Chapter 1: The Words from Then
It had been a week since they had defeated Chuck. It took Chuck seven days to make the Earth, and everything in it, and they couldn’t even survive seven days after defeating him. Not without something going awry. Dean found it so ironic that he could have laughed, had it not been for Sam lying unconscious in the hospital bed next to him.
They had hunted all manner of beasts and monsters during their lives. They’d beaten demons, witches, vampires and even gods—hell, they’ve even beaten God, capital G. And yet, a ghoul. Sam had ended up unconscious because of a ghoul.
While the brothers had decided to take some time off after their face off with Chuck and Jack’s abrupt departure, Dean had been feeling the hunting itch four days into their so-called 'vacation'.
Dean could see that Sam had been happy with the time off, enjoying having Eileen back. Dean was happy for them, he truly was. His brother deserved the world and everything in it. But seeing the happy couple brought Dean back to the bunker. To Billie chasing after his head. Of Castiel and his words—his confession—and subsequent abduction by the Shadow having given no time for Dean to process what had been said, much less reply to it in any way, shape, or form. Dean had lost Castiel that night, forever, and he hadn’t had time to process it. He hadn’t given himself that time. He’d done everything in his power to block it out. Because Castiel was in the Empty and Dean had no way to get him back.
What good would confronting it bring? Dean would just shove it deep into the back of his mind, like he did with other heartaches.
It wasn’t the urge to kill something that called to Dean now, it was the urge to save someone. People died every day. A hunter knew that better than anyone, but if he could save someone from being killed by an evil thing, that alone would help him feel better. Dean said that he could hunt alone, but Sam didn’t want that.
To appease his brother, Sam asked for two more days. And Dean granted them.
When they found a case of grave desecration, Dean jumped on it. Sam left Eileen behind, researching her own leads on a possible case, and joined his brother on the road. The case wasn’t far away. It was only a state over. A quickie, fresh-off-vacation case that shouldn’t have taken more than an evening to solve.
And yet, it wasn’t so.
The clues had quickly revealed ghouls as the culprits for the grave desecrations. It turned out to have been a nest. Five in total. The case wasn’t the walk in the park they expected it to be but coming off the high from having bested Chuck and being back in the game, the brothers were confident.
Having killed the fourth ghoul, Dean smiled and turned to Sam just in time to see the fifth ghoul bash Sam’s head in with his own discarded shovel. Everything from then on passed in a flurry. Dean remembered bits of it: stepping a hard boot on the ghoul’s stomach as he quite literally ripped off its head with his bare hands, picking his brother up and carrying him to the Impala. The rest had been pushed to the back of his mind as he sat next to Sam’s hospital bed.
The doctor had mentioned something about intracranial pressure and Dean had ignored everything else. Whatever medical bullshit was wrong with Sam, it didn’t matter. He would find a solution to it. One the doctors couldn’t.
When the sun set, Dean drove to the nearest crossroads. There wasn’t much traffic in the small town which gave him plenty of privacy to place the small box containing his picture and other lesser ingredients. Dean never told Sam about the box, hidden usually deep within the trunk of the Impala. Burying the box in the center of the crossroads, Dean waited.
Moments turned into minutes, and Dean found himself cursing at the wind. “Where the hell are you?”
“I’m wondering if you were being funny or ironic.”
Dean did his best not to jump from the startling voice behind him as he saw the demon waiting there. “What are you talking about?”
“You’re wondering where ‘the hell’ a demon is? Seriously?” The demon smiled as her red eyes glowed.
Dean smirked, shaking his head. “Well, I’m sorry, darling. I was just wondering if the hell-bus was late. You people are usually faster than this.”
The demon feigned insult, looking at her skin and taking a step back. “Ha! ‘You people’? It’s 2020, Dean Winchester. You better get with the program or you’ll get the Twitter mob on you.”
Dean rolled his eyes, ignoring the joke obviously taken at the expense of the demon’ host. “Yeah, yeah. Anyways, since you’re here—”
“Though I can’t be for long.” The demon interrupted. “You were told already, Dean.” She sighed sadly as she said, “No more deals.”
“Oh, sad that you can’t trap a poor bastard’s soul for your pleasure anymore?”
The demon rolled her eyes. “Oh, I did enjoy it, Dean. But at the end of the day, it’s a job. Some people wake up and work 9 to 5 in an office punching numbers, I used to grant a little wish and get a soul down the line. Now what am I supposed to do for the rest of eternity?”
“Save your crap,” Dean motioned for her name.
“You can call me Lana,” the demon responded.
Dean couldn’t help the surprise glowing on his face. “Huh. I knew a Lana once. She taught me how to roll a cherry stem with my tongue.”
“A technique I’m sure plenty have enjoyed since.”
Taken aback by the comment, Dean laughed and felt his cheeks burn. “Wouldn’t you like to know?” Why am I flirting with a demon? “Anyways, Lana, I didn’t call you here for a wish.”
“Oh, am I to be a sacrificial lamb for your killing pleasures? News down the grapevine says that you and your brother didn’t kill hosts anymore.”
