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The Law of Fire

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“Take care of your sister.” Those words have been said to him quite a lot throughout the years, his father said those words, his mother did too, and so did Uncle Carver, but those words don’t and haven’t ever needed saying.

Though, no one tells him to take care of himself, well, almost no one, except for Anna, she has always been the exception. She always will be the exception.

He suddenly finds himself in a hallway. “How did I get here?” He wonders aloud, staring down the dark passageway.

He sees a man appear, whom he recognizes immediately as his father, a massive figure looming over him like he’s a small child again. “You let me down, Castiel.” He says, his voice echoing off the walls. “Anna is gone, how could you have let this happen?” He asks, voice dripping with anger that Castiel knows far too well.

“Father, I didn’t do anything wrong! I couldn’t stop her! I tried, but…” He trails off, his eyes hopelessly flicking up to his father’s face, he is, of course, wearing that ever stony expression that he saw every single day after their mother died.

“Useless child! You could never amount to anything, could you? Anna was always the smarter one, the braver one, and I was so much prouder of her, even though she wasn’t my own flesh and blood.” His father spits.

Castiel falls to the floor, his father advancing closer and closer. “You never did anything helpful, for me or for your mother, and that’s why she left on that last hunt!” He yells as Castiel shrinks away from him.

 

“And now you’re letting Anna do the same damn thing! She’ll die, and the one good thing you had in your life will be gone.” His father's voice echoes in his head, reverberating loudly. “No!” He tries to scream but the words won’t come out, he can’t even breathe.

He feels as if his lungs have disappeared, leaving him without air. “Father, please, help me!” He tries to beg, but the air is simply gone as the darkness swallows him.

He jolts awake, breathing heavily. He sits up, casting a look around the room, a dresser sits against the opposite wall, a table lies in the middle of the room, strewn with papers and an old, slightly cracked mirror is standing next to the dresser.

He sees the bottle on the nightstand and he remembers how he passed out last night, grimacing at the realization.

He suddenly hears a clink, almost as if something fell outside of his room. Eyes fixed on the door as he slowly slips out of bed and grabs his revolver from the nightstand. He sneaks up to the door, quickly pulling it open.

The door opens into the main room, it has a dirty kitchen - which he hasn’t bothered to clean in quite some time - in the left corner of the room, a flight of stairs leading downstairs on the opposite side of the room, plus a couch and a table which sit in the middle of the room.

 

Sitting on the couch back bent as she leans over, scrambling to pick up pieces of a disassembled revolver, is his sister, Anna, who must have been cleaning her revolver because there is a cloth sitting next to her on the couch. She sits up, triumphantly holding the pieces of the gun in her hands. She sees him, eyes flicking higher to meet his, the light brown color seems to almost light up.

“Cass!” She squeals, jumping up and running to wrap him in a hug. “Freckles!” He says, a tiny bit shocked but he hugs her back, putting a hand on her head and messing up her already fairly disheveled red hair.

She lets go of her death grip, a look of mock irritation spreads over her face. “Don’t call me that!” She says, punching his shoulder. He knows she loves it.

“I didn’t know you were coming back to town, if I did I would have cleaned up.” He says, gesturing vaguely towards the stacks of papers and books that lay forgotten on the table.

Anna laughs, a wide smile crossing her face. “No, you wouldn’t have.” He considers her words for a moment then laughs too, because, of course, she’s correct.

“Besides, this visit was a little… Unplanned.” She says, her smile faltering for a second. “What happened?” Castiel says almost immediately, hearing a worried tone edge into his voice. He feels the familiar protectiveness that comes from being an older brother, however, if anyone asks Anna, she would certainly say that he’s overprotective, but what does she know?

“Don’t be mad.” She says, not quite meeting his eyes. “I’ll make no promises.” He says, trying to catch her eyes.

“I screwed up my bounty.” She says, fidgeting nervously.

“Anna, what exactly happened? You’re being very vague.”

“Well, I was working with this other bounty hunter and were chasing this thief, he had an average bounty but it was still good money, we caught up to him after a few days, he wasn’t hard to subdue, I mean, we scuffled a bit, you know, the usual…” She says, trailing off.

He stays silent, not wanting to push her, he knows how well she responds to that.

“We took the guy in and the other bounty hunter - I think his name was Oscar - said he was gonna grab the bounty then we’d split it, so there I was, just waiting outside and when that Oscar jackass came out he just booked it! I chased after him but, of course, I was the one who actually had to fight the thief and I was bruised up, so I didn’t catch him.”

 

His first thought is to baby her, ask if she’s okay and to make her stay around so he can help her then promptly track down the asshole who hurt her and toss him in jail, possibly beat him up just a little bit. His second thought is to take her shoulders, shake her wildly and yell at her. Castiel just shakes his head, sighing. “So, you came back because you need money?” He asks, settling on his third thought and finally, she looks up to meet his eyes.

“Well, yeah, but I wanted to see you too!” She says, a little indignant. He pats her on the head. “It’s fine, Anna. I’m simply surprised you forgot the rule.” He says, teasing her a bit.

 

Immediately her face reddens, as she flops back down on the couch. “Yeah, yeah, I know, never let anyone you work with lay claim to the bounty if you don’t know them.” She says, pulling her knife out and polishing that too, leaving the pieces of her revolver scattered on the table.

“How long has it been since you had anything to eat?” He asks, studying her for a few seconds, he didn’t realize when he first saw her, but she looks exhausted, truly just worn out.

“A few days, I was heading back when I ran out of food and money, so…” She trails off, obviously a little embarrassed.

 

“Well then, we’re going to Gabriel’s, and we’ll try to find Uncle Carver too, he should be around there.” Her face immediately lights up at his words, bolting up and giving him a quick hug before running to the stairs.

“Hold up, Freckles.” He says, chuckling as she gives him a death stare. “Are you just going to leave your revolver here then?” He asks, gesturing to the pieces of her gun on the table. “It’s fine, I’m using the other one today, that one almost broke on me.” She says, gesturing towards the one on the table. “Fine, but also…” He trails off, gesturing to his bare feet and, of course, she rolls her eyes.

“Hey, wait, did you sleep in your clothes last night?” She asks, apparently just now noticing he’s wearing full clothing, except for his jacket and boots.

He shrugs. “I was working.” It’s not a complete lie, he was working, then he decided a bottle of whiskey was more interesting.

 

She raises an eyebrow but doesn’t say anything more about it. “I’ll wait downstairs.” She says, hurrying down the stairs. He walks back to his room, searching for his boots, he finds them discarded next to the bed and slides them on.

He also finds his jacket tossed haphazardly over a sketchbook that he doesn’t recognize. He picks it up, examining the dark leather it then quickly realizing it’s Anna’s from when she was little from the scrawl on the front reading. ‘Anna’s no tuching’. He smiles to himself at her spelling, she always had trouble with it.

 

He opens the sketchbook gently, wondering why it was on his desk… Then he remembers moving in, it must have been in a box with a few of the other things from their childhood. He looks at the different drawings, all of them are adorable, little trees and horses, sheriffs and cowboys, and one of their family, their names are scrawled messily above the heads of their drawn counterparts.

Uncle Carver, Gabriel, Anna, and Cass are all names written on the page, however, Castiel smiles at the fact that there’s a heart right next to his figure on the paper. There’s one more word written above all of them. ‘Family’ His heart melts and he closes the sketchbook, setting it gently on the desk. He’ll give it back to her… Eventually. He makes his way into the main room towards the stairs.

He walks down the stairs. His living area is above where he works, the Sheriff’s station, with the single holding cell that never had anyone in it. They never really had the budget to expand, or the need either.

Anna is sitting in his chair, feet propped up on his desk, papers be damned. She grins and stands up at the sight of him. “You ready?” She asks. He watches as she bounces up and down on the balls of her feet, poorly hiding her excitement, though, he doubts she’s actively trying.

He chuckles. “Yes, Freckles, I’m ready.” Even with his teasing, she still beams at him and bolts out the door. He grabs the saddle and reins which he left on his desk, the lead rope is outside and follows Anna out the door. He is immediately hit by the chill of the early morning air, shivering despite his heavy jacket.

His chestnut Missouri Fox Trotter named Nora is tied up outside the station, pawing at the ground.

 

He hasn’t taken Nora out for a ride in a while, which he feels a little guilty about but there had really been no need to take her out, though, Castiel knows he really should have. Nora is a quite beautiful mare, he was so grateful when Uncle Carver gave her to him and he still is, maybe one day he’ll repay his Uncle… Even if it is in some tiny way.

Anna’s has a similarly beautiful gray horse, but in a wilder sort of way seeing as her horse is a Mustang, which is a notoriously hard breed to catch yet she had still managed it, forging a bond with this wild horse she named Jack.

Jack is tied next to Nora and as soon as Castiel walks out he sees Anna stroking Jack’s neck gently. Castiel has always been fascinated by Anna’s empathy and understanding towards animals, the bonds she can forge with them, he has never been as good with animals as she is.

 

He walks over to Nora and begins to put her saddle on. “Where is Uncle Carver anyways?” Anna asks, checking Jack’s saddle which she must have left on before basically breaking into the station. “He’s visiting Gabriel over in Blackwater Ridge,” Castiel says, finishing up checking Nora’s saddle and stirrups, once he’s satisfied with them, he pulls himself up.

“Has Gabriel given up on Blackwater Bar yet?” Anna says, chuckling. “Not quite yet.” He laughs. “Damn, I still owe you money then.” She says with a wink. They had made a bet a few years ago when Gabriel had first opened his bar about how long it would take him to get tired of owning it, Anna had bet a few months, Castiel believed that he wouldn’t give up at all, so after three months they had called it but he told her that if he gave up in the next few years he’d let her out of the bet, however, to his delight, Gabriel is still working hard.

He grins at his sister. “That you do.” Anna also gets on her horse and they start riding. Blackwater Ridge isn’t very far, it only takes about ten minutes to ride there. They talk and joke as they ride, occasionally bringing up a few childhood memories, of course, only things after Uncle Carver took them in, everything before that…

“Do you remember when Gabriel told Uncle Carver that his dream was to own a brothel?” Anna says, laughing. “Yes! I thought he was about to string Gabriel up!” Castiel says, remembering that day, what a vivid memory.

“Glad he settled on bar owning instead,” Anna says, a big grin on her face. “Mm, if he hadn’t, I fear Uncle Carver would have destroyed him,” Castiel says, matching her grin. They talk a little more before they’re in Blackwater.

Blackwater Ride is a relatively busy town, however, it’s not so busy that you couldn’t ride through easily. They tie their horses up outside of Gabriel’s bar and step inside. The inside of the bar is slightly dark, even though the sun shines brightly outside and the bar is, like always, full of people, regardless of the early hour. The bar is on the left side of the tavern, multiple stools sit in front of the bar and almost all of them are full.

Castiel searches the crowd for a moment before he hears a voice calling out his sister’s name. “Anna!” A man with long sandy hair runs up to them and wraps Anna in a hug. “Hey, Gabe.” She says, laughing. Their ‘brother’, Gabriel, releases her and sees Castiel too. “Cass!”

He moves to hug Castiel too and he begrudgingly accepts, smiling a tiny smile to himself, he has missed Gabe despite them being so close. Gabriel is busy and so is Castiel, even though Caelum - the town he is the Sheriff of - is fairly small, he has to handle the constant complaints of the farmers in the area that the local bar gets too rowdy, or that people are terrorizing their cattle when it’s truly just coyotes.

Gabriel lets go of him, still beaming at the pair of them. “Is Uncle Carver here?” Castiel asks, quickly getting to the point so he’s spared another crushing bear hug from Gabriel. “Yep! He’s in the corner playing a quick game and hell if he ain’t drinking his poker buddies under the table.” Gabriel says with a wink.

Castiel chuckles, he knows how much Uncle Carver can drink, his tolerance is almost unearthly. He shrugs off the thought when Anna shoots him a look that says just about the same thing he had been thinking.

 

Someone calls Gabriel from behind the bar. “Gabe!” The voice calls. “Coming!” Gabriel turns to them with an apologetic look on his face, almost a puppy dog face and, if Castiel is going to be completely honest, it’s not bad, Anna definitely helped him perfect it, one flash of those puppy dog eyes and she could get anyone to do anything.

“Gotta go, apparently bar owning is more stressful than it looks,” Gabriel says, chuckling, he’s said something of the sort almost every time they’ve seen him since he opened Blackwater Bar. “You ain’t leaving until we hang out, Annie.” He says, grinning at her. “You got a deal, but honestly, you may be a bit embarrassed, I’ll drink you under the table.” She says with a wink, positively giddy as Gabriel shakes his head, laughing wildly.

Though she is correct, Anna had somehow, even though she’s not related to Uncle Carver by blood - the pair of them are not related to him in any way, regrettably - had inherited his inhuman tolerance, whereas Castiel had certainly not. He had once passed out after just a few shots of an admittedly questionable beverage, because, of course, Gabriel had mixed it, from that day on he vowed never to take something Gabriel offered him without knowing exactly what it contains.

Gabriel runs off, leaving Anna and Castiel to weave through the mess of tables and chairs to get to Uncle Carver, whom Castiel had spotted in the corner moments earlier. Uncle Carver is sitting at a table with three other men, all looking fairly tipsy, other than Uncle Carver, of course. “Well, I’m out, Edlund.” One of the men says. The man who spoke has brown hair mixed with gray, partially hidden under a hat.

“Another fold? Typical, Barney, typical.” The one sitting to the left of Uncle Carver says to the man who had spoken first, Barney, apparently. “Uncle,” Castiel says, voice a little quiet, he learned years ago to be as quiet as possible when Carver Edlund is in the middle of a game.

Uncle Carver turns around in his chair, a sly smile on his mouth which Castiel returns, seeing the amount of money in front of his uncle, he realizes how badly he must be kicking these men’s asses.

 

It takes Uncle Carver a few seconds, but he spots Anna behind him, who looks practically giddy, Uncle Carver stands up and is immediately wrapped in a bear hug by Anna, but, to his credit, he seems to be squeezing her just as tightly.

They let go of each other, both looking a little out of breath. Uncle Carver and Anna are both grinning. “Been awhile, kiddo.” Uncle Carver says, ruffling her hair. Castiel smiles despite himself, he loves seeing Anna smile like that, he loves seeing how much this substi- He cuts himself off, not wanting to think about Uncle Carver and Gabriel like a substitute for their real family, but sometimes it’s hard to get that thought out of his head.

He immediately kicks himself for these thoughts. Damn it. He thinks, angry. He knows how much worse Anna has this, she’s had three different families in her life, tossed around like a ball, family to family, even if Castiel has been by her side the entire time it still must hurt like hell, losing two families, losing just the one had almost killed him and he still hasn’t completely recovered. I can’t imagine what it must be like for her…

“How long ya been back?” He asks, his grin never faltering and his game of poker all but forgotten. “Just a few hours,” Anna says, taking no notice of the downright lecherous stares of the men who their uncle had just been playing with, however, Castiel shoots them each a death glare, to his credit, the only one not staring as if he’s undressing her with his eyes, is Barney.

“All right, then. I would come and spend the day with you kids, but I have to pack.” Uncle Carver says, apologetically. “Where are you going?” Castiel asks, finally piping up. “Same old Sheriff gathering but hell if most of ‘em ain’t retired by now.” Uncle Carver says, pulling the hat off his head, revealing his hair, which used to be a light shade of brown but is now streaked with gray.

Uncle Carver trains his blue eyes - eyes that seem to have bottomless wisdom, eyes that truly give away his age and somehow, betray his actual age at the same time - on Castiel. The gathering he’s talking about is the same one he’s been going to since before Castiel and Anna came to live with him.

A bunch of the older Sheriffs who may have worked in neighboring towns or worked/trained together in the past, get together to reminisce, check in with each other and on occasion they would help on the farm they meet at, just a group of old friends drowned in memories and whiskey.

 

“You kids should make yourselves useful while I get my shit together.” Uncle Carver chuckles, he doesn’t typically curse, ever, but in his increasing age, he’s found occasional swearing to be quite cathartic, apparently. “How can we help?” Anna immediately pipes up, overly enthusiastic.

 

“I got a buncha wanted posters, just do the old sort and stick.” Uncle Carver says, finding his bag somewhere on the floor, pulling out a stack of dirty papers, a hammer, and a few nails, handing the items to Anna. “Edlund, you still in?” Asks one of the men from the game. “He’s sorry he interrupted your bonding moment.” Barney quickly adds, finishing the other man’s sentence, something tells Castiel that Barney is used to covering the guy in situations like this.

 

“Yeah, yeah, don’t get your panties in a twist.” Uncle Carver says. Castiel has always found it strange how people refuse to call his uncle by his first name and insist upon calling him ‘Edlund’.  He doesn’t get much time to dwell on it before Anna is shoving half of the stack of papers in his hands.

 

“Nice to see you, Uncle!” Anna says, before shooing Castiel out the door to hang up the wanted posters. “Anna, we do have to hang some of them in the bar-” Castiel is cut off by Anna taking off down the street, practically skipping. “Wait up, Freckles!” He shouts, running after her.

He finally catches up at one of the wanted boards, as she is already hanging up one of the posters, humming happily. “You’re far too overjoyed today.” Castiel mumbles, a little irritated at having to run, despite being a Sheriff, he prefers riding to running any day.

“Is there something wrong with that?” Anna asks, still smiling widely. “Well, actually, now that you mention it…” He grumbles, trailing off. “Aw, you’re just grumpy!” She says, chuckling as she takes another wanted poster from her stack and hanging that one up too. “Are you not looking at them? We do have to sort a few of them.” Castiel says. They usually hang the most important ones in the prominent locations, hanging the less important ones, like petty theft and things like that in the less desirable positions.

“I am! Sort of.” Anna says, looking at the two she just hung up, one of them is a known bank robber and the other is a lecherous man, who, according to the wanted poster, is known for going from town to town stealing articles of women's clothing.

Castiel gives her a knowing look. “Fine, fine!” She says, sitting down on the sidewalk, setting her papers next to her and using the typically ‘sort and stick’ strategy. The sort and stick strategy is exactly what it sounds like, you just sort them, most important to least important and then stick them up on the board.

He goes through his own pile, the typical string of petty thieves, bandits and a few other, stranger crimes which catch his eye, until he lays eyes on a rather large wanted poster, a picture of a rather handsome man beams back at him. When did men who look like they could get anything they want anyway start committing crimes? But wow if the picture does this man any justice at all the crime world is about to be fairly shaken up. He thinks.

His eyes flick down to check what kind of crime he committed and he feels as if his heart stopped. ‘Dean Winchester, found guilty on charges of theft, arson, and murder, taking the lives of dozens in the fire of Lawrence, Kansas.’ The title reads.

 

No, no, no! This cannot be correct… He feels completely shocked and he guesses he must look as shocked as he feels because, after a few seconds, Anna shakes his shoulder. “Cass, you okay?” She asks, voice full of concern.

 

“Anna…” He says, voice barely above a whisper. “Cass, you’re really scaring me now! What’s wrong?” She asks, eyes boring into his very soul. He holds up the poster, allowing her to get a better look. He watches her face as she reads, her face seems normal for a few seconds until she finally realizes.

 

“No, no, no, that’s crazy!” She says, voice barely above a whisper. “Anna, I-” She cuts him off. “No! The fire was an accident, that’s all, an accident, they got it wrong.” She says, standing, eyes hard and hands clenched into fists.

 

Castiel swallows and nervously stands. “Anna, I don’t think it’s a mistake.” He breathes, trying his hardest to meet her eyes. “Son of a… No!” She says, defiant. “Anna…” He says, his voice sounding quiet and weak, he feels like he is going to punch anyone so much as bumps into him right now.

“It’s not possible!” She says, practically shouting now. He watches as people begin to stare at them. “They told us, Cass, they told us it was an accident!” She yells, eyes filling with tears. Castiel just wraps his arms around her, letting her cry into his shoulder. He strokes her hair, trying to calm her, even if he can’t calm himself.

 

Lawrence, that was the name of Anna’s town, the one that burned down, the one that led her to stay with him, the one that destroyed both of their families. He feels himself being pulled into his mind, memories of that night.

“Castiel, stay here.” His father had said. “I’ll be back soon, take care of your mother.” Then, he bolted out the door. His mother had only waited for seconds before wrapping his tiny nine-year-old body in a hug, telling him how much she loved him, then running to follow their father, who, obviously, didn’t want her to come with but he supposes he must have allowed it.

Castiel doesn’t know how long he waited there, it felt like eternities but he knows it couldn’t have been more than two hours before his mother was trudging in, looking weak, tired and covered in soot, with a bundle of clothing and soot in her arms, that bundle was actually a very small, weak looking child with bright red hair.

