It had been an ordinary day up until a man fell out of the ceiling.
In the morning Dean got out of bed, fixed himself a bowl of cereal, and sat down to watch cartoons on TV. He was in no particular hurry to do much of anything because there wasn't much of anything to do. His father was off on a job, leaving Dean and his little brother entrenched in their room at the EZ-Sleep Motel. John had left Dean with a bag of groceries, a little bit of money, a gun, and instructions.
Don't leave the room unless it's an emergency
Don't open the door for anyone
Watch out for your brother
Don't spend all the money on junk from the vending machines
No Pay-Per-View movies
Don't set anything on fire
Dean knew the drill, but was a little put out by the addition of the last three items on John's list. He couldn't help it if John forgot to put sugary snacks and soda on the grocery shopping list. A kid had to have supplies, and no pay-per-view? What were they supposed to watch, regular TV? Regular TV was boring. Furthermore, Dean never intentionally set anything on fire. Just because he accidentally caught their last room on fire would he be forever persecuted? How was he supposed to know if you flicked a Bic too much it would get hot enough to burn your fingers so that you would drop it on the bed? How was he supposed to know the blanket was that flammable? They'd put the fire out quickly, and it wasn't like Sam was in the bed when it went up in flames.
In any case, Dean wasn't in a big hurry to get up that morning. He'd lounged around pretending to sleep for about an hour or so after he actually did wake up, just to bug the crap out of Sam. Sam was an early riser, and had already been up for a long time. He also liked oatmeal. This presented a problem as oatmeal required hot water and Sam wasn't allowed to use anything that generated heat. Sam thought this was blatantly unfair. After all, it had been Dean who set the bed on fire, not Sam.
"When you're bigger," John told him.
If there was anything Sam Winchester hated as a child, it was being told "when you're bigger" or "when you grow up." He was small for his age and very self-conscious about it – hence the oatmeal. He became completely convinced that certain foods, including the sugary cereal Dean preferred, would stunt his growth. Years later, after a flippant comment from Dean about his height, Sam reminded him about the oatmeal saying, "You are what you eat." This Dean took as an insult considering his cereal of choice had been Fruit Loops.
John had supplied the boys with oatmeal and a non-sugary cereal. (Which Dean would ultimately drown in sugar purchased at the Quick-Shop next door with the money he wasn't supposed to spend on sugary junk.) After patiently waiting around all morning for Dean to wake up and make him oatmeal Sam put on his annoying little kid hat when he realized Dean was faking being asleep. He employed a tried and true method of annoyance most kids learn to use from birth.
It was usually "Mom" but others used "Dad." Sam's chosen weapon was of course –
"Dean. Dean. Dean. Dean. Dean…."
Until Dean, made completely insane by the sound of his own name, sat up in bed and shouted,
Sam blinked innocently. "I'm hungry."
Dean threw a pillow at him, but he was up and Sam got his oatmeal.
That was how the day started, which wasn't particularly out of the ordinary. The fight they had over the television remote wasn't unusual either, nor was the argument regarding which superhero was better – Superman or Batman – which wasn't much of an argument considering they both thought Batman was better if only because his alter ego had a lot of money and he drove a really cool car. Dean secretly harbored the theory that their father was a superhero – if only because he drove a really cool car.
Sam was less inclined toward this area of thought due to the fact John a) did not have a lot of money b) did not wear a mask and c) did not have a really cute girlfriend. Dean might have argued that their mother had been really cute had Sam voiced this opinion, but Sam kept it to himself. Superheroes always saved their girlfriends from being hurt by the bad guy. If John Winchester was a superhero, he would have saved their mother from burning up – but he didn't.
The day dragged on. Sam played "cave explorer" under his bed with a one-armed GI-Joe he'd found at a thrift store and bought for five cents, while Dean watched a pay-per-view movie called Camp Slasher which was a really crappy knock-off of a better known camper-killing film John wouldn't let him watch. Camp Slasher had less sex and more gore than the original, about which the 11-going-on-12 Dean felt conflicted. He stood on the cusp of puberty – his voice was warbling up and down the scale like an out-of-tune-violin – so bare breasts were intriguing, but the kid in him wanted to see more severed heads. The special effects crew on Camp Slasher apparently had employed a high-pressure hose to squirt blood from campers' wounds. One unlucky counselor's headless corpse spurted a fountain of blood to rival Old Faithful.
Late in the afternoon Dean decided it was time for lunch. He dutifully made them both ham sandwiches, then ducked out to the vending machines for chips and soda, rationalizing this indiscretion with the notion that if the chips and soda were part of a meal, then John wouldn't be too bent out of shape about it. (He was still working on the rationalization for Camp Slasher.)
Sam was sitting on his bed with his sandwich, his chips and his soda. Dean was sitting on his own bed with a ham sandwich, chips and a soda too. They had just turned the television to Jerry Springer to watch "Moms Who Date Their Teenage Daughters' Ex-Boyfriends," when all of a sudden the television went off with a "POP" and….
A guy fell out of the ceiling.
