Part 1: Carry on My Wayward Son
He smiled, and the man staring at him through the mirror smiled back. A disbelieving frown, however, as he studied the expression ruined the effect, causing lips to give just slightly before he tried again. He closed his eyes for a moment and shook his shoulders and hands as if this was something to be practiced. Something to be perfected. He sniffed to compose himself and glanced up, trying once more. Hell, it couldn't be this hard. It was just a smile.
"I'm going to find some way to redeem myself to you…. I mean it Dean."
The words flittered unbidden through his skull like the grate of sandpaper over a fresh wound. Had it been physical, it would have bled. An unending gouge that never healed. Instead it was internal, reopening despite every memory he used to stitch it up, festering despite every case he slapped over it as a bandage.
He shook his head again and leaned into the sink, fingers gripping tightly to the aging ceramic as he stared intently, willing himself not to see dark, endless blue eyes reflected there. He blinked once, then again until the image faded leaving him staring once more into his own broken appearance. "Come on Dean. Pull it together man." He growled at himself, his voice low and irritated. "It's a fucking smile."
The hunter tried again. This time, however, was no more successful than the last. His lips twitched upwards and though the expression wasn't a scowl, the fact that it never reached his eyes was enough to prove that despite the soundest advice, he was hopeless at this. Honestly he shouldn't care one way or another. Hell he'd go around frowning for the rest of his life without a problem. It wasn't anyone else's business anyway whether he was happy or not.
But it was Sam he had to convince. Sam who had to see him smile, because it was Sam who wasn't going to give up on pestering him about his goddamn feelings until they both sat down and sobbed their hearts out. There was no way Dean was walking down that road. In fact, he decided he'd rather visit Crowley for teatime in Hell.
Of course there was no way he could convince Sam if he couldn't even keep the smile up long enough to get through a few words. He sighed, exasperated, and pushed himself away from the mirror, scooping up his things and tossing them into his bag before wandering towards the door.
"Dean… they're so strong."
The gravelly voice of his memory grated again and he froze, hand against the knob of the door. What had it been? A few months now? More? At least that, and yet Dean could see it all as if it had been yesterday. He could hear the panic in the Angel's voice when he'd demanded they run. The plead when he'd said Dean's name as if hoping beyond hope that Dean could do something. Could save him like Cas had saved Dean so many times before.
And the worst part was… he had been entirely helpless.
Dean let his forehead thump against the door, fingers fisting and breathing slowly as he took each razor sharp memory and tucked it back deep in his psyche where the only one they could hurt was him. He sniffed again and straightened, breathing deeply before pulling the door open with a yank only to find himself face to face with the business end of Sam's gun.
"The Hell Sam?!"
The taller but younger of their little sibling act didn't lower his weapon, taking a long moment to gauge the situation, making sure that Dean had actually been in the bathroom by himself and appeared to be unharmed. "I heard a thump." Was all he could say as he finally dropped his hand, straightening with mild embarrassment, and watching his brother with that slight knit to his brow that told Dean he was worried.
So of course Dean did what any good older brother who had no interest in sharing that he'd been leaning into that door as if it was the only thing holding him up would do. He evaded. "What, a guy can't even bang his elbow anymore? Jeeze Sammy." He brushed past his brother and threw his bag on the bed, ignoring the fact that Sam had turned towards him and instead focused on aimlessly packing things back into his duffle. He only looked back when the long awkward stare went on for a few moments too long raising his eye brows with an irritated return glare as if to say "WHAT?"
Sam sighed and shrugged, glancing towards the bathroom one more time before going back to his own bed and following suit. Dean was glad he didn't comment further but still managed to feel bad for making his brother jumpy. He was well aware that Sam wasn't playing the game of life with all his strings attached. The fact that Lucifer was wandering around chopping through the ones the Sasquatch managed to tie back up wasn't helping either. But what could he have said? 'Sorry Sam I was just lamenting the loss of my angel and my total fucking inability to do anything in this goddamn world right…
Yes because that would go over so well. He paused. His angel? Hell he really did need help.
The truth was, between Cas and Bobby and, well every other fucking person who had ever meant something to him, Dean wasn't quite sure why he kept trying to move forward. Even Sam was sliding off the deep end now. The kid was a goddamn volcano just waiting to erupt. And when he finally did... he was going to burn out the rest of Dean's world right along with him.
"So whatda'ya say we go dump these boxes and head somewhere interesting?" Dean finally asked, breaking the heavy silence that had begun to crawl through the room.
"More interesting than a Leviathan run Cancer Research Department?" Sam deadpanned; glancing up at his brother with the kind of look that said he knew full well the only places Dean thought were interesting was a bar, a woman's arms, and Dick Roman's trail. Preferably close enough to put a bullet through the Leviathan's head. Lately, the first two had fallen short of the third one.
Dean rolled his eyes and managed a smirk. If his head hadn't been spinning with so many other things he might have actually felt a little pride at his ability to manage the expression. Good things came to those who waited right? Yeah right. "Gotta keep busy Sammy."
"Yeah I know." The taller man blinked tiredly. Now that his little shot of adrenaline had worn off Dean could see the soul deep fatigue in his brother's face.
"Did you get any sleep last night?" He asked trying not to look as worried as he felt.
"How could I when the upstairs neighbor is a fan of late night, early morning, and midday singing...?" His response was weary and laden with a dull irritation that had begun to tarnish under Lucifer's constant barrage. His fingers sought out the scar on his left hand, pressing down sharply but Dean knew it had failed when Sam's attention was drawn to the other side of the room, his shoulders sagging just slightly in response to whatever the Devil was saying.
"Well you can sleep in the car. Nothing interesting enough about that piece of junk to keep you up anyway. Christ I miss Baby." Thoughts of his precious Impala managed to shove aside other worries well enough and long enough that Sam couldn't help but laugh at the expression of longing that must have crossed his face.
"It's not like she's going anywhere Dean."