He had looked around for his father, but upon making eye contact with his mother his heart sunk in his chest, a realization that his father may never come back. His mother had set the girl down, helping her to stand.

 

Castiel had then just offered the young girl, whose eyes had been bright with fear, a hand. “Let’s clean you up, okay?” He had said, it was an offer more than anything else, and after what seemed like hours, she finally took his hand and simply nodded.

He’s jolted back to reality by Samandriel, a young deputy of Blackwater Ridge, clearing his throat. Samandriel wears a very apologetic expression on his young face, gesturing loosely towards the crowd that has formed around them.

Castiel feels anger bloom in his chest, like a fire curling and spreading through his body. These people think our pain is a spectacle, something worth watching, our lives are not entertainment! He thinks, casting a look around the crowd and glaring at every single one that makes eye contact.

“Come on, Castiel.” Samandriel says, jerking his head towards their horses. The wanted poster is still clutched in his fingers. Castiel simply nods in response to Sam’s words, he realizes that Samandriel is still talking, but he can’t be bothered to register his words, because, at that moment, he’s trying desperately to process the fact that the night everything would forever be ruined for his family only happened because of one man.

He backs away from Anna, just enough so that he can look into her eyes, seeing the red puffiness, her cheeks, which are very obviously tear-stained and the fact that he has a wet spot on his vest from where she was crying on his shoulder doesn’t help, however, he can’t be bothered to give a shit.

He simply blocks Anna from the view of the majority of the crowd as they follow Samandriel back to their horses. “Are you two okay?” Sam asks as soon as they get out of the earshot of the mob of people that had surrounded them moments earlier.

Castiel wants to explain how everything they have ever known and trusted had just blown up in their faces, how this man, by the name of Dean Winchester, had ruined their lives and irreparably damaged both of them, but he doesn’t, he doesn’t say a thing, he just simply nods.

“You two should probably leave, we’re having a little issue with some of the farmers and the barflies.” Samandriel says, the sweet look on his innocent, young face is familiar, one that Castiel had once worn himself and one that Anna still wears, even though it’s fading with every passing day.

 

Samandriel lifts the hat off of his dark brown hair, blue eyes fixed on the pair of them. “Yes, I think we’ll leave,” Castiel says, looking nervously at Anna, who refuses to make eye contact with either of them. “Could you tell Unc- Sheriff Edlund, that we left early? There’s a stack of wanted posters that we left on the ground back there, I could go get them-” Samandriel cuts him off. “No, it’s all right, Castiel, just take off, I can handle things here,” Sam says with a little bit of pride and Castiel simply nods in response.

 

Samandriel has always been very proud of his position as a deputy, which is well deserved because Sam works hard, always going the extra mile to assist anyone and everyone, a truly kind soul. Castiel has known Samandriel for many years, since Sam was old enough to dream about being a Sheriff, just like Uncle Carver, the man he admires above all others.

 

“Goodbye, Sam.” He says, mustering up a smile, however insincere it is, while Anna stares at her shoes. He leads his sister down the street, towards their horses, while trying to not attract any unnecessary attention.

They reach their horses and quickly check them before riding out in a hurry. They’ve been riding for about five minutes when Anna finally pipes up. “Hey, Cass?” She asks, turning to stare him in the eyes, her rich brown on his sparkling blue. “Yes?” Castiel asks, eyebrows raised. “We need to find that son of a bitch who ruined our lives and put a bullet in his head,” Anna says, and for once, Castiel agrees with her.

 

---

 

When they finally arrive in Caelum the sun is shining brightly directly over their heads and Castiel realizes that he must’ve gotten up rather late. I should probably be more careful about how much alcohol I consume… He thinks, sighing out loud.

Anna is quiet, uncharacteristically quiet, though, that may just be a side effect of realizing that the fire that destroyed your life and made you an orphan wasn’t an accident and a murderous jackass started it on purpose.

They get off their horses and tie them up in silence, barely looking at each other. This can’t be true… He wants to believe that, so desperately he wants to believe that they simply got it wrong, that it wasn’t Lawrence it was some other tiny town in Kansas, but he simply can’t, because he knows mistakes like those aren’t common enough to justify it.

As soon as they walk into the Sheriff’s station, Castiel realizes that they still haven’t eaten. He rubs the back of his neck, feeling rather foolish. “I just remembered that you still haven’t had anything to eat,” Castiel says, risking a glance at his sister, who, of course, does not meet his eyes.

“Oh, right,” Anna says in a voice so quiet that if he wasn’t right next to her he wouldn’t have been able to hear her. “There may be some food left in the kitchen upstairs.” He offers, knowing it’s a weak invitation, but she just nods and moves towards the stairs. “You coming?” She asks, still quiet, but loud enough for him to hear from his desk.

 

“I have to work, Freckles.” He says, giving her an insincere smile, however, he knows it probably looks more like a grimace. She laughs, equally as weak as his smile, the insincerity is clear. “Okay.” She says, simply, before heading up the stairs. He goes to the door and steps out into the heat of the early afternoon.

 

----

 

He makes it back to the Sheriff’s station as dusk is falling. He had to settle a dispute between two farmers over a cow, a single cow, it took him two hours before they finally agreed on who would keep the cow and that was only after Castiel had practically screamed at them that it Didn’t. Fucking. Matter.

 

He arrives at the old ramshackle station that he calls home, quickly dismounts from Nora’s back and holds the reins in his hands, affectionately stroking her head. Her strokes her neck and the space behind her ears, rewarding her for all her hard work.

 

He eventually pulls his hands away from her ears, slowly taking leading her towards the stables behind the Sheriff’s station. He pulls her into the stall next to Jack’s and removes her saddle, stroking her head once more before bolting the door to the stall and leaving.

 

By the time he is making his way back towards the Sheriff’s station the sun has set and by now, the wind has picked up, whipping at his clothing while he walks. He can’t wait to get into summer when the air is warm and… Suddenly, he remembers how close the anniversary of his mother’s death is and the realization hits him like a stampede.

He refuses to let himself dwell on it, because, honestly, he’s barely processing the fact that this man, Dean Winchester - and what a fitting name, Winchester, like a gun - is the reason his parents are dead.

He clenches his fists, desperately wanting to release his anger, practically daring any criminal to get in his way, however, none does and he finally steps over the threshold of the station. He casts a look around, noticing Anna is nowhere to be found.

He cautiously makes his way up the stairs as he worries about what she could be doing right now. He knows Anna, she gets reckless and self-destructive at times like these, he knows he’s no better, but hell if he’s going to let Anna repeat his foolish mistakes.

 

He expects to see her on the couch, passed out with a bottle of whiskey clenched in one hand and a revolver grasped in the other, so the sight of her, pacing, holding papers in her hands and mumbling under her breath, is shocking, to say the least.

There are papers strewn all over the table in front of her - disassembled revolver nowhere to be found - and some of them are even on the couch. He watches as she crumbles up one of the pieces of paper in her hands and tosses it to the wooden floor.

 

He clears his throat and she turns to face him, stopping her incessant pacing for a moment. “Okay, listen, I may have found something.” She says, jumping directly to the point without preamble. “Anna, what is all of this?” He asks, moving closer to examine the papers.

 

“Papers!” She says, a little too brightly for someone who just had their world turned upside down just a few hours ago. “I see that, but I meant, why are they here?” He asks, picking one of the papers up and seeing that it’s a wanted poster, a very specific wanted poster with a hauntingly familiar face grinning up at him, mocking him.

 

She snatches the wanted poster out of his hands, nearly dropping the stack of papers in her hands. “I told you, Cass, we’re going to find this son of a bitch,” Anna says. Her voice is fierce and angry.

 

He nods. “I know, Anna, but you need time to process everything, I don’t think diving straight into this is really a-” She cuts him off, shouting at him. “Aren’t you angry?!” She fixes him with a glare and he can almost see a blazing fire in her eyes.

“Of course I am, but that doesn’t mean I’ll turn into a fool over it!” Castiel says, his own voice rising in volume. “This bastard is the reason our parents died!” She shouts, stalking up to him, getting so close that he’s worried she might punch him.

“I know, Anna.” He says, voice softening at the desperate look in her eyes. “He… We have to find him, Cass.” She says, voice low as tears fill her eyes, and instead of punching him, she falls against his shoulder and he wraps his arms around her.

“We will. I promise.” He says, kissing the top of her head. “However, not today, or tomorrow even. We need to give it some time and after we have, we’re going to make him pay, Anna.” He says, voice still soft but the utter seriousness that he feels is echoed in it.

“We’ll make that bastard pay, but for now? I say we ignore the paperwork, sit down and imbibe copious amounts of alcohol. Drunkenness is optional.” He says, pulling away just enough to smile down at her, and she smiles back, however, this time, he’s sincere and he thinks, maybe, just maybe, she is too.

“That’s a plan I can get behind.” She says, slowly sliding out of his arms and moves to clear some of the papers off the couch. “What did you find, anyway?” Castiel asks, knowing his curiosity could get him in serious trouble with her, but he really does want to know.

“Not much,” Anna says, still clearing the papers from the table and sofa, stacking them in a pile, it’s not exactly neat, but it’s out of the way. “I found some references to similar fires that have been happening over the past seventeen years, and even a few before that.” She says, glancing over at him.

“That would make him quite old.” Castiel decides to point out, thinking about the fire. “Not that old, assuming he was in his early twenties when he started this whole thing he’d only be thirty-seven.” She says, finally satisfied with her work of clearing the massive amounts of paper from the couch and they are now piled high in multiple stacks on the table.

“This wanted poster image makes him look…” He trails off, gesturing vaguely. “Young.” He finishes unceremoniously. “Cass, the other possibility is ridiculous! If he was any younger than his twenties he would have been a teenager when this started and it goes back nearly twenty-five years.” Anna says, running her fingers through her bright hair.

“You’re correct, however, let’s think about the other option,” Castiel says, moving to sit down on the now paper-free couch. “Twenty-five years, so if he was fifteen when this started…” He says as Anna scoffs loudly.

“He would be forty, or, if he was in his early twenties, forty-five to fifty, now,” Castiel says, picking up the wanted poster and gesturing to it. “Does this man look forty or older?” He asks. “No, but it could be an old sketch.” She says, her voice sounding very reasonable, however, the way her nose is wrinkled in disgust at the sight of the paper makes her anger and distaste for this Dean Winchester clear, which he can’t say he disagrees with.

“It could be, but think about it. We’ve never seen this poster before in all our years of working and helping Uncle Carver, so that suggests the wanted poster is fairly new, meaning that the sketch is probably recent enough that we could still recognize him, therefore only a few years off.” He finishes, tapping the paper with the tip of his finger.

He watches as she simply nods and topples down next to him on the couch. “I need a drink.” She says as she pinches the bridge of her nose, looking exhausted. “I could do with one as well.” He says, chuckling as he stands to get the whiskey.

 

They sit and drink until everything is warm and fuzzy around them. Castiel grins as Anna talks about an old hunt she went on where an outlaw with a rather sizeable bounty decided to get drunk and walk about the streets, yelling some nonsense about how much money he was worth.

 

After a while, they both quiet down, drinking slowly in a most likely futile attempt to stay awake. “Do you remember the first time we met Uncle Carver?” Anna asks suddenly. “Yes. Don’t you?” He asks, eyeing her, just sober enough to keep his voice from slurring too much. “Vaguely.” She laughs, the sound is warm but it sounds somewhat bitter.

“What were you, like thirteen?” She asks, turning to her left to meet his eyes. “Mmm.” He takes another swig from his drink. “And you were a mouthy ten-year-old.” He says with a wink. “I was not!” She says, flushing.

He laughs at the red color in her face almost matching her hair. “You most certainly were!” He says, laughing harder than he has in months. Anna could always make him laugh even when she was a child. What a strange ability. He thinks, smiling to himself.

 

“And do you remember Gabriel?” Castiel asks. “Oh my God, yeah! He was so pissed when he heard that Uncle Carver was adopting us!” Anna says, beaming at him and laughing quite hard.

 

“He eventually got used to us, though.” He says, fixing his eyes on the ceiling remembering Gabriel’s indignant expression when they had moved in with little other than the clothes on their backs.

 

“Yeah, I don’t think he wanted to like us… At all.” She says, slowly pulling her legs up onto the couch and leaning her head on Castiel’s shoulder. She pulls her knees to her chest, head still on his shoulder.

“Probably not.” He says, wrapping his arm around his sister. “I’m surprised Uncle Carver even took us in all those years ago, who would want two kids burdened with the loss of their parents?” He asks, however, there’s no good answer.

“I think Uncle Carver was a little broken too, Cass.” She says, her voice barely above a whisper at this point. He nods, remembering how much Uncle Carver used to drink, how much he still drinks.

 
Silence falls again as they both drink. He allows the quiet to surround him like a blanket as he holds his sister. “I miss them,” Anna whispers. “Who?” He asks, tilting his head and casting a glance at his sister.

 

“Mom and Dad.” She says, slowly meeting his eyes and hers are shiny, she looks like she’s on the brink of tears. “I know they were only my parents for a year but…” She trails off. “I know, Freckles, I know.” He says, holding her tighter.

“I remember when Mom brought you back. You were all covered in soot, dirt, and grime, yet you didn’t look like you were going to cry, you just looked tired and scared, even back then, you were a tough kid,” Castiel says, feeling the heat of tears slowly welling up in his eyes, he takes a deep breath and closes his eyes. I’m not going to cry. He thinks.

 

“I remember extending a hand to you and for what seemed like forever, you didn’t take it, until, finally, you did. I’ve been thinking about that day a lot recently because truly, that was the day everything changed.” He says and before he even finishes Anna is slipping an arm around him.

 

He knows it can’t be comfortable, her arm being pressed between his back and the couch, but the small touch reminds him of her support, how much she’s always supported him and that means everything to him. The pair of them stay quiet for a few minutes, just holding each other because they’ve only ever had each other.

 

“Hey, Cass?” Anna asks, her voice soft and quiet.

“Yes?”

“Thank you.”

“For what?” He asks, truly confused and he looks at her, tilting his head as he meets her light brown eyes.

“For taking care of me after Dad left, I mean, you could have gone with him, or left me to fend for myself, but you didn’t…” She says, trailing off and by her eyes, she looks like she’s about to break down and sob. “Anna, there’s nothing to thank me for.” He says, squeezing her a little tighter.

 

“Yeah, there is.” She says, finally breaking eye contact. After a few seconds, he can feel her start to cry, her shoulders shaking gently. He feels tears welling up in his own eyes and all he can do is squeeze her tight, making sure she knows she’s not alone.

 

After that, they sit in silence, arms around each other, and just drink until, eventually, the world fades into a dark blackness all around them.

Chapter Text

 

“Castiel.” A voice whispers. He almost doesn’t hear it over the calming sound of the waves crashing on the shore. “Castiel.” It whispers once more, this time with more urgency, breaking the peaceful calm of the beach lit only by a bright moon shining in the dark night. “Castiel!” The voice cries out again, this time louder, clearer and more present. “Castiel!”

 

His eyes fly open to a man with sandy hair and messy scruff on his chin standing above him. “Castiel, get your lazy ass up, right now!” He says. Castiel knows he can’t be yelling, but it feels very sharp and loud. I’m hungover. He thinks, wanting to slap himself across the face for his stupidity. He realizes with a jolt he wasn’t sleeping on the couch but on the floor next to it, Anna must have pushed him off!

 

“Wha… What time is it?” He asks, dumbly as he sits up and rubs his eyes. The sky he can see peeking through the panels of wood on the ceiling - the ceiling is in extreme disrepair, they desperately need to fix it but Castiel has never gotten around to it - is dark and starry.

 

“Early,” Gabriel says, simply. “And we’ve got a problem.” Castiel tilts his head, staring at his adoptive brother in confusion. “What kind of problem, Gabriel?” He asks, still feeling somewhat asleep.

 

“They shot Sam, Cass.” He says, voice quiet yet urgent. “They… Samandriel? Who shot him?!” Castiel asks, bolting right up, suddenly feeling more awake than if he chugged a gallon of coffee and feeling fear grip his heart. “Some damn bandits,” Gabriel says, grabbing onto Castiel’s shoulders and staring into the taller man’s eyes.

 

“Get your shit, we gotta go help.” He says, letting go of the death grip he had on Castiel’s shoulders. Anna is curled up on the couch, fast asleep and snoring lightly. “Our horses are in the stables,” Castiel says, trying to process everything. “Is Samandriel okay?” He asks, biting his lower lip.

 

“I… I don’t know.” Gabriel whispers, eyes full of pain and regret. “What do you mean you don’t know?” Castiel wants to shout but he tries to say it in a calm voice and succeeds to a certain degree. “I… They sent me to get help.” He says, not meeting Castiel’s eyes.

 

He wants to yell at him but he knows that Gabriel is in a lot of pain and Castiel trusts that he did the right thing, maybe he left Samandriel with some sort of medical help. Please let that be true. He silently prays as he looks around the room, barely noticing as Gabriel slides the newly reassembled revolver on the counter into the waistband of his pants.

 

Castiel turns his attention to his little sister who is still in a deep sleep. He shakes her lightly. “Anna, quickly, you have to get up.” He says in a low voice. Her eyelids shoot open and she makes a move as if trying to grab her revolver, which is on the coffee table a few feet away.

 

She realizes where she is and calms down. “God, I thought you were some sort of bandit and why is it so damn early? God, Cass!” Anna says, indignant, as always, then, she seems to register that Gabriel is standing there. “What’s wrong?” She asks. He assumes she saw the looks on their faces.

 

“A group of bandits shot Samandriel in Blackwater,” Castiel says, trying to keep it simple and as detached as possible, not wanting to panic. “Sammie? Oh, God is he…?” She trails off, the unanswered question lingers in the air for a few moments, the implications of the unknown hanging over all of them.

 

“We don’t know, but we have to get over there,” Castiel says, looking between Anna and Gabriel who wear similar looks of anger mixed with worry and tinged with doubt. “Let’s go.” He says, moving to the stairs and bolting down them.

 

He’s still wearing all of his clothes, of course, because he passed out on the couch, which has been a recent occurrence as of late seeing as it’s a little over two months until the anniversary of Charlotte Novak’s death, and he’s drinking a frankly ridiculous amount but he just can’t shake that feeling of guilt whenever he thinks about his mother no matter how much alcohol he consumes, but God if he’s not going to try.

 

Anna and Gabriel follow after him soon enough as he runs to the door, waiting for them. They all rush out into the early morning chill, the wind is whipping at them, tearing at their clothes and freezing Castiel to the bone.

 

“Stay here, Gabriel, we’ll be back in five minutes,” Castiel says, quickly taking off in the direction of the stables with Anna trailing behind him. He finds Nora in no time at all, leading out of her stall and saddling her up as Anna does the same for Jack and after a few minutes, they’re riding back out towards Gabriel.

 

Gabriel is on his own horse, also a Missouri Fox Trotter, though not quite as beautiful as Nora, he named his mare Kali, whose coat is black as the night, though that’s really not the right thing to be focusing on right now, he has to focus on anything other than the fact that Samandriel is dying or already dead. They ride off in the direction of Blackwater Ridge.

 

“Gabriel, explain everything that happened up to Samandriel being shot and everything that happened after,” Castiel says, trying to keep his voice even and keep himself from panicking, panic won’t help Samandriel, it will only cause problems for everyone if he loses it. He has to raise his voice to shout over the wind as they race towards Blackwater.

 

“Some shithead bandits came into the bar pretty late since we keep it open twenty-four hours now just in case someone wants to rent out a room, but they were waving guns around and drinking a lot so Sammie, who was just makin’ his damn rounds, told them that they’re supposed to keep all guns outside of the town and they didn’t like that, so they shot him.” Gabriel rattles off, anger radiating off him in waves.

 

No, anger doesn’t even cut it. He looks fucking pissed off. Even thinking profanities seems strange to him, almost as if his inner voice can’t wrap its mouth around those types of words.  “My new bartender grabbed the gun from behind the bar and a shootout started, a few of the other barflies jumped in, the other two deputies and I warned the Sheriff too. He sent me to get more help, so I came to you guys. Last I heard the bandits pushed out or killed anyone else in their way and holed up in my bar,” Gabriel finishes and Castiel doesn’t look at him, he refuses to.

 

He knows that if he looks at Gabriel he’ll lose all control on his temper at the sight of Gabriel breaking too, but something in the back of his head is telling him that might not be such a bad thing.