Dean froze in mid chew. He glanced over at his brother who had stopped with a potato chip poised in his hand halfway between the bag and his open mouth. Sam's mouth shut abruptly. He looked back at Dean. Both of them abandoned their meal to crawl to the end of their beds and peep over at the man lying sprawled on his back upon the stained and threadbare carpet. Dean finished chewing and swallowed his bite of sandwich.
"Is he dead?"
Sam peered down at the body on the floor. "I dunno."
"Is he breathing?"
"He's bleeding," Sam stated, pointing out the man's bloody nose. He craned his head up at the ceiling. "Maybe he fell out of a plane."
"Don't be stupid. There's no hole in the roof, and he doesn't have a parachute."
"If he had a parachute he wouldn't have fallen through the roof."
"He didn't fall through the roof, he fell out of it."
Sam frowned. At six he wasn't quite sure of the distinction between falling out of the roof and falling through the roof. Either scenario would end up with a guy lying on the floor so it hardly mattered to him anyway.
"People don't just poof up out of nowhere," Dean said reflectively.
They both stopped and looked at each other again.
"Maybe you better call Dad," Sam said nervously.
"Cause a guy just poofed up out of nowhere in our room." Taking another look at said man, Sam whispered. "He looks like the creepy guy that hangs out on the corner."
Dean shook his head. "Nah, that guy doesn't wear pants."
Sam's eyes widened. "Yeah, but what if he takes his pants off?" He whispered urgently. "I learned about that in school. You aren't s'posed to talk to strangers or you might get napped!"
"You might get what?" Dean squeaked, laughing.
"Napped – it's not funny, Dean! You get put in a bag and taken away in a big black van and then the police find your bones in a pond." Sam examined their unconscious visitor warily. "I don't want to be napped."
"It's kidnapped, dufus."
"That's what I said! Kids get napped by strangers."
Dean rolled his eyes.
The man on the floor groaned.
"He's not dead!" Sam exclaimed.
Both boys scrambled backward on their beds – Sam out of arms reach in the center of his bed – in case the stranger should he rise from the floor and start grabbing. Dean hurried to the table beside his bed where he had a shotgun on standby. He cocked it and held it pointing at the man who remained on the floor. The man's eyes were still closed and he did not groan again.
"Poke him," Sam suggested.
"You poke him."
Sam's eyes got huge, as if Dean had told him to jump off the roof. "I'm not going to poke him! You have the gun! You poke him."
Dean edged closer. He knew some things wouldn't be hurt by a regular gun – his father had taught him that – but despite having appeared out of thin air, the man in the wrinkled trench coat didn't appear to be anything other than a man. He was definitely solid. Dean reached out with the end of the shotgun and gave the man's shoulder a nudge.
He repeated the gesture, adding a vocal prompt as well. He tried to pitch it low, but his voice let him down as he let out a squeaky - "Hey!"
The man's eyes opened. They were blue– a sharp contrast against his dark hair and the stubbly beard upon his cheeks. At first they appeared slightly unfocused, leading Dean to believe he was either drunk or otherwise disoriented. After a second though, those intensely blue eyes followed the shotgun's barrel up to rest upon Dean's face.
A low gravelly voice followed.
"Is this the EZ-Sleep motel?"
As this was definitely not what Dean had expected, he stammered, "Uh…yeah."
"Uh-huh." Dean stepped back quickly as the man suddenly sat up. He tried the new lower version of his voice again, and this time managed to keep it there for almost an entire sentence. "Whoa! Don't get any ideas mister or I'll shoot you, I swear." He lost it on the "swear," which came out in a tone akin to nails on a chalkboard. Out of the corner of his eye, Dean saw his brother wince.
The man evidently didn't care. He was more interested in the content of said sentence than the tone of Dean's voice. He cocked his head to the side. "Ideas?"
"Like don't try any napping!" Sam interjected, looking about as ferocious as a kid his age could look – which was almost laughable and quite reminiscent of a growling puppy. He was more cute than intimidating. One's first impulse would have been to laugh, pat him on the head, and hand him a cookie.
Turning his head, the man looked at Sam. He was not laughing. "I have just regained consciousness. Why would I want to take a nap?"
Dean shot Sam a glare. "It's kidnapping, dork!" He looked back at the man who he was now considering a prisoner. "And don't try it. Don't try anything."
"I would like to try and get up off the floor," the man said. "I think I have misjudged my…trajectory."
"I'm in the wrong room."
"Oh." Dean tightened his grip on the gun. "Okay, but no fast moves."
"Trust me. I will not be moving quickly." The man struggled to his feet. Dean backed up a little more to give him room when he swayed unsteadily and suddenly sat back down on the end of Dean's bed. "Sorry. I'm…a little dizzy."
"Poofing would make me dizzy too," Sam said, edging just slightly closer. His curiosity was now getting the better of him. He was still thinking about superheroes, and wondering if they weren't having an encounter of the superhero kind.
"Your poofing makes me dizzy," Dean interjected. "It stinks, especially after we eat at Taco Haven."
"Shut up, that's not what I mean."
The man frowned. "What do you mean?"
"You poofed out of thin air." Sam pointed to the ceiling. "There's no hole, so it wasn't a plane."
"I…what? What plane?"
