Warnings: Nightmares of hell, profanity, mild violence
Spoilers: General Season 6
Summary: When Dean gets into some precarious situations, an unexpected angel shows up to help.
Dean hadn't been expecting this particular nightmare. A nightmare, yeah, that was par for the course every night, but for the last year it had been his brother haunting his dreams. Back with Lisa and Ben the nightmares revolved around Sam in the Cage. Afterwards, when Sam was back, there was a period of time he dreamt of killing his soulless brother when Sam finally crossed that line, when Sam was finally done with pretending to care. Getting Sam's soul back caused the nightmares to revert back to the usual; losing Sam to a monster, Jo and Ellen's deaths, killing children possessed by demons and so on. The usual crap that was the story of their lives.
So the blistering heat, thick brimstone stench, endless screams and sensation of his own hands caressing a knife caught him off guard. Dean fought it instinctively, not remembering this specific incident but knowing where this story led. But with a careful, deliberate movement, his dream-self sank the blade into the soul chained to the rack in front of him.
Slowly, lovingly, dream-him dragged the knife through the mass of the soul, carving abstract patterns and designs. This soul was an ugly, shriveled thing, but still shuddered and whimpered deliciously at each slice.
Trapped, Dean struggled against each twist of his wrist, each burst of sick pleasure even as dream-him soaked in the agony radiating from the soul, basking in the power and insidious darkness that arose from wielding the knife.
Eventually, when the soul was a quivering, shivering mess, Dean faltered. The searing heat, cacophony of pleading voices, sensation of fleshy stickiness beneath his hands and satisfied curve of his own mouth was a crushing pressure bearing down on him. His anguish melded with his victim's, until he strained to differentiate himself from his dream-self. Dream-him slid his hand across the soul's surface, a canvas scored with beautiful bloody incisions, savoring every twitch and spasm.
Some acid next, he – not him? – decided. He wanted to try something more creative, but by the feel of this soul, it wouldn't be able to withstand much more before disintegrating. Pity, because –
"Well, isn't this just all sunshine and roses."
The idle comment in a familiar accented voice shattered the illusion.
When he – Dean Winchester, human and alive and this wasn't real, damn it! – whirled around to identify the speaker, it was to the sight of Balthazar standing several feet away swirling a glass of gold-tinted liquid. The angel took a sip, and grimaced.
Dean blinked, then looked down when the bloodstained knife vanished from his hand. When he raised his head again, Balthazar was right in front of him.
"Let's get out of here, how about that? This sulfur stench is ruining the taste of my chardonnay."
Dean started to take an automatic step back; experience with Cas had him knowing that he was about to be zapped away, but Balthazar didn't even make the pretense of reaching for his forehead or snapping his fingers. One moment he was stuck in his head, the next he was in his bed at Bobby's, staring up at the ceiling.
Or he was, until everything in the nightmare caught up with him. He was halfway across the room when his legs failed him, sending him into a heap on the floor, fighting not to throw up. Bracing his hands against the wooden floorboards, head bent low, he clamped his mouth shut, shuddering convulsively.
A pair of hands fell onto his shoulders from behind. Dean jerked, starting to pull away, but a moment later, relief spread from those hands. Fire raced along his veins, burning away the recollected taint of the Pit clinging to every cell in his body. Hell was a searing heat that ate away at the soul, but this was holy fire, and felt like a purifying rush sweeping through him, a purge that left him feeling new and cleansed in his skin.
Dean was so focused on the respite that he barely noticed the hard surface he was kneeling on shift suddenly into a soft mattress. The hands still resting on his shoulders carefully turned him over so that he uncurled unresistingly onto his back, once again lying in his bed.
Exhausted, he tracked the familiar water stains on the ceiling, remembering what the crystal sharp edge of guilt felt like and knowing that it made him human. Finally, after several long minutes, he turned his head to the side.
Balthazar, sprawled easily against the headboard beside him, raised an eyebrow.
There were many, many questions that were brought to mind by the situation, the least of which was What the fuck are you doing here?, but the nightmare had left him feeling vulnerable to an extent he hadn't experienced for a long while. The thief angel might have his own selfish motivations, but right now Dean was too tired to care and maybe just a little bit grateful.
"Thanks," he rasped quietly.
The angel shrugged casually, an oddly sympathetic expression in his eyes.
"Go to sleep, hunter."
He did, and didn't dream again for the rest of the night.