 

“Did… Did you just leave Sammie there?” Anna says, it’s hard to hear with the wind whistling loudly in their ears but he manages to make out her words but since Castiel is riding in the middle of the three of them, with Anna on his left and Gabriel on his right, he sincerely doubts Gabriel heard her.

 

“What?”  And his suspicions are confirmed as Gabriel yells out. “She asked if you left Samandriel there.” Gabriel looks shocked and a little guilty. “So you did?” He asks, tearing his eyes away from his adopted brother’s face.

 

“I didn’t have a choice! I had to leave him there or I would have gotten a bullet in between my eyes for all my trouble, Castiel!” He yells over the wind, fixing Castiel with a glare, tinged with self-righteousness but mostly filled with guilt.

 

He always knows when Gabriel is angry with him because he stops calling him ‘Cass’ and starts calling him ‘Castiel’ Anna and Uncle Carver do it as well, which can be aggravating but has proven to be most useful when he misses things which he apparently does quite often.

 

Castiel doesn’t respond to Gabriel, he simply nods and fixes his eyes on the horizon, the dark outline of Blackwater Ridge coming into view. The only sound left is the wind whistling as they approach the town which he would say, if he didn’t know better, looks abandoned.

 

They clamber off their horses and tie them to the fence of an abandoned, ramshackle house on the outskirts of the town. He strokes Nora’s head once, before turning his back on her and moving to look around the area.

 

He edges out from behind the side of the building getting him close enough to poke his head around the corner but keep his body in cover as he stares down the road.

 

The main road is abandoned, a horse or two tied up outside buildings, a cart carrying produce sits forgotten, a few of the fruits are cracked spilling juice all over the ground. Everything is strangely quiet, far too quiet. Samandriel could be dying somewhere out there and everything is so suffocatingly silent.

 

He casts a glance over his shoulder to see Anna and Gabriel bickering which brings a small smile to his face, making him temporarily forget about their situation. Their constant little arguments carry such familiarity that he feels right at home in a town that has never felt so foreign.

 

Then he hears it, like an explosion of sound… A gunshot, ripping, tearing through the silence of the air. Castiel looks around desperately, meeting eyes with Anna before another shot is fired, then a flurry of different shots.

 

Castiel wants to take off running down the main road, he knows it’s not a good idea, but God, he isn’t exactly known for great ideas, so he just goes for it, barreling down the main street, expecting a bullet to hit him at any moment, but right now he’s powered by rage at the thought of Samandriel lying in a puddle of blood, gasping for breath, all alone in his pain.

 

He hears Anna calling out his name as he runs but he doesn’t look behind him and focuses on figuring out where the shots are coming from, which is pretty easy with all the noise they’re making, constantly firing at each other and the tip Gabriel gave him.

 

He sees the sign of Blackwater Bar and slows down, hearing gunshots coming from inside. Samandriel. He thinks as he quietly sneaks around the side of the building into an alleyway, searching for the side door.

 

He sees the outline of a man crouched further down the alleyway. Castiel quietly pulls his revolver out of the holster that rests easily on his hip. He approaches the man, trying to make as little sound as possible.

 

He sees the man is crouched over something… No, not something, someone. He prepares his gun, readying himself to fire at the man, taking a deep breath, aiming and suddenly he’s grabbed from behind, the pistol knocked out of his hands.

 

He struggles against his captor’s grasp, kicking and attempting to get his trapped arms free. “Kid, shut it! Calm down!” The man holding him hisses in his ear. His voice sounds oddly familiar. Castiel thinks, trying to place it.

 

The man slowly eases his grip to let Castiel go and as soon as he does, Castiel whips around to see the face of his attacker. He realizes it’s the man Uncle Carver was playing poker with earlier. “Wait, ain’t you Edlund’s boy?” The man’s face breaks out into a smile. “Cass... Casper.” He says, looking Castiel up and down.

 

He is about to correct him when the man crouching down the alleyway speaks up. “It’s Castiel, Robert, Castiel.” The other man, Robert, scoffs. “Close enough, Barney.” Castiel watches this whole exchange with veiled interest, momentarily forgetting why he’s there.

 

“How’s the kid?” Robert asks, walking towards Barney. Castiel sucks in a deep breath. Kid… Do they mean Samandriel? He thinks, walking towards the human form laying on the ground. “Not good, if he don’t get some actual medical treatment soon, he ain’t makin’ it out,” Barney says, as Castiel gets closer.

 

When he finally gets close enough to see the person lying on the ground properly, he wishes he hadn’t. Samandriel is unconscious with blood all over his chest and hands, where he no doubt tried to stem the flow. Barney moves his hands and applies pressure. “We need more than we got to help him.” He says, looking sadly down at Sam.

 

Castiel can’t move, he can’t breathe as nausea pours over him, a thousand times worse than any hangover. Samandriel doesn’t deserve this! He’s a child… An innocent child. He thinks, fighting back the urge to clutch Sam to his chest and never let go until another urge hits him, a much darker urge, the urge to rip into whoever shot Samandriel and left him to die a slow, agonizing death then tear them to pieces.

 

He moves to the side door, knuckles white as he clenches the handle. “Where the hell do ya think you’re going?” Robert asks, voice much louder than it should be. “I’m going to find whoever did this and I’m going to make them pay,” Castiel says, his voice comes out low, angry and dangerous. Good.

 

“Well, that’s a dumbass idea! You’ll get yourself shot, kid.” Robert says with an expression that tells Castiel that this man must truly believe he’s useless and incapable of watching his own back. “I am not a child and I can take care of myself.” He says, meeting Robert’s eyes with fire in his own.

 

Robert throws his hands up, shaking his head. “Don’t say I didn’t warn ya.” He mumbles as he walks away from Castiel. He takes a deep calming breath and pushes the door open, stepping into the dark storage room at the back of the bar.

 

“Get Samandriel out of here,” Castiel says without looking back. “Will do,” Barney says before Robert can pipe up with some sort of idiotic comment. He takes a look around the familiar storage room, the same old shelves stand on either side of the room, filled with crates of beer, plates, and packed away parcels of Gabriel’s frankly terrible cooking.

 

He focuses on the door at the other end of the small room and he takes a deep breath trying to calm his nerves, even though the gunfire had quieted a few minutes ago, his ears are still ringing with the memory of the noise.

 

He hears a creak and almost jumps out of his skin, whipping around as he trains his revolver on the door behind him. An exclamation of panic comes from Anna, who is standing in the doorway, revolver holstered and hands in the air. “Damn it, Cass! Put the gun down!” She hisses.

 

“You startled me!” Castiel says, though, even if he is irritated and a little embarrassed he still complies with her request and brings the revolver down, holstering it. “Maybe if you hadn’t taken off down the street without me I wouldn’t have come in late to the party and scared your stupid ass!” She says, fixing him with a glare.

 

“I heard gunshots! I had to attempt to assist anyone in need!” Castiel says, matching her glare with one of his own, feeling anger curl around his heart like a snake and constrict it. “Without me or Gabriel?!” They’re whisper-shouting at each other, which he knows must be quite a sight.

 

“Well… I...  Speaking of which, where is Gabriel?” Castiel says, quickly changing the subject. “I saw those guys carrying Sam, I told him to go with them and help out,” Anna says, breaking eye contact and looking down at her shoes.

 

Castiel nods, taking a deep breath. “All right, well, I’m going to-” He is cut off by another gunshot ringing out, piercing the air. He instinctively lunges at Anna and they both tumble to the floor. Castiel bolts up immediately and helps his sister up.

 

“What the hell is going on in there?” Anna hisses, glancing over at Castiel and all he can give her is a shrug. His thoughts mirror her words as he edges towards the door, glancing over his shoulder once to look at his sister and as soon as she nods, he pushes the door open.

 

He steps into the room and immediately a shot is fired. Castiel dives behind the bar, poking his head out to glance around the room. The main room is the same as it’s always been, except for the fact that almost every table, chair, and stool in the room is overturned or is currently being used as cover.

 

He leans out from the side of the bar a little more, staying crouched and low. He spots one of the other deputies, panicked and hiding behind a large table that’s flipped on its side to protect him. Anna bolts out of the door and slides behind Castiel. “Where the hell are they shooting us from?” She asks, keeping her voice low.

 

He shakes his head, searching fervently around the room for the source of the ever-growing amount of gunshots. He takes out his revolver - which he had holstered and stupidly forgotten to take out before he ran into the room - and wraps his fingers around it, clutching to it like it’s the last port in a terrible storm.

 

Another gunshot rings out, shattering a bottle on the bar and spraying the room around it with alcohol and glass. He finally sees one of the bandits who is crouched on the stairs, using the banister as some sort of weak cover. He takes a deep breath, aims, and fires.

 

The bullet buries itself in the bandit’s chest and Castiel knows before his body even hits the ground, that he is dead. An anguished cry rips through the air and he closes his eyes, conjuring up an image of a peaceful field, cows mooing as they graze upon the open field and he takes a deep breath, imagining the smell of grass and flowers in the heat of a late July afternoon.

 

He hears another cry which brings him back to reality with a snap. He sees the deputy, still crouched behind the table, even with the poor angle, he can see why the deputy - Adam, Castiel thinks his name is - cried out; there’s a bullet hole in the wood.

 

This time, before Castiel can think to pop up and take a shot, Anna does and by the sickening thud, he knows she hit her mark. Adam is still cowering behind the table, recoiling as far away from the bullet hole as he safely can without exposing himself.

 

Castiel gestures for him to come to them. Adam finally notices Castiel’s eyes trained on him and, of course, Adam’s eyes widen to the size of the moon when he realizes what Castiel wants him to do. Adam shakes his head vigorously, motioning up at the stairs and the ledge above them where anyone could easily take a shot at him if he doesn’t move quickly enough.

 

Castiel nods with understanding and whispers to Anna. “When I say the word, I need you to pop up and shoot.” He says and Anna nods, thankfully not asking for a reason. He turns back to look at Adam, who is still wide-eyed and terrified.

 

He mouthes “ When I say go, run for it.” at Adam, praying he’ll understand and do it. He waits for a few seconds before yelling. “Go!” And immediately Anna pops up, firing off a shot as Adam hightails it over.

 

A shot is fired at Adam but he lunges as Castiel grabs his shirt and arm to pull him behind the bar before the bullet can hit him. Adam is gasping, looking far too shaken up to formulate a sentence, but he’s going to have to. “Adam, how many of them are there?” Castiel asks immediately.

 

Adam is still sucking in air like crazy and looking around the room wildly, but he manages to get some words out. “They… Um… Seven, I think.” Castiel nods, biting his bottom lip and squinting up at the stairs that lead to the long ledge that spans the upper half of the room instead of a second floor, it has a railing running along its length as well.

 

“We took out two, so that leaves five left.” He says to Anna, who nods and pats Adam gently on the shoulder. “We got one of ‘em.” Adam offers up. “Good job, Adam,” Castiel says in the most sincere voice he can summon up. He really did do well.

 

“So then, four,” Castiel says, turning his attention to Anna. “Yeah.” She says, her voice is low but it has a darkly humorous note in it. “Let’s kill these sons of bitches.” Castiel simply nods, agreeing with her. “Or, at the very least, frighten them off.” He says, keeping an eye out for any more bandits.

 

After a few moments, he sees them, a group of black outlines hiding in the shadows behind the banister, their grouping makes it difficult to tell how many of them there are. He’s about to stand up and shoot when he has a thought. “What if we lure the bandits out?” He says, glancing at Anna who stares back.

 

“What do ya mean?” She asks, tilting her head slightly. “If we wait here, we might be able to lure them out and kill all of them in one fell swoop.” He says, gesturing up to where the bandits are hiding. They can’t see the three of them crouched behind the bar from their angle.

 

“Okay, so what, we just hang out and wait for them to charge?” Anna asks, looking a little on edge. “It sounds worse when you put it like that, Freckles.” He says, trying to lighten the moment a bit. She shakes her head but eventually nods. “All right, let’s do it.” She says in a resigned voice.

 

They sit there and wait for what seems like hours but it’s probably only thirty minutes before the sounds of boots on hard wooden floors fills the air, it sounds like three people. Where are the other two? He wonders, a swell of panic ballooning in his chest.

 

He’s broken out of his thoughts by voices, which must be coming from the bandits. “Well, where’d they go?” One of the men asks. “Not sure. Maybe they slipped out the back while you weren’t watching, ya spaz.” The second man says, sounding quite irate.

 

“While I wasn’t watching?” The first man fires back. That first one sounds like a hot head. He thinks, committing that to memory. “Ain’t you the one who’s supposed to be the eye in the sky?” The second man starts to make a response when a third voice cuts them off.

 

“The both of you need to shut the hell up!” The third voice says, louder, booming and commanding. There’s a squeaking sound followed by silence. Castiel feels his breath accelerate, his heart pounding in his chest. If this fails… He thinks before pushing any thoughts of what could happen away.

 

“You two dumbasses must have lost ‘em because you argue non-fucking-stop.” The man with the commanding voice spits. “S-sorry, boss.” One of the men squeaks. “We lost two good men, ain’t that a damn shame?” The third man asks, voice low and dangerous.

 

Castiel’s hands are sweaty as he clenches them around the revolver, his finger on the trigger. He hears the soft fall of boots on the other side of the bar. They’re getting closer. He squeezes his eyes shut, taking a deep breath. He’s been in bad situations before, but none of them carried such a threat for Anna or practically anyone but him, so yes, his hands are slippery with sweat, his breathing has accelerated to the point where it’s hard to keep quiet, and he is shaking so badly he worries he may drop the gun.

 

“Stop being such a coward, you worthless waste of space!” He flinches as his father’s voice echoes in his head. “I’m sorry, Father.” Stop apologizing! He screams at the young version of himself in his memories. “Sorry isn’t good enough, Castiel.” He shakes his head, vigorously trying to rid himself of those poisonous thoughts.

 

He takes a deep breath and jumps up, his revolver immediately fixes on the closest bandit to him and he squeezes the trigger, hearing the horribly satisfying sound of a bullet tearing into the man’s chest.

 

A cry comes from the other bandit who was standing by his side, anguished pain mixed with shock. The bandit pulls his revolver out in a matter of seconds and aims it at Castiel’s head, he squeezes his eyes shut as he hears the shot.

 

He expects to feel pain, white-hot, searing pain then he expects to fall as the bullet tears clean through him, but nothing happens, there’s no pain, no scream that rips through his lips as he topples to the ground. His eyelids flutter open to see his would-be murderer lying on the ground, Anna on top of him, holding his gun to the ground and punching him viciously.

 

The leader of the group growls and unholsters his own gun before Adam pops up and yells something unintelligible at the man before charging at him, however, Adam’s attempt does not work as well as Anna’s did.

 

The bandit grabs Adam’s wrist, twisting his arm before kicking him to the ground. Anna, who just finished rendering the bandit who had taken a shot at Castiel unconscious, stands up, pulling her revolver from her holster and lining up a shot.

 

Before she can take the shot the leader is on her, knocking the gun out of her hand as Castiel rushes forward, forgetting about the weapon in his hands, forgetting about anything that isn’t Anna. He tackles the man before he can lay one more hand on his sister.

 

He fumbles, trying to keep the other man’s hands down but is rendered powerless when the man below him - who is obviously stronger and Castiel curses his lack of strength training - hooks a leg around Castiel’s waist and rolls him to the side, putting Castiel below the other man.

 

When Castiel looks up, he sees wild blue eyes staring back at him, uneven stubble coating large portions of the man’s face, brown hair tangled and messy under his hat. The man throws a punch, hitting Castiel directly in the face and he feels the warm trickle of blood from his nose spill down onto his lips.

 

Anna is there before the man can get another hit in, pulling him off of Castiel and putting the man in a chokehold as he struggles wildly under her grip, legs kicking out, damning anyone near him. Adam who was just on the ground a few moments ago seems to have regained his composure and runs towards them.

 

Adam punches the bandit squarely in the face. “That’s for Samandriel!” He yells. Castiel stumbles to his feet and grabs Adam’s arm before he can hit the man for the fourth time. Adam whips around wildly, his eyes brightly lit with the fire of anger.

 

“Adam, killing him won’t do us any good.” He says, trying to keep his tone reasonable in the face of such anger and guilt. He turns his face away, refusing to look at Adam for another second and turns his attention the bandit who is still being held in a chokehold by Anna.

 

“Guys, a little help here?!” She says, huffing and puffing as she tries to keep her grip. Castiel nods quickly and snaps into action, grabbing the handcuffs he always keeps with him and runs to grab the bandit’s wrists.

 

Anna allows Castiel just enough room to pull the man’s wrists behind him and snap the cuffs on him. Anna lets go with a sigh of relief. “You son of a bitch.” She says, standing up. Castiel isn’t one hundred percent sure if she’s speaking to the bandit or to him.

 

Suddenly, staring down at the bandit - who has blood trailing down his face, cuts on his cheekbones and knuckles - he realizes that he looks familiar. He racks his mind, trying to place the wild, dark blue eyes, the matted hair, and sharp cheekbones.

 

He realizes with a start that this man was on a wanted poster that Castiel has posted and reposted a few times over the past few years. They update it a couple of times a year, this man must be a truly terrible bandit.

 

“You’re Thomas Collins,” Castiel says, matching the face with his name. “Tommy.” The man, Tommy, apparently, corrects. “Who the hell is Thomas Collins?” Anna asks, looking between Castiel, Adam, and Tommy. “Him, apparently,” Castiel says, nodding towards Tommy. “The name is Tommy, not Thomas.” He spits.

 

Castiel leans close to his face. “I’ll call you whatever I wish.” He spits, gratified at the scared look that contorts Tommy’s features for a moment before disappearing. “You’re quite the bandit.” He says, examining the man’s features. Castiel notices he looks young, much younger than he had originally thought.

 

Thomas’s lips twist into a sickening grin. “Damn right I am.” He says, egotistical cockiness spilling from every pore. “Famous for riding on other peoples’ coattails,” Castiel says, turning away from him, a small smile playing on his lips on the effect this undoubtedly will have on the man.

 

“What’s that supposed to mean?” Tommy growls. Truly, he is making this far too simplistic. Castiel thinks, and every little thought is tinged with thinly veiled anger making him feel wicked, cruel and evil, but right now? Right now, Castiel Novak-Edlund couldn’t care less.

 

“You’ve worked with dozens of other bandits, all of which have been stronger, smarter, better at their craft and you just grabbed onto those people, allowing their strength to pull you to the top, damning anyone else with you to oblivion.” He knows what he’s saying could do more harm than good, but he wants to taunt this man. Castiel’s damaging this man’s pride when he truly wants to damage his goddamn face, but figures that won’t fix anything.

 

“They worked with me because I’m one of the best, I’ve even worked with Dean Winchester!” He says and Castiel almost feels the air being sucked out of the room as he and Anna share a dual look of ‘What the hell did he just say?’.

 

“Sorry, you’ve worked with whom?” Castiel asks, staring at Anna, who is staring right back, wide-eyed, with eyebrows raised so high they’re almost in her hairline. “Dean. Winchester.” Tommy says, emphasizing each part of his name. “Yeah, your ears are workin’, I worked with some of the best.” He says, grinning darkly.

 

Anna is the first to move, she had stood as soon as Castiel managed to get Tommy cuffed and now she’s bearing down on him like a vulture coming to feast on its prey and just like a vultures prey, Tommy is dead.

 

Well, that is if he doesn’t tell them what they need to know. “Where was the last place you saw Dean Winchester?” Anna asks, her voice low and dangerous, cruel even. “I ain’t tellin’ you, lady.” Tommy spits, sitting up, hands still cuffed behind his back.

 

“That is a big mistake,” Castiel observes, a dark chuckle escaping his lips. Adam is looking between the three of them, utter confusion is written all over his face. He makes eye contact with him and Castiel simply shakes his head, whispering that they’ll explain it later.

 

Anna kicks him in the nose and Castiel hears a sickening crack. “Where. Did. You. Last. See. Him?” She asks, every word emphasized with a kick to some part of his body. “Oasis Plains!” He yells, pain seeping into his voice. “But he ain’t gonna be there, not now,” Tommy says, spitting out blood.

 

“Where will he be?” Anna asks, grabbing the front of Tommy’s shirt. “I don’t know!” He says, his voice small and scared, almost like a child. “He pulled a bunch of us together a while back, sayin’ he needed people for an upcoming job and that’s all I know,” Tommy says, eyes darting around the room, looking for a way out, no doubt. “What kind of upcoming job?” Anna hisses, as Tommy leans away in fear.

 

“He said something about hunting down some guy!” Tommy says, wriggling under Anna’s grasp. Adam is standing with his arms crossed. Castiel steps next to him, putting a comforting hand on his shoulder. Adam just continues staring down, watching the scene unfold.

