shoulders stiffened, but he bowed his head, shifting on his horse. "Please," Michael said, gesturing to where two of his men waited outside the stables, "rest yourself. I'm sure the journey was long and arduous."

Dean smiled a thin smile, and nodded.

Dean Winchester was not like John Winchester. Yes, he was a good Hunter – one of the best, actually, as his Daddy had trained him to be – but John was a little more…well, respectful, for one thing. Dean always looked like he was waiting for an excuse to kill something. He looked like he lived for the next Hunt and if there didn't happen to be anything there, he'd happily settle for human or animal blood instead. He wasn't a conversationalist – at least, not with the high and mighty. No, but he did manage to strike up small talk with the stable boys and find out what exactly the King might have in store for him.

"They say the old beasts have been resurrected," one of the stable boys whispered, his eyes wide with fright and naïve fear. Dean almost laughed at it. "The old Gods, risen from the ashes and the smoke of the mountains to rule over the world again as they once did."

"What kind of beasts?" Dean asked, ignoring the hearsay about 'Gods', because Dean was a firm believer in a lack of God and didn't think he'd be proven otherwise any time soon. He hauled the saddle off of his mare, tutting at her sweat-slicked back, and one of the boys rushed forward.

"Oh sir, I can -."

"No," Dean said, cutting him off with his arm just in time for the mare to toss her head violently and let loose a shrill whinny, ears flat back. "She can and will kill you. Don't go near her, you understand me? She's learned to trust nothing that doesn't wear my face, and even then she's cautious." The servants didn't understand, but they nodded and backed away as Dean placed the heavy saddle on one of the rests, taking out a brush and beginning to brush the mare down. "Tell me about these beasts," he repeated, because in his vocabulary a 'beast' could mean anything from a Djinn to a gorgon to a basilisk to a vampire.

"I've never seen them," the boy confessed, looking to his companion who also shook his head, eyeing Dean's mare warily. "But one of the serving girls has – she said they were great things that breathed flame and blocked out the sky with their wings."

"So they fly," Dean interrupted, wiping his hand under the mare's mane to see if he needed to brush there too. Her flanks were darkened with sweat but sometimes it was impossible to tell on her already onyx black coat. He got out a thicker brush, with harder bristles, and began to rub that in a circular motion with the grain of her coat, wiping whatever hair and muck gathered away with the first brush.

"Oh yes," the first boy said again, nodding grimly. "Fast, too, and the sounds they make." He shuddered. "It'll chill your very bones, good sir knight."

Dean paused very briefly. "Please, if you would – I am not a knight," he said tersely, gently but with no room for interpretation. Dean Winchester was a Hunter, not a knight. Knights served the highest bidder – Hunters served everyone and anyone they could without fail. Knights were pawns when compared to the Hunters.

"My apologies," the second boy said, bowing a little and Dean fought back a smile. The Hunter nodded for him to continue. "They fly…and their roars are louder than a thousand lions, I've heard," he said, looking to his companion for confirmation.

"Tens of thousands," the first said.

"Oh yes."

Dean sighed and rolled his eyes – now it was bordering on the ridiculous. He hated it when people over embellished because then it caused him to carry too much equipment and then he ended up straining his mare more than necessary, and he hated doing that.

"I shall need to see this girl who saw the beast," he said after a long moment, unhooking the mare's bridle from her head and she let the bit go with a smooth movement of her jaws. Dean smiled and patted her muzzle affectionately. "What is her name?"

"Ruby," the first boy replied. "And I believe the King has summoned her to tonight's banquet. At least, that's what the Ellen – our cook – said." Dean nodded at the information.

So, he thought, the King's one step ahead, it seems. But he needs me, and he knows I'll need the information. He's desperate for help before this gets out of hand. He stroked a hand through the mare's mane, shushing her softly as she chomped on some haylage and rolled one eye in his direction. "I'll be back, Baby," he promised gently, pushing her mane out of her face. Then, he gathered up his saddlebags, and turned to the boys. "Okay, I'm ready to leave now. Remember, don't go near the horse."

Michael's banquet hall was…impressive. That's really the only word Dean could use – he regarded it with the air of someone who knows how expensive it is, down to the last little silver spoon for the desserts, up to the grand arching…arches, to the gold-framed chairs that are probably made from the solid stuff, and just doesn't give a shit. To Dean, wealth is fluid and one day Michael could wake up with his kingdom torn out from under him like the fifty-million gold piece carpet. Dean only needed his sword and his horse, and everything else was just a bonus.

At the King's right hand sat his advisor and Chief Counselor, Zachariah. Dean's eyes narrowed in vague recognition of the type – greedy, arrogant, and dealing with the underhanded things that the King couldn't possibly dirty his hand in. At the King's other side perched his Queen. She was blonde and slim and pretty, in that classic kind of way. Dean noticed it with the same vague appreciation that he noticed the lavish artwork in his quarters or the marble bathing pool he'd indulged in earlier before coming to the banquet – it was pretty, but it wasn't his so what's the point noticing details.

At the Queen's other side sat a young woman with flame-red hair and bright blue eyes that she must get from her mother, with skin colored pale from chalk as is the fashion, and her lips ruby red and plumped up for effect. She was clearly there only to be shown off; Dean noted the corseted dress that made her already anorexic stomach and waist even slimmer, and pushed her breasts upwards for all the gathered courtiers to pant at. Dean sighed when he saw that the only empty seat was across from the young woman, and braced himself for a night of matchmaking – because every woman wants a Hunter son – they are strong and noble and so on and so forth.

The young woman smiled beatifically at him as he took his place behind his seat, waiting for the King's invitation to join them before he sat. Zachariah was a wall of body odor and vanity next to him, and Dean turned to his other side, hoping to find better conversation there.

The sight surprised him. To his left sat a girl who had obviously, like the woman across from him, been gussied up for the occasion of dining with the King, and was clearly unused to it. She had olive-toned skin that no amount of chalk could cover up, and her cheeks were stained with blush, her lips colored red also. She wore a duller dress that the other ladies gathered there, simpler and less…garish; something of poorer class that was probably second-hand and had been leant to her for the night. Her eyes were painted a smoke shade above and below, and when she blinked Dean came to realize why. She was blind.

He gently shifted the masses of silverware so that they clinked together, knowing that his arrival was otherwise silent, and the girl jumped slightly. He shushed her as though he was talking to his mare. "I'm sorry to have startled you," he said gently, clinking his silverware together again. "Are you by any chance Ruby?"

The girl blushed, and she really was quite pretty – Dean didn't enjoy women who made themselves look so false and porcelain-like. He preferred women who didn't look like they would snap from a little too rough handling. She nodded in his direction, raven-black curls bouncing around her face, and Dean smiled though she couldn't see it. "Pleased to meet you, my lady. I'm Dean Winchester."

"The Hunter," she breathed, sightless eyes widening as she stared vaguely in his direction, around where his hand rested on the table. "You've come to save us."

"I'll definitely try," he repeated, leaning closer as he noticed the other nobles trying to overhear their conversation, and then Michael abruptly cleared his throat, forcing the two apart. Dean straightened and looked towards the standing King, who raised his glass in a toast.

"To the future of our Kingdom," he said, commanding the attention of the room; "That our Hunter might also be our Savior!" There were muffled cries of 'Hear, hear!' before everyone drank. Dean joined the throng, emptying his glass of wine. It was too sweet and burned at his throat but he didn't mind – he would need to be drunk if he were to endure a night of this. Already not five minutes in and he wanted to leave.

"Good Hunter," Michael said, more quietly now and the guests began their feast; "I would be honored to introduce to you my wife, Queen Lilith, and our daughter Anna." He gestured to the two women who nodded their heads at their names. "And my chief counselor, Zachariah." The man shook Dean's hand, whiskey on his breath and Dean forced a smile. "And I see you've already met Ruby."

The serving girl bobbed her head awkwardly, a shy smile on her face, and Dean was semi-grateful that Michael's voice was all cordiality and hospitality, for the Queen and the Princess were giving Ruby glares that could set a person on fire. Dean was glad she didn't have to suffer seeing them.

"Your highness," Dean said, bowing his head with a smile on his face towards the Queen, before turning towards Anna who was trying desperately to follow her mother's example, to flirt without words as custom demanded, but Dean just felt embarrassed for her. "Your Royal highness," he addressed her; "it's a wonderful pleasure to meet you."

"The pleasure's all mine, Hunter," Anna replied, her cheeks flushing more but even if she were tomato red she wouldn't have broken through that thick layer of chalk on her face. She dipped her head, looking up at Dean from under smoky eyelashes. "I've heard many tales of your father's brave deeds, and yet I'm sure you are twice the Hunter he was."

Dean blinked, unsure as to whether he should be insulted at the doubt over his father's skills or embarrassed again over the heightened regard of his own. "Please, my lady, don't flatter me," he replied, placing a hand to his heart, his smile widening – never say he couldn't act out his ass when he needed to. "My father was a brilliant Hunter, and I was but his humble student. Consider me not a replacement, but a continuation of his great legacy."

"They are large boots to fill," Zachariah said around a mouthful of turkey, looking towards Dean. "I hope you're up for our task, young man."

The Hunter bristled inwardly at the derisive tone, but smiled anyway. "I'm sure I'll do all I can," he replied in an aloof voice, inwardly picturing Zachariah's head on the silver platters instead of the roast pig.

"Tell me, good Hunter," Michael said, breaking the tension after a moment; "What do you know of dragons?"

Dean paused a moment. "That they're a -." He cut himself short before he could 'dirty the ears of the ladies with his foul mouth', as his mentor and surrogate father, Bobby, has said. "They're great beasts that breathe fire, fly, live in caves and behind waterfalls, typically, and feed off of…fair maidens," he said with a slightly more lecherous-than-necessary smile towards Anna, who blushed again. "They can be killed by decapitation or a sword through the heart, can wear the shape of a human, and will often go into long periods of hibernation while their…food source…multiplies again."

"Goodness!" Lilith cried, covering her mouth with her hand, eyes wide at Dean's terse, clinical repetition of the basic facts his father had taught him. "And this is what you believe troubles our country?" she asked, turning to the King.

Michael's face was grave. "If what the Hunter tells us is true, then it fits – dragons have not been sighted here for many years and yet I have reason to believe they are rising again. Perhaps they are hungry." He turned to Dean; "We cannot let these creatures ravage our land a second time. Name your price – from the smallest sum to my daughter's hand, and it is yours."

Dean blinked again. He'd been offered a lot of things, but a daughter wasn't one of them. But it seemed disrespectful to decline – Michael had kind of mentioned it specifically. "Your majesty, I would do this Hunt for free. Dragons are a pestilence on the land and I would gladly Hunt them to extinction if you would let me. Please, do not trifle my quest with payment," he said, hoping that would deter the King.

"Nonsense!" cried the Queen, taking Anna's hand. "You shall have her if you succeed, brave sir knight." Dean bristled again at the title of it, but bit his tongue. "Now please, let us talk business later. Eat, drink, be merry!"

How can I be merry knowing that one of those things is out there, Dean growled in his head, emptying another glass of wine into his mouth. Whoring out your own daughter – the nerve.

"Please, Hunter, if I may ask," Ruby said half-way through their meal – she ate very little, Dean noticed, and hesitated before touching anything, not at home amongst the finery and many utensils on offer. More than once Dean had to guide her hand to the proper fork. "What makes you loathe a dragon more than the rest of the evil things?"

Dean swallowed his mouthful of food, considering. "Many years ago, when I was just an infant, my mother was seduced by a dragon wearing my father's skin. She bore his son, and then when my little brother was six months old he killed my mother and took my brother. My father went mad trying to hunt him down but never succeeded. That is why they all must die – if they are extinct then that means the one that destroyed my family is also dead."

"I'm sorry for your loss, Hunter," Ruby said, daintily placing her hand on the back of Dean's. The Hunter smiled. "I lost my father to a dragon twenty years ago, and my husband was one of the first villagers to go missing this time around, and the flames…" She gestured to her eyes with a sad little smile.

"You were blinded that way."

"Yes, sir. His great yellow eyes were the last things I saw before the world went white and I haven't seen another thing to this day," she said, voice low like she were confessing a great sin, and Dean nodded to himself. Yellow eyes – that meant either a black or copper dragon, typically. So he either had acid or flame to look forward to, as different dragons expelled different things. But copper dragons were generally in the warmer climates, so a black acid-spitter was the most likely.


When Dean retired from the banquet, weary of all the idle chatter and feeling again the nervous skitter under his skin to move, to keep moving and fight and kill and move on again, he went to the stables. His mare was always a calming presence and he needed to check that she (and the stable boys) were okay. People had a habit of, when Dean told them not to go near his horse, being compelled to prove that he was wrong and that she was approachable. This often ended in messes that took a great deal of explaining and clean-up and people kept asking why he didn't just sell her or put her down.

'It's because she's the best,' he would always say, and the mare would snort and toss her head, agreeing with him.

He approached her carefully, letting her smell him after she recognized his face, and then she whickered quietly, ears gone forward, and he knew he was safe then. He smiled and went to her head, stroking between her eyes before he rested his forehead against her soft, warm muzzle. "It's been a long day, Baby," he said quietly, and she snorted, lipping at his hair, and he smiled. "But tomorrow we get to go and fight and then…then, apparently, I get married," he said, shaking his head and scratching at the back of his neck. "Fucked if I know what to do about that. I'm not meant for the classy life."

The mare snorted again, and then bobbed her head as if she was agreeing. He laughed and reached into his pocket, pulling out some of the sugar lumps he'd swiped from the table after the meal when they were all served tea – fucking tea! Like he had a need for that crap-water. He hadn't nearly been buzzed enough on their high-class, sweet wine to choke down the stuff, and if he had to take one more moment of the Queen practically throwing her daughter in his lap he was going to put her head on a stick. The mare dipped her head, inhaling at the sweet treats before she lipped at his palm, eating the sugar cubes with a dainty kind of manners that only a true lady could pull off. Dean smiled and rubbed her cheek again. "That's my girl."

"I do hope you're talking to your horse, Hunter."

Dean turned, putting his body between the mare and the newcomer, and relaxed slightly seeing Ruby there, feeling around the doorframe. She'd been dismissed soon after dinner, because the Queen thought she looked pale. Dean would bet money on it being more out of jealousy that Dean was more interested in the girl with the information, than a painted harlot. He was a Hunter. Information saved his life.

"Ruby," he said, rushing over to her to help her inside. "You shouldn't be out – nighttime is dangerous."

"If a dragon lurks, then all times are dangerous," Ruby replied with a light smile. "I do not fear the darkness, Hunter."

Dean smiled. Of course she didn't.

"I merely came to tell you more things, since her highness wouldn't let me speak much, and I know you'll probably ride out as soon as you can." She smiled again. "I confess I don't remember much, but my father saw the whole thing." She felt around herself, finding a nearby haystack and sitting down, skirts falling around her ankles. "It was winter-time and the dragon had been preying on us for many years. The King had tried everything but nothing really worked – the creatures were smart enough to bargain with but they only fed off one thing and if we didn't give it to them, they took it by force." Ruby smiled grimly. "They took my sister – she was one of the first maidens to go. They come every two months or so." Dean nodded though she couldn't see him – he knew all this. "Anyway…the dragon had returned for more food, and it took a girl and dropped her outside the city, but it didn't leave. It came back to my house and tried to get at my other older sister, and that's when I was blinded. It had huge yellow eyes and its skin was black, mottled white on the bottom, to disguise itself, I guess. It tried to get at her and it took her as she protected me. At least, that's what father tells me. I didn't see so I couldn't help. I wish it'd taken me instead." Ruby paused, her voice thick with tears as she remembered, blinking her sightless eyes. "It took both my sisters and left me blind and our family in shreds. Please, good Hunter, succeed in your mission. I, too, wish a death on all these creatures."

Then she stood, and left, and Dean wondered what exactly she had meant to tell him before her emotions had gotten in the way.

That night, Dean dreamed.

He was in the caves, deep in mining country. He remembered this territory from several years back, hunting a dragon that had dug itself deep into the stone and had come across many tunnels and caves that meant it had access to at least seven different villages as feeding grounds. Unfortunately, it made the bastard a lot harder to track, and Dean was very aware that he was making way too much noise and the beast could move practically soundlessly.

Grimly, he doused the flame he used to see, instead taking his sword out of its scabbard. The blade made a soft whistling sound as it was withdrawn and the metal glinted in the dying embers of what had been his torch.

He's here, Dean thought suddenly, overcome with the feeling of being watched. He inhaled deeply, trying to focus and use scent and hearing since sight was now out of limits. Sulfur. Iron. Yes, he was definitely nearby.