"Hey," Dean said, reaffirming via a re-aiming of the shotgun that he actually had a shotgun. "I'm not stupid. There's something fishy about you…" He struggled to keep a straight face when the man lifted his lapel and sniffed himself. "No! You don't smell fishy. It just means you're weird. Normal people don't fall out of the ceiling."
"Unless they fall out of a plane but then they'd make a hole in the roof," Sam explained. "You didn't make a hole."
The man was nodding. "No, no. You are correct. I am…different."
Sam and Dean looked at each other behind the man's back. Sam shrugged.
"Uh…" Dean began cautiously, "different how?"
"I did not 'poof' out of thin air."
"Coulda fooled me."
"Are you a superhero?" Sam asked, unable to hold the question back any longer. He squirmed a little in anticipation of the answer. "Like Superman? Or Batman?"
"I am not any sort of a man. I am an angel of the Lord, and I have been travelling through time."
Both boys gave him wide-eyed stares, but for two entirely different reasons. Sam, from a very young age – and it could be said he was still at a very young age – was fascinated with angels. He had at first looked at them as some sort of winged Santas who went around granting wishes – only angels called them "prayers" instead. A friend of their father, Pastor Jim, had set him straight on that point and began teaching him about God, Heaven, and the angels who lived there.
Sam knew Heaven was somewhere very high in the sky past the moon, so it was perfectly logical to him that an angel would poof out of the ceiling. Therefore, he immediately believed the man's claim.
Dean was more skeptical. He did not believe in angels, but he was a science fiction junkie and when the man claimed to be travelling through time Dean immediately thought of the move The Terminator. The Terminator had not poofed out of a ceiling, but he did sort of materialize out of thin air. Angel or Terminator, anything that materialized out of thin air was, in Dean's opinion, highly suspect. This person (or cyborg) couldn't possibly be up to any good.
"There's no such thing as angels," he said promptly.
"Uh-huh!" Sam said indignantly. "Pastor Jim said so!"
"Well if there are, he ain't one," Dean insisted.
"How do you know?"
"Angels have wings. Do you see any wings?"
Sam looked at the man very carefully. "He's wearing a coat."
"And why would an angel need a coat? Huh?"
"It came with my vessel," the so-called-angel supplied helpfully. "This is not my true form. In my true form I do indeed have wings. Human vision simply cannot process the vastness of an angel's full glory."
Sam gave his brother a smug look. "See! He does so got wings."
"Yeah, well just 'cause he says it's so doesn't make it so," Dean replied. "He could be lying."
"I do not lie."
Dean snorted. "See, he's not an angel, he's Mr. Spock."
The angel frowned. "No. I am not Mr. Spock. My name is Castiel."
"What the hell kind of name is that?"
Castiel cocked his head, not fully understanding the question. "It is not a name of Hell it is a name of Heaven."
Satisfied with this explanation, Sam scrambled down from his bed to stand in front of the angel with one small hand outthrust. "Hi! It's nice to meet you. I'm Sam. This is my stupid brother, Dean."
Dean smacked him in the back of the head.
Ow!" Sam whipped around and retaliated with a smack of his own – or tried to – Dean grinned and quickly moved out of the way. "That hurt!" Turning back to their visitor, Sam frowned. "Hey? Are you okay?"
The angel had apparently gone into some sort of shock, because he now sat staring at them with his mouth slack and his blue eyes wide, wide open. What little color he once had in his pale cheeks was entirely gone. He looked like a deer in headlights, struck completely dumb.
"Hey! Mister, you okay?" Sam repeated.
Blinking slowly, Castiel brought the boy back into focus and asked, "Sam? Your name is Sam?"
"And Dean?" Castiel looked the older of the two boys up and down. "You're Dean?"
Dean shifted his weigh uneasily under the scrutiny. "Uh-huh."
The boys spoke in unison. "Yes."
Castiel clutched his head in both hands. "Oh, damn."
Dean's mouth popped open. He pointed at the angel and turned to Sam. "See, I was right! He cussed! Angels don't cuss."
"He said damn," his brother replied, nonplussed.
"Yeah! He cussed."
Sam crossed his arms indignantly. "Angels can say that. Pastor Jim told me so. He said angels can dam up people in Hell. Only they call it smurfing."
Dean's mouth snapped shut. He frowned, started to say something, then changed his mind and frowned again before finally coming up with: "Sammy, you've gone bonkers. What do the Smurfs have to do with angels?"
"It's called 'smiting," Castiel muttered, rubbing at his eyes and looking like he was going to throw up at any moment. "Not smurfing."
The boys looked at him carefully. Sam knelt down so he could look up into the angel's face. "Are you gonna hurl? You look like you're gonna hurl. Doesn't he Dean?"
"How could he hurl, Sam? If he's really an angel, he doesn't eat." With a smirk he added, "Unless there's such a thing as Angel Chow."
Castiel shook his head. "I am not going to vomit."
"Well that's good to know 'cause like if you start puking, you'll make Sam puke, and I'm not cleaning it up."
"Prissy," Sam said chidingly. "Dean's a priss. He's afraid it'll make him puke."
"Shut up." Something had occurred to Dean, and he was trying to ponder it out as he stood staring at the bedraggled angel. He slowly lowered the gun and cocked his head instead. "You said you were travelling through time. So are you from the future, for real?"