 

“Did you catch a name?” Anna asks, letting go of Tommy’s shirt for a second and standing up, out of her crouch. “Albert or somethin’!” He says, voice still high and a tad squeaky but sounding quite relieved that Anna let go of him. Anna makes her way across the floor to Castiel’s side.

 

“What do ya think?” She asks, a whisper in his ear. “I think this is the best chance we have at finding Dean Winchester.” He mutters back. Anna nods and steps towards Tommy. “When did you meet him?” She asks.

 

“We met them there ‘bout three days ago. The city is about, um, fifty, no, sixty miles from here, it’s named Oasis Plains.” Tommy says, stumbling over his words. And I thought he was frightening just a few minutes ago. He shakes his head at the thought.

 

“Good.” Anna turns to face Adam. “Now, Deputy Milligan, could you please take him into custody?” She asks, voice softening when she turns to speak to Adam, she must see the purely rage-filled expression on his face. Adam simply nods, then crosses over to Tommy, pulling him up. “You got it.” He says, sounding angrier than Castiel has ever heard him sound.

 

Castiel catches Adam’s arm before he can walk away. “Adam, don’t do anything rash.” He says, voice low. “I’m not gonna kill him, what do you take me-” Adam is cut off by a shot that rings out through the air, that has Castiel pulling himself and Adam to the floor.

 

A sickening thud rings out and Castiel looks around the room wildly. Gabriel is standing in the main doorway of the bar, Anna’s revolver in hand, and Tommy is lying on the floor, blood spilling from a wound in his chest. “Gabriel! What have you done?!” Castiel shouts, stumbling over to the man lying on the floor, whose shirt is darkening with the deep red color of blood.

 

“He shot Sam!” Gabriel shouts back, not moving from the doorway. Castiel applies pressure to the wound. “Anna! We need something to stem the blood flow.” Anna nods, quickly shedding her jacket and offering it to him. “This isn’t ideal,” Castiel whispers.

 

“I know, if it were ideal we would have clean bandages, hot water, and a doctor, Cass, but you have to try.” She says, putting a hand on his shoulder and he nods. He knows that the bullet will act like a cork, stemming the blood flow. He isn’t a real doctor and he isn’t equipped to take the bullet out, so he’ll have to do what he can.

 

He presses down on the wound as hard as he can, adding layer upon layer of vests - Anna’s vest, his own and even Adam shed his jacket - on the wound. “Why are you even helping him?” Gabriel asks, suddenly moving forward. “Because he told us what we needed to know and in any case, he doesn’t deserve death,” Castiel says, hands wet with blood.

 

Anna jumps up as Gabriel gets closer. “Is that my revolver?! Goddamn it, Gabriel!” Anna says, obviously pretty pissed off. We’re going to lose him. Gabriel, why? Castiel thinks, still pressing his hands down hard on the chest of the man in front of him.

 

Tommy’s eyes are fluttering open and closed as he tries to speak, blood spilling out of his mouth as he gurgles. “Hold on,” Castiel whispers. He stops processing Anna and Gabriel’s argument, simply focused on Tommy, a man dying right before his eyes.

 

He feels blood spill through the last layer of vests. “He’s gonna bleed out.” He says, voice shaking to Adam, who is kneeling right beside him. Castiel looks into Adam’s eyes and sees horror, mixed with nausea, and he realizes with a start that Adam probably hasn’t ever seen anyone die before.

 

“Adam, go check on the bandit Anna knocked out, see if there’s anything you can do before he awakens,” Castiel says softly, watching as Adam nods gratefully, relief written all over his face. Castiel watches Tommy for a few moments as the man tries to form words.

 

“Shh…” Castiel hushes him, then gently turns the man on his side to remove the cuffs on his wrists. Everyone deserves to die as a free person. He thinks, putting the handcuffs back in his pocket. Tommy reaches up and grabs Castiel’s wrist, pulling him down to his slowly moving lips. “I… I didn’t kill… That kid...Told ‘em… Not too... “ He says, voice halting and thick with blood. Castiel nods, looking into Tommy’s eyes and he can tell that Tommy isn’t lying.

 

He watches as the light in Tommy’s eyes goes out and Castiel’s own eyes flutter shut, taking a deep breath. Tommy’s eyes are open, devoid of light or hope, and Castiel can’t help but lean over and close them with a gentle hand. “I am sorry.” He whispers, quietly standing.

 

He turns to see Anna and Gabriel standing behind him, Anna refusing to look at Gabriel. She walks to Castiel, whose hands are still soaked in blood. “I need some water.” He whispers in her ear and she nods. “Gabriel, why?” He can’t help but ask the thought that has been bouncing around his head.

 

“He shot Sam!” Gabriel says, voice loud and defensive. “No,” Castiel responds. “No, he didn’t.” He shakes his head, a darkness curls up in his stomach, twisting and turning, making him feel sick. “But… But I saw,” Gabriel says, eyes wide and brow furrowed.

 

“Castiel’s right,” Adam says, the other bandit is walking, looking quite dazed with handcuffs tight on his wrists. “Tommy didn’t even have a bullet missing from his gun.” He says, lifting three almost identical revolvers in the air. “Looks like this one here is responsible,” Adam hisses.

 

Castiel nods and watches as Adam pulls him out of the bar. Anna comes back carrying a bucket of water. “Where do you think the other two bandits went?” She asks, gently setting the bucket on the floor, gesturing for Castiel to sit.

 

Castiel all but falls to the floor, feeling exhaustion pour over him. The adrenaline must have been keeping him from feeling the exhaustion and the sickness from his hangover, but now that the action has dulled he can feel everything, and a wave of nausea crashes over him.

 

He washes his hands in the bucket, feeling glad to get the blood off of them. “I think they most likely were frightened off. I don’t believe they’ll be coming back any time soon.” He says, plunging his hands even deeper into the bucket of water.

 

Gabriel stands there, quiet in his shock. “I wouldn’t have done… Well if I had…” Gabriel attempts to say something but Castiel holds up a hand. “It’s not of import, Gabriel.” He says, still not looking at Gabriel, because he can’t, he can barely stomach that awful twisting feeling right now, and he knows that if he looks directly at Gabriel, he won’t be able to.

 

“Now we know where Dean Winchester was,” Castiel says, looking up at Anna who is standing a few feet away. Castiel, finally pleased with the cleanliness of his hands, stands up. “Oasis Plains.” He says, biting his lower lip.

 

“If it’s about sixty miles… We could make it in two days if we hurry.” He says, head still pounding, nausea still clearly present. “It’s the middle of the night, Cass, you’re not seriously suggesting we leave now, are you?” Anna asks, looking at him with a quite incredulous look on her face.

 

“We have no time to lose, Anna.” He says, not meeting her eyes. “Weren’t you the one who was all ‘Let’s slow down! Take some time to process!’” She says, mocking his tone. “Firstly, I don’t speak like that and secondly, we could lose him if we waste time.” He says, keeping his tone as reasonable as possible, when the truth is, he just wants to put a bullet in Dean Winchester’s head.

 

“All right, okay, give me twenty minutes,” Anna says. “Twenty minutes for what?” Castiel asks, a smile spreading over his lips at the fact that they could finally get their revenge, and soon too. “For me to get our clothes, a map, and my other guns.” On those last words, she fixes Gabriel with a poisonous stare. He looks at his shoes. Wise move. Castiel thinks, seeing the guilty look on Gabriel’s face.

 

“You handle the food and money side of things,” Anna says before turning to march out of the main doors, past Gabriel who seems to recoil when she passes him. Castiel follows her, but before he leaves, he puts a hand on Gabriel’s shoulder.

 

He pulls Gabriel into a tight embrace. “I’m gonna have to live with this guilt for the rest of my damn life, ain’t I?” Gabriel says, arms tight around Castiel. “I think so, yes,” Castiel whispers back and he feels a shudder through Gabriel’s body. “You thought it was the right thing to do, Gabriel, and that’s all you can do. You made a mistake, just learn from it, and never forget the lesson it taught you.” He says, patting Gabriel on the back, holding him tighter for a few more seconds before letting him go.

 

He shares one more meaningful look with Gabriel before stepping out into the freezing outside air. The sky was a cold, dark black when they arrived, thousands of stars peeking out in the sky, now, however, the sky is a beautiful early morning blue, the sun hasn’t even come up yet.

 

Castiel wants to go check on Samandriel, but he’s seen one person die today, he can’t handle seeing another, so he spends the next twenty minutes scrounging up whatever food and money he can before heading back to the place where Nora is tied, safely, to a beam.

 

Gabriel is there, stroking Nora’s head sadly. “Hey.” He says as soon as Castiel nears him. “I’m glad I caught you, I, uh, I just wanted to say goodbye,” Gabriel says, shifting awkwardly, biting the inside of his cheek. “And also, I, uh, wanted to ask…” He trails off.

 

“You wanted to ask if it gets any easier, the guilt?” Castiel asks, knowing he’s probably correct. “Yeah,” Gabriel says, not meeting Castiel’s eyes. “A little bit, eventually, you’ll stop hating yourself completely and overthinking those moments, what you could have done better, how you could have stopped yourself, but even after all of that, you still feel it, some days it’s easier, and some days the guilt will consume you, but it all gets just a bit smoother and less biting with time,” Castiel says, sighing sadly.

 

I cannot believe I’m the authority on how to handle the guilt of killing another human being, what have I become? Castiel asks himself, shaking his head slightly to rid himself of the thought. “You may want to leave before Anna comes back,” Castiel says quietly. “Yeah,” Gabriel chuckles bitterly. Castiel gives Gabriel a quick hug before he jogs back down the main street. “Tell Freckles I said bye!” Gabriel yells, turning his back on Castiel.

 

Castiel chuckles, the sound is low and unfamiliar in his throat and all he can do is reassure himself that one day the sound won’t be so foreign.

 

He waits for Anna for about five minutes before he sees the familiar form of Jack, with Anna on his back, galloping towards them. Anna has a bag full of clothing draped over one arm and a bag full of weapons draped over the other. “Wow, Freckles, you have amassed quite a few guns and things of the sort over the years.” He says, eyebrows slightly raised. “Gotta be prepared.” She says, shrugging, a small smile twisting her lips at the familiar nickname.

 

He grabs the bag of clothing from her hands and ties it to Nora’s saddle. He clambers onto her back as Anna smiles down at him from her position on Jack’s back. “I have a map here and I plotted our route,” Castiel says, a little bit of pride at his meticulous planning. “We should be able to make it in two days, maybe three if the weather gets bad.” He says, drawing a finger down the route they’ll be taking.

 

“Great!” Anna says, her voice is brighter than it should be, Castiel thinks, but he doesn’t dwell on it. “Let’s go!” She says, spurring Jack on with a gentle but firm kick to Jack’s side. The sun is peeking out over the mountains by the time they start on their route.

 

The whole valley is drenched in sunlight when they take a little break for water, they’ve been riding for a few hours now, and the sun has begun to warm the valley. They ride that way for hours, taking little breaks for water, food, and things of the sort until both of them are exhausted and the sun is dropping below the tips of the mountains.

 

They set up camp, making a fire with the box of matches that Anna had grabbed from Castiel’s kitchen. They eat some bread and cheese with some dried beans before dousing the fire, unrolling their bedrolls and retiring.

 

---

 

Over the next few days, Castiel found himself drinking less, trying to keep his head straight on his shoulders, however, that had been thrown out the window when they had arrived at Oasis Plains and been told that almost no one recognized Dean Winchester.

 

Castiel found himself drinking a lot that night before he had passed out on the couch of his and Anna’s room. Luckily, however, they had found someone who remembered Winchester and a few other men leaving the town, heading west.

 

So that’s how they found themselves hopelessly lost and confused, with night quickly falling. “Where could we have made a wrong turn, Anna?” Castiel asks, scanning the desert-filled horizon for any familiar landmarks. “I don’t know!” She says, throwing her hands up, eyes roaming the map.

 

“You are the one who volunteered to direct us and what was it you said? ‘Cass, you couldn’t read a map if your life depended on it.’” He says, mocking her slightly. Her face flushes and lights up with a red color rivaling her hair.

 

“Well… I just… Ugh! Shut up!” She says, crossing her arms and pulling her hat down to shadow more of her face. They are quiet for a few moments, both of them atop their respective horses, but neither moving. Castiel squints and tilts his head, spotting something far off in the distance.

 

“Anna, there seems to be light over that hill in the distance,” Castiel says, pointing towards the dim light on the horizon. “Then we must be…” She says, eyes quietly searching the map before shouting triumphantly. “Found it! That must be Salvation!” She says and Castiel balks at the name.

 

“Salvation? As in…” He trails off, staring at her in slight shock. “Strange name I know.” She says, nodding. “But they probably have some rooms open, and damn if that doesn’t sound like the best thing we could hope for,” Anna says, staring longly at the light in the distance.

 

Castiel nods in silent agreement. So they ride towards the ever-brightening light on the horizon. When they finally reach Salvation, strange name aside, it looks like a quaint little town, no bigger than Caelum, that’s for sure and certain, so it makes him feel right at home as they ride through the sparingly populated main street.

 

They spot what seems to be the only inn in the town and tie their horses up outside of it, stepping into the small, yet well-maintained building. The inn is full and bright, there is a bar area which is filled with what must be half the population of the town, all loud and rowdy as they consume copious amounts of alcohol.

 

Anna must have seen him staring because after a few moments she shakes her head and pipes up. “Go.” He turns to look at her, head tilted and examining her features to see if she’s telling a joke, it would be in poor taste though. “No, seriously Cass, go, just don’t drink too much, okay?” She says, patting him on the shoulder gently.

 

“I’ll come back down after a while and come to get you.” She says, offering him a tight, yet genuine, smile. “Just don’t get drunk, we definitely do not need a hungover Castiel tomorrow,” Anna says. “You are aware of how amazing you are, correct?” He asks, smiling his trademark thin smile, at how her lips untwist some, allowing them to loosen and spread into a genuine grin.

 

She quickly embraces him before walking to get a room at the inn. He turns his attention to the bar, allowing the carefully constructed facade which blocks his exhaustion to break. He walks towards the bar before freezing in his tracks.

 

A man is sitting at the bar, brown hair curling over icy blue eyes as he focuses down at a drink, he looks up, turning his head to grin at Castiel, who is rooted to the spot. Castiel blinks and suddenly, the man is gone. He shakes his head vigorously. My father would never be here. He reassures himself.

 

It’s not like he never wants to see his father again, because he knows his father did the best he could with the hand he was dealt. He had two children who had just lost their mother, how was he going to take care of them and take care of himself? It was not realistic.

 

They had no right to expect him to stick around and Castiel still feels guilty for leaving, for searching out a different type of care. He shakes his head, dispersing the thoughts that seem to gather in his head and buzz loudly almost as if he has a hive of bees in his mind.

 

He falls down on one of the empty bar stools and orders some whiskey, one of his best friends in life. He’s halfway through his first glass when an accented voice startles him out of his thoughts. “Castiel Novak?” The voice rings out and Castiel spins around on the bar stool, looking for the source of the voice.

 

He realizes with a start, that the source of the voice was Balthazar Remmington, a man he hadn’t seen in years. “Balthazar?” Castiel asks, shocked, he sounds as incredulous as he feels. Balthazar has sandy blonde hair, blue, almost gray eyes, and a wide smile on his lips.

 

Balthazar sits on one of the empty stools next to him, grinning. “How have you been, mate?” He asks, looking positively giddy. “I’ve, uh… I’m fine,” Castiel says, not really knowing how to answer that question.

 

“Is that one of those ‘I’m fine, but I’m really not fine, I’m just waiting for you to ask me about it’ fines?” Balthazar asks and Castiel can’t help but chuckle, it’s a quiet thing, laughter has been a foreign sound in his life for so long.

 

“Yes and no,” Castiel responds, taking another sip from his whiskey. “Tell me about it?” Balthazar offers, flagging down the bartender and ordering his own glass of questionable alcohol. Castiel spends the next twenty minutes explaining everything that happened to him and Anna in the past few months, not just what happened with Dean Winchester but what happened with everything.

 

Balthazar stays blissfully silent while Castiel vents, making him feel almost guilty for talking so much but Balthazar seems legitimately committed to helping him, so he just continues on. He’s in the middle of explaining the last part, bringing up Winchester’s name and suddenly Balthazar’s eyes widen.

 

“Wait, you said the name was Winchester?” Balthazar asks, voice low and shocked. “Yes, though, I don’t completely see the relevance,” Castiel says, quirking an eyebrow and wondering if this is another one of those things he typically misses. “I just saw him a few days back, yeah, Dean Winchester,” Balthazar says, searching his pockets for something.

 

“Bud was trying to hunt someone down, needed an expert tracker and I directed him.” He says, still searching his pockets. “You are still connecting people in that way?” Castiel asks, he knows he must sound disappointed but he truly thought Balthazar had learned his lesson.

 

Balthazar holds up a hand. “It’s easy money, Cass.” He says, not elaborating any further. “You are aware of how dangerous it is, correct?” Castiel asks and Balthazar groans in exasperation. “Yes, Castiel, over the years you have reminded me of that fact quite frequently, now can you let me help you?” Balthazar says, clearly frustrated with Castiel’s protective behavior.

 

“Here it is,” Balthazar says, pulling a piece of paper from his jacket. “I sent him to this guy, Ezekiel Johnson.” He says, all the information for this man, Ezekiel, on the piece of paper. “Ezekiel Johnson… That name sounds familiar,” Castiel says, squinting.

 

“It should, every bounty hunter West of the Mississipi knows Ezekiel, if you asked Anna, she would probably know him too,” Balthazar says, still holding the paper out for Castiel to take. Castiel gently takes the slip of paper from his fingers, examining the information.

 

Balthazar catches Castiel’s wrist before he can pull away. “Did you ever figure it out?” Balthazar asks, staring into Castiel’s eyes, their deep color almost off-setting in the brightly lit bar. Castiel clears his throat of the faint afterburn of whiskey. Castiel’s silence seems to be enough for Balthazar, who pulls away.

 

“Thank you very much, Balthazar,” Castiel says, acting like nothing had happened and looking up, hoping that his eyes convey his gratefulness and his apology at the same time. “You’re welcome, Cassie, anything for a friend,” Balthazar says, tossing some money on the counter as he stands up.

 

“You owe me, Cassie.” He says, winking before beginning to make his way out of the inn. “It was good to see you! Tell Anna I said hello!” Balthazar yells over his shoulder before disappearing into the crowd. Watching Balthazar vanish into the masses of people reminds Castiel of that night all those years ago.

 

The bar was warm, brightly lit and his head was faintly buzzing, his friend, Balthazar had plopped down on the seat next to him, the weight of a long, terrible day seemed to be heavy on his shoulders. “You seem to be having a problematic day as well,” Castiel had said, offering the man across from him a weak smile.

 

“You don’t know the half of it, mate,” Balthazar had said and Castiel was surprised at his accent, he had thought it was quite interesting. “Would you like to tell me about it?” Castiel had asked, offering this man a weak smile.

 

They had met a few times before that night so they were on a first name basis but other than that, they knew very little about each other. Balthazar had described his day while Castiel listened intently, staying mostly silent other than offering the occasional piece of advice.

 

Time seemed to freeze as they talked in the bar, moving away from the problems of their lives into wishes for the future, into family and love until eventually, they had gravitated towards each other, their knees had been touching while they were sitting on their bar stools, he felt sparks as if from a newly lit fire between them.

 

Then, Balthazar had leaned in, an attempt to kiss Castiel and he wanted to lean into Balthazar, he wanted to close the space between them so badly, but his father’s voice had echoed in his head and it had reminded him that it was unnatural, that it was wrong, especially in the light of the bar, where everyone could see his sin, so he pulled back.

 

Balthazar had looked so hurt when he opened his eyes and he quickly threw some money down for their drinks before standing to walk away, the last thing Balthazar said to him was. “Find me when you’ve figured out what you want, Castiel.” And Castiel thinks that maybe he never did.

 

---

 

A few weeks have passed, both Castiel and Anna have begun to get frustrated. They had caught up with Ezekiel Johnson in Elizabethville, who had given them very little information, apparently being a master tracker also gives you tight lips.

 

It was only after many hours of promises and wheedling that he finally gave them something to go on, though, it wasn’t much. A cold trail, a person that Dean Winchester had hired Ezekiel to track, whom Ezekiel hadn’t found of yet. A man by the name of Alastair, not Albert as Tommy had said.

