Dean felt his stomach try to come up through his throat when they landed back in the Burke living room. "Sorry," Elizabeth said, putting both hands on his shoulders to steady him. "Was the landing too rough? I'm out of practice."
Dean shook his head. "Nah, that's about the same as when Cas does it." He waved her away when she tried to help him with Cas. "It's okay, I got him. I got him."
Castiel let out a breathy moan when Dean laid him out on the sofa, the pain lines around his eyes deepening. "Why's he still all cut up?" he said, sitting on the edge of the coffee table as the adrenaline rush faded and left him shaking. "I thought you healed him."
Elizabeth leaned against the arm of the sofa and trailed her fingers through Castiel's hair. "I could only stabilize him," she said. "And that's only going to hold if he stays quiet."
"What the hell happened back there? Even Cas didn't know what the fuck was going on."
Her mouth set in a thin line. "The hellhounds were enchanted. That's why they have had that color, why their teeth and claws looked metallic," she said, forgetting Dean couldn't see them. "There was a spell cast on them so their teeth and claws would have the same effect as our blades."
Dean felt his stomach drop. "That's why you can't fix him."
She nodded. "Not until the spell is broken. He should actually heal on his own then." Castiel stirred, his head tossing and she murmured to him in Enochian, glancing over to Dean. "Tell him you're here."
"Cas, buddy, I'm right here. You're gonna be okay." He looked up at Elizabeth to know if that was the right thing to say and she nodded.
"I realized it when I was able to kill the one by dragging it into the flames. Holy fire is only instantly fatal to us. Or things enchanted to be like us."
"I don't getit. Why take the hellhounds that want to eat me alive and angel them up like this?"
"I don't think you were ever the target, Dean." She traced one finger down one of the scratches on Cas' cheek. "I think this was an assassination."
It took a second for Dean to put that all together. "I don't...I don't get that. Crowley said this dick went out of his way to get the hellhounds that would go right for me."
"Follow that thought. Pretend you'd never stumbled into this hunt, because I'm not sure if the reason you're being targeted now wasn't just convenient timing. Imagine you found out some mystery threat had armed himself with the hellhounds that killed you. What would you do?"
Have screaming nightmares for the rest of my life."Try to figure out the bastard's name and kill him."
"And when you couldn't? And more to the point, what would he do when he found out you were being targeted?" she said, nodding down at Castiel.
It doesn't matter. They won't touch you.Dean felt guilt swallow him whole like some giant snake. "The son of a bitch used me as bait."
"If it makes you feel better, I fell for the same trick. You were targeted to draw out Castiel, Neal was targeted to draw me out." She gave him a sharp look. "And stop that. This isn't your fault."
Dean shook his head. "I froze. Like it was my first fucking hunt. It wouldn't have been half as bad if I didn't freeze up." He was not going to cry in front of her like some green teenager. "A while back we were in this little town called Carthage, me and Sam and Cas and two other hunters, Jo and Ellen. We were all there trying to stop Lucifer from raising Death, because that is our fucking liveslately," he said, his hands balling into fists. "Lucifer's demon bitch lackey sicced hellhounds on us and I froze up then, too. One of them had me and I froze up. Jo turned back to save me and..." He strangled down the memory of hearing Jo scream, knowing it should have been him. "She died. She and Ellen, they both died and Jo, she was younger than Sam, y'know? She was just a fucking kid." He'd never talked about Carthage, not even to Sam. Letting everything fester like an open wound had been easier than saying out loud he should be dead instead of Jo and Ellen, especially when he knew Sam would only lie and say that wasn't true. "She was so tough about it, too. Way tougher than I would have been. Watching her suffer like that was..." There weren't words for it. "I can't do that again."
That was when something Elizabeth had said stood out for him like a beacon. "Wait. You said him. You know who did this."
Elizabeth nodded slowly. "I've been tethered before, but today was the first time it felt like fire." She glanced at Dean. "Have you read the Dictionarre Infernal?"
Dean just blinked at that. "Sure. Of course. I reread it every summer just for kicks."
She gave the sarcasm a disapproving look. "It's a book on demonology. It purports to explain the hierarchies of hell." Her lips quirked up, as if remembering a private joke. "Some of our Father's prophets don't stop themselves from taking artistic license."
Dean remembered some of the descriptions from Chuck's novels. "Tell me about it."
"Xaphan's described in that as a demon who set fire to Heaven. You can't imagine how put out he was by that. He called it libel."
"Which, the demon part or the setting fire to Heaven?"
"Oh, that he did. More or less anyway." She furrowed her brow and it was really kind of uncanny to Dean how well she and Cas could pass for brother and sister. "Did Castiel ever tell you how they finally caught Lucifer during the Rebellion?"
"In case you haven't noticed, Cas doesn't do a whole lot of talking."
"I suppose that's true. Before Lucifer rebelled we didn't have weapons that could kill each other. We didn't have holy fire. We didn't need it, why would we? Then Lucifer and his supporters started the War and we all had to play catch up." There was the same far-off look in her eyes Dean knew was in his own when he thought about Carthage and Cold Oak. "Xaphan created the rings of fire and he had a hand in creating our blades. He never met a problem he couldn't come at sideways." He voice went soft. "He used to give us our missions in the old days. He taught me everything I know."
