What Could Have Been

Chapter 21

The first seal was broken.

Once again, Cas had failed to stop the Righteous Man from shedding blood in Hell. The end had begun.

But Dean had only done it to save him. He hadn’t broken in the same way the adult Dean had. He hadn’t started the torturing that would haunt him for the rest of his days and change him on a profound level. Cas hadn’t lost him.

It was clear that Dean wasn’t okay, but he would be.

At the moment, Dean’s wellbeing was all Cas cared about. They could deal with the oncoming storm later.

“Dean?” Cas asked gently.

Dean didn’t move, still staring in horror at the carnage he had wrought.

“It was nothing he did not deserve.” In fact, a part of Cas wished that the demon had not died so quickly. After everything he had done to Dean, in this lifetime and the last, Cas would have gladly seen the pain Alastair had inflicted revisited upon him tenfold. “Do not regret what you have done, Dean. He was a monster.”

“So am I,” Dean whispered.

“No.” Cas crouched in front of Dean, breaking his gaze from the bloodied corpse. “Look at me. He hurt you. He was going to kill me. You did what you had to.”

Dean blinked, almost as though he was seeing his angel for the first time. “Cas?”

Castiel’s eyebrows creased with concern. “Yes.”

“Are you… are you real?”

“Yes, Dean.”

Dean reached out to touch Castiel’s face with trembling fingers. He let out a small gasp when he made contact with skin and tears sprung to his eyes. “You’re here. You’re really here.”

“I am,” Cas assured him. “I have come to take you home.”

“I didn’t think you were coming.”

Only two weeks had passed in Heaven. It had been five years in Hell. Dean should never have had to suffer for so long. “I am sorry. I came as quickly as I could. You know I would never abandon you, Dean.”

Dean’s hand dropped. The relief in his expression faded away to be replaced by hurt and mistrust. “But you did. Sammy was dead and you weren’t there to save him. What the hell happened to you, Cas? How could you do that to me? I’m here because of you. You left me to die.”

“Dean, it was not like that. I wanted to heal your brother. I would have, but Heaven stopped me.”

“So, what, they told you not to and you just obeyed them like a good little soldier?”

“They took me prisoner, Dean. They locked me away. They did not want to take any chances that I would go after you.”

“If they wanted me dead why didn’t they just kill me themselves?”

“Because… look, Dean, it doesn’t matter.”

Dean glared. “It matters to me. I want to know what I did to deserve this.”

“Nothing. Heaven has been corrupted, Dean. They have plans for Earth and they do not care what happens to good, innocent people along the way.”

“You’re saying that my being tortured for eternity was part of their plan?”

“No. They would have retrieved you eventually, they were just waiting for you to-”

“To what?”

Cas didn’t answer. He should not have let Dean pursue this line of questioning.

“You’re here now,” Dean said. “You came when I got off the rack. Is that what they were waiting for? They wanted me to give in to Alastair? Is they why they sent you when they did?”

“They did not send me. I escaped.”

“Why should I believe you?”

“Because it is the truth.”

“Only part of it. Tell me what is going on. I have a right to know.”

Cas had been trying to avoid telling Dean the hard truths for as long as he had known him. He justified it with the excuse that Dean was too young, or that the future might not unfold the same way this time around, or that he could somehow keep him safe from all of this. But he could not withhold the truth any longer. Dean was right; this was his life and his world and he deserved to know.

“Dean… the angels want Paradise on Earth. For that transformation to happen, the archangel Michael must defeat Lucifer in battle.”

“Lucifer, as in the Devil?”

“Yes. Long ago he was imprisoned in the depths of Hell. If he is freed the Apocalypse will begin. This is what the demons have been striving for, but until recently I was unaware that Heaven desired the same.”

“What does this have to do with me?”

“There are seals on Lucifer’s cage, like locks on a door. If 66 of them are broken, Lucifer will rise. They can break in any order, except for the first and the last.”

“Which are?”

“It is written that the first seal shall be broken when… when a Righteous Man sheds blood in Hell.”

“That makes no sense. What would a righteous man be doing in Hell?”

“Trading his life for his brother’s,” Cas said quietly.

Dean’s eyes widened. “Me? I’m not righteous!”

“No one is, entirely. But you have always tried to do what is right. You fought against evil. You laid down your life for your brother, and greater love hath no man.”

“But Cas, if that’s true, if I’m the guy that your prophecy talks about then… then the first seal is broken. I killed Alastair. I shed blood. I’m covered in blood.”

“I know.”

“I jump-started the Apocalypse?”

“I’m sorry. I tried to stop it.”

“You tried to stop me. What’s going to happen, Cas? Are people going to die? Is the world gonna end because of me?”

“I don’t know.”

“What do you mean you don’t know?”

“This is as far as we got in the other timeline, Dean. I pulled you from Hell and the demons started breaking seals while Heaven made a façade of trying to stop them. I never saw how it ended. I know you and your brother were trying to stop it, but I don’t know if you would have. I don’t know if you could.”

“You’re telling me this now? All those years you spent knowing what would happen and you didn’t think once that it might be a good idea to warn me not to spill blood down here? If I had known the fate of the world literally hung in the balance I would have fought harder, Cas!”