 

When Castiel and Anna had asked why they wanted him found, he simply said. “They gave me no reason and I did not ask, and if you were wise, you wouldn’t ask or look into it either.” They had ignored this warning and pressed for any additional information, of which he had very little. “They simply told me that they were heading to Cold Oak and if I found anything new, to head there,” Ezekiel had said.

 

That’s how, on a sweltering late-April day, they found themselves in Cold Oak, Colorado, chasing a man who is like a ghost. “This is most likely just a stop, considering the speed of which Dean Winchester seems to move,” Castiel says to Anna as they ride through the heavily populated main street. “Yeah, I know, Cass,” Anna says, teasing him.

 

He chuckles, shrugging. “I’ll go to the inn and get us a room, would you go refill our supplies?” Castiel asks, jumping off of Nora’s back to lead her through the crowds of people, riding is difficult in such a populated area. Anna also gets off of Jack. “Okay, just don’t-” Castiel knows what she’s about to say so he cuts her off quickly. “Then I’ll go now, it seems like the Cold Oak Inn is the closest one.” He says, spotting the sign off in the distance.

 

Anna narrows her eyes at him, but he’s already weaving away from her through the crowd. The air smells of flowers, horses and some other sort of barn smell which all weave together in a strangely comforting smell in the sweltering heat. He reaches the inn, tying Nora to the beam outside. “I’ll be back soon.” He says in a soothing tone, scratching behind her ear before stepping out of the heat into the slightly cooler building.

 

He gets the room and then gravitates towards the bar, he doesn’t want to drink too much, just wants something to dull the impatient edge that has been building on this trip which feels like a wild goose chase.

 

His eyes lazily scan the room, when he realizes someone is playing the piano on the other side of the room, it looks to be an old piano, worn from years of use, and a man sits atop the stool, his fingers running along the keys. The man is quite tall with a hat sitting over his long brown hair.

 

Another man walks up to him, putting a hand on his shoulder, and the playing stops for a second before both men burst into laughter. Castiel feels a little strange observing this interaction, that is until the man with his arm on the piano player’s shoulder looks up at the bar.

 

Castiel feels himself freeze, it’s almost as if times slows down, the man has a very familiar face, it’s Dean Winchester! The man they’ve been chasing for almost a month now is right there in front of him and he knows he should go get Anna, but he’s rooted to the spot.

 

Dean pulls the man playing the piano up, says something to him and the man nods, walking to the bar. Castiel immediately averts his eyes, focusing on his hands which are clasped tightly on the counter.

 

When Castiel looks up again, the other man is nowhere to be seen and Dean Winchester is walking towards the door and without a second thought, Castiel jumps up to follow him out. The sun is bright and stings his eyes slightly as he walks out of the inn, following the ghost he’s been chasing.

 

He follows him through the crowded streets, weaving behind him at a safe distance, until, finally, he makes a left into a dark alleyway where Castiel follows without a single thought. He freezes when he realizes the alleyway is a dead end and Dean Winchester turns around, a dark look on his face.

 

Suddenly an arm wraps around Castiel’s waist and a body is pressed against his back while the inside of an elbow comes up, putting him in a chokehold, he scratches at the arm holding him hard enough to draw blood, but it's not enough to get his captor to release him and he is pulled into the darkness of unconsciousness.

Chapter Text

Anna Novak-Edlund has never been a very trusting or open person, she doesn’t let people into her heart, she doesn’t let them see who she truly is. The one person in life she trusts completely is her brother; Castiel Novak-Edlund.

 

She loves him more than she’s ever loved anyone else, so the moment he leaves, she feels a profound sense of unease, because, even though she does trust her brother, she knows he’s made terrible mistakes in the past under the influence of alcohol.

 

So when Castiel goes to get them a room at the inn, Anna immediately feels a nagging sense of worry in the pit of her stomach. Castiel won’t get into any trouble. She silently reassures herself.

 

She walks to the Cold Oak Inn after gathering their needed supplies - food and things of the sort - expecting to see Castiel in the bar, either completely drunk or slightly tipsy, she sincerely hopes it’s the former, he better have kept a cap on his drinking today especially since they’re so close to Dean Winchester.

 

Though, with the anniversary of their mother’s death right around the corner, she knows it’s justifiable, regardless of how damn self-destructive it may be. She’s tried to get him to have healthier habits, but when it comes to their mother, well, Castiel loved her so much, and truthfully, he hasn’t ever stopped loving her, no matter how long she’s been gone.

 

But when she arrives, taking a look around the rowdy, crowded bar - with sunlight being used to its fullest extent for light - and he isn’t there, she thinks she must be going crazy. She searches the crowd again, many people are standing, alcohol clenched in their hands, going pretty damn wild for the middle of the afternoon and many faces peek out from underneath the wide brims of their hats, but she quickly realizes that none of those faces are her brother’s.

 

She stands there for a few minutes, searching for Castiel possibly in vain, but she doesn’t let herself dwell on the thought. She feels that sense of unease and worry that settled in her stomach the moment he walked away, grow and reach out, threatening to flood her whole body.

 

She calls out his name a few times. The bar is too damn loud! He’s not gonna be able to hear me even if he is here. She thinks, realizing she’s still calling out his name.

 

A few stares come her way, which, as usual, she ignores. She’s pretty used to being stared at like she’s crazy or being stared at like she’s just a piece of ass - anyone who stares at her in the way of the latter usually gets a death glare back, from either her or Cass - so she can easily ignore the glances she gets from drunken barflies.

 

She makes her way to the bar, flagging down the bartender, who looks exhausted. When he walks over to her, she can see the dark circles under his brown eyes, making him look like he got punched in each one of his eyes.

 

“Hey, I’m sorry to bother you, but you seen a guy about yea high,” She says, gesturing somewhere about her head. “mess of black hair, kind of dopey looking, sad blue eyes?” She asks, she doesn’t want to worry too much, after all, this is Cass, he can be a little sporadic at times.

 

“Hmm, I think I know who you’re talkin’ about.” The bartender says, scratching his head. “Yeah, he was the guy with a starin’ problem.” Anna tries to hold back her laughter, which still wants to break free, regardless of the circumstances. “Yeah, that’s uh, that’s my brother.” She says, still barely containing her ill-timed fits of laughter.

 

“Wouldn’t have noticed him if he weren’t eyeing up the piano player.” The bartender says, tiredly pawing at his face. “Piano player?” She asks, eyebrows raised. “Yeah, real giant of a guy, long brown hair. Again, wouldn’t have noticed this whole thing if he wasn’t such a massive guy.” The bartender says, shrugging.

 

“Where is this giant now?” She asks, taking another quick look around the bar. “Dunno, he left a few minutes ago, just after your black-haired fella did.” He says and his eyes are squeezed tight as if trying to recall a distant memory.

 

She nods. Why would Cass leave? I mean, everything he’s really wanted recently has been in a bar… Well, other than… But that’s ridiculous! She thinks, heart rate accelerating as an idea suddenly comes to mind. She fumbles in her jacket for the paper. “You seen this guy?” She asks, holding the wanted poster up.

 

The bartender frowns. “Yeah, now that you mention it, he does look familiar, I think he was the giant guy’s brother maybe? I heard ‘em talkin’.” He says, squinting at the face on the paper. “How long ago did my brother leave?” She asks, feeling that dark sense of worry wrap around her heart, crushing, drowning it in blackened waves of emotion.

 

“The squinty guy? About thirty minutes ago.” The bartender says, obviously not picking up on her emotional distress. “Thank you!” She says, taking off towards the door and slipping the wanted poster back into her jacket.

 

She bolts out into the still brightly shining sun of the afternoon, eyes wide and searching for faces, Castiel’s face, Dean Winchester’s face, the face of anyone who will help her or tell her where her brother is. “Cass!” She calls out, which garners more strange stares from the crowd around her, but she doesn’t care. “Castiel!”

 

She runs down the street in a random direction, still looking feverishly for some sign of her brother. She runs past a cluster of buildings which make up the main street, including several alleyways but stops when she comes across a particularly dark and empty-looking one, then turns around, peering down it curiously. The alleyway is a dead end, no signs of Castiel, no signs of people except… Footprints!

 

Heavy indents in the otherwise undisturbed thin layer of sand that lies on the ground. She searches, hoping, praying that something will give her answers, she doesn’t know that Castiel was here, she doesn’t even know if he came this way, but she has to hope.

 

Her heart jumps into her throat when she sees them, long, unnoticeable, really, if you’re not searching for something of the sort; drag marks, all the way to the dead end, and suddenly the realization hits her… Castiel is gone.

 

----

 

When Castiel awakens everything is dark. Have I died? He silently wonders. Is this how the afterlife looks? Blackness swallowing everything. Appropriate, I suppose. He thinks, then suddenly his eyes adjust.

 

It’s still incredibly lightless in the room, but he can see enough to make out a few darkened outlines. It seems that he is in a basement, stairs pressed up against the left wall, leading up into the upper left corner, and a door with light spilling underneath it stands at the top of the stairs, acting as a strangely ominous presence.

 

As he tries to move, he feels it, the handcuffs digging into his wrists. Suddenly, he remembers everything; the bar, spotting Winchester, being grabbed, all of it comes rushing back. He feels nauseous, but not from any hangover, from the fact he let himself be grabbed so easily, the fact that he made himself a target, someone easily attainable, easily captured and kept.

 

He didn’t think anything through, he acted on base instinct, following Dean Winchester down that alleyway was one of the most foolish mistakes Castiel has made in all his years of being a Sheriff, and of course, it was because he wasn’t cold and rational enough. Foolish, foolish, foolish! He chastises himself and wasn’t that exactly what his father had said? Castiel, you need to be wise about any move you make, think things through, don’t let emotion rule you, try to push it away, try to control it. Anyone who allows emotion to rule them is a fool. Do you want to be a fool, Castiel?

 

He’s broken out of his thoughts by voices that drift down from behind the door at the top of the stairwell accompanied by the sound of boots on hardwood floors. “...not going to hurt him are you?” A timid voice says, slowly getting closer. Castiel gets two distinct impressions from that sentence: One, that they must have been walking and speaking to each other, so he missed part of the conversation, and two, that they must be talking about him.

 

“I might.” Another voice says. The second voice is far lower, a deep southern drawl. “Benny, you can’t do anything until you talk to Dean-” The timid voice starts to say before the more confident, lower one - Benny, apparently - cuts him off. “Dean would say to get anythin’ we need out the boy then use him as bait.”

 

“That’s ridiculous! Why don’t we ask Sam then? You’re so irritating some-” The timid voice is cut off by a deep, slightly southern sounding voice and accompanying boot falls. “Both of you need to shut the hell up.” The voice says. Yet another pair of footsteps echoes out. “Well, Dean, we do still need to figure out what we’re actually doing with him.” A fourth voice speaks up and at this point, Castiel is having a lot of trouble keeping them all straight.

 

“We get what we need, Sam,” The third voice says, and Castiel believes that this voice belongs to Dean Winchester. Castiel has been so distracted by the conversation that he didn’t even register the fact that he is missing his hat and vest. The realization is startling and worrisome at the same time. He is concerned that this difficulty with registering his surroundings may prove to be a long-lived issue, but he doesn’t have time to dwell on it as the voices above continue their conversation.

 

“What does ‘getting what we need’ entail, Dean?” The fourth voice, Sam, speaks. “It means Benny is going to hurt that guy down there, right?” The timid voice squeaks. Castiel can almost hear the unpleasant stares that man must be getting. “Garth, you heard our fearless leader, let’s just shut up and look pretty,” The voice - whom he assumes is Benny - says and a disapproving grunt follows his words. “We need to figure out why he was following you, Dean, because if he is one of Alastair’s men…” He assumes the one called Sam just spoke.

 

“Then he’s gonna wish he was never born,” Dean Winchester says, his voice dark and cruel. Castiel realizes that Winchester sounds exactly as he imagined he would, except for the slight southern tone. A second thought strikes Castiel. Who is Alastair? Why do these men believe I am working for him? He doesn’t get long to ponder this as the door at the top of the stairs is thrown open.

 

The light stings his eyes as he hears heavy footfalls on wooden stairs. A very large man comes into sight once his eyes adjust to the new brightness in the room. The man has a dark sort of blonde hair, wide shoulders, and from what Castiel can see, the man seems about the same height as him.

 

“Wait! Benny! We need to have a rational-” A voice says from behind him, blocked by the doorjamb and the size of Benny’s body in the doorway. “Shut it, Sammy.” A voice, most likely Dean Winchester’s, cuts ‘Sammy’ off.

 

The low rumble of quiet conversing is all but silenced when the door slams behind Benny, who Castiel realizes, is carrying a small gas lamp which casts tendrils of light that reach and stretch to illuminate the corners of the room. The increased light allows for Castiel to see the tired lines of the man’s face. He truly looks exhausted, however, that doesn’t stop him from squaring his shoulders and staring Castiel down with a look of pure, unbridled ferocity, yet behind that, he sees a deep level of cunning in this so-called Benny’s light blue eyes.

 

Castiel is certain now that this man is prepared for a fight, meaning he must see Castiel as a threat, someone worthy of the wary look in his eyes. The heightened level of light also gives him free rein to investigate the basement room which he is trapped in.

 

He spots a wooden table pushed up against the right side of the room, the table in question has multiple tools sitting upon it. The room smells faintly of mildew, a smell which, while unpleasant, is slightly comforting in its familiarity. There isn’t much else in the room, besides some buckets and tools - shovels and such - piled in the corner.

 

Benny, despite his presumably similar height to Castiel’s, seems to loom over him, menacing and imposing as he fills more of the space than he ought to. “So, boy, why were you following Dean?” He asks. The southern drawl spills into the air which would sound sweet and calming if he didn’t realize the clear menace in the words.

 

Castiel feels no need to respond to him, after all, why should he? He may only dig himself deeper into whatever hole this is… However, he does wish to have his evergrowing multitude of questions answered.

 

“Did Alastair send you?” Benny asks, crouching down to eye-level. Castiel’s captor stands a mere five feet away, examining him like a butcher would examine a slab of meat, deciding just where to cut. “I must say, Alastair’s men used to be a little looser-lipped.” He says, pale blue eyes bearing into Castiel’s own.

 

As he stands Castiel finally finds his voice, choosing his words carefully. His goal is to say as little as possible to get as much information as he can from this man. “I do not work for the man you are hunting down.” These may have been the wrong words, Castiel decides after a look of triumph mixed with a darker look that he cannot place flashes across Benny’s face.

 

“You speak then, do ya boy?” Benny says, crossing over to the table, setting the lamp down on it and picking up a knife because his captors apparently seem to think that a table full of rather sharp knives is a normal thing to have in a basement. “Now, you can either tell me what I want to know, boy, or we can get to the fun part right away,” Benny says, however, he doesn’t seem to derive any pleasure from those words.

 

He says them with a smile, yes, but he can tell that darker emotions lurk just below the surface. Castiel makes his decision in a second, he cannot feel any sort of pity for this man, because Benny works for Dean Winchester, a murderer, an arsonist, a thief, and a psychopath. A man capable of massacring an entire town and not blinking an eye. Benny could be an angel tucked away in the vessel of a human but it would not matter, not if he allows Dean Winchester to live after the crimes he has committed against humanity.

 

“I cannot answer your questions because I do not know this Alastair, all I know is that you are hunting him down, which must mean he angered you, for which I applaud him,” Castiel says, face expressionless and words emotionless but the taunts and mockery that lurk behind them are clear.

 

Castiel is still kneeling on the floor, his hands are handcuffed behind him, but not just behind him, he is handcuffed around a support beam, the metal chain makes moving forward all but impossible. He manages to stand up though, despite the weak feeling in his legs and the pounding ache in his head.

 

“Lying ain’t a good color on no one boy,” Benny says, a dark smirk spreading across his face, twisting his features. Castiel thinks of telling this man that he is not a liar, however, that’s not entirely true, is it? He has lied about many things in his life, big and small, how can he say that he is not a liar? He is once again fading into thought, escaping the matter at hand and the reality of the moment.

 

“Now, I’ll ask again, what does Alastair want with Dean?” Benny asks, twirling the blade he obtained from the table in his hands, obviously attempting to show off the knife, especially how sharp it appears to be. Castiel stays silent, he has answered the question, he has explained himself, and whether or not this man chooses to believe him, well that is his choice, not Castiel’s.

 

When Castiel doesn’t answer, Benny stalks forward, knife grasped in his hands tightly and looking like an animal about to pounce on its prey. Benny is quite close to him now, close enough that Castiel can make out every line on this man’s exhausted face, every feature that would be all but invisible if you were not as close as Castiel currently is.

 

He finds comfort in over-analyzing situations like these, especially when his life is potentially in danger, it soothes him to have some sort of knowledge to cling to, so, of course, the thought in his mind at that moment is Benny’s face, not an escape route or something of that variety.

 

“Benny!” A voice calls from the top of the stairs. Castiel can barely make out the words much less who in Dean Winchester’s group is speaking. Castiel had not expected Winchester to work with anyone, a strange assumption, he supposes. Why wouldn’t he? It is a very reasonable thing to do. Other people can watch your back, assist you, and add another few pairs of eyes. Even with all of this knowledge, the thought still unsettles him.

 

The man he built Dean Winchester to be in his mind, well, that man does not have friends, he does not have companions, and he does not have a family, he is just the cruel man who would do anything to get what he wants, regardless of who gets in the way. That is the way Castiel must see him to justify the pure hatred and unbridled wrath that seems to curl and constrict around his heart, tendrils of an evil origin reaching and sinking into his very blood, his very soul.

 

He shakes the strangely priest-like thoughts from his head. Thoughts such as those are thoughts his father would have, fears and waves of anger like these are emotions his father would have harbored until the day he died. Dies? Perhaps he is still alive. Castiel isn’t quite sure, it’s not as if his father ever told him where he was going, ever told him when he was going to be back, or even looked for him now that he is into adulthood, and a part of Castiel, one deep, dark part that he will never allow to see the light of day, a thought he would never allow Anna to hear, is that maybe, just maybe, his father never coming to find them is a good thing, maybe it is a truly good thing that he stayed away.

 

“What?” Benny’s voice snaps him back into reality. The door at the top of the stairs is pushed open gently and a face pops into view. This man has brown hair, more groomed than Benny’s, his face is slender and the expression on it is meek and worried. His eyes fix on Castiel and he seems to freeze.

 

His blue, bordering on hazel, eyes connect with Castiel’s own eyes, a moment of silent connection and then the man flinches, refocusing on Benny. “S-sam wants to see you.” He says and Castiel recognizes his voice, he must be Garth. Benny huffs out a loud breath. “The princess wants to see me? Well, I graciously accept his invitation.” The levels of what Anna has tried to explain to him as ‘sarcasm’ - which is a concept he’s still not sure he fully understands - appears to be thick.

 

Benny places the knife down, picks up his gas lamp and moves towards the stairs. As he walks away Benny casts a glance over his shoulder at Castiel, meeting his eyes for a split second, and in that split second, there is a silent promise. He had seen the passion in Benny’s eyes earlier, he had seen how much Benny cared for Winchester - which is still utterly confusing - but now he sees the promise of what he will do to Castiel if he doesn’t cough up information and from the look in his eyes, he’d better do it soon.

 

Once Benny reaches the top of the staircase he disappears out of the door without another look back at Castiel. Garth looks down at him, his expression a mix of sadness and empathy as he closes the door, and once again, the world is swallowed by darkness.

 

---

 

The soft crash of waves on the beach is the only sound that can be heard for miles, the sand between his toes is a coarse yet comforting feeling. Peace washes over him, threatening to pull him down into sleep as the moon observes and the stars guard him.

 

His eyelids slowly slide open, his vision is slightly blurred from sleep, and for a second, he thinks everything must’ve been a dream, Dean Winchester, getting kidnapped, everything, it must have all been a nightmare. He’s not that lucky.

 

Suddenly he feels the cut of handcuffs into his already bruised wrists, the smell of mold and mildew permeating the air with its familiar stench, the dryness of his throat, and the rumbling of his stomach. It wasn’t a dream. He thinks with a heavy sigh.

 

The room is still as dark as the first time he opened his eyes to gaze upon it. This time though, he can imagine the look of the room, he can see the faint outlines more clearly through the blackness, and the light that comes from under the door at the top of the stairs seems brighter somehow.

 

He thinks back to his dream. That dream has been a very frequent one as of late with almost half of his dreams now involving that beach, which is decidedly strange, seeing as Castiel has never been to a beach with a view of the ocean in his life.

