Castiel looked out the window, feeling as if the weight of the dark night was on his shoulders. He had found himself wondering more and more often how things had gone so wrong. Dean, and in conjunction, Sam, had been his charges on earth to watch over and offer guidance if it were needed, and now he couldn't seem to keep them safe. And it meant so much more to him now that he succeeded in that as they were no longer just his duty, but his friends. Really, his family—the only one he seemed to have now after being cut off from heaven.
A bitter thought crossed his mind as he considered his recent reunion with Gabriel, the lost archangel everyone had thought was surely dead. More importantly though, Castiel's elder brother. One he had loved dearly as a fledgling and young warrior in the garrison—before Gabriel had left without a word during the conflict between Michael and Lucifer. And now Gabriel wasn't much better than they were. He was still trying to force Sam and Dean into their roles in the Apocalypse, even though he himself seemed to be too much of a coward to join in. Always the one caught in the middle, but more willing to run away than actually try to help repair things. Maybe Castiel was still bitter for the loss of one of his favorite brothers right when he needed him most, but he would be lying if he said it didn't make him angry. Just like he had been confused when Gabriel left heaven and never bothered to say goodbye. But…maybe he thought it was only fair since their Father had left the same way.
He reached into the pocket of his coat to touch the amulet he had borrowed from Dean. He had been searching for months and there was still no sign of God. Castiel refused to give up hope, not yet, but deep down, he was loosing his conviction. He knew his Father wasn't dead, but in a way, that was worse. Because then it truly meant that he knew what was going on but wasn't going to do anything about it. Still, Castiel knew there had to be a reason he had been brought back. He knew it. He just wished he knew what it was.
"You gonna stand there all night, feathers?"
Castiel shook himself out of his dark thoughts at Bobby's gruff voice. Right now they had other, more urgent problems. He turned back to the hunter sitting at his desk, looking at his computer.
"I'm not sure what aid I can offer," Castiel said. "It would be better if I went out to search for Sam, though even then, I'm not sure I would be able to find him."
"Well, keep tuned in to angel radio," Bobby told him. "Someone might let something slip."
Castiel nodded. "It's possible, but I think Zachariah only let the news get out before because it wasn't a secret. They know I can still listen in even if I can't speak to anyone. Probably wanted me to know that I had…failed to protect one of the humans I joined in rebellion."
Bobby sighed heavily and picked up a cup from the desk, frowning as he saw it was empty. "Well, pour me a fresh cup of coffee then. Once we can get Dean's head in the game, we'll figure out where we go from here."
Castiel refrained from sighing and reached over for Bobby's cup. He went into the kitchen to refill the cup, and was pouring the coffee when the rumbling of an engine sounded somewhere outside. Castiel frowned in confusion, but didn't register the significance until he heard Bobby curse from the other room. Castiel ran back into the study and saw Bobby looking out the window. He followed the hunter's gaze and saw taillights disappearing into the distance. He suddenly realized what had happened with a growing pit in his stomach.
"Dammit, Dean!" Bobby yelled. "What the hell does he think he's doing?"
"He's going after Sam," Castiel said certainly, his stomach knotting up all over again. These increasingly human emotions and feelings made concentrating on problems rather difficult. "Zachariah must have found a way to get a message to him."
Bobby cursed again, taking his ballcap off to run a hand through his hair, slapping it down on the desk. "Well, what do we do now?"
"I need to stop him, find out where they're supposed to meet," Castiel said, already wondering how he was going to manage it if he couldn't track Dean and Zachariah was sure to stay under the radar. "If Dean says yes…"
"I know," Bobby growled and ran a hand over his face. "Balls, those boys are going to be the death of me."
Castiel set a hand on the hunter's shoulder. "I'll do everything I can to get them both back."
"I know." Bobby chewed his lip, obviously angry he wouldn't be able to join Castiel. "And Cas, don't get dead."