Suddenly, a scream shattered the cold stillness of the cave and Dean jumped with a curse, finding cover in one of the craggy walls. He didn't wear armor when he Hunted dragons – there was no metal on Earth that could protect him from a dragon claw if the beast really wanted to kill him and if he was caught in a fire he'd be roasted alive inside his own suit. It was easier to travel lightly, so that if the necessity came up you could run like hell to the exit.

Dean knew this was a dream, because this wasn't how it had gone – he'd found the beast slumbering, a fresh kill around its mouth and disguising his scent, and he'd very silently crept forward and killed it. It had been very anticlimactic, actually. This was not what happened.

Dean felt behind him, hoping for some sort of escape route or something because he could hear the dragon now – its great leathery wings dragging along the ground as they tended to do when the dragons were young and they were too lazy to lift the weight all the time. Dragon wings were covered with thick skin along the top so that they didn't get damaged in the early years. That's why, contrary to popular belief, going for a dragon's wings is actually stupid – you'll just piss it off.

There was a breeze by his cheek suddenly. It was cold and carried the scent of water with it. Dean chanced a look behind him, knowing it would only take a second of diverted attention for the dragon to find him, and saw light shining through a thin tear in the rock face. He frowned curiously, pushing hesitantly, and then heard an enraged roar behind him.

Six one… he thought to himself, then shrugged and pushed into the crag. He really hoped this dragon wasn't smart 'cause all it would take was a burst of flames down this hole and he'd be screwed. He was glad he hadn't worn armor, because there was no way he'd fit through here with it, and even if he did he would stir up an unholy racket and alert the beast definitely to his whereabouts.

The tear was narrow and the going was slow. Dean found himself sweating despite the cool breeze, and by the time he forced himself out the other end he was breathing heavily, his tunic plastered to his body with sweat and his hold on his sword was precarious due to his slippery palms. The place he'd entered was not dark, and he looked around.

There was a single shaft of light coming from the roof of the massive cave, around where the sun would be at two in the afternoon during the summer months. It slanted down onto a massive pool of water that dominated half of the cave floor, and every surface was covered in gems. Opals, mostly, their reflective purples and pinks standing out among the blue and green, with chunks of gold and onyx and jet mixed in between. Along the walls the stones got progressively lighter, turning yellow and lighter quartz-pinks until there was a flare of bright rubies and tiger-eyes around the entrance for the light. Dean fancied it looked like the sun shining on an ocean bed.

He was about to sheath his sword when there was movement, and he stiffened, going into a crouch. There was light here but it had only served to completely wreck his night vision and he had to blink a few times to focus on anything in detail. There was a vaguely human-shape moving around, making piles of stones scatter and disturb the water.

The man, he could see, stood, looking in his direction with the same lack of focus Dean found himself suffering from. He tightened his grip a little on his sword, unsure if this was the dragon and it meant to trick him by taking a human form. The man was holding an egg.

The egg was easily as large as Dean's torso and it gleamed golden in the light. A golden dragon. Fuck, but they were powerful bastards if ever Dean's fought them. He's only seen pictures and read about them. He'd thought them to be extinct.

A voice filled the cavern, echoing off the walls; "Dean Winchester."

Dean stiffened even more, if that was possible, his eyes narrowed with distrust on the stranger. "That'd be me," he said with a stiff tone. There was silence. "Give me your name, stranger – it's rude to speak so casually otherwise."

"Castiel," replied the creature, stepping forward into the half-light of the room. Eyes flashed blue like the opals around him and the egg seemed to…move, in the light. "I need your help, good Hunter."

"Why should I help you?" Dean said, shifting, keeping his sword always pointed towards Castiel, but his eyes moved, unwilling to let himself be caught off guard by an ambush. He wouldn't be blind-sided – he'd learned that lesson the hard way. He still had the scars. "Why do you need my help?"

"Because you are the only one who will help me. And you need mine." Dean snorted, and the creature's jaw clenched. Dean noticed, only now, and while Dean was hearing his voice Castiel had actually yet to speak. "The Quest you are about to undertake is dangerous, and I am being held captive at that dragon's lair. If you release me I will help you."

Dean didn't a chance to protest before Castiel continued; "You may doubt my words now, but when you arrive I think you will have a change of heart. You need to wake up now, Dean." Castiel turned around, still carrying the egg, his pale body disappearing into the darkness. "Oh, and pay attention – the Devil lurks in the King's palace and means to harm him."

The Hunter jerked awake in a cold sweat, torn from sleep unlike how he usually was. He sighed heavily, wiping a hand over his face and shaking his head, blowing out his breath against his palm. It was just a dream.

Dean had only had visions a few times in his life, and it was normally the things he was hunting trying to dissuade him to continue. This creature…Castiel, though, asked him for help. Given him advice. He didn't know if this was some elaborate trick or honest good-will, so he vowed to be extra attentive before he set off for the caves on his Hunt.

The breakfast meal was slightly more relaxed, less like a show, and Dean felt more at home there. He'd bathed and shaved off his evening shadow, knowing that it made him look even younger than he did but he'd rather bear Zachariah's snide remarks about 'inexperience' than deal with the itch of sweat or the embarrassment of food lingering behind in the scruff.

His thoughts lingered on the stranger that had appeared to him in his dreams. He didn't understand it – how could a Devil be lurking in the King's court? If it were a demon Dean would have received word or some sign of it, but the place was spotless. He looked at everyone through a veil of suspicion and it made every little casual meeting the equivalent to nails on a chalkboard.

"So, good sir knight," Zachariah said to him, cornering him, and Dean grit his teeth, smiling as he took a sip of the water he'd asked for – after checking it hadn't been drugged, of course, because you couldn't be too careful.

"Please, my Lord," Dean replied before Zachariah could open his mouth again; "Call me Hunter, or by my name. I'm no knight."

"Not yet, maybe, but practice makes perfect," the man replied, and Dean growled under his breath – he hated people who thought Hunters were less than knights just because they didn't live a higher class life. Dean would take being a Hunter over paid muscle any day. He actually helped people. "Anyway, Hunter -." He stressed the word, making it sound like the biggest inconvenience to him to say the right title, but Dean just smiled cordially at him; "The King asked me to let him know of any provisions or weaponry you may need for your journey, so that we can prepare you to our best efforts, since you cannot accept gold."

Dean's eyes narrowed very slightly, noticing how stiff Zachariah seemed when he mentioned payment. "Does my lack of greed disturb you, my Lord?" he asked, dropping the polite act for now – Zachariah was a snake, a riddles man, and Dean didn't like wasting time with the likes of him.

The man smiled an oily smile. "Of course not," Zachariah replied, "but times are hard, Hunter. One must eat, surely?"

"One doesn't need money to eat, my Lord."

Zachariah blinked. "Whatever do you mean?"

"The land provides what money does not – my horse grows strong on grass and fauna, and I hunt what meat I need. One can find food anywhere, if one knows where to look." Dean tilted his head and smiled again in a saintly, smug little grin. "Now, please, my Lord, let the King know I have no need for whatever he would want to give me – I shall be leaving within the hour to rid his Kingdom of this beast as soon as possible, and then I shall be on my way."

"You would deny the King the gift of his hospitality? His wealth? His daughter?" Zachariah said, striking at the heart of the matter like a cobra, and the Hunter almost flinched from his venomous tone. "That could make you very…unpopular, good Hunter."

"I don't live to be popular, my Lord," Dean replied slowly, his hand clenching tightly around his water glass before finishing it off in a long swallow, his hand dangerously close to crushing the fine china. "Now, if you would excuse me, I have things to plan."

"Of course, good sir knight," Zachariah said to his back, and Dean knew from his tone that the slip was intentional. The Hunter's shoulders set, and his jaw clenched, but he said nothing as he stalked out of the room.

Dean was five miles from the citadel when another vision struck him, stronger this time, like a morning star mace to his head, and the force of it almost sent him off his horse.

"You left without warning the King," Castiel said in that room full of stone. He sounded angry. Behind him, the egg wobbled on its bed of emeralds. "He will die, Dean Winchester. You must save him."

Dean didn't understand – the vision had disoriented him, as had his acquaintance's fury; Castiel's anger sparked like lightning up the walls, and the sun shuddered in its place around the shaft of light. "Who are you?" he yelled into the blackness, unable to see the strange man and his golden charge, shying away from the powerful voice, his back against the wall and sword raised high. "What are you?"

Abruptly, the stone stopped shuddering. "I am a friend," Castiel replied, his voice softer this time, hesitant. "If you would like me to be."

"What does that mean?"

"Please, Dean, go to the King. The Devil grows stronger there, and if you come on this Quest and the King dies anyway, all will be lost. Please. Trust me."

Dean growled into the darkness of that cave. "Give me a name."

Castiel sighed, and the cave changed. The vision was very powerful, or Castiel was a powerful sorcerer, able to bend reality to his wishes. Dean was abruptly standing in the court again, watching a scene that…hadn't happened yet. The King and Queen were discussing his Quest and the princess' future (Dean resisted the urge to roll his eyes, here), and then from one end of the hall came a…man, in serving garb. He bore a striking resemblance to the King as he approached with two goblets of mead. Michael rose to greet him.

"Lucifer, tell me, what news from our scouts?" he asked, taking the goblets and setting them down on the table in front of Lilith's and his own serving table. The servant bowed low once his tray was empty, placing it under his arm with a low sigh.

"The Hunter has reached the caves and camped at the bottom of the mountain, and we believe he intends to wait until nightfall before entering the beast's lair," the serving man replied, and Dean's eyes narrowed slightly. Lucifer…Lucifer…

His eyes widened, and he looked to Castiel who was suddenly standing right next to him. "Poison?" he asked around a dry throat, and the creature nodded solemnly. "He's going to poison the King?"

"And the Queen, then take the throne for himself. He is Michael's brother and technically next in line," Castiel replied, his voice ancient and bone-deep in Dean's mind. The Hunter shivered.

Dean looked out the window of the banquet hall, seeing that the sun was just past its highest. "If this happens today, I don't have much time. I need to wake up, Cas. Please, release me."

The creature nodded and smiled slightly, placing two of his fingers to Dean's forehead, and the world went white.

The Hunter woke with a gasp, sitting bolt upright, and then groaned as pain lanced through his side and arm. He winced, gingerly clenching and unclenching his fingers, checking nothing was broken, and moved his shoulder once he felt he could, glad to find that he hadn't dislocated anything – that would have been…a setback. He sat up, looking around him and found the mare standing on the path, eyeing him with a wary air, and she snorted when he sat up, and then pushed himself to his feet. He strode over to her.

"Sorry, Baby," he said lowly, taking the reins and hoisting himself into the saddle again. "Change of plans."

He shifted his weight, digging in his left heel and jerking her head around in one savage pivot, then pushed with his thighs harshly, forcing her from a standstill into a headlong gallop back towards the citadel. The sun was at its peak in the sky and he'd been traveling for hours at a steady canter for most of the way. It would be a miracle if he made it in time.

He should have known never to underestimate his girl. She flew for him, tearing at distance as though it was an enemy to be slain, and within forty minutes he caught sight of the citadel walls. He turned around in his saddle, hearing another set of hoof beats, and a grey, lithe stallion slid up alongside him. On its back perched a man with golden hair and a satchel of scrolls around his waist, and he grinned at Dean.

"Good morning, Hunter – what's the rush?" he called, his words almost whisked away by the wind.

Dean smiled grimly, digging his heels in harder to his girl's flanks, and she snorted and surged forward, putting the stallion behind her for a moment, before the stranger laughed and caught up. "Fast horse, that one," he said appreciatively. "Now answer."

"The King is in danger," Dean replied tersely – he didn't have time for this, damn it. "I must save him."

Gabriel raised an eyebrow. "I'll go on ahead, then, and make sure the gates are open for you. Don't make me look like a fool, Hunter." Then, he whistled, sliding out a long leather riding crop from amidst the mass of reins in his complicated tack, and brought it down hard on his steed's rump. "See you later, Hunter!" he cried as the stallion whinnied and bucked his head, somehow going faster than Dean would make his girl run at any point, and the Hunter watched the man slowly gain ground until his back was lost in his dust.

His mare could probably match it, but after this they still had to go back to the mountains, and he didn't want to injure her legs or strain her any more than necessary. He slowed the pace just a little, glad that his message was being carried on ahead of him.

The drawbridge was just lowering as he approached the citadel minutes later, the portcullis already raised. Dean sat deep in the saddle, yelling for villagers to get out of the way as he slowed his horse down just a little, pushing his weight down and behind her so that she could slow her headlong rush to a more controlled gait. They reached the drawbridge with about a foot of height to spare, and the mare leapt for it – and she'd never been much of a jumper willingly so Dean was kind of impressed – and she skidded down the slope of the drawbridge, galloping into the courtyard beyond.

"What is the meaning of this, Hunter?" A soldier asked – a captain of the guard that had shown him his lodgings last night. Uriel. The man's bald head shone in mid-morning sweat and he had a look of righteous anger on his face. "Explain your behavior!"

"There's no time!" Dean shouted in reply, trying to settle his mare as she skipped to one side, tossing her head wildly, nostrils flared and legs shaking from the run. He dismounted quickly, letting the reins trail. "I must see the King – take me to the King!"

"I'll take him," the Messenger said suddenly, leaving his own horse to be taken care of, and pulled on Dean's forearm before Uriel could protest, leading the Hunter on his way to the main banquet room. Dean was glad he hadn't put on armor that day because it would have been a bitch to run in.

He made it to the doors in time to see Michael raising his glass, nodding to something a servant was telling him. "No!" Dean yelled, slamming the hilt of his sword against the door, letting out a horrific ringing sound that grated along his frayed nerves. The room stilled – King, Queen and servant looked at him with shock and, in the servant's case, aggravation.

He might know, Dean thought to himself. He might already suspect.

"Please, my Lord," Dean said after a moment, approaching the Royal couple as politely and subserviently as he could.

"What's the matter, Hunter?" Michael asked, frowning in concern. "Is there news you needed to tell us? We believed you would be at the base of the mountains by now."

"I was struck down by a vision, my Lord, the likes of which I have never had before," Dean replied slowly, taking in how the servant's blue eyes narrowed, and his jaw clenched just a little. "I have reason to believe someone means to harm you and your Queen. Please…" He held his hand out, gesturing towards the goblet that Michael was still carrying, and the King slowly handed it over to him. He poured the drink into a clear glass, and then slid out a small vial from a pouch that hung at his belt. He sprinkled what looked like a spice or rosemary into the glass, and the drink began to fizz and sizzle, before turning red.

Dean smiled grimly, holding up the changed glass. "Tell me, my Lord, does your land have orchards on it? Apples, peaches, apricots – the like?" Michael nodded again, his face stone-like, eyes focused on the serving man who was suddenly looking like a rat caught in a trap. "Did you know that seeds from these fruits hold a compound that, when distilled, can make cyanide? A very deadly poison, my Lord – and it leaves little trace in the body, you know." Dean took the Queen's goblet as well, pouring it into the mixture, and it fizzed a little more but did not change. "Both of yours. Interesting, wouldn't you say?"

Alright, so maybe he was gloating a little, but really it was to cover up his shock; Castiel had been right. Dean had just saved the King. Castiel had known. He had to meet this person who knew so much, and find him and get answers.

Dean set the glass down now, stepping away from the three. Michael was looking at Lucifer with a murderous gaze, and Dean smiled a little. "I'll leave you alone now, your majesty – your highness." He bowed with a slight flourish. "I have a dragon to slay."

His mare was not happy, when he came back to her. The sweat had cooled on her coat and her mane was matted, face splattered with the mud and dust of the road that had flown up as she ran. Her sides were still heaving and sweaty and her legs shook. Dean quickly dug into his saddlebags, pulling out more sugar – quick energy for her to eat, and stroked her face while she chewed on them.

"You're quite the Alchemist," came a voice from his shoulder, and Dean turned to see the Messenger who'd met him on the road looking up at him with a calculating kind of gaze, head cocked to one side. "Do they teach you everything, Hunter?"

"When you travel, you learn things, Messenger," Dean replied coolly, stroking down his mare's neck to calm her as her ears flattened at the stranger's proximity. "I owe you a debt, sir – if I'd been a second later it would have been too late."

Gabriel nodded, then extended his hand and told Dean his name. Dean returned the gesture, smiling, a little more relaxed. "You're very young to be a Hunter," Gabriel noted, one eyebrow raised, but Dean didn't find insult in it, because it was true – it wasn't said with derision, more like curiosity. Messengers live off stories; it's in their nature, like Hunters.

Dean nodded. "I started when I was just a child and my father taught me all he knew. Then when he died I kept going."

"Did he die recently?"

"A year ago. He was killed by the same dragon that stole my mother and brother away from me."

"Ah," Gabriel said with a knowing smile, nodding his head like a great mystery had been solved. "That explains your hatred for the beasts."

"They're not quite beasts to me," Dean replied. "They're smart, they're fast, and God forbid they ever evolve out of their solitary lives, because if they did we would all be for food. It's not that they should all die – just that, if they are all dead, then I know the one that killed my family is dead too."

