A/N: As promised, since last chapter was short and it was a long weekend for me, Ch. 19. This one isn't quite as fluffy as the last and sorry that the next update isn't likely to come as quickly as this one did. Maybe this weekend, though, so you won't have to wait forever. Thank you again to everyone for your awesome reviews and comments. I'm glad people are enjoying reading this as much as I enjoy writing it.
Secrets at Night
"Whoever wishes to keep a secret must hide the fact that he possesses one."
Johann Wolfgang von Goethe
The house was quiet, thought not as restful as Castiel would have liked. Johnny's nap had carried over into his sleep for the evening, leaving Dean alone in his bed for the first time since the baby came into his life. Castiel didn't think his charge was having nightmares yet, but it was probably only a matter of time before they struck that night. Surprisingly, Dean had not reached for one of the bottles of Bobby's cheap whiskey, and while it was admirable, it likely meant for very little sleep tonight for the hunter. Bobby's rest wasn't sound, and the angel assumed that had more to do with the changes made to the house his wife had so lovingly decorated and his memories of her. As for Sam, he seemed... off. That was really the only word that Castiel could think of to describe it.
Still, it was quiet enough to allow him to do his research.
It was not something that he had told to any of the hunters, and though he knew he shouldn't continue to keep secrets from them after the events of the year prior, this was something he felt he needed to do on his own. At least, he needed to be sure of a few more things before he spoke to the hunters or to his brethren. Though, he was beginning to suspect he would need to consult all of them before he had any answers or even something that resembled the potential to an answer.
The thought of it caused an unpleasant twisting sensation in his stomach. He had had enough reminders of everything he'd risked and nearly risked in his attempt to win the civil war, and every time one of those reminders surfaced or was pointed out to him, Dean gave him that same look that he'd offered when he'd left Castiel trapped in the ring of fire. He had lost their trust that night, had been working to rebuild it ever since, and he felt that same unpleasant twisting when he thought of them finding out that he had lost something else in his deals with Crowley.
He could not feel Jimmy's presence any longer. Jimmy had retreated to the back of his mind out of his disapproval of everything that the angel was doing the prior year, but Castiel had still sensed him from time to time, whenever he sought him out. After the angel had opened Purgatory, he hadn't thought to seek him out. He was too busy trying to prove himself once again to those who ... were important to him, to those he couldn't just pin down to the corner of a borrowed mind and force to talk to him. He would have Jimmy as long as he occupied the man's body. The hunters' lives were finite.
He felt ashamed for not noticing that Jimmy wasn't there-as his attempts to rout out the man's soul had only served to prove he was alone now in this body. He would like to claim that he had just been too overwhelmed with all of the souls and then the suddenness of their absence that he hadn't noticed the hole left behind by a single missing soul, no matter how well acquainted he was with it or how much he now missed it. But he knew better. He hadn't wanted to know, didn't like the answer he may find.
Castiel was already well aware of how little existed in heaven on the subject of Purgatory. It was a place no angel wanted to think about, a place they were instructed not to think about, but Bobby Singer would not ever again be caught without knowledge on the subject. Castiel knew that if there was a chance, any at all, that a book existed about Purgatory, the souls that were there and how to retrieve them-or at least one-that Bobby either had a copy, excerpts or knew how to track down the documents.
Since Johnny had been added to their unusual group, Castiel had attempted to seek the man's soul out; Jimmy was a parent and had experience with typical baby things. And, despite their differences of late, he could not believe that his vessel would allow him and Dean to flounder as they attempted to act as parents. Up until that point, Castiel had assumed the silence had been just that. When he felt no nudge back to his requests for help, not even so much as a wave of anger or disappointment after even his most thorough attempts to find Jimmy, Castiel knew that odd feeling he'd sensed for months now was the absence of his vessel's soul.
Unfortunately, the only thing that made any sense to the angel was that he unintentionally released Jimmy into Purgatory with the other souls, and Castiel needed to know just what he had forced the kind ad salesman into and how he could try to get him out. And he would tell the hunters, even his brethren if it came to it.
But for tonight, he could research.
