Author's Note - I started this after 9/06 (convenience store episode), but the show is actually tracking pretty well with it, so this fic is now officially based off of 9/09 (midseason break). (edit: show is still tracking with it, and it turns out it works from 9/12 pretty well.) It takes place several months later, the following September. Crowley is still in the basement, poor Kevin is gone, Gadreel was kicked out of Sam months ago; canon-compliant, no slash, strong friendship themes throughout. Hope you enjoy!
"Sam, you ever heard of that name Crowley mentioned? 'Castiel'? " said Dean. "Crowley seemed to think it was so goddam hilarious we didn't recognize the name."
Dean was sitting on an ancient green vinyl chair in their room at the Teton Pass Motel, staring out the motel window at the pine trees outside. He'd been sitting there for some ten minutes, ever since they'd checked in, while Sam had brought in his notes and laptop from the Impala. The sun had sunk below the mountains some time ago, and the pines around the motel were barely visible now against the twilight sky, but Dean was still just gazing out the window.
Sam looked up from the map of Wyoming that he was spreading out on the rickety linoleum table. "Crowley might have just been messing with us."
"He's definitely messing with us. He's always messing with us," agreed Dean. He sighed, finally turning away from the window and getting up from the chair. "Thing is, it just sounded kind of familiar."
They'd just pulled into the tiny mountain town of Wilson, Wyoming, after a long day's drive across Nebraska. In theory they were here investigating a case - three hikers had been found dead in nearby Grand Teton National Park, with their eyes missing. But Sam and Dean had had a rather distracting conversation with Crowley the evening before. They'd gone down to Crowley's cell to try to get a few more demon names out of him before their road trip, and partway through the interrogation, Crowley had lost his temper and snapped "Why don't you just go ask Castiel? He probably knows more demons than I do at this point."
When neither Sam nor Dean recognized the name, Crowley had at first looked baffled. And then he'd burst into laughter. He'd laughed so hard he'd had to gasp for breath; he'd laughed so hard tears streamed from his eyes. Once he'd finally calmed down he'd said, suddenly cold and grim, "So, if you really don't know who Castiel is, I'll tell you. Castiel is a mass murderer and a doublecrossing bastard, and he's nearly got you both killed a dozen times at least, and that is the honest truth. So. Free piece of advice for you, boys. You really ought to find and kill that murderous son of a bitch, before he kills you first."
He'd shut up after that and had refused to say another word. Sam and Dean had eventually just left him chained in his dark cell, and had started packing for the Wyoming trip. They'd left early the next morning.
A long twelve-hour drive later, here they were in Wyoming - but unable to focus on the case.
Dean was walking across the motel room now, pacing slowly from the little linoleum table toward the bison mural that took up the entire back wall of the room. Sam watched him, frowning. It was never a good sign when Dean started pacing.
"Didn't realize you were thinking about that Crowley thing," said Sam. "You were pretty quiet on the drive here."
"Eh, you were asleep most of the time anyway," said Dean. "And what's there to talk about." He had reached the back wall of the room and was staring vacantly at the life-size painted bison, apparently not even noticing it was there. Finally he turned to look directly at Sam for the first time all day. "Ok, Sam, to be honest, that name, Castiel, it's kind of bugging me. Haven't we heard that name before? Somewhere?"
Sam eyed Dean for a moment, and then pushed the Wyoming map aside, pulled out his laptop, and flipped it open. He looked back at Dean a bit sheepishly. "It was bugging me too, actually. So last night after we left Crowley, I spent a little time in the library."
"Looking for that name?" Dean guessed.
"Looking for that name."
"Oh - and let me guess, by 'a little time in library' you mean you were up half the night, don't you. That's why you conked out in the car today?"
Sam looked embarrassed. "Yeah."
"And I found it. It took a while, but I found it. Castiel." Sam glanced down at the laptop and tapped a few keys, opening up several images of old documents. "And guess where I found it: in some of the oldest sources. Some of the Apocrypha. Some of the Dead Sea Scrolls, even. And some stuff even further back."
"Which means what exactly?"
"Dean, those sources are from back when there were angels on Earth. Turns out 'Castiel' is the name of an angel."
Dean rolled his eyes. "Of course it'd be an angel. I should've guessed. Anything bad these days always turns out to be an angel."
Sam nodded. "Yeah, and, unfortunately this one's especially bad." He glanced down at the images on the screen. "Seems like this Castiel was pretty badass in the old days. One of the really powerful angels. Check out some of these illustrations." He turned the laptop toward Dean and pointed to a dramatic gilded illustration from an old illuminated manuscript. Dean leaned closer to look.