"I know but I just feel so..." He waved his hand about looking for the right word. "Dirty... Like I'm cheating." Green eyes turned to Sam as if waiting to hear his brother's agreement but all he got in response was a mildly judging look.
"You are such a looser."
"Shut up Bitch."
The timeless, entirely affectionate, squabble left them both smirking as they turned to hide their grins in their packing. It was proof enough that some things would never change, and for that much Dean was happy. But the hunter wasn't stupid, and equally aware that believing that 'some things would never change' was the number one way to ensure your life fell to pieces around you.
He should have known.
Really he should have. His little failed acting session in the mirror that morning, the piece of junk that claimed to be a car stalling out halfway to where they were going. The local diner's total lack of Pie...
Fuck but if bad things didn't happen in threes.
Well threes that lead up to fours and fives and goddamn sixes the size of the Apocalypse. Because that's what it was when the hospital phoned him in the middle of the night to let him know that Sammy had been admitted after an accident. The fucking Apocalypse all over again. Only this time... there was no Team Free Will to make sure it didn't send the world spinning down the drain.
And the icing on the cake? Well that was the moment he realized he was internally crushing down the instinct to call Cas. He didn't even have the patience to question just when Cas had become a fucking instinct.
To say that the nurse behind the desk was less than pleased when he barged his way through the office was an understatement. If he hadn't been so pissed and worried he might have found all her hissing and spitting amusing. But he didn't have time for her. He needed to see his brother. Now.
"We're trying to determine if the insomnia is the cause or the result of his mental break." The doctor was saying in that clinical voice that was practiced and proven to put upset families at ease. And it might have worked if Dean hadn't been one hundred fucking percent aware that there was nothing this place could do for Sam except maybe prevent him from hurting himself. But who was he kidding… Physical pain was nothing to Sam. Nothing to him. It was part of their lives, part of their very beings. It was the mental agony of Hell that was going to tare him apart.
"I'd like to see him."
Their walk through the locked ward was like wandering back into the asylum he and Sam had visited once upon a time when they had hunted the Wraith. Well… visit wasn't exactly the word Dean would have used to classify that little vacation of madness.
This time though, Sam wasn't trying to get out with him. Dean couldn't decide which was worse when he stepped into the room. Seeing Sam sitting there on his bed, dressed in whites and flinching now and then, or knowing that his brother wasn't going to just shake this one off and walk out with him.
"How are you feeling?" The question was hesitant but what else could he have asked? They both knew that there was no good news to be had here. No miracle pill that was going to get Sam back on his feet and out the door.
"Maybe you should cancel my UFC fight." The comment was meant to raise a smile but this time Dean couldn't even manage the bad acting. The way Sam leaned back into the whitewashed bed as if there was nothing left to hold him up was torture.
"Sam I'm gonna find you help." He promised.
"I don't think it's out there Dean." The sudden hopelessness in Sam's voice steamrolled the hunter, leaving him blinking as he sat down on the edge of the bed, staring at the little brother he would give his life to protect. Had given his life to protect.
"We don't know that." He argued.
"Better than most." Sam retorted knowing that Dean was going to fight him tooth and nail no matter what. So maybe the best thing he could do was logic his brother into a corner. "The last faith healer we hooked up with had a reaper on a leash. Remember?"
"Yeah….Sam. I remember."
"I'm just sayin…"
"What? That you don't want my help?" The words were growled and he stood again, raking his fingers over his face as if to smooth away the snarl that was pulling at his lips. He wasn't going to sit here and listen to some bullshit about this fight not being worth it. About accepting your losses…
"No… I'm saying… don't do this to yourself."
The last part hung in the air for a long moment, like they were both processing the words over and over, letter by letter. Sam wanted to convince Dean to move on. He knew he was a lost cause… there was no reason Dean needed to suffer for him. He'd lived his own Hell. What kind of brother would Sam be if he asked Dean to live his...
For his part, Dean elected to ignore the comment entirely, as if the words had never been spoken.
"Sam if I don't find something…"
"…Then I'll die. Dean we knew this was coming."
"No" He grit his teeth, trying to stay calm.
"When you put my soul back…"
"No." Each interrupting, negative response to Sam's words was like a shield taking hits from a sword. It came up every time he raised his arm but each time it was left with a deeper and deeper dent until finally it splintered under the assault.
"Cas warned you about all the crap it would bring…"
"Screw Cas!" He yelled turning furious green eyes on his brother. "Quit being Dali frickin Yoda about this! Get pissed!" His desperation finally got the better of him, and with nothing left to reach for, nothing new to bring to the table, Dean clung to the last thing he had. His anger. His rage at the world. At Heaven. At Hell. At Lucifer for being such a needy dick that he had to sing Sam into an early grave. At God for not saving a good man from Hell. At Sam for giving up so quickly. At himself for being SO FUCKING HELPLESS.
At Cas… for tearing down the wall.
"I'm too tired…"
Dean's rage spluttered to a sudden halt, evaporating when his brother's words entered the room and hung there like a heavy cloud. He stared at the other man for a long, silent moment, a total loss at what to say stretching the time out longer and longer until the few seconds he could have made a biting comeback or well-meaning joke disappeared entirely.
Burying one hand in his pocket his shoulders tightened as he turned and threw the door open, stepping back out into the hall and away from his brother.
He was on autopilot when his feet led him back out the door, fingers moving through the necessary and familiar routine that put the car into gear and eyes remaining open and on the road ahead of him only because blinking or closing them would have required thought.
So when he reached the safe-house it wasn't until he realized he'd been sitting silently in the parked car for an over hour before he shook himself out and wandered inside.
"Where were you when I needed to hear that?"
"I was there... where were you?"
Dean shook himself awake, breathing hard as his hands went out to grasp tightly at the moth eaten back and arm of the disintegrating couch he'd fallen asleep on. His heart pounded heavily in his chest as the words ringing loudly in their soft way, finally began to fade. "Goddamn it Cas." He hissed into the silence, wiping his hand down his face. Even dead the angel wouldn't leave him alone.