“Can you shut your damn mouth?” Dean wanted to throttle her, but she was right. He and Sam had made it their goal to only kill hosts as a last resort. They were people after all. Innocent people, with their own lives and loved ones. And even beyond that, Dean wasn’t that. He wasn’t a killer for no reason. He knew that now. “Rowena, I need to talk to her.”
Lana laughed loudly and dramatically. “A crossroads demon, six eons old, banned from making crossroad deals and now demoted to a bloody telephone.”
“More like a walkie-talkie.” Dean smirked.
Lana’s red eyes glowed harshly before she sighed and turned her head to the side, closing her eyes. “Yeah, I’m here. I got a Winchester for you. Huh? No, not the handsome one. The other one, the short one with the car fetish.”
“Hey! I take offense to that!” Dean huffed. “I’m way more handsome than Sam, you bitch.”
Lana snapped her fingers a few times to shut Dean up. “Yeah, yeah, him. He’s annoying me. And he wanted to talk to you.” She was quiet for a moment, listening to a voice that Dean couldn’t hear. “Listen here, I am way too old to be putting up with this shi—” Lana stopped talking before groaning, her body levitated a few inches from the ground, and she seemed visibly in pain. “Yes, milady. Forgive me. I shouldn’t have raised my voice at you.” Every word sounded like it hurt.
A moment later, Lana landed back on the ground and disappeared.
“Hey! We weren’t done here!” Dean shouted at the darkness around him.
Dean closed his eyes and breathed slowly one more time. When his end came, the hunter was sure that it would be from a sudden infarction from the constant teleportation behind him that supernatural entities apparently, collectively, enjoyed doing.
Turning around, Dean faced Lana one more time.
The demon was holding, what appeared to be, a crystal ball.
“And this is?”
Lana said nothing as she handed Dean the crystal ball and disappeared again, but not before warning, “Don’t make a deal in this crossroads again, m’kay?”
Left alone in the crossroads one more time, holding a large ball of glass, Dean sighed. “And what the hell is this?”
“Ooh, Dean, my boy!”
The ball landed farther away than the Impala. “Come on!” Dean shouted at it. To his surprise, the crystal ball rolled itself until it laid next to Dean’s boot. Within the crystal ball, Dean saw an all-too familiar visage. “Rowena?”
“That was rude of you. Seeing me after all this time, even giving you a gift, and you throw me to the wind? Dean, what would Samuel say?”
Suddenly, the dark realization of what he was there for crashed on him once more. Dean picked up the crystal ball. “…Sammy’s hurt.”
There was a short pause before Rowena asked, “And…it’s serious, I suppose. If you’re calling little old me.”
Dean couldn’t bring himself to say it, so he nodded instead. “It doesn’t even make sense. With everything we’ve hunted, how can a ghoul, of all things, hurt him this badly?”
“Well, what do you mean?”
“It started fine. It was a normal case. We were just supposed to kill the nest. It shouldn’t have ended this bad. Not with ghouls. It felt like that time when Chuck took our luck away. We suffered some misfortune then, but we got our luck back. I don’t know why, but this hunt, it felt like back then.”
“Ah…a hero’s luck. Well, that makes a wee bit more sense now.”
Dean was taken aback by that. “What the hell are you talking about?”
“You and your brother were born with a hero’s luck. Your story, my boy, the Winchesters against the biggest of evils, a story written by God Himself was a grand thing. A story for the ages. However,”
“Chuck…we defeated him.”
Rowena nodded. “And your epic tale concluded with his defeat. I mean, yes, you and your brother are alive, and you will be killing all manners of things that go bump in the night, perhaps for years to come, but this is just a side story now. Your main story is over.”
“So, Sammy and me, we aren’t the main characters anymore?” Dean laughed bitterly. “We are, what, supporting cast now?”
Sighing, Rowena said, “I reckon you and your brother’s lucks will slowly start to diminish until they go down to a normal person’s level.”
“Well, what am I supposed to do about Sam? Even if you hadn’t banned deals, I wouldn’t go there. Sammy would just find some way to meddle in it and barter his own soul or something. The same damn cycle we’ve kept these past decade and a half.”
Rowena made a humming sound. Her eyes were closed, and it looked like she was feeling for something. Or trying to get the feel of something. “Not that that would have helped either, apparently…”
“And that means?” Dean made an exasperated sound. “I’m not really in the best of moods for riddles.”
“Your soul, I can feel it. It’s not…normal. I mean, it is, there’s nothing wrong with you, but there’s still something, I feel some odd…” Placing her hand on what appeared to be the other side of the crystal ball, Rowena looked amused. “Oh, so that’s what he did.”
“Rowena! Answers!” Dean shouted.
“Oy! Don’t raise your voice at me, boy.”
Dean knew he shouldn’t have shouted at her. She was there to help, after all. “I’m sorry, Rowena, just, please—I need answers.”
“I’ll forgive it this time,” Rowena had obviously forgiven him for the small transgression, but still teased him. “Because of Samuel.” Getting to the point, she explained, “Your soul is bound. To you. Neither I nor anyone else could take it even if you offered it.”