The angel was gone when Dean woke up the next morning. He would almost say that what happened last night had all been in his imagination, but a niggling instinct told him that wasn't true. Feeling somewhat irritated but not knowing why, he went down for breakfast, resolving to put the strange incident out of his mind.
It was one of those rare quiet days between hunts. They read the day's paper and scanned through the news online, but otherwise took the time to relax and regroup themselves.
Sometime later, when Sam went out for a grocery run and Bobby was looking something up in one of his books for a fellow hunter, he headed back upstairs to inspect and clean all his guns and knives.
Except there was an angel sitting on his bed. Again.
Dean opened his mouth – to say what, exactly, he wasn't sure – but then caught sight of what Balthazar was doing.
"Are you reading GQ?"
"What? It has some excellent fashion advice." Balthazar didn't look up from the magazine.
"That – you know what? Never mind." Metaphorically throwing up his hands in defeat, he went to get out all the weapons and cleaning kit, spreading them out over the queen-sized bed, because it was his bed and he didn't give a damn if there was an angel occupying part of it. If Balthazar was there for a purpose then he could bloody well say it. Dean wasn't going to ask.
He fell into the practiced steps of cleaning the guns. Disassembling, inspecting, oiling; a familiar rhythm that was peaceful and soothing. He was so engrossed that he forgot about the silent angel beside him; he put down the last gun and reached for a knife, startled out of his zone when he became aware of the blond leaning close, no longer reading but watching Dean with interest.
"What?" He snapped. Was the personal space issue not just a Cas thing but an angel thing?
"You hunt with these?"
Dean stared. "What else would I hunt with? Bow and arrows?"
"It just seems incredible that a couple of humans have managed to stay alive against all the creepy-crawlies out there with such primitive weapons."
He scowled. "Screw you. Unlike you feathered dicks, me and Sam gotta hunt monsters the old-fashioned way, without being able to smite the hell out of whatever's trying to eat us." A thought occurred to him. "And what do you mean, primitive? You guys use fucking swords!"
Balthazar rolled his eyes. "Angel swords are different; they're manifestations of our grace. Besides, I have better weapons at my disposal than just swords. Or at least, I had before I let Castiel have them all."
"Yeah, and you could have put them to good use against Raphael and his goons before that. And you seriously expect me to believe you didn't keep at least a few for yourself?"
Balthazar grinned, wide and delighted, blue eyes lighting up. "Oh, darling, you know me so well."
Dean growled, picking up a knife and cloth and turning his attention to it. He cleaned and sharpened the knives in irate silence, feeling the eyes of the angel still on him like a warm weight. After several minutes, he sheathed the last knife and stared down at it.
"I just don't understand you!" The words spilled from him in a frustrated burst. He put down the knife and twisted to face Balthazar, who quirked his eyebrows questioningly. "Cas is your brother, the only brother who you have civil conversations with and actually like, by the sound of it, so why wouldn't you help him out when there's a damn archangel after his head?"
"Not this again," the angel sighed, raising a knee to his chest and resting his arm on it. "Winchester, I like what I'm doing now. Indulging in all sorts of pleasures, enjoying life to the fullest. The hedonist lifestyle suits me. Why would I want to go chasing after my brothers and getting my feathers ruffled?"
Dean scoffed. "You'll find it hard to enjoy anything if Raphael wins and tries bringing hell on Earth again."
Balthazar flicked his hand dismissively. "Castiel will win, he's become a lot more sneaky since his little rebellion."
"Bullshit. What you don't want to admit is that you're a coward, plain and simple," Dean snapped.
The angel's eyes darkened, mouth pressing into a thin line. "I didn't come here to justify myself to you," he responded testily, looking genuinely offended.
"Then why are you here?" Dean could feel fingers of prickling cold creeping up his spine, some primal part of himself registering the threat two feet away from him, but he refused to back down.
"I'm here, Winchester, because Cas asked me! Since he's stuck upstairs dealing with Raphael and his goons and can't do it himself, he wanted someone to check in on the three of you from time to time, make sure you all haven't been ripped from limb to limb by some nasty creature. Happy?"
Dean stared, surprised. Cas had posted a bodyguard on them? And Balthazar had agreed?
"Why the hell would you agree to do that?"
"I don't have to explain myself to you, human!"
An eye blink and a soft flutter of wings later, Balthazar was gone.
They were in deep shit.
"Dean," Sam murmured. They didn't look at each other, attention fixed on the demons surrounding them.
"I know, Sammy," he gritted, gun trained on the closest one.
