Dean grips his gun, stands tall next to Bobby, and pretends he isn't terrified, pretends like his heart isn't pumping in overdrive and his breathing isn't so unsteady. He pretends like he can handle this. Breathe in. Breathe out. Try not to twitch. Try not to run. He doesn't want to face the being that brought him back, that dragged him from the confines of a Hell he belonged in.
He didn't deserve to be raised from that webbed darkness, meat hooks and blood and knives and torture and the twisting forms of human souls and demonic wisps of evil trying desperately to find something to hold on to, anything to take them away from the pain. That had been Dean, suspended at each limb with his chest slicing and stabbing and grating and his ribs would crack and organs would spill out and he would scream until his vocal chords shredded.
And then he'd be put back together again, just to go through it all again.
It was only a matter of time before he broke, he knew that, he couldn't fault himself for that.
The horror, the terror, the self-hatred, came the moment he picked up a knife and started to enjoy it, to relish the screams that sent pleasant shivers down his spine. The day he invited the blackness into the body his mind created for him. There were no real bodies in Hell.
The changes had been small at first, little pieces of him altering until his skin was red and black and he his hands more closely resembled claws and his eyes were night skies devoid of stars. And he didn't even care.
The last thing he remembers is white-blue light too pure to reside there, in Hell, his home. Then he woke up six feet under with his body, his skin, and his guilt.
Now he's here and the warehouse is shaking, metal sheeting threatening to give way to what sounds like a hurricane outside. It might be. The doors push, threaten to give, push again, and Dean is struck by an image of twenty or so knights pushing a battering ram into the castle doors. This castle has graffiti of the ancient world cast onto the sides like spells in fantasy books.
He should be the hero, knight in shining armor, ready to take on the world and win.
Only he isn't.
He grips his gun, tries not to break, watching the doors push, lurch, give. The thick piece of wood that served as a latch is splintered, cracking down the center. The light bulbs shatter, sparks fly over their heads, one after the other after the other. There is wind, so much wind blowing towards him, Dean imagines it is the breathe of heathen gods, or the gusts from wing beats.
The man that walks in is small, slight, dwarfed by his tan trench coat, or is it an overcoat? Dean isn't sure. He doesn't care.
He's struck a moment later by the realization that this man is beautiful. More so than Dean would ever expect, but it fits that white-blue light he remembers. The sight of him sends a shiver down Dean's spine that he will later chalk up to the wind, and one Bobby, thankfully, doesn't notice.
He feels small in the presence of this man, the one with black windswept hair and a five o'clock shadow and huge blue eyes that could suck him under and never let him out. There is a power behind those eyes that Dean doesn't fully understand. It's like the sky had wrapped over itself, pushed down and swirled in circles and split, until it fit into the man's eyes. The man moves with grace wrapped around him like shadows, glides like air is pushing him softly from behind.
Castiel takes careful steps, graceful, like he would be on the wind.
The angel's eyes are rapt on Dean. Over Castiel's head sparks fling themselves at him as if begging to touch, to feel black wings against their quick-dying embers. He faces the Righteous Man and thinks he does not seem much like the knight his brothers had described, the one who would bear the brunt of the war and take Michael into himself and act as the strongest weapon in the universe. To act as God's Will.
Instead he's dirty, exhausted, worn on more than just the edges and he looks like he can't breathe. Like he's struggling for air. His green eyes are brighter than Castiel thinks human eyes should be, and they are so different from the blackness he recalls in the confines of Hell, where fire singed his wings and demons tried to drag him down and Dean was only dead weight in his arms. He is not the White Knight, the Sun-lit hero. He is not the rising morning.
Castiel is aware of a quote he heard when watching the world below him, when staring down at the masses and picking out the intelligence, the creativity, the thriving light behind the shadows. He thinks it speaks of Dean. The noir hero is a knight in blood-caked armor. He's dirty, and he does his best to deny the fact that he's a hero the whole time.
He's sure that's Dean; as he slowly makes his way towards the Righteous man and his father figure, he can feel Dean's self-hatred from where he stands. It seeps into the angel's skin and infects it with a pain he doesn't fully understand. Pain is foreign to him. This guilt is heavy, and he wonders how the human will bear it alone. How he will move on every day with the knowledge of what he has done weighing on his soul. Lightning screams behind him with the voices of his brothers, illuminating the warehouse in quick flashes.
Lightning flares and Dean's eyes shift, bounce around, trying to discern the electric spark in his shoulder, the searing reminder of a handprint, a mark of ownership. His breathing has picked up, and the grip on his gun is shaky. He fires in time with Bobby, their decision unspoken and natural. They know each other and four months hasn't changed that.
Only every other part of Dean's life. But at least Bobby has remained untouched.
The man is unharmed, walks in the same slow, graceful steps, like he's gliding, flying. It's entrancing.
Dean fires again.
The man still moves forward.
Dean and Bobby glance at each other and the older man's eyes are filled with something dangerously close to fear. But Dean pretends it's just anxiety. He puts his gun down in favor of Ruby's knife, grips the hilt until his knuckles whiten, and watches the soft way the man looks at him, like he's a child. Dean isn't some stupid kid.