Bobby had, apparently, uncovered the writings of Dr. Visyak about Purgatory. They detailed things that the woman-because despite the fact that she was actually a creature from that realm, his last memories of her were very human-wasn't willing to tell him, even when he had been promising her freedom. He keenly remembered that look of hope on her face and how it turned to anger and panic just before he flew away.
Bobby's voice after the hunters had brought him back from the facility, broken and guilt-ridden, was still clear in Castiel's mind. "She said you were the worst! What did you do to her?"
What could he answer? He had given her hope. He had healed all of her wounds, begun undoing her bindings. He had convinced her that she was going to be free, and she had told him everything he had needed to know. Then he had knocked her unconscious and left her to Crowley once again.
And now he was once again benefiting from the woman he had betrayed. Benefiting might not have been the most accurate word for it, since there was no benefit to realizing all of the suffering that Jimmy was likely undergoing at this very moment, and that was if his soul had survived even the first few days. Jimmy hadn't been made for the hunt; Castiel's fighting had frightened him more often than not. According to Dr. Vixyak, Jimmy was now stuck in a world of an endless hunt.
When Sam came down the stairs, trying to be as quiet as he could so that he didn't wake Bobby, Johnny or his brother, he found himself trying to dodge piles of books that were no longer there and having to blindly unfasten the new gate perched at the top of the stairs. Though the baby-proofing was a much-appreciated necessity during daylight hours, the younger hunter couldn't say he was so pleased with it during the night, and he really didn't want to wake his new nephew. Sam wasn't familiar enough with the baby to know if he slept soundly or not, especially when not in the bed with Dean. His sock-covered feet padded through the hallway and into the livingroom, where he saw Cas pushing a book into Bobby's bookshelf.
"Doing a little light reading?" Sam asked, quietly.
Castiel didn't look surprised by his presence, but Sam couldn't really be shocked about that. The angel seemed able to sense both Sam and his brother.
"Metatron mentioned that he was impressed with Bobby's collection. I realized that I may have been taking it for granted and thought I might give it a more thorough look." The angel tilted his head to the side. "You should be sleeping. It is 3 a.m."
Sam shrugged. "Couldn't sleep. And I was kind of hoping you would be here so I could talk to you." He scratched the back of his head and tried not to look like he was exhausted. It was very possible that Cas would take it upon himself to make Sam go to sleep, and talking to the angel was far more important at the moment. "Wanna grab a beer with me in the kitchen?"
The angel frowned, but didn't voice any concerns at Sam's behavior or the sudden offer of beer. "I am not nearly as fond of it as you or your brother. It would make more sense not to waste it."
"It's not a waste if you're sharing it with a friend," Sam assured him. "And I know you may not like it much, but I'm going to need something to have this conversation with you."
The worried expression on Castiel's face became more distinct, and even Sam, who was not nearly as good at reading the angel as his brother was able to tell that he was more troubled now than he had been before. Thankfully, he was a man, or angel, of few words and had even learned a little patience rather than trying to demand answers when it came to things that were personal Sam or his brother. "Then, I would not mind having a beer with you," he said as he followed Sam into Bobby's kitchen.
Sam immediately shut the doors behind him and looked at the angel with as much seriousness as he could muster. "What I'm going to tell you has to be between the two of us. For now, at least." He could already see that the Angel didn't like that, and he could understand why. Keeping secrets had caused a lot of trouble for Cas in the past, and he was just beginning to get Dean to trust him the way he once had. The reluctance to keep something from him, even for Sam's sake, was perfectly natural.
Opening the refrigerator door, Sam pulled out two bottles of beer. He popped the top on one and handed it to Cas, then repeated the process for his own bottle. He took note of the fact that while Azrael had upgraded the typical fare in terms of food, she had done nothing to improve the options for drink. The beer was still the cheap crap that Dean was so eager to chug down and the whiskey hadn't been swapped out for anything that might burn Bobby's throat a little less. Sam sighed and was just grateful that, at the very least, it wasn't Pabst Blue Ribbon-no matter how much Ash had tried to convince him that Pabst was "awesome," Sam had never acquired a taste for it.