"Sound logic," Gabriel replied, and then held out his hand again. "Godspeed, Hunter."

"Thank you," Dean replied, shaking Gabriel's hand once more, and then hoisting himself up onto his disgruntled mare's back. She danced to one side for a moment, to show her unease, and then he sighed and turned her, more gently than he had before, towards the gates. "Swift travels, Messenger." Then, he dug in his heels and she trotted forward, head held high and the winds guiding them out.

The mountains are not welcoming. They're not meant to be. Dean could feel the eyes of Michael's scouts, his garrisons that guard the outer reaches and watch out for approaching armies. The great hills towered high over the valley he rode through, wanting to go fast but unwilling to keep up any good pace for long, and he let his girl rest more times than he normally would, for her to recover, because often his hunts end in a hasty retreat. If the mare had any complaints, she didn't tell him.

He reached the base of the mountains by nightfall, and they were pockmarked with caves. He set his mouth in a thin line, knowing that he probably had many nights of exploration to look forward to. Fantastic.

He dismounted and untacked his mare, because if he died or was captured then she would survive a lot better without all his things weighing her down, and set all his armor and the weapons he wouldn't carry behind a thick clump of bushes, covering them with mud. He took out some bread and cheese and cold meat, stuffing that in a backpack, and that was the only thing he carried. A knife slid into each of his boots and his sword hung from his belt at his side. That's all he really needed.

His girl snorted, her ears uneasily back, and he brushed a hand over her nose. "Be out," he told her, one of the few phrases she actually recognized, that he'd trained into her like a dog. It meant, basically, to wait and be quiet, but after sunrise she was free to go about her way and wait for him to find her again. The mare's ears flickered, her nostrils flared and she dipped her head once. He smiled, pleased that his message had been received, and then looked back up at the mountains.

Time to climb.

The going was slow at the best of times, and Dean cursed every time a rock was dislodged and sent skittering down the mountain, or he stepped on a twig that snapped or his sword clanked against the rock. He was making too much noise, despite the fact that he was still silent enough that few humans would hear him – he wasn't hunting humans.

He reached a small opening in the mountain, a cave that had only a meter of light before it was swallowed up by darkness. Dean was silhouetted against the night sky and immediately he retreated to one of the sides, because standing in the middle of a cave opening was stupid, from both ends. He caught his breathing, steadied it as well as his work-hammering heart, and waited until he'd recovered from the climb before crouching forward. He dug into his backpack quietly and pulled out what modern people would call a flare, lit it and threw it into the cave. It rolled for several feet and exploded, revealing a passage beyond. More importantly, an unoccupied passage.

Dean smiled grimly again, looking down once more to check no eyes were watching his progress, then drew one of his smaller knives, shouldered his pack, and crept inside. The walls were wet when he touched them and water dripped from overhead, catching the flaring light of the torch he'd thrown and creating optical illusions of yellow eyes that had him jumping at shadows. He smiled at his own fear, needing to calm his hammering heart, and his soft leather boots made no noise on the ground as he crept further in.

"He had the very Devil in his eyes!" cried the Queen to whoever would listen, punctuating her accusation with a vicious stab into her dinner meat. The King and courtiers watched on with a slightly amused, concerned air. "Came in with no suit, dust on his clothes and his hair unkempt with an unholy flush to his cheeks and the Devil's gleam in his eyes, mark my words – that Hunter is a bad sign."

"He has come to rid our land of a terrible foe," the King replied airily, smiling a little as his wife hesitated. Foolish woman – she only thought so far as weddings and plans for upgrading the Kingdom's place in the lands. Matters of state and fighting were stuff for men.

Lilith nodded after a moment. "That may be so, but fighting fire with fire, my Lord, is a dangerous thing to do." The courtiers nodded solemnly. "Why, his actions caused your dear brother's death!"

"But his lack of action would have caused mine," Michael parried smoothly. "A knave lurking in my courts is not to be tolerated and will be dealt with. To me, having Lucifer drink his own poison was a merciful thing to do. I would not live to see my brother hanged."

"My Lord!" Lilith replied, covering her mouth. "Please, don't speak of such things at the table!"

"Forgive me, my love," Michael replied with a low sigh, turning back to his drink – he had taste testers now for whatever food and drink he was served, until the hysteria died down, at the Queen's insistence. "Sometimes I forget myself." His eyes flashed over to his counselor; "Zachariah, have our scouts sent word about the Hunter?"

"I received a scroll today with a report that he has reached and entered the caves in the lowermost mountains, my Lord. He started at nightfall and left his steed and much of his belongings, and the scouts haven't heard a thing since."

"I do hope he's alright," Michael mused to himself, smiling a little.

Lilith nodded emphatically. "Why yes. When he succeeds, he will have a wedding to attend."

Dean kicked a stone, sending it flying, and cursed again. Stupid loose rocks. The whole cave felt like it had sand and gravel for a floor. He shifted his weight carefully, inhaling and catching the faint scent of sulfur. Following it, he passed by a tunnel with a warm breeze coming from it, and stopped. He hadn't felt air for several minutes, and the night was cold outside. Breezes…shouldn't be warm.

He jumped to one side quickly just in time for a single, giant, glowing yellow eye to open and blink once, twice. Dean watched in awed fascination as the tunnel became alight with flame, and he cursed again as the fire singed past his skin, warming his face. That was a close one.

They knew he was here.

He started to run, to get to an open area, and fire lit up the caves again. What he'd thought were rocks he'd been kicking and stepping on were actually bones – fine, petite skeletons that he knew where the dragon's meals, and he darted into a smaller tunnel, drawing his sword as he ran to try and find the dragon's hoard – experience had led him to figure out that the many gems often either distracted the dragons, or the light refractions messed with their eyes and made it slightly harder for them to see. Not by much, but by enough to gain a slight advantage.

He felt a pressure at his head, felt a presence in his mind and tried to force it away, lest it be one of the beast's mind tricks to debilitate him, but all he heard was Castiel's voice; "Be careful, Dean."

"No shit," he bit to himself, stopping once he rounded a corner of the tunnel. Behind him he could hear the dragon snuffling around to find his scent, and then it roared. The great bellow shook the caverns and made some debris fall around Dean. The Hunter felt another sharp pain in his head as a rock fell, landing across his face and drawing blood.


They'd be able to smell that.

He ran again, hearing the soft rushing sound that meant a dragon was taking in a breath to light on fire, and dove out into an opening just in time for flames to come rushing along his back, licking at his tunic and hair before passing on. He gasped in pain, feeling the skin of his back get touched by the flames, and as soon as they'd passed he rolled out of the tunnel's opening, looking into the room he'd just found.

It was massive. Massive wasn't really the word…it was…well, towering. Grandeur before there was grandeur – someone had used this cave long before dragons inhabited it, for there were runes along the walls, carved into huge arches that fell along the walls and rose to the top of the domed ceiling, forming an eight-pointed star. The ground was covered in gems of all colors, jewels and crowns and gold coins scattered every way to form a myriad pattern that hurt Dean's head to look at, all that unfathomable wealth in one place. Zachariah would be in Heaven, seeing this.

Dean shoved himself to his feet, hissing as the cold, smooth rock touched his burning back, and then stiffened. He saw movement ahead of him. Right in front of his eyes, one of the piles of gold shifted, and moved, and fell. The Hunter could only watch as, out of the mountain of gold, two massive, shimmering wings extended, flexing and casting the room in shadow. A long, serpentine neck with a regal head rose from a massive body full of muscle, supported by four long, slender legs that looked strong for their size. The dragon exploded with muscle on its torso and around its wings, spines flaring from the top of its head with a bright colored belly, mottled in camouflage to help disguise itself in the air and on the ground, and as the dragon stood, it's tail uncurled from around its body, long and golden colored, ending in a mean bristle of black and copper spikes. Its back was smooth without the usual spines of smaller breeds and from the end of each foot grew four long talons, black and serrated and the same curving style as those which jutted from the tips of its wings. It was a male, if Dean recognized the flared, red bottom of its throat.

A male golden dragon. Dean didn't think there were any left. He watched with wide eyes as the beast stretched, knowing he should be taking advantage right now and plunge his blade into the beast's heart while it was still muddled with sleep and kill it, but he couldn't. It was beautiful.

Another roar shattered the silence, and the golden dragon was instantly alert, flared spines surrounding its ears shifting to amplify the sound, so that it could hear. At one end of the hall was an empty doorway where grand oak doors may have sat, but now it was just the silhouette of darkness, that was abruptly filled with the first, yellow-eyed dragon.

Shit. There were two of them. Now what Ruby had said made sense – the dragon had had to take two maidens because it had…a mate? A son? Dean narrowed his eyes, trying to determine what the relationship between the two dragons might be, but could find none. They were the same sex and not even the same color – the first was jet black with just small flecks of gold around its belly, and the golden dragon's eyes were copper-hazel, dull and shaded and they didn't glow. Dean didn't understand, but he wouldn't wait to find out.

He gripped his sword, sure that this yellow-eyed beast was the one that killed his mother and brother, and crept forward as quietly as he could. The black knew he was here, and was probably telling the golden one. If their rumbles were any indication, they were talking.

Dean was almost into the light when Castiel's voice stopped him again; "Don't, Dean! They are powerful – you will not survive. Please, release me first and then I can help you."

The Hunter hesitated, his grip on his sword tightening. He was very close. He didn't know what golden dragons breathed, but they were probably a bitch to deal with. He didn't want to go searching the caves for some creature that might not even be real where there were two dragons, very real and aware that he was somewhere in their dwelling. They'd almost snuck up on him once – they could do it again.

He shifted his weight. He couldn't wait another second – they might find his scent in the room and just decide to light the place on fire. He couldn't afford to delay.


If he attacked and killed one the other would be on him before he could do anything about it. Dean watched as the dragons seemed to come to an agreement – the golden one flared his wings that were a brilliant red along the bottom and began to stalk out of the room, wings dragging, and went one direction. The black went another – back the way Dean had come from. The Hunter smiled grimly, taking his sword in one hand and sliding a knife into the other, and followed the black.

The dragon had crept out into the night sky, black against black, and was watching the outcropping of rock for any chance that the foolish human might have decided to retreat and make himself an easy target on the rock face. The scent had been old, but he recognized it, and smiled to himself – it had taken the man long enough to find him.

His tail curled around him, a heavy sigh that tasted of fire and sulfur misting in the air. Behind him, the Hunter crept closer to the dragon, wary, his heartbeat deafening to the beast's ears. Azazel turned his head, one glowing yellow eye finding Dean out, and smiled a toothy smile.

"Dean," he said, and the Hunter paused, blinked, and shook his head. "It's good to see you again."

"So," the Hunter replied. "You are him."

Azazel nodded once, watched the fury burn in Dean's eyes, and then rose to his feet. He extended a wing out towards Dean, the talons on the edge inches away from goring the Hunter's heart out, but Dean didn't flinch away. "May the best fighter win, Hunter."

Dean smiled bleakly, gripped his sword, and swung. He didn't go for the thick outer skin – instead, he ducked under the wing and plunged his sword straight up through the thin, gauze-like membrane. Azazel roared in pain and anger, jerking his wing away and taking Dean's sword with it, and the weapon clanged loudly against the far wall. The Hunter sighed and pulled out his second knife, holding them in front of him in a cross-bladed defense.

Azazel's yellow eyes glowed with cold fury as he struck, but he underestimated Dean's quickness, and the Hunter darted his gaping maw and swung down with a brutal jab, cutting into the thin skin below the dragon's eye. The black reared up, feeling around the blood at his eye, and Dean used the advantage to look for that one scale above his heart that lay out of place for him to shove his blade through. He didn't get the chance to see it before Azazel's tail came whistling out of nowhere, striking him in the stomach and sending him flying, knocking the wind out of him. He was glad that blacks didn't have spiked tails, and rushed to his feet, wheezing – once you were down, you were dead. The dragon hissed, fire burning in his mouth and Dean cursed, stumbling out of the way of the wall of flame as Azazel let it loose – blacks spit acid usually, damn it!

This will have to go in the journal.

Dean wiped at his brow, surprised to find blood there from that wound from the falling rock, and searched around for his sword. Azazel stopped his tunnel of fire, striking out with his jaws again and Dean narrowly avoided losing his arm, jumping to the side and rolling, grabbing his sword on the way. He now stood with his back against the rocky crags of the mountain with less than a foot of space between him and a three-thousand-foot drop. And he really hated heights. He swallowed and braced himself.

Azazel smiled, his serrated, curved teeth glinting in the half-moon light, and swung his tail. Dean heard it before he saw it, and jumped, avoiding the giant wall of muscle just barely. He ran for the wall, sword towards the dragon, just as Azazel lunged.

To hell with it, he thought, and desperately lunged forward as well. His blade skated along tough underbelly scales before…it slotted home. Just like that, sliding between two golden scales just towards the left of his chest, and Dean paused for a moment before he shoved his sword up to the hilt, as deep as it could go.

The dragon stilled, his black blood seeping out of the clean wound. It seemed like, for a second, the world just stopped, and then he choked on blood, scrabbling blindly for Dean and the sword to pull it out, but the Hunter held firm, face set in a hard mask as he kept his hold, strong right into the beast's heart, and waited for the sound of it to die away. Azazel slumped, almost crushing Dean with his weight and the Hunter pushed the carcass to one side, gasping at the dragon blood on his hands, and he pulled his sword out with a sick, wet squelching sound. He had to act fast – quickly, he moved to the creature's head and began to work, slicing through bone and muscle and sinew until Azazel was completely decapitated – that was the only way to be sure, really. He dragged the head away a few feet for good measure, and then sighed, looking back towards the tunnels.

Now to go after that golden one.

He found the male in the treasury again. It stared at him as he approached, not caring about sneaking up on him – covered in the black's blood; it wasn't like he could hide anyway. He half-stumbled into the room, tired and beaten from the fight but still willing to go again, and raised his sword towards the young dragon.

He blinked at the Hunter. "Are you going to kill me now?" he asked.

Dean hesitated a moment, then sighed; "I'm going to damn well try," he replied honestly.

The golden dragon hummed deep in his throat, muscles swallowing around the sound, and then looked around the room to the masses of wealth that were far beyond what any mortal man could dream of in his lifetime. "You know, I've only ever been outside these caves twice," he said conversationally, blinking copper-hazel eyes back at Dean. He paused again, but if he expected any conversation from the Hunter, he would be disappointed. "Will it…hurt?"' he asked.

Dean blinked at him. "Do you want to die?" he asked in confusion.

The golden dragon shrugged. "I'm not a fighter, Hunter, and I don't pretend to be. I know I wouldn't win, and I'd rather it be…painless. From Azazel's screams, I don't think you would give him that kindness, but perhaps, to one who hasn't willingly done wrong, you could be…merciful."

The Hunter cocked his head to one side, frowning again – this wasn't how it was supposed to go. Dragons weren't meant to want to die, or strike up a conversation with him. It was…wrong. Blurring the lines, and he didn't like that. "Why would you want to die, dragon? You could easily kill me if you set your mind to it."

"Azazel wanted to kill you, and you beat him," the beast returned coolly, and his tail curled around him as he rested. "And I am lonely here. You took my only companion away and I won't last long in a Hunter's world. Please, let's not talk about it. I don't want to change my mind, and I'd like you to act now or I will make you."

Dean blinked, shaking his head after a moment, and then he took his sword up, and motioned for the dragon to stand. "I can't promise it won't hurt, but I won't prolong it."

"Thank you, Hunter," the dragon sighed, waiting patiently as the Hunter found the weak spot between his scales.

"Answer me one thing," Dean said after a moment, reaching up and taking advantage of the rare opportunity to study a live dragon up close. He could feel the heartbeat through the scales, traces the lines of it until he found where he beat strongest and there was a thin gap between two white scales, smooth and rigid like alabaster or marble. The dragon rumbled his assent. "Is there a man living in the caves? Someone by the name of Castiel?"

The dragon blinked slowly. "I know no one by that name," he said, and Dean nodded, said 'Brace yourself' very softly, and the dragon closed his eyes right before the blade slid through, and his last breath left him in a low sigh.

He'd cut off the golden dragon's head and was dragging it towards where Azazel's carcass rested when another vision hit him, strong and unrelenting. He cried out, clutching his head as he fell to his knees. The image was distorted like looking through rippling water, but it showed the same room, the same creature. Castiel's bright blue eyes flashed towards him from the darkness.

"You did well, Dean Winchester," he said.

The Hunter shook his head. "I didn't like that," he said, thinking of the passive way the golden dragon had left the world. It was a tragedy and it weighed heavily on his heart. "There is no congratulations for me here."

"Please, Dean," Castiel said, reaching out a hand towards the Hunter were he stood on the opposite side of the room. "Come here, release me from this place. I have been trapped here for many years and I have an urgent mission – I must be able to leave here."