Their research for this case had indicated a witch gone off the rails, cursing innocents with gruesome fatal accidents, and they had hunted the woman down to her house. It turned out the woman was a witch, except that she was also possessed by a demon and buddying around with a couple of other demonic friends.
There were five demons, and that was five too many for the two of them. Fuck.
"Well, isn't this a piece of good fortune?" The witch-demon purred, eyes black and greedy, and fuck, that never stopped being creepy no matter how many times he saw it. "Here we were, minding our own business, doing a little murder here, a little torture there. You know, just generally creating bloodshed and chaos. And who should come along, falling into our laps, but the Winchesters themselves?"
All the demons laughed manically, and Dean fought back the shiver the grating noise caused.
"Go to hell," he growled, eyes darting around, trying to find a way out. He and Sammy were cornered in the living room; demons and the couch blocked the way to the front door, their only escape. They could make a break for the stairs, and jump out the windows upstairs or something, but it would be a miracle if they managed to make it that far. The only reason why the shit hadn't hit the fan yet was the grandstanding by the demons.
"Oh, boys, I don't think we'll be the ones taking a trip downstairs. There's a reward and promotion, did you know, for anyone who manages to get Sammy Winchester back to hell? After all, it's not very nice of you to leave our daddy all alone down there, is it, Sammy?"
His brother snorted, keeping his gun steadily pointed at her. "You're lying. Demons like you loyal to Lucifer are being hunted by the new ruler of hell. You'll be killed the moment you show your face anywhere near the pit."
Annoyance flickered over the witch-demon's face before vanishing. "It doesn't matter, sweetheart. With the nuisance the two of you have made of yourselves over the years, I'm sure there's someone who will want to get you into their clutches." She smiled, wide and sickly. "And I know for a fact that there are demons who want Dean. After all, you've had some good times in hell, haven't you, Dean?"
Dean refused to let his mind go down memory lane, not right now. "Shut your cakehole, bitch!"
"Ending our conversation already?" The demon affected a sad sigh. "And I was even trying to be civilized. I don't suppose I need to ask if you want to do this the easy way, or the hard way?"
Gunshots rang out as he and Sam fired in unison, even as the witch-demon raised her arm and the others lunged forward.
Dean didn't see if he had managed to hit anyone, because in the next moment he was flying through the air, thrown by an invisible force. His back slammed into a chair painfully, the piece of furniture splintering and breaking under his weight. He was up and moving a split second later, chanting an exorcism even as he fired rapidly at the demons, trying to determine his brother's condition.
The demons faltered at the Latin spilling from his lips, and Dean took the opportunity to scan around. Finally, he spotted Sam lying crumpled against the far wall, unconscious. Fuck. And the demon-killing knife was with him, too. He started chanting faster.
Four of the demons were staggering, the exorcism starting to take hold, but the witch-demon snarled as she gestured angrily at him.
Dean was cut off mid-chant as an unseen punch knocked the breath out of him, sending him to the ground in a painful heap. Blood roaring in his ears, he struggled to get up, raise his gun, do something, but the relentless pressure on him was unmovable.
The stench of sulfur increased as Dean watched the pair of dainty red-toenailed feet belonging to the demon pad towards him, each step signifying that he was closer to death. Frozen in place, he couldn't do anything but lie there helplessly as the demon approached.
And just as suddenly, everything changed with a flutter of wings.
Several brilliant flashes of light nearly blinded him, and when he could see again, blinking spots away in his vision, he found he could move. He rolled to his feet, arm raised to shoot the demons again for all the good it would do, but it only took a single glance around to assess the situation to discover that it was unnecessary.
The witch-demon lay spread-eagled on the floor, obviously dead. Another two demons were in a similar state.
Wielding a long, wicked-looking knife, one of the two remaining demons tried to sneak up on the angel with his back turned to him, but with a blurring movement almost too fast to follow, Balthazar spun and slammed a palm into the demon's forehead. Dean shielded his eyes just before the burst of light, holy fire consuming the essence of the demon, accompanied by the sharp tang of ozone in the air.
The last scumbag tried to flee, the host's mouth opening and wisps of black smoke appearing.
Balthazar moved, vanishing and blazing into existence in front of the demon in a way which filled Dean's ears with thrumming wing beats and left him seeing afterimages of indistinct wings. A hand wrapped around the host's neck; another flare of light and silent scream, and the fight was over almost as soon as it had begun.
In the silence afterwards, Balthazar stared across the room at him with blue eyes impossibly and inhumanly bright, dead bodies sprawled at his feet and the surrounding air visibly bending and folding itself away from him. "Still alive, Winchester?"
