Title: From Yesterday
Characters: Dean, Sam, and OCs
Disclaimer: They're not mine. More's the pity. Title is from a 30 Seconds to Mars song of the same name. Rated very much PG-13 for language (mostly Dean) and a couple of mature scenes.
Summary: Post Season 5, AU. Stripped of their Heavenly help and their friends, their reality changed with that loss, pushing them back to a bare-bones approach to life, the brothers learn to redefine normal. However, though they stopped the Apocalypse, there is still evil in the world and it touches someone they thought they'd never hear from again. Is it enough to compel both brothers to start hunting again?
Author's Note: So...it's been awhile since I've written and posted a multi-chapter fic. I actually wanted to post this much earlier in the hiatus, but life forced my hand a bit, and I decided to complete several chapters before I started posting. It will be told in two parts – each part will be roughly 8-10 chapters long – and part one is completed.
AU heads up: This story tracks the end of 5.22, Swan Song…with some very specific changes. In this reality, the outcome of the battle at Stull Cemetery is decidedly different, taking the brothers on an alternate path than the one they traveled in Seasons 6 and beyond.
Fair warning: though this is definitely a story about the Winchester brothers, an OC from my past stories, the druid Brenna Kavanagh, is a key character in part two. I've written this so that it's not necessary for you to read the previous stories in which she appears to understand her relationship to the brothers, but it might help add layers to her story.
I hope you enjoy!
"…for a fortune, he'd quit but it's hard to admit
how it ends and begins.
On his face is a map of the world…"
- 30 Seconds to Mars, From Yesterday
When I think about my brother, there's always this invisible dividing line that seems to hover just before him – a line that separates Dean from everyone else. He was always in a category apart, not only because of who he was to me, but because of what he did for the world.
Dean never saw that line.
To him, it was simply about doing the job. The job that defined him, that marked him and that drove him…until he ran out of road.
- Excerpt from "Roadtrip with My Brother: A Memoir" by Samuel Winchester
PART ONE: It Ends
Detroit, MI, 2010
It was falling apart.
They'd been up against giants and their slingshots were empty.
The one thing Castiel would remember about this night – if he were allowed to remember anything – would be the way the darkness had texture. The kinetic energy shimmering around him seemed to groan and stretch as he followed Bobby to where Dean stood by the trunk of the Impala. The city was simply a backdrop to the moment; the traffic noises, the sirens, the general racket of people seeming to fade as the world took a breath in anticipation of what was to come.
It seemed the roar of the moments before had perhaps deafened them – or numbed them – to their current reality. Sam saying yes, Lucifer stepping in, Dean left alone and hollowed-out in the center of that destroyed room…it was all a bit too much to process for the humans he'd paired himself with and was too close to a Heavenly I told you so for Castiel to swallow.
The wet cement squelched beneath their shoes as they approached. Dean closed the trunk and looked up, stone-faced, his eyes skimming their faces, not looking directly at either of them. Castiel recognized this expression. He'd seen it so many times before he'd actually lost count.
And he knew the number of stars in the sky.
"You goin' someplace?" Bobby's voice sounded empty as he addressed Dean. Castiel looked at the older man, seeing sorrow weighing down his soul, and suddenly knew how many heartbeats Bobby had left. "You're goin' to do somethin' stupid," Bobby continued, his tone an accusation. "You got that look."
"I'm gonna talk to Sam."
Castiel felt the night step closer. In an instant, thousands of options for what to say or do next blossomed in his mind and were summarily dismissed. There had never been another choice for Dean; he would destroy himself to save his brother. Castiel had always known that to be irrefutable fact.
Castiel was the only being in existence that could change the outcome of this moment.
Bobby's shoulders bowed slightly with Dean's words. "You just don't give up."
Dean looked at Bobby then and Castiel felt something shift deep within himself – as if his vessel's heart were breaking, though that was a physical impossibility. Pain and a desperate plea for acceptance or understanding bled from Dean's eyes as he looked at his mentor.
Those two words defined every choice this man had ever made.
Castiel had known it the minute he'd grabbed Dean from the rack deep within the bowels of Hell, felt Dean's soul sear beneath his touch, binding them on a level the angel had never before experienced.