"Where are you? Why couldn't you leave? What mission?" Dean snapped.

"Questions, questions!" The creature seemed angry, aggravated – impatient. "I have no time for your questions. Please, Dean, my powers grow weak and I must leave this place. I'm here." A series of images flashed through Dean's memory – a valley road, a high trail that reached up into the mountains, and a cave surrounded by ice whatever the season. "Please, hurry. For the sake of the Kingdom."

Dean was about to reply that he had no loyalty to anyone, but the vision faded, and he was left gasping and breathless at the mouth of the cave, the heads of two dragons by his side.

He looked down the cliff face, pursing his lips as he thought of how to get them down there. Then, he shrugged, thought 'To hell with it', and rolled them right off the cliff edge. They rolled down with a thunderous racket, scattering various small mammals and birds from the trees below, and Dean scrambled down as quickly as he could behind them, panting at the bottom of the mountain. He went to retrieve his things, knowing that true to order his girl would have wandered off for food – his Hunt had taken well into the next afternoon and she could be miles away by now. Luckily, sound traveled in the valley.

He searched through his abandoned things and drew out a long horn shaped like the antler of a deer. It was hollow and played almost like a piccolo, and Dean raised it to his lips, blowing out a short, sharp note on it that echoed piercingly around him. He waited for an hour, munching on his cold meal as he waited for an answering whinny, and when none came he blew on the instrument again.

That time, ten minutes after the final echoes of the note had faded away; there came a loud answering call. Dean smiled, packing the horn away again and began to transfer his things towards the main path, waiting for his girl to find them. He had finished the last run, bringing his helmet and shield back with him when he found the giant black mare sniffing at his saddlebags, ears forward as she raised her head and whickered in greeting. Dean smiled and approached her carefully, again letting her smell him and recognize him before she relaxed. He hoisted the saddle, placing it on her back and tightened the girth before arranging the saddlebags along the pommel. She tilted her head to watch him and nosed at his bleeding forehead. He winced and gingerly touched it, fingers coming away with fresh blood.

"Yeah, sweetheart," he said with an affectionate scratch to her withers. "Did something stupid and got hurt for it." He sighed, slinging his pack across his shoulders and placing his shield over her shoulder before he retrieved the bridle, the last thing he ever put on her. Sometimes he just went without because she hated it so much and truly, they didn't really need any tack. Dean just had a lot of shit to carry but he could ride her bareback well enough.

He threw the reins over her head, smiling when her ears went back and her nostrils flared, and she tossed her head in protest. "I know, sweetheart, I know," he murmured, threading his thumb behind her gnashing teeth and forcing her mouth open for the bit, shoving the part that went behind the ears into place before adjusting the leather straps for maximum comfort – though how comfortable could you be really with leather on your face and metal in your mouth. Dean sighed, petting her once more, and then raised his head at the sound of hoof beats.

Gabriel approached him, followed by several soldiers. "You've made a spectacle of yourself, Hunter," Gabriel said with a wry smile, settling on his horse from the headlong gallop. "Everyone in the neighboring cities saw the dragons' heads roll."

"Well there wasn't time for finesse," Dean said, Castiel's words rolling in his head, and the urgency boiled in his blood. "Can you do me a favor?" Gabriel paused, and then nodded, and Dean gestured to where the dragons' heads rested. "Take these back to the King. I have urgent business further up in the valleys, but then I shall be back if the King desires to see me."

The Messenger raised a brow, but motioned for the soldiers to strap the heads to their horses' saddles to pull them back to the city. "You would refuse the King's reward," he said softly, almost too low to hear, and Dean nodded.

"If he insists it upon me, I shall have to refuse. I hope to find an alternative before then. But, hold me to my word, I will return. I am not without honor."

"I am glad," Gabriel replied, seemingly at ease as he relaxed in his saddle. "Fair travels, Dean Winchester."

"And to you," Dean replied, swinging up into the saddle and turning his mare towards the highlands. "Godspeed." And then he dug in his heels and left the company behind, heading to the highlands where the mysterious creature with a golden egg sat, waiting for him.

Castiel caressed the dark golden shell of the egg wistfully, feeling the warmth emanating from its core. Dean will come, he kept telling himself, feeling the truth of that statement settle heavily in his mind. He will come, and then he will kill us. One way or another, he will want us dead.

The dragon inside the egg seemed to shift, hearing his thoughts, and Castiel sighed again, hugging it close to his body as he looked out at the still lake that covered half his lair, the opals casting reflections that weren't there on the pools. He had felt the death of those two dragons like lances through his own heart, but if he had any chance of succeeding in his mission, he needed this Hunter. He needed the best, the best protector he could afford, and he knew the Hunter wouldn't be able to resist the urge to help someone in need. That's what they did.

He had hoped to get to Dean before Dean got to the dragons, to spare their deaths. But that's what happens when you don't listen.

Castiel closed his eyes, listening to the fast, steady heartbeat of the nestling, and began to sing. His voice was low and harmonic with the drip-drip of water down the sides of his cave and the bird calls outside, and the nestling danced inside its egg to his rhythm, to a song that was older than the mountains and almost as old as Castiel himself was.

He hadn't lied. But he hadn't told the whole truth, either.

Every valley looked the same to Dean. He had his girl canter steadily through the lands as the sun descended lower and the shadows got longer, further away until the trees thinned out and he was more on plain lands than in the valleys. He was scared he had missed the direction and gone too far, but every time he thought of turning back there was a tug on his mind, a sense of just a little further and nearly there now that would keep him heading straight on.

When dusk was at its end and night fell on the valleys, Dean pulled his mare to a stop, feeling that he had to rest or he just might collapse. He sighed, slumping from the saddle and took off a few of the bags for pillows, warmth and to take the load of his girl's back, and lit a fire, cooking some of the meat he'd swiped from the banquet hall at Michael's feast of celebration.

His mare grazed not far off, a gentle shadow to his right and he sighed, relaxing a little and shed his clothing, the cold air bracing against his skin. He took his bloodied shirt and wetted it with water from his water skin, dabbing at his forehead lightly and hissing at the sting. It had stopped bleeding though, thankfully, and he turned, hissing again. His back was burned but he couldn't see where – he'd need to see a healer once he returned to the city. During the fight and after, the adrenaline had kept him from feeling all these aches and pains but now they hit him full force – he was burned on his back and it felt like someone had ripped him open and poured acid on the wounds. His head and chest hurt where Azazel had dealt him blows and his arm ached from wielding his sword. Accompanied with many hours in the saddle and a gnawing hunger and thirst in his gut and throat, Dean was feeling pretty crappy. He fished out new clothes, a loose shirt and leggings and pulled them on, unwilling to catch a chill on top of everything else, and then froze when he heard a twig snap to his right.

At the same time the mare raised her head, ears forward, nostrils flared, and then she flattened her ears again and pawed the ground once. A warning.

Great, Dean thought to himself, rolling his shoulders. Just what he needed – midnight thugs. He found his boots and pulled them on, checking to see that he'd replaced the knives in their little pouches sewn into the inside and straightened again, moving carefully towards his sword that lay on the other side of the fire.

Rookie mistake, parting from his weapon, and Dean stopped when a big, bear-like man stepped out from the shadows of the trees, blocking his sword from view, and smiled in a predatory way at Dean. He was almost twice Dean's size in muscle, his skin burned from the sun and a large beard overflowed from his face, almost to his belt from which hung a wicked-looking scythe like what they use during harvest time. Dean swallowed, sliding into a fighting stance before he even thought to.

The man laughed, and Dean felt movement to his right and turned, seeing two more men at least the same size at the first, if not bigger, join the party. One of them cracked his knuckles, making Dean wince, and the Hunter's fingers flexed, eyes darting from one man to the other as though deciding which one to strike at first.

They advanced on him, two of them coming to the head of the pack while the first man surveyed Dean's belongings, giving a low whistle that set Dean's teeth on edge. "What's this?" he asked in a rough country accent, going over to where Dean's armor lay. "Looks like we got ourselves a noble over here, lads!" he said, triumphant almost as he gestured towards Dean's sword and shield. The other two men laughed. "We like pretty nobles, don't we boys?"

The second man nodded emphatically; "Good with their mouths, nobles, I've heard. All that riddlin' and trickery gives them good practice." Dean shivered with disgust at the implications of what they were saying, could feel the men's eyes on him, lecherous and malevolent. He felt exposed, more vulnerable than he had with the dragons – dragons and beasts and demons you can plan for, track and know what they'll do because they have patterns and designs and attitudes that can fit the whole, but humans? Humans are just crazy. You can't plan for humans.

He backed away as the first one advanced again, raising his hands in front of him. "I don't want any trouble," he said, trying to adopt that country accent as well, the one he had trained out of himself so he didn't stick out with all the posh folks that always seemed to want to employ him. He failed and the man laughed.

The third, silent man drew out a long curved dagger, serrated at one edge and tossed it to the first, the leader, if Dean could guess. The man held it up against Dean's throat and the Hunter cursed inwardly, finding that he'd backed himself against a tree. His eyes darted around and saw his sword not even two trunks away – he could make it if he distracted them. "Don't matter what you want or don't want, pretty boy," the man growled, eyes dark and dangerous; "We don't take kindly to your kind comin' up our way – if you're not the sorriest ass in the Kingdom by the end of the night, you'll certainly be the sorest."

The three men laughed and Dean shuddered in revulsion, and closed his eyes for a moment. It seemed kind of stupid, but honestly Dean was just angry – Castiel could have at least warned him about this sort of thing, right? He was no stranger to being the focus of unwanted attentions – his youth and feminine features tended to draw all sorts to him – but there's a difference between a little friendliness and full on violation.

Dean opened his eyes again, seeing that the other two men had flanked their leader, gross excitement and lust burning in their eyes, and he moved fast. He pushed the dagger out of the way with his forearm, wincing when the edge drew blood, and bent down to draw one of his own knives. He rolled to one side, scrabbling for his sword and managed to just get at it, pulling it by his fingertips and raising it just as the men rushed him.

They stopped abruptly, seeing the wickedly sharp blade that was still stained with dragon's blood, and hesitated. "Looks like kitty's got claws," the leader said lowly, watching Dean with narrowed eyes. "You better put that away, pretty boy – you're no killer," he said derisively. "Wouldn't want to hurt anyone."

Dean twisted the blade in his hand, and the words inscribed onto the edge of the blade flared to life in the firelight; Non timebo mala. The Hunter smiled innocently; "If you had paid attention, gentlemen, to the crest on that shield…" He gestured briefly; let their eyes travel to the plain wooden shield with a pentagram painted in red in the middle. "I believe most of you know better than to threaten a Hunter."

The two men flanking their leader took an involuntary step back, their eyes widening, but again the leader snorted. "You're not a Hunter," he said arrogantly; "You're too young."

Dean sighed. "You know what? I don't have the time or the inclination to deal with this. Lower your weapons now and I'll only kill one of you. Don't and you all die." True to his prediction, the two cowardly sheep of the pack lowered their weapons and backed away immediately, and Dean smiled. "Looks like it's just you and me, big boy," he purred, his expression turning to downright glee when the leader looked behind him and saw that his companions had all but fled. When he turned around, Dean was right in front of him, smaller knife at the man's throat and the fire burning green in his eyes. "You know, I'd get better back-up next time," he said, his voice a low almost-whisper, before he smiled a Cheshire cat smile, and plunged the blade home into the man's throat. "I guess that's the kind of lesson you only learn once, eh?"

He'd left immediately after that – there was no sense waiting around after he'd announced his presence to the valley at large and bigger, badder threats could come along. Everyone was out for a Hunter's blood. He left his armor and shield behind – he could pick them up on the return journey if they were still there – and forced his girl into a gallop. It was pretty slow, with the low light of the half-moon but Dean's head and gut guided him. By the time sunrise came along he had found the trail that would lead him up to Castiel's cave.

He wouldn't be able to tell you how he knew. He just…knew. And, sure enough, there was a cave surrounded by ice at the top of the trail. He paused, unsure of what to do now. Dismounting, he left his girl loaded up and told her to wait at the top of the trail; "Be still", and crept towards the cave entrance.

"Castiel," he hazarded, and fancied that the wind picked up just a little, the trees turned his way, listening to him. "I'm here. Tell me what I must do."

It was faint, like the dying breath of a hummingbird, but Castiel's voice came to him; "Melt the ice, and then meet me inside."

It never occurred to Dean that this could be a trap. Castiel had saved the King's life through him, had warned him of the dangers that lay ahead and wanted to help – could have helped if Dean let him, and…the Hunter couldn't describe it…when someone's been inside your head, and shared your dreams and your thoughts, you feel a certain amount of connection to that person. Dean didn't know anything about this man – whether he was even human – aside from his name but he trusted Castiel already, and so he set to work lighting a fire that would melt the ice from around the cavern wall.

The sun shone brightly, encouraging the flames and helping them melt the ice. It fell in rivulets that meant it was clearly not held there by natural means, despite the fact that the coldness could easily hold a river of ice up here, and Dean shivered, hugging his torso and sitting close by the horse as he watched the wall of ice melt. Once a big enough hole had been created that he could step through, he skipped around the fire, keeping only a long knife he kept for gutting fish slung in his belt and the blade tapped against his side. He hissed every time the belt tugged at his shirt, rubbing the coarse fabric against his burns.

The cave walls glistened with water and opalescence, and Dean squinted into the darkness, trying to adjust to the night vision so that he could see. The tunnel had wet, slick steps rising up into a glowing hole ahead of him, and cautiously he strode forward, wary of falling and smacking his head against the rough stone.

There was music coming from ahead, and Dean stopped, cocking his head to one side to listen to it. A man was singing in a low, rough voice that sent shivers up Dean's spine, made his heart pick up just a little. He couldn't understand the words – the echoes garbled the song and it was in a language he didn't understand anyway – but the song was beautiful, and rich and lovelier than a lot of things Dean had heard in a long time. The Hunter sighed slightly, ascending the rest of the stairs and coming to a stop at the top of…the ocean.

He was standing at two o'clock in the afternoon, gazing down at the sea, a mix of water and opals and diamonds. He looked around, searching for the sun, and, not finding it, realized he was standing inside of it. His body blocked out the sunlight from the outside.

"Castiel?" he asked into the cavern, and the singing abruptly came to a halt. Dean looked down, trying to find the man he'd traveled to find, and couldn't. "Are you down here?"

"Dean," came a reply, a soft, breathy sound that was relief and praise all at once. "You came."

The Hunter nodded; "Of course I did," he said after a moment, and then looked around. "How do I get you out of here?" A pause. "Cas?"

"I…don't know," the creature replied sheepishly, and there was movement and the skittering sound of rocks. "I'm sorry, Dean, but I cannot answer that."

The Hunter sighed, pinching the bridge of his noise tightly as he clenched his eyes shut. "That's okay, Cas. I'll figure something out. Sit tight, okay?"

"Of course, Dean," Castiel replied with a low laugh that vibrated up the walls, and Dean shivered again lightly. The Hunter nodded, pushing himself away from the wall, and pursed his lips again, looking down. The cave looked about fifty meters deep…If he could get rope then he could throw some down and… "If it helps, Dean, I can cut steps up the rock to about half-way, but the effect is only temporary – the cavern is spelled to prevent long-term use of my powers beyond summoning food."

"That does help," Dean replied, looking to the cavern again. "Okay, I'll be right back," he said, then ran back down the steps to his horse. He had a few meters of rope in the saddlebags, and could use some of the tack to extend it. He smiled, coming up to his baby. "You're going to love this," he said to the mare, petting her gently before he unhitched her saddle and slid the bridle off. "Be still, sweetheart."

He detached the girth from the saddle, and then unthreaded all the thin straps of the bridle. The mare whickered, amused almost at the dismembering of the bridle. The straps were thin but strong – Dean only used the best leather for his baby – and the end result was almost twenty meters of…well, of stuff. It was crude but it could probably do the trick. Just to be sure, Dean tore some of the wiry weed-like branches from nearby brush and threaded it along the leather for extra hold, securing it with string that he'd used to wrap paper around his food to keep it clean. He grimaced at the shoddy result, but it would have to do.

He returned to the cavern entrance, lowering the rope as far as he could get it, flattening himself onto his belly so get that little bit of extra length. "Hey, Cas, can you reach that?"

A pause, another skittering of stones. "I…believe so. But that will not work, Dean," he said, sounding apologetic about it. Dean grit his teeth.


"Because…I can't leave…the egg behind."

Oh. Dean remembered – from his first vision. The Hunter swallowed, unsure how he felt about his options as he saw them; leave Castiel and the egg behind, or…well, that's it, really. The man wouldn't leave without the egg if Dean had judged his character correctly, and Dean could probably never hope to convince him otherwise.

