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For Those We Call Our Own

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Gasping breaths were stolen by the air forced over his body, racing at several hundred miles per hour. Perhaps there were vocalizations, sounds of distress and pain as the wind tore at his skin, the pressure of such a fall compressing his head, his chest, his bones. Broken wings fanned out, attempting to slow and steady his descent. Despite the pain of working with such tattered appendages, he tried desperately to make them function as they once had.

Falling had been so much easier when Castiel had had his wings.

As it was, the gales screamed through the remains of velvet black feathers, muscles and Grace howling in the effort to steady the chaotic path of his fall. He was failing, tumbling head over heels over wings until, with blinding suddenness, he wasn’t. Like the comet he’d been masquerading, Cas blasted into the surface of this small planet, ripping apart the damp earth with the force of a small explosion. Damp soil rained down upon his smoldering form as he laid four feet under, chest heaving in gasps as he tried to recapture the oxygen that had been stolen from his lungs.

No angel enjoyed being banished. Banishment meant a fall, a type of pain so indescribable that no human could possibly understand. While not possessing the same level of agony as being cast from Heaven, it was still a fall that left his muscles screaming, his skin burning, his Grace spent. It was a caveat from his Father that all angels cursed with particular venom.

Cas’ mind was buzzing loudly and his body protested movement of any form with fierce vehemence, but he had to get back to Sam. He had to get back to him now. The angel forced himself up, crawling out of the small crater he’d created. He bit back a low groan of pain as he straightened himself, swaying slightly on the side of the road he’d been fortunate enough to land beside.

There was a man standing with his mouth agape, the frame of an old truck grumbling behind him. Well, at least the Universe had granted him transportation. He looked back and saw a flaming hole in a billboard he must have hurtled through just before landing. Dirt fell from his hair as he shook his head, wincing at the pain in his aching muscles.

“Where am I?” he asked, trying to keep the fatigue from his voice.

“Uh … Earth?”

“No, I - “ Cas rolled his eyes. Earth. Obviously. He tried to keep the sarcastic thoughts he’d developed from the Winchesters at bay. Obviously he was on earth. But this human unkindly reminded him that this species had evolved from apes. He took a deep, steadying breath. “How far am I from Lebanon, Kansas?” he specified.

“Uh … th-three hours, maybe?”

Cas tried to keep himself from rolling his eyes again. Did this man always phrase his sentences with the inflection suggesting a question? He was aware that he had very little patience at this moment, but the times were, indeed, desperate and he felt such impatience was justified. So when the human attempted to question him, Castiel, Angel of the Lord, merely placed two fingers upon the human’s forehead and forced sleep upon him. As he crumpled, unconscious, to the ground, Cas stepped into the driver’s seat and headed for the Bunker as fast as the truck would take him.

He punched off the music, lips tightened into a thin line. Look out for Sammy, Dean’s voice reminded him and something pulled painfully at Cas’ insides. Dean’s dying wish and, not forty-eight hours later, he had already failed. Worse, he had no leads. He didn’t know who the woman had been, other than that she had been human. He didn’t know what she wanted or how she’d gotten into the Bunker, let alone how she’d known about it. He didn’t know how she knew enough to banish him and that alone was enough to worry him. Very little humans knew about angelic magic and how to harness it. If she knew enough to banish him, even though the sigil had been simplified and less effective then the one the Winchesters had learned from Anna, then Cas had to be careful not to underestimate her.

For the thousandth time, the seraph cursed the Enochian runes he’d engraved upon Sam’s ribs. It protected them from Heaven’s legions, to be sure, but it was certainly a trial when he needed to be able to locate the Winchesters.

Winchester.

Cas’ mind numbly corrected the name to a singular format and the pain of realization nearly tore a cry from him. There was only one Winchester left. Of course.