"How'd he wind up on the roll of shame, then?"
"The Prophet thought he was on Lucifer's side because that's where he was for most of the war."
Dean's brows drew together. "Spying?"
She nodded. "Michael's eyes and ears. Everything he learned about blending in with humans he used on Lucifer."
"Fuck. I hate it when the bastards are smart." He started to rake one hand through his hair before remembering he still had so much blood all over his hands. "What's our plan?"
"There's no ourhere, Dean. I'm going to go deal with him and you're staying here," she said, handing him Castiel's sword. He hadn't even noticed when she'd taken it from him.
"Like hell. I'm right there with you..."
"Dean." That focused fury was back on her face. "I need you to stay here and take care of my brother."
Shame hit Dean like ice water. Of course Cas couldn't be left alone. "You stay. If he starts bleeding again I can't help him."
She shook her head. "I can't help him here. I'm not even sure he can hear me, he's in so much..." She shut her eyes. "This is what I never missed, the soldiers coming back from battles torn to pieces. It's why I do what I do. Everyday I get to see people on the best day of their lives and get to know I made that happen." She crouched in front of Dean, her hands on his shoulders. "Dean, take it from someone who left Heaven for the exact reason he did, trust me, yours is the voice he needs right now."
Dean wasn't in a place where he could even begin to process that. "But...okay, but take this," he said, offering her back the sword. "You're not even armed."
She just shook her head again, closing his hand around the hilt. "If I take it you won't be armed if any hellhounds come back. And I have all the weapons I need." She pressed a light kiss to his forehead before standing again. "Go clean yourself up. There's a shirt you can wear hanging up. I'll sit with him until then."
Dean didn't even remember walking to the bathroom; he just found himself bent over the sink, staring at his own reflection. He hadn't realized just how drenched in blood he was; it was all over his hands and up his arms, spattered all over his clothes, even streaked on his face. He wondered how many times over the past few years he'd found himself covered in someone else's blood when it should have been his own.
He heard his phone ring and let it go to voice mail. It rang again and he did the same thing; he was in no condition to talk to anyone right now. When it rang for the third time Dean finally shook himself out of it and picked up; the number of people who'd want to talk to him this much was pretty much two, and when he didn't hear swearing over the he knew this couldn't be Bobby. "Sammy?" he said, bracing himself against the sink for more bad news.
He could almost see Sam's ears prick up. "Dean, everything okay? You didn't pick up."
"Didn't recognize the number," he answered, although until the third try he hadn't even looked. "You get sprung?"
"Not yet. You were right about the hellhounds, one jumped me right in the interrogation room."
Dean felt his heart stop for a second. He wondered if Xaphan had given it orders to go after Sam to draw Dean out, which would drag out Cas. If Sam got hurt because of him too Dean didn't know if he could take it. "You okay?"
"Yeah, thanks to the knife. The agents here are being...surprisingly cool about everything. We're working on barricading the building now." It would figure that Sam could make friends with all the feds. "What happened? Are you okay?"
That was just funny. "I'mfine. Not a scratch on me." He tried to scrub the sound Cas made when the hellhound almost ripped his arm off out of his brain.
"Everyone's breathing, Sam, that's what matters." Sam didn't need to worry about this; by the time he saw Sam again Cas would either be back to his annoying cryptic self or...Dean actually couldn't even form that thought. Either way, there was nothing Sam could do one way or another. "You keep yourself safe, this should all be wrapped up soon."
He hung up before Sam could argue. "Pull yourself together," he said to his reflection. Cas needed him. It was up to Dean to keep him safe if the hellhounds showed back up and damned if he was going to screw that up. He scrubbed the blood off his hands and arms, changing into the clean T shirt he found, then rooted through the medicine cabinet and grabbed bandages, gauze and any other first aid gear he could find.
Dean took a solid, bracing breath and stepped back out. Elizabeth caught his eye immediately, her lips tipping up when she saw the supplies tucked under his arm; he realized he hadn't asked if could raid her house but she didn't say a word about it. "Go on, kick your brother's ass," he said, pulling up a chair. "I got him, go."
Elizabeth ruffled one hand through his hair. "I have to find him first." She said something to Castiel in Enochian, smoothing back his hair. "You two take care of each other." She disappeared in a flutter of wings, leaving the two of them alone.
The silence made Dean hear growls everywhere. He pulled the chair up closer, arranging Cas' sword next to him on the table for easy access and set up the first aid supplies in a row. Castiel's breathing was faster than Dean would have liked, the rough, shallow gasps of someone trying to breathe around pain. "You're a son of a bitch, Cas," he murmured, carefully cleaning the scratches the hellhound's claws left on his face. He knew infection was the least of their worries right now but Dean had been trained too well, and anyway he'd never been good at just sitting on his hands. "It almost killed me when my dad decided to die instead of me, you know me well enough to know that. You know that and you still tried to do the same thing, and this time make me watch."