"Who are you?" he demands, and his voice is harsh, like gravel, sharp on the edge like he's threatening. And he is.
"I'm the one that gripped you tight and raised you from perdition." And that voice is deep, powerful, and soft. Dean keeps seeing the sky, endless and oxygen-less and terrifying, but you love it because it looks like it could wrap around you and keep you safe. The human doesn't know how to feel and it's frightening because this thing saw what he did in hell, saw what he had become. And it had saved him, in a way he didn't deserve.
"Yeah, well, thanks for that," Dean growls, and his lip curls into a snarl while the man in front of him twitches his into a half-smirk. Dean wonders if he thinks the hunter is being sincere. He stabs the knife into the man's chest, but there is no yellow flicker, no tell of dying demonic smoke. Nothing but the sick sound of a blade passing through muscle and sinew.
The smile twitches up even further and the man looks down at the blade like he doesn't understand it, childish curiosity burning in those beautiful eyes and Dean is reeling and he doesn't like it. Slim fingers reach up to the hilt and pull it out. Dean gazes at the blood coating the steel and can at least say he no longer feels joy. Only sickness.
He might be sick.
The knife drops to the floor and a speck of blood lands on his shoe; more is seeping from the man's chest.
Dean is going to be sick.
Bobby swings like a pro-baller towards the back of the man's messy, windswept head. The man moves as if expecting it, grabbing Bobby's arm with an agility Dean will probably never accomplish, a grace attached to his movements that doesn't make sense.
He presses two fingers to Bobby's temple and the older man slumps to the floor. The man looks down at him, lips pressed into a thin line, brow furrowed, discontent written in his shoulders. He seems disappointed.
Discontent swirls in the angel's chest. Castiel didn't think they would attack him, much less try to kill him. It's disheartening, and he finds himself dissatisfied even though he has no right to be. Angels are not meant to feel anything. He faces the Righteous Man again and can't stop himself from thinking that the man is more…visually appealing than he was in Hell. He seems rugged and fragile at the same time, with a face carved carefully and slowly, eyes swept up in green forests and gold specks.
"We need to talk, Dean," he says and his voice is that same rough tone and his eyes look like the sea in those postcards for the Caribbean. Dean finds it hard to look away but Bobby's on the ground and he's never supposed to change and on the ground is most definitely a change. "Alone," the man finishes and Dean can't think past the fuck just happened? but he doesn't think that's appropriate.
He ignores the man as he drifts quietly to their table of spell books and lore books and more books covered with dust and dragged from the back of the library at Singer's Salvage Yard to try and summon the trench-coat-wearing, not-dead-yet guy. Dean bends down and checks Bobby's pulse; it's far too slow for his liking and he glares up at the man as he leafs curiously through a book.
Without turning, Castiel knows. "Your friend is alive," he says, his brow furrowed again as his gaze traces the ancient-looking pages.
"Who are you?" Dean demands, but his voice comes out as a hoarse whisper. He's afraid. He doesn't want to be. He pretends to be strong.
"Castiel." The name is like a song, musical, ethereal, and it sounds like a part of a lost tongue, a language only he can speak and Dean can never understand because it would blow out his eardrums with its sheer power and beauty. He's been thinking a lot of things are beautiful lately, but he chalks it up to seeing the real world for the first time in forty years. Anything is beautiful compared to hell.
"Yeah, I figured that much, I mean what are you?" Dean reiterates and he's losing patience, with the man, with the world, with Sam, but really with himself. He's too weak and he knows it and he doesn't want to stand back up for fear of being knocked down. He's tired of being knocked down. So fucking tired.
"I am an Angel of the Lord," Castiel says with such conviction Dean almost believes him on instinct. Then he remembers that there is no God. If there was, his life wouldn't suck so hard. If there was, someone would have answered all the fervent little prayers he sent when he was four, five and silent to everyone but heaven, six, seven, eight, nine, ten, pretending like he didn't believe for John but did for Sam. Eleven, twelve, thirteen, fourteen, fifteen, sixteen, beginning to doubt but holding on while he suffered his first failed hunt. Seventeen, eighteen, nineteen, twenty, twenty-one, twenty-two and struggling through Sam and John fighting all the time and how often his dad came back to the motel drunk and he prayed in parking lots so he didn't get caught. Twenty-three and he stopped believing. Sam left, doors slammed, John drank his pain away and Dean cursed the sky and promised to never ask for anything again. God isn't real, neither are his harp-carrying, halo-wearing fairy people.
He stands slowly and the anger burning in his chest is a welcome friend. He lets it take hold of him and catch, become a flame.
"Get the hell out of here. There's no such thing." The hunter speaks with such conviction that the angel almost believes him, if he didn't know otherwise. Castiel turns to face the broken man and fixes him with a stare that might be pity or empathy, he isn't sure. Emotions don't make sense to him.