Bobby's worn leather contact book slid off his chest as he pulled himself into a sitting position, his phone likewise hitting the floor with a sharp thud. He huffed and tossed the book on the equally decrepit table as he reached out to collect the phone.
No missed calls. Fucking spectacular.
Just what the hell was the point of a contact book if no one was going to call you back?
He leaned back against the couch, head lolling over the edge as he stared aimlessly up at the ceiling. The silence wafted about the room like a breeze to be enjoyed. Now though... all Dean wanted, more than anything in the world, was one of those moments when NO ONE would shut up. He ached for the sound of someone else's voice, because that would mean someone else was here... that he wasn't on this fucked up merry-go-round alone.
The anger that had bubbled to the surface in Sam's room was gone now, leaving him feeling hollow and empty. He'd tried to hang on to it after Cas' death. It was the Angel's fault after all that Sam had slid so quickly towards the deep end. He'd tried to bury thoughts of missing the man beneath thoughts of rage at what he'd done. After they lost Bobby though... he just didn't have the strength to keep hating.
He was tired too. And now he'd lost everything.
Sam was his brother. Their bond was built on blood and mutual understanding of "the life" as most hunter's liked to put it. Sam and Dean would go to Hell and back for each other. They had.
Bobby was pretty much the only parental figure they'd ever really in their screwed up little lives. He had looked after the brothers like any father should have, kicking their ass when they were being stupid and offering up gruff but surprisingly helpful words when their worlds attempted to crash down around their feet. But again, it was a bond of family.
Loosing Sam and Bobby was like losing a limb. They were practically a physical part of him.
But loosing Cas... it had been like watching as something deeper than skin was torn away. He wasn't interested in any of that namby-pamby bullshit about the angel being a part of his soul, but if he ever let himself really think about it- which he did not- he would have admitted that Castiel had been the truest thing he'd ever had to a best friend.
Cas was not blood. He didn't even live "the life" as it were, ignoring of course the fact that he was more a "part" of the life than anything Dean had ever met. He'd never stuck around cause he owed Dean favors or because he had hoped for something in return.
Hed been there when no one else had stayed because Cas had believed in something Dean would never... could never really grasp.
He'd believed in Dean.
"I rebelled for THIS?!"
The words were like a physical force against his chest as the memory slid from its enclosure, leaving behind a scarred and bloody trail. Dean ground his teeth and shoved it back where it had come from, covering it in so much shit he wouldn't think about it again for another hundred years. He hardly needed his own traitorous mind to point out how little he was worth in the grand fucking scheme of things.
But the words stayed, just there in the back of his mind, echoing slightly and all he could do was give a rueful laugh as he pulled himself forward on the couch grabbing the contact book and making for the kitchen where he planned to drown such memories in the soft foam a nice cold beer.
Tossing the book on the taller table as he passed it he cursed as the fucking thing continued on over the edge hitting the floor with a dull thud. Bending to collect it after he'd accomplished the grand task of retrieving a beer from the fridge Dean froze as his fingers picked up a card that had slipped from one of the pages. It was as unremarkable as every other name he'd seen and every other number he'd dialed, but hey, no rest for the wicked. He might have been willing to give up on himself... he already knew he was wandering back to hell eventually... but there was no way he was giving up on Sam.
So when the number called back a few hours later... a surprise really after his exceedingly dull message about it being the end of the world and such...he stared at his phone in shock for a second before snapping it open quickly.
"This is Dean" His voice was gruff with disuse despite the few dozen or so numbers he'd called.
"Mikey, callin' you back. Hey, real sorry bout Bobby."
"Yeah, me too"
"Look, what you called about… I might have something for you." Dean wasn't holding his breath. "Theres this guy. Goes by Emanuel. Kinda roams. First started hearin' about him a few months back. How he was healin' the sick, curin' the crazy."
"Mmhmm." Dean's noncomental noise seemed to be enough to urge the man on.
"Well naturally I figured somethin' in the milk aint clean. Find this sucker… punch his clock right?"
"Heard the best way ta get to him was through his wife. So I go. Tell her im goin' blind. S' true. My right eyes burnt out. She says wait, he'll come. So I went. I set every trap, every test in the book…"
The green eyed man had to grin at that. It was nice to hear that at least one hunter was covering all his bases.
"Emanuel shows… he passes every one. There aint nothin' weird about this guy… except…" there seemed to be a telling silence on the other end before the hunter continued. "Hes the real deal."
"What do you mean?" Dean tried not to let the fact that he was fighting an internal war slip into his voice. On one hand, his instinct was telling him that there was no such thing as the real deal. Sammy was right… the last time they'd run across the "real deal"… the healer had been dancing with Death. On the other… Sam needed help… and he wasn't sure he could afford to look a gift horse in the mouth.
"He touched me… and ma eye was fixed." The silence on the other end seemed to prompt the man further. "Look, I don't believe in much… but I wouldn't call you on a maybe."
Dean thanked Mikey after taking down the Colorado address and sat once more. His gaze flittered across to where he'd left Sam's laptop open with more tabs on faith healing, woodo, angel mojo and spells than were probably healthy.
His mind was racing and yet at the same time it was almost as if it had short circuited. Hunters didnt believe in much beyond what died at the end of their knives and guns. Each of them had learned the hard way that the magic and supernatural seeping into their lives day by day was far more often than not, less than helpful. So to hear from one who sounded the least bit decent and who had been in Bobby's contact book no less, that this guy was the real deal, left Dean with something to really think about.
What could it hurt? So he wasted a few hours driving out there. If he was wrong than he'd just have to hit the books again and he'd be no closer to helping Sam than he had been when he picked up the phone. But if the hunter was right... and this Emanuel could really help his brother...
Well hell... he'd pay any price for that.
Decision made Dean was in the car and on the way down the road before he'd even glanced through the maps. To be honest he knew most of the country now anyway... the bigger roads at least. You didn't spend your life driving them every day only to forget what could be as important as making sure there were salt rounds in your rifle.
