A/N: So I realize the chapters have been kinda dragging along at this point, but as you can probably see by the end of this chap there is plenty of new stuff on the horizon to come in the next one haha ;) poor Cas will catch a break eventually. Let me know what you think!

Unbetad, so sorry for errors.


PART I

Chapter 8

He was so unbelievably hungry.

He couldn't remember the last time he had managed to cram the stale prison food down his throat, nor could he recall what proper food even tasted like.

For days now Castiel had just lain in his cell, shivering, weakening, moving as little as possible as to not disturb the numerous wounds scattered across his body. At least he was still given the dignity of having clothes, but they did not serve to keep him warm or protected. His cheek rested barely on the cold stone floor, arms wrapped loosely around his knees to mimic a fetal position that he no longer had the strength to hold.

This was the only other part of his miserable existence now, the more bearable part seeing as the alternative had him suffer hours and days of agony at Crowley's hands.

Crowley. How he hated that pathetic little man. The hours that he didn't spend feeling sorry for his own suffering, he meticulously plotted every detail of his tormentor's death. It gave him something to do other than feel the weight of all the hopelessness surrounding him.

He would never make it. That much was clear to him by now. He could fight and resist and try to be strong all he wanted, eventually it all would no longer matter. He would never get through this.

There were two possible scenarios he had mapped out for himself in all this time of solitude. The first would have him stubbornly and insanely endure every form of ghastly pain and torment that Crowley could think of, until his sanity would be so completely destroyed that he would no longer perceive anything that was happening to him. Life, pain or death, it wouldn't matter. In contrast, the second option was that the torture master would soon break his resistance, at which point he would tell his captors everything he knew about his kingdom and betray his entire kin. Since he would no longer be of any use to them, they would thereafter give him a swift execution, if they were merciful enough that was.

He could not decide which option of the two was the more terrifying one, but he had concluded that scenario number two was far more likely. Most of the time he absurdly hoped for some kind of failure in his body so that he would just drop dead and this would all be over. He would never have expected his life to end so miserably.

When the door to his cell was eventually opened again, he showed no sign of recognition. He didn't protest, he didn't move, he didn't even so much as look up. He simply waited in the same position with a sick feeling in his stomach. Well, throwing up was pretty much on his daily schedule nowadays so he didn't think much of it.

The guards roughly seized him by the arms and dragged his limp body toward its inevitable doom. He didn't fight, he didn't move.

There was nothing he could do.

. . .

"What the hell do you know about the value of life?" Dean asked derisively. "You're a vampire."

Sam instantly shot his brother a disapproving look, which the latter missed because his eyes were locked on Benny.

Through all the time they had now spent travelling together, the younger Winchester had found his trust in the vampire growing every single day and he knew that Dean secretly felt the same. Sam highly suspected that was the reason why Dean kept lashing out at Benny every chance he got, because he was trying to compensate for what was in his eyes a reduced attentiveness. The fact that he himself was actually starting to trust a vampire made his brother even more scared of being double-crossed. Benny did not have it easy with them.

"Yep," Benny responded grimly, as always unperturbed by Dean's needling. "And I think we both know which of our kinds kills more humans." He shrugged. "War makes us all equals, brother."

Sam noticed that for a while now Dean had no longer been protesting whenever Benny called him that. Perhaps he had simply given up, seeing as the vampire wasn't going to stop anytime soon.

Dean rolled his eyes in annoyance. "Yeah, yeah, stop being a smart-ass."

"I get it," Benny went on calmly. "Yer worried what I might do if we make it outta this dump. I'll start eatin' your little piggies. But I can tell ya, man – by the time I was kicked out, I was really on piggies."

At the sight of Dean's raised eyebrows he explained. "Animal blood. I took a good bite out of a human once or twice when things got rough, I'll give you that, but I mostly tried livin' off animal scraps… Rats, pigs, horses." He shrugged briefly to himself. "Owners weren't always happy."

Both Sam and the vampire noticed at the same time how Dean had taken a step back and protectively shielded his horse from Benny. "Don't you dare take a bite outta her, you hear me?" he said gruffly. "Your head will be rolling so fast, you won't even be able to tap a vain!"

Sam sighed in irritation. "Seriously Dean?" This earned him a hostile glare from his brother, for he had broken the holy rule of not interfering in Dean's self-appointed mission of finding out exactly what made the vampire tick.

