A/N: So, no new episode of SPN this week… Hmm, sounds like a good time to put out a chapter. Or maybe two. (Haven't gotten around to editing this yet, so sorry if it's a little sloppy—I'll clean it up in a bit.)
Chapter 8: Out of the Garden
Buttery and sweet, the smell hung over him, enticing him to open his eyes. Dean blinked awake, realizing he'd fallen asleep sitting up on the couch, head lolled to one side. He smacked his lips, swiping one hand against the corner of his mouth as fresh saliva erupted under his tongue. A growling pop in his stomach reminded him that he'd moved on to research-mode before eating his dessert last night.
Which had been time wasted. Bobby was right. The name he was looking for wasn't going to be found in a book.
Dean stood and stretched out his back, careful not to strain the stitchwork holding his rag-doll shoulder together. The ache was bone deep, a constant reminder. The skin beneath the bandage looked solid, glossy and hardening where the scar tissue was beginning to form in the muscle. Looks could be deceiving, and despite how mended it appeared, he knew better than to pull out Bobby's work of art a few days early. He'd trade nagging for a little physical hindrance any time.
Laughter erupted from the other room. It was burst of breathy giggles, and certainly didn't come from any of the men of the house. Dean leaned forward, peeking past the open entry into the kitchen. He paused before making another move, a small smile sliding onto his face
Cas stood beside the kitchen counter, hands over his mouth to hide the mock-surprise and amusement on his face as he laughed. His bright blue eyes were lifted, glued to Bobby Singer as if he were the funniest damn being in existence. It took Dean another second to figure out why. Bobby was holding an empty platter in one hand, an egg flipper in the other, and, at stomach height, the circular shape of a gooey, undercooked pancake was plastered to the front of his dingy, cotton shirt. One flip gone wrong.
"Oh, yeah, that's real hilarious," Bobby griped, his tight, upturned lips betraying the gruff tone.
The pancake chose that moment fall off and hit the floor with a splat, setting Cas off again.
Bobby snorted. "I should make you eat that one, Chuckles. You think Sam and Dean'll want bananas in their batch, too?"
Dean raised a brow, sure he'd been spotted, but Bobby didn't call attention to him.
Cas gave a dizzying nod, his messy black hair flopping over his brow. Then he paused, bottom lip poking out. He shook his head, reconsidering the idea. "Just Sam," he reasoned, his voice pitched and lacking the somberness it had carried the night before. A child's voice. "I get Dean's bananas."
Bobby shook his head, his thoughts his own. "Do you, now? Double bananas sound like a two man job. You gonna help out?"
Cas hopped onto his toes to snatch the heavy ceramic platter and proceeded to hold it above his head with both hands, as if it weighed a good thirty pounds. Dean was fairly certain Bobby was begging for a bigger mess.
Dean felt a prickle at the back of his neck; a prying gaze he'd know anywhere. He quietly took a step backward, into the study, and saw Sam standing in the hallway. Bare feet, clean jeans, hair slicked back and wet from his morning shower, Sam gave his brother a little nod, and moved away. Dean took the hint and followed him out the front door, onto the porch. Gently, Dean shut the door behind them, not quite pulling it closed but cutting off the kitchen sounds.
"Looks like Bobby's starting to take to Cas," Dean noted.
The morning air was crisp but not uncomfortably so, and the South Dakota sun was still dancing over a horizon, not yet high in the sky but casting ribbons of orange over the blue. Dean took it in, knew the peace was only temporary, and tried to not notice the look in Sam's eyes.
"Yeah. Looks like." The levity of the words was forced, and Sam took a deep breath, letting it out with a slow huff. His hand moved up, fingers curled, as if he wished he had a beer to sip on, avoid whatever was supposed to leave his mouth next. "Dean, I'm so sorry."
"Just let me finish, okay?" Sam reached up, letting his flat palm run over the top of his head. It came away glistening. So did his eyes. "We, I, shouldn't have asked you to talk to Cas about that stuff. I mean, if anyone knows how badly recalling the past can screw you up, it's me…And I asked anyway. I shouldn't have. I'm sorry."
Dean moved into his line of sight. "There's nothing for you to apologize for, Sam. I had to try asking, eventually."
Sam raised both brows in question, then shook his head when Dean didn't back down from the statement. "That's crap, Dean. I know you. You'd never have brought it up to him if Bobby and I hadn't asked you to, demon or no demon."
"Yeah, well, doesn't really make a difference now. It's done. Didn't work. Didn't damage him too badly either. No harm, no foul." Dean cocked his head, cutting off his brother before he could try again. "You were listening in last night, right? You heard what he said?"
