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Dean tugged at the leather cuffs pinning his wrists to the bed. They held tight, even when he strained until his head and muscles ached with the effort.

When he heard chuckling, he was able to sit up enough to see Zachariah come into the room, followed by a man Dean didn’t recognise.

That man was wearing medical garb, which explained why Dean had woken up in a hospital gown, strapped to an operating table, surrounded by medical equipment.

He’d hoped it had been some kind of weird nightmare, but clearly he just wasn’t that lucky.

“What the fuck,” he snapped.

Zachariah sighed. “I’d have thought being around a child of the Host would have taught you better manners, but Castiel is hardly an example to follow. Though I think you’ve rubbed off on him more than the other way around.”

Dean was tempted to tell Zachariah to keep the angel’s name out of his mouth, but the other guy was pulling over an IV stand, and then a hefty metal unit with two canisters attached to it and a ventilation system.

Dean wasn’t an idiot. “What the hell are you doing?”

The man ignored him, as if Dean was already out cold, so Dean glared at Zachariah. “What the hell is going on?”

Zachariah snapped his fingers and a stool rolled over from the corner. He sat down next to the bed.

“I’m tired of the fight in you, Dean. And I was thinking to myself, how do we deal with this stubborn jackass of a human? How do we bring him to heel?

“And then I remembered one of the angels who’d been watching those shepherds, just waiting for the right moment to spread their joyous message, telling how he’d witnessed one of them dealing with a sheep dog that just wouldn’t keep its mind on the job.”

Zachariah glanced meaningfully at the man in scrubs, who was moving to the end of the table. “And after that, they didn’t have any more trouble with it.”

Dean cried out in surprise when the man clicked a set of stirrups into position and grabbed hold of one of his ankles. He struggled, but then Zachariah simply reached over and tapped his shoulder, and all the strength leeched out of him.

“What...what you are going to do?”

Zachariah rolled his eyes. “Michael didn’t pick you for your smarts, did he? I’m going to have you fixed, Dean. And then you’re going to be the most obedient dog ever.”

++

When Sam had prayed to him in panic, Cas had flown immediately to his location. He’d found a distraught younger brother and an equally fearful old hunter, but no Dean; apparently two angels had suddenly appeared in the room, and then both they and Dean were gone.

Sam said that they had just arrived, there’d been no time to put up angel wards. That meant that somehow, those angels had known ahead of time where the brothers would be, and struck before the Winchesters had time to effect their usual defences.

Cas would have to investigate that; the warding on Sam’s ribs was still strong which meant Dean’s would be too, but if there was another way the angels could find the brothers Cas would have to deal with it.

Right now, he had to find Dean. And since he was limited in tracking him the same way his siblings were, due to those sigils Cas himself had burned into their ribs, he would have to track the angels who had taken him instead.

++

“Don’t do this,” Dean pleaded. He tried to get the attention of the man he now knew was a surgeon, but the man refused to acknowledge him beyond preparing him for the procedure. “You can’t trust this bastard.”

Zachariah was slowly circling the table, almost eager to watch what was coming. “Professor Malcolm is a true believer, Dean. A good man. Loyal, faithful. He understands the important part you have to play in the future, just how much hinges upon you. And he also wants his family to survive the coming dark times.”

“He’s a liar,” Dean yelled. “He’ll either kill you or leave you and your family to die. The only way any of us make it is if we don’t do what he says, you have to-“

He didn’t get to finish. His throat closed up, so that air barely made it through. Zachariah leaned in to watch him thrash around, face darkening from the lack of oxygen, and then released him.

Dean lay panting as his lungs were able to work fully again.

“Do you know what I’m going to do with your cock and balls?” Zachariah said. “I’m going to have them delivered to Sam. And the next time you see your tainted little brother, you’ll be doing the job you were made for.”

He looked up at Malcolm. “Are you ready?”

Malcolm was gloved up and holding an IV kit. “Just need to sedate him.”

Zachariah grinned darkly down at Dean. “That would waste the lesson. No; do it while he’s awake.”

Dean stared at him in horror, his expression akin to the surgeon’s.

Malcolm sputtered at him. “You can’t...That would be inhumane. Let alone impossible, because he wouldn’t be still enough for me to operate.”

Zachariah’s presence seemed to swell and fill the room; Malcolm backed away in terror.

“Remember the agreement. I’ll keep him still. Now do what you promised to do.”

Malcolm put the IV kit away, and uncovered a tray of instruments. He rolled it down to the bottom of the table, and turned back the sheet he’d used to cover Dean’s lower half.

“Please,” Dean begged. He started fighting the restraints again, tugging hard enough to shake the bed. “Please, fuck, don’t do this!”

Then Zachariah tapped his forehead, and Dean fell back, frozen, unable to speak, or to move.

But he felt the surgeon swabbing him with something cold, and then he felt the first sharp touch of metal.

++

Cas masked his presence as he swooped down on the old building where the other angels had delivered Dean. He’d made sure they wouldn’t be warning Zachariah, but he couldn’t risk the superior angel being aware of him before he had a chance to grab Dean and flee.

This wouldn’t be like rescuing Dean from that alternate version of the future. He would have to be quick and hope he could get Dean back to Sam and Bobby and then lead Zachariah away.