“How the hell did that happen?”
Shrugging, Rowena said, “If I had to take a guess, I would say it was Jack. He must’ve done it before he left. If he has all of the powers of Chuck, the powers of God, then…”
“Then Jack would have seen this coming. He knew Sammy would be laying in that bed right now. And he wanted to make sure I couldn’t bring him back by offering up my soul.” Dean chuckled. “That brat. He should’ve known me better. If he does know everything, he would know that I wouldn’t have done that.”
“Could he now?”
“Could Jack know what you were to do?”
“Why not? Not only did Jack get to know me and get close to me personally, but Jack also became God.”
“Don’t forget, Dean, that even Chuck couldn’t control you. There was a plan in motion. And yet you and Samuel refused to follow it. Even after all this time, my only guess is that you and your brother are unique even to God. You aren’t stronger than him, that’s ludicrous, but your existence, and that of your brother, are outside of God’s encompassing powers of perception.”
Rowena couldn’t help but sigh. “Dearie, while you Winchester boys are not all-powerful, your actions are most likely beyond the sight of God. Hence, Jack couldn’t be certain that you wouldn’t have barter your soul to bring Sam back. And as such, he bound your soul to your body. And I’m sure he did the same to Samuel.”
“And there’s no way for you to undo it?”
Rowena laughed incredulously. “I couldn’t best Chuck when he was toying with us, but you want me to somehow undo a spell of God when he’s serious? Besides, what would that matter, Dean? You said you wouldn’t barter it anyways.”
“I still don’t like the feeling of being a dog on a leash.”
“You boys,” Rowena turned around and whisked her hands. A black book hovered in front of her. It was clearer when she turned to face Dean again.
“What the hell are you doing with that Rowena?” Dean said, seeing the Book of the Damn in her possession. “We used that thing just last week. It should be in the bunker.”
“Oh, this?” Rowena asked innocently, holding the black book closer to the crystal ball. “Oh, well, this was left in Samuel’s care after my little sacrifice, but after I became Queen, I sent Samuel a little message to return it to me when Chuck was dealt with.” She chuckled. “If we survived it, of course.”
Dean would have a little talk with his brother about doing things behind his back again but having the Book of the Damned in Rowena’s hands wasn’t such a dangerous thing as it would have been back when they first met. And with the book and its magic in her possession, he wouldn’t have to worry about anyone dethroning her any time soon.
“Well, is there anything in there?”
Rowena closed her eyes and with a wave of her hand, the pages of the Book of the Damned flew at high speed until the book closed in on itself. “Huh, that’s a first, isn’t it?”
“There’s no spell for it. Not any that would work. My only choice is a spell that lets me undo a bind on a soul, but the strength of the caster of this spell must be equal to or greater than the one who placed the original spell in the first place,”
Dean sighed tiredly. “Which means that you can’t undo a spell made by God.”
Rowena nodded. “However, I did find a possible solution for Samuel. A healing potion without any magical repercussions or payments, however, it takes quite the list of ingredients to make and it will take me at least 3 days to brew. And even then, it’s only a thirty-seventy chance that it will work.”
“Magic with nothing in return isn’t common, you know. There are spells here that could cure a person of anything at the cost of their soul, which neither you nor Samuel can give. There are spells which will heal but curse you with bad luck, which would just lead you back here to where you started. Magic that undoes natural order always comes at a price. And magic that tries to go beyond that would only anger Death. And she doesn’t like that.”
Dean felt his chest cave in on itself. Had something happened that he hadn’t been in the loop of? “Is Billie back?” Then maybe Cass…
“No, not Billie. The new Death. A pretty little thing. I didn’t get her name, but she came to say hello and to thank me for my decision regarding the cancellation of deals. She seems like a nice lass. Cares a lot about the souls of the dead.”
Not Billie. She was still in there. In the dark, with Castiel. Dean shook the thought away; he couldn’t deal with that now. And at least a 30% chance was more than he had at the moment. “I can help gather the ingredients. What do you need, Rowena?”
The Queen of Hell shook her head. “Don’t worry about that, Dean. I have a couple hundred demons I can bother with that. Go back to Samuel.”
Dean wanted to go back to his side. He didn’t want to leave his brother alone for too long. And if the spell went awry… no. It wouldn’t. Dean lost too much already. He couldn’t lose Sam. Not this soon after Jack and Castiel.
“How do I get in contact with you again?” Pointing at the crossroads behind him, Dean chuckled, “Finding crossroads everywhere we go is not always convenient.”
“What do you think this crystal ball is Dean?”
Dean took a good look at it and felt stupid. Turning it around in his hands, he was amused at the fact that no matter how he moved it, Rowena’s visage never moved. “Ah, and how am I supposed to call you?” Smirking, Dean said, “Is there a secret word like abracadabra?”
“Close!” Rowena chuckled.
Dean groaned. “Oh, God, it’s ‘Haggis,’ isn’t it?”
“And they say that Samuel is the smart one. I always defend you when the topic comes up. I always say, ‘No, Dean is much smarter than he looks, trust me! He surprises me too!’”