It was a beautiful illustration, painstakingly detailed. An angel was shown hovering in a whirling wind. Massive wings were spread behind him, every feather perfect and gleaming, and a great cloud of silver sparks was showering down around him. In one hand the angel was brandishing a silver sword, and from the other hand a tremendous beam of silver light was shooting down to the ground below. His eyes were gleaming eerily with silver light, the expression on his face cold and fierce. The sparks, sword and the angel's eyes had been coated in fine hammered silver leaf so that the whole angel seemed to be glittering.
Below him, people were cowering in terror on the ground as the silver sword and the great ray of light descended toward them. They were covering their ears, they were screaming, and flames were shooting from their eyes. Tiny dark demons were scuttling toward the sides, their bodies bursting into flame. On the horizon an entire town was burning.
An ornate inscription below the image said "CASTIEL".
"Oh, he looks friendly," said Dean.
"Yeah. Real old-school type. Brought visions, smote the wicked, drove out demons. Purified cities, and you know what that means. Full on soldier-of-God type stuff, thunder and lightning, the works. Basically a hell of a scary guy."
"Archangel?" asked Dean.
"No, not an archangel, as far as I could tell. A couple sources say he's a seraph, not that it's ever been clear what that means exactly. Pretty high up, though, that's clear. One of the commanders or something. Though it seems like he hasn't been down here in a couple thousand years - all the lore on him is really ancient. But, Dean, here's the thing: he fell from Heaven recently."
Dean raised an eyebrow. "You mean, last year? All the angels fell last year."
"No, before that," said Sam. "About four years ago, I think. I called around, late last night, and got some intel from a couple other hunters. Some of them have heard angels talking, and what they heard is that this Castiel went into full-on Lucifer mode right around the time of the Apocalypse. Totally rebelled, got cast out of Heaven. Nobody seems to be sure if he was working with Lucifer or what. And then, after the Apocalypse, he actually tried to take over as God and killed a ton of people. Even killed a ton of angels."
Dean whistled. "Ambitious. That takes some major mojo."
"Yup. This guy plays big. And then, get this." Sam looked up at Dean, very serious. "He's apparently the one who cast the angels out of Heaven."
Dean pulled one of the green vinyl chairs closer, and sat down next to Sam. He looked again at the glittering angel in the ancient illustration, and the people cowering below.
"Why haven't we heard about him?" asked Dean.
"Well, maybe that's why Crowley was so amused. Seems like Castiel's a major player that we've just missed entirely. But, Dean, it's not like our memories from then are really all that reliable, you know?" Sam's mouth twisted ruefully.
Dean was silent. They'd both been disturbed recently to discover that there were a lot of puzzling gaps in their memories of the last several years. Neither could seem to remember the details of some key events - like how they'd each gotten out of Hell, or how exactly Sam had gotten rid of the Lucifer-ghost that had been driving him mad. Comparing notes, they'd then realized there were several other times that they seemed to remember differently. Sam, for example, was positive it was Dean who'd tossed the holy fire at Michael, while Dean was sure it had been Bobby. And since nobody else had been there, they had been unable to figure out whose memory was right.
There were a lot of pieces missing. And they didn't know why.
"Anyway," went on Sam, "If we can believe Crowley - "
"Which we probably can't," said Dean.
" - which we probably can't, this Castiel's a bad one and we may have to kill him. "
Dean pushed the laptop back toward Sam, and said tiredly, "Why can't we ever catch a friggin' break? Now we've got to take out some kind of badass new Lucifer? Wasn't the old Lucifer enough?"
Sam grimaced and shrugged. They both stared at the picture of the angel Castiel for a few moments. Sam went on, "So... I was thinking I'd take a little time tonight to read through a bit more of the angel-lore I brought. Maybe try to learn a bit more about seraphs, or something. See if there's any more info at all about this guy."
Dean nodded. "You want some help? I could do a bit of the reading. "
Sam looked sharply at Dean, eyebrows raised. He said with a little laugh, "You feeling ok?"
Dean glared at him. "Hey, no fair. I've done plenty of research. You know, um... sometimes."
"When you're at gunpoint," Sam said, snorting. He looked at Dean a moment longer, and gave him a little smile. "This must really be bugging you if you're volunteering for research. But never mind, I got it covered. And, Dean, truth is, you looked like crap this morning and you still kind of look like crap. And you've been looking like crap for a while now. Maybe you should get some sleep."