The angel nodded, wincing as his throbbing head protested. "2010."
"Cool! Do we live on the moon?"
Castiel scowled at him. "No. You do not live on the moon. You live on Earth. You drive a black car and drink excessively."
Dean's eyes grew very round. "Whoa! Are you supposed to be telling me that? I mean, doesn't it mess up the time conti…conti…continent? Or break some inner-space time traveller directions?"
"No. Such a small revelation will not disturb the continuity of the time stream."
"Oh." The boy appeared somewhat disappointed. He brightened slightly. "Is it a rocket car?"
"No. It is a Chevrolet made in the year 1967."
With a discouraged grunt, Dean sat down on Sam's bed, where Sam himself had now perched, both of them watching the angel who remained seated at the end of Dean's bed.
"We're still driving the Impala?" Sam said, with a plaintive note. "We're still on the road?"
At this, Castiel looked over at Sam and studied him carefully, his expression echoing the sad look that had suddenly come over the child's face. "Yes," he replied gently, and without fully knowing why, added, "I'm sorry."
"Eh," Dean said, jumping in to defuse what could potentially erupt into tears. "Don't worry, Sammy. Until he proves all this, I'm not believing it." He gave Castiel a glare that very clearly said, "If you make my brother cry, I'm going to kick your ass."
"I need to return to the future. My presence here could put you in danger."
"Danger is our middle names," Dean said promptly, and then scowled. What he'd intended to say hadn't come out quite right, but he figured the angel got the point. Sam however, was giving him a horrified look. "What?"
"I don't want to be in danger, Dean!"
"Well…" Dean considered. "Maybe I should call Dad."
"No!" Castiel responded quickly. "John Winchester's involvement would only complicate matters, and he too would be in grave danger."
Both boys now looked unnerved. Sam poked Dean in the side with one finger and whispered, "I don't want Dad to be in danger either."
"Dad isn't afraid of danger, or angels, or time-travelling freaks," the elder brother jerked his head toward Castiel. "Don't worry."
Castiel insisted. "Please, do not call your father. I just need time to recover my strength. Time travel is difficult, even for an angel."
"Would you like a sandwich?" Sam asked. He'd learned about manners in kindergarten too, and Castiel really did look like he needed a sandwich – or an aspirin.
"No, thank you."
A long period of silence followed, during which Dean fidgeted and fussed so much Sam became concerned that he'd fire the gun by accident and retreated back to the head of his bed. Dean failed to notice his little brother took with him both unfinished sandwiches – which were quickly consumed. In recent months Sam had become a small eating machine, especially after overhearing his father say his increased appetite could be the sign of an upcoming growth spurt. Unfortunately Sam only seemed to be getting bigger in circumference rather than height.
"So," Dean said finally. "What kind of danger are we talking about?"
Castiel, who had remained seated at the end of Dean's bed with his eyes closed, quietly meditating, opened his eyes and turned his head to reply. "It is a matter of life and death."
"Is this a Terminator thing? Is there someone after us?"
"Termination is one scenario," Castiel said, "among other unpleasant possibilities."
Dean edged slightly closer to the angel, casting a careful look back at Sam, who had started in on the remainder of Dean's chips. "Is it…it's not the thing that killed my Mom, is it?" He whispered. His young face tightened into a grim expression with which Castiel was more familiar. "Because if it is, let it come, 'cause I'll kill it dead. I swear!"
"No." Castiel shook his head. "It is not. The immediate danger comes from another angel, but you could be in danger from many others of my kind as well."
"But not you?"
"Not me. I am your friend. I am sworn to protect you from the others, and will do so to the best of my ability."
"Hmm," Dean said. "Good to know – I guess."
Sam came back to join the conversation. "Why are angels coming to hurt us?" he asked, catching wind of the conversation despite Dean's efforts to keep it contained. "Did we do something bad?"
"That…" The angel paused. "That is difficult to say." He cast his eyes briefly to the ceiling out of which he'd fallen. "I have learned only recently that some questions do not have simple yes or no answers, and that sometimes what we perceive as good or bad, masks an opposite truth. "
The six-year-old didn't really follow this discourse, but he did understand the concept of time travel. He'd seen The Terminator too – and The Magic School Bus. "If we did something bad in the future, you have to tell us what it is so we don't do it."
"I can tell you, but it would be pointless. Time resists change. Events will follow as they are destined, simply because they have already occurred. You may make future choices based on what I reveal to you, and perhaps alter the path upon which you travel, but your final destination will remain the same."
"Because we're right in the middle of it," Dean said quietly. He met Castiel's eye and suddenly all his doubts fled. Unlike Sam, whose simple faith led him to believe in angels, Dean was forced to acknowledge the possibility only because he knew evil existed. That there were bad angels out there with evil intentions was far easier for him to believe. Angel or not, Castiel was beginning to make him uneasy. "This started with Mom."
"As we speak," Castiel said. "Your future selves have been sent back to the year 1978 in an attempt to stop her from being killed."
Dean frowned. "But she died in 1983."
"The assassin's target is not Mary Winchester herself."
"No," Dean muttered, realization dawning. "It's John Connor. "
Sam and Cas responded in unison – "What?"
