Thanks once again for all the reviews and the new follows and favs on this story... This chapter's not all too eventful, but still holds some important character development I needed to establish. Hope you like it :)
Unbetad, so sorry for errors.
Castiel had a hard time not worrying nowadays.
He had called upon his lieutenant twice now and she normally wasn't one to be tardy. Whenever someone didn't show up right away, there could be any number of reasons for it, but somehow the angel always found himself fretting over the most terrifying possibilities.
It wasn't safe, not for any of them. At any moment one of his followers could be found out and pressed into leading their enemies to the rest of them.
Thus it was more than just relief that flooded Castiel, when the familiar sound of wings finally released him from his concerns. It was genuine gratitude.
"Rachel," he sighed, grace bubbling amicably in the face of her arrival. "You are here."
"Forgive me, Castiel," his lieutenant responded. "I should not have kept you waiting." She hesitated before continuing, obviously not wanting to bother him with the reason for her tardiness. "Raphael is reaching out to us… It would be wise to assume that he has his suspicions."
"Do you fear your discovery?" Castiel asked her and immediately saw the regret on her face. She had not wanted to trouble him.
"I am not sure," she admitted. "We must always fear that, I'm afraid. Before Balthazar enables us to secure all the weapons… we are utterly vulnerable."
At her last words the superior angel thought he could hear an undertone of bitterness, which she was strongly trying to hide from him. Apparently not all of his followers were embracing their supposedly fallen comrade the way he had hoped.
"You seem troubled," Castiel remarked. "Is he not cooperating?"
Rachel hesitated for a moment, carefully choosing her words. "He is proving to be… difficult to work with."
Castiel sighed. Well, he should've been expecting something like that from Balthazar. "I will talk to him," he promised.
However, Rachel didn't appear to have desired this result. "No, there's no need," she shrugged it off. "You have more important things to worry about."
She fell silent again, waiting for him to speak while watching him closely. But when Castiel didn't elaborate of his own accord, she cautiously opened her mouth once more. "What is troubling you, Castiel?" she asked with a timid voice, grey eyes resting on him imploringly. "Why did you call on me?"
Although he cast her a wary gaze, Castiel knew that there was no euphemizing it. There was no doubt that every single angel in existence already knew about it. He drew a deep breath, before posing his question. "What do you know of Sam Winchester's resurrection?"
He could tell by the look in her eyes that she was not surprised. She had expected this from him, as had everyone. Of course he – Castiel, the notorious Winchesters' willing disciple – would be interested in the sudden sparing of the sacrificial lamb.
"I have heard many things," Rachel decided after taking a few moments to think. "I am not sure whether the truth is among any of them."
She stared vaguely into the distance, as if mentally sieving through all the information she had received on the subject. Chatter among the angels and all across heaven had been chaotic and multifaceted to say the least, for everyone was interested in this rather unforeseen turn of events. Castiel himself had picked up a few bits and pieces of conversation, however none of his respective siblings had been able to provide information that he could use.
Since Rachel didn't say anything further, the angel eventually decided to voice his greatest concern. "Do you…" he hesitated. "Do you believe it is possible that… his resurrection was caused by Raphael?"
His lieutenant gave him a long look, carefully contemplating every aspect of what his question implied. "Perhaps," she then responded. Castiel thought that she seemed very uncomfortable with settling for a definite answer.
"But…?" he asked slowly.
Rachel seemed torn. "It does not make sense," she admitted. "If Raphael could get into the cage… He would not resurrect the vessel and leave behind our brothers." She hesitated for a moment, opened her mouth and closed it again, as if she had a controversial thought on the tip of her tongue. Castiel waited patiently for her to speak it aloud.
"But Raphael cannot get into the cage," she went on. "No one can. He could not have released the vessel from it. So if he did not bring back Sam Winchester…"
"… then what did he bring back?" Castiel completed the thought for her, feeling more confused and uneasy than he had in a while.
Rachel was right, however way they turned it, something didn't add up. He needed to find out what was wrong with Sam, for Dean's sake as well as his own. If the younger Winchester somehow fitted into Raphael's plan of salvaging the apocalypse, he needed to know exactly how, so he had enough to time to figure out how to stop it.