"I'm fine," said Dean automatically. And then he stifled a yawn. Sam snickered.
"All right, all right," said Dean, rolling his eyes. "Nap time then. Happy? Want to tuck me in?"
Sam snorted again, said, "Just don't snore too loud, dude," and returned to the laptop. Dean kicked off his shoes and lay back on one of the beds, staring at the cracked plaster of the ceiling.
"Castiel," he heard Sam mutter softly, as he typed the name into a search engine.
Dean frowned. The name was definitely kind of strange. He felt virtually certain he'd heard it somewhere before. But where? Maybe he'd heard the name back before their memories had gone all fuzzy...
He was just too tired to pursue the thought, for sleep seemed to be dragging him down almost the moment he closed his eyes. He'd just been feeling just so very tired recently.
He turned onto his side, flung an arm over his eyes and dropped instantly into sleep.
The dream unfolded as it always did. Dean was walking through long corridors in a huge dark house, alone. He was looking for something. It was something very important, something that he had lost, something that he absolutely needed to find.
Dean was not clear on exactly what it was, but he felt sure that if he searched long enough, he would find it.
He had his trusty shotgun in one hand, and he was wearing his favorite old leather jacket, the one that he'd somehow lost last year. He patted the pockets; he could feel his .45 securely in place in his underarm holster, two extra magazines in the inside pocket, extra shotgun shells in one front pocket, and a heavy box of salt jammed into the other front pocket. Plus, the demon-blade was tucked in a sheath on his belt. That ought to be plenty; it really ought to. Yet Dean could not shake a nagging feeling that he was not prepared. He patted the .45 again for reassurance, tried to put the worries aside, and began to check the house. Surely he would soon find...whatever it was.
He began on the first floor, and went from room to room methodically, walking through several huge dark rooms that seemed full of overstuffed furniture and cluttered with little sculptures and knick-knacks. He checked carefully around each piece of furniture, the shotgun at the ready. He looked in every corner; he checked every closet. But nobody was there. In fact, it looked like nobody had been in the house in years. All the rooms were silent and dark, lit only by the moonlight streaming silently in the windows. All the furniture and knick-knacks were coated with a thick layer of dust, all paintings on the walls obscured with dark grime. The cupboards in the kitchens were empty, their doors hanging open.
The place was deserted, and the only sound was the creaking of the floorboards under Dean's feet.
And no matter how much he searched, he could not find the whatever-it-was that he was looking for.
Dean felt sure he must have missed something. He began all over, starting in the front room again. This room had a huge fireplace, with a large painting mounted in a tarnished silver frame above the mantel. The painting seemed to be of an angel that was hovering above a crowd of people, and it looked a little bit familiar. But it was so coated with grime from the fireplace that the angel was virtually unrecognizable, its wings and face completely obscured.
Dean frowned, stepping closer to try to get a clearer look. He noticed a little marble statuette of an angel on the mantel just below the painting, and he touched it gently. It was much unsteadier than it looked, and when he touched it, it immediately tipped over and fell to the flagstone hearth with an echoing crash.
"Dammit," whispered Dean to himself, flinching at the noise. He listened carefully as the echoes faded, but the house was silent and still as always.
He crouched to pick up the little angel, and found that both its wings had broken off. This seemed a pity, and Dean spent a few pointless moments seeing if he could fit the pieces of the broken wings back onto the angel, before he realized he didn't have any glue. There was no way to fix it. He sighed and stood to put the statuette back on the mantel. But it wouldn't stand straight and kept threatening to tip over again, so he finally put it down on the hearth again, next to the fragments of its broken wings.
"Sorry," he whispered to the little angel.
He walked on to the next room, feeling peculiarly bothered by the fact that he'd had to leave the little broken angel alone on the floor.
Then he heard a distant growl.
"Ah, tonight it's going to be hellhounds," muttered Dean aloud. "Great." He was dimly aware now that he'd been here before, and that sometimes there were other things in the house - ghosts, vampires, demons. But tonight it was hellhounds. He listened carefully, trying to figure out where the growl was coming from. He tiptoed back out into the wide central hallway, where there stood a broad staircase that led up to the second floor.
Again he heard that low rumbling growl. Now he could hear it was coming from a room across the hallway.
And from another direction entirely, from the back of the house, he heard the ticking of claws on the tiled floor in the kitchen.
Two hellhounds, then.
Dean exhaled slowly, trying to stay calm.
He hated hellhounds with a passion, and he especially hated facing them alone. He always had to fight down a rise of panic whenever he heard that distinctive growl.