"If you couldn't reach him here, you're certainly not going to be able to on the battlefield," Castiel calmly pointed out, hoping to somehow reach Dean with logic.
He should have known better.
Dean's eyes shifted from Bobby's face to his and the plea evaporated leaving only resolve. "Well, if we've already lost, I guess I got nothing to lose, right?"
Castiel stepped forward, the night clinging to him like a cobweb. "I just want you to understand – the only thing that you're going to see out there is Michael killing your brother."
It was his last-ditch effort, his final attempt to bring Dean back from the brink, to remind him that Sam had chosen, Sam had said yes. That none of this was Dean's fault, nor was it Dean's responsibility. It was his way of telling Dean that the world still needed him. That Castiel still needed him.
"Well, then," Dean replied, his eyes empty, face impassive. "I ain't gonna let him die alone."
Castiel felt the darkness sigh as if it had won, its painful grip lessening for the briefest of moments. Dean's gaze pulled inward as he opened the door of the Impala. Castiel curled his fingers against his palms, a surge of impotent power rushing beneath the delicate confines of his vessel's skin.
This was it. The time was now. He could delay no longer.
"Wait," Castiel said, too quietly.
"Balls!" Bobby growled, thumping his fist on the hood of the car as Dean slid behind the wheel of the car, reaching to close the door. Without another word, Bobby turned away, stalking back toward the entrance of the hotel as if on a mission.
Dean pulled at the heavy door of the car, the creak of the Impala's hinges a familiar cadence, one that Castiel knew he would miss. It was a sound that meant Dean and home and brotherhood and family.
"Dean, wait!" he repeated, pulling Dean up short.
Dean looked at him. "What is it, Cas?" His tone was clipped, impatient. "An hour ago, you were ready to drink a liquor store and wait for the blast wave."
Castiel swallowed. He had been present when God pulled star matter from the universe and turned it into life. He had seen men create and destroy over millennia. He had been a Warrior of the Lord and fought legions of demons. He'd laid waste to Hell to search for one shining light of a human soul among the roiling mass of chaos.
Yet this was the hardest thing he'd ever done.
"There's something you don't know," Castiel choked out, at once part of the moment and outside of it, staring in wonder at the difficulty honesty was causing him.
He felt his throat working, air trapped in his lungs going stale and stagnant as he denied it an escape. His eyes burned; he was staring so hard at Dean he felt he'd light his friend on fire.
And the darkness flexed its claws.
"What are you talking about?" Dean still hadn't emerged from the Impala, one foot on the gas pedal, the other outside on the pavement. He had one hand on the keys settled in the ignition and the other still reaching for the door, the tips of his fingers turning white as they gripped the handle.
Castiel stepped back, needing Dean free of the Impala's shelter before he said his piece. "There's something…," he glanced up the alley, but Bobby hadn't returned. "Something I haven't told you."
"Spit it out, man. I got like a twelve hour drive ahead of me."
Castiel reached into his pocket, feeling the heat of the metal. He took a slow breath, relaxing his shoulders and allowed his wings to stretch out. They were mere shadows against the dark of the alley, invisible to Dean's eyes, but they reminded Castiel who he was, why he was here, and what he had to do. He withdrew his hand from his pocket, Dean's amulet hanging from his fingers by the bit of leather, its brass surface catching a beam from the security light on the building above the Impala.
"Son of a bitch," Dean breathed, stepping out of the car and reaching for the amulet as if drawn forward by a magnet. "But…how?"
Castiel released his hold on the amulet as soon as Dean's fingers closed around it.
"I watch you," he said calmly, quietly.
Dean's brows pulled together, the line between them alerting Castiel to the fact that something he said was not quite right.
"You…watch me?" Dean looked up, still holding the amulet a bit away from him, as if expecting it to explode.
"Yes," Castiel nodded. "Not just you. All of you. You see, I'm…," he looked down, searching for a word that Dean could understand or would accept, that meant everything he was to them, everything he did because of them. "I'm your guardian."
Dean pulled his head back slightly, the line between his brows smoothing a bit. "Guardian."
Castiel nodded again; pleased he seemed to have chosen the correct term. "I watch over you – over all of you. I have for years."
Dean was frowning again and Castiel felt the texture of the night once more.
"What do you mean you…watch over us?"