Castiel offered a small smile. "I'll do my best." And then he took off, trying to find any sign of Dean, Zachariah, or Sam.
It was only an hour after dawn when Dean got to the meeting place, a no-where town in Kansas that barely looked alive this early in the morning. The address Zachariah had given him, it turned out, had been for an old warehouse on the edge of town. Dean gave the place a once over as he pulled up in front of it.
"Well, this is original," he grunted to himself as he cautiously opened the Impala's door and stepped out, looking around for any potential danger. He wasn't stupid enough to know Zachariah wouldn't use force if necessary. He checked to make sure the angel blade and his gun were still on his person before he made his way toward the warehouse.
As of now, Dean still didn't know what he was going to do. He didn't want to say yes, but he certainly wasn't going to let Zachariah keep torturing Sam either. Maybe during the meeting he would find an out. Hopefully.
He cautiously opened the door of the warehouse and stepped inside. It was dimly lit by several skylights letting in the pale morning light and it looked to have been a storage place for a contracting company as there were still stacks of windows and lumber scattered around. There was no sign of Zachariah yet, though.
Dean checked his watch, finding it was only a few minutes until the agreed meeting time. He paced restlessly, his mind continuously flashing to the image Zachariah had shown him of Sam the night before, being tortured by his lackeys. Dean knew the douchebag could have easily made him see anything he wanted to, but he wasn't delusional enough to think Zach wasn't making Sam suffer. The dick had been out for them since the whole vessel thing had started and it was no secret he enjoyed making people suffer. Dean just wondered what kind of shape his little brother would be in when he got him back, and countered that image with the thought of paying Zachariah back in kind.
He was interrupted from his dark musings by the sound of flapping wings. He turned around and saw two angels standing behind him, dressed neatly in suits, their hands clasped in front of them. Dean glowered at them.
"He sent us to handle business for him," one of the angels said, a broad-shouldered bruiser type.
"Well, sorry, pal, but I ain't dealing with stunt angels two and three. I want to speak with your boss personally, and you can tell him to bring my brother with him while he's at it."
The second angel gave him a tolerant smile. "Zachariah told us not to give you anything until you say yes."
Dean chuckled, shaking his head. "Really? Well, he should know I'm not gonna do that until I know Sam is safe. And I sure ain't giving you a damn until I get to see him in person."
The angels seemed annoyed by this, and Dean began to wonder whether he had made a mistake not bringing Cas along to the meeting. If it came to a fight, he didn't think he had much chance of winning.
"Actually, our orders were to bring you with us, so this will work out just as well," the shorter angel smiled, advancing on Dean.
Dean took a step back, reaching into his coat for his angel blade and holding it up defensively. "Hold up. Zach told me we were gonna meet here. Those are the terms I agreed to. I'm not letting you drag me off to points nowhere so Michael can 'persuade' me to let him jump my bones."
The bruiser angel actually smiled. "Well, Zachariah didn't specify that you had to come quietly. After all, we can always heal you later."
He flicked his hand toward Dean and the hunter flew backwards and crashed into one of the piles of windows, glass and frames shattering and cutting into any exposed skin. He grunted at the impact, losing his hold on the angel blade as the bruiser angel strode over and reached down to grab the front of Dean's coat, hauling him up off his feet before he threw him down, hard on the ground, knocking the wind from him. Both angels had their blades out now and they moved to stand over Dean as the hunter just tried to get his breath back, looking for any opening he could find.
"Humans really are pathetic creatures," bruiser angel said as he reached down and grabbed Dean around the throat, cutting off his air and pulling up off his feet. "Sometimes I wonder why Michael would ever want such a poor example as you to be his vessel."
"Yeah, well, I've taken it up with him, trust me," Dean grunted out, clawing at the angel's hand.
"Time to go," the other angel said.
And then the tip of an angel blade appeared through bruiser angel's neck. The blast of light that exploded out of his eyes startled Dean as the hunter was dropped back to the ground, gasping for breath and covering his eyes. He heard the other angel scream too, then another explosion, and then carefully uncovered his eyes to see his rescuer.