He stroked his thumb along Cas' hairline before moving down, checking to make sure he hadn't missed any stray scratches. "Your sister said I've gotta keep talking to you but Cas, man, I'm sorry, Sam'll tell you I suck at that." He found another faint scratch on Cas' neck and stopped himself from visualizing how bad that could have been had the claw gone any deeper. "You'd be better off with Sam here," he said, gently swabbing down the length of the scratch. "Kid's awesome at sitting bedside, he can talk your ear off. Kept me awake for two days once when it looked like I had a concussion and he couldn't drag me to a hospital."
He couldn't put off looking at the arm any more; he picked up the scissors he'd found and started cutting away Cas' sleeve. "Don't you dare bitch about me about ruining your coat when this is all over," he said, hoping that was the extent of their problems by then. Once the suit jacket and coat were out of the way Dean concentrated on the shirt; it was blood soaked and shredded enough that strips were stuck to the wound and Dean knew he had to be careful.
Castiel's breathing hitched when Dean touched the arm, what little color he still had leeching from his face. "Shh, Cas," Dean murmured. "You gotta let me look at it. I'm not gonna stitch it but I gotta at least wrap it. You'll feel better when everything's not exposed to the air like this, I promise." Castiel quieted, pain lines deep around his eyes, and Dean wondered how much of that he'd really absorbed. Dean finished clearing the last pieces of the shirt, wincing when Castiel let off a soft whimper as Dean peeled off the last strip.
Dean hissed out a breath through his teeth. He knew that if Cas had been human he'd be losing the arm; the wounds were wide enough he could see the jagged cracks zigzagging through the bones. He wished he had a good splint but the arm looked stable enough to do with just a tight wrap, even if it was nowhere near healed. He cleaned everything as best he could, careful not to jostle him enough to start the bleeding again. "I get the feeling Elizabeth thinks we're..." Dean felt silly even thinking about saying it out loud. "She says you and her went AWOL for the same reasons but, you know, she married the guy she ran off for," he said, measuring out a length of bandages and starting to wrap the arm. Castiel's head tossed, his breathing going ragged, and Dean whispered, "Shh, shh. I'm almost done here."
Once he was done with the arm he went back to stroking his thumb across Castiel's forehead until he quieted again. "So I guess I should have left you in the Sahara this morning, huh?" he said, moving the coat aside and starting to cut his shirt away from the gashes down his side. He tried not to think about what would happen if Elizabeth couldn't find her firebug brother. He didn't know what would be worse, watching Cas actually die or having him linger in this much pain. "If she can't find him I'll drag his ass out of Heaven myself, Cas, I promise." That Xaphan had used Dean like a sword felt like a crank tying his insides into a hard knot. "It's my fault you're in this mess, I'm gonna make it right. I don't like being anyone's weak spot."
The gashes down his side were deep and Dean worked slowly; this would be fatal on a human too and Dean tried as hard as he could not to think about Jo. As he worked he wondered how this compared to what had happened to Cas while he'd dragged Dean out of hell. He wondered if Cas had told him then what the mark had been for and he'd just lost those memories along with everything else about the rescue. He wished he knew what the hell Castiel had been thinking because he knew damn well that if he'd been too hurt to bust out of hell the demons wouldn't have killed him. They'd have kept him, and Dean felt like throwing up thinking about things going just a little bit worse and some other angel finishing the job and leaving Cas there. "Don't know why you bothered putting this thing on my arm, Cas. You should have saved the effort, 'cause I wouldn't have gone with any of your dick brothers they would have sent. No way." Dean didn't know if that was true – he knew there was every chance he could have been so desperate to get out of hell he might've left Cas there without a second thought – but God, did he want it to be true.
When he finished Cas looked like he was breathing easier, and Dean hoped that wasn't just wishful thinking. Dean wiped off his hands and picked up the sword, testing the impossibly sharp edge. "Here's how it's gonna be, Cas. You kept your promise to me about the hellhounds, so I'm gonna make one of my own." He leaned in close to Castiel's ear. "Those things come back, it's not gonna be like last time. They're not going to touch you. Over my dead body, Cas, I swear, and all of fucking Heaven had been be listening."
The FBI building was eerie and quiet with so much of its personnel evacuated. Diana scanned the quiet floor, fighting down the hard knot of dread forming in her stomach. Issuing the evacuation order had gone off without a hitch, same with locking down the building. She wondered if working with such a consummate liar as Neal Caffrey was rubbing off on her.
She scanned the room, looking at the agents they hadn't been able to lie out of harm's way; everyone was at their stations, tense but working through the lockdown protocol. She wished she'd been able to tell everyone what the situation really was, but "We have reason to believe a pack of demon dogs have been released from hell and are currently on their way to tear apart one of our prisoners" wasn't the kind of thing you put on an official memo.
Even if it actually was the truth. She retreated back to Peter's office, hoping Sam was right and betting on the hellhounds coming right for him would pay off. He and Jones had given her a primer on demons and what would and wouldn't work on them (salt, holy water and Sam's magic knife, yes, anything else you were out of luck.) Diana still hoped with every fiber of her being that this was all an exhaustion-induced nightmare. She'd even go along with hallucination, if that meant she would be safe and sound next in bed to Christie at the end of day.
She picked up one of the shotguns they'd commandeered from SWAT; Sam and Jones had been busy packing every available firearm with rock salt, something Sam had assured them would actually work. They'd turned the office into a staging area; Sam had painted an elaborate pentagram on the floor he claimed would be able to trap the hellhounds if they walked over it, which she knew Peter would be thrilled about when he got back.