With a groan, Dean said, “I’d much prefer it that Sammy and I weren’t the topic of demonic conversations.”
Rowena waved a hand dismissively. “Oh, Dean, without the deals and the torture, the demons are bored! The least I can do is let them gossip.”
This opened the door for Dean to ask, “What have you done down there anyways? You axed the deals and now the torture? What’s left?”
Dean had wondered what the new Hell looked like. The images of his tenure there used to blaze in his mind from time to time. Usually when he was fighting. It helped fuel his anger. It kept him alive. But afterwards, Dean wouldn’t want to talk. He would give Sam the silent treatment. He would ignore Castiel. Dean hadn’t used the memories as fuel like that since he killed the Styne Family.
The Hell memories combined with the Mark of Cain… how could Castiel love him after what he did to him?
“Well, it was the weirdest thing. You see, when I arrived here, the souls within me strengthened my own soul to the point that it gave me enough power to best the demons here. There were no Princes of Hell left. Just run of the mill minions, really. After I took the Throne, I found a passage.”
“A passage?” Dean was curious. He’d never heard anything like that from Crowley or any lore he remembered reading before. “Where did it lead?”
“Well, to Heaven! Goodness me, I was flabbergasted. A literal stairway to Heaven.”
Dean almost dropped the ball. “What? Did you try going up?”
“No, but I knocked on the door. And imagine my surprise when a phone materialized next to me. Hell is a very odd realm, Dean. Whatever the person in charge wishes the realm to be, it becomes. Hmm, I wonder if Heaven is the same.”
“Who was on the phone, Rowena?”
“Oh, a woman. An Angel. Someone named Naomi?”
That carved a pang of fear in Dean’s chest. “What did she want?”
“Oh, not much. She was surprised someone knocked on the door. Apparently, no one ever had. In Forever. Like, literally.” Rowena laughed. “A way to Heaven from Hell. How amusing.”
“Rowena. The point.”
“Yes, yes. Well, get this: apparently by design, Hell wasn’t supposed to be an eternal suffering. It was supposed to be a place of transference for tainted souls between Earth and Heaven. After spending a few centuries cleansing themselves of their filth, they would be allowed to enter Heaven. But Lucifer didn’t like that, so he closed the pathway up, and every person who’s controlled Hell since then, in fear of incurring Lucifer’s wrath, has kept this pathway hidden. And Hell was changed as a place of eternal torment and not self-reflection.”
It was a lot more than Dean could wrap his head around for now, but he managed to ask, “And now?”
“I turned it back, of course! I have made it so that every soul is placed in confinement and made to relieve their every mistake. In a few centuries’ time, they will learn to make the right choices and be given the chance to enter paradise.”
Dean didn’t know what pushed him to ask, “And you?”
“Me?” Rowena smiled. “If I were to leave Hell, another demon would take my place. Demons are tainted beyond purification, my boy. Once a human soul is demonified—excuse the word, dear, as there’s no other proper way of describing it—they can never be cleansed and be allowed into Heaven. That’s why Lucifer made it so that Hell would, eventually, turn human souls into demonic ones. To keep them forever out of Heaven’s embrace.”
“But you aren’t a demon,”
“No, I am still very much a human soul, but Dean, like I said, if I go, another demon will take my place. They will change this place to one of torment, again.”
When did Rowena ever become so selfless? “Thanks for letting me know. But be careful of Naomi, Rowena. Don’t trust her blindly.”
The Queen of Hell laughed and said, “Remember who you’re talking to, kiddo. I’ve bested the Devil himself a couple of times, what makes you think a run-of-the-mill angel would fare any better?”
Smiling, Dean said his goodbye. After Rowena’s visage disappeared from the crystal ball, Dean got in the Impala and drove to his brother’s side to wait for the news.
Seeing Sam unconscious in the bed next to him brought him back to that empty town. Azazel and the other candidates. Not that they were ever candidates, they were pawns. Their only purpose was to train Sam and try and get him killed. So that Dean would end up giving his soul for his brother’s return. The plan to kickstart the Apocalypse.
How many times had Dean seen his brother like that after a hunt? Hurt so badly he was knocking on Death’s door. Even after getting him out of this one, how many more times would it happen again? And how long until their heroic luck stopped giving them second, third, fourth, and fifth chances?
As long as the hunt continued, they would die soon one way or another.
Dean prayed to Jack but there was no answer. Jack said it before he left them that day. He wouldn’t come back. He wanted the world to run itself. But Chuck had made it so that the world was ravaged by evil. Non-human evil. Evil that humanity did not deserve. It was unfair to them, and to humanity as a whole, to continue such evil to torment them. Even if Rowena did stop the deals from taking place, she alone couldn’t control hundreds, if not thousands, of demons forever. There would be slip-ups. There would be innocent lives taken. And thus, there would be the need for hunters.
By force of habit, Dean prayed to Castiel.