He expected it to be Cas, as he was pretty sure the angel would have followed him, and was kind of surprised he hadn't shown up yet, but as he looked up and saw the face of his rescuer, his heart turned to ice.
"Hello, Dean," came the nonchalant voice. "It's good to see you again."
"Lucifer," Dean breathed, and instantly scrambled for one of the dead angels' blades.
"Ah-ah," Lucifer cautioned and was right in front of him in a flash, his foot firmly panted on Dean's outstretched hand. Dean grunted and glowered up at the devil.
"What are you doing here?" he demanded, trying to pretend he wasn't completely terrified.
Lucifer gave him a small smile. "Well, saving you, of course. See, I got this funny little message through the grapevine that Michael and his lackeys have my vessel, held hostage so you will say yes." He shook his head mockingly. "But I thought, well, two can play at that game. And Dean is certain to show up at some point to save his precious baby brother." Dean growled, then winced as Lucifer crouched suddenly and gripped his chin. "So, I stopped by to pick you up myself. Won't Michael be surprised when he finds out I have his Sword to do whatever I please with. Because you see, Dean, I get it. I know the only way into Sammy's pretty little head, is through you." He leaned in close and Dean couldn't help a shudder as he felt Lucifer's breath on his ear. "And soon enough, you'll find out just how persuasive I can be."
Before Dean could even think of doing anything so stupid as to fight back, Lucifer grabbed his arm and the hunter felt himself yanked into the ether.
It took Castiel most of the morning to track down Dean, and then it was only because he felt two angels die in a place nearby. Of course, he couldn't be certain that it was Dean, but considering the fact that the angels had taken his brother and were not about to give Sam up without a fight, it only seemed logical to assume that Dean was more than willing to fight.
It was certainly a more appealing assumption than Dean saying yes to Michael.
And when Castiel finally pinpointed the spot, he was relieved to see the Impala there so Dean had to be nearby.
But when Castiel entered the warehouse all he found were two dead angels and evidence of a quick and brutal fight. He sensed some of Dean's blood among the shattered glass from several broken windows on one side, but other than that there was no sign of the elder Winchester. He bent to pick up an angel blade from the wreckage, likely the one Dean carried, and then frowned as he looked over at the dead angels.
If Dean had lost his blade, how had he killed the angels? None of the blades had blood on them either.
Castiel felt the worry re-knot his stomach as he studied the scene. Something wasn't right here. It was possible Zachariah had taken Dean, but these angels were obviously working on his behalf so who would have killed them? Zachariah might have been a petty bully, but he wouldn't just kill his own men, and Castiel felt sure Dean hadn't killed them. No, he was sure someone else had taken Dean. But who?
Castiel quickly pulled his phone out and dialed Dean's number but it only went to voicemail. He snapped it shut and decided to fly back to Bobby's and at least let the hunter know what he had found out. Perhaps they could find a way to track Dean.
He appeared in the middle of the hunter's study, starling Bobby so that he spilled coffee on his desk.
"Dammit, feathers," he growled, grabbing a napkin to wipe it up. "Don't you knock?" He looked up then. "You find Dean?"
"I found his car and two dead angels," Castiel said grimly. "But no, I haven't found Dean."
"Balls!" Bobby yelled. "Why the hell do those boys always have to do things the hard way? I swear they'll be the death of me."
"What's more worrying is that I don't know who took him, as it obviously wasn't Zachariah," Castiel said.
"You mean the angel's don't have him?"
Castiel shook his head. "I don't think so. Dean didn't kill the angels at the meeting place. Something else must have him." The dark thought he had been trying to keep at bay started to roll in as he considered the other options. Mainly demons. Which meant that he was probably on his way to Lucifer…
"I may be able to track Dean, but we need to do it quickly," he said, and started looking around Bobby's study. "I'll need some things."