But he could hear Dean screaming for him, so whatever was happening, whatever Zachariah had taken Dean for, it wasn’t good.

He flew into the room, and was almost shocked into exposing his presence.

Dean was strapped down to a table, pinned by Zachariah’s Grace. A human surgeon had a scalpel pressed to Dean’s flesh, just above his genitals, and Cas could read in his mind what he was going to do.

It took a simple blast of Grace to throw both Zachariah and the human away from Dean, Cas being careful not to cause Dean injury from the surgeon’s knife, and then he scooped Dean up from the table, tearing him free from the restraints.

Zachariah clambered to his feet and launched himself at them, but Cas was gone, soaring through the ether. Zachariah might be strong, but he wasn’t as fast as Cas.

Cas just had to stay ahead of him for long enough to get Dean to safety.

He set down in the motel car park, a few feet from the door, and ran to it. Now that Sam and Bobby had put up the wards, he couldn’t enter, but Sam was watching for him from the window, and he had the door open before Cas was even there.

Cas shoved Dean into Sam’s arms, and then pushed them both back into the room. “Don’t leave until I come back for you,” he said, and then he pulled the door shut and took off again.

Zachariah was coming, rage and hate burning from him.

Cas slowed enough to let his superior come a little closer, flared his wings in a taunt. Enough to make sure he kept Zachariah’s attention, and then he sped off again.

++

Dean was shaking; Sam was pretty sure it was shock, and he’d wrapped Dean in every blanket the motel room held.

“Cas…” Dean kept trying to get up. “Cas...he...they were going to…”

Sam didn’t know what they were going to do, but Dean was in a medical gown, and they were wide bands of chafed skin around his wrists, so he figured it hadn’t been anything good.

He certainly wasn’t going to ask Dean about it. When Cas came back for them, he’d find out then.

If Cas came back. Because when he left, it was like something was on his tail.

Bobby was standing by the window, a gun in his belt (for comfort more than the expectation it would be of any use), watching the car park.

“Anything?”

Bobby shook his head. “If they were chasing him, he’ll lead them around by the nose for a bit.”

He didn’t say what Sam was thinking; that maybe at the end of that, they might catch up to Cas.

And if that happened, they couldn’t rescue Cas the way he had Dean tonight, and them previously. They just had no way to get to him, or fight off angels.

Bobby looked back at him. “He’s a fast little shit. You know that. No way they’re catching up to him.”

Sam forced a smile, grateful for Bobby’s attempt at reassurance, even if they both knew it was just whistling in the dark.

Dean, thankfully, had passed out, exhaustion and terror having put his brother under. They were safe enough now; Dean could rest and recover, and hopefully by the time he woke, Cas would be back with them, or at least have let them know he was alright.

++

Just after dawn, Sam woke up to someone knocking at their door. He’d fallen asleep sitting next to Dean’s bed, head pillowed on his arms; he looked up to find Bobby still dead to the world in a chair near the door, head tilted back, mouth open, his cap having fallen to the floor.

Sam stood up.

He didn’t think the angels would knock if they were back to try for Dean again, but he wasn’t taking any chances. Cautiously, he went to the window, and saw a figure he recognised.

“It’s Cas,” he yelled, nudging Bobby as he ran to the door.

He tore it opened, and Cas stood there, swaying. He was bruised and bloody, but he was on his feet.

“Cas,” Sam started, but the angel held up one closed hand. He let something drop enough to dangle from a golden string; it was a small black silken bag, with delicately threaded markings sewn into it.

“It was in the car,” he said, and then his eyes flared and the bag burned to soot in front of Sam.

And then Cas was tumbling forward. Sam caught him in time to stop him hitting the floor, but when he tried to pull Cas over the threshold it was like something was pulling him back.

The wards.

Dammit. Sam pulled Cas into his arms; he still had the keys to the Impala, and he hurriedly crossed the car park to where she sat. He rested Cas against the side, pinning him there while he unlocked the doors, and then put the angel down in the back seat.

He hurried back to the motel room. Bobby was awake, staring at Sam in confusion.

“We’re leaving,” Sam said. “Right now. You get Dean, I’ll get our bags.”

++

They made it home to the salvage yard some five hours later. Cas and Dean were in the back seat, Dean waking up when they pulled out of the motel car park.

He had a moment of panic, until he realised he was in Baby’s back seat, and then another moment of panic when he saw the beaten unconscious angel beside him.

But after that, Sam was able to leave Cas to Dean, and by the time they were pulling up outside Bobby’s house, Cas was awake and healed, and he stayed long enough to make sure they were safely back inside.

Then he was gone.

Dean and Sam stood on the porch, staring at the now empty yard.

“You okay?” Sam asked.

Dean nodded. “Yeah. Thanks to Cas. Our fucking car?”

Sam had explained what Cas had found while Dean had been tending the injured angel.

“He burned it up before I got a good look, but angels don’t usually do hex bags. So…”

“They bought themselves a witch.”

“Bought, blackmailed, tortured…”. Sam shrugged. “We’re going to have to be more careful from now on.”

Dean glanced up at the sky, a worried expression on his face. “All of us.”