"Relax, Dean," Benny chuckled. "You really think I'm stupid enough to take a swing at the thing you care about almost as much as yer brother back there?" Dean frowned in discontent, for he did not like to be so easy to see through. "I ain't suicidal, brother," Benny concluded smirking.

Dean seemed to consider this for a moment, but then begrudgingly decided that the vampire did have a point. "So, what is that?" he continued grilling Benny. "Like the vampire Zone diet?"

"Look," Benny sighed and for the first time since they had met him Sam started hearing a tone of exasperation in the vampire's voice. "All I'm sayin' is I started seein' somethin' in humanity, ok? Somethin' that shouldn't be taken. I drink blood. I don't kill people, like most of my kind."

It sounded so incredibly sincere that Sam had no problem believing him. He knew that his brother was still suspicious, but his doubts about the vampire's intentions were slowly melting away. Perhaps he was not telling them everything, but he certainly wasn't planning to screw them over.

However this made Sam more and more curious about what might've happened to a vampire like Benny that he would settle for such convictions. There had to be some kind of profound experience involved.

"And why the hell should I believe you?" Dean demanded.

Benny shrugged. "Don't matter what you believe," he responded. "You got yer head so far up yer ass, Dean, yer still wastin' time grillin' me when you should be thinkin' up a plan. What're ya gonna do to get 'em out once we find the place, huh?"

To Sam's great surprise Dean didn't object to this. He simply sighed begrudgingly and murmured. "Still working on that."

Benny gave him a brief sideways look and nodded. "I can help ya with that, you know."

"What?" Dean asked bewildered.

"A plan," Benny responded. "I ain't know much cause it's different dependin' on which castle or fortress they're in, but… Yer better off with some basics."

Sam almost held his breath, waiting to see if his brother would take the vampire's advice or tell him to shove it instead.

"Like what?" Dean wanted to know.

"Well, most important thing is, ya need a play for everythin'," Benny explained. "Them castles are damn huge, so ya can't go in unprepared."

Dean chuckled in response. "Yeah, thanks for the help, dude," he snorted. "But I ain't stupid. Sam and me have done this a bunch of times, we know how that works."

"Not this you haven't," the vampire went on, unimpressed by Dean's blasé attitude. "Goin' in might be easy enough, Dean, but what's important is to plan how yer gettin' out."

Dean watched him attentively as he continued explaining. "If you don't prepare for that, then…" – he drew the tip of his weapon softly across his throat – "you can kiss yer sorry little asses goodbye."

"Ok, hotshot," Dean sighed, still sounding skeptical. "So how you propose we do that?"

"Well, depends," the vampire responded and then went on explaining to Dean how he had usually managed to make out weak spots in solid fortresses.

Sam watched the conversation move along, as he had mostly done in the past hours and couldn't stop himself from grinning slightly at his older brother's behavior. No matter how hard he tried to antagonize the vampire, it was obvious that he was in fact interested in his advice.

Maybe this would work out after all.

. . .

"Dean!" Sam called out excitedly. "Up there! Look!"

Dean, who was walking beside him, turned his head expectantly and looked ahead to where Sam was pointing. It took him a moment to notice it, but he soon realized that the forest was getting lighter in front of them. If he looked all the way out through the trees, he could make out small patches of green beyond them.

"We made it," he said, surprise written all over his face. "Son of a bitch, Sammy, we actually made it through this frickin' hellhole!"

Sam laughed, feeling a temporary moment of euphoria coarse through his veins.

"Yup," Benny concurred ahead of them. "Don't say I ain't do nothin' for ya."

Dean snorted, but didn't talk back to the vampire. He couldn't deny that the guy was kinda right. He had lead them this far without giving them a single incident to question his intentions. He was either a hell of a good liar or he was really being sincere.

They worked their way onward through the remaining forest, horses in tow. Benny used his weapon to cut aside the thicket that still stood in their way.

He was just about to swing out for his next stroke when a dark figure suddenly emerged out of nowhere and pounced him viciously.

After that everything happened extremely fast. Dean ripped out his sword just in time to fend off a second creature's attack, while Benny was still wrestling around on the ground with the first one. He could hear Sammy yelling at the panicking horses, trying to calm them down as best he could.

Dean swung out at the very human-like monster with all his might, but it jumped sideways, leading his blow over toward a tree in which he deeply embedded his sword before he could stop it. Satisfied with its work, the monster before him suddenly broke into a monstrous roar and ripped open its gigantic mouth to show its' equally large set of deadly teeth. Dean was frozen on the spot for a moment, staring in horror at the creature's terrifying fangs before him. Without even realizing what he was doing, he used all of his force to rip his blade from the trunk of the tree and swung it out fervently to chop the monster's head off. He received a heavy spurt of thick, black blood in response.