Cas sat down at the table, his fingernail lightly dragging over a edge of the beer label. Sam took the seat opposite, noting that the chair to his right had been moved to accommodate a high chair. "I do not like keeping secrets from your brother, Sam," the angel said.
"I'm not going to keep this from Dean forever. He just has a lot on his plate now, with Johnny, and I know that he's having nightmares again, worse than they've been lately." Sam took a drink of his beer and watched Cas still staring at his. "There also isn't anything Dean can do about this problem. Not without doing something supremely stupid. And that's too much of his M.O. for him not to do something stupid when he finds out."
Cas took a drink, and Sam realized as the angel's face twitched just momentarily into a grimace that he probably hadn't been lying about not liking beer. Sam couldn't tell, though, what it meant that the angel had finally taken a swig. Was it out of relief, or to calm nerves, or just a mimicry of Sam's actions.
"What is it that you believe I can help with more that your brother?" Cas finally asked after a moment or two of silence.
"It's my... wall, I guess is what Dean's been calling it." Sam saw Cas's eyes widen; it was clear he had the angel's full attention now if he hadn't had it already. "I know things, like that you and Dean share a 'more profound bond,' which means you like him more than me. I also know that Lucifer prefers mental scarring to physical, but he'll take physical if it leads to mental."
Cas's eyes widened, and despite the lack of change elsewhere in his demeanor, the angel looked genuinely sympathetic. His friend, it seemed, felt sorry for him.
"I don't remember specifics... yet, and I don't want to." Sam ran a hand through his hair. "But I don't feel like I'm going to be given much of a choice in the matter." He watched Cas take another drink of beer. He was fairly sure that, this time, it was for nerves.
"I know that I threatened... That I implied to Dean when I knocked you unconscious that I had broken down the wall, but I swear I never touched it." Earnest eyes met Sam's, and the usually closed-off angel was suddenly very easy to read. The guilt coming off of Cas was palpable.
"I know that you didn't. And Death told Dean this wasn't a sure thing." Sam sighed and took a gulp of beer. "What I was hoping for was that you might be able to help."
"I could patch it," the angel said, his narrow fingers moving the bottle around in circles on the tabletop. "But it will not hold better than Death's work. Quite the contrary, actually."
"Could it buy me time? Maybe allow me to deal with the memories in a trickle rather than a flood?"
"It might," the angel said, "but only for so long. And that is if I don't make things worse." He drained the rest of his beer quickly. "If we do this, however, I wish to try to help you with the memories you unlock, as well. Leaving you to cope with them alone could have long-lasting effects."
"Like an 'I love myself' jacket?"
"I don't understand that reference," Cas said.
"A straight jacket?" Sam asked, wrapping his arms around himself. All he got in response was a tilt of the head. "It would make me insane."
"Ah," Cas said, and in that single syllable, it was clear the angel wished Sam had just started with the clear explanation.
"Still, I appreciate the help."
Cas nodded, then stood and went to the refrigerator for another beer. He paused a moment, then got two more. Sam knew the conversation had made him uncomfortable, but had hadn't realized it was that bad. The angel set one beer in front of Sam, another in front of himself, and left the third sitting halfway between them.
Cas took a very large gulp of the beer, then looked at the hunter with seriousness etched across his features, even more so than usual. "You have to accept my presence in your mind completely. You will want to reject me naturally. I would be a foreign agent in anyone's mind, but in yours..."
Sam just loved that even now the demonic blood donation he'd received as an infant was still taunting him with reminders. "If you can help even a little, Cas, you won't find any resistance from me."
Sam could hear movement upstairs, and he realized just who that third beer had been for. The angel really did have a disturbing sixth sense when it came to Dean.
"No knife, no Colt? What's a pretty little hunter to do?"
"Funny enough, I do have the exorcism memorized." Dean watched the mocha-skinned woman shift her weight from one food to the other within the devil's trap.