The Dean from 15 years ago would have laughed at himself. Dean had never prayed, to anyone. Because there had never been anyone there to pray for. It had always been him, and John and Sam. And then Bobby. Ever since he stood outside Sam’s door in Stanford, having spent hours outside mustering up the courage to go in, ever since getting back on the road with his brother, all the way up to meeting Castiel—Dean had never needed anyone.
Dean had loved them, but he didn’t need them. Dean always found the answer on his own. Solved his problems on his own. But since the Angel of the Lord gripped him tight and raised him from perdition, Dean had found himself time and time again in situations where he couldn’t find the answer by himself. Where he couldn’t solve his problems on his own. He had needed Castiel. And he’d needed to pray to him. And to Castiel, Dean confessed the weakest parts of him without noticing it himself.
No one, not even Sam, had come to know Dean so completely like Castiel did. Because no one could. Because Dean could never bring himself to say those things that made him weak aloud. Because he had to be strong.
His voice hoarse, Dean said, “I need you…Cass.”
The silence of the room was all-compassing. The only distraction the rhythmic beeping of Sam’s heart from the EKG machine. He felt the tears but pushed them away. None of that would help now.
People talk about hairs raising on end and hearts skipping beats, but words truly don’t make the feeling justice. Dean felt cold, so very cold, before he could move or even breathe at all. He didn’t want to get up and look behind him. Because he’d been here before. Lucifer had tricked him before. In the bunker. Dean thought Castiel was back, and it had been a cruel ruse.
But what if?
Taking a shallow breath, Dean got to his feet and turned around. And he was left breathless. The tears he’d pushed away just moments before threatening to break now. “How?”
Castiel smiled and as he tried to explain it, he stopped as the hunter crashed into him.
Dean held him in a tight embrace. He’d figured a normal person would have been suffocated by him, but he knew the angel could take it. Taking Castiel’s face in his hands, Dean looked into the blue of his eyes. The softness there looking back at him. “It’s really you, isn’t it?”
Castiel smiled once again and nodded into Dean’s hand. “I was sent back with a message and a mission.”
Dean’s heart sank again. The thought of this being temporary or of somehow losing Castiel again so fast. Just like with Jack. He thought they would live happily ever after with Chuck gone, but Jack had left them the same day. Mere moments after their victory. They couldn’t even celebrate it.
“What do you mean?”
“I was sent to heal Sam,”
“And then?” Dean said, words hitching in his throat.
Castiel’s face softened. “I’m not leaving, Dean.”
Relief pouring out of him, Dean felt himself breath again. “It was Jack.”
Nodding, the angel said, “Jack brought me back right after he left you and Sam. I’ve been with him all this time.”
With a sudden anger that Dean somehow managed to control, he asked, “Why didn’t you come back to me?” Catching himself, Dean corrected, “To us?”
Castiel was quiet for a quick moment before he said, “I was helping Jack. We were rebuilding Heaven. There was much to do.”
“Now, I was given a message and a mission.” Castiel moved to place his healing touch on Sam when Dean stopped him.
“Wait,” taking a breath, Dean asked, “Do you have to heal him right this moment? Is it a life-or-death thing?”
Visibly confused, Castiel said, “Well, no, Dean. I can heal him now or in an hour. It wouldn’t make a difference, but why—”
“Then,” Dean interrupted. Standing closer to the angel, Dean couldn’t control how much his heart wanted to beat out of his chest. The hunter felt himself brought back to the bunker. Billie slamming her fist on the door trying to come in and kill them. With a sudden panic, he asked, “Billie, she’s,”
“Still in the Empty.” Castiel explained. “When Jack brought me back, before we went back to Heaven, he made a new Death, she’s—”
“So, Billie is gone. For good?”
With a nod, Castiel smiled. “We won’t be hunted by Death again. I assure you.”
And the relief that statement brought him was almost euphoric. Most of everything they could defend against, save for God, Death, and the Shadow.
“And the Shadow?” Dean didn’t like how his panic seemed to rise and subside so quickly with the conversation. “Jack took you out again, won’t it be pissed and come for you again?”
To lose him like he did before, to feel so helpless as he did, crying like a damn baby on the floor of the bunker, Dean didn’t want that again.
Castiel shook his head. “Jack made a final deal with the Shadow. If it forgave him this last transgression, Jack would seal the Empty forever. No power, not even Jack himself, would ever be able to breach it. However, should the Shadow ever leave the Empty, it would be cursed with never ending sleeplessness. That ultimatum was something the Shadow couldn’t refuse. Not even for me.”
“So, that whole thing is over. It won’t ever come back and,”
Castiel said his name in the way only he can—in a way that soothed Dean. The way that it grounded him no matter the situation at hand. No one else had that gift. Not having it so simple. Not just a name.
“I promise, Dean. the Shadow and Death won’t come back for us.”
And if that didn’t fill him with butterflies and make him feel like he could fly. The small smirk faded as quick as it came. “We have a lot to talk about, Cass.”
Castiel said nothing as he nodded.
Seeing the angel about to heal his brother, Dean couldn’t help but say, “Rowena was wrong after all.” he chuckled. “Angels can heal without ‘repercussions.’”
Castiel stopped and Dean knew something was wrong.