Sam nodded. "Cas, or Castiel, at least, knew the demon. From Hell. That's what he meant, isn't it?"
Dean rolled a kink out of his shoulder and winced, remembering the injury. "Yeah, but the words he used…"
"Touched." Sam frowned, and Dean could almost read the thoughts running over his eyes like newspaper headlines. "He said he touched him the way he touched you. Do you think… Do you think Castiel raised the demon? The same way he pulled you out of Hell?"
Dean shook his head. "Not exactly. Sam, I know you don't like to think about it, but back…back before you got your soul. Cas was the one to raise your body. Do you remember much about that?"
"My early Robo-Hunter days?" The joke was lost in his grimace. It was painful territory, and Dean automatically regretted bringing it up. Before he could take it back, though, Sam shrugged. "You know, I hadn't really thought about it. About how Cas was the one who pulled me out of the cage. Well, my body at least…But if you're looking for specifics on the process, it's kind of a blur. How about you? Do remember how it happened, the trip from Hell to the reverse-dirt-bath?"
Dean gnawed his bottom lip a moment, then grunted in frustration. "Not a whole hell of a lot, no pun intended. I mean, when I first got out, I didn't even remember what had happened. At all. Memories came back in pieces. Even now, it flashes from rack-fun to bright-friggin-light to coffin. I don't even know exactly how he left the burn on my arm…Did you—?"
Sam was already shaking his head, anticipating the question. "I hadn't thought about it at the time. Was kinda in a psychopathic frame of mind then. But, I didn't have a mark on me. Not like the one Cas left on you. Do you think it's because he didn't touch my soul?"
"Dude, that sounds so girly." But Dean shrugged. "Maybe."
Sam gave him a sideways glance. "Think that's maybe why you can feel him all the time, and I can't?"
"It's not all the—" Dean cut off, noticing the wide-eyed expression on Sam's face. He'd been caught. "Shit. Sam, I'm not even sure it's real. I mean, Cas is human—if there was any soul-branding crap between us, it was lost when he took the big fall."
"You had a vision, Dean. Through the kid's point of view. Did you think I didn't piece that together?"
"What, you want a cookie or something?"
Sam's cheek twitched. "Was the vision the first time you've ever… connected?"
"Do you really have to phrase it like that?" Dean studied the salvage yard, taking in the graveyard of bits and pieces, rust and rubber. Sam grabbed his good shoulder, yanking his attention back to the present.
"It's not, is it?" Sam stepped over the line, into panic, but his voice remained low, cautious of the others, just a door away. "That kid's four years old—how many times has this happened?"
"For God's sake, Sammy, I'd never had a 'vision' or anything, alright. It was just some, you know, weird feelings." Dean watched the worry on his brother's face devolve into curiosity and sighed. He wasn't letting up. "Like…Like I'd feel afraid or happy over something for no reason. Or I'd think my heart was racing, but take my pulse and realize it was fine. The worst one, the first one, was just months after Crowley's lab blew. It was this intense moment of panic. You were at the store, and I was freaking the hell out over nothing…Kinda lines up with when Cassidy was born, and I gotta tell ya, Sam, grown men aren't meant to experience childbirth from any vantage point. But, Sam, I would have told you if I thought for a second it was real and not all in my head."
"You should have told me anyway." The muttered accusation didn't have any heart behind it. Sam took a moment, rolling the information around. Dean could tell he wanted to snap about 'keeping secrets' and 'being in the loop' and 'big fat hypocrites'. But Sam kept quiet instead. Finally, he rested his arms across his chest. "Alright then," he said, louder.
Dean frowned. "Alright then?"
Sam let his eyes roam the salvage yard. "Well, what do you want me to say? There's nothing we can do about it, right? But, man, this leaves us with a pretty significant problem."
"You'll have to specify. It's been one of those weeks."
"If the reason why you can connect with Cas like that is because he 'touched' you…"
Dean's eyes widened in realization. "Shit."
Sam nodded. "Then that means the demon is just as connected to Cas. Cas won't be safe, not anywhere, until we find this thing and kill it. And, even then, you'll still be—"
Dean cut him off. "That's the plan, anyway." He added a smirk for good measure. "Which means the kid's going to be sticking with us, though, for a while. Has it hit you, yet? What we're really doing here?"
Sam grinned back. "You mean the part where we've been saddled with a four-year-old who once drank a liquor store and helped stop the Apocalypse? No, I think that's still sinking in for me."
Bobby Singer. The last member of the small family the Winchester boys had made for themselves.
The demon had considered dropping in on the old man, if only for the small role he'd played, still played, in the brothers' lives, but there was no need. The heavy black monster of a car had found its way to the salvage yard all on its own, lining all of his damaged ducks in a row.