 

Once he went to a lake with Anna, Uncle Carver, and Gabriel. Anna and Gabriel had bickered the entire ride there, Uncle Carver had threatened to make them go back, and Castiel had simpled watched, breathing in the air, and watching the birds in the sky, there was something so peaceful about that moment, regardless of how his siblings never ceased their endless bickering with no real achievable goal in sight.

 

That day sits fondly in his memories, everything about it feels warm when he thinks about it, everything seemed so pure back then… He misses that purity now. He remembers how the lake glistened with pure, perhaps not clean, but pure beauty, if that made sense to anyone but him it would be a miracle.

 

He remembered how quickly Anna and Gabriel had rushed to the water side, and how quickly Gabriel had pushed Anna in, soon both Anna and Gabriel were drenched, climbing out of the lake with heavy clothes weighing on their bodies. Anna had grabbed Castiel’s wrist, an attempt to pull him into the water, it wasn’t that he particularly didn’t want to go, it was that he didn’t want to get wet.

 

Gabriel had then grabbed him around the waist - as he was repeatedly told as a child, he was light as a feather - and Anna helped him throw Castiel into the lake. The first thing Castiel remembers was realizing how far that had thrown him, much closer to the center of the lake, so far in fact that he could not touch the bottom.

 

He remembers not feeling panic but feeling some sort of peace. Everything underwater is always quieted, everything muted by the murky depths of liquid surrounding you. Castiel remembers, upon being thrown into the water, the bubbles that rushed up around him.

 

Castiel felt the need for oxygen claw at his lungs, however, he still felt calm. He never told Anna about how, in moments like those, he was crushingly calm, however, in moments like those in Blackwater a few weeks before, he lost the composure he so desperately clings to. After about ten seconds of Castiel not coming up for air, he saw Gabriel swimming towards him madly.

 

Once Gabriel was above him, he reached out a hand into the water, desperately searching for his adoptive brother, and Castiel had grabbed it. Castiel distinctly remembers breaking the surface of the water and taking a deep breath, sending oxygen all throughout his lungs. Gabriel grabbed him and swam back, careful to keep Castiel’s head above water.

 

When they reached the shore, Anna looked scared, she couldn’t have been more than twelve at this point. Uncle Carver’s expression was one of anger and worry. Castiel had looked up at Anna before she rushed to hug him, wet clothes sticking to her back. He had patted her comfortingly on the back, a trick which always proved to be useful at calming her down.

 

Gabriel had looked quite angry as well, but it did not appear to be directed outwards, more inwards. Uncle Carver had pulled Gabriel aside and they had spoken in hushed tones for a few minutes until walking back. Anna was still hugging him by the time they came back.

 

Gabriel’s eyes were soft, but beneath that softness, he saw the anger that lurked there, just below the surface. Perhaps that anger wasn’t directed at Castiel, but towards himself, because of course, Castiel wasn’t good on picking up on emotions, he had assumed it was towards him because he did not know how to swim.

 

He felt shame burn low in his stomach, refusing to meet Gabriel’s eyes, and instead refocusing on his little sister. “Anna, I’m fine.” He had said, directed at her but meant for everyone. When they rode back to town, Gabriel had ridden beside Castiel, staying as far away from Uncle Carver as it was possible to.

 

Uncle Carver had been riding ahead with Anna, telling her about horses, how every breed is uniquely beautiful, the subtle differences between breeds and how you care for them. Anna had always liked horses, well, not just horses, animals in general, considering her natural aptitude for understanding and taking care of them.

 

Gabriel had stayed silent, which was not a very frequent occurrence seeing as Gabriel had always liked to run his mouth. That silence had unnerved Castiel. By the time they had arrived back in Blackwater, Gabriel still wasn’t speaking, and Castiel had decided his brother was mad with him.

 

He remembered sulking until, finally, when they were taking the horses back to the stables for the night, Gabriel spoke, three simple words. “I’m sorry, Castiel.” Anna and Uncle Carver were still talking about horses, walking far enough behind them so that a conversation between him and Gabriel would be very difficult to hear.

 

Gabriel’s words had definitely startled Castiel, he clearly remembers feeling confused. “For what?” Castiel had asked. “I shoulda been more careful and remembered that you can’t swim,” Gabriel said, not quite meeting his little brother’s eyes. “There are no apologies necessary, Gabriel, I thought you were angry with me,” Castiel admitted, rubbing the back of his neck. Gabriel had guffawed at this. “Why would I have been angry with you?” He asked, facepalming.

 

“Well… I… You…” Castiel trails off, tilting his head to look at his brother as if it would give him a clearer view. “Cassie, I’m not mad with you, little brother, forget about it, okay?” Gabriel said, shaking his head with a small smile on his face.

 

Castiel always enjoyed making people smile, especially since it didn’t happen very often. After that day, Gabriel had always been a little more relaxed with Castiel. They hadn’t immediately connected unlike Anna and Gabriel who were fast friends, Castiel still held onto a part of himself that wanted to protect Anna from everyone, a very untrusting part of himself.

 

Since that day, Gabriel had stopped walking on eggshells around him, which Castiel was very grateful for, even if he didn’t understand what caused the change. Castiel realized that he also began to open up to his adoptive brother after that day, with the appearance of a new nickname for Castiel ‘Cassie’, Gabriel and him seemed to be getting along like real brothers, something Castiel never thought he would experience.

 

That day lives in a pure, uncorrupted bubble in his mind, the day when he realized that he had found a family, a real family, a family that wouldn’t abandon him when things got hard, and that meant - still means - everything to him.



---



Castiel is still lost in the thought when the door at the top of the stairs is pushed open. A man holding a gas lamp steps into the room and Castiel feels a red hot rush of anger at the sight of his face. Dean Winchester.

 

He makes his way down the stairs, slowly but surely. Eyes fixed on Castiel, who is kneeling on the hard floor that is coated with dirt and muck from years of boots tracking it in. Castiel immediately stands, despite the objection from his wrists as he cuts into them with his urgency to face the man at full height.

 

He feels a strange mix of anger and indignation at the fact that Dean Winchester is taller than him, not by much, but still, it makes him feel much smaller than he really is. Dean is sporting a good-natured smile, so wide that it feels painfully fake, and if it isn’t, this man is simply cruel, deriving such pleasure from keeping another human being prisoner.

 

“I heard from Benny that you weren’t sayin’ much.” He says, placing the gas lamp on the table, making a show of sliding his knife out of the sheath on his hip. The knife looks wickedly sharp, the gleam of orange light bouncing off of the blade. Castiel doesn’t respond because he knows that he may lose his temper if he does and he refuses to lose it in front of the man who ruined his life.

 

“Guess he was right,” Dean Winchester says, turning to face him. The other man is still quite a distance away, watching Castiel with piercing green eyes that seem to strip away his clothing and skin as if he can stare directly into Castiel’s soul. Castiel also notices that he is indeed gorgeous, which is a sickening thought, he shouldn’t think this man is in any way attractive, but he can’t help confirming his first thoughts, which were, of course, because God hates him, that he is beautiful.

 

Why, oh why, does the man who destroyed everything I held dear to me, have to eyes like those? He thinks and the thought makes a new rush of anger wash over him, pulling him deeper into the seemingly endless pits of hatred in his soul. “I suppose he was,” Castiel can’t help but spit these words at him, throwing a punch without touching, poisoning the air with hatred and anger.

 

Winchester advances, stepping closer. “You do speak then.” He says, smiling. Castiel clenches his jaw, staring at Dean Winchester, he tries to convey his utter disgust without a single word. “So, Sheriff Novak-Edlund, how did you get stuck with a name like that?” He asks, laughing. Castiel stares at him. Castiel is his prisoner, a man whose life Winchester holds in his hands, and yet, he’s laughing. Bastard. Castiel doesn’t usually swear, in his mind or out loud, but when it comes to Dean Winchester, he, apparently, cannot help himself.

 

“You gotta get seriously unlucky to have both Novak and Edlund, dude,” Winchester says, voice filled with humor. He wants to scream, to yell. It’s your fault! He has to use all of his self-control to keep himself from absolutely destroying the skin on his wrists from trying to tear forwards.

 

He wants to rip the grin off of Dean Winchester’s smug face but he settles for a seething comment. “The admittedly impressive facade you are putting on is not working on me, so please, allow it to drop, and end my life now, while you still can.” He spits. Whatever Dean Winchester was expecting, that was certainly not it, if the expression that passes over his face is any indication.

 

“I’m not planning on killing you yet, calm down man, I just wanna know why the hell Alastair sent you to follow me ,” Winchester says and his tone angers Castiel further. “Are you insinuating that I could not injure you? Or even hold a battle with you?” Castiel asks, tilting his head and narrowing his eyes.

 

Winchester grins with dark over-confidence. “Buddy, you gotta admit, you’re not exactly the type to make me quake in my boots.” Castiel feels something in him snap. “Why don’t you unlock my restraints and discover exactly what I can do to you because I am certain that I could make you ‘quake in your boots’ by the end.” He spits, pulling against the cuffs that scrape and cut into his wrists, wincing slightly as he does, but anger takes over and the pain disappears, overwhelmed by the pure waves of hatred spilling from him.

 

“Feisty, but uh, Sheriff Novak-Edlund, I’d be careful, the last person who said that did some pretty devilish things,” Winchester says, winking. Castiel pulls even harder, feeling blood slip down his wrists. Castiel holds eye contact with the man standing only a few feet away now.

 

Dean Winchester’s eyes wander, from his face to his shoulder, down his arms and finally… “Dude, hate to mention this, but you’re bleeding.” He says, moving forward to take a look. “Do not touch me!” Castiel yells, his words a warning. All Winchester does is scoff like Castiel had just said the most ridiculous thing he had ever heard.

 

“What’re you gonna do about it? Shut up and accept the help while I’m willing to give it,” Winchester says, and Castiel knows he’s being entirely reasonable, but he cannot allow this man to touch him. Castiel’s objection must be clear in his eyes because, after a few seconds, Dean Winchester throws his hands up and backs away. “Fine then, bleed out, we’ll just get the next lowlife goon to tell us what we need to know.” He says, rubbing the back of his neck.

 

“Your words seem to imply that you think you’re better than a ‘lowlife goon’,” Castiel says, the feeling of blood dripping off his fingers distracting him. He is aware of the dangers of injuries like these and what can happen if you do not treat them, but he is certainly not going to allow Dean Winchester to help him.

 

Dean’s back is to him when he speaks next. “You got some mouth on you. I guess I shoulda counted my blessings when you were shutting the hell up,” Winchester says and there’s almost a tangible shift in his behavior. “Tell me what the fuck I wanna know.” He says, turning to face him.

 

“I revealed all of the information that I was privy to already,” Castiel says, quite annoyed by the lack of communication in Winchester’s group. “Yeah, yeah, Benny told me, but see, I don’t think that’s all you know.” The other man says, still twirling that blade in his hands. Castiel swallows, realizing the implications.

 

“I assume you’re going to attempt to torture it out of me? I would like to notify you that a strategy of that nature will be entirely useless against…” Castiel trails off as he sees Winchester’s eyes flare, hands clenching into tight fists by his sides. “...me,” Castiel finishes unceremoniously.

 

“I don’t torture people into telling me what they know. I pity you because I assume that’s exactly what your boss does when you fuck up, he makes you pay with pain. That’s no way to fucking live your life,” Winchester spits, still grasping the knife tightly in his hands. “I will say this once more, I do not work for this Alastair, I have no knowledge of who he is, and I am aware of the fact that you are lying to me,” Castiel spits.

 

“If it fell in line with your plans, you would bring that knife to my skin in a matter of moments because that is who you are, so, stop attempting to deceive me.” The words come out harsh, cutting like a knife. “You have no fucking idea who I am,” Dean Winchester says, advancing on him, fire in his eyes. “You are a murderer,” Castiel says, his words simple but the meaning filled with more complexity than anyone outside of the situation could understand.

 

Winchester raises the knife and Castiel closes his eyes tight, waiting for the inevitable striking pain… It doesn’t come. He doesn’t open his eyes until he hears the door slam at the top of the stairs, and as soon as it does, he lets out a breath he didn’t realize he was holding.



---



Dean Winchester does not return to speak to Castiel over - what he assumes is - the next week. All he truly has to mark his days is Garth’s consistent visits to bring him a tray of rations, usually consisting of stale bread, dried beans, and a single cup of water, which Garth has to feed him, seeing as he is still handcuffed to the support beam.

 

Castiel feels quite isolated, which, he supposes, is their intention. He can’t help but think of Anna, Gabriel, and Uncle Carver, reminiscing in old, faded memories. He can’t help but wonder what happened to Samandriel, if he survived or if the worst truly came to pass. Castiel sits that way for just over a week, stewing in his own pain and dark thoughts.

 

He realizes how truly bad it’s becoming when he begins dwelling on memories of his father, a man of God, a man of faith, and a man who may not have been fit to be a father, but he tried his best to raise them without drowning in self-hatred, anger, and pure, unfiltered grief. Castiel can only watch helplessly as he himself is dragged down into the darkest depths of his mind, pulled into the very corners to dwell on the long-gone days.

 

Finally, someone pulls him back to reality by throwing the door to the basement open. Benny is standing in the open doorway, anger radiating, pouring off him in waves. Castiel immediately feels on edge, narrowing his eyes, and feeling his heart pounding against his ribcage.

 

Benny stalks down the stairs, eyes fixated upon Castiel’s face. He tenses under Benny’s hard glare. Warnings blaze in his mind alarms going off. Suddenly, Castiel sees it, the blade concealed in Benny’s hand. “Why do you...?” Castiel trails off, knowing the answer, and feeling a profound sense of fear strike his heart as Benny arrives at his destination, a mere five feet away from him.

 

“How? How did you do it, boy?!” Benny yells, eyes flashing dangerously. Castiel takes a deep breath and stands to meet the other man face-to-face. His hands are sweating, he feels the tension permeating the air as if it is a tangible thing, shoving its way into his lungs and suffocating him. His wrists are still bruised and healing from the abuse they went through in his first few days of capture.

 

Despite the pain he pulls against the cuffs, he needs to defend himself, he cannot allow himself to be struck down, no, he has to stay alive. Anna, I swear I will come back to you. He closes his eyes, takes a deep breath, then opens them so that he can face his end with dignity and with his head held up high.

 

“What do you mean? I have been here, under your so-called care, being interrogated over the past week, and if you have not noticed, I am restrained, unable to even defend myself, how could I have done anything?” Castiel asks, keeping his voice level and calm despite the dangerous situation.

 

“Sam was attacked by one of Alastair’s boys, he was sendin’ a message, carved Sam’s skin up real good,” Benny says, voice quiet, dangerous, and angry. “I have told you before, I do not have any knowledge as to who this Alastair is, I certainly do not work for him, and by God, how could I have done a single thing in my current circumstances?!” Castiel’s composure is slipping, the carefully constructed facade of calm is dropping to reveal the calamity and chaos of the emotions that run rampant.

 

“The message was about you, boy, no playin’ dumb with me, they clearly want you back” Benny says, his words a clear warning. “What?” Questions fly through Castiel’s mind, because, somehow, there is a message demanding his freedom, delivered on… Skin. Castiel can imagine the torn, ripped flesh and the blood on the body of a young man. He may hate Dean Winchester, but carving a message into the tissue of another human? That is incomprehensibly terrible.

 

“They said to release the prisoner,” Benny growls, fingers tightening around the knife in his hands. “We don’t got another person locked up in here, boy.” A whirlwind of emotions strikes Castiel, whipping through his mind, all fighting to take precedence over the others, however, the emotion that wins is a profound sense of utter confusion.

 

I do not know Alastair, yet he wishes for my freedom? Castiel thinks, feeling unnerved and also a tinge afraid, because, after all, his captors could decide he truly is working with Alastair and kill him just to be on the cautious side.

 

“They hurt Sam, so tell me, how the hell did they know where to find him?” Benny asks, apparently still believing that Castiel has any knowledge of what happened to this man Benny seems to care quite a lot about. It angers him, more than it should, but the reason he feels that anger because he would never be implicit in an act of defiling the human body in such a way.

 

“I do not know,” Castiel answers, he is speaking the truth, as he only has with this man, but he knows that when someone you love deeply is hurt or in danger, rationality is the last thought in your mind. He knows if anything happens to Anna, if he ever saw the person that injured her or harmed her in any way, that person would not live to see the next sunrise.

 

“Don’t lie. To. Me.” The other man spits, his rage is almost tangible in the way it radiates off him, thick and suffocating as it permeates the air. Benny steps forward once more. He tightens the five-foot gap. There are only four feet between them now. “If you refuse to believe me when I speak the truth, there is no point to leave me alive!” Castiel shouts, knowing it’s unintelligent to yell that at a man who can, and most likely will, end his life right then and there.

 

Benny advances further. Three feet. Almost close enough to breathe the same air. They stare at each other, locked in a stalemate and he watches as the cogs turn in Benny’s mind, silent decisions being made, possibly decisions that decide Castiel’s own fate. “Your folks are callin’ out to you, I wonder if they want you back bad enough to show themselves before we tear them apart,” Benny says, eyes still locked on Castiel’s own, a fierce battle of blue on blue.

 

Another step. Two feet. “They do not know me, you notice that they did not mention me by name, correct?” Castiel asks and it’s truly more of a rhetorical question. Benny doesn’t respond. “It seems far too convenient,” Castiel says, leaning back into the support beam, making himself smaller out of habit. He remembers when his father used to get angry, he’d do the same, and tell Anna to get out of the house for a little while, or tell her to go hide in their room, that way, when his father hurt him, at the very least, she did not have to bear witness to something as horrible and damaging as that.

 

“Convenient for who?” Benny hisses, the question filled with venom. “This Sam of yours was attacked a mere week after I was captured, I assume they must somehow know I haven’t been telling you anything so they resorted to-” Castiel is cut off by Benny suddenly closing the space and cutting a long gash down his chest with the wickedly sharp blade he is carrying.

 

Castiel gasps, feeling the blood spill down his chest in slow waves. His chest tightens as he realizes the danger he is truly in, there are no options left, he can’t fight back, all he can do is try to hold his cries of pain back, he doesn’t want to give Benny the satisfaction of hearing him scream.

 

Benny throws a punch, it connects squarely with his nose and mouth, and he feels blood spill from a newly bleeding nose. Another punch, this one directly connecting with his cheekbone. Benny continues to throw attack after attack, whether it’s with the knife or with his hands, and soon Castiel begins to fear that he may just die here.

 

No. No… No! Anna, please, I’ll… I promised! He conjures the image of his baby sister up in his mind, the image of her grinning as he chases her through the stables in Blackwater, how she whooped when he found her, picked her up, and placed her on his shoulders while Gabriel trailed behind them, laughing all the way.

 

Gabriel, brother, please make sure she will be okay. He silently prays, though, he knows Gabriel will never hear it, there are so many words that he wishes to tell his family, though, he knows they will never hear them now. Fear settles in his chest, constricting so tightly around his heart he feels as if he might spontaneously combust.

 

Every connection strikes pain through him as he numbly cries for his family in his mind, the image of bright red hair vanishing into the darkness. The image of Gabriel carrying little Anna on his shoulders and watching them step forward, their backs turned to him as they advance, disappearing into the mist on the horizon. Wait! Come back! He attempts to cry out to them, but the words won’t come.

 

He hears a single word tear out of his mouth, filling the air. “Anna!” Another stab from the knife connects with his side and he believes that he will black out soon, there’s not much time left now, and when he goes unconscious, he fears what will happen to him, and if he will ever awaken from that slumber.

 

Just as darkness creeps into the sides of his vision, just as everything begins to go blurry, and just as everything seems as if it’s coming to an end as if he will finally be free from his desperation, from his pain, from his hatred, a voice calls out. He cannot understand the words, his heartbeat far too loud in his head, reverberating in his skull.

 

Breathless words escape his mouth and desperate thoughts echo in his head. His chin has dropped to his chest, right now he feels tired, very tired, and he cannot bring himself to lift his head up. He wonders what would happen if he just fell asleep. What if everything just went dark? Would he finally be allowed to sleep peacefully?

 

He feels hands wrap around his chin, lifting his head when his weakness prevents him from lifting it himself. Castiel just wants to sleep, why won’t anyone simply let him sleep? He’s exhausted. Even though his vision is blurry and even though dark spots threaten to overwhelm it, he can still make out Dean Winchester’s face, and if he had any energy left, he would flinch, pull himself away, but he cannot, so instead, he allows everything around him to fade into a peaceful darkness.



---



He sits in his throne-like chair, feeling a profound sense of boredom because, honestly, waiting for news of his minions’ exploits is exhaustingly boring. He hates being bored, it’s such a dull thing meant for people without his flair for the dramatic and exciting.