"The Terminator didn't go back in time to kill Sarah Connor. The Terminator went back in time to keep John Connor from being born! The 'bad angels' aren't after Mom – they're after us! Our future selves are trying to save themselves!" He frowned. "Or us, or all of us, but me and Sam no matter what – or when. Right? Right. I think."
"But you just said you couldn't change time?" Sam exclaimed, ignoring Dean's confusion and addressing the angel.
Castiel shook his head. "I said you couldn't change time. A powerful angel can create a ripple effect by making one major alteration to the time stream. Preventing your mother from bearing children would be a change of such significance."
Dean stood up. "We have to tell Dad!"
"No!" Castiel snapped, and did so in such a commanding voice Dean immediately sat down again. More softly, he added, "As I said, John would only complicate matters. What I must do is gather my strength and leave here as soon as possible." He put a hand to his temple. His head was throbbing in pain, and his vessel's every muscle ached, making him long for nothing more than to lay down on the bed and leave consciousness behind for a good long time. "Do you have a stylus, paper?"
"A what?" Dean blinked at him, thinking he meant "stylist" and wondering what hair had to do with anything.
"A…" Castiel struggled for the modern word and failed. "I need something to write with."
Sam went to the little table squeezed in between the two beds and found a piece of motel stationary and a stubby pencil. Handing both to the angel he watched carefully as Castiel drew out a circle and a few funny looking letters in the middle of the paper. "What does it say?"
"It says many things, but primarily it says 'go away.'" Castiel gave the paper to Dean. "This is a sigil – you know what that means?"
Dean nodded. "Dad taught me."
"Put this on the window and the door. Can you?"
The boy nodded again. Dean understood the question immediately. Most sigils had to be drawn in blood. He pulled out his pocket-knife. "You stay here and keep an eye on him," he told Sam. "You remember how Dad showed you to hold the gun?"
Sam nodded. "But…"
"Just stay here."
Blatantly defying orders, Sam followed Dean to the door, dragging the shotgun behind him. He watched with wide eyes as Dean opened the knife, and made a soft sound of alarm when Dean drew blood from his own arm. "What are you doing?"
"Sammy! You're supposed to be guarding the angel guy!"
"You believe him, about the bad angels?" Sam's voice took on a strident, frightened note. "You said…"
"I said you were supposed to stay over there!" Dean replied tightly. Sam could be frustratingly stubborn when it came to following instructions. "Go sit down, Sam!"
"Is it about Mom?"
"I'm scared, Dean!" Sam said frantically. "I know about bad angels too. Pastor Jim told me. Bad angels are the Devil. The Devil is coming to get us!"
Of the three of them, only Castiel knew that, in a way, this was true. Dean just shook his head.
"It's not the Devil, Sammy. Heck, it probably isn't even angels, just some creepy people who like to mess with kids – like the kidnappers they told you about in school."
"Then how come you're drawing a magic mark with blood on the door, and don't say you aren't 'cause I'm only little but I'm not stupid. I've seen marks like that in Uncle Bobby's books!"
"Uncle Bobby is a mechanic."
"Yeah," Sam said, his voice dripping with sarcasm. "And Dad is a salesman.
"He works at night, Dean! Who sells stuff at night?"
"Lots of people!"
"There are guns in the trunk of the car, and all kinds of other weird stuff salesmen don't have, so stop lying to me."
Dean looked dumbfounded. "You looked in the trunk?"
Sam met Dean's dumbfounded with smug. "Uh-huh."
"When did you do that?"
"Once when you and Dad were asleep."
"Sammy!" Dean shouted. "You went outside by yourself?"
"After dark too," Sam replied, and stuck out his tongue. He would not admit – ever – that he had been terrified. His curiosity, however, was such that it overrode the innate sense every child has that there are scary things out in the darkness. At this point in time Sam didn't know there were scary things in the dark, as he would learn later, but he had a very highly developed sense of "wrongness." Other kids might believe it if they were told there were no such thing as monsters. Sam, on the other hand, wasn't so sure. The truth of the matter was that both Sam and Dean did come from a long and highly respected line of Hunters, and their instincts bred true.
"I ought to knock you into next Sunday!" Dean yelled, waving one fist threateningly and flinging drops of blood all over the carpet in the process. "You know better, Sammy!"
"Well what am I s'posed to do? You and Dad don't tell me anything!"
"You're too little. You wouldn't understand."
"No, you wouldn't."
"She was my Mom too!"
Dean was brought up short by this, and the outburst of tears that immediately followed. Sam dropped the gun, which Dean quickly snatched up before it could fall to the floor, and ran back to his bed. He flung himself face down upon his pillow. Muffled sniffling could be heard. Dean hesitated, torn between the need to finish drawing the sigil he'd begun, and the urge to comfort his little brother. It was Castiel who made the decision for him.
"Dean. The sigils!" Castiel's headache suddenly flared. He stood up quickly, and promptly dropped to his knees upon the floor, too weak to stand. "Hurry!"
A high-pitched whine caught Dean's attention. He dropped his knife, abandoning his task with the sigils and took a firmer grip on the shotgun. "What…what is that?"
"Angels!" Castiel shouted. "They've found us!"
"Dean!" Sam sat up, his tear-streaked face etched with fear. "Dean!" He slapped both hands over his ears. "Make it stop!"
