Cross To Bear

9 Years-Old: Confronting Death

A light layer of snow on the ground, chilled weather that forced sweater dress codes, and crisp air that gave the impression everyone was a smoker were all things Castiel associated with the holiday season. Some people were religious and very strict in that aspect of their celebrating or not celebrating, some were more relaxed. Others believed it was a consumerist holiday for idiots, Cas wasn't totally sure what that meant but he assumed it was a negative view. Their family fell into the relaxed portion of people who just enjoyed the family time. No one freaked out about what gifts they got, well, other than the kids every now and then. No one went out into the hellish mall scene to get trampled, they had what they needed and that was good enough.

Mary was up on the roof stringing their old Christmas lights along as she did the last five years, John fell off too many times in the past and they decided he shouldn't do it anymore. The boys were inside helping John with the tree. He lifted Dean up as they wrapped the garland around; Dean was far too short to reach the top of their tree. Sam played in the box of decorations; the baubles were especially amusing to him. Castiel strung tinsel and fake icicles around the bannister leading upstairs, from his perch he could see as Dean remained steady in John's hands. He was always a bit scared of heights, but it turned out that Dean trusted his dad's hold more than he was afraid.

Once they were done decorating their Christmas tree they called Mary inside. She sent John to the kitchen to make them all hot chocolate while she dusted off their angel. It was a tradition to drink hot chocolate while one of the family placed the angel atop the tree, a symbol that they were done with set up for the holidays. This year it was Sammy, John put his youngest on his shoulders and leaned forward to the tree, "You can do it, Sam." He encouraged the boy as Sam shakily reached for the top, ceramic angel in hand.

It was placed without an incident and they all cheered briefly before clinking their mugs together.

Cas wasn't sure if he liked this tree or not, it was the same one they'd had for a very long time, an ornamental tree covered in ornaments for an ornamental holiday. On the one hand it made sense to him but other people had real trees, wouldn't that have been better? Something real on a day so many claimed was fake?

Maybe it was cheaper this way. He'd come to learn that money was something of importance.

Cas loved the holidays for the same reason all his peers did; presents. Gifts and candy and all the things he should be grateful for having. Their family wasn't rich but they weren't dirt poor either. Castiel got what he wanted more often than not, as well as his brothers, give or take a pair of socks or two. He found the season to be enthralling, to see how people acted around one another during that time. In the malls and stores everyone was out of control and could be horribly rude to one another. All in the name of this holiday that meant for the best of mankind. It made his head hurt.

Regardless of what it meant and to whom, Christmas had arrived. Or at least the eve had. The boys put on their boots and coats as the family got ready to head out that morning. Every year they went to see the Campbell's and spend a few hours over there, usually for a brunch of some kind. Cas looked up at Mary as they headed for the car, careful not to slip on the ice, "So when are Jet and his mom coming?"

"They'll be coming over tomorrow morning; your dad or I will pick them up, don't worry so much." She ruffled his hair and sighed lightly.

"Sorry, I just promised he'd come over so I don't wanna mess up."

She didn't reply with words, just that smile he loved. She knew he meant well at least, not pestering her about it so often on purpose.

Cas and Dean agreed on one thing about going to their grandparents' place for Christmas; all they wanted were the presents and the dessert. Grandma Campbell taught their mom how to make pie so she was the queen when it came to baked goods. Their distant cousins were also invited, Dean and Christian never got along though Cas was mostly okay with the others. Gwen could be mean to Dean and Cas but she was usually pretty friendly with Sam. And then there was Mark who never said much of anything. He was often with Christian.

Grandpa Campbell wasn't ever nice, he was rude and his sense of humour wasn't funny at all. Cas didn't want to use strong language but if he were to do it, hate would've been one of the words. Every year he could sense something in his grandfather, something cowardly and despicable, but he could never really put his finger on it.

That year though it was different, that year his senses had opened up and were far from ready to receive the imagery he did. They unloaded from the car and headed up to their grandparents' house, Cas knocked on the door loudly and smiled up to greet the first person that came to see them.

His grandpa opened the door but that's not what Castiel saw. He saw something twisted in the man's face, his eyes were solid black and the sides his mouth were torn up to the upper portion of his head. "Hey there, Cas." Samuel said and all Castiel could think to do was scream.

He turned on his heels and ran, Cas caught Dean's arm and Sam's as he stumbled and dragged them to the car again. "Cas!" Dean protested against him but oddly wasn't strong enough to truly deny him. "Cas what the hell?"

