In Which John Winchester First Meets Castiel
Chapter 1 – In Which John Winchester First Meets Castiel
None of this would have even been an issue if he'd had just a little more grace, Castiel thought with a touch of irritation as he advanced on the demons with blade in hand. Not that he was complaining; his grace had been more than fair payment to rescue Sam from the Cage, and given the chance to go back, he would have made the same choice.
Still, smiting these two foul creatures to Hell would have been so much more efficient. That was beyond his abilities now, though.
"Dean! Sam!" Castiel called out over his shoulder without taking his eyes off the retreating demons. It was doubtful that they would hear him in time to come help corral these two; they were still on the other side of the ramshackle power plant, trying to track down some clues as to why the people of Rockport, Idaho were going insane.
"Look, leave us alone," one of the demons whined, both of them retreating further under the rusted catwalks in a clear attempt to put more distance between themselves and the angel. "We ain't hurtin' nobody!"
"We're just two low level nobodies!" the other insisted as it ducked behind its partner. "We ain't got nothin' to do with Lucifer!"
"Lucifer's been back in the Cage for two months already," Castiel reminded them with annoyed disdain, continuing to advance on the pair. Their hideous true faces creased with terror – low level indeed. "You really think that's any concern?"
"Come on, just let us go!" the first pleaded, its whimper not touching Castiel's heart in the slightest. If they would just hold still, he could get them with his blade. "Whoever's messing with these hicks ain't with us!"
This time Castiel did slow to a stop, squinting at the pair of demons with suspicion and thoughtfulness. If they knew something about this case, some information would be useful. Currently, the Winchesters had no leads at all, other than that the last victim had been found at this power plant, out of use for the last thirty years or so. It wasn't much to go on.
"What is it, then?" he growled.
The demons took the opportunity to duck behind a curtain of clunky chains draped down over the dilapidated rail of the level above. "Don't know!" one of them squeaked.
Castiel's eyes narrowed. "Then you aren't much use to me."
"Do you know something or not?"
The frightened demons were blubbering now, clamoring to tell what they knew – which seemed to amount to nothing at all, beyond that they had heard what was happening and had hoped to find someone stronger than themselves to join up with. Castiel couldn't help rolling his eyes. It was a human trait that he'd picked up from the Winchesters, now that he was spending so much time with them. After all, returning to Heaven was utterly out of the question. Raphael would have his head for his part in averting the Apocalypse.
Patience gone, Castiel drew himself up with a ferocious glare. Intensity burned in his face, the tattered remnants of his grace heating up to illuminate his body in a brilliant glow. He no longer had the power to smite the vile creatures, but when the lights flashed in the power plant again, he could see the demons cringe away with terror in their eyes as they looked beyond him to the shadows of once-glorious wings covering the wall.
Perhaps those wings were no longer the marvel they had been; Castiel himself would never turn to look, unable to bear the sight of the now skeletal appendages, wrecked feathers still continuing to drift like ghosts to the ground. He was hardly vain, but they were a visible reminder of the power he no longer had to protect his friends. Castiel had known the price well before he was asked to pay it, though.
Besides… the sight was clearly no less terrifying. The angel's radiantly blue eyes burned with righteous fury, and he took one more step towards the hapless pair.
"Tell me what I need to know!"
The demons scrambled backwards, clawing each other out of the way to avoid the wrath of the angel. They seemed to have nothing more to say.
Even with only a fraction of his grace remaining, Castiel was more than a match for two low level demons. He lunged forward with thunder in his lightning eyes. Two swift strokes was all it took for a warrior of his skill; two strokes, and light burst from the demons, white hot with hellfire. The dying echoes of their screams ricocheted off the crumbling metal of the power plant and the dead vessels dropped to the ground with dull splats of flesh on concrete.
Instantly, pain burst in his chest, and Castiel closed his eyes. His sword arm dropped as he clutched at his head with his free hand. The agony… the torment he brought on others… the human bodies he had just killed…
"Let me show you, brother… you are every bit the monster that I am. Let me show you every ounce of pain you have caused others in your lifetime, and you tell ME who is the monster."
Two months after escaping with Sam from the Cage, Castiel could still remember, could still feel Lucifer's condemning fire consuming his being, killing him over and over and over with the cumulative pain of every death his own hands had ever wrought.
It was a phantom pain now, the ghostly echo of an agony that existed only in his memory of Hell – very different from the very physical, very real pain that suddenly erupted from his back in fiery streaks.
Castiel gasped, whirling around as he instinctively raised his weapon and reached a hand over his shoulder. His fingertips brushed the leather bound hilt of a dagger at the same time that his eyes registered the attacker who had sneaked up and plunged it into his back. Castiel stopped dead in his tracks.