No, no, no. “What?”
Facing him again, the angel looked like he was about to say something he didn’t like. “Dean, I came back and I’m going to heal Sam, but it’ll be the last time.”
“What the hell are you talking about?” Dean felt his voice break.
“After I heal Sam, after tonight, come morning, I won’t be an angel anymore. My Grace will be gone. I—I’m going to become a human.”
“You’re losing your Grace?” Dean was confused. “But we can find it again, right? Or we can refill it like we’ve done in the past? Find another angel?”
Castiel simply shook his head. “Jack was clear. After sunrise tomorrow, I will become a mortal man. And I won’t ever become an angel again.”
Why? Why would Jack do that? After rebuilding Heaven, Jack could have completely healed Castiel. He could have brought Castiel back to his prime. He wouldn’t have to drive anymore. Dean thought of the good old days when Castiel could just fly to wherever he needed. Heal any injury, even bring people back from the dead. It made hunting so much easier. They would never have to be afraid in a hunt again—
And that was the crux of it. Angels were near-omnipotent before the fall of Heaven. But they affected the world too much. It opened the door to bigger disasters. Dean wouldn’t be surprised if Jack had made it so no angels could come down to Earth again.
Castiel was the last one. The last earthbound angel.
“But…you’ll still be here, right? You’re not going anywhere?”
“Dean, I’ll be by your side as long as you’ll have me.”
Forever. “Good.” Dean chuckled and groaned. “Once we go back to the bunker, after all this, I need a bottle of something.”
Castiel smiled. Turning around, the angel healed the younger Winchester.
Sam woke up with a groan and panic-stricken as he began to take the tube from his throat. Waking up in the middle of mechanical ventilation didn’t seem pleasant. Holding his head, Sam gasped when he saw Castiel. “Oh, crap. Am I in Heaven?” Seeing his brother past the angel, Sam sat up. “Dean, what’s going on?”
Dean couldn’t help the big smile on his face. He stood next to Castiel, placing a hand on the angel’s shoulder. “Cass is back!”
Ignoring his brother’s grin and glee, Sam said, “Yes, captain obvious. I meant, how?”
Sighing, the angel said, “It is a long story.”
“Basically, Jack brought him back and he healed you.”
Castiel turned to see Dean whose grin wouldn’t quit. “Yes, that is basically it.”
“Not such a long story, is it?” Sam retorted. Confused, he asked, “What about the Shadow and Billie?”
Dean waved his hand and said, “Long story short, they’re out of the picture.”
“Yes.” Castiel agreed with the hunter.
“Huh.” Sam took the bed alarm and pressed the button to call the nurse.
A young man came in a moment later, only to become startled at seeing the conscious and sitting patient and left the room. He came back a moment later with a doctor.
Dr. Watts pushed past the two standing men and checked up on the patient without saying a word—a mix of emotion and confusion on her face. She inspected the patient’s pupils with a small light, before listening to his heart with a stethoscope. She turned around to inspect the readings from the various machines.
“I don’t understand.” Dr. Watts said. “You shouldn’t be awake.”
“What can I say, doc, my brother has a strong immune system.”
When the doctor turned to stare at him, Sam made a face of ‘what the hell are you talking about’. With a scoff, Dr. Watts explained, “Your brother, Mr. Bonham, was placed in a medically induced coma with thiopental. Not only is he conscious, but he also shows no signs of intracranial pressure.” The doctor scoffed in disbelief. “While ridiculous to say, this is nothing short of a miracle.”
Dean smiled and stared at the back of Castiel’s head. It was a miracle. The last miracle of the angel known as Castiel.
The smile faded soon after that thought.
“Well, doctor,” Sam said, trying to get up. “As you can see, I’m feeling better, so I think I’m ready to be discharged—”
“There is no way in hell that I can let you leave, Mr. Bonham.” Dr. Watts said, pushing the patient back in bed. She called the nurse who brought her a writing pad. “There are tests I need to run, and we need to monitor you overnight.”
Dr. Watts raised her hand to shut Sam. “Mr. Bonham, you came into the ER last evening with severe bleeding in your brain. We had to place you in an induced coma. Do you understand what I am explaining to you? Even if you have some sort of unique biology that allowed you to heal such severe trauma so fast, which I still cannot wrap my head around, I cannot, in good conscience, let you leave tonight without running tests.”
While Sam and the doctor argued, Dean couldn’t help but take in what was being said. Sam had been healed, yes, but it was only a matter of time before they found themselves in a similar situation again. And their extraordinary luck was running out. Castiel would become mortal come sunrise. There didn’t seem any more miracles coming their way.
“Sammy,” Both Sam and Dr. Watts turned to face him. “Stay the night. You know where we are staying in town. Tomorrow morning, we’ll pick you up.”
“But, Dean, you know—”
He knew what Sam meant. Castiel was back. Castiel had healed him. None of this medical bullshit mattered because Castiel would be there if it ever happened again. But Sam didn’t know about their diminishing luck. Or about Castiel turning into a human come next morning.
It was a long story to tell. And he couldn’t do it in the crowded room.