"He's a monster," Cas whispered harshly, ignoring the confused concern on his parents' faces. "I can see it in his face, he's a monster, he's just like Mr. Caplan." Tears ran down his face as his breathing started to sound labored, "I wanna go home!" he cried and cowered against the furthest door.

"What is wrong with that boy?" Samuel snapped at John who shrugged and went to see Cas, peering down inside the backseat.

"Cas, what's going on?"

"His face," Cas croaked as his bottom lip trembled, "It's just like me teacher's was. Dad I wanna go home, please?"

"We just got here for Christmas, Cas-"

"PLEASE!" He screamed and startled his father.

John looked at Mary and motioned to step aside with her, "I can take him home," he offered and she sighed lightly with a nod.

"I guess so, come get us in a few hours, okay?"

"Sure," John smiled and gave her a kiss, "love you." He turned toward Sam and Dean, "I'm gonna take Cas home, can you two be good while I'm gone?"

"I'll come too," Dean insisted but John shook his head.

"Stay here with Sammy, okay?"

Dean paused and looked down at his little brother, then back up at Cas who looked like he really had seen the face from hell. "Okay… but you gotta promise me to take care of Cas!"

John smiled with some surprise but nodded, "You got it."

Castiel watched cautiously as they John got in but no one else did, "Wait," he protested and hurried to the door, "Dad wait, they're still there!"

"They're going to stay for Christmas, Cas. It's fine." John replied calmly, too calm for what Cas had told him. Why didn't his dad get them out of there? "Every year we do this and every year it's fine, they'll be okay."

Cas stared out the window, his nerves on fire as the rest of his family disappeared. "Dad…" his heart slowed down, something thundered in his skin. It had only been a few minutes of driving but it was eating away at him. "Dad go back."

John looked through the rearview mirror, the car decelerated appropriately. "Make up your mind, kiddo. What do you want here?" He was getting a little annoyed, Cas didn't care.

"I won't leave them there," Cas didn't know where that came from, that little burst of courage he never had before. John took them back.

Cas could feel something wrong, maybe it was just his grandpa's face but it felt worse than that. The air was colder than it was previously and he saw something, a man dressed in a black coat walking with a cane. John didn't seem to see him as the man stepped around the side of the building, his stroll was slow but deliberate and it sent a shiver down Castiel's spine. He ran after the stranger but quickly lost track of the man.

The sight before him in the backyard of his grandparents' place was right out of nightmares. Blood streaked the ground and smeared the house like someone had been forcefully dragged along both. There were legs sticking out of the open doorway -they looked like his grandma's- and the stranger stood over them.

"Dean!" Cas shouted and ran, he wasn't initially conscious of where he was running to but his body knew. Dean came into sight moments later, little Sammy knelt next to him and pushed at him uselessly. Castiel's heart froze. He heard something loud nearby but it echoed and faded, his hearing nearly shut down. Whatever it was, someone yelling or fighting or what, he didn't know and he had no will to find out.

"Cas," Sam looked up at him with his face bloody, dirty, and tear stained, "Dean's not moving."

Castiel dropped to his knees beside Dean and leaned over him. "No…" he whispered and the world stopped around him. He couldn't sense it, that spark, that glow, that light that was Dean. He couldn't see it. "No…" he strained to feel it, ignoring how it seemed just like Jet's father. Cold, lifeless.

Dean could never be lifeless. Castiel leaned in closer; maybe if he were closer he'd see it.

Nothing. Then footsteps.

Cas looked up and saw the stranger, an old man with his dark hair pulled back and a very pale, sunken face. He knew who it was. This man walked to his grandmother's still body. He walked to the silent forms of his cousins strewn around the yard, and now he was standing over Dean.

"No." Castiel spoke bolder than he ever thought he could.

The man watched Cas' face curiously before a flicker of recognition lit up the depth of his cold eyes. "You're Castiel," he spoke evenly and calm.

Cas pulled Dean into his arms; he didn't know where the bright light was coming from that illuminated the stranger's face from below but he didn't care. "You can't have him."

"You know who I am little one, but you don't know how, do you?" The man folded both hands over his cane and just watched him like he was far smaller and more insignificant than the littlest bug Cas had ever seen.

Castiel held Dean tighter as that light flashed brighter, energy surged in him and he felt his expression pull tight in a snarl. "You can't have him," he repeated. "You can never have him."