"You are free to use it if you want," she said, "but I get the feeling you want answers about how I managed to steal this nifty little talisman from you without you even noticing." She let the leather pouch swing around her finger once for good measure. "And how I knew each and every one of your simple little buttons."
She was right, of course, but Dean wasn't going to give her the satisfaction. "If you use the exorcism right, I promise you, you'll have another opportunity to try to question me. Because the moment I get out of hell, I'll be scrambling my way back out. And then I'll kill Sam in front of you and give you a long, slow death."
Dean kept his anger in check at the mere mention that she would hurt his brother and instead aimed for something of a nonchalant air. "So what is it about Sam and me that has your panties in a bunch? Were you rooting for Lucy? Or maybe his kingship isn't giving you a good quarterly review? Or were you counting on him becoming all-powerful and getting some upward mobility?"
The demon laughed. "You really have no idea who I am, do you?"
"Am I supposed to ?"
"Really, Sweetie? You don't remember me?" The woman gave an exaggerated pout. "I usually leave a better impression on men. And I thought we had something special, Dean."
"Look, my friend Cas might have a thing for making out with demons, but I sort of prefer eyes that come in natural colors."
The demon laughed and stretched her arms above her head. "I wasn't too fond of them, either. That's why I made a second deal with the new king of hell that if I did a little favor for him, I wouldn't be tortured by any demons. Funny thing, that." She looked at Dean levelly, and even though he wanted desperately to stop it, Dean could feel all the blood leaving his face. "Bastard and the others all knew they had a ringer coming in. I thought I'd made the deal of a lifetime, but all I had to do was wait until you broke."
She waved her hand absently as though to dismiss any argument Dean might be prepared to make, though he was too speechless to think of one. "Oh, there were plenty of humans who took up the knife, but they weren't human for long before they started to change into something else. You were unique, Dean. You always were. Ten years as a torturing bastard down there, and you still had a very human soul. Some might say that makes you better than the others, but I think it makes you much, much worse."
Dean swallowed and struggled to keep any reaction off his face. "For thirty years, I was able to wait, you know," she said. "And I thought I'd worked the system, then you broke and they needed someone to put on the rack in your place. I suppose they wanted our first times to be special."
She smiled at him and there was something so familiar about that smile. "I guess you could say, in my own little way, I helped you break the first seal."
"Regna terrae, cantate Deo..."
The demon winced as the exorcism ritual took effect. "I was on your rack more than anyone else, and you don't remember me. Quickest convert to high raking demon, too. Apparently, my anger at you fueled my rise."
"Psallite Domino qui fertis super caelum..."
"After you left, you know, they just let any new torturer convert go at me. But really, it's always your first that's the most special."
"Caeli ad Orientum..."
"It's a lot like sex in that." She got a very excited look in her eyes and the smile broadened. "Maybe when this is over we should have angry sex."
"Ecce... Ecce..." Oh God.
"And look at that little lightbulb turning on. Poor thing. Doesn't get used often, does it?"
Dean sat up in bed and tried to control his heartrate. He was breathing heavily, and his first instinct was to reach out for the nightstand and the booze he typically kept there. But he wasn't in a hotel. He was in Bobby's newly babyproofed house. There was no liquor on the bedside table. The angels almost certainly wouldn't have included a bottle of Jack to get him through the night
He'd have to go downstairs, then. Dean stood and tried not to stagger as he was still a bit bleary eyed and heavy from sleep and that God awful memory that had been haunting him nightly.
He scratched at his chest absentmindedly and made his way to the room across from his own. Johnny was sound asleep in his crib, and Dean tried to be happy that his son could sleep on his own, instead of missing the baby's presence beside him at night. Sleep without booze had been nice while it lasted.
Reaching over the bars of the crib so he could run the side of his finger against a soft cheek, Dean watched as his son's lips quirked upwards as the finger moved nearer that corner of his mouth. It was surprising to the hunter that it didn't matter in the slightest that Johnny didn't share an ounce of DNA with him. Every so often he wished that the kids green eyes were more like his own or that the freckles this kid was bound to get-because he was at least part ginger, with his fair skin and reddish blond hair-would look more like Dean's. But those thoughts faded quickly.