Then he heard a third growl, coming from near the front door. Three. Three hellhounds that had him surrounded. "Damn, damn, damn," muttered Dean, hefting his shotgun. He tiptoed rapidly to the base of the staircase. Shafts of moonlight were shining through a small stained-glass window in the stairwell, dimly illuminating the carpeted wooden steps, and Dean darted up the stairs as quietly as he could. At the top, in the second floor hallway, he checked his shotgun, and was shocked to find that it was unloaded. He pulled out the .45, and discovered it was unloaded too. Dean rummaged through his pockets, pulling out the shotgun shells and the magazines for the .45, and stared at them in disbelief: the shells were just empty casings, and the two magazines were empty. Heart sinking, Dean pulled out the box of salt. It had felt heavy earlier, bumping against his side as he'd walked through the first-floor rooms, but now it felt far too light. He shook it upsidedown, and just a few tiny grains of salt trickled out.
Dean muttered "Crap," dropped the empty salt box and the useless guns, and pulled out the demon-knife from its sheath on this belt. This was the best weapon for hellhounds anyway.
But the demon-knife felt strange in his hand. He looked down at it, puzzled, and saw it was beginning to rust rapidly. In moments it was completely covered with rust, and then it flaked to dust in his hands.
The growls were closer. The hellhounds were coming up the stairs. Dean's mouth went dry. He shook the rust flakes from his hand and began backing down the hallway.
They began to bark.
Dean turned and sprinted down the long hallway. The hellhounds had really caught his scent now. He couldn't see them, of course, but he could hear them: that deafening thunderous barking and growling, and the heavy paws galloping up the stairs and pounding down the hallway after him. Dean bolted into a large room at the end of the hallway, heart pounding. He slammed the door shut, shoved a heavy wooden bureau in front of the door, and backed away, breathing hard, staring at the door.
The hellhounds slammed into the door with a earsplitting thunder of throaty barks. The doorframe shattered immediately and the door began to edge open, the bureau shuddering and scraping slowly across the floor. Dean threw his full body weight against the bureau, trying to hold it in place to keep the door closed. But ragged gaps began appearing in the shaking door, as the hellhounds began to shred their way directly through the upper panels of the door.
"Sam?" Dean yelled, his voice shaky. "Anybody?"
But Sam wasn't there. Nobody answered.
Dean watched helplessly as the door began to fail. He looked around, searching for some kind of weapon, and realized there was absolutely nothing in the room. The room seemed freakishly empty, completely devoid of furniture other than the single bureau that he'd shoved in front of the door. There was nothing useful anywhere - no handy iron poker, nothing he could use as a club, not even a chair he could throw. Nothing. He was alone, he was unarmed, and he was trapped.
And he was frightened.
The bureau began to topple over, and Dean had to step back. The door shattered, bursting open in a spray of splinters. Dean whispered aloud, "Help me. Please. "
Even as he said the words, he knew that he'd said them before. This was a dream, and he'd been here before, and this was where the dream always ended up: with Dean desperate, alone, and praying aloud for help.
Time suddenly wound down. The wood splinters that had been whipping through the air slowed and then stopped entirely, frozen in mid-air. The falling bureau seemed suspended in midair too. Then the walls receded, accelerating away, the door shrinking into the far distance and vanishing in a distant gloom. The hellhounds' growls faded away. The edges of the room faded to black, till it seemed that Dean was standing alone in a soft spotlight, in absolute silence, with the edges of the room shrouded in darkness.
It was so quiet he could hear his own heart beating.
Abruptly Dean knew there was something just behind him. Something that had been there all along.
Dean said hoarsely, "I'm dreaming. It's that dream again." He knew what would happen next. If he turned too fast and tried to look directly at whatever was behind him, there would be nothing there.
So instead he turned very, very slowly. He turned just his head, until he could just catch a glimpse of the whatever-it-was in his peripheral vision, taking care not to look directly at it.
It was a man. There was a man standing a few feet behind him, standing silent in the gloom at the edge of the room. Dean inched his head a bit further around, hardly daring to breathe. As always, he could only make out a few details. A tan coat of some kind. Oh yeah, there's always that coat, thought Dean wildly. Black shoes. A hand, hanging quietly by the man's side.
The man was still as a statue. He seemed to be looking toward Dean, but his face was completely obscured in shadow. Dean could not resist trying to get a clearer look, and he turned all the way around. That did it; the dream evaporated, and Dean woke with a gasp on the motel bed.
Sam was looking at him. "Dean, you ok?"