The room's window exploded. Sam threw himself down on the bed again, instinctively covering his face to protect it from the flying glass. Dean pressed himself back against the door while Castiel hit the floor. A blast of wind blew in through the open window with a loud shriek and the underlying sound of rushing wings. For a moment the entire room was illuminated with a blinding white light. Dean felt as if he were riding a monster roller-coaster as the wind battered his body and he was overwhelmed with a stomach-turning sense of vertigo. He lost his sight, his hearing, and his sense of direction. Up became down, and sideways went completely haywire.
When everything finally straightened itself out, Dean found himself a captive. A large man had one arm wrapped around his throat and the other held what looked like a short silver spear to his midsection. A second person, this one a woman with short-cropped black hair, stood behind Castiel. She had a fist full of the angel's hair and her own silver spear was held close to his throat. She had already drawn blood. A thin crimson line stood out in sharp contrast to Castiel's pale skin. Blood ran down his neck to stain his shirt collar.
"Ambriel," Castiel said hoarsely. "I knew Anna wasn't working alone."
The man – the angel – holding Dean snorted derisively. "You know nothing, and Anna is a fool who has played right into Michael's hands."
"What are you talking about? Michael would never put Sam or Dean at risk. He wants the Apocalypse to play out."
"And it is precisely why he has been whispering in Anna's ear. Dean will never say yes, not unless he realizes it is useless to continue to resist, so Michael is using Anna to make a point. Dean's former ally has betrayed him just as Michael predicted; her actions in the past will lead to a lesson in futility, and a long over-due face to face with Michael himself – also part of Michael's plan. They are playing with his head, carving away at his resolve just as Alistair carved his flesh in Hell. He will break, Castiel. Dean will say yes to Michael, and that will be the end. Without Dean, Sam will not be able to resist Lucifer and the final battle will occur as foretold."
"So you'll get exactly what you want?"
"What I want? No, Castiel. There are many of of us who do not want this. We want things to be as they were, as they have always been."
Castiel started to shake his head, but had to hastily abandon that idea due to the blade across his throat. "Our Father is gone…"
"Does it matter? He has long been silent and yet we have continued to do His will. You and I…we know this is not what he would have wanted."
"Funny," Castiel said. "You make it sound like we're on the same side, Ambriel, but the knife at my throat is decidedly contradictory."
Ambriel agreed. "Because you would never allow me to do what has to be done." He gave his comrade a nod. "Find the other brat."
For the first time, Dean realized Sam was no longer on the bed. In fact, he was nowhere to be seen in the room. Castiel realized this at the same moment and made an attempt to rise when the knife left his throat, but the female angel saw this coming and planted a booted food in the small of his back. Already weakened from his time travel, Castiel went sprawling onto the carpet. The woman kicked him again, hard in the gut, and he curled into a shuddering ball, coughing up blood.
"Sammy!" Dean croaked. "No!" He kicked at Ambriel's legs, but the angel only tightened his grip around Dean's throat.
"Ambriel, don't!" Castiel lifted his head. "Please. There's another way…."
"No," Ambriel stated. "There isn't. Though the thought was planted by Michael, the reasoning behind it is sound. Without their vessels, Michael and Lucifer cannot meet on the field of battle." The angel put his face close to Dean's, so close Dean could almost taste his breath. It unnerved him, as the angel's breath was foul and rotten, not what he would have expected. "I do not understand," Ambriel continued, "your affection for these creatures. They are only two of many. You can find yourself new pets."
Any reply Castiel may have made was interrupted by a curse and a cat-like shriek of fury as the female angel dragged a kicking and screaming Sam out from under the bed. She had tucked her knife into her belt so she could handle Sam with both hands. One was wrapped in his hair, holding him up off the floor like he weighed next to nothing. There was blood on the other, and it was this hand she balled up into a fist to hit Sam in the face. She hit hard and fast, like a striking snake. Dean would swear he actually heard a pop and a crunch – the sound of his brother's nose breaking – even above Sam's screams of both fear and anger. The screams stopped immediately. Sam went limp in the angel's grasp.
Ambriel choked off Dean's air. "Shut up."
The female angel held Sam up so she could look him in the face. He was still conscious, simply paralyzed with pain and silenced by shock. He'd never in his life been struck with intent to do harm, never felt so much agony. Large, glistening tears filled eyes which were already beginning to swell and blacken. He gasped for air through his open mouth as he continued to cry. Blood and snot ran freely from both nostrils. The angel looked at him and frowned.
"It bit me," she grumbled. "Disgusting."
"He'll kill you," Castiel gasped. "Michael will kill you for this Ambriel."
"It is a price I am willing to pay for the sake of the greater good." Ambriel pulled back his arm. Silver glinted in the lamplight.
Sam's paralysis broke as he realized the angel's intent. "No!" he screamed. "DEAN!"
Nearly unconscious from lack of oxygen, Dean saw the knife coming but was too weak to even raise a hand in an attempt to save himself. Ambriel angled the blade just right to slip beneath the boy's ribs. Razor sharp and designed for killing angels, the triangular blade cut easily through soft human flesh with no resistance, piercing Dean's heart straight through the center and stopping it cold. He hadn't moved. He didn't make a sound. His death was sadly uneventful, swift and silent. Even when Ambriel let him go he slipped from the angel's grasp onto the floor in virtual silence.