The lone and impromptu road trip became just another reminder to him of how alone he was. He tried to drown it out with his favorite music, telling himself that it was one of the few times he didn't have to deal with Sammy's bitching about which songs he'd chosen. But Dean knew he was kidding himself. Just like the agonizing need for sound back at the house he ached for it here. He didn't even have the fucking pleasure of driving his baby. Instead he was stuck in this piece of shit truck that claimed to be a car. It was embarrassing really.
He leaned back into his seat, imagining what Sam would say when he started growling about the car again... or the clueless look on Cas' face when he bitched, that said he was either making no sense... or the angel had decided he was a moron. The thoughts made him smile, but the expression was sad, and more broken than anything.
"The Hell man." He snarled at himself in the rear-view mirror. "What are you a fucking girl now? Pull your shit together. You have a job to do."
His reflection seemed to accept the angry words, and he turned his attention back to the road and away from the memories that burned more deeply than borax on a leviathan.
The house looked innocuous enough. Then again... the houses always looked mostly innocuous. He was reminded of the time he and Sam had gone after a pair of gods during the holiday season. That had been one unpleasant ride from hell... but you would have never known that if the perfect wreath on the door, tree in the window and manicured lawn outside had been anything to go by.
So it was with some hesitance that Dean climbed out of his car, glancing about for a long moment as if to convince himself that this was really the place. That what he was going to find here was both worth his time... and Sam's life.
He didn't practice what he was going to say; in fact he didn't really think it through at all. Sam had always said he was a jump first ask questions later kind of guy, and Dean had never had any reason to deny that. He wasn't about to start now when asking questions could mean the difference between getting what he needed… and losing his last shot.
The climb up the few steps to the front door was so normal it was almost as if he was on any other job, visiting any other house for any other reason. No one watching would have ever known that the man striding confidently up the walkway was in fact wandering in the direction of his last real hope.
He straightened his jacket slightly as the ding of the doorbell chimed in the distance. Waiting, Dean tried not to think about what was going to happen when this eventually turned out to be as false as every other lead.
"Can I help you?" The door opened to reveal a normal enough looking middle aged man.
"I'm looking for Emanuel." The hunter managed from somewhere in his closing throat his voice sounding gruff in his own ears.
"You've found him." Emanuel admitted. His brows furrowed slightly as if he hadn't expected company but he smiled anyway and stepped out onto the porch gesturing for Dean to speak when the door was fully closed.
"Oh, well. You see, I was hoping…" He trailed off. In his own uncertainty- which of course he would never admit too- and his attempt to make this little meeting feel less like hed come to grovel for help and more like it was in Emanuel's best interest to offer whatever assistance he could, his eyes had fallen against the window of the house, caught on the other end by those of a woman gagged and tied to her chair. "Sonofabitch."The curse was huffed and tired as if he couldn't believe he was really dealing with this, right now, when so much- everything really- was on the line.
Emanuel smiled and this time it wasn't the easygoing kind of grin a faith healer might have had, but rather the sly coarse smirk of a cat who thought he'd cornered himself a mouse. He blinked and dull brown eyes flickered to black.
Well this had been bound to happen right? Was it really too much to ask for one fucking person in this goddamned world to just be what they claimed to be?! Apparently.
Dean went for the gun in his pocket just at the demon reached out for his coat, turning them both around and shattering the glass of the door as the Hunter's head hit the window. "Didn't you get the memo?" Dean bragged, trying not to wince at the twinge in the back of his head. "Your boss issued a hands off on us."
"That was only as long as you didn't get in the way." The demon returned, his knuckles white on Dean's coat as he attempted to hold the man in place. "The King wants Emanuel and he's not going to step aside just cause a Winchester…" The creature's words bubbled off into a bloody sizzling choke as the breath- and for that matter- life was knocked out of him. The body he'd taken sparked and buzzed with the same crackling sound that always came when Ruby's knife slid home.
The body continued to stand for a long slow moment even after the creature possessing it was fully dead before crumpling to the floor at Dean's feet. He shook out his shoulders and moved to turn around, intending to check if there were any more leeches inside where he'd seen the woman tied up.
He never made it.
In his chest he could no longer feel the beat of his own heart. It stuttered and failed, relieving him of blood, air and the ability to think of anything beyond the almost sudden appearance of the man in front of him. Somewhere in a distant part of his brain he was sure his mouth had fallen open. He eventually managed to close it but never quite worked his way around to forming words.
The man stood at the bottom of the steps. His short lean form and normally unruly black hair which seemed to have been tamed for the time being looked almost unnatural in the everyday clothing he was wearing. One day Dean was sure he was going to look back on this and laugh. Hell, he fucking hoped he could spend hours at a time losing it over the image that stood before him, because if he didn't laugh he was going to cry.
Green eyes surveyed the man with a cold disbelieving glare filled with more pain, and hope than it had any right to hold. They stopped only when they were met by a confused, endless blue gaze.
"What was that?" The deep gravel of the dark haired man's voice was almost enough to do Dean in entirely. He supposed it was a miracle he hadn't just exploded right there on the spot. In the end though he knew the only reason he was managing so well was because the confusion he saw reflected in clear blue eyes was not the same confusion Castiel had always directed at human ways and customs.
The angel's name seemed to float through the Hunter's mind like a stray seeking its way home.
Instead, the bewilderment was reversed. It was the confusion of a human seeing the supernatural for the first time. The universe really did have one fucked up way of playing surprise party.
"It was horrifying…"
Dean finally snapped out of his internal standoff, collecting himself for a reply. This was not Castiel. At least not the Castiel he had known. He looked the same, sounded the same, even tipped his head the same fucking way.
But the other-worldy essence that had always stuck to the angel like glue to paper was missing, leaving him wholly… human.
"That…" The Hunter cleared his throat, bending to wipe the blade on the demon's shirt before putting it back in his jacket, "was a demon."