Aaron's grin stretched wide, painfully so. He couldn't have asked for more from the men. So predictable, each and every one of them. So drawn together, closer than family.
"You're going to die bloody." The words slipped out, on their own, and gave the demon pause. He'd forgotten, for a moment, that he still had a mouth to use, Aaron Matthew's mouth. Satisfied with the sound of the threat, and certain his prey couldn't hear him in the distance, he spoke them again, louder. "You're going to die bloody. Each and every one of you."
The wards keeping him out were pitiful. Child's play. Not the best that Bobby Singer had to offer. But there were more inside, more meant to capture the thick-headed and overly eager. Further proof that the older hunter still didn't know his name. His purpose. How long he'd waited.
He could be patient. Had been patient. But, now, watching those brothers, knowing their intent, he felt the time for waiting was at an end. Aaron saw Dean's gaze venture out, so close and so far, never quite noticing the hidden danger. Here was the man broken, made whole again. But his cracks still showed, and Aaron hoped to find them all.
"You know now, don't you, Dean? You know."
Dean slid into the driver's seat of the Impala. The cushion molded to meet his body, fitting him neatly, like a worn glove. His shape, his scent, his sweat, his blood; all of it found a home here, between glass and metal walls. He leaned back, no keys in hand, and simply stared out the front windshield, watching the harsh yellow fade of day into evening.
"You're not supposed to sneak around by yourself," he said, eyes darting up, catching the movement in the back through the rearview mirror. He cleared the roughness from his voice with a cough. "It's dangerous."
There was no answer for a moment. Then the blanket draped over the back seat dropped down to the floor, a small body pushing itself up into a sitting position.
Cas rubbed the back of his hand over the damp tip of his nose. He blinked, confused, as if he'd been roused from a nap. Which maybe he had. Dean rolled his eyes at the thought, then remembered that this was a four-year-old, and when he was four, he'd thought home wasn't dangerous. Until it was.
"Feels safe here," Cas answered.
Feels safe. Dean could understand that, and it brought a small smile to his face. Despite the bad memories, the knowledge that there wasn't such a thing as 'safe', he understood the sentiment.
Over the past four days, since they'd rolled into Bobby's a few pints of blood low and exhausted, Dean had watched Cas like a hawk, seen the way the kid liked to study the "really fast car" through the front hall window. So, when the boy had wandered outside while Dean was sorting through his tools, three hunters had been paying careful mind. Dean had given him half an hour to himself, playing inside the car, unknowingly guarded, before making a move.
"Bobby's got your bath running, kid. Time to go inside." Dean watched the pout form. "But tomorrow, I need to give the car a tune-up before she starts coughin'. You want to help?"
Cas' eyes widened. "Is she sick?"
Dean snorted. "Dude, she's been through worse. You know th—" He bit his lip. No. This Cas didn't know how many times the car had been totaled. "She'll be fine. Just needs some plugs replaced. I'll show you how to do it, for when you're, you know, taller."
"Is there anyone else in the car? Yeah, you, shorty. That's if you get ready for bed on time tonight."
The widened eyes remained, but a smile slowly joined them. Cas slid off the seat, struggling to open the door. When he succeeded, he hopped down onto the gravel, intent on making a dead run for the house. Dean slid out to join him, and stopped dead in his tracks.
Cas wasn't beside the car, or in front of it. Dean didn't have to turn a full circle. The hairs on the back of his neck stood in warning, pointing out the direction of the danger. Dean saw the knife first, the kid second, and the demon last.
"What do you think, Dean? Do fallen angels go to Heaven when they die?"
This was a mockery of the young pastor Dean had met less than a week ago. The bright smile, the one Brother Aaron Matthews had worn when he'd spoken of his Church's youth, was plastered on his face, just as welcoming and reminiscent as ever. His shoulders loose, nonthreatening, casual, if Dean's eyes stayed level, instead of traveling down those arms to find the hands. One held the child's mouth shut, palm wide enough to cup his chin in a bruising vice. Fingernails dug into a plump, ruddy cheek. The other hand hand held the knife. It was no more than a kitchen utensil, but sharp. Its tip was pressed beneath the hinge of Cas' jaw, ready to lodge itself up into his brain.
Dean could taste threats on his tongue, bitter promises, broken pleas. None of them actually left his mouth.
"You'd think I'd know, wouldn't you? I mean, I…I'm well acquainted with angels." Aaron tilted his head, as if considering his own words. He took another step, Cas whimpering when the demon's knees pushed him forward, too. "Bet there's a lot to be learned from them when they're in such soft packages. Bet you can carve out any answer you want when they're like this."