He nodded. Cas couldn't believe it, he nodded and walked away.

And then Dean coughed. Castiel looked down at the blood soaked head of his brother as the boy stirred and blinked up at him. Faded green sparked to life and Dean sat upright faster than Cas had ever seen him before, "Cas!?" Dean shouted and grabbed his shoulders, "Cas what happened!? Why are you glowing?"

"What?" Cas blinked and looked down at himself as that light disappeared. He then looked up to see that the suited man had gone entirely. "I don't know…"

Sam stared at him in awe, "Cas who were you talking to?"

"That guy, you didn't see him?"

Sam looked around and shook his head, "No… you started yelling at someone and your body got so bright I couldn't look anymore." He smiled a little as he rubbed his eyes, "But Dean's okay now." He crawled forward a little and wrapped his arms around his older brother.

"Yeah, I'm alright," Dean said shakily and hugged Sam back, Cas dropped into that embrace just as eagerly.

"I was so scared," Cas gasped as he pressed his face against Dean's shoulder, fingers digging into Dean's wet shirt. He didn't want to think about why. "I'm so sorry I left."

"Boys!" John shouted as he stepped into the back doorway, Mary at his side, her head bleeding and leg twisted. "Oh thank God, are you okay?" He helped Mary hobble over to them, stepping over her mother's body carefully to do so.

"Yeah," Dean said again and offered up a smile as his mom dropped to her knees beside him and scooped him up. "I'm okay," he tried to soothe her as she cried against him.

"I saw him," Mary pulled back a little, her hands cupping the sides of Dean's head, rubbing and checking for an injury. "He cracked your head open, didn't he?" She was a little hysteric, or scared, or overwhelmed, Cas couldn't quite tell. He kind of felt the same way.

"I guess not," Dean shrugged, "I feel fine, mom. Not hurt at all, see? So please don't cry." He tried to smile though it was strained and difficult for him to actually do it. Cas had no idea what he'd seen or remembered, but that wasn't so bad. Dean was breathing, his light was back and that was all Cas wanted to know.

"I called 911 already," John sat down and pulled Sam and Cas into his lap, "Let's just wait here, okay?" He was shaken too, a claw mark across the side of his head and a gash down his back told Cas enough as to why.

"Is it… still alive?" Castiel dared to ask in the following stillness, Mary promptly shook her head.

"Your mom took care of it," John explained and kissed the top of Cas' head, "I'm sorry I doubted you, Cas." He whispered low and the boy shook his head.

"You went back, that's enough."

Christmas that year was spent in the precinct, questions and answers that brought more question to sanity than anything else. But the evidence was hard to argue. The police put the following story together;

Samuel Campbell had gone berserk when Castiel Winchester was removed from his home. His first acts of violence were toward his grandchildren as they played in the backyard, Christian Campbell, Gwen Campbell, and Mark Campbell were dead instantly. Dean Winchester covered his younger brother Samuel Winchester and supposedly took a minor blow to the head, briefly knocking him unconscious. There was no lasting damage though he was soaked in blood.

Deanna Campbell attempted to stop her husband but only made it to the back entrance of her home where Samuel caught her and decapitated her. Mary Winchester had been looking on through the window at the transpiring events and proceeded to get her father's attention, supposedly to keep him away from her children. Samuel followed her through the house, injuring her head and twisting her leg in the process. As she escaped to the master bedroom John Winchester returned with Castiel, while Castiel went to his brothers in the backyard John entered the home. Quickly he was alerted to the distress upstairs and hurried to his wife's aid.

John managed to reach Mary and stand over her to receive a deep gash to his back. The wound looks as though it were made by an animal as large as a bear with claws twice as long, but both Winchesters have said that Samuel Campbell was the one who delivered the blow. As John stood up against Samuel, Mary slipped away and reached her father's gun closet. Breaking open the glass casing, she removed a hunting rifle, one she says she's had training to use. As she loaded it John received swipe to the head, this time dodging the blow enough to only receive small scars. It took two shots to take Samuel Campbell down.

At some point from when it started to when he murdered his wife, Samuel's face contorted into the grotesque expression seen in the file photography. His mouth split open and his jaw pulled up the sides of his skull past his ears. His eyes were completely black, his hands enlarged with thick, two feet long fingernails, and his skin as tough as leather.

Castiel didn't care for the story, it was in the news now and it was the same story every time. His heart ached when he thought of it, his family destroyed in a few minutes. They went to far too many funerals that year.

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