Peter wasn't answering his phone; in fact the calls were going straight to voicemail, which meant he'd turned it off or broken it and considering that he wasn't the only thing trying to track down Caffrey neither of those options did much to thaw out the ball of ice slowly growing in her stomach.
Diana put the thought aside. Whatever trouble Peter and Neal had found themselves in, she couldn't do anything to help. They had their own fight coming right here. "How do we look?" she said, quieting her thoughts and turning back to Jones and Sam.
"As ready as we're gonna be," Jones said, wiping salt from his hands. "How's everyone out there?"
"Nervous but they seem to be buying it," she said, glancing out the window. "I told them Sam was actually undercover. I guess they think that if we let Caffrey work here we'll hire anyone."
Sam gave her an affronted look but seemed to get she was kidding. She picked up one of the salt-packed shotguns. "So, this will really work?"
Sam let out a long sigh. "Hope so. Hellhounds are tough."
Jones shook his head. "I'm not looking forward to the paperwork we'll have to fill out if we actually fire one of these things in here."
"Think of it this way," Diana said, putting the shotgun back on the table. "If we're filling out paperwork, that means we've made it through this."
"I hear you on that."
Diana backed away and let them get back to work; they were sharing stories about Jones' crazy uncle and most of that sounded like gibberish to her anyway. She slid her phone out of her pocket, needing a second to build up her courage before hitting one on her speed dial. "Diana? Hey, tell me you're on the way home." Diana didn't answer and she heard Christie let out a short, frustrated sigh. "Not again."
"Sorry. I...have to work late." If the lockdown order had made the news, apparently Christie hadn't heard.
"I wish you'd never talked me into moving up here. No, I wish we'd never heard the name Peter Burke, and I wish we'd never moved."
"Sometimes I agree with you."
"What's going on? Why did you call, you're not even late yet."
Diana hadn't fallen in love with the woman because she was slow on the uptake. "I just wanted to hear your voice."
There was an endless moment of silence. "What's going on?" Christie said, stark terror in her voice now. "What's wrong?"
That was when they all heard the growling. All three of them turned to the door in unison as the scraping and howling at the door turned deafening. "What is that?"
"I love you," Diana said, ending the call. She put the phone on silent when it rang against almost immediately, then slid the it back into her pocket as she picked up one of the shot guns and aimed it at the door.
The door broke open and Diana fired.
Castiel's eyes flew open. "They're here." Dean saw his eyes cut toward the door; a split-second later he heard that growling cut through him, then the sound of something heavy hurling itself at the door. "Go."
"What, cause you'll hold them off?" Dean tightened his grip on the sword. "Only way I'd do that is if I thought they'd go after me and leave you alone."
"Cas, if I leave you here to get ripped apart I don't deserve to keep breathing, so shut it." It took everything Dean had not to bitch at Cas what, you don't think you deserve to be saved? Maybe later, when they'd all survived this and they were busy drinking themselves stupid to forget it. "We gotta get out of here, the room's not defensible. You think you can walk?"
Castiel nodded, which Dean knew was probably a lie but he didn't waste time calling him on it. He helped pull Castiel up to his feet, Cas' face white and his mouth a tight line. He managed to stand for two whole seconds before his legs collapsed under him; Dean wrapped one arm around his waist to hold him, feeling Cas breathing hard against his collarbone. "Steady, Cas, I gotcha."
"You're not a weakness, Dean," Cas whispered.
Dean felt heat flush all through him. He hadn't actually believed Castiel had been able to hear him during all that. "Yeah, well. Your jerkass brother played me like one."
"That doesn't make it true."
Dean shook his head. "Not the time for mushy stuff, Cas." He pulled Castiel's good arm around his neck and shifted his own arm around Castiel's shoulders. "C'mon. If there's more than one we've gotta bottleneck them."
He half-dragged Castiel to the bathroom with its narrow doorway, slamming the door and locking it just as he heard the front door give way. He sat Castiel down on the floor and looked around, trying in vain to find anything to brace the door with. "There's a window," Castiel murmured; Dean looked down and saw the bandage around his arm already stained bright red.
"We can't move fast enough for it to do us any good."
"You could." He looked up at Dean, curling up again around his wounded arm and side.
"Stop trying to get me to leave you to get torn apart, Cas."
"Why...why is it all right to make me watch you die?"
Dean crouched beside him, angling his body between Cas and the door so whatever broke through would have to go through him first. "Either we both get out of this or neither of us do. And if these things drag us downstairs, we'll just wreck the place until we fight our way back out."
"Like we did before," Castiel murmured.
For one instant Dean could almost touch those lost memories, violence and blood and fear mixing together the way they only could in the Pit. It hit Dean that maybe the reason Cas had assumed Dean would be able to hear him way back when was because he always could before. "Yeah," Dean said, his throat dry. "Just like that."
Cas' eyes were fluttering closed; Dean felt a shiver run through him when Castiel leaned his head against his shoulder, right against the handprint. "You'll be okay, Cas." Dean didn't think he'd ever believed anything more strongly than he believed that.
"You sound very sure."