"This is your problem, Dean. You have no faith," he says softly, and a part of him hopes he doesn't sound condescending. That pulsing, detached warrior-light inside of him shushes any attempt at emotion. Angels aren't supposed to care.
Lightning flashes, shadows move when they shouldn't and black wings unfurl, manifest themselves. They are intricate and sleek, dangerous looking and trying to find space to spread out, find comfort. The wind ruffles them and the crack of lightning makes them seem ghostly, not quite there but real. So real there's no excuse not to believe.
Dean's definitely going to be sick.
They arch high above his head and Castiel feels the muscles and the bones finding relaxation. Finding stretching comfort. Dean's eyes widen, but he forces himself to nod like there's nothing wrong, like everything's okay. He makes himself smirk, and it feels like acid.
"Some angel you are," he says with venom, and at least that feels natural. "You burned out that poor woman's eyes." Pamela will never see again. Pamela will never see anything, ever again, and Dean has the blame between him and the 'angel'. He will always find a way to blame himself.
Castiel looks down, ashamed in a way angels never are, but he's not most angels. He's curious. Curiosity breeds interest, interest fosters mimicking, mimicking begets emotions. He's somewhere in the second step, but he's captivated.
"I warned her not to spy on my true form, it can be…overwhelming to some humans," he says with regret that Dean wishes he can't hear. It's hard to hate someone who's sorry. "So can my real voice, you already knew that."
"You mean the gas station and the motel?" Dean asks and he can still hear the ear-shattering screams in his head and they reminded him of bells, church bells, too loud and too close and how had the Hunchback not gone deaf in Notre Dame? It was unbearable. "That was you talking?"
When the 'angel' nods, Dean is brought back to his earlier thought, that his language is too beautiful for human ears. He's not allowed to participate in such perfection, even as a bystander.
"Buddy, next time lower the volume," Dean tries to joke but it doesn't come out like one. He's bad at this.
Castiel rolls his lips and nods again. "That was my mistake. Certain people, special people, can perceive my true visage. I thought you would be one of them. I was wrong." And he looks disappointed again, like he really wanted Dean to see the real him, hear the real him.
Was he even a him?
"And what visage are you in now, huh? What, holy tax accountant?" Dean asks and Castiel looks down at himself like he's forgotten what he's wearing and has to check.
"This…this is a vessel," Castiel says, running his fingers over the suit jacket, looking back up at Dean.
"You're possessing some poor bastard?" Dean asks and he wants the answer to be yes so he can have reason to kill the 'angel' in front of him. Thus far he hasn't done anything wrong. Dean wants an excuse.
"He's a devout man, he actually prayed for this." Is it Dean or does Castiel seem a bit surprised by that?
"Well, pal, I'm not buyin' what you're selling', so who are you really?" His words are dangerous and slow, and they're on thin ice and one wrong word and Dean jumps and makes it break, fractures it, shatters it, makes the faux-angel fall with him.
Castiel's head tilts to the side, confusion swimming in his eyes. "I told you," he says slowly, as if Dean doesn't understand what he's saying.
"Right, and why would an angel rescue me from Hell?" What goes unsaid is heavy. You haven't cared about me before and everything I've had to face has been alone, me against the world and sometimes even Sam wasn't there and there were moments Dean thought about ending things. Where were angels then?
Castiel steps closer, eyes narrowing in concentration, he invades Dean's personal space with a slow step. "Good things do happen, Dean," he says softly, as if trying to explain something to a child.
Dean swallows. It's hard to, like there's something in his throat and his eyes are starting to burn. "Not in my experience," he manages to spit out, but his words are shaky. .
"What's the matter?" Castiel asks, leaning forward, blue eyes the never ending sky calling Dean forward, out of the darkness as he reads his soul, bent and broken and fractured and mangled. But still shining. "You don't think you deserve to be saved." The statement is nearly broken, crushed beneath so much foreign emotion he doesn't understand why he wants Dean to see that he is beautiful.
Dean doesn't answer, but his mouth twitches and his breathing is shaky and he just might be on the verge of breaking down. "Why'd you do it?" he asks after a beat of silence. The angel stares with those beautiful eyes and Dean imagines he can see white-gold behind them, a mark of the intangible force that dragged him up and up and up and into his body in the ground and now resides in a tax accountant in a trench coat that swallows him.
He seems more like a knight than Dean is, with his theatrics and undeniable strength that seems to pour from him. Dean is just the mud on the streets.
Castiel stares at the Noir Hero, the knight in blood-caked armor, and wishes Dean didn't want to deny he was so good. He's never seen someone so good, so pure at the core and the rest didn't matter. Only Dean did, the bright soul that never quit, the little soldier who never thought of himself. Better than so many others and he doesn't even realize it.
"Because God commanded it," Castiel says softly, full of conviction and life and warmth and the words are Gospel, Divine. "Because we have work for you."
The Hero and the Angel stand in a warehouse, the air around them cold, the Hell below them a shared memory. Blood stains their hands and their futures. And they will do their best to deny the fact that they are heroes the whole time.