The way Dean saw it, he had two choices. He could mope around feeling sorry for himself, or he could let go of the family that had rejected him and embrace his newfound freedom.
He chose the latter.
Life at Bobby’s was radically different to the way things had been at home. Dean didn’t go to school, so he didn’t have to deal with the judgemental teachers, peer pressure to fit in and be normal, pointless assignments and impossibly high expectations, but he was still learning loads from Bobby and his books. He didn’t have to worry about reinforcing the defences around the house in the dead of night because Bobby had built the place like a fortress. He didn’t have to pretend to be someone he wasn’t. He didn’t have to hide anything.
Best of all, he didn’t have to keep his friendship with Cas a secret. They didn’t have to be cooped up in his bedroom or talk in whispers or fly to far-off states where no one would recognise them just to spend time together. They chatted openly in the kitchen and in the hallway and out on the front porch, talking about anything and everything. They watched old cowboy movies on Bobby’s TV while Cas was still laid up. When Cas began feeling better they went for long walks outside to help him get his strength back. Cas watched Dean tinker with the old cars in Bobby’s salvage yard and passed Dean the different tools he needed. Once Castiel’s wound had healed over completely he offered to help with Dean’s training, so they sparred against each other as Bobby gave pointers, corrected Dean’s technique and offered praise when he showed improvement.
No one was judging them. They were free to just… be. And for the first time in a long time, Dean thought maybe he could be happy.
Only… he missed his family. He didn’t want to. He wanted to be angry with them. He wanted to say ‘good riddance’ to that chapter of his life and move on. His mother was a liar and his father was a bigot; he didn’t need them. Things were better this way.
But it was hard not to feel orphaned. Rejected. Unwanted.
Dean was a hunter. That was all he had ever wanted to be. But he hadn’t realised how much of his identity was made up of being a son and a big brother until those roles were taken from him.
He tried not to dwell on what he had lost, pulling on a smile whenever his thoughts started to wander down sad paths. But on the morning of his birthday, he couldn’t seem to muster the energy to even get out of bed. He sat on the edge of the mattress, staring down at his hands.
“It is okay to grieve you know,” Cas said quietly, coming to sit next to him. “Many years have passed and I still miss my old life sometimes.”
Dean’s shoulders slumped. “I ruined your life too, huh?”
“No, you misunderstand. I miss my brothers and sisters and my home, certainly. It is natural that I would; they were everything to me for a long time. But if I were given the choice, I would not return to the way things were.”
Dean looked at him, surprised. “You wouldn’t? But you would have your family back, and you would still be in Heaven, and your Grace wouldn’t be fading away, and you wouldn’t have to babysit me all the time…”
“In the alternate timeline, I was a soldier in a war. The world was ending. You and I had only just met, and I do not think you liked me very much.”
“What makes you think that?”
“You shot me, stabbed me, told me I didn’t exist, called angels ‘dicks’… I may have threatened you at one point.”
“You were an assignment, and I was just doing my job. I would not have been permitted to grow too close to a human in my charge. But when you changed history, you freed me to make my own choices.”
“You…chose to save me.”
“Yes. And I am glad I did. I have never had a friend before, Dean Winchester. Inasmuch as I miss Heaven, I would not trade what we have now for what my life was back then.”
Dean thought about his own family, and he thought about Cas. Yes, he was grieving, but at least he would always have his best friend. It was enough to make him smile, just a little. “Me neither.”
Then Bobby burst in with a store-bought piece of pie that had a half-melted candle stuck on top and bellowed, “HAPPY BIRTHDAY DEAN!”
Dean couldn’t help it. He grinned.
The end credits were rolling on the original Star Wars movie (one of the few VHS’s that Bobby actually owned and a classic Dean insisted that Cas had to watch) when Dean’s cell phone started to ring.
Dean pulled it out of his pocket on reflex, but hesitated to answer. Very few people had this number. Two of them were sitting in the room with him, and the others were his family.
It had been a good birthday so far. He didn’t want his little bubble of happiness to burst.
“It could be Sam calling,” Cas suggested.
“You don’t have to pick up if you don’t want to,” Bobby said.