Of all the faces he'd expected he might see, John Winchester's had never been one of them.
"Silver knife doesn't do it, huh?" John snapped, his hooded gaze focused in on the angel with single-minded intensity. He'd already danced back, posture set into a ready crouch. From within his coat, the Winchester whipped out a machete, of all things. "Then let's see how you do without a head."
To say that Castiel was baffled wouldn't have come close to the extent of his shock. His first thought was that perhaps this was another demon, playing games with him, but he didn't see any tell-tale mutilated true face of a hellish beast. But how and why could John Winchester possibly be here?
His second, dry thought was that he was getting tired of Winchesters stabbing him upon their first encounters. Castiel pulled the dagger from his back, still staring, as his body sluggishly started to heal itself.
"Don't think I've had the pleasure," John grunted, voice even but every line of his face filled with wrath. "I don't think I'm interested, either." He darted forward, machete raised with clear intent; Castiel side-stepped quickly, his natural speed one of the few remaining gifts that he had.
Beheading an angel wouldn't kill them, of course, but healing from that would be highly inconvenient in his state, and if this was truly John Winchester then Castiel had no intention of actually fighting him.
"Hold still, monster!"
"Wait… I'm not a monster-"
John didn't bother responding; he simply spun around and rushed back in, machete at the ready to take Castiel's head off. The angel ducked back again, his angel blade in one hand and John's dagger in the other. He raised neither, afraid that in the chaos, one might actually wound his friends' father. They couldn't do this dance forever, though. How could he get through to the mysteriously revived hunter that even though he glowed and had wings – shabby as they were – he was neither a monster nor a threat?
Looking over John's back, Castiel suddenly straightened. There were Dean and Sam, finally, pounding towards them with fury in their faces. He held out a hand warningly. "It's alright!" he yelled.
"Get away from him!"
Dean couldn't see that it was his father, Castiel realized, and why would he assume that it was? "Wait, Dean!"
At the sound of his son's voice, and then his name, John's eyes narrowed. "Dean?!" he shouted over his shoulder, machete still extended towards Castiel threateningly. "That you?!"
The two boys stumbled to a crashing halt, Sam colliding with Dean as they stared at John with open shock in their eyes. Their mouths hung open, expressions showing a war between desperate hope and absolute fury.
"What is that thing?!" Dean bellowed. His gun was held aloft, but the barrel was pointed straight at John. Castiel's eyes widened – of course their first assumption would be that it was a monster assuming John's form – and he raised a hand.
At the same time, John yelled back to them, "I'm not sure, but silver doesn't work! Go, boys, get out of here! I'll hold it off!"
"What?" Sam looked from John to Castiel, uncertainty ripe in his features. "Hold…?"
"Someone better tell me what the hell is going on here!" Dean shouted, looking ready to breathe fire. "Who are you?! What are you!?"
"I said go! Now, Dean!"
With the machete still extended towards Castiel, and Dean's gun still pointed at John, this was getting out of control. Castiel couldn't help but feel a measure of relief as the naturally calmer Sam stepped forward, arms held out and a cool glare on his face. "Let's everyone just take a step back," he snapped. "Cas?!"
"Sam… I believe this is truly your father." Either that, or the angel's ability to sense an evil presence was diminished to the point of non-existence, but Castiel felt certain that he was right.
The two boys were clearly less confident, as Sam demanded incredulously, "What?! That's impossible!"
"Our father is dead," Dean ground out, grip on his gun tightening even more. "How could it possibly be him?"
John hadn't moved, save for narrowing vengeful eyes even more, gaze locked on the angel. "We don't have time for this," the hunter snapped back at Dean. "We can catch up later, now I gave you boys a direct order and I expect you to do as I say!"
Both Dean and Sam straightened slightly now, eyes growing wide. In the lull, Castiel could feel the air shift from tension to confusion and doubt. Dean was shaking his head, gun wavering in his hand. Finally, slowly, it dropped a fraction.
"Son of a bitch," he murmured. "Sammy… that- that's Dad."
Sam's head jerked around to look at Dean, still wide eyed in disbelief, and then back to John. "…Dad?"
"Yeah, it's me, boys." John's mouth twitched, eyes softening for only a second as he half turned his head towards his sons without actually looking away from the angel he was still holding at bay with the threatening machete.
"No time," John cut Dean off urgently. "You need to get out of here, right now."
"Why?" demanded Sam with a shake of his head. "What's going on?"
"Look, just do it!" John's voice blistered angrily in the stale air, and Castiel took a step back as the hunter took a step forward. "I don't know what that thing has told you, but it's not human!"