 

The room is dark, much to his liking, darkness seems appropriate, after all, who doesn’t love a good, classic sign of evil? The door is opposite his seat which is mere feet from the back wall, making the entire room feel like a throne room, which is impossibly enjoyable because when people step into the room they feel that they are meeting with a king, and they truly are.

 

A knock comes on the door, three short raps. His lips twist into a grin. “Come in!” He calls in a sing-song voice. One of his most favorable minion’s steps into the room. “Brakiel, I hope you come bearing good news.” He says, examining the face of the young man who just walked into the room.

 

He finds a small smile on his minion’s face, a good omen. He relaxes into his throne, licking his lips. “Yes, sir, I do,” Brakiel says, eyes tinged with an evil humor which reminds him of himself when he was that age. He believes that Brakiel will thrive in this world because he understands the most simplistic rule of human survival; it’s either kill or be killed, and you must stay with whoever allows you to survive. As long as Brakiel stays painfully loyal, he will bring the young man to the top.

 

He waits for Brakiel to continue. “Ruby and I caught up to Sam Winchester.” Immediately he sits up straight, pleased by the words of his disciple. “And?” He asks, eyeing Brakiel, who looks up to stare back at him, dark eyes flaring with a deep sense of pride. “The message was sent, sir,” Brakiel’s small smile breaks into a full grin, however, the grin is dark and twisted which brings a smile to his own face.

 

“The game is on now.” He can’t help but laugh. “I’m sure that Dean gutted that poor Sheriff the second he saw Sam.” He looks down on Brakiel who is standing, watching him. “You did well, Brakiel. I can’t imagine that frail, little Sheriff Castiel Novak-Edlund is still alive, not with Dean’s… Ferocity. The bodes well for you, my little lamb.” He chuckles, the sound loud and low as it bounces off the walls.

 

“Pass on my congratulations to Ruby as well. Actually, why, pray tell, is our dear Rubes not standing here right now?” He asks. Brakiel flinches with displeasure as if the thought of someone else getting the credit for what he achieved is unacceptable.

 

“She said she was going to go drink and that I was to pass on the mission report. She, apparently, didn’t enjoy the task of carving up that Winchester boy,” Brakiel says, not quite meeting his eyes. He hums with understanding. “You may go now.” He says, pondering Ruby’s actions.

 

Brakiel turns to leave. He takes a few steps before stopping. “Sir, I was wondering, why Dean Winchester? Surely there are other, more high profile targets?” Brakiel asks, looking up at him with caution in his eyes. “Well, that is quite simple, dear student, it is because Dean Winchester is my favorite toy.”

 

A dark grin twists his lips. Brakiel simply nods and exits the room. A deep chuckle reverberates in his chest.

 

Deany, we’ll see each other soon, I doubt you’d forget me. Alastair licks his lips, drifting off into thought.

Chapter Text

Her heart is pierced with fear as she runs her fingers over the marks in the sand. Think logically. She tells herself. What if this isn’t even Cass? Maybe they’re not even what I think they are! Maybe I’m just being paranoid. She reassures herself.

Suddenly, she sees a glint in the sand. She kneels, eyes fixed on the location where the tiny glint of light came from. She digs in the sand, fingers objecting to the coarse grain of the sand. She finally finds it; a damaged piece of a Sheriff’s star, a broken off point of one.

Her heart sinks in her chest. Cass, no… I… Her thoughts are chaotic, calamitous in her head which feels too small for the screams that fill it. She focuses on the reason her brother disappeared. Dean Winchester. That son of a bitch has to be the guy who jumped Cass. She thinks. No one has ever gotten the jump on him, so how the hell did Dean fucking Winchester manage it? It’s all too much for her to handle, all she can do is fall back on the sand.

The next coherent thought she manages is a much more terrifying one, a thought of uncertainty. What the hell do I do now? We’ve been tracking this jackass for weeks and the second we find him, Cass gets his idiot ass jumped and leaves me to worry about where he went! Damn it, Cass! She covers her face with her hands, feeling panic grasp her heart, making it difficult to breathe.

She stands up, dusting off her clothes and searching the alley for anything else of use. She finds nothing other than more footprints which seem indicative of what happened about thirty minutes earlier. They could be long gone by now.

She feels a rush of anger. She wants to hit something or someone. Once I find you, Cass, I’m going to destroy Dean Winchester, and I swear to God if he lays a hand on you I’ll make him wish he was never fucking born. Another thought crosses her mind. What if Cass is already dead? What if that Winchester douchebag already killed him? What if Cass isn’t dead and Winchester tortures him beyond his breaking point and he’s never the same? She fights back the urge to cry.

She’s always repressed the urge to cry, ever since she learned how angry it made their father when she did. Whenever something bad happened, Cass told her to leave, go to her room or get out of the house.

One night, instead of closing the door and locking it, she opened it, just a crack, she wanted to know what happened when Cass told her to leave. He always said it was an ‘adult conversation’ but she wanted to know what the adults were talking about. Now she wishes she never had because what she saw was terrible.

She saw their father push Castiel to the ground, yelling at him, words slurred and angry as their father kicked him in the stomach, and Castiel had just taken it. He just fucking took it! She never understood why he didn’t just fight back when their father did that. Why he never left.

The biggest mystery of it all is why Castiel is still so damn loyal to their father. He never blames him for what happened, simply saying that their father’s anger was because he was consumed by grief and had no outlet. Well, fuck that, because no one’s outlet for anger or grief should be hurting their children, under the influence of alcohol or not.

She hates their father with a burning passion for what he did to Cass when Cass had been nothing but loyal, doing every single fucking thing their father had told him to do, and what did he get for all his trouble? Bruises, broken bones, and scars.

Those scars are rooted much further into him than just skin-deep, those scars exist in the way he sees himself. Scars she can’t bear to think about. Every time he says something self-deprecating, whether it’s to her or someone else, she winces, because she realizes the impact of all of those harsh words their father said truly had.

Worthless. Waste of space. Useless. Anna is stronger. You can’t help your sister. Weak. She especially fucking hated it when he brought her into it because she has never been stronger than Cass. Her older brother had the strength to protect her, to practically raise her, regardless of what happened to him in the process.

She feels the warm prickle in her nose and the burning behind her eyes which always means that tears are coming. She takes a deep breath and turns her eyes to the sky, searching for stars that are hidden by the blue sky and the bright sun. I’ll find you, Cass, because there aren’t enough words to thank you for every damn thing you’ve done for me.

I love ya, older brother, so hang on for me, okay? She knows he can’t hear her, but she feels as if the silent prayer will somehow reach him even if she never says a word. Her hands ball into fists. Until then, Dean Winchester is gonna realize that if you mess with our family, there’s going to be hell to pay, no matter what.

She pockets the broken piece of the Sheriff’s star, possibly the last thing of Cass’s she’ll get until she returns home. The thought sends a chill down Anna’s spine, regardless of how warm the outside air is. She turns on her heel and marches out of the alleyway with one mission, one true focus. I’m going to find my brother.

 

---

 

Ruby sits in the dimly lit bar. Her usual barstool is out of the way of most of the public’s prying eyes, she doesn’t care for men eyeing her up when she’s drinking to forget. Today, she had the unfortunate task of carving a message into a young man’s skin.

Granted, he was unconscious but wow, was it cruel. Brakiel had simply looked on in fascination as she cut him up. There are a lot of things to be said about Alastair, but merciless is not one of them.

Sam Winchester had put up quite a fight, of course, Brakiel was in charge of taking him down because of some prideful bullshit, however, Ruby knows she could easily kick his ass if the need arose, regardless of how brutal and unrelenting Brakiel is.

Ruby has always had skill with knives, she knows their mechanics, the simplicity of the strokes a knife takes through human flesh but she doesn’t take pleasure in meaningless cruelty. Cutting someone up to send a message is a typical request from employers.

It’s been a thing she’s done for years, even before Alastair decided she was to work for him. She hadn’t minded Alastair’s insistence for her to join him, though, it did get a little… Not exactly family-friendly.

Working for Alastair certainly has its perks, the ability to get some decent booze is one of them and easy sex is another. Not that finding sex is particularly hard, especially with her highly regarded talents and… Well, just look at her.

Tonight, however, sex is the last thing on her mind. She doesn’t understand why this last job affected her so much, after all, she’s used to carving people up, why is this one different? Why does she feel a pang of guilt every time she envisions the face of Sam Winchester?

It’s not because he was weak or frail, because, well damn, he had been fit and a giant of a man. No, it was something about the way his face fell when Brakiel jumped him, the realization of the situation was written all over his face.

Something tells Ruby that Sam Winchester just wears his emotions like that, instead of hiding them, he uses them as a shield, pushes them to the surface, and he somehow made his already gigantic stature even bigger, the squaring of his shoulders and the emotions he uses for his defense as one would use a blade in their hand.

She twirls her most favored knife in her hands, examining each rune that her mother had carved onto it for ‘safety reasons’. Ruby believes her mother was just paranoid as hell, but that doesn’t stop the knife from being wicked sharp and deadly efficient.

She is so lost in thought that when a person plops down on the barstool next to her, she doesn’t even register it until the woman speaks to the bartender. “Another of what she’s having.” The woman says.

Ruby looks over and sees the dark curls of her hair and immediately recognizes her. “Meg!” She says, shock filling her voice. “Hiya there, Rubes.” She says with a wink. “Heard you were feelin’ down after the mission today, sweets.”

Ruby presses her forehead against the wooden top of the bar. “Does everyone already know?” She asks, voice muffled. “Sorry, sweetheart, I’m thinking that’s a yes,” Meg says. “Great,” Ruby says, fingers tightening around her glass, forehead still pressed against the bar.

She chances a glance up at Meg, who is wearing an empathetic smile. “So, why’d ya have second thoughts about good old Sammy?” Meg asks, looking relaxed on the stool and Ruby is almost certain that if another barstool was around she’d have her feet propped up.

“I’m not a frigid hearted bitch, no matter what they say,” Ruby spits, her mouth tastes bitter but it’s not because of the questionable beer she’s drinking. “Trust me, Rubes, I’ve known you for long enough to know you wouldn’t bat one of those pretty little eyelashes at the task of carvin’ some guy up,” Meg says and despite her humorous tone, there’s true concern somewhere in there, under all of the layers of sarcasm and ill-timed jokes.

“And before you say that you’re all good, let me tell ya, no one who’s feelin’ like dandelions and sunshine would sit in a rundown bar downing whiskey like water.” Ruby despises the fact that Meg knows her, in fact, she realizes that Meg might know her better than anyone else under Alastair’s ‘employment’.

“Maybe all the years of fucking destroying people have finally caught up to me,” Ruby sighs, staring down at her half-empty drink like it’s the most interesting thing she’s ever seen. “We all reach a point where we question what the hell we’re doing, but you gotta think about why you’re doing it, because sweetheart, that’s the only way you figure any of this shit out,” Meg says, gesturing around the room with a vague hand movement.

“Let’s not get all sentimental or we’re gonna look like a pair of girls,” Meg says, grinning at her. All Ruby can do is chuckle weakly in response. “Well, good news, I’m not one to drink alone.” She says, trying to rebuild her usual facade.

“I’ll drink to that,” Meg grins back.

“You’ll drink to anything.”

“Damn straight.”

And just like that, the conversation is over and they’re both taking deep swigs of whiskey with different intentions in mind. All Ruby can think about is the fact that once again, she cut up a human being, but this time, well fuck, this time she felt something other than a crushing sense of duty.

And honestly? She hates these newfound emotions which threaten to push their way past the wall she has carefully constructed over the years to keep things like this out… But today it failed her. Today, emotions have won, and damn if that doesn’t scare the hell out of her.

 

---

 

Finding Castiel may prove to be a much larger undertaking than Anna had originally hoped. The first thing she decides to do is find Nora because if they took Nora as well then someone probably saw it, which gives her hope.

Unfortunately, or possibly, fortunately, because Cass loves this damn horse, she finds Nora tied to a beam right outside the bar, nervously pawing at the ground. Anna feels stupid and unobservant for not noticing the mare before she walked into the bar, but she doesn’t dwell on it, at least not for the moment.

She unties Nora from the beam then walks back to the alleyway, examining where the drag marks leave off. If they pulled Cass out of the alleyway into broad daylight someone definitely would have noticed. She thinks, kneeling down to get a better look at the marks and footprints in the sand.

She looks up at the high wall that closes off the alleyway in a dead end. No way they could have hoisted him over that… Right? She inspects the wall more closely, running her fingers over the splintering wood and logs that make up the wall.

She experimentally tests a foothold in the wood. She expects the wood to splinter and break into pieces the second she puts weight on it but nothing happens, the wall holds, albeit a little shaky under her weight.

She puts her hand into a slat of the wooden wall somewhere above her head, then moves her other foot into a similar hold. She climbs up the wall, careful with the distribution of her weight. When she finally reaches the top she lifts herself onto the roof of the building to her left.

She almost wishes she hadn’t clambered up the damn building because now she can spot the stain of blood on the roof. She inhales sharply, fear prickling in her chest along with the realization that Cass must really be gone.

She examines the rest of the roof, carefully stepping along the length of it. She sees a few more droplets of blood, but, somehow, they don’t look like the person being dragged was bleeding. She kneels to inspect the closest dark red stain of blood.

Anna runs her fingers around the outline of the dried puddle of blood. No drag marks, in fact, the closest drag mark is about a foot away, suggesting one of the people dragging Cass was bleeding. Her chest loosens a little with that knowledge. I hope you put up a damn good fight. She tells Cass silently.

She walks to the edge of the roof on the opposite side of the wall, away from the alleyway. She realizes the portion of the road behind the building she is currently standing on is mostly deserted, which feels strange because of how populated the city is.

But upon closer inspection, she realizes why; this area has decrepit, broken down buildings that the city just hasn’t fixed. She also realizes that what she thought was the main road couldn’t have been, not with the fierce expanse of buildings that she can now clearly see upon looking behind her.

It would’ve been pretty damn easy to get an unconscious Cass - at least she assumes he was unconscious - out of the city through that street, especially since it’s narrow and has multiple other side streets and alleys off of it.

How the hell am I going to find you, Cass? She asks, eyes moving to fix on the bright blue of the sky, which almost seems to be taunting her with its serenity and purity. She racks her brain for any way to find him. She could take off through that narrow street and hope they stayed close, but that has a tiny chance of working, she knows that.

Or… Time to cash in some serious favors. She thinks, a silent prayer for strength. She knows she has a few bounty hunter contacts (even though she prefers to work alone, easier that way) that she could track down that owe her big, even a few personal bounties that made her friends in high places.

But damn it, this Winchester guy is fucking slippery, so who says that anyone can work out where the hell he went? The only way we found him in the first place was because of… Wait, Ezekiel! That’s perfect! She realizes exactly what she needs to do.

She’s going to cash in every single favor that anyone and everyone owes her if she has too, she’ll track down Ezekiel, and find Cass. Just hold on, Cass, oh, and give ‘em hell for me and for you, don’t let ‘em treat you like some weak prisoner, you’re strong, Cass, and you’d better fucking show it. She’s not sure why she continues to talk to him when she knows he can’t hear her but it gives her a sense of peace, even if the words are never spoken.

She clambers down the wall, back into the alleyway, and makes her way back to Nora. She strokes Nora’s head, an attempt to calm… Nora? Herself? She’s not sure anymore. Anna watches as the mare nervously paws at the ground, as if she knows that something is wrong. Almost as if she’s as panicked as Anna at this moment.

She fixes her eyes on the sky, begging for some sort of strength to do what is required of her now. Strength to fight back her worry and panic. She doesn’t pray, not to God at least, her father had perverted those beliefs, twisted them into something horrible, because dear old Dad used their shared beliefs as a weapon to cut and scar Cass, to scare him into doing whatever the fuck Dad said.

The worst part of everything is how loyal you were - still are - to our father, he never fucking earned it, Cass! She keeps returning to this thought. He didn’t deserve a son like you, he didn’t deserve your loyalty, then or now, and for God’s sake, he definitely isn’t any reason to hate yourself like you do, Cass. She knows he can’t hear him, she knows it’s desperate and pathetic, all of this, but she can’t stop herself.

Just stop letting him control your fucking life, Cass! She screams in her mind, though, she’s not sure why she’s thinking about this now. There’s no reason for it but… Well, her emotions are right at the surface right now.

In fact, if someone bumped into her right now, or even looked at her funny, she’s pretty sure she would deck them just out of sheer emotional confusion… Stress or something stupid like that. Jesus, I’m pathetic. She shakes her head, sighing sadly and turning to lead Nora out of the alleyway.

 

---

 

The sun is quickly setting on the fifth day of her travels back to Elizabethville, her pace is slow-going especially since she has to lead Nora behind her while riding Jack, which Anna admits is pretty damn annoying.

She’ll be at Elizabethville soon, she just wants to get there already. She had been wary to leave Cold Oak, on the off-chance that Winchester would come back, but she trusts that Hannah - a bounty hunter she has worked with on multiple occasions - will keep a good eye out for him.

Of course, she doesn’t quite trust Hannah, she doesn’t quite trust anyone though, especially not bounty hunters, but Hannah is genuine, very genuine, almost to the point of annoyance. Hannah and Cass had met once, so she knows that Hannah will help out, especially since Hannah appeared to be very taken with her older brother, though, she can’t figure out for the life of her why.

She is broken out of her thoughts by the smell of smoke. Her eyes fly open - when did she close them? - to search the hills ahead of her. Black smoke dances on the horizon, twirling into the sky, the darkness is ominous as it looms over her.

She digs her heels into Jack’s sides to spur him on. Nora lets out a neigh, almost sounding like an objection as Anna pulls her along because of Jack’s increasing speed. They gallop over the hills and when they reach the top Anna feels like the breath has been knocked out of her.

The entire town of Elizabethville is engulfed in flames. No… No… She jumps off of Jack, not really having a place to tie him but also not willing to pull him into the fire. She barrels down the hill, hoping that Jack and Nora will stay in place.

The flames feel suffocatingly hot, even from the side of the hill as she nears the town. Her skin feels like it’s burning before she reaches Elizabethville. Her eyes search the flames. She’s not quite sure what she’s looking for. Survivors maybe, or maybe she’s selfishly hoping that Ezekiel made it out.

She spots a woman on the outside of the town, frozen as she stares at the flames. Anna runs towards her. She only stops when she reaches the woman, gently placing a hand on her shoulder. “Miss,” Anna says. “You have to move.” The woman finally looks up.

She looks young, maybe thirty. She has bright blonde hair and dark eyes. “I… You look familiar.” The woman says dully. Anna realizes why the woman’s face sparks recognition. “You saw us going into Ezekiel’s.” She says. The woman nods.

“Yes… I thought it was quite strange... “ The woman says, eyes returning to fixate on the flames licking at the buildings. “Why?” Anna asks, even though she knows it’s the wrong thing to focus on at this moment. “Because Ezekiel’s dead, of course.” The woman responds, her tone still dull and her eyes still look glazed over.

Her words don’t register with Anna for a second. She blinks, shaking her head. “That’s impossible, we saw him less than a week ago,” Anna says. “That would be a trick seeing as he’s been dead for three.” The woman still isn’t looking at her.

Anna grasps the woman’s arm, pulling her away from the flames. She is probably gripping the woman too hard but she can’t focus on it. The heat is still suffocating even as they move away. Questions whirl in Anna’s head. She’s got to be lying to me.

“We saw him.” She says, adamant. Didn’t we? She thinks. The woman doesn’t reply. “How… How did Ezekiel die?” Anna is scared to ask but she has to know. “Supposed heart attack.” The lady says quietly.

“Supposed?” Anna asks, turning to stare into the flames as if they have some sort of answer. “Some said it was poison.” The woman is so quiet that Anna would have missed it if she wasn’t so close.

Suddenly a noise pierces the air, the unmistakable sound of a gunshot. Anna’s head snaps away from the flames to figure out where the hell the shot came from. There is a dull thud to her left and she slowly turns, knowing what she will see, but she can’t stop herself.

The woman is lying face down on the ground, blood slowly wetting the shirt on her back, pooling out from the gunshot wound. Anna’s blood turns to ice. She’s going to die. She’ll never get the chance to find Cass. She’s going to see her parents and Mrs. Novak now. Someone help! She turns around, eyes squeezed tight, and preparing for the bullet to tear through her.

“Hi there, Annie.”

 

---

 

Castiel awakens to darkness yet again. He feels confusion wrapped around his brain, acting as a veil laid thickly over his memories. Where am I? He means to speak out loud but his mouth refuses to form the words. Why is everything consumed in darkness? He is simply floating in the black emptiness.