"I wasn't allowed to interfere," Castiel hastened to explain, fearing this was going south quickly. "Not until you were taken to Hell. I was only to watch and…record."
Dean took a step back, his fingers closing in a grip around the amulet. "Wait…." His lips parted, seeming to attempt to form around words that he couldn't articulate.
"I saw you born, Dean. You and Sam. I saw Azazel take your mother. I saw your youth. I saw your father sell his soul to save you. I saw it all."
The line was back on Dean's brow and Castiel felt his skin ripple with anxiety. It was vital that he get this right.
"You…you were there?"
"I observed," Castiel repeated. "In the shadows, watching. You and Sam are special, Dean. Your destinies are entwined with our fate."
Dean looked askance, and Castiel saw him work once more to find the right words. He tried to fill them in.
"We knew you were destined to be Michael's Sword; Sam, Lucifer's vessel. Your parents were brought together for that purpose."
Dean held up his free hand. "Hold on just a damn minute," he snapped, turning once more to look at Castiel, his eyes heated. "You're telling me that the whole time my family was being ripped apart, you were there? And you did nothing?"
Castiel instinctively stretched his wings once more, hearing the darkness groan in protest. He'd known this would not be easy. He never wanted to tell Dean any of this. He'd never expected to form a friendship with Michael's vessel. He'd never expected a human to mean so much to him that he was willing to rebel against Heaven, against his own family. He'd never expected half of the things he'd been through to happen simply because he knew Dean Winchester.
But happen they had. And now he was out of options.
"You have seen the power of Heaven. The power of the Arch Angels. You understand what it means to follow orders. You know what it means when I tell you I was not allowed to interfere."
Dean closed his mouth, bringing his chin up. Castiel could see that his words got through, even if Dean didn't like what they meant.
"Until I pulled you from that rack, Dean, you were a mission. An assignment."
Dean squared his shoulders at the mention of Hell. "And after?"
Castiel looked down at his hand, remembering the searing feeling of his energy merging with Dean's humanity. Dean wasn't even really flesh in Hell. He was simply a soul. But he suffered as if he were flesh. He died as if he were flesh. And when Castiel found him, he appeared in the flesh, his body broken, his will chained, his spirit a flame.
"After," he said quietly, hearing his vessel's voice slip out through numbing lips, the sound like crushed gravel. "You became my friend."
Dean stood still. Castiel could detect a faint tremor running through his friend's body – anxiety, anxiousness, exhaustion. He was facing a terrible choice, an impossible fate. And Castiel was about to turn up the heat.
"And this?" Dean opened his fist, revealing the amulet resting against his palm.
"I saw you throw it away," Castiel told him. "I hadn't left the room; I had simply vanished from your sight."
Dean pressed his lips outward, his brows meeting over the bridge of his nose. "You do that often?"
Castiel nodded. "Quite often, yes."
"So you were just…there. Invisible. Watching us?"
"It is the job of the guardian to observe."
Dean rolled his neck as if suddenly in pain. "Not for nothin', Cas, but, uh…that's really creepy."
"I have learned a good deal about human habits."
"Oh, God, I can't know that."
If he'd had more time, there were several things he wanted to ask Dean about, now that he knew he'd been observed. But Castiel had learned that when Dean wore that particular pained expression, he'd stepped over one of the many invisible lines humans drew around their comfort zones. He didn't have time to venture further into distraction.
"I saw what my statement about the amulet caused you to do."
Dean looked down at the amulet resting on the palm of his hand. "You said it was worthless."
"I was wrong," Castiel said, regret woven through his voice.
He'd been wrong about so many things. One of them his blind faith in his family, in his Father's plan, in the trust he'd had in his brothers. He'd been so very, very wrong.
"Come again?" Dean was staring at him, a slow-burn of hope lighting the corners of his eyes. "Wait, are you telling me…God can get us out of this?"
Castiel shook his head sadly. "Unfortunately for us all, no. He really has…left."
The pain he felt at those words went deeper than the heart of his vessel. They cut to the core of his angelic self, the light and power that he kept contained all day every day. For a moment, he felt it flex upward, outward, shifting the shadows of his wings to push back the tangible night. Dean brought his head up at the sound, no way of knowing what it was, but reacting to it all the same.
"So…what's the point of all of this, huh? How's it gonna help me save Sam?"