With Bobby's help, and his hunter supplies, Castiel was able to find everything he needed for a tracking spell. He cleared off a place on the desk and drew a sigil in chalk before placing the items for the spell in a bowl.
"Why couldn't we do this for Sam?" Bobby asked.
Castiel shook his head. "Zachariah would have warded against any tracking spells. It would be pointless to try." Bobby grunted in acceptance.
"Now we need something of Dean's," Castiel said. "A personal item; hair, or…" He narrowed his eyes and slipped his hand into his pocket, pulling out Dean's amulet. "This will work."
Bobby nodded and Castiel placed the amulet on the sigil, then turned to the hunter again. "I need human blood."
Bobby rolled his eyes, but reached over to grab a penknife from the desk. "This had better work if I'm bleeding for it." He sliced the base of his thumb and let some blood drip into the bowl. Castiel nodded in thanks and said the incantation before he lit a match and threw it into the bowl.
Normally, he would feel slight vertigo as the spell showed him the location of the person he was looking for, but this time, as soon as the ingredients flared in the bowl, Castiel had the impression of slamming into a wall at terminal velocity. He had no idea what had happened and wasn't even aware he had obviously blacked out until he came to to find Bobby looking down at him from his wheelchair as Castiel sprawled on the floor.
"What the hell was that?" the hunter demanded.
Castiel sat up slowly, his head aching. "I'm…not entirely sure," he said. "I think that's what happens when you try to locate someone who is heavily warded."
"So what does that mean?" Bobby asked grimly.
Castiel pulled himself to his feet. "Nothing good."
"Balls," Bobby growled.
That was when Castiel was overcome with another splitting headache. He cried out and gripped the edge of the desk to steady himself as an uproar of voices screamed through his head.
"Hey! Cas! You okay, son?" Bobby demanded, reaching out and gripping his elbow.
Castiel pressed a hand to his head, eyes blown wide as he tried to make sense of what he had just heard.
"Maybe you should sit down," Bobby told him.
"No, it's…angel radio," he said, turning to the hunter. "Bobby…"
"What?" the hunter demanded.
"It's Dean," Castiel said, horror creeping through him as the news was finally registering. "Lucifer has him."
Sam swam through semi consciousness, still delirious with the fever and now the added pain of his injuries. Zachariah and the other angels had spent the better part of half an hour burning him with holy fire before he had simply passed out. He wasn't sure how long he had been unconscious, since there was no way to tell the time wherever he was being kept, but his dreams had been restless and full of pain and horror, and he was almost glad to be awake again.
Except that he knew it likely only meant more pain coming.
He wondered vaguely whether Dean was coming for him. Zachariah had said he had contacted Dean, but Sam wasn't sure whether he wanted his brother to come or not. Of course he would like to be rescued, but he knew that if Dean said yes to Michael Sam would lose all the conviction he had in this fight. Dean and his determination to escape their destiny was the only thing keeping him going. As long as he could believe in his big brother, he knew he wouldn't say yes to Lucifer. Dean had always been the one to keep his feet on the ground. To keep him human. But if Dean was just Michael's meatsuit, who would Sam have? Look what happened when Dean went to hell. Sam wouldn't even be in this mess now if he hadn't lost Dean the first time. He knew he needed his brother, and that was that.
But the look of disappointment on Dean's face when he saw Sam drink the demon blood again came back to Sam's mind. And he couldn't help but wonder whether Dean hadn't given up on him. Maybe Zachariah had been right, maybe he was just an abomination, a monster, and he wasn't even worth saving.
Sam shook his head as his eyes welled up with tears. That was just the demon blood talking. No matter what, he knew his brother would always come for him. He had to know that. No matter what he had done, Dean had still been willing to sell his soul for Sam, and whenever Sam had doubts about their relationship, all he had to do was remember that.