"All right," he exhaled, trying to realign his messy thoughts. "Find out what you can back home, I'll… I'll ask around and see if the site of origin will answer any question." That godforsaken field had better hold some useful information for him, otherwise it would bring him nothing but pain to return to it. "We need to know what's happened to him," he said quietly, remembering the almost manic determination and desperation hidden beneath Dean's aggressive behavior.
"I will," Rachel promised. "I will Castiel, but…" He looked up at her, surprised to hear a hint of frustration in her voice that she was no longer able to hide. "Why do you bother so much for someone who does not appreciate your sacrifice?"
She still seemed insecure with voicing her own personal opinion to him, but Castiel was glad to see that she was growing more and more confident with thinking for herself. She was no longer too afraid to disagree with him.
"I'm your friend, Castiel," she insisted. "And I do not like seeing what it does to you."
Castiel was surprised at her words. He had always known that she didn't approve of his strong bond with Dean, but this was something different entirely. If he didn't know any better, he'd think she was suggesting that Dean was using him.
"What are you saying?" he asked with a frown. "I do too much for them?"
"I think they call you when they need something," Rachel responded. She had never been this directly honest with him about anything, so he guessed that it was deeply important to her. "You do not have time to be utilized for their issues. We're preparing a war."
"Dean realizes that," Castiel protested.
"Does he?" Rachel said quietly, giving him a long and imploring look, but then bowing her head in respect. Apparently she was not going to keep pushing endlessly against her superior.
Castiel turned away and thought about what she had said. Did Dean expect too much of him? Was he being utilized as a mere means to an end? There was no doubt that the hunter had a habit of being extremely authoritative when he considered something to be important, which was most often the wellbeing of his brother. But he didn't care how questionable Dean's social abilities sometimes became; not for a second would he believe that he was being taken advantage of.
"You do not know Dean Winchester," he then said softly to his lieutenant. "He walks through fire and death for the ones he loves."
Rachel considered this for a moment, before posing a further question. "But are you?" she whispered.
Castiel frowned in confusion. "What?"
"Are you among the ones that he loves?" she clarified, grey eyes determinedly requesting that he think hard.
The superior angel sighed and once more turned away from her, gazing at the dreary space of deserted landscape around them without really perceiving any of it.
"I'd like to think I am," he then murmured softly and realized with the fearful certainty of a wounded child just how incredibly terrified he was of the opposite.
. . .
Never had the soft mattress beneath Dean's back felt more uncomfortable.
He could hear every single one of Lisa's quiet and even breaths next to him, making it look so easy, and yet he felt wide-awake, restless and so out of place, he might as well have been lying in a bees' nest. It was hard to believe that only a week ago he had been so content and peaceful in this very same spot, holding the most beautiful woman in his arms and dreaming of a far simpler life.
Needless to say, their search for Sam's savior had been absolutely fruitless. They had spent hours and days researching in Bobby's place, feeling out all their sources among the hunters' community and driving all over the place to see various informants.
Nothing. Just a big smoking pile of confusion.
No one had seen or heard of anything surrounding the younger Winchester's resurrection, if one chose to ignore the wild conspiracy theories that were already spreading like wildfire. Sam Winchester, back from the dead yet again. Dean had a strong feeling that whatever hunters' wrath they had endured before had been only been child's play.
He had yelled himself hoarse while angrily ranting at Cas several times, telling the angel to get his fucking shit together and come and help them with this problem. Where was the damn guy when he needed him the most? He should've known he couldn't count on him. However much he wanted to believe that he was one of them, he would always be one of those fucking angels concerned only with the greater good.
Ok, so maybe that wasn't quite fair. But this was about Sammy; he pretty much didn't give a fuck about fair at the moment.
During their endless and tiring days of reconnaissance, he had dodged pretty much all of Lisa's calls and texts, which only grew more frequent the more time passed. He had felt horrible about it too, for after all the information he had placed on her shoulders only a short while ago, she had had to be going crazy worrying about him by then.
All their trouble had pretty much been for nothing. After barely a week of trying to feel their way around the complete darkness and mystery that surrounded Sam's resurrection, both he and Bobby had insisted Dean head back to Lisa's place to make sure everything was all right.