"Yeah, yeah. Fine."
Dean drew a shaky breath.
Sam was still staring at him.
"What." Dean said flatly, sitting up and rubbing his face. He was embarrassed to find that his eyes had somehow teared up. He turned away from Sam, trying to wipe his eyes discreetly, and then stood and went to the sink to splash water on his face.
Sam watched as Dean splashed his face a few times and then grabbed a hand-towel. The towel made a whuff sound as Dean pulled it off the towel-rack, and Dean jerked in surprise and peered at the mirror closely. There was nothing there. He looked behind him, gazed around the room in obvious confusion, and looked in the mirror again.
"You sure you're all right?" said Sam.
"Sure," said Dean sharply, blotting his face dry. "I'm fine. You get your reading done? Find anything?"
Sam didn't answer. Dean cleared his throat, went to the minifridge in the room's tiny kitchenette, and pulled out two beers. Wordlessly he handed one to Sam, and then sat back down on the bed and twisted the cap off of his.
"What's the dream about?" Sam said eventually.
"What dream?" Dean asked, taking a swig of beer.
Sam sighed. "Dean, every single time we've been at a motel recently, you've been exhausted and you've fallen asleep early and then you're flailing around on the bed and then you jerk awake. And then you don't get back to sleep and you're exhausted the next day, and pretty cranky too, just by the way. And it happens every time we share a room at a motel, so I'm betting it happens every night at the bunker too. You're having nightmares, aren't you?"
Dean glowered at him.
"And also, you're talking in your sleep."
Dean looked a bit worried at that. "Uh... what was I saying?"
Sam smiled faintly, and said, "You always say something like, Please help me."
Dean was unable to meet Sam's eyes. He took another swig of beer and grumbled, "Can't a guy just have a nightmare in peace for once? Without getting grilled about it?"
"I just wanted to check and see what was up. If we're going to work this case, I need to know if you're on your game."
"I'm fine. It's nothing," said Dean gruffly. "Just a stupid dream. Just, you know, basic hunter dream, being chased, you know, the usual."
Sam was still looking at him.
"There's always this guy in a coat behind me," added Dean. The second the words came out of his mouth he grimaced, annoyed at himself for having said anything. He took another swallow of his beer.
"Guy in a coat?" said Sam slowly, frowning.
Dean sighed. "Guy in a tan coat. Like a raincoat or something. Just sort of hovering around behind me. Look, it's not even a bad dream, it's just the same dream over and over. Something's chasing me, but then it stops, and there's some guy in a coat standing behind me, and I can't get a clear look at him. No big deal."
Sam was staring intently at Dean now.
"Quit looking at me like that," snapped Dean. "I'm fine. It's not even a bad dream."
"It's not even scary really, I'm just tired of having the same dream over and over."
"I'm fine. Really. Fine."
"Dean, I've had the same dream."
They stared at each other.
Sam amended, "Well, slightly different. In mine he's not standing behind me. He's usually a long way away and he's always walking away. And I've only had the dream a couple times. But, same kind of thing, the dream's about something else entirely, and then the dream sort of stops and there's this guy in a coat. Walking away. I keep asking him who he is and he never answers. It's not a bad dream, it's just..." He trailed off.
"Spooky?" suggested Dean.
Outside the motel, the stars had come out. There were almost no streetlights here, and few houses; there were just the black hulking hills of the Tetons pressed close around, the dark shapes of the pines around the motel, and the bright starry sky overhead. The winding road that headed past the motel and up to the mountain pass was very quiet at this time of night.
Yet there was one man standing at the edge of the road, just outside the glow of the motel's single streetlight. He was looking at the motel. Or, to be more precise, he was looking at the Impala.
He was thin, and he looked tired, and he was not dressed well for an autumn in the mountains. He did have a jacket, at least, a well-worn leather jacket. But it didn't fit well; it was a little too big, the sleeves slightly too long. He had no hat or gloves, he had only thin jeans and cheap shoes, and he was shivering, clutching the jacket tightly around him.
Despite the shivering, he stood there for many long minutes, just looking at the Impala, and at the brightly lit window of the motel room just behind it.
At last he shook his head, as if reaching a decision. A brisk wind had sprung up, chilly mountain air pouring over the pass. He clutched the jacket tighter as he turned and left the motel. He began to trudge up the winding mountain road, his head down against the icy wind, and soon he disappeared into the darkness.
A/N - If you enjoyed or have comments (positive or negative), please review! I really love to get feedback on what worked and what didn't. Or, just say hi. :)