And damned if he didn't love this kid so much already that it made his chest fucking hurt.
It brought back memories of being three and panicking his father half to death. His mom had said the same thing about Dean, trying to reassure him that his place wouldn't be usurped by his little brother. Though Dean couldn't recall being anything but excited by the prospect of getting a new brother, he guessed all parents worried about the older children getting jealous.
Dean, though, had taken things the wrong way and used the second speed dial button on the phone-number one was 911-to call his dad and tell him that "Mommy's heart hurts." His dad had freaked, come home, and then laughed about the trauma Dean had just put him through once he was informed of the source of Dean's misunderstanding. That was at a time before there was such an undercurrent of fear that John Winchester was permanently prevented from relaxing and just letting something go, let alone laughing about it.
He supposed he understood them both a little bit better. He finally got some of the things his mother said about loving him and Sammy, and his dad? Yeah, he understood that crazy, protective man completely.
Even though it had been Bela or someone doing a good impersonation of her, if Dean had known then that just a few months later he'd have a son to worry about, he'd have done more than just exorcising her back to hell. She had more than enough reason to want him dead, to want him to suffer, and he deserved it, but if she went through Sam or Johnny to do it, he'd make her wish she was back on that rack under his scalpel. He might not have pratcied torture, but that didn't mean his mind didn't consider it sometimes, devise new ways to perform what had been his craft in hell the way it used to imagine how he could retune the Impala or how he could develop a better weapon against ghosts.
And those easy thoughts about torture made him wonder more and more each day just how badly he was going to mess this poor kid up. His only consolation was the reminder of Castiel's assurances and know that the angel would make sure he didn't fuck Johnny up, along with keeping him safer than any other hunter could hope for his or her son.
Dean reluctantly left the nursery. He considered taking Johnny out of the bed and moving him into the bed beside him, because for whatever reason, he slept better with his son at his side. He didn't want to disturb the kid's sleep, or give him some kind of weird complex as he got older because Daddy had separation issues, or whatever the psychological mumbo jumbo was.
He walked down the hallway and stairs, debating whether he should just go for Bobby's rotgut or a beer. It was after 3 a.m. and Johnny would be up at about 7. The kid was like clockwork. Beer wouldn't do much for Dean's nerves, but at least in four hours when his son rallied, Dean wouldn't stink like a bar.
He was surprised to find the pocket doors to the kitchen shut, and naturally, he didn't hesitate to open them. He hadn't been exactly quiet when he'd been moving around downstairs, so whoever was on the other side almost certainly knew he was there. Maybe if Sam finally got Emma to visit, he'd do them the courtesy of knocking if it was somewhere like a bedroom. But with it being just the four of them and Johnny, well, privacy wasn't likely. Not in the kitchen, at least.
He blinked when he saw his brother sharing a beer with his friend-their friend.
"Didn't expect to see you two up," he said, then quickly corrected himself. "I mean, you up," he said, nodding at Sam. "And you actually here."
"I saw my brothers only this afternoon," Cas said. "It didn't seem pressing that I return to heaven for an update this evening."
The angel picked up an unopened bottle and extended it to Dean. The hunter happily took it and the seat next to his friend.
"You do not look well," Cas said, and Dean hoped that if there ever was a time that his friend stayed out of his head, it was now.
"Tell me something I don't know," he said, twisting open the beer. He glanced over at Cas to see a fairly odd expression on his face. Dean might have labeled it slightly panicked, except there was no real reason for panic, slight or otherwise.
"Dude, it's a saying. Means you don't have to tell me I look like shit. I know it. I'm going on about two hours of sleep." He glanced at Sam, who didn't look much better. "So why are you awake?"
"Couldn't sleep," Sam said. "What about you?" Dean didn't buy that his brother just couldn't sleep, but to call him out on that would mean getting called out himself, and there was no way he was going to talk about it. Besides, it looked like Sam had been talking to Cas, maybe about whatever the problem was. As he took a drink of his beer, he decided that was a good thing.
And if some petty inner two-year-old was jealous of both of them? He could just deal with it.