“One night, Sam.”
Sam knew Dean’s tone meant end of discussion and he sat back with an annoyed grunt. “Whatever. The beds here are better than the motel anyways.” Looking at the doctor, Sam said, “I am leaving tomorrow morning. No matter what. I know you can’t hold me.”
Surrendering to the patient, Dr. Watts confessed, “Fine. At least by then, I’ll have run the tests to give me some peace of mind.”
Dean and Castiel drove back to the motel in silence. They had left quite abruptly after Sam had surrendered to Dean’s request. The whole ride back, neither of the men had said a word. When they got to the motel, Castiel followed Dean to the room.
Dean threw his and Sam’s bags by the corner—not even having bothered taking them out of the Impala the night before.
Now that he thought about it, Dean hadn’t been back to the motel since the accident. Not having wanted to leave Sam’s side.
With an exhausted groan, Dean threw himself back on his bed. “I’m so freaking tired, man.” And he was. The ghouls, Sam, Rowena, and… Castiel’s return. So much had happened in the last 24 hours. He felt like he wanted to sleep for a month. Dean missed that week of nothing that had preceded all of this.
Holding himself up on his elbows, Dean saw Castiel. The angel hadn’t moved at all from the entrance this whole time. Not leaning or hunching. Dean couldn’t help but huff a laugh. Even after all this time, Castiel still acted in such an alien way.
The sudden realization of his present situation crept up on him. They were together again since their abrupt goodbye in the bunker. And they were alone.
The butterflies in his stomach were back.
“Cass,” Sitting up, Dean mustered the courage to say, “That night with Billie, and the Empty, what you said,”
“Dean, I understand if—”
“Shut up.” Dean stood up and pointed a finger at the angel. “This time you’re gonna shut the hell up and let me say what I need to say.” Seeing as Castiel followed his command, Dean began, “There was so much happening that night. With Billie, and Chuck, and the Shadow, and then you just sprang this on me out of nowhere. I didn’t know what to think or what to say. Or how to take it. I could listen to your words as you said then, but everything was so loud. There was so much happening, man. I couldn’t think of a damn word to say. And before I could even take in what you said, what you meant, you were gone. And I was alone. And I didn’t know what to do so I broke down there. Alone. And even then, I couldn’t do crap about it. I couldn’t take a moment to myself because we weren’t done. The world was still in trouble, Chuck still needed stopping and if I gave myself a moment, if I allowed myself to feel what I wanted to feel, I would have died, Cass.” Dean felt his voice broke, but he continued. “And now, I’m trying to take all of this in. I started to think about it back in the hospital when you appeared in front of me. Not even an hour ago. I’m still lost and confused about what I, what I feel. I’m not good with emotions, you know this. You know this better than anyone.
“I—I had to be strong. From that night, when mom was burning, and I was holding Sammy in my arms, I had to be strong. When dad would leave for hunts and leave me in charge, I had to be strong. I had to be the man of the house. I had to protect Sammy. That first time that he left me in charge, I was freaking 8, man. 8 years old. I had the windows and the front door salted. I tried to sleep, but I couldn’t. I huddled next to Sammy’s bed with a double barrel shotgun clutched to my chest. I didn’t sleep for 3 days. Not until dad came back from his hunt.” Dean chuckled to himself but there was pain there. “I slept a whole day after that. I didn’t know what to do, or how to be strong. So, I was like the cool guys in the old cowboy movies that I watched every day. I was tough. I was a smooth talker. A good shot. A womanizer,” Dean chuckled. “When I grew older, I threw myself at any chick who’d give me the time of day. It was nice just to be wanted, to be held. That’s how I was strong. That’s how I was a man. I never needed anyone or anything. I did it by myself. I killed by myself. I was the one in charge, because I had to be the longer that dad spent away. And by then, after years of this, I was afraid to change anything about myself. I didn’t want to ask for help. I didn’t want to be weak. I didn’t stop giving myself to women. Because if I did, if I changed anything about the persona that I had created for myself, if I changed the great ‘Dean Winchester’ then who would I be then? How would I change? Would I get weaker? Would I let Sammy be hurt? Would dad be disappointed in me? I couldn’t risk that. Any of that.
“And then for all my damn bravado and work into creating this perfect hunter, this perfect man… I lost Sam. The only thing I had left. The only thing I had to do on this Earth was to keep him alive. That was my whole purpose in being. And I failed. So, I sold my soul to fix my failure and I ended up in Hell.” Dean’s voice went as low as a whisper. “…and the things that I did there, Cass, the person I became then, it scared me. I had ended up changing something about myself, and it scared me so much.” Keeping tears at bay, his throat sore, Dean continued, “Then you brought me back to life. It was the first time in my life that anyone had saved me. And you were always there, Castiel. Whenever I needed you. Whenever I needed help. You always came. In Hell, I cried for help. For years, decades, I cried for help. For Sammy. For dad. For anyone to help me. To save me. And it was you, Cass. In the end, you answered my plea. From then on, whenever I called you, you came to me. And in time, you changed me, Castiel. You showed me that it was okay to ask for help. You showed me that it didn’t make me weak. But there is only so much one can change. I tried to ignore it. The creeping thoughts in my head. I threw myself at women to try and forget. To fix myself.