Castiel lifted his chin, needing to find the right words once more. "As I said, your destiny is tied to our fate – the fate of the angels. It was no accident that the amulet found its way to you."
"Sam was going to give it to Dad." Dean exhaled the memory. "But Dad wasn't there."
"It was meant for you, Dean. The amulet is a beacon for God. But it is not God our Father it will help us find."
Dean took a slow breath, closing his eyes. "You're gonna have to do better than that, Cas."
"The amulet is a beacon to find the power of God."
Rolling his lips against his teeth, Dean tilted his head to the side before opening his eyes. "Say what now?"
"You were made in God's image, Dean. Every human was. Some are flawed beyond repair, too lost, too…twisted to find that reflection. But others," he leaned forward slightly, his eyes on Dean's, willing him to understand. "Others have righteousness inside of them."
Dean closed his fingers in a fist around the amulet. He seemed to be holding his breath, his entire being tense.
"You are the righteous man, Dean. The one who can stop this."
Dean's frown was sudden and fierce. "Bull shit."
Castiel shook his head, confused. "This has nothing to do with—"
"You told me I had to stop Lucifer from rising." Dean's voice was pitched low, but Castiel felt as if he were screaming. Though Dean didn't advance, Castiel wanted to retreat. He was an angel of the Lord, but this human's rage emanated from him in waves strong enough to push him away. "And I failed."
"I was wrong."
"You were wrong," Dean repeated, bringing his fist to his mouth as if to stop himself from saying more. Turning away, he leaned his arms on the roof of the Impala, standing in the still-open driver's side door. "Y'know, Cas? I'm so fucking sick of this. Of all this shit – angels and demons and master plans and mysterious ways." He bowed his neck, resting his forehead on his wrists. "I'm just a regular guy trying to keep his family alive. And you guys keep trying to stop me."
"That's not true," Castiel countered.
Dean turned, moving toward Castiel with such speed the angel backed up several steps. "You shut the hell up!" He pointed at Castiel's chest, the leather from the amulet swaying beneath his clenched fist. "You wait until now to tell me you've been our guardian? You wait until now to give me this goddamned charm? Now after Sam is gone? After telling me he's lost? That Michael and Lucifer are going to beat the shit out of each other until they destroy my brother? Now?!"
"I admit the timing isn't ideal—"
"Tell you what, you can take your fuckin' God beacon and shove it up your ass." Dean rotated on his toes, reared back his arm and Castiel knew he would have thrown the amulet far beyond any of their ability to find.
Castiel's voice bellowed, calling down lightning from a storm-free sky, exploding the bulb in the security light, sending cars parked nearby rocking, their theft alarms squawking, turning the darkness inside out as the shadows of his wings stretched out beyond both of their human vessels. Dean ducked, bringing his arms up in retaliation.
"Do nothing. Stand. And listen."
His voice shook through Dean; he saw his friend pull in, gathering himself in instinctive protection, eyes darting to take in the display of angelic power suddenly thrust upon him. Castiel stepped forward, working to shove the night back, focusing on the tactile, the tangible. The wet leaves clinging to the pavement. The beads of sweat rolling down Dean's left temple. The metallic smell of the amulet clutched in Dean's grip.
The very human sensations of loss and fear and need and want. The yearning for this all to be settled and for his friends – for they were so much more than assignments now – to be safe and whole and together. And the gut-twisting knowledge that he'd had the ability to stop this, control it at the very least, had he only believed.
"It was written," Castiel began, forcing himself to temper the power in his voice, to pull his wings close, "that a righteous man would break in Hell, and the first seal would be opened."
"Yeah," Dean croaked, slowly straightening up once more. Castiel watched in admiration as Dean pulled his fear inside; stilling the tremble of his hands and staring steadily back at the angel. "I got that part. How about skipping ahead to how that helps me now?"
"It wasn't supposed to be you."
Dean's jaw set and he dropped his chin, keeping his eyes on Castiel. "I know that part, too. I wasn't as strong as my dad."
Castiel shook his head. "You are stronger."
"Wait, what? I broke the seal, man. I started all this."
"And you can end it."
"How? The Devil's already out of his Cage – or haven't you been paying attention over the last year?"