He wanted to scream. Who cared about the fucking demon? Who cared about the fucking presence of anything supernatural in the world? THAT?! He wanted to know what this was…. What Cas was doing here… in the middle of nowhere Colorado…. Standing a bare six feet away…Alive.
The man blinked as if he wanted to believe what Dean was saying but couldn't quite wrap his mind around the idea of a demon being real. "There was a demon in the world?" He breathed in horror.
"A? Hardly… they're all over the place." Dean commented still reeling. "That one was reaching a little too high above his pay grade." He eyed the angel turned apparent human. "And you are?"
"Emanuel." The blue eyed man tipped his head up, meeting Dean's gaze in entirely for the first time. It almost broke him to see the total lack of recollection reflected there. No memory… no recognition… no spark of understanding that would tell the Hunter Cas still existed somewhere beneath the horrified human exterior.
Dean wanted to rage. How dare Castiel be alive and not remember every piece of shit he'd done. Every life changing decision he'd made bare months ago. How dare he forget Sam and how he'd torn down the wall, the only think keeping Hell at bay from the ragged excuse for a soul his brother was clinging so fervently too.
How dare he forget Dean.
And yet… at the same time, a part, a small part…ok a big part… of Dean wanted to cheer. Cas was alive…. Alive and safe and, while not totally there as far as he was concerned…. Sound.
Again his mind was forced to fast-forward through the past few moments to catch up with the barely existent conversation.
Of course he was Emanuel Dean thought sarcastically. Who else could it have been…?
He should have known the "real deal" was bound to be a fucking angel. He'd even thought about the possibility that it was someone he'd met before… maybe Balthazar… the dick had faked his death once before already and seemed to find a perverse pleasure in doing nice things for people just to throw them off when he turned around and stabbed them in the back.
But this… never in his whole life had Dean expected this.
"Dean." The hunter introduced himself feeling so lost and awkward all he wanted to do was shoot something.
Really it was a pity he'd already killed the demon. Maybe if he was luck there would be another one inside he could gank.
About five praise filled and entirely awkward moments later Dean found himself inside the house. There hadn't been any other parasites to deal with and he'd taken a place at the edge of the room looking in with confusion as Castiel made quick work of the bonds holding the woman to the chair.
"Thank you so much for saving my wife." He thanked again, looking up at Dean with the kind of sincerity that made the hunter want to throw up.
It was certainly the kind of phrase he never thought he'd hear coming from Cas.
"Yeah sure... no problem. Look… I came for a reason… I was hoping I could ask for your help."
"Anything." The blue eyed man interrupted, his gaze never wavering on Dean's.
"I'm going to find some way to redeem myself to you… I mean it Dean."
"I assume you have someone you want me to heal." He continued on, hitting the nail on the head in one go. Though, Dean supposed it was the most asked question of his life. "I can heal many ailments including those of a spiritual nature."
Dean just bet he could. He shook himself slightly as if to shake off the cynicism that was clinging to him like air. "Ah…. Yeah." He couldn't prevent the frown that flickered across his face when the woman turned to gaze up adoringly at the man who was apparently her husband. He was looking back at her with a gentle fondness… but not the undying adoration reflected in the woman's eyes. "I'm in a little bit of a rush…" He cleared his throat trying to imply without flat out stating it that every minute was important.
Which it was. Dean didn't know how much longer Sammy could hold out. Two or three days at most probably… and it would take at least one to get back to him.
"Of course." Emanuel nodded, "We should go now." The assuredness in his gravelly voice forced a smile from the Hunter. It was like hearing Castiel all over again. Clear in his path and plan the words had a confidence born of a life… an eternity really… spent as an angel.
An eternity he didn't remember.
The car ride began in an odd half uncomfortable silence. For his part Emanuel seemed to be taking everything in stride, as if accepting the presence of demons in the world was just another walk through the park. For Dean however, the ride was something deeper entirely. Each moment that passed in silence was a moment when he'd managed to squash down the need to pull over and rage at the angel for what he'd done, and the need to beg him to remember.
But of course he did neither. He prided himself on being able to contain such harmful emotions, hiding them away where no one else would notice. They could get him killed after all.
He snorted. Killed. What a fucking joke.
"So your wife…" He started, seeking to break the silence in any way possible. He glance over at his companion, trying to resist the flutter of deja-vu that oozed through his memory, pressing it away with the first topic he could grasp at. The topic of Castiel's wife wasn't much better in all honesty than the silence. Just the thought of the angel being married was a goddamned joke. How was it possible God had been letting him live so peacefully for the past six months, while Sam had been going out of his fucking mind?! Where was the fairness in that?
Dean ground his teeth. Oh right. God was gone.
"Yes. My wife." Castiel's voice slipped through the fury that had begun to build in the hunter once more and Dean reminded himself that this wasn't Cas. This was Emanuel, some nobody healer from backwoods Colorado. "She's the one who found me."
"Found you?" Dean glanced over again. His anger had been locked away for the moment and replaced with an unsure confusion.
"It's… not a happy story." The blue eyed man admitted, never once taking his gaze from the dark road ahead of them. "You wouldn't like it."
"I bet I would." Dean challenged. Fuck the hedging. Dean wanted to know just how the Hell Cas had made it out alive. Last he'd seen the angel had been playing one man host to more Leviathans than they could count. He'd waded out into the lake without a backwards glance leaving Bobby and the Winchesters standing there with no more clue as to what had just happened than if he'd flown away without a word.
"A few months ago… she found me wandering beside a lake, lost and unclothed. She took me in, cared for me…"Again with the fucking soft smile. Dean was getting sick of the look. "She said…. God wanted her to find me."
Unfortunately the Hunter couldn't argue that one. God had put he, Sammy and Cas back together so many times now he was losing count. It fucking galled him though that the son of a bitch wasn't listening now when Sam needed him more than ever. Tucking those flowery thoughts away he moved on to his next question, a half smirk tugging at the edges of his lips.