“I hoped it would never come to this. I was going to protect you.”

“Well you didn’t!”

“I’m sorry.”

“It’s the end of the world, Cas! You need a bigger word than sorry!”

“Dean, it’s done now. But it is not over yet. Out there the world is still turning. We can still stop this.”


“We’ll find a way.”

“Heaven and Hell are working together on this. What chance do we stand? I’m just a kid and you’re just one angel. It’s a lost cause.”

“The Dean Winchester I know would not give up so easily.”

“Maybe I’m not that guy anymore.”

Cas looked him over carefully. He was worn and tired, battered and scarred, afraid and ashamed. But though his soul was shadowed by the pain he had experienced, it still shone more brightly than most. “I do not believe that. You are stronger than you give yourself credit for, Dean.”

“I got off the rack.”

“And you were ready to ensure the rack again in order to spare me. You’re a good man, Dean, and a good friend.”

“Doesn’t make me a hero.”

“That is debatable. But regardless, there is a human saying that states ‘Demons run when a good man goes to war’.”

“I’ve never heard that.”

Cas frowned. “Maybe humans haven’t started using it yet. But the meaning holds true.”

“Alastair didn’t seem very scared of me.”

Cas eyed the demon’s corpse. “That proved to be a fatal mistake.”

“You really think we can do this?”

Cas smiled a little. “I have faith in us.”

Dean sighed. “I guess we can only try our best and hope it will be enough.”

Dean had already been through so much but he was willing to go back out there and take the weight of the world on his shoulders. If that wasn’t the mark of a true hero Cas did not know what was.

“So you got an escape route planned or are we going to sit around chin-wagging all day?” Dean asked.

“I can fly us out of here,” Cas said. “But I will have to grip you tight and it may cause you some discomfort.”

“Dude, I just spent five years under Alastair’s knife. I can handle a little more pain if that’s what it takes to get out of here.” He held out his hand for Cas to take.

Last time, Cas had snatched Dean up without his knowledge, never giving him the chance to say no, moving so fast that Dean hadn’t even known who was responsible for his resurrection. Dean’s proffered hand was a sign of trust and a mark of their friendship. Cas took it gladly.

“Just don’t drop me, okay?” Dean said.

Cas squeezed his hand in reassurance. “I won’t.”

They heard the sound of approaching footsteps moving rapidly towards them. The demons were on the move; news of Castiel’s presence must have spread.

“We should go,” Cas said.

“Yeah, good idea.”

Cas spread his wings. “Hold on.”

A demon burst into the torture chamber.

“Go, go, go, go!” Dean yelled.

With a burst of effort Cas shot off from the ground. Dean cried out in pain but Cas gritted his teeth and kept going. He felt his Grace heat up as they passed through layers of fire and brimstone and ash and he knew that he had to be burning Dean’s hand but if anything Dean gripped harder than ever. He seemed heavier than the last time, which Cas took to mean his Grace was burning out. He prayed to a Father he had lost faith in that they would make it out of Hell intact.

Cas sharpened his concentration, searching through the veil for Dean’s body on Earth. He couldn’t find it which could only mean that Dean’s parents had salted and burned his body in keeping with hunter tradition. He shifted his focus to locating Bobby’s house in Sioux Falls and began rebuilding Dean’s body from scratch. He knew Dean well by now, having watching him grow from a small child to the young man he was today, and he placed every freckle with careful precision.

Fatigue was rapidly catching up to him.

They broke through the barrier between the worlds and Cas banked hard to slow their ascent. A flood of his Grace washed over them, transforming their spiritual beings back into their physical forms, and they materialised in Bobby’s kitchen.

Unfortunately, the reason why Dean had felt heavier than expected became apparent when they landed.

Sam spat out a mouthful of breakfast cereal at the sight of them, a grin lighting up his face. “Dean! Cas, I knew you’d- What is that?!”

Cas spun.

A demon had its claws embedded in Dean’s leg.

It must have hitched a ride with them out of Hell. By all rights it should have appeared as a cloud of black smoke but Castiel’s Grace must have transformed the demon too so that its appearance in Hell had translated across into this dimension.

It was huge mass of horns and fangs and claws and twisted flesh and gleaming white eyes. “Thanks for the lift,” it hissed.

Sam screamed and bolted from the room.

Cas drew on his Grace, ready to cast the demon straight back into the Pit, but in that instant the power boost he had received from Castiel abruptly spluttered and died.

“Dean, the knife!” Cas said but Dean looked up at him with pained eyes and shook his head – he had left it back in Hell.

The demon dragged Dean closer, yanking Cas along too because he refused to let go of Dean’s hand. It perched over Dean and hissed fetid breath over his face. “I should thank you, Dean. You have opened the first lock to my Father’s prison. You have freed me from the Pit. I will be able to break the remaining seals and because of you my Father will rise in glorious majesty. At last.

Dean’s grip on Castiel’s hand turned vice-like as he struggled to pull free but every movement ripped apart his leg even more. The demon dug its claws in deeper.

“But you have also murdered one of my kind,” it growled, “and for that you must pay.”

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