"You are Michael's Sword – his chosen vessel. Adam's resurrected being will not be enough to contain him."
"Great, so you guys managed to screw over all the Winchesters," Dean snarled. "Well done."
"You were born to be Michael's vessel," Castiel continued, "but you were never meant to carry the burden of being a vessel and of being the righteous man." Castiel shook his head sadly.
"What are you saying…," Dean frowned, understanding slowly beginning to dawn. "Dad was supposed to break the seal…so that Sam and I could become meat suits for angels?"
"Basically…yes. For both to fall upon you," Castiel tilted his head, once more searching for a way to help Dean believe. "Not only are two destinies too much for one human…there is no way to fulfill both. One is the role of destruction, the other of salvation."
"Okay, now you're just talking crazy."
Castiel looked at Dean's closed fist. "The amulet finds the power of God inside the righteous."
"Oh, so I've got the power of God in me?" Dean's eyebrows bounced up, his tone sardonic. "Could've used that tidbit an hour ago, Cas."
Castiel rubbed his forehead. This was not going as well as he needed it to. He always tangled up the words, trying to find the right ones to help Dean understand. Not for the first time he wished that Dean was able to hear his true voice, the one he used that first day after watching the man claw his way from his own shallow grave. But it had nearly shattered Dean's eardrums then, and that would get him no further toward understanding now.
Looking up at Dean now he felt something inside of him tremble, remembering so many times he'd heard Dean's human heart call out for help – when he was a young child, when he was a youth, when he lost his father, when he feared for his brother. It wasn't a conscious prayer; it was simply a steady flow of please, with all thoughts on another, all hope for another, all energy focused outward.
"I failed you," Castiel said softly. "I failed you because I…I didn't believe. I still don't. But it isn't me who needs to believe, Dean. It's you."
"Believe?" Dean replied, his eyes bright, his voice fragile, echoing off the spun glass of the night. "Believe what?"
"I thought the amulet would help me find God; I searched for my Father because I wanted answers. I wanted…I wanted someone's help to fix this." Castiel kept his eyes on the ground, tracing the cracks in the asphalt, avoiding looking directly at Dean. "I found out that I was…doing it wrong. It won't work for me."
"Who told you that?"
Castiel nearly smiled at the defensive tone wrapped around Dean's words, even now, protecting his friend. "It doesn't matter."
"The hell it doesn't," Dean countered.
"Joshua," Castiel whispered. He heard Dean suck in a breath. He knew that Sam and Dean had met Joshua, knew what the angel had told them. He only wished he'd been there to tell them that the Heaven they saw wasn't his Heaven, his home. "Joshua told me."
"Joshua," Dean repeated, his tone betraying his doubt. "The gardener? That Joshua?"
"I assure you he is much more than that," Castiel replied.
Dean sighed, twisting the toe of his boot in against the damp asphalt, grinding small stones under the tread of his sole, the minute sound echoing against Castiel's sensitive ears.
"This is friggin' crazy," Dean muttered.
Castiel looked up, purposely capturing his power in his gaze, and met Dean's eyes, drawing him in. "I've watched you all your life, Dean Winchester. But I never really knew you until I saw your soul shining – like a beacon – in the depths of the darkest corner of the Pit. You led me to you, showed me the way."
"If you believe," Castiel interrupted Dean's stutter of protest, "if you really believe, you will be able to call upon the power of righteousness and save your brother from the same fate you suffered."
Dean looked down at the amulet. "With this?"
"It unites you," Castiel told him, recalling vividly the moment Sam gifted Dean with the amulet in a lonely, cold motel room. "But you have to believe."
"Believe…what?" Dean repeated.
Castiel glanced away. "In God. In His ability to work through you. In the truth that you and Sam together can prevail over the greatest evil the world has ever known. In righteousness. In each other."
Dean swallowed. "That's a lot."
Silence hung suspended between them for a moment.
"Why now, Cas?"
Castiel dropped his hands into the pockets of his trench coat, suddenly, impossibly tired. "I did not think it would work."
"Oh, but now you do?"
Castiel looked at his friend. "It doesn't matter if I do."
"It matters to me."
Castiel stepped closer to Dean. "I lost my faith, Dean. I lost my…trust. In a plan bigger than me. Than us. I felt betrayed by my family. And I didn't want to believe."