"So who named you Emanuel?" He really was quite interested to know just how an angel ended up with an angel's name 'el' suffix and all.
"Bouncy Baby Names .com "
The ensuing awkward silence prevailed for some time. If Cas had remembered anything he would have been in for some serious teasing with that one. You couldn't make shit like that up.
"Well its working for ya." He turned his eyes back to the road. "It must be weird not knowing who you are."
"Well it's my life. It's a good life." Emanuel seemed pleased with his statement. Or perhaps more acceptant than anything. Dean on the other hand found himself frowning. What right did Cas have to a good life when he'd taken away any shot of Sam ever having one at all? When he'd taken everything from Dean?
It wasn't fair to antagonize a man who didn't even remember what he'd done. Logically the hunter knew this. But it was an itch he couldn't not scratch. A wound that would never stay closed. So he picked.
"What if you were… I don't know, some kind of bad guy?" He asked it with a feigned innocence, keeping his gaze steady on the road ahead of him. When Emanuel turned his way the man's blue gaze was like a physical touch on his face, so intent that Dean had to glance over.
"I… don't feel like a bad person."
There was no answer to that. After all… Cas never had thought he was doing something wrong. Not till the final hour when he'd realized Dean had warned him and had only been trying to help him all along.
"Whatever shit you've got going on man… we can deal with it together."
"So your brother…"
"Sam. He's the one in need of assistance. What is his ailment?"
Dean sniffed and shifted his shoulders. "Well it's not exactly physical."
"That should not be a problem."
The hunter glanced over before looking back to the road again. "Someone did this to him." He couldn't keep the pain out of his voice as the damning words slid from between his teeth.
"You're angry." Emanuel observed. There was the slightest tip to his head when he said it, his tone retaining the same lit Castiel had always used when he was trying to figure out just what the purpose of one new human emotion or another was. The whole moment was so familiar to Dean it almost hurt as much as the thought of Sam wasting away in that fucking asylum.
"Of course I am. Dude broke my brother's head."
"He betrayed you… this dude. He was your friend?"
Dean turned to level a long hard look on the man beside him. There was no evidence that Castiel could remember anything, and yet… when he said things like that… things that no one should have understood so instantaneously, he wondered that the angel wasn't still in there somewhere.
"Yeah well… he's gone."
"Did you kill him?"
The question had the hunter raising his brows in affronted shock as he turned again to look at Emanuel. The other had already turned away, as if understanding the intensity of his question. And yet, he didn't look concerned for his safety as he continued. "I sense that you kill a lot of people."
Dean blinked. "I… honestly I… I don't know if he is dead." No statement could have been truer, more telling, and more painful to admit. He shook his head, biting back a coarse, humorless laugh. This was one screwed up conversation. "I just know. .. that this whole thing…. Couldn't be messier."
The floodgates had opened with that last comment and Dean didn't seem to be able to shut himself up. "You know… I use to be able to just shake this stuff off…whatever it was. Might take me some time but….I always could." The wistful tone of his voice left them both in silence again and he felt like he had to fill it. Like he had to say it even if the man beside him had no idea what he was talking about. It needed to be in the universe.
"What… Cas did…" The pause ate at him. The hitch on Castiel's name when the angel himself didn't even grasp its meaning… It tore at Dean. "I just can't. I don't know why."
"It doesn't matter why."
Dean sneered. "Of course it matters."
"No… Dean. It doesn't. You're not a machine. You're human." The hunter only shrugged. He wasn't too sure about the legitimacy of his humanity anymore. Not after all the shit they'd been through. Did one go to hell and come back, still human? Certainly not the same. He wasn't sure he could still play the human card anymore.
"Your friends name was Cas? That's an odd name."
Dean blinked himself out of his thoughts of humanity when the irony of Emanuel's words slid through them like a knife turning his head to look at the judging expression on the other's face.
Fuck Irony. That just wasn't fair.
The thousand and one things that went unsaid throughout the remainder of the car ride weighed on Dean like a physical pressure. It was as if each thought he pondered and shoved away was just one more stone on his shoulders, pushing him into the ground until he was sure he was never going to be able to climb back out.
To tell the truth. It was torture.
He and Cas had had their differences before. The year he'd spent thinking he was alone after Sammy had been locked away in the cage... well that was one of them. That year, despite the smile he'd managed, just barely managed, had been like stepping back into hell. Worse maybe... cause he wasn't allowed to scream. He'd hit rock bottom in that year and there had been no one there to pull him back.
Specifically no Cas.
He'd begged. Called, demanded, bargained, prayed, pleaded... the whole nine yards. He'd even cried. But damnit all if every harsh word hadnt been met in silence, every tear another reminder that no one was watching. He'd decided then that it had never mattered anyway. He clearly wasn't worth the angel's time now that Lucifer was back in the box and Michael was with him, erasing the need to protect against another Apocalypse.
Hed come to terms with his abandonment. And by terms he meant that more than once he'd had to persuade himself that life was worth living. That year he'd have done anything , ANYTHING, just to hear Castiel's voice. To know that his life up till that point hadn't just been some fucked up nightmare.
Then Sam had come back and he'd thrown himself into the task of retrieving his brother's soul. Thrown himself back into the hunt like a man starved of food and water. It was a 110% effort on Dean's part, cause if he gave anything less... there wasnt going to be anything to give. He'd decided to ignore how quickly Cas had come the moment he knew Sam was back, locking away in his subconscious the angel's very words moments later stating that they had some kind of "profound bond". Fuck profound. He'd have given up profound for a friend that year.
So like the pro he was at evading all things personal and painful, he ignored it. Ignored it all and dove headfirst back into work.
They'd managed to put up the wall thanks to Death and Sammy had gotten his soul... but Cas. Fucking Cas. He'd torn it straight back down. A warning to Dean to do as he was told. To keep being the brave little ant so long as he was willing to march along in line and trust the more powerful beings to do the men's work.
He'd trusted Castiel with everything.
Now Sammy was broken.