It almost took Castiel's breath away, the level of disgust he saw in John's eyes and heard in his voice. He blinked, swallowing an inexplicable surge of sorrow. He couldn't say why it should matter what John Winchester thought of him; Castiell was an angel, he should be above such concerns, but it had been a long, long time since a human had given him a look of such hatred. From Dean and Sam's confused faces, it was evident that they weren't even sure who John was talking about.
"Wait… what, you mean Cas?" Dean demanded.
"It's not whoever you think it is," snapped John. "I saw it, it's a monster! Now for the last time, both of you, RUN!"
The machete rose higher, and Castiel took a step back as it became clear that John was about to rush him once again. The wound in his back had healed completely now, but if he was correct, and this was indeed John Winchester, then they were getting off on the entirely wrong foot. He slid is own blade up his sleeve in what he hoped was a pacifying gesture but the rage in John's dark eyes didn't diminish even slightly.
"Dad, no, wait! We know he's not human!"
Sam had recovered first, hurrying past John and turning, one hand on Castiel's shoulder. This stopped John in his tracks. The dim light filtering through the dusty windows overhead illuminated the look of horror on his face.
"Sammy, get back!"
"Stop," growled Dean – still sounding uncertain about what was going on, as he joined his brother. Castiel noticed that he hadn't put the gun away, clearly not convinced yet. "I don't know what's going on here, but if you're John Winchester, then just stop. We're not hunting Cas!"
The angel watched as John's expression shifted through several layers of revulsion and anger, his mouth opening in a disbelieving search for words. Silently, Castiel extended the dagger back towards John to show that he didn't plan on using the weapon. The hunter didn't take it.
"Dad, he's not a monster," Sam insisted, holding up a hand, his other still sitting on the angel's shoulder. Castiel saw John's eyes lock onto that hand, saw his mouth curl in disgust. Sam seemed to notice as well, because he gave Castiel a slight squeeze, before finishing with obviously forced calm, "This is Castiel. He's an angel."
Castiel gave it a moment, waiting until he couldn't take the awkward stillness any longer, before quietly speaking up. "It's an honor to meet you."
Nothing. John only stared at him, then at his sons, his expression tight and mouth thin. "A halo?" he demanded, voice barbed and displeased. "You want to explain what's going on, and what it's doing here?"
Dean let out a short, nervous laugh, quickly trading a look with Sam as he finally tucked his gun back into the waistband of his jeans and straightened into a stiff line. "Dad, he- he's an angel," he repeated. "He's with us."
"We're working a case," Sam jumped in. "There've been five victims already-"
"Gone crazy, started spouting a bunch of gibberish, all of them dead three days later with an arrow through the heart," John finished for him, dropping his arm at long last. Castiel breathed a sigh of relief – the machete would do nothing to harm him, but he doubted that his beheading would make for a smooth, happy reunion as this ought to be.
"You heard?" Dean asked, quirking an eyebrow. John nodded.
"Caught wind of it yesterday, wound up here. Should have figured you two would have connected the same dots." He paused, then smiled for the first time. "It's… it's really good to see you boys."
The final barrier of tension and uncertainty crumbled, as John stepped towards his sons. Castiel could see tears in all three of their eyes, saw Dean swallow hard to stop from choking on his words, as he half whispered,
"It's good to see you too, Dad."
They closed the gap, and John pulled both boys in towards him in a fierce embrace – the kind that was filled with desperation and need, the need to assure themselves that any of this was even real. It was the embrace of a family who'd believed they would never see each other again, but now here they were and their only terrified wish was that this wasn't just a dream. Sam's knuckles were white as he clung to John, Dean's eyes tightly closed as though to block out all other sensations than those of his father.
Castiel's own throat tightened slightly at the touching reunion, tempered with a vague sense that he should retreat, to give them a moment. There wasn't anywhere to retreat to, however, and in the end he merely stood as still and unobtrusive as he could, arms slack at his sides. How it must feel, he thought with a deep and endless ache in his heart, to have a family that would have missed him that much…
When the three pulled apart at last, Sam cleared his throat, giving his head a shake as though to dislodge the overpowering emotions. "Dad," he started, voice slightly raw and gravelly. "Um… not that I'm not… so happy to see you again, but… how?"
"I don't know, son," John replied with a sigh. "Wish I did. Look, I need to talk to you boys. There's a lot of pieces that need filling in. Let's talk over dinner, what do you say?"
"Yeah!" Dean eagerly replied for them, sniffling slightly and then coughing as though to hide it. "Yeah, we're buying."
John smiled, a hand on each of their shoulders, as he turned them towards the door. Castiel straightened then, frowning. "Wait."
"Just you boys," the eldest Winchester instantly snapped, smile vanishing as he turned to glare at the angel. Castiel paused, the tension starting to creep back in as Dean and Sam flashed another look at each other.