"You're not?" He could hear the hellhounds getting closer now. "Your sister's gonna kick some ass and then you're gonna be back to fighting strength." When Cas didn't respond Dean took the second to lean down. "Hey. She said you were her little brother, right?" Castiel nodded. "Think about it. If Sam was counting on me the way you're counting on her, is there any way I would ever let him down?"
Dean saw something very close to hope flash across Castiel's face. The hellhound started throwing itself against the door, long vertical cracks appearing in the wood. "Dean?" Castiel whispered, his voice so faint it was barely audible. "Were you...were you afraid when you heard the hounds coming?"
Dean remembered standing in that room, helpless to do anything but let them come. "Scared out of my mind." His heart clenched tight when he felt Castiel's cold fingers wrap around his, squeezing so hard he felt his fingers start to go numb. "Stay with me, Cas," Dean whispered as the door started to give way.
Dean knew he wasn't the most emotionally aware guy in the world. Sam was the emotions guy, Dean's opinion on things had always been that it wasn't a problem he could solve by punching it in the face, he'd deal with it later.
So he guessed it figured it would take a hellhound growling in his face and a dying angel shivering against his shoulder for him to realize Elizabeth Burke had read him exactly right.
It wasn't until the second locating spell fizzled that Elizabeth realized what she was doing wrong. "Never take the obvious solution," she muttered to herself. She remembered being a barely formed bit of nothing, back at the beginning of all things, and listening to Xaphan telling his wide-eyed pupils how to slip in among these strange new beings their Father had created. "'Come at your problems sideways and you'll always have the advantage.'"
The universe had been a simpler place before Heaven burned. She wondered if Xaphan had traded on his undeserved infamy to gain that audience with Crowley. Or even worse, what Xaphan had offered him in trade.
Elizabeth shook those thoughts away; brooding on them couldn't help anyone and there just wasn't the time. Xaphan treated everything like a training exercise, he always had, and Elizabeth forced herself into that old frame of mind. She was looking for Xaphan, who was looking for Neal. All she had to do was follow that trail to its logical conclusion. Honestly, that it took her so long made her wonder how she could ever have been considered one of the brightest angels in the garrison.
She closed her eyes and relaxed, letting the walls she'd built her human life around crumble as she tapped her Grace for the first time since she accepted a diamond ring from a human who shined when he smiled. She felt her wings unfurl as she reached for Peter's soul, feeling her breath catch the way it always did when she finally glimpsed it. Like holding the brilliance of Heaven in the palm of her hand.
Elizabeth let the warmth of his soul rush through her, bolstering her for what would be before her when she opened her eyes, then she let out a long breath and stepped forward.
She found herself in a drafty warehouse, the walls and floor covered in binding and protection runes from more traditions than even she could recognize at a glance. For a moment the world narrowed down to Peter lying pale and still in Neal's lap, but he was breathing and she could hear his heart beating strong and steady. That would have to be enough for now. She felt Neal's panicked blue eyes staring at her and she tried to give send him an apologetic look as she turned to Xaphan. This will all be over soon, Neal. I promise."It's been a long time."
Xaphan tilted his chin up as he studied her. "You don't sound surprised to see me."
"You'd be disappointed if I was." His vessel was a man in a stylish suit who wore his middle age well, with brown hair reaching past his collar and an impeccably groomed beard. She tried to remember where she might have seen that face before, he seemed so familiar, before realizing he'd been the lead in the play she'd dragged Peter to on their last date night. "I like that actor," she said, regret tinging her voice.
"That's because you have excellent taste," he said. She could see the jagged edges of his Grace grinding against each other, vicious scars that would never heal. Michael had been cold and cruel after caging his brother and he hadn't spared his allies his wrath; Elizabeth had heard rumors of the loyalty tests their eldest brother had put Xaphan through after his service among Lucifer's people but he'd always been careful to hide the evidence of it until now. She recognized the tactic for what it was and steeled herself against sympathy. "What gave me away?"
"You still like to play with fire."
"Ah," he said, like a chessmaster who'd fallen into a beginner trap. "I suppose I do have a trademark." It had been a long time since something could make her feel young but Xaphan still had the knack. "It's time to come home, Elisheva."
"That hasn't been my name for a long time."
His lips quirked up. "You've been on Earth too long. A little over a decade is hardly the blink of an eye."
She felt her hands ball into fists. "Take the spell from the hellhounds."
"No," he said, as if that was an absurd suggestion. "He doesn't deserve your mercy."
Elizabeth remembered Castiel looking up at her as his own blood choked him and his dying Grace bled out around him, seconds from his eyes emptying and his wings burning themselves out into the grass. It hurts. Sister, please, it hurts. "Haven't we lost enough brothers?"
That was the wrong thing to say; Xaphan's expression turned sour. "And how many of those losses were at Castiel's hand? Do you even know?" he said, a low simmering rage in his voice. "Or has he told you how wronged he's been by Heaven? Castiel received the first genuine miracle since our Father left and all he did was repay it by bloodying his hands even more."
"Self-defense isn't a sin."