Castiel felt as if he too had been stabbed through the heart. He lay on the floor next to Dean's body, staring into the boy's lifeless eyes. He reached out a shaking hand to touch Dean's face, as if needing to confirm his death. It didn't take much. The skin beneath his fingers was already beginning to cool and Castiel could find no trace of spirit left inside the crumpled shell. He sensed the time stream shudder as lives saved were now lost, all because one young boy would never become the man Castiel had once known. Remorse became a new addition to his ever growing collection of emotions.
Ambriel grabbed Castiel by the coat collar and dragged him away from the body. "Don't even think about it, Castiel."
With agonizing slowness, Castiel pushed himself up into a sitting position, supporting himself on the door. He looked up at Ambriel pleadingly. "Ambriel, please, please don't do this. Bring him back."
"I will not, and neither will you or anyone else. I'll spread their ashes across all of creation. This cursed bloodline ends here and now." He nodded at his companion. "Do it."
"Gladly!" she snarled, and pulled back her arm.
Sam looked up at her. His grief was so all encompassing he didn't care what happened to him, and would have faced death gladly if it meant being reunited with his brother, but there was something else working deep inside him. It was anger, rage, hatred – emotions churning deep in the heart of this small boy, borne of the darkness that also dwelt there.
A handful of demon blood cells introduced into his system when he was just a baby had slowly multiplied over the years, weaving themselves into his flesh and bone, tampering with his mind. It was part of a carefully developed strategy that would put the angel Michael at a disadvantage during the final battle. Michael's vessel – purely human (if Dean could be described as being "pure" in any way) - could just barely contain him, whereas Lucifer's had been strengthened by Azazel's tampering. Michael would wear leather armor to battle. Lucifer's armor would be made of steel. It would be no contest. Lucifer had already insured his victory.
That is, if both vessels lived past this point in time.
When Sam turned twenty-two, Azazel would decide it was time to get things underway in earnest. His "children" would be more than strong enough to endure the tests he'd designed to gauge their worthiness, although they had the ability to do so long before then. The demon blood in their veins had changed them irrevocably. By the age of two none of them could have been considered human.
At twenty-two their demon abilities would be deeply buried, needing to be coaxed to the surface. In the future it would be Ruby, with tact, subterfuge and sex who would ultimately release the demon inside Sam Winchester.
At six, it didn't take quite as much effort to shake the beehive.
In the split second before the angel blade met flesh, something inside Sam snapped. All three angels felt it the moment it happened, but only one had knowledge enough to realize the danger it presented. Only one had ever been to Hell and battled demons in their own element, becoming intimately familiar with the psychic signature of a demon attack. Castiel could sense a tidal wave of demonic power rushing toward him, power fueled by anger and grief so profound it had obliterated the child's ability to control it. Friend or foe, anyone in the same room when this tsunami struck would be destroyed.
Survival instinct fueled Castiel – that and perhaps a surge of adrenaline as his vessel's body reacted to the angel's fear. He moved as fast as he could, rushing past the startled Ambriel toward the shattered window, and with his very last reserves, launched himself through it just as the wave struck. The scent of sulfur followed him. He could feel the burn of Hellfire nipping at his heels. The ground was hard and unyielding. Castiel struck it with a grunt of pain but forced himself to roll further away from the window. Just before he lost consciousness he felt a strong sense of loss – two of his fellow angels were now dead.
He wasn't out long. Just moments later he rose from the ground and dragged himself back inside the room. The Hellfire had been figurative, psychic in origin. Nothing had literally been burned. The room, except for the shattered window, was unscathed. Not so were the angels' vessels, which had been tossed into a corner like broken dolls, their limbs unnaturally bent and twisted, their chests torn open and bloody as if something had exploded from within. There was surprisingly little blood.
In the midst of it all Sam sat cradling his brother's head in his lap, his small hands fussing with Dean's hair, stroking Dean's cheeks. He sobbed in huge heaving gasps, unable to breathe through his ruined nose, spilling tears down upon his brother's pale face. His words were so slurred it took Castiel a moment to understand what he was saying over and over again.
"Don't be dead, Dean. Please. Don't be dead. What am I gonna tell Dad? Wake up. Please wake up!"
"Sam," Castiel said softly.
The boy looked up. He could barely see through eyes swollen both with bruises and tears, and at first Castiel feared another attack. He could sense the power building. But as Sam recognized him, that power slacked off, submerging deep inside his mind again. The attack was averted, and Sam felt it too. He recognized what he'd done. He knew what was lurking inside him. In some sense or another, he had always known.
"It was me, wasn't it? Whatever bad thing made them come, I did it. I did this."
"It's not your fault, Sam."
Sam wasn't consoled. "I know what I am!" he wailed. "Nobody has to tell me. I know it already. I'm a monster!"
Castiel moved to kneel beside him. "What you are, is just little boy," he said gently. "That's all."