Dean drew in a slow breath, then pressed the green button and held the cell up to his ear. “Hello?”
He stiffened. “Mom, I have nothing to say to you.” He made to hang up.
“It’s your brother, Dean-” Her voice was choked with tears.
A cold fist of fear clenched around his heart. “What about Sam?”
“Dean, he’s - he’s been in an accident.”
Dean’s grip on the phone tightened until his knuckles turned white. “How bad?”
“He’s in surgery right now. They had to cut him out of the car, Dean – he was driving, and we don’t know what happened but he must have lost control – the cops think he must have been travelling at 60 when he hit the tree-”
“He was driving?! What the hell-”
“He took the Impala. He was upset this morning about – about your birthday, and he snuck out when we weren’t looking. By the time we realised he had gone…”
“He’s twelve! What was he thinking?”
“We - we think he might have been trying to find you. He cleaned out your bedroom before he left, and the car was supposed to – it was supposed to be your birthday present.”
Dean couldn’t listen to this. This couldn’t be happening. “He’s going to be okay, though, right?”
“The doctors don’t know. They’re trying-”
“That’s not good enough! They have to save him! That’s their job!”
“They can’t work miracles. Dean, your brother might be – he might be dying.”
“He’s not going to die, you hear me? I’m coming. I’m coming right now. You take care of him until I get there, alright?”
“Dean, there’s nothing any of us can do…”
“Maybe you can’t. But I can. Cas can.”
Mom’s breath caught. “The angel?”
“Yeah. My angel.”
“Okay. Okay. But hurry, Dean. Please.”
Dean hung up and turned to his angel, glaring out through a sheen of tears. “You’re taking me back to Lawrence. Now.”
“Sam’s hurt. He’s hurt pretty bad. The doctor’s say – but it doesn’t matter. You’re going to fix him.”
“Dean, my Grace – I don’t know if I can-”
“You’re going to fix him!” Dean yelled. “This is my brother we’re talking about!”
“Okay. Okay, I will try, but Dean I can’t promise-”
“I don’t want to hear it! Take me to Sam. Now!”
Cas pressed two fingers against Dean’s forehead and within seconds they were standing in the waiting room of Lawrence Memorial Hospital. Ignoring the startled reactions of the people around him Dean ran to the reception desk. “Sam Winchester, where is he?”
“I’m sorry, I can’t disclose any patient information to-”
“I’m his brother! Winchester. Car crash victim. Where is he?”
The woman typed agonisingly slowly on her computer keyboard. “Winchester… here it is. He’s in surgery at the moment-”
“You won’t be able to go in there, but I can direct you to the emergency waiting room, it is on the east side of the hospital, just head on through those double doors and down the corridor-”
Dean was already off and running. He reached the emergency waiting room within a minute but didn’t stop there, bursting through the doors that said “Restricted Access: Medical Personnel only.”
He checked three rooms before he found Sam. He was barely recognisable beneath the blood and bruises, but their parents were already inside, clutching each other, faces stricken-
Sam was flat-lining.
The surgeon yelled “Clear!” and used defibrillation paddles to deliver an electric shock that jolted Sam’s body off the table. The heart-monitor showed a jagged heart beat but it didn’t hold.
“Charging 80. Clear!”
“Charging 100. Clear!”
Sam’s body collapsed back onto the table and his head lolled.
The surgeon started doing CPR manually while a nurse pushed oxygen through a face mask.
Dad was yelling and four nurses dragged him back, threatening to expel him from the room. Mom was sobbing.
Eternities seemed to pass as the surgeon attempted to pump life back into Sam’s body. But eventually he slowed, then stopped. He shook his head.
Dean couldn’t hear him, but his lips formed the words “I’m sorry.”
Tears welled up in Dean’s eyes but he fiercely dashed them away. It didn’t matter. Doctors were powerless, but they didn’t have an angel on call. Sam was going to be fine.
“Okay, Cas, show time.”
Dean turned around. “Cas? Cas!”
But the corridor was empty, and he received no reply.
Cas whirled around, shocked by the sudden change in his surroundings. He wasn’t in the hospital anymore. He wasn’t on Earth anymore.
He was in Heaven.
