Supernatural © Erick Kripe. Not mine.

AN: AU of Season 6 – assume either Dean never made a deal with Death, or the deal never went through. So how does Dean get Sam's soul back?

Soul Bound

"You can't do this."

Dean doesn't even flinch at the sound. It's dark, it's cold, and quite frankly, he's been crying off and on ever since he got into the Impala and drove away, leaving Sam's body in the motel room (not Sam, that thing was never Sam). He's been standing in front of the Devil's Gate for about thirty minutes now, waiting patiently for this one particular person to show, and now that he has, Dean can't really remember what he wanted to say.

"I can."

Castiel steps closer to him, eyes wide. It's the most emotion other than utter exhaustion Dean has seen from him in a long time. "You can't. You go back down there, and your soul will be destroyed."

Dean laughs. The sound is hollow. "Let it. I don't care."

"You do."

"Nope." Dean finally turns around to face Castiel. His face is stained with silent tears, and the angel almost flinches at the sight. "It's my job to watch out for Sam. It always has been, Cas. And he's down there, and they're hurting him – hell, he did everything he could to save me. What kind of brother would I be if I didn't do the same for him?"

"Do you think Sam wants you to destroy yourself?" Castiel snarls, taking another step closer. "Do you think he wants you to throw away everything just on the off-chance that you might get him back?" He reaches out to grab Dean's arm, but the hunter takes a step back. Castiel changes tactics. "Dean, please – "

"I can't stay here and do nothing." Dean's voice is barely above a whisper.

Castiel sighs. "If you open that door, you won't be able to stop the demons from coming out." he says quietly. "It will be like Azazel all over again."

Dean nods. "I know. That's why I was waiting for you. One reason, actually."

Castiel hesitates. "Waiting for me?"

"Yeah. You think you got enough juice to keep the baddies inside?" The hunter indicates the door with a gun Castiel knows all too well. The Colt.

For a long moment, nothing happens. The angel simply studies the hunter, taking in the slumped shoulders and the filthy face. "When was the last time you slept?" he asks suddenly. Dean merely flashes him a grin that answers more than Castiel asked. The angel looks away.

"You can't talk me out of this, Cas."

"I know." Castiel sighs again, stuffing his hands in his pockets. "I believe I can hold off the demons for a while." he says finally.

Dean nods. "Good."

"So what is the other thing you would ask of me?"

Dean flinches at the accusatory tone. "I'm sorry, Cas." he says softly, his voice rough. "I'm sorry I've asked too much. But what I'm asking now – it's not for me. It's for Sam."

Castiel's expression immediately softens. "Anything within my power."

"Keep him safe. Take him someplace where he can heal." Dean is trembling now, the gun shaking in his grip. "Can you do that?"

Castiel nods. "That I can do."

Dean smiles faintly. "Thanks, Cas." He turns back to the Gate, but a hand on his shoulder stops him. He glances at Castiel. The angel simply stares at him, blue eyes dark. Dean shakes his head. "He's my brother, Cas."

"Let me go with you. I can protect you."

"Then who will keep the demons inside?"

Castiel clenches his fists. "I do not like this."

"I'm not too crazy about it myself." Dean mutters.

"I can't dissuade you from this?" Castiel has to try again, just one more time. Dean's smile is slow and sad, and Castiel knows he's already made his decision. Castiel merely tightens his grip on Dean's shoulder. "You'd better bring Sam back up here personally, Dean. I've already had to drag your ass out of Hell once. I don't want to do it again."

Dean laughs. "You just cussed. Man, I'll never get tired of hearing that." He takes the gun and inserts it into the lock, all good humor gone. "Here goes nothing." The tumblers turn. Castiel takes a step back, biting his lip. The doors begin to slide open. Dean simply stands there, watching, waiting. Castiel waves his hand, and the doors grind to a halt with just enough distance for Dean to slide through.

"I can hold it!" He has to shout over the sound of the hell winds to be heard. "Go!"

Dean offers him a small grin and snaps a salute, then he's gone into the flames.

Castiel can hear the demon growls and snarls. He knows what Dean must be fighting just to reach the Cage. He can only imagine what Dean will have to fight to breach the Cage and retrieve Sam's soul.

Then a demon slips through the Gate, and all imagining is gone.

Three hours later, it happens. Castiel doesn't know how much time has passed in Hell. He knows he has fought off every demon who has attempted to breach the Gate; by now they simply prowl around the inside of the opening and snarl threats and curses at the angel. He doesn't pay attention to them.

The two human souls attempting to slip out of the Gate cause the demons to stir, but Castiel flares his Grace and forces them back. Being an archangel has its perks after all. He reaches in and grabs hold. The souls are slippery in his grip, but they latch on to him as well, and Castiel pulls one to safety before the Gate slides shut. The other is trapped on the other side.