Dean had spent a long time hating Cas for that. Damning him straight to the bowels of hell and back.
The hate had faded to a biting anger and sadness when Castiel had died as if to say How dare you leave after what you did... And yet despite it all he could never bring himself to feel like the angel had deserved it.
So he should have felt something, anything now that Castiel was alive again.
But even with the angel sitting right beside him, Dean could not remember feeling more isolated.
The tension in his shoulders as his brain whirled through year's worth of pain was all but making him shake. Enough so that even Emanuel noticed, glancing over than quickly away when he realized that something was wrong and that whatever it was, Dean had no intentions of discussing. He would not have denied being pleased that the ride had come to an end when they pulled up outside the hospital less than an hour later.
Emanuel climbed from the car and followed Dean wordlessly to the edge of the hill where it overlooked the entrance to the hospital he'd said his brother was in. Blue eyes widened as he turned his attention from one to the next of the figures who all seemed to be milling aimlessly around the door.
"How many of those knives do you have?" Emanuel asked, unable to turn his gaze away from the horrific sight below them.
"Just the one." Dean's response bit the air with a sigh and the healer turned to look at him, watching as the man pulled said knife from his coat, turning the blade this way and that as if by staring at it or holding it just so in the light, the knife might replicate.
"Then how are you going to get past them all?"
Dean glanced over, frowning slightly. "I cant."
Emanuel tipped his head. He caught on easily enough to the unspoken "but you can." that hung in the air between them. The healer was not a stupid man. He might not remember his life before the last few months. He might not have known about demons up until a few hours before... but for what he could remember he knew he'd always had an uncanny ability to read people, as if gleaning the surface thoughts straight from their minds was something one could do. That and his apparent ability to heal had always been with him. So when Dean let the unsaid words float about them Emanuel did not understand the reasoning… but he understood the meaning.
"You think I can." It wasn't so much a question as a statement of fact that, like the unsaid words, seemed to pause in the air between them.
Dean knuckled his eyes, sniffed and tipped his head back to look at the night sky for a long moment before turning his green gaze back on Emanuel with a wordless look that was almost begging the healer to understand everything that he couldn't say.
"You know me." Emanuel stated again. He wasn't questioning anymore. He'd felt for several hours now that this Dean Winchester had known far more than he was letting on. He'd let it go, figuring that the sooner he healed the man's brother the sooner he would be willing to explain. The presence of the demons however blocking their way into the hospital had effectively put a stop to that easy plan. "You can tell me." He assured the hunter. "Ill be fine."
Dean seemed unconvinced. "How do you know that? You just met yourself." To Emanuel the words sounded desperate. Half pleading, half angry as if he knew nothing good was going to come of explaining things. When the healer didn't make any other comment in return Dean sighed again.
"Yes. I know you. I've known you for years."
Emanuel nodded. He'd expected that. His brain traced through their conversations, the way Dean had reacted to things he'd said. Things he'd done. He frowned, brows scrunching together in thought as something finally occurred to him. It came out of nowhere and yet he couldn't believe he hadn't seen it before. Well… perhaps he had. He just hadn't wanted to. Suddenly, it seemed so obvious.
"Am I... Cas?" The name sounded foreign on his tongue and yet as soon as he said it he knew the answer.
Dean stayed silent, watching, waiting... as if expecting Emanuel to explode at any moment. He was tense... but it was not the tension of anger that he'd been laboring under throughout most of the car ride. It was the kind of tension that came with worry... like seeing a train-wreck about to happen and having no ability to prevent it.
The healer didnt ask again. He only fixed his gaze directly on Dean's and waited.
"Your name is Castiel..." The hunter finally spoke. His voice was low but his gaze never wavered from the man in front of him. "You are an Angel."
Emanuel blinked. "Is that a flirtation?"
Dean huffed a sigh and ran a hand down his face as if to wipe away his expression. "No. It's a species."
"Well… that sounds quite pleasant."
"It's not. Trust me." The hunter's words stung the air as he spoke. To be fair, this wasn't how he'd wanted Cas to remember. But truth be blatantly honest… Sam's life hung in the balance and Cas was his only hope. He was never going to be able to get past all the demons in front of the building without help, and with Cas thinking he was just human… he was never going to get into the building at all. "Angels are soldiers. Warriors of God. Soulless and emotionless… but powerful. That's how you can heal. And I bet you read people really well too."
Emanuel frowned. "I don't feel soulless…. or emotionless."
Dean shook his head and gave a weary shrug as if asking what it was the other man wanted to hear. "I don't know what to tell you man. I'm only repeating what I've learned. What you've told me."
"So we're friends…." Dean's conversation in the car about things this 'Cas' had done came back to him. "Or we were."
Dean just stayed silent.
"I… I had no idea… I don't remember you. I'm sorry. And I don't remember being an angel. How am I supposed to get rid of those demons if I can't even remember the name you tell me is mine?"
"It's all in you." The hunter assured him. His shoulders were taught with tension again as if he was steeling himself against the other man's words of not remembering. "If you can heal than it means you've still got your angel mojo. Don't know how, but you made it out alive… so that's something." He glanced back at the group of demons. "You have the juice to get rid of all of them… how is in you." He felt like a fucking fortune cookie talking like that. But really who the hell was he to try to give angel lessons to the angel who'd been god?
Emanuel seemed unconvinced and yet he knew that what Dean was saying was not a lie… at least not as far as the hunter was concerned. The man really did believe Emanuel was an angel… that he could heal people because of some heavenly grace and smite the group of demons with hypothetically the same ability. Taking a long slow breath he turned around. What other choice did he have but to try? He felt suddenly like he had something to prove to the hunter… something to make up for even though he couldn't remember what it was just as surely as he didn't remember who Dean was.
Slowly he took the first step down the hill, then the next, his movements nervous but with gaining confidence as he got closer and closer.