"Okay, the spells that are keeping you here…they only extend to the cavern, correct?"


"And they only affect you?"

"I believe so, yes."

"Alright, then here's what we're going to do. You're going to climb up here and then when you're out, try and mojo the egg right out too – if it doesn't work we'll think of something else, okay?" There was another pause, and then he heard things…moving. Like, the walls were moving. The rock vibrated under Dean's body. "Cas?"

"Please, Dean, I need to concentrate."

The Hunter grit his teeth, waiting, and then gasped as the rope was suddenly pulled taught and he tensed, grabbing hold of the rope as tightly as he could. There was a heavy weight on the end of the rope and he figured Castiel must have grabbed hold, so he shifted as much as he could, managing to get to a crouching position and he pulled, managing to slowly, slowly gain ground.

"So…" he said with false lightness, because situations like this always require a conversation. "How'd you get in here anyway?"

"It was…mostly for protection," Castiel replied after a moment, his voice sounding strained, "and then someone came while I was sleeping and sealed me in here. I've been trapped ever since."

"What are you?"

"I'm…very powerful. Please, Dean, I feel like I'm slipping here."

"Right, sorry." The Hunter wrapped the rope around his hands once, muscles straining as he pulled. Man he could really use…. He grunted, letting go with one hand and lost almost a foot of height. He gasped, apologizing at Castiel's alarmed cry, and then put two fingers in his mouth and blew out a short, sharp whistle, like the horn only softer. The mare whinnied and then there was a loud echoing clip-clop as the horse tried to greet him. He felt his baby's soft, warm breath against his neck and turned, smiling slightly. "Hey, sweetheart. Turn around for me," he said, pushing at her shoulder with his free hand until she was facing the other way, and then cursed, as he'd taken off her saddle and there was nothing to tie the rope to. "Um…Cas?"

"Yes, Dean?"

"You're going to have to trust me for a moment, okay?" the Hunter asked carefully, a plan forming in his mind. "Do you trust me, Castiel?" he asked again after a long silence.

"Yes, Dean."

"Alright." The Hunter sighed to himself, unable to believe he was about to attempt this. "Okay sweetheart, you're going to have to brace yourself." The mare tossed her head lightly. He pulled as harshly on the rope as he could, gaining as much ground as possible, and then grabbed the now-loose end. He jumped up onto his mare's back, just managing to seat himself on the mare's back before the weight almost pulled him clean off again. He dug his heels in with a sharp cry, grabbing onto the mare's mane tightly to stop himself being pulled off, and shushed her when his reaction caused her to skip to the side a little. "Shh, baby, please. You okay there Cas?" he asked more loudly.

"I'm…okay, I suppose," Castiel replied after a long silence. "I believe the rope is fraying."

"Shit," Dean said, wrapping the rope twice around his hand until it felt like all the circulation was gone in his wrist and fingers, and he clicked softly to the mare. She tossed her head again and began to walk. There was a slow drag of the rope crossing over the edge of the cliff, a gentle clink every time something metal passed over as well. "Okay…not far now…"

He was practically down the path by the time the rope went slack, and hurriedly he dismounted, unwrapping his hand and rubbing the sore muscles and wincing, and then he ran back up the steps of the cave.

And stopped.

Castiel…was beautiful.

Dean had always looked at both genders – it didn't bother him much because he never stayed in one place for long enough for people to judge him for his preferences. It suited his luck that the most beautiful creature he'd ever seen wasn't even human.

He was lithe, thin like a runner, with a strong jaw and skin as pale and flawless as alabaster, but natural, from lack of time in the sun and not from some chalk slathered on his face. His lips were full and slightly chapped, a pale lush pink that darkened where they parted to show just a flash of white teeth. His eyes were blue, brighter than the opals and sapphires he surrounded himself with and they flashed with hidden depths and shades, dark and light playing across them like ever-moving waves. He was naked as a newborn baby, and Dean blushed slightly, averting his gaze before his sight could give him any more details than what he'd already noticed.

Then, Castiel turned around and Dean gasped, seeing the two long red lines down his back. They looked like scars from a knife or whip, but they were raw and open. The Hunter stepped forward as Castiel knelt over the side of the cliff edge, arm outstretched towards the far side of the cavern floor where he'd been perched. Dean reached forward, tracing a finger down between a thin scar and Castiel's spine, and the creature shivered visibly, his body rolling in a long shudder-arch, and his concentration wavered for a long moment, his nails digging into the rock as though it were no harder than pudding and leaving imprints behind.

"Dean…" Castiel's voice was a wanton, breathless gasp as he practically collapsed on himself, breathing heavily against his forearm as he bit down, stifling a moan against skin. "Please, you can't…" Castiel's hand shot back, grabbing a hold of Dean's wrist and forcing his touch away. "Please, don't touch me. I need to concentrate."

"Sorry," the Hunter replied, rubbing his wrist when Castiel let go – the man had a grip like iron. Castiel reached his hand out again, closing his eyes, and he began to chant in a low, hypnotic tone of voice, and out of the blackness a dark, large shape rose out, shaking slightly but rising steadily until it sat down next to Castiel. A large golden egg easily the size of the man's torso. Castiel gasped quietly, breathing hard when he'd finished, eyes still closed as though concentrating, and Dean moved towards the egg, brushing a hand along its surface. It was…warm. Weird, since dragons were cold-blooded.

"This is a…"

"A dragon egg, yes," Castiel said in a low voice, shifting so that he was crouching against the cliff wall, folding his legs up to hide his nakedness as he regarded Dean with his bright blue eyes. "My mission is to take that egg to a safe hatchery and raise it."

"Raise it?" Dean asked, incredulous. "This is a dangerous, evil creature! It should be…killed. Destroyed. It should never hatch." He gripped his hunting knife a little tighter, lips in a thin line. "I should kill it right now."

"But you won't," Castiel stated, eyes wide and head cocked, fearful. "You won't, right?"

Dean watched Castiel for a long moment, and then he sighed, shaking his head. "I should."

"Please," Castiel said softly, "this egg is one of the last hatchlings ever and…I need to raise it. A whole new generation, Dean Winchester, think about it – dragons that didn't feed off humans. We can do it – they can do it. I've been watching you for a long time, Dean, and I know that if this dragon were to have a father, I could not imagine a better one than you."

"I'm a killer," Dean snapped shortly; "Not a father. Especially not to hell-spawn."

Castiel sat forward, placing a hand on Dean's arm. "Travel with me, Dean, to the hatchery, and if, by the time you get there, you still haven't been convinced, then you will be free to go. Please, Dean, please – you've trusted me this far."

He sounded so broken and lost, so pleading, and Dean didn't have the heart to refuse him. He sighed, sheathing his sword again. "How far away is this hatchery? How will we get the egg there?"

Castiel smiled slightly. "It's a week's journey by a fast horse, and I can transport it from safe place to safe place overnight when we settle."

"But you can't just send it away now?"

The creature shook his head. "It doesn't work like that. I have to have been in a place, and be in a place, for transfers of that kind to work." He looked to the egg, an unreadable expression on his face. "If we hurry we can get there before the egg hatches. If it hatches on the journey then progress will be…difficult." He turned his bright blue eyes to Dean, cheeks flushing in the temperature difference from the air outside and the cavern within, and Dean blinked, once again taken aback by the man's beauty. "Will you help me, Dean Winchester?"

The Hunter paused, biting his lower lip in an action that Castiel seemed fascinated with – his eyes zeroed in on the Hunter's mouth, mimicking the action on instinct, and Dean blushed a little for him. Then, he stood.

"I have a duty to report to the citadel, to make good on a debt," he said, smiling a little at Castiel. "I'll get some clothes for you on the way if you want to wait here."

"Can I not accompany you?" Castiel asked, standing up, and Dean averted his eyes again, blushing and biting his lip, closing his eyes and trying to picture non-erotic things to calm his body – it had been too long since having a warm body underneath him, and wow, stopping that train of thought.

"Society believes in modesty, Castiel," Dean replied after a moment, chancing a glance back to his new companion. "You need clothes."

"Oh, is that all?" Castiel asked, and then waved his hand. The stone and water of his surroundings flowed into his hand, and then he waved it around his body, weaving clothes around his body from the materials. He fashioned his clothing around Dean's, with a loose, soft shirt that was sky blue, bringing out his eyes, and his leggings were a sleek stone grey. He finished it with black boots and a black leather belt that hung loosely around his slim hips. "Will this suffice?"

"Um…yeah," Dean replied, swallowing around a suddenly dry throat. It seemed impossible, but Castiel made the clothing seem more alluring than his nudity had been. "Yes, Cas, that's good. Very…" He reached out, desperate to touch, for any excuse for it, but forced his hand to drop again. Castiel's wide, innocent eyes watched him closely. "We'll have to walk – my mare won't carry you, so until we get you your own horse it's travel by foot."

Castiel nodded, smiling. "I don't think that shall be a problem. The egg will be safe in here for the time being, I should think," he said, laying a hand on the golden shell for a moment, and Dean swallowed back the desire to just destroy the damned thing while he could. "Shall we?"

Dean nodded. "Sure. Let's." He lead the way out into the sunlight, abandoning the tack and rope he'd used and merely placing the saddle head on his baby's back, balancing everything so that she could carry without, hopefully, dropping it. Castiel was staring wide-eyed up at the sky, his mouth parted in surprise, and in the light Dean could see a little better, the stubble around his jaw and face, and how his skin was literally flawless – not a single mark on his face or any sign of bad health from being stuck in a cave for… "How long have you been down there?"

Castiel looked back to him, and shrugged, smiling. "Years. Since I was very young, I imagine."

"You imagine?"

"Yes." He blinked over at Dean. "Please. Can we hurry? Time is short. The sun will set soon."

Dean looked to the sky, seeing the sun at about four o'clock height, and shook his head. "We have a few hours yet," he said after a moment, then clucked to his mare, slapping her lightly on the rump. "Go ahead, sweetheart." He looked back to Castiel, letting the horse lead the way. "Come on. Let's go."

"I've never been cold before," Castiel said conversationally, wrapping his arms around his torso as he shivered, moving closer to the fire. He gazed into the bright orange-and-purple flames, smiling at them as Dean looked at him over the fire. "It's…novel."

Dean smirked a little, nodding his head. "Can't you summon up a blanket? Aren't you some sort of sorcerer or something?" He was convinced that's what Castiel was.

Castiel nodded; "I could, but I don't think I would be able to keep it. My powers are waning with every passing day. I'm feeling…" He frowned, feeling at his stomach. "I can't conjure up food and thick clothing permanently. I've already tried several times."

Dean frowned slightly. "I don't have an extra blanket," he said, "and I have to bank the fire to stop us getting noticed." He sighed again, emptying his water skin on the fire, sending smoke up into the air. "I'm sorry; here, take my blanket," he said, offering it to the man. Castiel took it, frowning.

"But now you don't have one."

"I'll sleep by the horse – she'll keep me warm, and I'm used to cold. Don't worry about it, Cas. Get some sleep."

"Alright, Dean," the other man said, laying down, his thin body curled up underneath the blanket as he pulled it tightly around his shoulders. "And thank you, good Hunter. I knew I could trust in you."

Dean bit his lip and said nothing, but curled up against a tree trunk, glad that Castiel hadn't picked up on the fact that his mare had gone on ahead of them, and there was no course of heat nearby. The Hunter closed his eyes, making himself as small as possible to conserve body heat, and went to sleep.

He woke up shivering. His back felt like it was on fire but the rest of him was covered in a cold sweat. Castiel's face floated into his vision, the man's expression one of concern. "Dean," he said, and his voice sounded floaty – the Hunter was spiking a fever – "This is foolish. Come lay with me; share my warmth."

The Hunter had heard that particular phrase many times, and he swallowed, shaking his head, but the creature wouldn't listen to him or heed him; Castiel's strong arms encircled him and dragged him away from the gnarled roots of the tree, laying Dean down carefully on his side where Castiel had been sleeping. The Hunter shivered and tried to protest, but all that same out was a semi-shaky 'No' before the creature shushed him, lining up his warm body behind Dean's and covering them both with the blanket. Try as he did to fight it, the warmth was nice after the chill of his fever and Dean found himself relaxing minutely, even more so when Castiel wrapped lightly muscled arms around him, encircling him in the warmth of another body, and Dean fell asleep with a slow, heavy heartbeat against his back, warmth soothing the fire.

Castiel stayed awake for an hour after Dean was asleep, smiling to himself. Okay, so maybe it had been a dirty underhanded trick, but the rewards were worth it – this Hunter was strong, and brave and beautiful. Castiel trailed a hand down the side of Dean's sweat-damp face, brushing hair from his temple before his hand moved down to the Hunter's back, splaying at the spine, and he closed his eyes. Healing energy flowed from his fingertips, sealing together the seared and broken flesh and mending the burns of Azazel's fire, and then Castiel moved his hand to over Dean's heart, healing the other aches of his body. He fell asleep curled around the Hunter, inhaling the scent coming off Dean's hair and around his neck, learning it for the future because if they were to travel together, and the truth should come out, and Dean should run, Castiel would need to be able to find him anywhere, in any place.

The moon was just rising over the trees when the creature drifted off to sleep behind his new companion.

When Dean woke up, he was completely refreshed, opening his eyes to a body that lacked markedly in aches and pains, and to a morning bright with sun and birdsong. Castiel was already awake with a cooking fire, heating what looked to be pieces of meat that Dean guessed was from a rabbit or some such thing. He stretched, waiting for a pain to make itself known. None came.

"Did you heal me last night?" he asked, surprised as he looked over to Castiel. The man nodded with a small smile. "I thought you couldn't use your powers," he continued with narrowed eyes.

The creature shrugged. "It is like a reservoir – there is a limited amount I can use before I have to refill my supply. I deemed healing you to be of high importance – after all, without you my mission and journey would be long and dangerous and, possibly, unsuccessful."

"You place high faith in me," Dean said, blushing a little at the praise as he went to join Castiel. He found conversation to be easy with this man that he barely knew, and that thought didn't unsettle him as much as it should have. "You shouldn't." Castiel just shrugged again. "The scars on your back – how did they get there?"

The man stiffened, pausing for a moment as he inspected the meat, testing the moisture of them and how far through they had cooked, before deeming them insufficiently ready and placing them back into the fire.

"A long time ago," he began, "I was a very powerful being, respected and feared among my kind. Then…I was attacked, and I've borne the scars ever since." His bright blue eyes flashed to Dean's. "I have a third scar, directly down my spine, but you can't see it. It was dealt through magical means."

"Like a wizard war?" Dean asked incredulously, because this was the stuff of stories and legends, not Hunters.

Castiel paused again. "…Something like that."

"You are full of riddles, my friend," Dean said with a slow smile, pleased with himself when Castiel blushed, looking down with a coy little smile and an innocent flutter of eyelashes. "But I like it." Castiel's blush darkened and he busied himself with the meat, pulling the rabbit steaks off the spit and handing one to Dean.

"I think they are ready now," he murmured softly, still shy and avoiding Dean's eyes, but still with that little self-satisfied smile on his face. Dean bit into the meat and moaned around the rich flavor, eyes wide as he chewed – damn Castiel was a good cook.

"Where did you learn to cook like this?" he asked, awe in his voice.

The man blushed again, biting his lip as he blew on his piece of rabbit before taking a bite. "I had a lot of time to learn and experiment while I was in my prison, and I remembered some things," he said softly. Dean nodded and smiled widely. "It's not much, really."

"Don't downplay yourself, really – this is really good," Dean replied, taking another bite with another low moan. Castiel swallowed, watching some of the juice drip down Dean's chin, to be wiped away by the back of his hand. Castiel's tongue snaked out to lick his own lips, watching with rapture as Dean ate, his own appetite completely gone.

When the Hunter was finished he wiped around his mouth again, and Castiel's own mouth watered. Desire unlike anything he'd felt in a long time surged up in him and he sighed, closing his eyes – he should have known better. One cannot watch one human for their entire lives and not fall in love with them.

"Let me show you how we thank people, where I come from," Castiel said, suddenly daring as he stood up, his own meat forgotten and left on the ground before he approached the Hunter, kneeling down in front of him. Dean frowned, leaning away a little before Castiel took his face in his hands and pushed up onto his knees, slanting his lips across the Hunter's quickly, briefly. He didn't know where this sudden fearlessness had come from, but with the way Dean shivered against him, hesitating just a little before returning the kiss, Castiel figured it was worth it.

When the creature pulled away, Dean's eyes were closed; his lips flushed slightly from the kiss and parted, his breathing shaky. His eyes fluttered open, bright green and beautiful and he blushed a little, looking down.

"If that's how you thank someone, what do I have to do to get the full thing?" Dean asked with a breathless laugh, looking into Castiel's eyes.