The angel's voice echoed oddly, the words spoken with a reverberating tone that pressed against his skin like a tangible weight. Balthazar continued to watch him, something alien and unfathomable in his expression. It was an unsettling reminder that even through Balthazar's gallivanting around Earth, indulging in all kinds of sins, at the core he had been an angelic soldier for thousands of years.
"Huh," was all Dean could manage. "Guess you're an angel of the Lord, after all."
Balthazar cocked his head. "Was that supposed to make sense to anyone other than yourself?"
Dean shrugged, incredibly relieved when the angel finally moved his heavy gaze away to look around the room.
"I forgot how much fun this could be," Balthazar mused suddenly, a tiny grin curling up his lips, and with that one movement, the air smoothed out around him and the inhuman light faded from his eyes. Humanity settled into place, and having witnessed part of Balthazar's true self, he couldn't help but think of it as a very well-worn mask for a creature that was far from human.
"This?" Dean questioned as he picked his way across the living room to his unconscious brother, checking him over. Didn't seem to have anything worse than a concussion.
"Smiting the hell out of annoying bastards," the response came from right beside him, and Dean nearly jumped out of his skin. The angel merely smirked at the glare he shot him.
"Ready to get out of here? I have to say, the décor's not much to my taste."
"Yeah, the Impala's right – "
The room around him dissolved and reformed into the familiar walls of his bedroom at Bobby's.
" – outside. Damn it, Balthazar!" He got to his feet, spinning around to face the angel who stood casually in the middle of the room, hands tucked comfortably into his coat pockets.
"Relax, hunter. Little Sammy's safe and sound, tucked into his bed next door. Even healed his concussion and everything. And your precious car's downstairs in the garage, so don't get yourself into a snit."
Dean paused, all his arguments resolved in an instant. After a few moments, he loosened his stance and scrubbed a hand over his face, trying to shake off the events over the past few hours, how close he and Sam had been to dying again.
"Thanks for the save," he said, because he wasn't a total douchebag, and the guy had just saved their asses, after all, and been totally badass while at it. Dean would never admit it, but he had been impressed.
Balthazar looked incredibly pleased at his words, sauntering closer, a playful glint in his eyes.
"You know, Dean, I could think of another way for you to thank me," he purred, suddenly right up in his personal space.
It only took a second to process the meaning behind the angel's words. "Dude, what the fuck? I'm not sleeping with you just 'cause you bailed our asses out!"
This close up, there were traces of ozone emanating from Balthazar. Dean twitched, his hands itching to – push him away? Pull him closer?
Instead, he took a measured step sideways away from the blond, who sighed theatrically in disappointment.
"I did break my own rules, putting myself in danger and getting my feathers ruffled, just to save a couple of humans. I'm not even getting a kiss? You know, to reward and encourage good behaviour?"
"Are you seriously comparing yourself to a dog for a kiss?"
Balthazar raised his hands in a shrug. "If I have to. Woof. Is it working?"
A snort of laughter escaped him before he could stop it. Dean was amused, despite himself, and yeah, this angel had somehow become less annoying over the past few weeks. Balthazar had helped them, helped him, more than once now, and Cas trusted this angel to protect them. And the guy was attractive. Why not?
"C'mere, you," he muttered, reaching out to grab a fistful of Balthazar's shirt and tugging him close. Before he could change his mind, Dean leaned in and kissed the blond.
Balthazar stilled in surprise for a brief moment before getting with the programme, wrapping one hand around his waist and the other around the back of his neck, deepening the kiss. Dean pushed back, licking into the other's mouth, chasing the heady tang of ozone. The angel let him, kissing back lazily, rubbing his fingers against the short hairs on the nape of his neck, tiny caresses that sparked little jolts of pleasure down his spine.
Eventually, he had to pull back for air, breathing heavily against Balthazar's neck. They stayed like that for a minute, quiet and content, until Dean felt the hand on his waist drop down to grab his ass.
He huffed in amusement, untangling himself from the resisting angel. "Buddy, I meant it when I said I'm not sleeping with you."
"You can't be serious. We were getting off to such a nice start!" Balthazar grumbled when Dean dodged out of his reach.
"Try again next time, Balthazar," he replied easily.
The vexed look on the blond's face faded as he stared intently at him. "You mean it, hunter?"
This was stupid, crazy, and had the potential to screw itself up so badly. "Yeah, I mean it."
Balthazar grinned then, wide and pleased. "Alright. It's a date, Winchester."
The angel vanished from the room without so much as a goodbye.