Dean had remained stubborn and reluctant, not wanting to leave his brother alone, but they hadn't shut up about it. Even when he had finally agreed, his uneasiness had not diminished, for he hadn't been able to shake the feeling that Sam was trying to get rid of him. Whether the younger hunter was annoyed with his brother's protectiveness or needed some space because of his experiences in the cage Dean really couldn't tell, but their was a certain amount of distance between them that just seemed to get more extreme the more time passed.
So even though he had been extremely torn and disapproving about it, Dean had let Bobby talk him into going back to Lisa and Ben's, at least for a few days.
He had learned the extent of exactly how worried Lisa had been about him, when she had thrown her arms around him in relief, murmuring helpless damnations into the fabric of his coat, as soon as she had found him on her doorstep. Unfortunately, the warm welcome had been over in almost a second, because her relief had been immediately followed by anger and disapproval. She had demanded to know where he had been and why he hadn't answered any of her calls. Both she and Ben had been worried sick and she had done her best to assure him that everything was fine, but it was becoming virtually impossible to pretend to an eleven-year-old. Luckily Ben had been at school at that moment, but she had demanded that he'd better come up with a good and solid explanation as to where he had been.
When she had straight out asked him about his whereabouts and activities over the past days, Dean had panicked. And he had lied. He had flat out lied to her… again.
He had made up some story about a heavenly weapon that had gone rogue again and that he had helped Cas to get the situation under control. He didn't know what exactly triggered him to keep Sam's return a secret. Maybe it was the same like it had initially been with Cas, that he wanted to keep the return of a loved one only for himself. Maybe he didn't want to cause her any more unnecessary anguish.
Or maybe he just didn't want to hear any of her doubts and unease at the situation, as it would only fortify the worries he was already trying to suppress. He didn't want anyone else to tell him that there was something wrong with the miracle of having his brother returned to him.
After his sheepish and thin explanation, Lisa had grown somewhat distant and reserved, asking him if he was hungry and offering him a late lunch. He had been sure that they had not yet made it past the fighting part, but had still submitted to an hour of fake normalcy while watching her make him something to eat.
Sure enough, by the time he had cleared half of his plate, she had decided to pounce once more.
"I thought we were past this, Dean," she had started out quietly, dangerously. "That's what your whole confession was about, wasn't it?"
"Lis, what do you want me to say?" Dean had sighed in response. "I told you what's going on. There's a hell of a lot of crap happening out there and if Cas needs my help, all our lives are on the line…" he had hesitated and then grown slightly softer. "I'm sorry, ok?"
Maybe he shouldn't have been using Cas as an excuse, when he had really just told the angel to go screw himself. It wasn't right.
Lisa had shaken her head helplessly, avoiding his gaze. "We've already talked about this, Dean. I thought that… now that we were open with each other, maybe it would get better…" She gave him a sad look. "And only a day later you start with the same crap all over again."
Dean hadn't known what to say. On the one hand he had felt guilty for causing her pain, but on the other hand, there was no possible way she could understand how important his brother was to him. "Well, that crap just happens to be important," he had said gruffly.
"I know it's important, Dean," Lisa had shot back, sounding exasperated. "Everything you do is important!" She had shaken her head once more, trying to keep her voice calm. "But you know what? I'm trying to raise a kid here. That's important. And I thought you wanted to be a part of that."
"I do," Dean had insisted. "I do." He hadn't really been sure where he had managed to muster up the confidence to say those words, for his brother's return was likely to change everything.
"You can't keep doing this," Lisa had said in determination. "You can't just keep disappearing out of the blue, not telling me where you're going and, and for days making me think that" – her voice had grown continuously louder and more shaky while speaking the words. She had paused for a brief moment and chewed on her lower lip. "You need to stop."
The order had been very definite and Dean hadn't disagreed in the slightest. When Ben had come back home an hour later and had been so thrilled to see him, that he had even given him a short hug, Dean had told him about a smallish case two states out that he had needed to take care of. He had given the fascinated Ben some details about a monster he had fought and killed and promised that it wouldn't happen again anytime soon. He didn't know if this was exactly the type of story Lisa had had in mind, but at least it had helped set the boy at ease.
That had now been a few days ago and since then he had heard nothing from his little brother, other than the brief info Bobby had given him in a short phone call. Essentially there was nothing new, they still weren't any closer to locating clues to Sam's mysterious return. Dean himself had spent hours researching on the net, when Lisa hadn't been around, but hadn't had any luck either.