The creature's gaze turned half-lidded, his voice a low purr; "Do you want the full thing, Dean?" He shifted, pressing closer, sliding easily to inhabit the space between Dean's legs, and still keeping the Hunter's head caged in his hands.

Dean sucked in a breath. "Fuck, Cas, I don't even know you."

"I know you," the creature returned.

"You're not even human."

"I'm human like this, Dean," Castiel said, splaying his own hand over his heart. "I'm warm, and I'm breathing and I'm human. I'm more human than a lot of others that claim to be so. You can love me, Dean, and you can…want me. I want you to love me. I want you to trust me."

"I do trust you, but…" It would be so easy. "I…can't take that advantage, Castiel. I can't do that if we're going to be traveling together."

Castiel blinked up at him. "Do you want me, Dean? Do you desire me?"

The Hunter sighed, closing his eyes. "Yes," he confessed.

"Then have me," Castiel purred against his lips, leaning forward to brush his lips against Dean's again, and then he pulled the Hunter, making them land in an uneasy, clumsy sprawl across each other's bodies, and Dean huffed a breath into his mouth. "Please, Dean. Have me."

"I…" Dean sighed against Castiel's mouth, letting his mind go for a moment as he kissed Castiel, and learned the taste of him for a long minute, before he tore himself away, panting breathlessly and wiping at his mouth. "No, Cas. I can't…I can't."

The rejection burned at the creature's throat, but he nodded and sat up, eyes at the ground beneath his feet. "Is it because I am a man?" he asked softly, sounding so injured that Dean had to turn back to him, kneeling down beside the other man and lifted his head with his hand.

He shook his head emphatically. "No, Castiel, believe me," he laughed the words; "That's not the problem. It's just…I don't even know you, Cas. That's not the way humans do things. First, we become friends, and then we see where that leads."

Castiel's brow furrowed; "I don't understand. With many women in your past you…"

"No, Cas – that's not the same thing. That's not what I – what you – want. If you want a real connection, you have to take it slowly, okay? The human way." Dean brushed his thumb along Castiel's cheek before placing a light kiss there, and then stood up. "Come on – we have a long walk ahead of us. We should make the citadel by morning if we hurry and walk all night."

His companion was not used to long bouts of exercise; Dean came to find out after several miles of trekking. Though Castiel never complained, sweat dampened his clothes, made them stick to his lithe body in a way that Dean found very hard to ignore, and his hair was plastered to his face. The air was cold but there was no wind so the sun beat down where there was no shade, and Castiel's cheeks were flushed from the exercise. Dean was sure he only looked marginally better.

"Let us rest for a while," Dean said when he stopped, seeing the walls of the citadel a few miles away at the bottom of the valley. "I smell water nearby – we can rest and eat and drink before moving on." Castiel nodded, following Dean as they left the path, the Hunter following his senses until he came across a small creek, the water crystal clear and flowing with a light sound over small, sandy rocks. He knelt down, cupping his hands in the water and raised it to his lips, drinking the stuff down before splashing more on his face, gasping at the sudden chill. He leaned down to fill his water skin as he hadn't after emptying it onto the fire the night before, then handed it to Castiel. "Here. Drink."

The other man took the water skin like it was fragile, watching the Hunter for a moment with what Dean would have thought was suspicion, before the look fell away and Castiel tilted his head up to drink, lips sealed around the opening of the water skin, Adam's apple bobbing as he swallowed.

The water was cold and clear and felt fantastic on Castiel's parched throat. The man emptied half the water skin into his mouth before he had to breathe, then poured more onto his hand, splashing the back of his neck and running the damp hand through his thick hair so it was away from his face.

Dean sat down on a group of rocks that was near the water, rubbing his face tiredly as he rested, getting his breath back. Castiel joined him soon after, their eyes on the path. "Why me?" Dean asked after a moment, looking to his companion. "Why did you contact me? There were other Hunters in the area, closer ones."

Castiel's brow furrowed slightly. "Michael is the one who sent for you – that was not my doing – but when I was in my prison, I felt the whole Earth shudder. The world moved – events are coming into play that have been predetermined for many centuries. I needed to get that egg to the hatchery, as the hatchling will lead the next generation of dragons and, hopefully, establish the union that means all humans and dragons will live in peace." Castiel's eyes were dark in memory, his voice a monotone as though he was reciting something that had been told to him. "I needed you, Dean, because you are the human destined to be the conduit…with me."

"What?" Dean said, shocked. There were so many questions in his mind that he didn't even know where to start. "What do you mean a conduit?"

The creature huffed out a low laugh. "I've been watching your family for a long time, Dean Winchester. I know you to be a noble, righteous man who will always do the greater good. Tell me, if it were a choice between genocide on both ends or peaceful lands, which would you strive to achieve? Paradise, Dean," Castiel said, his voice low and awed. "A world where men and beasts didn't kill each other. Dragons have knowledge, vast amounts of knowledge that man can learn from, and you are interesting beings. You can teach us many things as well. Both species would thrive under the union."

There was a silence, and then Dean's voice came, low with suspicion and deadly – threatening. "What do you mean us?" he asked, sliding into a standing position, hand going around the handle of his blade. "Castiel, what are you?"

The blue-eyed man stared up at the Hunter, frozen for a moment as he realized his slip. "Dean…" He held out a hand, palm down, placating, but the Hunter flinched away from it, drawing his hunting knife and holding it out towards Castiel. "Please, just listen to me."

"No! Answer me, damn it! What are you?"

"I am a friend," Castiel replied softly, rising to his feet. "I am a man who needs your help."

"I am not friends with dragons," Dean spat, his hold wavering slightly. His hand was shaking and he didn't know why. "What was this, some elaborate plan to kill me? You could have done that already. Is anything of what you tell me the truth? God, I…" Dean blanched, remembering the traitorous desire that had risen in his body on seeing Castiel, the way the creature had felt underneath him, how much Dean still wanted to touch him, even now. "You've been playing your mind tricks on me this whole time, haven't you?"

"No," Castiel replied harshly, stepping forward until the tip of Dean's blade met his stomach. It would be easy to slide it forward, under the ribcage and up into the heart. He stared at Dean unblinkingly. "I have not been weaving my magic over you, Dean. I wanted to, God did I want to, but I didn't." He took hold of the blade, his fingers wrapping around it tightly and he didn't even flinch when it cut him, shedding his black blood. He pushed the blade away. "Whatever you feel for me, it is all your own mind."

"You're lying," Dean said, voice unsteady, unable to break away from Castiel's blue, blue gaze. "You're lying."

He wants to believe that, Castiel thought sadly, cocking his head to one side. A sorrowful expression replaced his angry one. "No, Dean, I have never lied to you. I…I haven't been completely honest, though, either. Do you want the story, or would you rather just kill me now?"

The Hunter growled. "Is it a story or the truth, Castiel?" The creature flinched at the revulsion with which Dean said his full name. "If it's another lie then I'll cut off your head right now."

"I would never lie to you, Dean." The creature's eyes glowed with sincerity, and slowly, very slowly, the Hunter lowered his still-shaking blade. Castiel let go of it, and the black blood dripped onto the ground. Dean noticed.

"You're injured," he said stiffly, sheathing his weapon. "Sit down, and I'll bandage you up while you weave your tale." Castiel nodded, sitting as he waited for Dean to call his mare again to get the supplies for wounds out of one of his saddlebags. When the Hunter returned, he knelt down next to Castiel, dabbing at the deep cut with some clean cloth.

"I was born before these mountains existed," Castiel began softly, hating how Dean tensed slightly at the sound of his voice. The cloth stung his hand where Dean touched and Castiel sighed, breathing past the acute pain, focusing instead on the Hunter's steady-fast heartbeat and the sound of his breathing. "I was the second generation of dragons to exist, and we branched outward and traveled. I found this valley and settled here, long before Man was even a thought."

Dean nodded, gesturing for him to continue.

"When humans came along, I was intrigued. You seemed so…weak, but so resilient at the same time. You discovered what came to our species naturally and you built great fortresses…but you are also so violent. You kill in the name of greed and land and heroism." Castiel fist clenched slightly, feeling tears of sorrow building up behind his eyes for all the blood and death he'd witnessed. "And then…you were born." Castiel opened his eyes again, looking at the Hunter who was watching him now, a guarded expression on his face that couldn't hide the swirls of emotion in his eyes. "My kind can see souls, Dean Winchester, and you were like a white flame, burning brightly in the southern-most village of this valley." Dean nodded at the mention of his birthplace. "And your mother and father were beautiful too, and I couldn't stop myself – I watched you grow up, grow strong. I…" He swallowed. "I saw as darkness invaded your home in the shape of your father, and I watched as your brother grew inside of your mother. Despite his dark origin, your brother also had a bright soul. I tried to stop the darkness when your home went up in flames." He smiled sadly. "You probably don't even remember, but I was there – I shielded you and your father from the flames but I couldn't save the rest of your family before the darkness took them, and when I tried to fight him and win them back, I was gravely injured. When I crawled away to heal myself and come back for another attempt, Azazel sealed me in my prison.

I wanted to help you and your family, Dean, but I've never been much of a fighter against one of the first dragons – I'm not as powerful as they are."

The Hunter swallowed, looking down at the newly bandaged hand that he realized he was still holding tightly. Dragons lie, he told himself, but he knew it wasn't true. No, Demons lie. Dragons don't generally strike up conversations, but legends say they are generally truthful creatures. They don't lie when they can help it.

"And the egg?" Dean asked in a tight voice afterwards, meeting Castiel's eyes.

The dragon smiled at him a little, eyes bright before he looked away. "Your nephew." Dean blinked, opened his mouth to respond, but Castiel continued; "Your brother was not killed by Azazel, Dean. He grew up to be a strong dragon, a beautiful soul that he kept because he was a Halfling, and he…conceived a son with a blind serving girl, Ruby."

"I only left the caves twice," Dean said, repeating the words of the golden dragon in a low voice, a horrible conclusion forming in his mind.

Castiel nodded. "He went to the village as a man, met Ruby, fell in love and conceived with her. Despite her blindness she was a loving and loyal wife to him, but then the baby came out as the egg, the golden egg, and he knew he couldn't stay with her. He took the egg, told her it was a stillborn baby, and then gave the egg to me to keep it safe."

"That dragon…that golden dragon that I killed…that was…" Dean couldn't form the words, couldn't face the reality that… "That was Sammy?"

Castiel's eyes were filled with years of sorrow as he met Dean's, sighing out his answer; "I'm sorry, Dean, but yes."

"I killed him…" Dean tore himself away from the dragon, hatred and bile rolling his gut. "Oh my God, I killed him." He felt like he was going to be sick – it was getting hard to see, hard to believe, that he had dedicated his life to killing the son of a bitch that had killed his family, only to be the one to give the final blow. "Please, please, tell me that you're lying."

"I don't lie, Dean," Castiel replied lowly, looking down at the ground, almost like he was ashamed to bear this truth. "I'm sorry." He raised his eyes to the shaken man, getting to his feet. "I understand if you are angry with me, but please, Dean, my mission is very important, and I need -."

"Don't," the Hunter interrupted, holding out a hand without turning to see Castiel. He rubbed his other palm over his face, eyes clenched tightly shut. "Okay, here's what's going to happen. You are going to come with me to the citadel because I want to keep an eye on you, and then I will help you take that egg to the hatchery, and then you are never going to hear from me again, you got that? If I find you again I will kill you."

Castiel looked down, closing his eyes. "I understand."

"Can you not fly? Why do you even need my protection?" Dean snapped, slightly more in control of himself again as he packed up his medical supplies, going back to his mare that had waited around for him to finish.

"I…don't know. My shape is stuck like this for the time being. Every time I try to change my shape I can't. I believe some of Azazel's magicks still linger behind on me."

"Yeah well…You better hope they're better by the time we reach that hatchery, otherwise you won't be able to save yourself from my sword."

"I understand, Dean."

"Good. Now let's go."

Castiel stayed close to Dean as they approached the citadel and castle – he was uneasy around humans, having never interacted with them on any basic level beyond watching Dean, and didn't like how some of their souls swirled with darkness. It made him uneasy and so he kept close, which of course annoyed Dean, who still had the bugs-under-your-skin feeling around the dragon, still torn between killing him and helping him. Everything that made him a Hunter screamed to slay the beast, but everything that made him a good man wanted to help Castiel. He did trust the dragon – had trusted him, as he'd helped Dean save the King's life, and tried to guide him away from danger (most of the time). The lingering desire never went away – at the back of his mind Dean could hear his treacherous thoughts thinking about Castiel in ways that were so unwholesome that Dean felt dirty just acknowledging that they were there.

"Your majesty," he said with a low bow, noting that Castiel followed suit. "I assume you received my gifts." He smiled slightly and Michael returned the expression.

"Yes, quite a sight, good Hunter, I assure you. I believe that for two dragons a double payment is in order."

Dean clenched his jaw tightly for a moment, and Castiel watched with wide eyes before the violence melted away and the Hunter was back to his polite-acting self. "My Lord, I really must insist that you do not go out of your way to reward -."

"Nonsense!" Lilith cried, sitting upright in her seat. "You shall have our daughter, and the wedding will be grand! Half the Kingdom shall be yours when I and my husband pass on, Hunter, who wouldn't want that?"

You could hear a pin drop in the silence that followed as Monarch and Hunter stared each other down, before Dean cleared his throat. "Your highness, I am not a man of pretty words, so I shall say this bluntly. Although there is poetry about women who could not even hold a candle to your daughter's beauty," the Queen preened a little at the compliment, "she cannot satisfy my needs."

There was a gasp. "Whatever do you mean?"

"I mean that I am a man who likes the company of other men," Dean replied coldly, not beating around the bush now. "Unless your daughter is suddenly a son, she can do better than a husband who will not give her children. Please, if you must reward me any, give me a week's provisions for me and my companion, and the fastest horse you can spare. Anything beyond that is more than I need and what I can carry."

Outraged whispers followed Dean's speech, and if looks could kill both Dean and Castiel would be murdered several times over, but the King was not angry; his eyes gleamed. He looked impressed, and when he sat forward the whispers abruptly stopped.

"You shall have what you ask for," he said kindly. "Thank you for your services to our lands. Be on your way now, good Hunter."

Dean bowed low, and Castiel followed suit, and the two men all but ran out of the courtroom. Dean breathed a sigh of relief once the doors closed behind them. "Well, that went well," he said lightly, smiling for just a moment before his eyes landed on Castiel, and he frowned again, forcing his expression to harden. "Come on, let's go."

The dragon's heart sank, seeing the human he had watched for decades and fallen so hard in love with treat him like he was a monster, but he hung his head and followed Dean, determined that he would change the Hunter's mind if it was the last thing he ever did.

"Heard you were getting a horse," Gabriel said in the stables when the two men arrived, looking both of them up and down appraisingly. "I was wondering why – I guess I don't need to anymore," he said with a light, cocky grin, then led a dark brown mare forward. She looked like a skittish little thing, lithe and not overly muscled, but fast to compensate. "This is the best one we have aside from my own. Take her and treat her well, you hear me?"

"I'll take care of her as though she were my own," Dean replied solemnly, stroking a hand down the mare's neck. She immediately calmed under his touch. "We'll need tack and saddlebags."

"Taken care of," Gabriel replied, hoisting a fully-loaded saddle into his arms, and it looked far too heavy for him to be able to carry, let alone lift and settle on the mare's back. "She doesn't need a bit – she'll respond to your legs alone if you let her. How well can you ride, stranger?" he asked, looking towards Castiel.

"Well enough," the dragon answered softly, looking at the horse as if it were…well, something dragons are afraid of. "I'm a fast learner."

Gabriel snorted, but didn't say anything as he brought what was essentially a halter with reins attached, sliding it easily over the mare's head. Dean's mare's head tossed in jealousy. "Her name's Claire. Treat her well." Castiel nodded, stroking down the mare's face cautiously, and Dean replaced the girth strap for his saddle and got a new bridle, which he put on and adjusted for his baby while Castiel and the mare took part in the longest, most epic staring match ever to exist. Dean sighed, snapping his fingers to get Castiel's attention.

"Let's go. Can you mount her on your own?"

Castiel's eyes narrowed, and he nodded. Sure enough, he managed to get his stirrups to a good length and pull himself on, using the mare's mane and the pommel for leverage. Gabriel checked the girth for him and nodded. "She'll be fine. Godspeed, boys."

"Thank you, Messenger," Dean replied. "I'll remember you."

"As will I," Castiel said softly, with a certain look Gabriel's way that had Dean hesitating on the exit, but then his mare tossed her head, stamping the ground in impatience, and he smiled, digging his heels in. Castiel followed suit and both men cantered out of the lowered gate, leaving Michael's castle and city behind.

They didn't go back to the egg – the hatchery was in the other direction and Castiel was confident that it would be safe at the top of the cavern. Dean had to admit, the mare was fast, able to keep up with his girl relatively well, though perhaps for not as long. They had to rest more than Dean would have allowed on the way out of Michael's Kingdom, heading down south and out of the mountains and valleys, into the flatlands.