Looking ahead he then noticed that Benny had managed to subdue his first attacker, but was now struggling against a third of the bunch. He seemed to be losing though, for the monster soon whipped him down onto the ground and fell over him, mouth widely agape.

It was but seconds away from having the vampire for lunch, when Dean caught up with it and angrily swung out his sword to behead it. No flesh-eating, repulsive hybrid-bitch was gonna be snacking on his friend.

Friend. He almost couldn't believe what his own subconscious had just called Benny.

The vampire looked up at Dean with an equally unsure expression, realizing that the hunter had just saved his life. There was a brief moment in which both their gazes locked and they seemed to be in complete understanding, but instead of saying something, Dean wordlessly stretched out a hand to pull him up from the ground. Benny obliged with a throaty chuckle.

Sam was still desperately clutching the reins of the two freaked out horses, trying to soothe them with soft murmurs, but he had done a good job in making sure they didn't run off again.

"What the hell are these things?" Dean asked curling his nose, as he gingerly poked the tip of his boot at one of the creepy monsters' bodies now lying on the forest ground.

"Leviathan," Benny commented darkly. "One of the nastiest things you'll find in here." He briefly turned to look at their surroundings. "I don't know bout you, but I say we get the hell outta here."

The two Winchesters happily obliged and the three of them picked up the pace while heading toward the end of the forest. Dean still couldn't get over the fact that his primary instinct had so naturally voted to protect the vampire. Now he really couldn't deny that the guy had managed to gain his trust.

When they had finally reached the edge of the forest, Dean felt like a huge weight was lifting from his shoulders, one that he had been carrying for almost a week now while being imprisoned in the highly uncanny forest. The large green fields stretched out before them almost like a blessing. The view of the light, yet slightly cloudy sky above him and the sound of rushing water nearby beheld something incredibly liberating and he was grateful to be here. That was, if he blended out the fact that he was still on a potentially suicidal mission.

Benny chose to lead them northbound along the edge of the forest for another hour or so until they could finally make out a path through the fields that led to a village visible far in the distance.

"Judgin' by the tracks and the scents I picked up… Plus what I know bout the settlements round here," Benny explained. "My best bet is your guy's through that town and in the castle on the other side."

"What can you tell us about it?" Sam wanted to know.

Benny sighed and chuckled darkly. "It's big…" he suggested. "Powerful. Belongs to the Lord Alistair who rules a few of these towns. Not sure how big a sayin' he's got though."

Dean nodded. "Who else is there that could have one?" he asked. "A saying I mean?"

"Impossible to tell, brother, sorry about that," Benny chuckled apologetically. "Not like what we hear with old Mikey over on yer side… It's all very shrouded over here."

"Ok…" Dean nodded once more. He and Sam shared a brief glance and he realized that neither of them really knew what else to say.

"Look," Benny started in good nature again, evidently sensing their indecisiveness. "One more thing I can tell ya… Weakest spot about that castle is the place they ship off their cargo. Black market's important in this town so" – he quirked his brows meaningfully – "they let a lot more slide."

Dean nodded for a third time, grateful for all the help the vampire could give them. "Right."

They stood unsurely on the spot for a moment, before Sam cleared his throat to say something. "Thanks," he started. "For… everything."

"Yeah," Benny nodded, smirking slightly. "Don't mention it." He and Sam shook hands.

Dean couldn't think of anything to say that his brother hadn't already brought across. "Keep your nose clean, Benny," he then told the vampire. "You hear me?"

Benny chuckled and extended his hand so that Dean could also shake it.

"Watch yer backs," he said, looking back and forth between the two brothers. "But then again, I think you do that just fine fer each other." With a final saluting gesture the vampire turned around and disappeared back into the forest.

Dean almost felt a bit melancholy for a moment, but then mentally slapped himself and focused on what they were here for. "All right," he took the reins of his horse from Sam and the two of them started pacing along the road. "Where do we start?"

"Let's get a look at it first," Sam decided, his long legs taking purposeful strides toward the town.

Dean huffed to himself and looked over at his horse. "You hear that, baby?" he chuckled. "Sammy's taking charge."

Even from behind him he thought he could see Sam's features rearrange into an offended and bitchy scowl. It just never got old.