"Of course," Castiel interrupted reassuringly. He had no intention of intruding on this. Surely the three Winchesters had a great deal to talk about. "I'll stay here and continue looking for answers. But… I should hide you." He didn't want to disrupt Dean and Sam's happiness at having their father back… but he also couldn't shake the notion that there were only so many beings with the power to have returned him, and he had no particular desire to run into any of them.
"Oh, yeah." Dean straightened, turning back to John. "Dad, Cas can hide you from the other angels- I mean, from anything that might be following you."
Castiel stepped forward, hand outstretched. The machete was back in John Winchester's hand so fast that the angel could feel the wind as it swung up.
"You stay back."
"Dad, come on," Sam urged, a touch of uneasiness in his tightening posture. "It's an Enochian warding spell. It works, we can vouch for that. Dean and I are warded, too. Let him do it."
Perhaps it wasn't fair to just expect John to trust him without having been given a reason to, Castiel realized as he slowly took another step forward. After all, John had lived a hard life, surrounded by all sorts of evil. Cynicism had probably been his saving grace on more than one occasion. Still, the angel couldn't help but feel another stab of doubt and pain at the look he was receiving from John now. Castiel wasn't the most adept at reading humans and their emotions, but even he could feel how deeply John detested him, how much he still wanted to swing that machete at the angel's head.
Thankfully, the hunter refrained, only grunting slightly as Castiel cautiously approached, then touched a hand to John's chest to brand the sigils into his ribcage. The amount of power that it took – barely noticeable when he was at full strength – made him stumble back weakly and grab a railing for support.
"Cas?" Sam asked worriedly. The angel waved him off with barely concealed irritation at how taxing such a small chore had been.
"I'm fine. Go ahead. I'll stay here."
Dean and Sam seemed hesitant, but John was already turning away with one last scathing look at him. Castiel swallowed, breathing slowly as his grace struggled to refresh itself from his task. Finally, Dean nodded.
"We'll be back. Call if anything comes up."
"Of course." Castiel stood, watching his friends turn and walk away. His mind refused to settle, though, restlessly turning over this mystery. John Winchester was back on Earth, though he knew for a fact that the man's soul had been safely carried to Heaven long before. Someone had brought him back, and Castiel had too much experience with his brothers to believe that it had been done from the kindness of the heart.
Something was going on and he didn't know what. Castiel didn't like not knowing, and he didn't like not being strong enough to do anything about it, and… and he didn't like being called a monster. His head throbbed again, and the angel closed his eyes, wishing he could forget, and wishing he could block out the memory of John's hate-laden, accusing gaze.
"Raphael, we've lost track of John Winchester."
The lesser angel sounded nervous at having to deliver this news, but Raphael only smiled, his eyes narrowing in contemplation as he slowly tapped his fingers on the arm of his rich leather chair in this borrowed Heaven. He nodded, a calculating expression creasing his face.
"No matter? But… forgive me, I thought the purpose of reviving him was to follow him back to the other two Winchesters and recover Castiel?"
Raphael's gaze shifted to the lesser angel, who gulped and ducked his head.
"Forgive me," the angel repeated softly. Raphael airily waved a hand.
"Don't trouble yourself," he said. "Yes, since the Winchesters and the traitor Castiel are warded from us, John Winchester was the only one who could track them down. If you can no longer sense him, then he has succeeded. Castiel must have warded him as well."
"But… how then will you find him now?"
Again, Raphael waved a hand as though brushing the question aside. There was no worry or concern on his face, only cold confidence, as he replied, "I have no intention of tracking John Winchester down; he will come to me. He'll bring me Castiel, even if he doesn't remember yet that this was the only purpose for which he was returned to his family."
The lesser angel seemed less certain of this, but he was far too smart to argue or question further. Instead, he nodded, mouth set in a grim line. There was a pause, and then he asked, "And when he turns Castiel over to you? What will you do? Are you going to… kill him?"
The tapping on the armchair stopped, the archangel's hand clenching into a fist instead. Thunder rumbled in the distance, Raphael's wrath covering even Heaven under the blanket of a dark storm. "Kill him?" he repeated softly, teeth gritted. "If not for Castiel's interference, Michael and Lucifer would have fulfilled their destiny. Michael would have defeated Lucifer, and Earth would be the paradise it was intended to be! If not for Castiel, we would have everything we wanted. If not for Castiel-"
He broke off, taking a deep breath as his eyes lit with the righteous fire. His glowing blue gaze burned into the lesser angel, as he spat out, "No… I am not going to kill Castiel. Not until he has watched Sam and Dean Winchester's souls be ripped apart for their arrogance. Not until he has tasted the suffering of our brethren for himself. Not until he is begging for death! And then…"
Raphael paused, and his face was a mask of malice in the half shadows, as he finished, "Then… yes. The traitor will die."