As far as his job was concerned, Sid had begrudgingly agreed to a second chance after hearing about his apparent family emergency. He had informed Dean that he was now on thin ice, should he decide to take off again. Lisa had fallen into a sort of acting-like-everything-was-normal-when-they-both-knew-it-really-wasn't routine and Ben was abnormally cheerful and active, as if trying to even out the weirdly courteous behavior of the adults surrounding him.
Dean wasn't sure what any of this meant for him, for he was absolutely certain about the fact that sooner or later he would hurry to Sam's aide once more and destroy all of his efforts around here in the process. It seemed to him like he was trying to preserve a life that he already knew deep down he wouldn't be able to keep anyway.
The hunter sighed deeply, staring up at the dark ceiling of Lisa's bedroom.
Only a week previously he had made love to the woman lying beside him and now she seemed like a complete stranger. He didn't belong here. He never would.
His dark train of thought was interrupted, when suddenly the room was slightly illuminated by the electronic glow of the phone on his bedside table. Frowning to himself, Dean flipped over onto his side and picked up the phone, eying the anonymous text message he had just received suspiciously.
Case. Crossroads. Get your ass down here now.
Within a fraction of a second Dean sat bolt upright in the bed. The phone lay between his cramped fingers, as he felt waves of crackling energy and anxiety run through his limbs.
A second later he was on his feet and by the window, for he knew so exactly how the mind of the text's author worked that there was not a doubt in his mind of what he would find on the driveway below. And sure enough, there was a silver car parked on the side of the road – Silver? Seriously, Sammy? – and a large man standing just in sight below the window, peering through the tousled strands of his shaggy brown hair.
"What the…" Dean murmured, but immediately shut up when he felt Lisa whimper softly in her sleep behind him.
He slowly made his way out of the bedroom, careful not to wake her and then dashed down to the front door as fast as he could. With one flowing movement he ripped open the door and revealed his little brother, holding his phone in his right hand and tossing him a slightly amused gaze.
"Wow," he nodded in approval. "That was fast."
"Sam?" he said in surprise.
"I need your help," Sam announced, putting his phone back into this pocket. "Now."
"What's wrong?" Dean immediately asked in alarm. "Crossroads demon?"
"Yeah," Sam nodded. "I'm working this job and I came across"-
Before he could continue explaining, Dean cut across him, perplexed by what he had just heard. "Whoa, whoa, hang on a minute, what?" he retorted angrily. "You're working a case?"
"Yeah," Sam shrugged, apparently not knowing why Dean was upset.
"Yeah," Sam responded, now looking bemused. "I can take care of myself, Dean."
At this point it took Dean a lot of effort to keep his voice down, so he wouldn't wake the peacefully sleeping family. "What the hell, Sam!" he growled. "You just popped outta hell, man, you're in no position to go working a job on your own! Why the fuck didn't you call me?"
"Because I'm fine, Dean," Sam growned in frustration, though he seemed more annoyed than upset at Dean's attitude. "I'm doing just fine! Ever think that maybe I didn't wanna keep hearing about the opposite?"
Dean sighed, running a hand across his face. He knew damn well that Sam wasn't fine, but maybe this wasn't the best moment to insist upon it. "All right," he grumbled. "All right, so crossroads… How do you know?"
"I'll explain on the way," Sam responded. "Get your stuff and let's go, come on!"
"Sam, wait, I…" Dean hesitated, looking back into the dark house. "I can't just take off, man, at least not 'til you tell me what this is about, I…" He wanted to say I only just started fixing things here, but all that came out was "I need to know what it's about."
Sam sighed. "Look, I just want you with me on this, ok?" He shrugged. "Figure having you there would help… But I'll do it alone, if I have to."
"Nah, no way," Dean growled angrily. At this point all of his reluctance at having to chose had vanished. It wasn't really a choice anyway. "You ain't doing this on your own." He headed back into the house. "Just give me a minute!"
He thought he could hear Sam chuckling softly behind him, but somehow that only served to make him more aggressive and ready for action. The reunited Winchesters would be working their first new case together.
And just like that the moment that would once again destroy all of his efforts had arrived.
He sure hadn't lasted long.