And he also vaguely recalled Dean's soft words as he was forced to strap Sam down on the cot in Bobby's panic room, making sure to wrap cloths around Sam's wrists and ankles first so the cuffs wouldn't rub his skin raw as he struggled. "We'll get you through this, Sammy." It wasn't much, but Sam could tell that Dean didn't blame him, and that made it okay. Gave him strength to get through the detox even though the hallucinations had already started by then.
Right now he was exhausted and would give anything to be back in Bobby's panic room. Anywhere but here.
He started to hear voices outside the room, and frowned, wondering if they were in his head or actually real. Sometimes it was hard for him to tell with the demon blood pounding through his veins. Although, he seemed a little more attached to reality now, so maybe it was finally working itself out of his system.
One of the voices was slightly hushed and Sam couldn't make out what they were saying, but the other that rose in anger he definitely recognized as belonging to Zachariah.
"What do you mean not there?" he demanded.
The other voice sounded apologetic, rambling on and on, before Zachariah cut in again.
"Get to the point! It's not going to make it any easier on you the longer you take to say it!"
A few more rambled words and then Zachariah exploded.
"What?! Well, find out where he went! I can't afford to have him running all over the place. And remember, it's my ass on the line, so you had better find out quick before Michael gets wind of this!"
Sam's ears quirked up, wondering if Dean was coming after all. Maybe he had escaped Zachariah's meeting and had a better plan to get Sam out. Sam wasn't sure whether Cas would be able to find him or not, but he hoped that the angel could maybe keep his brother from doing something completely stupid if Dean was insisting on a rescue attempt.
The door slammed open and Sam flinched. Zachariah came into view, looking disgruntled. Sam couldn't help but smile a little, despite his pain and exhaustion.
"What's wrong? Still haven't gotten employee of the month?" he asked.
Zachariah sneered and struck Sam across the face. "Your insolence isn't going to do you any favors, you little pissant. The only reason I give a damn about you at all is because you're the key to getting your brother to say yes."
"And how's that going for you?" Sam asked, ignoring the numbness in his face from Zachariah's blow.
The angel raised his hand to hit him again when the door flew open.
"Sir," an angel came in, pale and looking like he might pass out when Zachariah spun around to glare at him.
"What?" he demanded.
The angel swallowed hard. "Um, there's a message…"
Zachariah cast his eyes toward Sam and then strode toward the door angrily and yanked the other angel out with him, slamming the door closed. Sam strained to hear, his heart pounding as he hoped it was about Dean. If Zachariah was angry then that was probably a good thing and meant his brother was still out there somewhere.
"Are you absolutely sure?" Zachariah's voice came through the door.
The other angel sounded like he was groveling a little, but Sam still couldn't make out the words.
"Fine. I'll handle this from now on. Obviously no one else is competent enough. Let me know if anything changes." The door slammed open again and Zachariah came in with the two other angels from the last torture session. Sam felt suddenly nauseous. The messenger seemed to have disappeared and was probably glad of it.
Zachariah looked extremely angry now. Even more so than before. He waved at Sam. "Get him strung up. I need something to take out my frustrations on."
"No, don't," Sam grunted as the angels undid the straps across his chest and legs and hauled him from the table. Sam's legs gave out, but it didn't matter. The angels dragged him a few feet from the table and then manacled his hands in front of him threading a hook they had pulled down from the ceiling through them and raising it until Sam was barely able to touch the floor with his toes, which he realized for the first time were only covered in socks. For some reason that made him feel even more vulnerable.
Zachariah didn't even wait until the angels had stepped away. He leveled a heavy fist into Sam's stomach, causing him to swing in his chains and choke out a yelp, scrambling to get some sort of purchase on the floor. But then Zachariah just swung several more times, the blows fast and heavy, until most of Sam's body was aching. He gasped for breath, watching as blood dripped from his nose onto the floor at his feet.
Zachariah shook his head in disgust. "It's amazing anyone would want you, Sam. Why Lucifer even bothers to go to all this trouble for you, I'll never know. You're a pathetic, mewling, abomination."