He forced his mind elsewhere. Sam needed him and he had to be present. He could not allow his loss to impact the efficiency with which he retrieved Sam from this precarious situation. The most likely theory was that they wanted information, but of what? He didn’t know, but any bit of information was important and he guessed that there would be more clues back at the Bunker. He pressed down harder on the gas pedal, cursing the shoddy state of the truck he’d taken. It was in ill repair and poorly cared for, but, somehow, it managed to roll into the Bunker’s garage without breaking down on the side of the road. The angel nearly sent a prayer of thanks before remembering how futile that exercise was.

Ignoring the pang that sent through his chest, he stumbled out of the car with a small gasp. The two hours it had taken him to get here had not been kind to his battered body. His muscles were stiff and tight with strain and his skin was still burning. He had a monumental headache and his lungs felt bruised; each breath was forced and painful. He took a minute to lean against the truck for support before forcing himself back up and into the Bunker to look for a lead.

Had his Grace not been so depleted from the fall, Cas would have sensed her as soon as he’d driven into the garage. He was so spent, so drained and exhausted that he didn’t notice her, hidden behind a pillar, until he was halfway down the stairs. Fury rolled through him and, despite the enervated way his body was moving, his azure eyes were cold and hard as he stalked towards her, intent to release the full force of his wrath upon her should she decide to be uncooperative.

“Who are you?” he snarled. “And where is Sam?” He regarded the handgun she pointed at him with cold indifference. That wouldn’t hurt him and he had no interest in complying to her orders to raise his hands. This woman would lead him to Sam or he would show her why the people of the Old Testament had so feared angels. He took another firm step forward.

“Woah, woah, woah!” A second, intimately familiar voice sounded from the hall and Cas watched in astonishment as Dean, recently deceased, lowered the woman’s firearm. And it was him. There was no point in initiating the typical monster tests when angels could see into the soul and this was Dean Winchester’s soul, as broken and beaten and beautiful as it had been when he’d gone after Amara not two days ago.

“Hey, Cas,” Dean said quietly, almost with an air of apologetic shyness. Cas didn’t care. Dean’s name escaped his lips in a desperate cry of relief and joy and he threw his arms around him, holding him tight. Dean blushed slightly, embarrassment heightening by the looks he was getting from the woman accompanying him. “Hey, okay,” he mumbled, returning the hug before gently extricating himself.

“You’re alive?” Cas demanded, almost angry. “What about the bomb and the Darkness?”

But Dean shook his head firmly. “I will tell you everything, but first: where is Sam?”

Cas paled ever so slightly. “Not here,” he admitted, looking away.

“Are you a hunter?” Cas frowned over at the blonde woman accompanying Sam. The two men spoke together, words mixing in and over each other. Cas wasn’t sure a fully-formed sentence emerged as a result, but her eyes widened in shock, so she must have translated something meaningful. “Come again?” She looked over, bright blue eyes demanding an explanation from Dean.

“An angel,” Dean repeated. “With a capital A. Y’know, wings. Harp.”

Cas rolled his eyes in exasperation. “No, I don’t have a harp,” he clarified. Dean threw him a small smirk before introducing him.

“This is Castiel.”

The seraph felt his wings flutter slightly, whether in pride or self-consciousness, he couldn’t tell. But there was such weight and meaning when Dean spoke his name and he hadn’t thought he’d ever hear it again.

“Cas, this is … “ he trailed off, frowning slightly. “Mary. Winchester.”

There was a long moment of silence from Cas as he processed this information, searching Dean’s face for any sign of trick or prank. Dean’s emerald eyes were open and honest, chin lifted in … some form of emotion he couldn’t identify. As though daring Cas to question him. “Your mother,” Cas said slowly. He could see it, now. The firm confidence he often saw in Dean. Sam looked very much like her. He was caught between the sudden, miraculous resurrection of both Dean and his mother and he was in so much pain that when Dean started drilling him on Sam’s whereabouts, he had to focus to find an answer, but he had none.