"You want to hurt me?" Dean bit. "I'm right here. That kid's got nothing to do with this." Dean wasn't sure if that was a lie, but he knew, just from the look on Aaron's face, who was at the top of the demon's list. "I'm the one you're after."
Aaron huffed out a breathy chuckle. "Oh, you're right. You're the one I blame. I plan on ripping you apart, and putting you back together again. Rinse and repeat." He paused, pursing his lips. "The others, they've got to take their licks, too. Sam. Castiel. Bobby, too, if I can squeeze the old guy in. Trust me, my list is long. But, yeah, I'm petty. I'd feel accomplished if I just checked you off. Only, Winchesters don't hurt like other people. Slice and dice, and they keep on grinnin'…But it's when you cut to the heart—that's when a Winchester flinches."
As if to drive the notion home, he pressed the blade harder, letting the tip slide past the skin, draw a bead of blood. Cas' breathing quickened. Dean could feel it in his chest: fear. It hurt. It hurt. Dean wanted to say something, anything, to calm the kid down, but he kept his mouth shut.
"Family, right? That's always been your weakness." Aaron's face twitched, losing its easy gloat. Rage peaked out through oil black eyes and thin lips. "Except, not just anyone gets to be family, do they, Dean? Somehow…Somehow, this little shit has wormed his way into the secret Winchester circle. You hear all kinds of things in Hell—you know what gossips tortured souls can be. Guess what I heard? This would-be angel, you called him brother. And now, you've chosen him again, after all he did wrong, you've chosen him. Just like you chose Sam—even though Sam had already had his moment, his chance to turn back. Even though Sam had made the leap of his own free will. You still chose him."
The sweat dripping down his temples somehow chilled him to the bone. Dean let out a stuttered breath, jaw clenched to hold the sound of that gasp inside. This wasn't Cas. This wasn't a child's fear. This was a man's fear. A guilty man's fear.
Aaron licked his bottom lip, as if he could taste it. "You know my name. Say it!"
Dean couldn't open his mouth.
"Say it," Aaron repeated, his voice calmer, his anger pressed down, smoldering like embers beneath the surface. "Say it, or I'll skin Castiel alive, right in front of you."
Dean heard it, just in the distance, the sound of footsteps. Someone was coming to the front door of the house, not twenty yards away. But they wouldn't make it in time. A demon could move a blade fast.
"Adam." Dean blinked the sting out of his eyes. "Adam."
What had it been, seven years? Eight? He could see it still, that look of horror on his half brother's face when the angel Michael descended. That pleading expression: save me. Dean promised himself he'd get the kid back, find a way. Find a way to get back the last, untainted piece of his bloodline. But, instead, he watched, a spectator in the stands, the moment long since over. Watched both his brothers fall into the pit. Into eternal damnation.
Adam was never meant for Hell. Adam had been in Heaven. Was pulled from it do Dean's job. But Hell was where he'd ended up. And Hell was where Dean had left him.
Dean had made the choice, had made his deal with Death…
"Sam's soul is stuck in that box."
"And our other brother is trapped in there, too. Michael rode him in."
"Dean, quit shuffling and deal."
"I want you to get 'em both out."
"Hmm." Dean had known right then what it would come to, but Death's words still came at him like a slap across the face: "Pick one."
"Sam's soul or Adam's."
Death had given the option. To have even that was more than Dean could have hoped for. Dean's answer had come quickly, too quickly. He wasn't sure what he was more ashamed of, the fact that he'd chosen at all, or the fact that he didn't regret the choice a single second since.
"Thought it would be easier to forget about me, didn't you?"
"I never forgot." Dean swallowed it down. "Adam, I'm…"
"Sorry?" Aaron's face…no, Adam's. The meat he was wearing couldn't hide his expressions that well. Adam's face twisted, livid and excited. "Sorry doesn't fix things, Dean. But don't worry, you'll get what's coming to you soon enough." He raised the hand holding Cas' mouth closed, putting his palm out. Dean knew what came next. "This is going to hurt, big brother."
A flick of the wrist and Dean was flying back, the air whistling past his ears, and, in it, his own name, being shouted in a familiar voice. Castiel. No, Cassidy. A child, screaming. Sam and Bobby aren't going to make it in time—and his body collided with metal.
End Notes: Yes, I know several of you guessed the identity of the demon early on, but I didn't want to say anything, as to not ruin it for others, so, big shoutouts to BetahimeTsukiko, Cendrekai, Apollo199199, Illucida, Iryann and to anyone else I might have left out… As for the "how" and the "why," there are only a few more chapters of this tale left, so stick around and find out. I promise answers. ;) The dialogue between Dean and Death was from season 6's "Appointment in Samarra."