The wind was harsher out of the protection of the mountains, practically blowing them sideways until they had to find shelter for the night. Dean wouldn't force his horse to walk on through such harsh winds during nightfall.

There was sparse vegetation but Dean managed to find some shelter in thick shrubs around the base of a hill, and he unhitched the horses so that they could be comfortable during the night before piling the saddles and saddlebags around their camp to try and block out some of the wind. Still, it was cold and the extra blanket Dean has requested for Castiel wasn't enough to keep them both warm, and the dragon scooted closer, shivering hard enough that his teeth chattered and his lips were slightly blue.

Dean stiffened, moving away. "Don't come near me, Castiel," he growled low, only loud enough to just be heard, his voice heavy with hatred and distrust.

The dragon sighed, ignoring Dean's order and shifting closer until he could feel the Hunter's muscled body against his own, coiled tight and ready to strike at him, at anything, hard muscle and warm lines that felt like nirvana against Castiel's frozen body. "Please, Dean, there's no point us both freezing to death. I know you hate me, but please, don't let your pride harm you as well."

The Hunter was shivering too, Castiel could tell – he might be stronger and more resilient but he was also good at hiding his discomfort. It was a bitterly cold night and the constant wind just served to make it colder. The dragon curled into Dean's body and met no resistance, though Dean didn't move to make room for him either. He slid a hand across Dean's stomach, felt the smooth muscle and heard how Dean's breath hitched, just slightly, his heart rate picking up.

"You still desire me," Castiel noted softly, not intending for Dean to hear it, but the Hunter did and he stiffened slightly. "Despite what I am, despite knowing."

"Just because you're a pretty fuck doesn't mean I desire you," Dean spat back, venomously, and the only thing that kept Castiel from flinching away was how brightly Dean's soul flared at every touch, how much the Hunter's soul seemed to want that touch despite what his body and mind might think. The dragon buried his face under Dean's arm, the Hunter finally moving to make a little room, slinging his arm around Castiel's shoulders, and the dragon sighed gently, his breath misting. Dean took his blanket and slid half of it over Castiel, doing the same with the second, and Dean's body heat filled the space between, warming Castiel like the sun never could.

"I'm doing this for my brother, you know," Dean said after a while, after Castiel thought he'd fallen asleep. "For Sam. Not for you." Castiel didn't rely; he just nodded. "Why are you even cold? Dragons are cold blooded – they get their warmth from the sun and the fire in their bellies."

"I don't breathe fire," Castiel replied, "and I haven't seen the sun in a long time. Not directly, anyway. I only got an hour or so of it a day. I had to develop other mammalian means of keeping myself warm."

"So you can evolve."

"Yes," Castiel breathed, nodding, his grip around Dean's waist a little tighter, his body burrowing a little closer as the Hunter shifted. Castiel sighed, closing his eyes. "I wish you could know what I look like. What our kind used to be like before we became powerful and dark."

"You can," Dean replied. Castiel couldn't see his expression in the darkness, and wished desperately that he could. "You gave me those visions when you were still in the cave – you can show me in my mind, what you looked like."

The dragon sat up a little, frowning slightly. "But that would require me getting into your thoughts," he said slowly, unsure that the Hunter would trust him that far, but Dean only shrugged;

"You've done it before."

Dean's moods were like mercury – he was kinder in the cold weather, or so it seemed to Castiel. The dragon sighed, leaning close again so that he was practically laying with Dean, and concentrated, finding the bright thread of the Hunter's soul that was loose, unconnected at both ends to the rest of him. It's the thread that links with another soul when humans mate and marry. Castiel used that line to get into Dean's mind, filled with the myriad colors and emotions; an unsure, violent red stained most of his mind, mixed with sorrowful blue and black rage and yellow curiosity. Around it all was white, white framing every colored portrait, white that symbolized goodness and righteousness and strength, and Castiel smiled, relaxing into this human's mind. He felt like there was space for him here.

The Hunter stiffened for a moment, feeling like his head was suddenly very heavy.

An image exploded across the backs of his eyelids. More like fractures of images. Bright, glimmering white scales that shone in the sun, scales of an underbelly that was bright blue mixed with platinum and gold and marble. Giant wings with black and blue membrane surrounded by white-platinum scales, onyx talons. A dragon that was made entirely of gems, or metal. Not just the color but the actual substance. Heat radiated from him, making his image waver like a desert mirage. A long white neck arched up with black spines along his back, mouth opening wide in a load roar. Every now and then the white was broken up with a scale of blue or black – mottled, camouflaged. His eyes shone the brightest blue Dean had ever seen, glowing like the sun in water, and the wings extended before folding, playing black and blue across the white. Even if Dean didn't already know, he would have recognized Castiel from the sheer awe and beauty emanating from the creature.

"Castiel," he breathed, reaching out to touch the dragon, and then drawing back. "My God…"

The dragon shifted uneasily, looking down in a coy little dip of his head, delicate nostrils flaring around his breath. His tail shifted, golden-white and shimmering and ending in a collection of spines, all colors of the rainbow. Dean walked forward cautiously, hand outstretched and trembling just a little before his fingertips came into contact with the warm flesh of Castiel's shoulder. "You're beautiful," Dean breathed; he'd never seen a dragon like Castiel before. Never in such splendor, anyway – the dragons he Hunted were usually flat-colored and dull, didn't take his breath away like Castiel did. Dean's hand traced the muscle of Castiel's shoulder and slim legs, then up to where his wings sprouted from his body.

The dragon hissed, arching his head up, eyes flashing a moment and Dean stepped away, startled. Castiel's tail stopped him, though, a gentle touch to his back. "No, Dean. I'm sorry. It's just…sensitive," Castiel's voice murmured to him, eyes half-lidded, and Dean remembered the dragon's reaction to him touching the scars on his back when they'd first met.

"Those are where your wings come out?" he asked, and Castiel nodded his great, regal head. His wings shifted slightly, revealing the spines that ran down his back, and Dean gasped, noticing the only wound to mar the beautiful scales. A long, thick red line ran down Castiel's back, just shy of the spines, and it looked angry and raw. Dean reached out to touch it, his fingertips just barely grazing. "Who did this to you?"

Castiel's nostrils flared again. "Azazel."

The Hunter nodded, jaw clenched in anger, and he closed his eyes, resting his forehead against Castiel's warm flank. He could hear the heartbeat, slow and steady underneath Castiel's scales, and the steady expand-and-contract movement of his breathing. Unconsciously, his free hand snaked out, brushing along Castiel's wings again.

And then something happened.

The thin tendril of soul that Castiel was using for their mental link suddenly tightened around the dragon's essence. Castiel couldn't pull away from it. The dragon gasped in his sleep, for they'd both slipped into slumber during the vision, and grabbed at his throat, feeling like he was choking. Dean's soul pulled, kept pulling at him until Castiel felt like he was being encased in Dean's soul. The thing was persistent, grabbing tighter the more Castiel tried to pull away, because Dean didn't want this, couldn't possibly want this, and so he fought and tried to sever the connection.

Dean's soul was having none of it. It fought and clawed at Castiel's essence, taking back every inch the dragon gained, until Castiel was too tired to fight anymore. He relaxed, and let himself get pulled in, and underneath him in the plane that was still human, still corporeal, Dean shivered and shuddered, pulling Castiel's body close subconsciously just as his soul was.

Hunter and dragon became one on that night, in the metaphysical sense. In Dean's mind, the vision of Castiel wavered and faded away. "I'm sorry, Dean – it wasn't meant to happen like that." The Hunter didn't understand, but then suddenly there was a gut-wrenching pain in his heart, sending him to his knees. He gasped, his head pounding as he was suddenly filled with Castiel. He shuddered, afraid and not understanding, ignorant of what was going on.


"Dean, it's okay."

Castiel's voice soothed him slightly, but it didn't take the pain away. He grabbed at his head, felt like his brain was bleeding. "What's happening?"

"I'm sorry, Dean – it wasn't meant to happen like this."

"Cas? Castiel! Answer me, damn it."

"Your soul is trying to bond with me." The dragon sounded confused, worried…wistful? "It is painful to fight. I'm hurting you by rejecting it." A pause, the pain increasing tenfold in Dean's mind until he felt like he was going to die from it. "Do you trust me, Dean?"

The Hunter didn't respond, and Castiel chuckled – a ghostly sound. "Of course not. Very well."

Suddenly, the pain abated. Dean gasped, panting where he'd collapsed on the floor of the place Castiel had conjured for him in his mind. Slowly the surroundings faded away until there was nothingness. He forced himself to his hands and knees, spitting out blood from where he'd bitten the inside of his mouth hard enough to draw it. "Castiel?" he asked, cautiously, looking around him.

"I am here, Dean."

"What happened?"

A silence, an infinitely long one, then; "Wake up now, Dean. We have a lot to talk about."

Wakefulness crept up on Dean like a mountain lion stalking its prey. It skirted around the edges of Dean's mind, making sure it was unsuspected, and then leapt. Dean jolted awake, dislodging an already-awake Castiel, who shrank from him as though expecting a blow from the Hunter. Dean looked around, and then winced, feeling at his head – he had a bitch of a hangover, or it felt like that anyway.

He felt at his heart, next, as he remembered the pain he'd suffered in his dream. He looked over at Castiel. "What happened?"

"Please don't be angry with me," the dragon replied, worrying his lower lip with his teeth as he looked down, fisting the edges of the thin woolen blanket quietly.

Dean reached forward, taking Castiel's chin in his hand and lifting the other man's head up. "Tell me," he demanded softly. He didn't know why, but he felt…calm. Like the calm before the storm, where everything is still and silent and holding its breath. Something had happened last night and he needed the truth about it.

Castiel bit his lip again, cheeks flushed adorably from wind-burn and body heat. "I…stopped fighting," he said, unable to hold Dean's gaze, trying to turn his head away, but Dean forced him to keep looking at the Hunter.

"You allowed my soul to bond with you," he said in a monotone, unsure how he felt about that. Castiel's breath stuttered in his thin chest, his long fingers clenching tightly in the fabric, before he nodded. "What does that mean?"

"I means that…essentially, we are mated."

Dean let his hand drop, sitting back, eyes wide in disbelief. Castiel sat forward quickly, hands out in a placating gesture. "But it doesn't have to mean…that, Dean. Mating can be a close family bond, or friends…anything, really. I don't expect anything from you – it was my fault, really. I used your soul to reach your mind and it just pulled me in, and it was hurting you to fight so I just let it, and…" He was rambling, and he knew it, so he shut up, swallowing around a dry throat. "I'm sorry."

Dean didn't say anything. His eyes left Castiel's and he looked around their tiny camp, jaw set and lips a thin line, and then he nodded and stood up, taking the blankets with him before he whistled for his mare. The more docile bay followed along behind her. "Let's keep moving," he said, and that was all he said for the entire day. They didn't stop for a city, for food and they rested in short bursts, not even really resting – it constituted of letting the horses wander while they walked, and then Dean would call them again and they would keep riding. It was an exhausting day for Castiel but the dragon didn't complain – Dean's soul was a roiling mess of emotions and he didn't want to poke the bear.

His essence kept calling out for him to touch Dean, though. Just because they didn't have to 'do anything' didn't mean that Castiel didn't want to. The dragon had loved this human for a long time, since Dean was born, and now he was with Dean, and bonded to him, and it was physical torture to ignore this human body's desires. He wanted Dean above him, behind him, between his legs, inside of him, as deep as the Hunter could go. All those years watching Dean with other men and other women had burned at Castiel's gut like liquid jealousy, and knowing that Dean hated him and would never reciprocate those feelings just increased the yearning to an unbearable level. It was like a 'One last time' sort of thing – if Dean were to kill him, or leave him forever, then Castiel would want to feel him.

Just once.

When they settled down for the night, it was again cold and windy. Dean did the same as he did the night before – released the horses and piled up the bags around them to keep much of the wind out, and Castiel closed his eyes, picturing where the egg lay, and then where he was. His powers had been recovering slowly – he felt stronger despite his physical weakness. He began to chant low, under his breath, and the Hunter stiffened a little, reaching for his blade, before the clearing exploded in a flash of light and the egg was suddenly there, right in front of Castiel.

He was leaning against it, checking it for temperature and color to make sure the young one was doing okay. Castiel stood, running his hands over the smooth shell, and Dean swallowed. That was his nephew. Sam's son. Cautiously he reached out and touched the shell also. Castiel watched him with intent blue eyes.

"Why are you so colorful?" Dean asked after a moment, looking towards the dragon. "All creatures I've seen have very little variation from their basic color pattern, but you are a myriad. What makes you so special?"

Castiel cocked his head to one side. "All hatchlings of my generation looked like me. I am the only one left." He said this sadly, looking back to the egg. "We were powerful creatures, more human than the first dragons that erupted out of the stone but weaker than they were. When the firsts and the seconds began to spread and reproduce the dragons got stupider, more savage. They cleansed the bloodline." His voice went hard, eyes cold and flat, staring at the top of the egg. "Everyone up to my generation who hadn't fled the main nest by that time was killed. Only the firsts and a few of the brutes survived, including myself. These are the dragons you hunt now. Azazel was a first – he was one of the firsts, made from the stone, built of the mountains." Castiel's eyes flashed over to Dean's. "He was very powerful."

"Didn't seem all that much to me," the Hunter replied after a moment.

Castiel shrugged. "Perhaps he meant to die. He is old, and we all know when our time is up. Living on borrowed time is dangerous and oftentimes doesn't work."

"Borrowed time?"

"Time stolen from other things. I imagine your brother…would have been around twenty?" An image of that golden dragon flashed across Dean's mind, and Castiel saw it. "He was too old for that age. Too big, too developed. Azazel was stealing his time, I imagine."

"Do you know when you will die?" Dean asked softly. Castiel nodded. "When?"

"When you die, Hunter. I'm bonded to you now. My essence binds your soul to life, and yours will bind me in death. It is the way of things."

"You signed your own death warrant for me," Dean breathed. "Because I asked you to."

"Please, Dean, never doubt the depth of my devotion to you," Castiel replied, looking over to his Hunter, his mate. "I know you hate my kind, yet you trust me to enter your mind. You want to kill the egg, to kill me and kill all the dragons, but the one that destroyed you is gone. Now you're just spilling innocent blood." The dragon's eyes burned with blue fire as he left the side of the egg, stepping towards Dean. "You are angry all the time – I see it in your soul. It burns with righteous fury that you cannot quell." He could see it now, a purple and red heart amidst the maelstrom of white. "You have succeeded in your mission for revenge and now you have nothing left to do – nothing left to live for. Well I am giving you something to live for, Dean Winchester. I'm offering you a family, a mate, and a son, and you would refuse it all for the sake of pride, of arrogance." Dean was backed against the egg now; Castiel had circled him, advanced on him until he was trapped there. For an instance the shadows moved, and Dean fancied he could see two massive wings extending from Castiel's back.

Then, it was over, and Castiel stepped away, the fire gone. "I never thought you could do anything to disappoint me, Dean. Apparently I was mistaken."

The Hunter growled low, his jaw clenched, hands forming fists at his sides. "You don't know me. What gives you the fucking right -."

"I am your mate," Castiel replied, cutting him off, every word hard and clipped, terse. No room for argument. "I have touched you on a deeper level than many humans have never achieved with each other – deeper than the whores you hired or the bonds you formed with your family and your horse and your Hunter friends. I. Know. You, Dean Winchester, and the sooner you recognize that the better. I know everything you think."

"You -."

"I do," Castiel said, again interrupting, a sly kind of smile coming to his face. "I know how warm your body burns for me when you sleep, how close you crave me to get. I know what's in your eyes when you look at me, what you think about when you think I can't see it. I know how much your soul craves me, and though you want to fight it and say that it's wrong, you crave me too." The dragon crept closer, sliding easily alongside Dean's body, his lips husking his words into the Hunter's ear as his hands shamelessly explored, dragging down Dean's sides and around the man's hips, to finally flatten a palm over his hardness. "I know how much you want me, Dean. I may have been in prison but I am not naïve. Just give in, Dean; love me. Fuck me. Hurt me if you must. Just give me something for all that I am offering you."

Dean's body finally spurred into action when Castiel's squeezed, his arms coming up, hands circling Castiel's forearms and pushing him away, holding him at arm's length. The Hunter looked like a mess; pupils blown, cheeks flushed, lips parted and panting. He was beautiful. Castiel licked his lips, thinking how close he was, how much it would hurt if Dean refused him now.

Then, his body met warm muscle, barely disguised under that thin shirt, and Dean's mouth was at his neck, stubble rasping over his skin; "You'll send me to the Devil, dragon," he growl-purred, rolling his hips against Castiel's, and the dragon practically melted against Dean, panting as desire lanced through his body, red-hot and electric.