“I don’t know,” he admitted. “We came back here. There was a woman waiting for us, she blasted me away.” He sounded ashamed and Dean was frowning at him, trying to make sense of the odd situation. “I don’t know who she was. I don’t know what happened to Sam.” His eyes were swimming in guilt, particularly when faced with the man who had given him this task in the first place. He found it difficult to look at Dean with the knowledge of his failings. He ignored Mary’s queries, having no time to answer every question she had as Dean started working through things step-by-step.

“You said woman? Not an angel, not a demon. She was human.”

“She was human,” Cas confirmed, grateful he could at least give this little bit of information he’d gathered before he’d been banished.

“When did this go down?” Dean demanded after a quick moment, voice focused and alert as he started formulating a plan.

“2:12 AM,” Cas responded, ignoring the odd look he got from Mary for his specificity. Dean was merely grateful for the angel’s impeccable ability to tell time. He often poked fun at Cas for his very literal and precise way of thinking, but it had come in handy far too many times for him to consider it a character flaw.

Angel watched human run over traffic cams, fingers flying over the keyboard as he alternated between teasing his mother and scanning the traffic. He was no good at this, at using technology and he didn’t hide that. His demeanor towards Mary had changed instantly from hostility to neutrality and he interacted with her when he wasn’t busy convincing himself that this had actually happened, that Dean was still alive. Or, alive again. He wasn’t sure which situation was accurate. Knowing the Winchesters, it could be either.

And Sam … Sam had no idea. Cas remembered the numbness that had settled upon the younger man’s soul and repressed a shudder. This was a very delicate situation. If Sam felt he had nothing left to lose with a mind that could not process emotion, there was no telling what he’d do to get at those who had taken him.

Dean found a lead within five minutes and went to pack, grabbing a bag for Mary as well. She didn’t know her way around, so it would be easier to pack for the both of them, rather than showing her where everything was. Time was precious. He felt Cas’ presence constantly, even when he couldn’t physically see the angel. Cas wasn’t hiding, of course. The dude had a less-than-human concept of personal space and even less tact. He was being watched. No, that wasn’t right. He was being guarded. Cas was guarding him, making sure he wouldn’t disappear again. He couldn’t imagine what it must have been like, forcing himself to lay low and ignore the fact that his counterpart, his best friend, was walking to his assured death. Then, without having the time to process such a significant loss, he magically turned up alive, well … that kind of emotional roller coaster had to be taxing.

Knowing this, Dean didn’t fault Cas for the constant eyes, the constant brooding stares as he packed his bags. He just shook his head. “Cas, c’mon,” he called, feeling the angel just outside the door. “I know you’re there.”

Cas took a step inside. “I wasn’t hiding,” he said uncertainly.

“I know that. But if you’re going to watch me, might as well do it in the same room,” Dean reasoned with a slight smile. He threw a machete into Mary’s bag and stood up frowning when Cas stayed silent. “What’s up?” he asked. He knew Cas well enough after all these years to know when something was on the seraph’s mind.

“You gave me a task and I failed,” Cas said quietly. “Worse still, that task was keeping Sam safe. I not only failed you, but I failed him.”

Dean shook his head and his hand cut off anymore self-pity. “That’s enough. You couldn’t have known, Cas. No one knows about this Bunker. Even if they did, how could they possibly have a key to get inside, huh? And what’s more, they knew angel magic. This wasn’t your fault. You’re not to blame.” Cas didn’t look convinced, so Dean shifted the subject slightly. “What was that mark on the wall, anyways?”

“It’s a simplified Enochian banishing sigil,” Cas replied. “It has a weaker blast radius, you could say.”

“Where’d you end up?” Dean conversed, finishing up the packing and shouldering the two bags. Cas reached out and took one from him.

“A small rural area approximately two hours from here. Well,” he blushed faintly, amending the statement. “Three hours. I sped quite significantly.”

Dean grinned. “Thatta boy!” he praised, clapping Cas on the shoulder. When the angel winced, he frowned. “You ok?”