"Treason is. Duty is supposed to be hard. We don't have the luxury of defying orders to just because our conscience rankles." He crossed his arms, letting out a frustrated sigh. "I'm sure he gave you a very sympathetic story but that doesn't change that he's a war criminal. His very presence makes it less likely the Righteous Man will say yes. Michael wants his vessel and he wants Castiel eliminated. This seemed like an elegant solution."
"You think killing Castiel will make Dean say yes to Michael?"
"Do I think isolating and traumatizing Winchester will make him weak? Yes, I think that's a certainty. I made sure to send some hounds after the other Winchester to sweeten the pot. Their capacity for self sacrifice is quite frankly astonishing." He sighed again. "This is the end of days, Elisheva. It's time to come home."
She shook her head. "I made a vow I can't break."
Xaphan gave her a disappointed look, one that would have tied her into knots in the old days. "I'm trying to help you. I don't want you to..." He let the words die, letting the shape he was in speak for itself. "Michael is so focused on his vessel and Lucifer now that he can't see anything else. That won't last. When the battle is over there'll be an accounting and he'll know who didn't report. He's killed in the field already."
"You're that sure he'll win?"
"Lucifer winning isn't something I care to contemplate."
"Those aren't the only options." She took two steps to the right, keeping eye contact with Xaphan and hoping the relief didn't show on her face when she got him to turn his back on Neal.
"I hope you're not putting your faith with the Winchesters."
"And with my brother."
"Am I not your brother any more?"
"You attacked my family," she said, unable to keep the rage of that from boiling beneath her skin. "If you wanted to talk to me you should have just done that."
"I couldn't take the risk you would flee." His lips thinned for a moment. "And we are still family. I hope you believe that."
"Call off the hounds and tear up the contract. Then I'll go with you."
"El, no," Neal said, shutting up when she gave him a warning look. She made eye contact with him for an instant, then glanced over to Peter and back to Neal. He swallowed whatever he'd been about to say and Elizabeth took the chance to send another glance towards Peter's gun before turning her attention back to Xaphan.
"I can't do that," he said. "Michael doesn't know about you but he's pleased about the hellhound part of the plan. It's too late to drop that." He lifted one eyebrow. "And you were lying just now, anyway." She flushed that he'd caught her; she couldn't break the vow she'd made to Peter, no more than she could stop her heart from beating. Elizabeth saw the regret in Xaphan's eyes as he she felt him tap just the slightest part of his Grace.
The world stopped turning when she felt Peter's heartbeat start to slow. The horror of that moment made everything that came next so much easier.
Elizabeth saw Neal take Peter's gun from his hand and aim it, the muzzle shaking in the air; she kept Xaphan's attention focused on her, forcing herself not to look at Neal and swallowing the instinct that screamed at her to warn her brother what was coming.
The gunshot sounded like a clap of thunder. Light flashed through him as Xaphan staggered forward a step, eyes wide; he turned around and saw Neal with the gun and nodded once to himself before his legs gave out from under him. Elizabeth caught him when he fell, the churning guilt easing when she heard Peter's heartbeat at full strength again. "You...you gave him..." he gasped out, blood on his lips. She nodded and his lips curled up in an almost rueful smile. "Always was...my best student." He looked up at her and Elizabeth knew this was what Castiel saw whenever he closed his eyes. "I didn't think you would choose them," he whispered.
"Why did you make me choose?"
He pressed a kiss to her forehead. "Let's...hope your luck with Michael runs better than mine."
She cradled his head against her shoulder. "I forgive you," she whispered into his ear. Holding grudges did no one any good now. "I do." She felt him sigh at hearing those all-important words, then he spasmed once, his hands clutching tight onto her arms for an instant. He took three shallow breaths that ended with a long, rattling sigh, then she squeezed her eyes shut against the rush of his dying Grace. Elizabeth laid him down and stepped back, forcing herself to watch as his wings burned black into the floor.
When that was done she walked over to Neal, gently taking the gun from his hands and laying on the floor as she crouched in front of him. "I thought you didn't like guns."
"I don't," he said, eyes darting between her and the body on the floor. "So...you and...and him, you're both..."
"Angels," she said. "Is that okay?"
To her surprise he flashed her that Neal Caffrey smile, just a slightly shakier one than his usual. "I'm not actually that surprised." He looked down at Peter still unconscious his his lap. "Is Peter okay? I don't know what that guy did..."
"He's fine. You're both fine. You took good care of him."
Neal shook his head. "Other way around." He looked up at her, suddenly looking very young. "Is it over?"
Elizabeth closed her eyes, listening to his heartbeat but she couldn't hear any claim. "It's over. I promise, it's all over." She brushed his hair off his forehead. "Let's all go home."
There were two hounds. The first was no sweat, Dean stabbed it right through the chest as soon as it barreled in but the second wouldn't go down so easily. He knew he'd cut it, he'd felt the sword slide in between a pair of ribs but the stab hadn't been sure enough to be lethal; the thing had him pinned down beneath it, sharp claws on his shoulders and its foul breath in his face. He kept hitting it but it was fast, dodging out of the way so all the blows were just glancing, barely more than parries to keep the thing's teeth away from his throat. He could see Cas slumped over and still when he looked up, blood soaking through the bandage on his arm and that pumped adrenaline through his veins like nothing else. He had to buy them time, just a couple more seconds.