What happened next was something Dean was sure he would never forget. It was a sad testament to the hunter's bitterness bordering on hatred that he let Cas walk down there alone to face a group of demons without the slightest idea of how to kill them. A year ago and he would have never let the angel out of his reach, fighting alongside him tooth and nail to make sure nothing happened.
In the end though, Dean wasn't exactly needed. One by one the demons fell under the press of Castiel's palm, a spectacular brilliance shining from beneath his hands as each one pressed into their skin essentially burning away the evil taint of their being. When he was done the angel just sort of stood there. Dean could almost see the gears rotating in his head. He made his way down the hill, stepping slowly out onto the pavement to meet the other man.
"Cas?" The nickname fell from his lips with a certain amount of hope and shock. It was the first time he'd been able to say it with the expectation that it might receive an answer from its owner, rather than stating it and being forced to remind himself that Cas was no longer and Emanuel stood in his place.
For his part Castiel reacted in a similar fashion, Dean's nickname for him splintering down his spine with enough memories to send him to his knees. But he kept himself on his feet and slowly, ever so slowly he began to turn around.
"I remember you." Castiel turned fully to face the hunter who was watching him like he still might fall apart. "I remember everything."
The change was drastic. So simple, so subtle, and yet it was hard to believe that the man who had stood in front of Dean moments before was the same as the angel standing in front of him now. Then again he supposed it wasn't the same person. It wasn't like Cas had been acting or pretending. He'd honestly believed himself to be human, to be just another lucky soul who had the ability to help others… albeit one who didn't remember his past… but in the end, just another healer.
Now though… it was an entirely different story. Castiel stood there in that kind of otherworldly stillness that Dean had only ever seen angels manage. The kind of stillness that seemed almost like it could be effortlessly maintained for the rest of eternity. It was the same with the blinking… or lack thereof. Cas was doing it now in fact… staring at Dean in that unblinking way that the hunter had come to associate with the angel. It was the kind of unbroken gaze that held every thought, every emotion, every memory in the vivid blue of his being. To a human the unblinking gaze would have been purely for the purpose of allowing oneself to collect their thoughts. But an angel needed no such time.
Castiel knew everything that he'd done with a clarity that was going to burn permanent scars into his grace.
Everything he'd done.
And none of it could be forgiven.
"Why didn't you tell me?"
Dean didn't have much of a chance to react to the angel's question before Cas was moving, striding past the hunter as if to waste no time removing himself from Dean's sight. "You should have told me. I shouldn't be here. Everything I've done… Everything I became…All of it… because of me… Sam…" He was speaking as he walked away, hands fisted at his sides in an unconscious human display of emotion. If either of them had stopped to think about it they might have wondered why Cas was even bothering to walk when a few beats of his wings would have taken him so much further than any equal amount of strides.
"Cas… Cas!" Dean caught up to him at the top of the hill reaching out to grasp the angel on the shoulder and spin him around, forcing him to stop. "If you remember than you know full fucking well that you did the best you could at the time."
"DO NOT DEFEND ME DEAN." Castiel was furious. It was a fury Dean had seen so rarely in the angel. It permeated his very being like a blaze lit being his eyes. "Do you have any idea…. Any idea of the death I caused? The pain? The mistakes I made because of my Pride." He said the word and they both knew what it was to admit that an angel of the Lord had been subject to such a base human emotion. Dean frowned but couldn't say anything. Castiel continued to stare at him, the intensity of his gaze never faltering. "We did not part friends."
There was a profound sadness in his statement and his shoulders sagged as if burdened by the weight of his memories. Dean found himself subconsciously irritated that anyone was bashing Cas… even if it was Cas doing it to himself. Thoughts of everything they'd gone through in the past few years filtered through his head.
All the times he'd hated the angel. All the times hed fought, begged, cried, prayed. All the times Cas had been there without even a second thought. The good the bad… every memory made its own appearance reminding him in that moment exactly why he'd all but fallen to his knees when he'd seen Cas standing at the bottom of the steps in nowhere Colorado.
He was alive.
Perhaps that was all that mattered now.
So it was with a slow breath that Dean held the angel's gaze for his own reply. "So?"
Castiel blinked, clearly having expected anything other than that simple acceptance. He'd expected Dean to fume silently as he always did… to make some biting remark in response, referencing something along the lines of I told you so. But not that. Not the single word that reverberated with "I'm not sure how yet… but we'll get through this."
"I deserved to die Dean." The angel looked beaten in that moment speaking as if for the sake of convincing them both. "I can't possibly fix what I broke…. So why did I even walk out of that river…?"
The pain in Castiel's voice was mirrored in his whole body.
"Maybe so that you can fix it."
And fuck but if Dean wasn't making it a habit now to sound like a fortune cookie.
They both stood there in a long heavy silence, neither quite sure what to say after that. Cas still wasn't convinced and Dean didn't know how else to persuade him that after all of it, life was worth more than death. He raised his hand to knuckle his eyes again and the keys he'd been clinging too since they'd stepped out of the car jingled. He stopped the gesture to look at them, something clicking in that moment.
"Wait." The hunter spoke the word in that kind of halting command that was said in the hopes to convince the receiver not to go anywhere while he did whatever it was that needed doing. With a quick practiced movement Dean moved to unlock the trunk of the car, the hatch flying open with a squeal he would have never heard from his Baby. But at that moment what was inside the car was more important to him than the car itself.
He pulled back, standing straight again as he turned to face the angel, bringing with him something neither of them ever thought they'd see again. Cas because, well because he hadn't remembered in the first place, and Dean because he'd relegated that item to the corner of his trunk where painful memories were stored.
Silently he held out one hand, fingers gripped around the tan, bloodstained material.
Cas stared at the coat with the same intensity he'd always directed at Dean. Slowly, and with the kind of reverence that seemed way above the worthiness of the garment, the angel reached out, his fingers sliding along the smooth fabric as he pulled it out of Dean's hand.
After a moment he looked up, catching Dean's gaze again with a silent look as if to say: All right. I'm ready.
Part 2: There'll Be Peace When You Are Done