Their eyes met, and without a second thought, Sam threw himself at the angel, wrapping his small arms around Castiel's midsection, once again sobbing uncontrollably. This time, however, Castiel immediately understood what was being said within the tears. It was a heartbroken plea that wounded Castiel more than any angel blade could have done, touching as it did upon his own grief.
"Bring him back. Please bring him back."
"You're an angel. Please!"
"Sam it's…it's not that simple."
"Take me instead then!" Sam's voice was muffled in Castiel's coat. "Take me. I want to die. I don't want to be bad." His small shoulders shook. "Take me, not Dean. I'm the bad one. It's my fault."
Castiel, unfamiliar and uneasy with close physical contact, gradually found himself doing his best to comfort the child. He did not fully understand human emotions, he wasn't known for being particularly empathetic, but he recognized how deeply Sam's grief actually ran. This was far beyond feeling the loss of his brother. It was, perhaps, another way in which the demon blood had changed him, but Sam would rarely find happiness in life. Castiel knew this, he had seen it in the adult Sam, and it would be the same whether the time stream was altered or not.
"Bring him back!" Sam pleaded, and Castiel pulled him close, folding ethereal wings around them both. He pressed his cheek to the child's hair, closing his eyes as grief became too much for either of them to bear. Rarely did an angel shed tears. Castiel had not done so for more than a thousand years.
There was no way Castiel could explain why he couldn't resurrect Dean. A grieving six-year-old wouldn't understand the tale of being a fallen angel cut off from the power of Heaven, and the painful irony being Dean's own role in Castiel's fall. If it hadn't been for Dean and Castiel's undeniable affection for his one and only friend, he wouldn't have rebelled. It had been Dean who had convinced him to listen to his own heart.
Now Dean was gone. He and Castiel would never meet. They would never join forces.
Castiel would never…
"Dean," Castiel whispered. Raising his head and opening his eyes, he forced his weary mind to puzzle out the conundrum of time. The time stream had been changed by Dean's death, and if that was so, then…
"I never fell. It never happened!"
A surge of joy rushed through him upon turning his vision inward and discovering it was true. He could feel the power of Heaven inside him, the connection was intact. His arms tightened around Sam. Had an adult Dean been there to see the idiotic grin Castiel wore he would have thought the angel had lost his marbles.
"It's all right now, Sam. It's all right. We'll bring him back. I promise."
Everything was back to normal, which, for the Winchesters, was generally pretty crappy. Dean's first act upon returning to the present time was to purchase a bottle of whiskey, leaving the brothers with a total of exactly six dollars and whatever change could be scrounged up from the Impala's floorboards. Sam spent an inordinate amount of time rubbing his stomach, swearing he could still feel the jagged pipe Anna had stabbed him with sticking through his gut.
They retreated back to their hotel to lick their wounds and drown their sorrows in alcohol.
Dean was preparing to open the whiskey, while Sam removed the paper from two hotel glasses…when a man poofed up out of nowhere into the middle of their room.
"Castiel!" Sam abandoned his task with the glasses and caught the angel before he could crash to the floor. "Whoa, steady!"
Castiel's first muddled thought upon seeing him was, "How did you get so big?"
Dean caught his other arm. "Cas! Son of a bitch, you made it."
Castiel looked at them both, reassuring himself that this was really happening. Only seconds earlier he'd left behind two young boys arguing over how the television in their room had gotten busted – because thanks to an angel with the ability to tweak their memories, neither one of them could recall the exact event.
"I did," he muttered. "I'm very surprised."
Then he went out, and down, and stayed that way for a long time. When he finally woke, he discovered Dean sprawled out across the other bed and Sam flat on his back upon the floor. The smell of whiskey was almost overpowering. The very atmosphere of the room was oppressive. It spoke of failure, remorse, and uncertainty and it would still be there when the boys woke. Alcohol had done nothing but temporarily remove their consciousness from the equation. For the moment they had found a modicum of peace.
Castiel sighed. He sat up and looked down at the man lying on the floor at his feet. He recalled the simple faith of the six-year-old Sam and remembered the days when his own faith had been so uncomplicated. It now rested on the shoulders of two human men with powerful destinies that would ultimately lead to the destruction of God's most glorious creation.
Castiel's fellow angels called him a fool for placing his bets with these humans. Castiel couldn't make them understand that Sam and Dean were more than humans, more than the chosen weapons in the apocalyptic war between Michael and Lucifer. Sam and Dean represented freedom, freedom to make one's own destiny. It all came down to free will - God's greatest gift to mankind.
His fellow angels did not understand that by siding with Sam and Dean Winchester, Castiel put his faith in God. God wouldn't let him down. Sam and Dean would find a way to stop the Apocalypse.
The angel smiled, but this rare smile quickly faded into a frown as he regarded the unconscious Sam. A slight note of uncertainty made his resolve falter.
He was fairly certain God didn't snore.
Note: I know that in my fics I consistently misspell Castiel's nickname. According to the powers-that-be it is spelled "Cass" not "Cas," but that bugs me for several reasons, so I'm pretending ignorance and spelling it my way. I can say that one reason unique to me is that when I see the name "Cass," I – being the horse person that I am – immediately think of "Cass Ole," which is the name of the Arabian stallion who portrayed the horse in "The Black Stallion."
And that, in relation to our favorite angel, makes me giggle.