That was a charge run through the air. He felt the hellhound pause, letting out a low whine, almost like it was confused, then Dean didn't even have time to blink before Castiel was right there, dragging the hellhound off of him. Dean heard the thing's jaws snap once, then a loud crack and the sound of something heavy dropping to the floor. Castiel staggered back a few steps, bracing himself against the tub as he lowered himself back down to the floor. "Are you hurt?" he asked, and Dean could hear the effort he was putting into keeping his voice steady.
"Nah, I'm good," he said, pushing himself back to his knees. "You okay?" When Cas nodded Dean let out a long, exhausted breath. "Told you." He shifted over next to Castiel, close enough to see how hard he was shaking. "Dude, you sure?"
He nodded again. "I just need a moment."
Dean unwrapped the bandages from his arm, relief coring him when he all that damage was completely healed without so much as a scar.
He could feel Castiel's blue eyes watching him. "You were right," he said softly, like an admission. "It did feel better when you wrapped it."
Dean traced down the path of one of the now-healed wounds; he felt Castiel shiver, just the faintest tremor running under his skin, and Dean didn't know why, just that this had to happen now. He leaned forward and kissed Cas, his thumb tracing down the stubble along his jaw and then down to his neck so he could feel Cas' pulse racing.
When he pulled back Cas tried to follow after him, his lips so wet and flushed Dean wanted to go back for more. And honestly, getting to see Castiel this surprised almost made the whole thing worth it. "We're not getting married."
Castiel nodded, his eyes still wide. "All right."
Dean just grinned. He reached behind him to grab the sword from where he'd dropped it, handing it to Castiel. "Here," he said, "I'm guessing you want this back-"
The sword clattered to the floor as Castiel cradled Dean's head and kissed him, the desperate press of his lips like a dam breaking. He let Cas pull him closer, Dean straddling his lap as Castiel started trailing his fingers over Dean's body, slow, deliberate movements like he wanted to catalogue every inch of him. When he finally reached the handprint Dean felt him shudder, letting out a soft breathy moan like he'd waited forever to do this, then when he pressed his hand over it Dean lost his breath for a second, feeling like the touch went all the way down to his soul.
So he was going to have to tell Elizabeth she'd been right about that too.
He pushed Castiel down to the floor, the feeling of Cas reaching up to grab a handful of his hair going right to his groin. "We should get outta here," he whispered into Cas' ear, and Dean didn't think he'd ever get enough of how Cas was already gasping for air. "Your sister'll kill us if we do this here."
Castiel nodded, wrapping his arms around Dean. When Dean opened his eyes he found himself in the backseat of the Impala, safely tucked away in the FBI impound. The way Cas was looking up at him, eyes hooded like he was waiting for Dean to tell him he'd done the right thing, instantly made Dean forgive Sam for getting his baby thrown into impound in the first place. His blood was running so hot he barely felt the post-flight hangover; he kissed Castiel again, the way Cas was beginning to arch up under him already shutting off some of his brain's higher functions.
Dean pulled his shirt off and tossed it down to the floor, followed quickly by Castiel's tie. It hit Dean that this was what they should have done the night before the fight with Raphael and he could only shake his head as he opened Cas' shirt and trailed one hand down his skin.
Dean told himself that if he was going to be that slow a learner, the least he could do was a good job making up for it.
Diana backed up to the wall, shotgun braced against her shoulder. Sam hadn't thought the infrared would work and she wished he'd been right; being able to see the things coming and not being able to stop them was a thousand times worse than them staying impossible, invisible monsters.
And Sam seemed to be wrong about the salt, too. "They supposed to keep coming like this?" Jones said, firing off a shot as one walked right over the salt line.
"They never could before," Sam answered, the knife balanced in one hand as he waited for them to get close enough. "You guys get the opening, you run for it."
"Not in the job description," Diana said, firing off a shotgun blast of her own. That at least got its attention; she saw it turn to her, its mouth open in a low growl, its legs bunched under it as it got ready to leap.
She braced for the impact, eyes shut. A second passed. Then another. She cracked her eyes open and saw the hellhound up against the edge of the circle, snarling as it paced along the border of the trap. "What just happened?"
"Don't know," Jones said, poking the monster with the butt of his shotgun. "Maybe they remembered they're demons."
Sam brandished the knife as he stepped forward. "Let's take them out before they change their minds."
Sam finished telling the true story of what had happened inside that Denver police precinct; he wondered if he should be surprised that he still remembered everyone's name but it seemed like the whole thing had happened two weeks ago, not almost two years. That had been their first big mistake dealing with Lilith.
Sam just wished it had been their last. When he ran out of words he looked over the room, Burke sitting across from him with Diana on his right, Jones leaning against the two way mirror. Sam glanced over at Caffrey, standing against the door with his arms crossed, jumping at every sound the way Dean had for weeks after Carthage.
"You swear that this is a true and factual account?" Burke said, as if this could ever be an official report.
"I do." Sam hoped like hell the past couple days had been enough to put Victor Hendrickson's ghost to rest. They owed him that much.
Burke nodded, closing that battered file folder. "You're free to go," he said. "Try to stay out of trouble, okay? I can only sweep so much under the rug."
"I can't make that kind of promise."