The angel Zachariah stood before him. A small, smug smile tugged at his vessel’s lips. “Long time no see.”
“Whatever this is about, it can wait,” Cas said. “I have to go.”
Zachariah snapped his fingers and two more angels appeared to seize Castiel’s arms.
“I’m sorry, Castiel, but you are not going anywhere.”
Castiel struggled to free himself but the angels held firm. He turned pleading eyes on his ex-boss. “You don’t understand. I’m needed. This is an emergency-”
“Oh, I’m well aware of the situation. Your pet human wants you to heal his brother.”
“Sam is dying. I can save him.”
“That’s debatable, in your condition. Whether you could or not is a moot point, though, I’m afraid.”
“What do you mean?”
“I mean that after all these years Heaven is finally giving its wayward son new orders. You are not to heal Sam Winchester.”
“Destiny. You interfered once with nearly disastrous consequences. We cannot allow you to do so again.”
“But an innocent boy’s life is at stake!”
“Oh, I am confident that Sam Winchester will be just fine.”
“Didn’t you hear me? He is dying!”
“Actually, I think he will be confirmed medically deceased in three… two… one… ah yes, the human doctors are finally ‘calling it’. Adorable, isn’t it, the way these overgrown apes think they can cheat death? But fate cannot be changed.”
“Fate? Sam is not meant to die in his twelfth year of life! He is only a child!”
“True. But thanks to you it looks like the timetable has shifted. He’s dead now and the wheels of destiny have been set in motion.”
“What are you talking about?”
“You should know. You were there the last time this happened.”
“Little brother Sammy was stabbed in the back. The knife cut straight through his spinal cord. The life drained out of him in seconds. He died in his brother’s arms. Any of this ringing a bell?”
“That won’t happen again. I’ll make sure of it.”
“It doesn’t have to. Don’t you see? Sam is already dead. Dean is devastated, naturally, and his pet angel is nowhere to be found. Whatever will he do…?”
Cas realised the implications and he had been in his vessel so long by now that human physiological reactions to shock, horror and grief kicked in automatically – his breath caught, his eyes widened, his heart hammered painfully in his chest and moisture stung in the corners of his eyes. “No.”
“It’s inevitable, I’m afraid.”
“No. I can stop it. I can save him. Knowing what we know now, we can stop the first seal from ever breaking. We can prevent the apocalypse!”
“Oh sure. We could, absolutely. Unfortunately that is not on our agenda.”
Castiel’s hands balled into fists. “Then what is?” he growled.
“Paradise. This miserable planet has been spinning on its axis for far too long, spiralling deeper and deeper into a black pit of violence, iniquity and despair. The time has come for the Great Cleansing. Evil and pestilence will be purged from this world, washed away in a sea of blood, leaving nothing but peace and purity in their place. Angels will descend and the Righteous shall prosper. It shall be Paradise, my boy, and it shall be glorious.”
“You want the apocalypse to happen. You want Lucifer to rise.”
“Of course. Michael and Lucifer must fight in the Great Battle that has been long foretold, and for that to happen we need Dean and Sam Winchester to play their roles.”
“You want Dean to break the first seal.”
“Now you’re getting it!”
“But he is just a child! He has done nothing to deserve this!”
“I should hope not,” Zachariah chuckled, “or he wouldn’t make for a very good Righteous Man, would he? He only barely met the criteria last time, but young and innocent as he is? Perfect, simply perfect. He should even break faster this time.”
Castiel couldn’t believe what he was hearing. “Our mission is to defend humanity, not to throw children to the wolves.”
“Sacrifices must be made for the greater good.”
“The greater good? I see nothing but evil here!”
“Oh Castiel, your time with the humans has warped your perceptions. Do not worry. When Paradise comes you will see that we were right.”
“I won’t let you do this!”
“Of course you won’t. That’s why I have taken every precaution.” Zachariah snapped his fingers and chains appeared to bind Castiel’s wrists and ankles. “Some time-out in prison should help you reassess your priorities. Be glad Castiel – when you are released in, oh, let’s say a few hundred years, you will emerge into Paradise.”
But Heaven’s prison sprung up around him and the gate slammed shut.
In the sudden, deafening silence, Castiel could hear a distant cry.