Then he swung again, and Sam didn't want to admit that Zachariah's words had hurt him more than the blows.
Dean landed roughly, although that might have had something to do with the fact that Lucifer practically threw him to the floor upon reappearing out of the ether. They appeared in what looked like the basement to some old industrial building or perhaps an abandoned factory. Either way, it was dimly lit and had high ceilings and probably a lot of nothing around it so no one would hear him scream. Dean rolled and came up on his feet, his gun instinctively in his hand.
Lucifer rolled his eyes. "Seriously? You think that's going to do anything?" He casually flicked his hand to the side and the gun was wrenched from Dean's grip to clatter across the floor. "Really, Dean, I just wanted to take this time to chat. Get to know each other. Obviously, I am kind of interested in the guy who's chosen to be my big brother's vessel. Michael's kind of a picky one, you know, and I'm not quite sure what he sees in you." He looked Dean up and down. "I mean, no offense, but you don't really seem to be his type."
"I don't want to have a chat," Dean growled at him, glad his voice didn't waver. He was trying to keep his body from shaking. He wasn't sure he could recall the last time he was this terrified about anything, but standing toe to toe with the devil would do that to you.
"Oh come on," Lucifer wheedled. "We're gonna have to do something while we wait for the big hostage exchange—that is, providing Michael agrees to it. All I've got to talk to here are demons and between you and me, they just aren't great conversationalists."
"Yeah, or, counteroffer," Dean said. "You can just let me go, because I'm pretty sure we have nothing to talk about."
"Oh, but you're wrong, Dean," Lucifer said, walking slowly toward him. Dean backed up until his back hit a wall and Lucifer crowded him, only inches away. And Dean got after Cas for his personal space issues. "We actually have a lot to talk about. About what happens once I take your brother. The things I'll make him watch me do to you…"
"Sam will never say yes," Dean gritted out. "And I won't either."
"But you don't actually believe that, do you, Dean?" Lucifer asked. "I think you know exactly how this is going to end, you're just trying to delay the inevitable."
"Talking about inevitable," Dean said, glancing up at the side of Lucifer's face where the skin was peeling, looking like a really bad sunburn. "Is that a skin condition or something? You know you can probably get a cream for that."
Lucifer smiled tolerantly. "I have no need to worry about that. I'll have my true vessel before it becomes a real problem. Mark my words." He reached up and took hold on Dean's jacket lapels, making motions to straighten them before he turned his gaze up and Dean froze as the devil met his eyes. "Because I have the one thing in the world that little Sammy Winchester is willing to give himself up for."
Dean felt himself go cold, and was still frozen as Lucifer hauled him away from the wall and dragged him over to a door at one side of the room.
"Perhaps a round with my demons will make you more amiable," Lucifer said. "Plus, I did promise them a little fun. They're really no better than dogs, you know, they need their treats too." He wrenched open the door and shoved Dean inside. The hunter stumbled and fell on his hands and knees. He looked up to see half a dozen demons, their eyes flicking to black as malicious grins spread over their faces.
"Have some fun," Lucifer called to them. "Just make sure that you leave me something to play with later."
Then he shut the door and bolted it behind him and Dean scrambled to his feet, looking for any escape as the demons advanced on him.
"Well would you look at that," one said, tossing her hair over her shoulder, a hungry look on her face. "A Winchester, trapped like a mouse."
"I've been waiting for an opportunity like this," another said, cracking his knuckles.
Dean bolted to one side where he saw another door, hearing the demons call and heckle him from behind. He almost thought he was out when the door opened before he could reach for the handle and smashed him in the face. He stumbled back with a startled yelp and looked up to see a huge demon grinning down at him.
"Going somewhere, Winchester?" he grinned, then reached down and grabbed Dean by the front of his coat, throwing him backward.
Dean only got a chance to shout before the demons were on him.