Castiel looks down at the soul in his hands. It glows a sickly hue, but it still pulses with the will to live. He lets out a shaky breath. "Sam."

The orb shines a bit brighter for a moment, as if recognizing its name.

Castiel turns his gaze back to the Gate.

There is a war in Heaven. His brothers are destroying each other, seeking control of forces that don't rightfully belong to them. One friend is in tattered remains in his hand, the other is trapped on the other side of a Devil's Gate.

Castiel returns his attention to Sam's soul. "I have a promise to keep." he murmurs to himself. "I promised Dean I would keep you safe."

Heaven isn't safe anymore. It wouldn't do to return the soul there. Sam – or rather, the mockery of the gentle soul he now held that called itself by that name – didn't want the soul back anyway. Castiel bowed his head. That left only one option.

He cast one last glance at the Gate. "I will come back for you, Dean."

A rustle of wings, and he's gone.

The graveyard is silent once more.

/-/

"I'm so glad you decided to come." The woman is pretty enough, with clear blue eyes and dark brown hair. Her name is Sophia. "All the other babysitters won't do this anymore. I'm afraid the girls are a bit of a handful."

Her visitor smiles faintly. "It won't be a problem. I've dealt with worse."

"I hope so." Sophia guides him into the kitchen. They sit at the table, coffee already set out for them. She takes a sip. "I should warn you about them, though. I wouldn't feel right just leaving you here without at least saying something."

He nods. "Go ahead. You won't scare me away."

Sophia takes a deep breath. "Well, I'm sure you've heard about Samantha – she's my oldest."

"I've heard rumors. Nothing more."

"Right. Well, Samantha is, shall we say, developmentally challenged? She has the most terrible nightmares, and sometimes those nightmares seem to follow her into the day." Sophia smiles faintly. "She's getting better, so much better, but it frightens the others when she starts babbling. It's like a different language."

Her visitor nods. "And your youngest?"

"Deanna is a different matter entirely." Her smile fades. "She keeps trying to sleep with a gun under her pillow. I haven't figured out why yet. Every time we take it away, though, she freaks out and takes a kitchen knife. She's forever watching out for Samantha – I've seen her start fights with the other children when they tease Samantha." Sophia gives her visitor a pleading look.

"I just need some time."

He nods again. "Do not worry. Your children will be safe with me."

Her shoulders slump. "Thank you."

It's after she leaves that the children come downstairs. Deanna comes down first –short and stocky, clearly athletic, barely ten years old, yet her dark green eyes show a lifetime of pain. Samantha follows closely behind, her movements more fluid and purposeful than her mother would have led him to believe her capable of. Deanna's eyes fall on her new babysitter, and her lips twist in a sardonic smile. Samantha brightens considerably.

"Hey, Cas."

Castiel smiles at her. "Hello, Dean." He tilts his head to the side. "Hello, Sam."

"Cas!" The older girl still has that bright smile. It hurts Castiel to see the damage in her soul. She stays close to Dean, still a full head taller than her sister, as she was previously. Some things apparently don't change. It amuses the angel.

Dean's voice draws his attention back to her. "You have a sadistic sense of humor."

"I wasn't aware you would be born female."

"Still." Dean scowls, but Castiel can see the faint grin hiding beneath. She grabs a chair and twists it around, sitting backwards and fixing Castiel with a hard stare. Sam assumes position standing behind her, one hand on her shoulder. "I honestly wasn't expecting you here."

"I've been watching over you for some time now." Castiel admitted. "I made a promise, after all."

"Yeah." Dean smiles briefly. "I guess you're the reason our lives have been demon-free lately?"

"Yes. Anything I could sense coming I destroyed before it got here."

"Thanks."

"I figured it was the least I could do." Castiel looks away. "I left you there."

"Yeah, but you came back. It was more than I was expecting."

That earns her a sharp look. "You expected me to leave you there?" he demands, his voice low. Dean shakes her head.

"No. I expected you to be forced to leave me there. I went into that pit expecting to never come out." she replies quietly. Castiel pauses, eyes dark. Dean continues. "At least I got to stay with Sammy."

"I would never have separated you." Castiel murmurs. "And now I am here as well."

Dean's eyes narrow. "There's a reason, otherwise you would have shown yourself long before now."

Castiel nods. "There is a horde coming. I wanted to be close. Both of you bear my mark, and as you grow older, that mark becomes more pronounced. It draws demons and rouge angels."

"So you'll be here for the forseeable future?" Dean asks.

"Yes."

"Good." It's the closest Dean has ever been able to come to expressing affection for anyone but Sam, and it makes Castiel smile. Some things just don't change.

"Is Heaven safe now?" Sam asks, speaking up for the first time.

Castiel nods. "Yes. Heaven is safe once again."

"Good. Now you're safe too." Samantha turned away and wanders over into the living room. Castiel watches as she picks up a pencil and starts drawing.

"Yes. I guess I am."

The End