Burke just shook his head. "At least you're honest about it. If you're...hunting in my jurisdiction," he said, raising one eyebrow, "at least give me a head's up. I'll see what I can do."
"That I think I can manage."
Peter tapped the borders of the folder into neat edges. He glanced around for a second, then leaned forward. "My wife wants to have a family dinner at the end of the month," he said, an almost conspiratorial tone to his voice. "All three of you don't show up I'll never hear the end of it."
Sam grinned. "Dean ever answers his phone again, I'll let him know. " After he'd dispatched the last of the hellhounds he'd called Dean; it had taken two tries to get him to answer. "Sam? Everyone alive?" he'd said, out of breath. When Sam had said yes Dean had cut him off, saying, "Good. Listen, I'm right of the middle of something. Catch you later."
That Dean hadn't actually managed to end that call, letting Sam hear all too clearly what Dean had been in such a rush to get back to, was something he was never, ever going to divulge. And really, if Dean was happy, Sam was happy, even if it put images in his head he really wished he could unsee.
"Everyone else, take a week's leave. Don't worry about the paperwork, I'll take care of it. You all earned it. See you Monday." Burke nodded to Caffrey and they both left, leaving Sam there with the very surprised and, frankly, delighted Diana and Jones.
"Well, I don't know about the two of you," Diana said, "but I'm going to go home, kiss my girlfriend, get into bed for a week and try to convince myself this has all been a horrible nightmare."
Sam thought he and Jones were both a little envious as they watched her leave. "What about you?" Sam asked.
"Don't know," Jones said, his expression thoughtful. "Can't remember the last time I had a week off at a stretch."
Sam drummed his fingers against the table. What the hell."Actually got a voice mail from your uncle last night. Apparently he's in the middle of a werewolf hunt upstate somewhere, heard me and Dean were in the neighborhood and wanted to know if we wanted in. Which means if must be a pretty big hunt if he's asking for help, because it's usually not his style." Sam looked up at him. "You want in?"
Jones eyebrows shot up. "Yeah?"
"Hey, after hellhounds a werewolf or two should be no sweat. Dean and Cas'll come up for air at some point but 'till then I'm short handed. So, you interested?"
Jones grinned. "This is exactly why my mom stopped inviting my uncle to barbeques. Hell yeah, I'm interested."
Sam grinned back, the promise of a nice, old-fashioned hunt in front of him, one that had nothing to do with demons or hellhounds or the end of the world. "Cool. You drive and I'll fill you in on everything you need to know about werewolves along the way."
Jones shook his head. "Your life always this weird?"
"You kidding? This is nothing. One time there was this racist truck..."
Elizabeth jumped up from the sofa when she heard Peter's keys in the door, feeling like she could breathe for the first time all day when he wrapped his arms around her. "See?" he said. "Told you I wouldn't be long."
"And this time you weren't," she teased back, burying her face against his chest. "Neal's not with you?"
"He said he had to drop in on Mozzie, let him know he was alive and uneaten. He said he'd probably be back later."
Neal had insisted on going to his loft after that night, only to show up at their apartment at three AM, wide-eyed and shaking. Elizabeth didn't know how long it would take until his dreams stopped being full of growls and fangs, but she was just so thankful he was finally asking for help. "He thinks you're getting a big head," she told Peter.
"I haven't earned that?" he answered. "Plenty of men call their wives angels, but mine is the real thing."
"You are smug," she said, relaxing against him. That particular revelation had gone much more smoothly than she'd always pictured, although she supposed the events leading up to it had primed Peter to accept practically anything.
"How are you doing?" he murmured into her ear, all teasing put aside.
"I can't sleep," she admitted. "I can't stop going over what happened. I keep trying to think of things I should have said, what I could have done differently."
"Hey." He tipped her chin up. "You didn't create the situation. Neal and I are still here because of what you did."
"I know. I do. But he was still my brother and I killed him, whether I pulled the trigger myself or not."
"More people would have died if you hadn't," Peter said. "I know that doesn't help now, but it will. It never gets back to being the same but it does get better, I promise." He combed his fingers through her hair, the way he always did when he was upset. "Do you think he was right? That other brother of yours, Michael, is he coming next?"
She shook her head. "I don't know. It depends on how the war goes."
He pressed a light kiss to her forehead, just the way he had at the end of their first date. "We'll be ready for him," he said, and even if she wasn't sure that was possible she knew that if it was, Peter was the one human she would trust to manage it. "Although I get now why you don't talk about that side of the family."
"How did the team take the news of the night off?"
"From the looks of things Diana and Jones were about to nominate me for sainthood."
"They won't know what to do with themselves." She let out a deep, rueful breath. "So, when do you have to get back to the office?"
"Actually, since Hughes comes back tomorrow I'm taking the week too. The criminals of the world will just have to behave themselves for a while."
"You're taking a vacation."
"Hey," he said, sounding wounded. "I have been known to relax once or twice in my life."
"Once or twice being a generous estimate." She felt Peter's hand slide under her blouse and arched her back into the touch. "So, what is Peter Burke going to do with all that free time?"
He leaned in close and Elizabeth didn't need to see it to know he had that wicked smile on his face. "I'm sure I can think of something."