Then, everything comes rushing back in a painful snap, as if the veil is being pulled away. Winchester, being captured, Alastair, Benny, being beaten, Anna. Anna! He tries to move but he can’t. I’m no longer in the land of the living, am I? Panic overtakes him as he attempts to thrash.

His eyes fly open.

He’s lying on a bed. A real bed. There’s a dresser across the room from him, a chair next to the bed, and a bedside table on his right, other than that the small room is empty. He can’t be alive, he simply can’t be. Is this Heaven? His question is answered moments later by slightly muffled voices that drift in from under the door that’s tucked in the left-hand corner of the room.

“Dean, what are we going to do with him?” A voice asks. “I don’t freaking know, Sammy!” Dean Winchester’s voice answers. Castiel feels anger flare in his chest. “All I know is that Benny beat the shit out of him and we don’t play that way,” Winchester says. Castiel represses the frankly ridiculous urge to laugh, although, he strongly suspects laughter is not in the cards for him, not with how his throat aches.

“Anyways, it ain’t like we can just take him to the nearby doc, what would we say? ‘Oh, sorry, we beat this guy within an inch of his life, oops, fix him for us will ya?’” He says. “Even if we didn’t get spotted the second we stepped in the place. Look what happened last time.”

“Uh-huh, and whose fault was that? I warned you, Dean, but you didn’t listen to-” The first voice - Sam - is cut off. “Yeah, yeah, shove it. You need to sit down or you’re gonna reopen your stitches.” Their bickering feels strangely familiar. It almost reminds him of… A sudden realization hits him. Is ‘Sammy’ his brother? No, Dean Winchester does not have a family.

Why is that though? Why can’t he allow the thought that Dean Winchester could possibly have familial connections, after all, he himself does, but still, the Dean Winchester of his imagination does not have a family, he is incapable of love or compassion and yet…

Yet he still saved Castiel’s life, at least, from what he remembers. He moves to slide out of the bed but he realizes that he is, once again, handcuffed, this time his right wrist is cuffed to the wooden pole at the side of the headboard.

And even if he wasn’t handcuffed he still wouldn’t be able to move. He notices his wrists are bandaged, they look rushed however they’re better than nothing. His eyes travel down the rest of his body. He’s still wearing the clothes he was kidnapped in - thank God - however, his boots and socks are nowhere to be found.

Suddenly the dull ache all throughout his body makes itself painfully apparent. He groans loudly. Too loudly. The conversation that had been continuing without Castiel eavesdropping abruptly stops. He freezes and feels his heart rate pick up.

He hears light footfalls outside of the room. The door is opened and Dean Winchester steps into the room. Castiel growls, the sound spills from his mouth unbidden and uncontrolled. “Whoa, Miss Talia, calm down! Jeez, guess warm welcomes ain’t exactly your thing,” Winchester says.

Castiel doesn’t respond. Dean Winchester moves forward and Castiel can spot a man standing behind Winchester, the man is quite tall, so tall that Castiel thinks that he would hit his head on the doorframe, and yet, he looks young, no older than Anna.

He squints, examining the taller man. Brown hair falls around his face, much longer than Winchester’s or even his own and from what Castiel can see he has hazel, possibly green eyes. He refocuses on Dean Winchester who is still staring directly at him.

Castiel opens his mouth to tell Winchester to get the hell out but words refuse to come, instead, he launches himself into a coughing fit. “Easy there, you got hit pretty hard,” Winchester says, still keeping his distance.

In between fits of coughing Castiel manages to speak. “Really? I wasn’t aware of that.” His voice is hoarse from dehydration. Dean Winchester eyes him. “We got a comedian over here.” He says, shaking his head lightly.

The taller man behind Winchester - who, in a strange way, slightly resembles a moose - has his eyes fixed on Castiel. “Holy crap,” Sam whispers. Dean glances back at the giant of a man and shrugs. “Where am I?” Castiel asks, using the break in their conversation to get an inquiry out.

Winchester looks back at him as if just now remembering that Castiel is here. “You’re lazing around in bed,” Dean Winchester says and Castiel feels a bolt of irritation in his chest. Winchester must think he is the very definition of hilarity. Sam looks over at him and if Castiel didn’t know better, he would say the expression on his face is almost apologetic. Castiel notices the edge of the bandages wrapped around Sam’s torso peeking out from under his shirt and vest.

“Let me go,” Castiel says. He’s aware that they’re not just going to allow him to leave because, of course, nothing is ever that simple. “Can’t do that quite yet,” Dean Winchester says. The ever-present smile Winchester wears is beginning to irritate Castiel.

“If you’re not going to let me go then you should end my life,” Castiel says, staring into Dean Winchester’s eyes with a hardened determination in his heart. He doesn’t want to die but he’d rather die than a prisoner of the man who ruined his life, destroyed families, and senselessly, mercilessly massacred hundreds of people.

“You got a serious death wish, don’t you?” Dean says. “We talked about this, we ain’t plannin’ on killin’ you just yet.” Castiel considers this, he is aware of their previous conversation, of course, but if they beat him, almost to the point of death, what purpose is there in keeping him around?

“I have no answers to the questions you will ask. I am completely and utterly useless to you and I refuse to be your prisoner, so if you will not kill me or let me go, mark my words, I will get out and I will end your life,” Castiel says, his hands balling into fists. He would make an attempt to move but the dull throb of pain sharpens into stabbing knives every time he moves.

Winchester’s eyes darken, behind him, the giant of a man is still carefully watching them, almost as if he can sense something is about to happen. “You could try, but damn, all that time we spent patching you up would be wasted.” Castiel wants to yell, wants to break free and strangle the man in front of him who has the audacity to find this humorous in any way.

“I believe you should have thought of that particular detail before you ‘patched me up’.” Castiel knows this attitude is dangerous because after all, they could simply decide that Castiel is indeed better off dead. He doesn’t have a death wish but freedom is seeming unlikely.

He has one word, one name that is echoing inside his head. Anna. Anna. Anna. He steels himself and stares directly into Dean Winchester’s eyes. Dean is smiling, almost in disbelief with his lips slightly parted and turned up at the corners.

Castiel feels a hot flare of anger in his chest. Who does Dean Winchester think he is? Sam is observing them both, an expression of slight nervousness on his face. “Gotta tell ya, Sheriff, you’re a real piece of work,” Dean Winchester says, in a conversational tone. Sam scoffs. “Dean, I don’t think-” Winchester hushes him and puts up a hand.

“If I’m such a burden, why not let me free?” Castiel asks. “Because we want Alastair and you’re gonna tell us where the fuck he is,” Dean Winchester says without an ounce of sarcasm or his brand of humor. “If I knew where this Alastair was, don’t you think I would have told you? I’m not sure if you have realized this yet but one of your men brought me to a point where I could’ve easily died and then you brought me back, at this point I have found the boundaries of your mercy, and have, apparently, tested them, so tell me, even if I do know where Alastair currently is, why on Earth would I tell you?

“Because if you don’t, I swear to God, I’ll let Benny finish you off,” Dean Winchester says, stoic and completely serious. Sam looks like he wants to object but Dean seems to give him a look and Sam closes his mouth, cutting off whatever he was about to say.

“Which brings us back to my original point which is that if you want information, that I obviously cannot give, you should simply kill me,” Castiel swallows, forcing himself to continue staring at Dean Winchester, who looks annoyed. Castiel fights back a smile at Winchester’s irritation.

“Maybe Alastair wants your tight-lipped, loyal, dumb ass back enough to set up a meeting,” Dean says, wearing a smirk that doesn’t do a very good job of covering his annoyance. “As much as I am sure Alastair is fascinated with my rear, I doubt he would risk himself to get it back.” That seems to shut Winchester up, which Castiel is immensely grateful for.

“Why are you so loyal to him?” Castiel almost misses Winchester’s question because of how uncharacteristically quietly he says it. “I can’t imagine he’s a great boss or treats you with anything close to kindness, or even fucking respect.” The question takes Castiel by surprise. The softness in his tone, despite the harshness of his words, was unexpected.

“I wouldn’t know,” Castiel says. He meant for the words to come out scathing and angry but they sound almost gentle and he hates himself for it. Silence falls for a few moments, neither of them daring to speak until Sam clears his throat, breaking the awkward quiet that had fallen over the room.

Castiel looks over and immediately sees why; a young woman with bright red hair stands behind Sam. “Uh, Dean, not to, uh, interrupt…” She trails off upon seeing Castiel and immediately averts her eyes. “What, Charlie?” Dean asks, also looking away from Castiel. “Ash, he, um, wanted to go over supplies,” The young woman - Charlie - says in a small voice.

“Got it.” Winchester bolts up from his chair and is out the door, following Charlie before Castiel can say another word. Sam stays behind a few seconds longer, then he slowly closes the door, leaving Castiel alone with his thoughts.

 

---

 

“Hi there, Annie.”

Anna slowly opens her eyes, she thought she’d be dead by now. There is a man standing in front of her, who has brown hair streaked with gray, and darkly humorous blue eyes. Her name sounds wrong coming from this man’s lips, a perversion of the simple word and a nickname only Gabriel has ever called her.

“Who are you?” She takes a step back, her hand going to her hip and searching for the revolver in her holster. “Ah, ah, ah, no guns,” The man says and with his height, he all but towers over Anna. “You have one.” She says, the undisguised feeling of fear slowly rooting in her heart.

“Yes, my dear, I do, and since I’m the one who has the gun, you will do whatever I say.” The man smiles a toothy, mischievous grin. “Now, Annie dear put the gun down and kick it over here.” Anna feels a flare of hot rage in her chest but sense wins out. She slowly pulls her revolver and places it on the ground, kicking it and causing sand to fly to the sides.

“You still haven’t answered my question,” Anna says, balling her hands into fists to keep them from shaking and whether the tremor is from anger or fear, Anna can’t tell. The man chuckles a deep, darkly humorous thing that sends shivers down Anna’s spine.

“My name is Alastair.” The low, rough, almost cracked sound of the man’s voice is grating to her ears, making her want to cover them even though she knows it would be a stupid move. “What kinda name is Alastair?” Anna asks, really though, it’s a poor disguise for her anger, or maybe it’s fear or that strange flare of recognition at the name, she can’t tell them apart anymore.

The man chuckles again, the noise is just as grating as his voice, and just as disturbing and darkly humorous. The man - Alastair - studies her face, his eyes sweeping lower than just her head, seeming to undress her, and suddenly, Anna feels very exposed, now extremely glad for all the layers that usually make her overheat in the harsh glare of the sun.

The man chuckles, quickly breaking into a full-body laugh. “I’m sorry, is this supposed to be a serious moment?” Alastair asks, apparently unable to control the fits of laughter. “If you’re planning on killing me, then yeah, I’d say so.” Anna narrows her eyes as dozens of indistinguishable emotions curl and flex around her heart.

“Oh, Annie, you wound me!” Alastair says in an absolutely over-the-top and dramatic way. “I have much more grand plans for you, darling.” He smiles, teeth glinting in the sun, and Anna is reminded of an animal, a predator.

That spark of recognition grows. Alastair. Alastair. Alastair. The name echoes in her head, bouncing around in every corner of her mind. Suddenly it hits her, and the spark is fanned into a flame. “Dean Winchester is hunting you.” She blurts out, she didn’t mean to say it but there’s nothing she can do about it now.

“Oh yes, I know all about Deany’s exploits,” Alastair says with that predatory smile never faltering, not even for a second. “But I think you should be more worried about that brother of yours, from what I’ve heard, he’s little Deany’s new favorite toy.” Anna’s blood runs cold. What the fuck did he just say?

Her hands are balled so tightly she thinks her palms might bleed from her nails cutting into them. “W-what?” She hates how her voice shakes when the words come out but she’s too desperate to care. “What do you know about Cass?” She asks, feeling a familiar sting at the back of her throat, the sting of bile rising there.

“If you want to find him, darling, head northwest out of Cold Oak, you’ll find a little wooden building, he’ll be inside,” Alastair smiles, turning to leave, and before she realizes what’s happening she’s charging him. He turns back at almost an inhuman speed and then she hears the gunshot.

She’s on the ground, all the air knocked out of her. Pain shoots through her as the realization hits; there’s a bullet in her thigh. He fucking shot me! She pushes the intense feeling of pain out of her head, trying to only feel the indignation. “Sorry, dear, I can’t die out here, really, I hadn’t planned on shooting you, I hope you can get to your brother in time,” Alastair says, smiling down at her like a predator stares down its prey.

“Who the fuck are you? Just some good Samaritan helping me to find my brother then shooting me in the goddamn leg?” Alastair doesn’t stop smiling that evil, twisted smile that sends shivers down Anna’s spine. “My dear, I’m not a good anything.” Alastair turns and walks up the hill leaving Anna with a dead woman, a hole in her thigh with blood spilling from it, and more questions than ever.

 

---

 

It’s after some time that Anna manages to pull herself up. It could have been seconds, minutes, or even hours, she has no idea. The fire is still hot, making her feel like she’s burning, and night has almost fallen. Her thigh is still bleeding profusely and her hands are soaked in blood from where she tried to quell the flow. Her entire body is shaking and her palms feel like they’re bleeding from where her nails cut into them but it could just be the blood from her thigh, she really can’t tell, and that scares her more than the bleeding hole in her leg.

Her breath comes out shallow, a short, broken sound. Her eyes fall on the dead woman off to her right and she feels the familiar prickle of bile rise in her throat. She can’t look at the poor woman anymore. She just can’t.

She pulls herself onto her knees, wincing when she has to move her injured right leg, but eventually manages to stand up. She puts most of her weight on her foot to keep from making the wound any worse. She tests her right leg by gently putting some of her weight on it, only a little bit at a time.

She eventually starts moving, as slow going as it may be. She feels like she’s going to collapse by the time she reaches Jack, who, by some stroke of luck, is still standing where she left him. Nora is too. “Hey, bud.” She says, stroking his muzzle gently.

He nuzzles into the touch, giving her a happy whinny. “God, what the hell am I gonna do?” She stares at him, not expecting an answer but damn, if there was ever a time to pray… She searches Jack’s saddlebags for any bandages or any cloth that is remotely clean.

She eventually settles on a slightly dirty strip of bandages and sits down to peel the fabric of her wool pants. Her pants make her feel safe, protected, almost shielded in a way, perhaps she likes the fact that it’s unheard of for a woman to wear pants, but Castiel had seen how she despised dresses as a kid - she still does - and took pity on her, giving her a pair of his old pants.

From that day on, she wore pants when she could, even though it was strange, even though it made people talk about her, she felt much safer in a pair of pants. Now, however, her wool pants are drenched in blood. She gently rolls up the fabric to peel it away from the wound.

She winces as the wool pulls roughly over her injured skin but eventually, she manages to get a good look at the wound. Blood is still spilling from the hole, slowly trailing down her leg. She takes the semi-clean cloth and waterskin and gets to work.

The water stings as it washes over her leg and before she realizes it, she’s biting down hard on her bottom lip. She gently dries the wound. She feels around for the back of her thigh. Damn it. She thinks upon the realization that there isn’t an exit wound. The bullet is still in her leg. Fuck. Anna doesn’t have the equipment to pull a bullet out of her thigh or even the fucking training!

What the hell is she supposed to do? She can’t just leave the damn bullet in there, not with the risk of infection. She flinches at the thought of death by infection. She quickly checks over the resources in front of her. A waterskin, a cloth with questionable cleanliness, her knife, her revolver… Her knife! That’s it!

She pulls the old knife Castiel had given her for her sixteenth birthday from its place lodged in her belt. She pours water over the knife, drying it with the cloth, it’s a weak attempt but it’s the best she’s gonna get at disinfecting it. She picks up the piece of cloth she’ll be using as a bandage later and stuffs a portion of it into her mouth and bites down.

She poises the knife above her thigh, breath still coming out shallow and shaky. Finally, she gathers her courage and plunges the knife down, one swift movement before she loses the nerve to do it. Pain shoots out from where the cold blade of the knife is buried in her skin, but she does her best to ignore it and push through.

She searches around until she feels the bullet. She looks into the wound from above but she can’t see it so she just focuses on the feeling. She uses the tip of the knife to begin edging the bullet up. It’s slow going at first and painful. Really damn painful.

Especially if she accidentally grazes the inside of the wound with the tip of the knife as she works. She almost loses the bullet a couple of times but eventually manages to get it close enough to the surface that she can grab it with her freshly washed fingers.

She didn’t expect the increased flow of blood and lets out a string of curses. She remembers what Uncle Carver had told her. “If you ever get shot, remember, the bullet acts like a cork, if you pull it out you could end up bleeding out.” Damn it! If only she’d remembered!

She quickly begins wrapping the cloth around the bleeding section of her thigh and keeps wrapping until blood doesn’t wet the top layer. She wraps it as much as the cloth allows, then, when’s she’s satisfied, she rips the cloth down the middle, making it into two strips and ties it tightly.

Her leg is still aching, with the occasional sharp jab of pain, but she manages to put away the knife and waterskin even with the unbearable tremor of her hands. She’s wasted so much time, the sky is already a dusky blue with little light left and she hasn’t even started making her way back.

She knows where Castiel is now and she can’t waste another second, her injuries will already delay her travels, she knows she can’t wait any longer, but she feels so tired, so, so very tired, and before she knows it, she’s drifting off to sleep on the warm sand of the desert.

 

---

 

Anna is woken by the sharp ache of pain in her right leg. She blinks, her eyes still blurry from sleep. The smell of smoke is choking her, it’s still pungent even hours later as the sun is just peeking over the hills.

She coughs and immediately feels light-headed. Jack and Nora are still standing beside her, nervously pawing at the ground with their hooves. She stands, her entire body feeling shaky and weak, but somehow she manages to gather her things and get on Jack’s back. These things are small miracles, not that she would ever call them such.

Anna spurs Jack on and they begin riding. They have to take it slow, which infuriates Anna, but what can she do? Her leg is burning and any attempts to speed up could worsen it. She hates the useless feeling that settles in her gut. She needs to make it to Cold Oak as soon as possible, she has to save Cass, but she can’t do that with this damn hole in her leg!

 

---

 

It takes her a week to ride back to Cold Oak, with frequent stops to rest, and they eventually stopped in a town. A doctor checked her out and he said she should stay in the town and rest while making sure to change her bandages with clean ones frequently. Of course, she couldn’t stay but the doctor gave her some fresh, clean bandages to take with her which she was extremely grateful for.

When she finally arrives in Cold Oak, it’s late afternoon, and she feels as if she’s about to fall off of Jack. She had ridden way harder than she should have to make it here, she couldn’t spare another minute, though, in hindsight, it was probably a pretty damn stupid move.

She finds the least populated inn, figuring Hannah would have the intelligence to pick a place to stay that wouldn’t have heavy foot traffic. A rule of thumb for bounty hunters like Hannah, like her. She spots Hannah sitting in the bar, sticking out like a sore thumb. She’s sitting up perfectly straight in spotless clothing - how do you keep your clothing clean like that?! - and pointedly not drinking the beer in front of her.

Anna sighs, making her way over to Hannah. She plops herself in the seat next to her and Hannah jumps slightly. “Hello, Anna.” She says. “Hi there,” Anna says, taking a look around the bar. She understands why this inn is so unpopular, the building looks like it would topple over if you breathed on it. The bar stools are rickety and so is the bar that Anna decides to rest her elbows on, however, she’s extremely careful about it.

Her leg still aches, however, it’s more of a dull throb now, and the pain has become a familiar constant in her life over the past week, regardless of how unpleasant it is. All her energy was put into making it here, and now that she is… Damn, she’s exhausted.

“Hannah, I might have found Cass.” She says, trying to keep her urgency through her exhaustion. She hasn’t been sleeping very well, actually, she hasn’t been sleeping much at all.

“Might have? Did you find Castiel or not?” Hannah asks, her blue eyes wide and urgent. “Well, listen, I got the intel from a… Less than reliable source…” She says, not meeting Hannah’s eyes. “Where does your ‘less than reliable source’ say Castiel is?” Hannah asks, running her fingers through her dark hair.

Anna bites her bottom lip. “Somewhere northwest of here.” She says with a light shrug. “Is that all?” Hannah asks, frowning. “It’s all we have, Hannah,” Anna says, still feeling the heavy weight of exhaustion on her shoulders.

“I’m aware,” Hannah says with a sigh. “Well, I suppose if we have nothing else…” Hannah trails off, eyes fixed on her. Anna, despite her exhaustion, despite her nervous anticipation for what will happen when they find Cass, says her next words.

“Let’s go.”