"You'll drag me with you," he replied, arms encircling Dean's shoulders, keeping himself close, and then Dean was all action. The belt went first, sliding easily over Castiel's slim body onto the ground, and Dean pulled his shirt up over his head. The wind was biting and it was very cold but that didn't seem to matter anymore. Castiel felt like he was lit on fire from the inside. He shuddered a breath against Dean's jaw, whining when the Hunter's fingers trailed up along his spine. He practically jumped, a high-pitched keen breaking from his lips when Dean's nails dug in slightly, and the Hunter chuckled.

"Sensitive, right, sweetheart?"

"Dean," Castiel gasped, grabbing onto Dean's shoulders like a lifeline, unable to do anything except pant, gasp and moan against the Hunter's neck as Dean tormented where his wings should be, scratching and rubbing at the sensitive area until Castiel felt like he was going to fall apart. "Please, Dean, please…"

"Yeah, alright Cas, shh sweetheart," he murmured, nuzzling into the desperate, shaking man, and pulled him towards the saddlebags. "Lay on your stomach, Cas, let me get a good look at you," Dean purred, kneeling down behind Castiel as he pushed the man's shirt off his arms, exposing his back to the open air. Castiel shivered, stretching his arms out in front of him as he arched, and Dean quickly pulled off his boots and leggings, exposing all of him for the Hunter's inspection.

Dean always wondered how such large creatures managed to fit into such a small shape. It must be very uncomfortable for them. He leaned over Castiel, supporting his weight off the dragon for a moment as his hands explored Castiel's chest, stomach, up his arms and back down again, breathing heavily against his neck.

"Fuck, Cas," Dean growled, thrusting forward a little bit, the material of his pants giving an unsatisfactory amount of friction to his hard cock. "So fucking beautiful…from that first vision…Fucking siren, that's what you are." He chuckled dryly as Castiel moaned low. "I'll be right back, sweetheart. Be still for me, okay?"

Castiel shivered, knowing that this was how Dean talked to his horse. The dragon was unsure about that – being talked to like an animal, fucked like an animal – but then again the mare was obviously Dean's most prized possession, something he loved above all else. Was it flattering that Dean adopted the same kind of mannerisms with Castiel as he did with the mare? Or not?

The absence of Dean was like a cold rock in his stomach. Castiel resisted the urge to look around and find the Hunter, and practically sobbed with relief when he felt Dean behind him again. The Hunter leaned down, his fingers rubbing over Castiel's entrance, dry and teasing with it, testing how responsive Castiel was. The dragon hissed, shying away but Dean caught his shoulder, kept him in one place before there was a pause, and then one wet finger slid into Castiel, past the first tight ring of muscle. The Hunter growled at the same time Castiel whimpered.

"Fucking tight," Dean muttered to himself, the hand on Castiel's shoulder gripping with bruising strength as he wiggled his finger in deeper, twisting it to find the right spot. "You ever done this before?"

Castiel shook his head, tried to explain that he'd never desired anyone like he desired Dean, but all that came out was a strangled half-moan as Dean crooked his finger just right and Castiel's world exploded. He clawed at the ground with a loud cry, driving back onto Dean's finger wantonly, trying to get that powerful spike of pleasure again.

Dean smirked slightly, because there was just something…erotic about having such a powerful creature begging to be fucked by him. Castiel was a fucking dragon. One of the first ones ever. And yet he had reduced himself to this just because he happened to take an interest in a bright soul. It was weird, and deep down some part of Dean still burned at the wrongness – at the bestiality-type aspect of it – but that part was small and silenced quickly when Castiel started begging again.

The Hunter added a second finger, stretching Castiel as much as he could because if the dragon kept begging in that low, rough voice it would be over before it even started. Dean pulled out after the two fingers, because the dragon had given permission to hurt him and Dean kind of wanted to. "On your back now," he demanded, because he wanted to see Castiel's face when he fucked him.

The creature obeyed immediately, propping himself up slightly so that he could see Dean and the Hunter positioned himself, lifting Castiel's hips up and he guided himself inside.

Castiel was tight.

He clamped down instinctively, forcing Dean out when the Hunter first tried to push in, and Dean just noticed for the first time that Castiel was shaking, and it wasn't entirely from pleasure. The Hunter leaned down, finding it easy because of the position Castiel had put himself in, and brushed his lips against the dragon's stubble-rough jaw. The dragon tried to follow his lips, to claim him in a kiss and Dean turned his face away from it.

"Give me this, Castiel, and I will thank you for it," he said in a low voice, and the dragon took a deep, shaky breath. Dean was patient (well, as patient as he could be about it), stroking down Castiel's side, laving the dragon's neck and collarbone with his tongue while he waited for Castiel to relax, until finally the creature reached down and around Dean, grabbing hold on Dean's lower back and pushing him inside. Castiel's legs wrapped around Dean's waist and kept pulling, not stopping until Dean couldn't go in any further.

The Hunter shuddered out a breath, eyes clenched tightly shut as he fought to keep control of himself, hands digging tightly into Castiel's hips, before he rocked experimentally and both of them gasped. It hurt, more than Castiel thought it should, but it also felt so good; Dean deep inside of him, warm and thick and hard, claiming him, marking him. Castiel tightened himself, encouraging, and leaned up as much as he could, wrapping his arms around Dean's shoulders and pulling the Hunter down.

"We had a deal," he growled against Dean's mouth, before the Hunter opened up for him as Castiel's tongue slid into his mouth, far from chaste this time. Just as Dean was claiming Castiel, the dragon was leaving his mark right here. He bit at Dean's lips with teeth that were slightly too sharp, tongue sliding along the roof of Dean's mouth, battling with Dean's and winning, as the Hunter began to pull out and then slammed back in – a thrust that Castiel felt in his throat, and it earned a low moan from them both, swallowed by each other, as Castiel clutched desperately at Dean, the wind howling around them.

The friction of skin on skin warmed them enough, encased as Dean was in Castiel's tight, velvety heat and covered as Castiel was by Dean's warm body, practically folded in half but it was so worth it to feel the Hunter lose control, just a little bit. Dean's soul reached out from his body, just below the surface of his skin and Castiel felt like he was touching it when he touched Dean. From the way the Hunter shivered, Castiel must think that Dean felt it too.

There was no going back from this.

Dean's thrusts were hard and deep, his cock dragging over Castiel's insides like they had all the time in the world. Castiel's world was on fire, he felt it burning in his heart, and he whined into their endless kiss, both of them breathing each other's air because they couldn't stand to part for even a second. Dean reached around Castiel, digging under the smaller man's body and splayed his hand over Castiel's spine, right between his shoulder blades, and the dragon screamed, coming with a hoarse shout and without being touched once. The Hunter wasn't long in following – it had been too long since he'd had someone like this, and his very soul felt like it had burst into flames, and not even three thrusts later he was coming into Castiel's deliciously clenching channel, could feel Castiel's muscles trying to keep him inside, legs locked tightly around his waist as they both shuddered down from their orgasms.

When they both felt like they weren't going to collapse from lightheadedness, Castiel stirred, petting his hands through Dean's hair gently as the Hunter panted against his collarbone, and then pulled Dean's head up and kissed him slowly, lazily, a come-down from the frenzy of their mating.

The Hunter pulled away with a tired, sleepy kind of smile. "What was that a thank you for?" he asked, green eyes bright and staring down into Castiel's curiously.

The dragon smiled. "That was not a thank you. That is how we seal a deal."

Dean woke up at peace. That may have had something to do with the fact that the wind finally stopped blowing, or the fact that his mare was already there waiting patiently and he didn't have to go running to find her…or it could have been the warm, fucked-out and pliant body plastered to his side. The Hunter smiled, burying his nose in Castiel's hair as the dragon sighed, burrowing closer.

"Morning, sweetheart," he murmured into the thick black locks.

Castiel sighed, smiling a little in reply. "Time to go?" he asked sadly – he really was very comfortable here and had no real desire to…well, move. Dean huffed a laugh against him.

"'Fraid so," he replied gently, placing a small kiss to Castiel's temple before getting to his feet. Castiel took a moment to appreciate the long, curving muscles of Dean's ass and thighs before the Hunter grabbed for some clothing, hiding the sight from view. "Come on, sunshine – didn't you say the egg would hatch soon?"

Castiel suddenly jolted upright. He remembered. Shit. They only had a matter of days – and the hatchery was still many days' travel away. "We won't make it in time," he whispered, staring wide-eyed at Dean. "We have to cross mountains, and rivers, and…the horses won't make it in time. They're not fast enough."

Dean stopped, frowning. Then, he looked around, as though the answer might show up out of nowhere. "Are there any dragons nearby?" he asked slowly, looking down at Castiel. The man frowned. "Like…maybe ones that would be willing to carry an egg across a few mountains to a hatchery should we not make it?"

Castiel blinked, and then his eyes brightened. "I know just the one."

"I don't know why we didn't think of this sooner," Dean muttered to himself, looking up at the sky. He shifted uneasily where he stood in front of his mare, stroking her neck absently. "I mean…I never would have even guessed."

"I would not blow his cover unless it was of dire importance. How do you think he manages to go so fast anyway? No horse is that good," Castiel replied with a slight smile, and then he narrowed his eyes, looking back to the horizon the way he'd come. "Ah," he said. "Here he comes."

The dragon was small but long. What it lacked in girth around the chest and stomach it more than made up for in wingspan. It literally was a giant flying snake, with long whiskers curving out of its muzzle and flaring, sea-weed-like fins protruding from its back. It looked like an eel or something, with long elegant wings that just looked like those of a bird's, feathers instead of membrane curving over their span. The dragon flew like a snake, coming down in a mass of swirls and showy twists before it landed in front of Castiel, bowing its head. It was the color of Castiel's eyes – a glowing, rippling mass of blue with gold around its head in a collar-like ring, and the flares from its back were golden as well.

"Dean," Castiel said, walking up to the dragon, "meet one of the firsts. Gabriel, and my father." The dragon purred in greeting, whiskers twitching as it leaned down, muzzle against Castiel's forehead.

"Gabriel? The Messenger?" Dean asked incredulously, looking up at the massive beast, unable to believe that this creature was the snarky, helpful little man that had helped him save the King and given him a horse and had generally just been a lighter point of castle life. "…How?"

"We go deeper than you think, Dean," Castiel said after a moment of silence with his father – his freaking father! – and turned back to look at the Hunter. "Lucifer – the one meaning to assassinate the King – was also a dragon. A half-brother to the King, just as yours was. We are everywhere, and most of us are benign. Do you see what I strive to achieve now, Dean? All of us in harmony, never having to hide who we are…" He turned back to Gabriel, running a hand along the side of the dragon's head. "To never have to lie."

Dean nodded, his mouth twisted into an unsure line, but he understood. Or at least, he thinks he did. "Will he carry the egg for us?" The dragon raised his head, looking to Dean with one hazel-golden eye, and winked. Dean figured he had his answer, and smiled. "Thank you, Gabriel." The dragon winked again, and then padded over to the giant golden egg. It fit easily in his front two feet, and he pushed off with powerful hind-legs, wings flaring as he took to the skies, heading over the mountains.

"I tell you what," Dean said lightly as he took the reins on his baby again, shoving himself into the saddle and waited until Castiel followed suit. "He just better not fucking drop it."

Castiel laughed, shook his head, and they were off, following.

They ended up arriving at the hatchery just in time. The horses were worked hard, sweating and almost dead on their feet. Dean unhitched them as Castiel ran up the two-dozen steps from the highest plateau to the raised platform, heated with lava from a volcano below to keep the eggs warm.

Dean looked around, uneasy.

There were many, many dragons here. Blues, reds and blacks all flashed in his eyesight, flaring their wings. They could smell him; smell his blood and his scent and the scent of other dragons on him. They could probably see the thin thread tying him to Castiel, tying him to a dead Halfling miles away in a dragon's lair. Their eyes glowed and they bared their teeth at him, saliva dripping, acidic, to the ground below their perches. Dean shivered at the many murderous glares – there was no love lost here. Castiel's presence was probably the only thing keeping them at bay.

Dean ran up the stairs behind Castiel in time to see the egg begin to crack. It was the only one on the platform, and the shell seemed to…get transparent for a moment, and then a thin crack formed along the top as though something was cutting it from the inside. There was the sound of breaking bones and Dean winced, and nothing moved as the egg rocked. Gabriel settled down beside the hatchery, his wings drooping from weariness and his nostrils flared, breathing in the acrid smell of sulfur and fire.

The egg didn't so much as get pushed open, as fall apart. One minute it was there and the next it was a mass of rolling shards of gold. Solid gold, Dean could see, but his eyes weren't focused for long on the egg. No…not the egg.

The hatchling was smaller than he would have expected, given the egg's size. It would easily fit in Dean's arms, like a domesticated cat. It was long and serpentine and golden, with flecks of black around its eyes and wings. The membrane was black with threads of copper marking the veins and arteries. It chirped quietly, rolling onto its feet, wings flared awkwardly as it tried to balance. The tail was spiked like its fathers, spines rolling down its back and atop its head. A son.

Dean fell to his knees at Castiel's side, unable to believe that this…was his family. The only thing he had left of Sam. His soul seemed to recognize that too – the dragons watched in awe as it reached out – more like shot out, dragging onto the hatchling's essence and taking hold of the familial bond, the parental role of father, without Dean even having to think about it. The Hunter felt tears building up and tried blinking them away, but couldn't, and a few spilled over. He closed his eyes and bowed his head, unable to believe that he had ever thought of killing this egg. Of killing Sam.

He felt warm breath on his face, and looked up. The hatchling had crawled over to him, regarding him with golden-hazel eyes. It blinked once, nostrils flared, and then chirped again, standing up on its hind-legs to get at the same level as Dean's face, wings flaring for balance, but it fell. Dean caught it before it could injure itself, laughing a little.

"Sure as hell acts like him," Dean said, voice thick with tears.

"Who?" Castiel asked, his voice hushed.

"Sammy." Dean reached out a shaking hand, stroking along the smooth, snake-like, delicate scales on the hatchling's neck. "My Sammy."

Castiel smiled, the hatchling chirped and wriggling happily at the name, curling happily into the circle of Dean's arms, and the new era began.

Many years later, Queen Anna frowned down at her city, watching the men and women hurry about their day. They don't even know, she thought, sighing heavily as she ran a hand through her flaming hair, letting it fall from the tight cornrows to frame her pretty face. Behind her, her husband came up and wrapped hands around her six-months-pregnant stomach, smiling against her neck.

"You should rest," Chuck said lightly, knowing she wouldn't. True to his thoughts, she shook her head, mouth tight. "Do I need to send for them?"

The Queen paused, considering, and then nodded. "Yes. The Manticore and Demon armies grow stronger. I feel they will invade us within days. Send Gabriel – he's the fastest." The King nodded, kissing his wife lightly on the cheek before he left, heading out to the stables. They'd expanded over the last few years, and now the roof was almost as high as the second floor balconies of the castle. Chuck found the small golden-haired man brushing down a sleek black mare – her last owner had asked Gabriel to take care of her while he was gone and the man had graciously accepted the responsibility. He was allowed the keep the mare on the grounds but only if no one else went near her. She was very particular about that.

"Gabriel, you're needed," the King said, folding his arms over his chest as Gabriel straightened, turned, and bowed down slightly, a smile on his face.

"Yes, your majesty?" he asked.

"The Demon armies are advancing on us. Anna is frantic – she believes we will be invaded within days. We cannot send men out to fight demons and manticores – can you find us an army?"

Gabriel's smile grew. "Oh, I know just the people," he said slyly.

Chuck nodded again. "Please, summon them."

The Messenger smiled again, striding out of the stables. Once in the courtyard, wings exploded from his back, his human skin and clothing tore to give way to scales and talons and membrane, flaring around his body as his serpentine shape unfolded from the smaller human vessel, and Gabriel stretched his aquamarine feathers, looking to the sky.

"May the four winds carry you swiftly," Chuck called up to him, and Gabriel smiled. "Godspeed, Messenger."

Gabriel bowed his large blue and golden head, whiskers twitching forward just a little, before he pushed off with powerful hind-legs, wings flaring and eclipsing the sun for the briefest moment, before the moment passed and the humans were blinded, sun glinting off of Gabriel's scales as the Messenger took wing, catching a powerful updraft that would take him towards the hatcheries.

The people stopped their busywork, looking up into the sky with awe on their faces, where there had once been fear, and Gabriel smiled as his powerful wings beat at the air, carrying him higher and over the mountains towards his destination.

"Dean, Castiel, Sam," he sent, just in case his friends were receptive to him as he was; "I'm heading your way. There's a fight ahead. You up for it?"

There was a brief silence, then laughter in his head that sounded like children playing, and then Dean's voice drifted back through;