"And you were gambling on Sam and me not giving in to these bastards, that it?" Dean was watching him closely.
"I was very much against it, yes."
"Very much against it…," Dean's voice trailed off for a moment and he looked down the alley. "You beat me half to death when I tried."
"I may have been a bit over zealous."
Inexplicably, Dean's face blossomed into a small, sad grin. "Goddamn, I'm gonna miss you, Cas." He reached out his empty hand and rested it on Castiel's shoulder.
A strange burn began in Castiel's chest, working with alarming speed to this throat and eyes. He lifted his hand and reciprocated Dean's casual touch, feeling his vessel's heart begin to shake. He knew Dean was right; no matter how this ended, it was going to end. And his guardianship was over. He'd known that the moment he watched Sam Winchester's soul disappear from his eyes.
"You must be able to find Sam," Castiel instructed him, not dropping his hand even after Dean did. "Your brother's soul is still intact; he's still inside there with Lucifer. But…I must caution you: if you use the amulet, there will be consequences."
"Naturally," Dean sighed.
"I don't know the lengths to which the beacon will mark you," Castiel continued.
"Of course not."
"And you must have the strength to say a phrase in Enochian."
"All righty then."
Castiel frowned. "Why are you taking this so well?"
"Are you kidding?" Dean chuckled mirthlessly. "Cas, I just watched Lucifer take over my brother. A year ago, I didn't believe the Devil really existed and I just talked to the son of a bitch." His face slipped free of emotion and he stared hard at Castiel. "Now, if there's some spell or something I can say to help Sam, lay it on me, because I will do anything. And you know that."
Castiel nodded. He did know. It was part of the reason Dean was the only human he knew who might have a chance to actually make the amulet work. "Lonsa el balt cnila."
"It means: The power of righteousness is safe in the blood." Castiel brought his chin up. "But you have to say it in Enochian. Lonsa el balt cnila."
Dean repeated the phrase, then muttered it twice more. Gripping the amulet in his right hand, he nodded once, decisively. "I got it."
"I will give you whatever help I can," Castiel promised.
"No, Cas." Dean shook his head. "You stay away from that place. You've done enough; I don't want to lose you, too."
Castiel felt the burning surge once more and recognized it finally as tears. He never knew human tears could physically hurt. His vision blurred as he regarded his friend, and without a word, he tightened the grip he still had on Dean's shoulder, pulling Dean close against him and wrapping his other arm around Dean's side. At first Dean held himself stiffly, clearly surprised by the sudden, unexpected show of emotion. Then, tentatively, he raised his arms, gripping Castiel across the back.
"I am afraid this is the end of our journey together," Castiel said, his voice muffled against Dean's shoulder. "Thank you."
"For what?" Dean asked, holding Castiel just a bit tighter.
"For showing me the resilience of humanity." Castiel released Dean, then stepped back. "And for being my friend."
"You are the righteous man who will end this, Dean. Believe it. Believe it as you believe in family…or in the lessons your father taught you…or in this machine." Castiel nodded toward the Impala.
Dean's grin wavered slightly. Castiel could see tears swimming in Dean's eyes and knew the burn he felt in his chest was echoed in Dean's.
"Okay, man." Dean finally agreed.
"I will be there," Castiel promised. "I will give you what help I can. But it's you who has the power."
"Take care of yourself," Dean implored, helplessly, pulling Castiel in for a tight hug once more. "Get out of there if you can."
Castiel didn't reply. Dean released him and, without a backwards glance, stepped into the Impala and closed the door. As he drove away, Castiel saw that he never released his grip on the amulet. When the Impala's taillights had disappeared, Castiel regarded the night, hearing it groan again as it stretched around him. Opening his hands, palms up, he pushed at the dark, closing his eyes and illuminating the alley with bright, angelic power.
If he was anything beyond celestial energy after this battle, he would remember the texture of this night, and how easily it was held at bay by a single beam of hope.
a/n: And thus begins the alternate path for their journey. I hope you're intrigued enough by this prologue of possibilities to give the rest of the story a shot. It's probably one of the longest I've written; I look forward to your thoughts as you head down this road with me.
And if you read my SPN "Rambles," I'll be starting them up again on LiveJournal next Tuesday when our show returns. Carry on!