“When you went crazy over the Purgatory souls, and everyone talked about killing you, I wanted to die. I couldn’t accept that it was the only way to save the world. When Sammy plunged that angel blade into your chest, for a brief moment, I was ready to kill him. My own brother. The moment passed as quick as it came when I saw that it hadn’t affected you at all. And later, when you caused so much destruction, when I was so lost that I couldn’t even recognize myself and we bound Death and I ordered him to kill you... the way that you looked at me. I wanted to send myself back to Hell.
“Then the Leviathans tore you apart when they infected the world. And you were gone again. I was lost again. But you came back, like you always did. When we got trapped in Purgatory, when I was trying to find you, I prayed to you. Every waking moment I was there. To come find me. To help me, like you did in Hell.
“When Naomi brainwashed you, when you were beating me to the point that I was sure I was going to die, when you raised your blade at me, I was trying to bring you back, and in that moment, I said that we were family, but I prayed too, and I thought it then for the first time.
“My whole life up to that point, I had never said those words to anyone. Not once. Not even to Sam. Not because I didn’t love my brother, but because a strong man didn’t say such things. Dad never said those things. Not after mom died. But knowing that I was about to be killed by you, knowing that someday you would be free, and remember that moment, I wanted you to know that I didn’t hate you for killing me.
“And when I killed the Styne Family, when I was under the influence of the Mark of Cain, and you wanted to stop me, the Mark burned, Cass. It howled at me to cut you off—my weakness. It made me hurt you, and when you begged me, it took all I had just to miss. I would surrender to the Mark if it would spare you and it did.
“Then came the Darkness. And we had this whole weird connection thing with each other—she and I. It was like a compulsion. Something pulling me, but when she was about to kill you, that connection broke. Amara knew the truth that I was too scared to say.
“Ever since we met, Castiel, I’ve never had a moment when I could just stop, worry about nothing else, and simply take everything in. We went from one damn Apocalypse to the next, and something was always happening, I was trying to handle so many things, I just didn’t want to waste time thinking about myself.
“But I’m doing that right now, man. I’m trying. But this is not some switch that I can press and suddenly I’m okay, I’m all fixed up, and I can give you this perfect man. I have to tear apart my whole being to see who I really am, to build myself back up.”
When Dean finished, he took a deep breath. His heart was beating out of his chest, his ears were burning, the room was spinning, and Dean was trembling ever so lightly.
“You don’t have to do that alone, Dean.” The angel finally said.
“I know that now.” Dean scoffed. “And even still, I can’t take a moment to myself. Not when I know that this is your last night as an angel, and that tomorrow morning you’ll be a real boy.” he chuckled. “And what then?”
“What do you mean?”
Taking a long breath, Dean asked, “After tomorrow, if something happens to you after you lose your powers, when you die, you’ll go back to the Empty. The walls are now closed tighter than ever. I won’t be able to do anything to bring you back then. Not even Jack.”
“Dean, tonight, my soul will undergo a metamorphosis of sorts. It’ll be finished by sunrise. When that happens, Dean, my angelic soul will become a human soul. When I die, hopefully a long, long time from now, I won’t be going to the Empty. I’ll be going to Heaven.” Smirking, Castiel said, “Or Hell.”
Dean huffed a laugh. “Planning on sinning any time soon, Cass?”
“For the right reasons.”
Castiel spoke the words with such a straight face that Dean couldn’t help but laugh. “No matter where we end up, Heaven or Hell, we got VIP connections in both. I think we’re good.”
The laughter diffused into silence.
“Dean, like I told you that night, everyone that knows you, knows who you are. They know that you are a good man. There’s no need to be a projection of what you believed a strong man to be. You always were.” Taking a moment for Dean to take the words in, Castiel continued, “I’ve heard your prayers before. All of them. Even when I couldn’t answer them, all those days in Purgatory, every call and yearn, I heard them all.” Castiel sighed. “I never told you, but I received the task of pulling you from Hell the moment that you broke the First Seal.” His voice was pained. “From the moment that we left and finally entered Hell; it had been so long for you. When I found you, I took the memories of the moment that I pulled you out, but I was there to see you cutting up the souls of the damned. I saw your pain and your anguish. How your soul howled with every slash. I wish now that I was allowed to take everything from those 4 decades, but I wasn’t allowed. Eventually, you learned to live with them. Dean, I have always known every part of you—even if I sometimes didn’t understand them—and I have always accepted every part of you. I always will.”
“Cass,” Dean sat back down on his bed with a sigh, taking his face into his hands. He couldn’t help but pray to him even though they were in the same room. It was easier for him to say what he needed to say through a silent prayer.
Castiel turned his head to the side, hearing the prayer being given to him. “…it’s faint, like a whisper, with my powers waning, but I can hear it.” When Dean looked up at him, surprise in his face and tears in his eyes, Castiel smiled and said, “I love you, Dean.”