“I’m fine,” Cas said grimly. “Banishment is not a pleasant experience.”

Dean led the way out the door and towards the garage. “Well when we catch up to that bitch, I’ll leave a piece of her for you, okay? Now let’s go get Sam.”

 

____________________________________________________

 

Muscles ached and burned, as though they had frozen solid. Despite this, they were working hard, much too hard; spasming and shuddering in hard shivers as ice ran through Sam Winchester’s veins. The British Bitches had left, headed back upstairs to leave him to his misery. Liquid ice still fell from the shower head above him, raining down upon him like sleet. They thought they’d started small, were working up to something bigger and meaner. The thought almost made him laugh; they couldn’t have done much worse to him. The water’s chill had long since sunk into his core and there was no warmth left to him. Lucifer hung over him gleefully, walking about him in circles like the Devil had him in the Cage again.

For all intents and purposes, he did.

“They’re doing a pretty good job, don’t you think?” Lucifer’s tone was musing, a hand rubbing his chin thoughtfully. “I mean, they can’t really personify my own brand of icy burn, but they definitely took away your ability to get warm. I mean, look at you! I haven’t seen you shudder this hard in a long, long time.”

Sam had no ability to whimper, to swear, to do anything but try to stifle the small sounds of hypothermia escaping from chattering teeth. He tried to press into his palm scar; the bindings left just enough room for his hands to reach, but his muscles were too frozen to control.

“Man, you really are in a bind, Bunk Buddy.”

He was too frozen to even flinch at the loathed term.

“I mean, Dean’s definitely not coming. I’d say he’s six feet under, but he’s probably been blasted into an infinite number of atoms by now. Auntie Amara doesn’t like to leave pieces behind.”

Sam tried to snap at him, but his lips wouldn’t form the words.

“Dear Castiel has been blasted to who knows where. Did you see that banishing sigil? That’s a new one! He could be dead for all we know. Even if he’s not and even if he could find you, you can bet that delicious little ass of yours that they’ve warded this place against things you haven’t even heard of.”

Hazy eyes screwed shut and he started running through the steps to field stripping his handgun, focusing on each piece and how it fit in with the rest. They needed information, they couldn’t kill him. Eventually the water would be shut off and he’d thaw out and banish Lucifer back to the Cage in his mind.

“Until then, it’s just you and me, Sammy!  Want to run through all of our greatest hits?”

He was so damn cold. It was so damn cold. He didn’t know how he was still breathing; every short gasp of air sent blades into his lungs, when he could catch a breath at all.

“Hey, do you remember that one time when I took that filet knife to your eyes? Dad-damn, that was a good one. You know, I really do consider myself an artist. Sometimes I just get these creative kicks and - “

The door above opened, saving Sam from reliving that particularly gruesome memory as Toni and her partner walked down the steps. The former woman sat back down in her chair, regarding him with thoughtful, narrowed eyes. The latter, whose name he hadn’t been given, mercifully shut the water off. His cry of relief was indiscernible from the other wordless sounds being forced from his shuddering chest. It would take longer than they realized to ward the freeze from his bones, but the warm air could reach his skin now and it was bliss.

Toni watched him silently before shaking her head and standing. “Can we end this Sam? Please.”

Sam raised his head slowly and put every ounce of effort into forcing his mouth to work, chin jutted out with defiance raining fire from his eyes. “Screw … y-you.” Lucifer grinned in sadistic glee next to him, red eyes glinting in excitement for what would come. Sam glared at Toni, hatred radiating from every inch of his shivering body. They could do their worst and he would tell them nothing.

After all, he had nothing left to lose.

Chapter Text

“Cas!” Dean called, adopting a particular nonchalance to his voice. He honestly didn’t care how much Cas hurt the dude, but he’d be no help if he was beaten unconscious. The seraph kept his furious gaze on the driver, but stilled.

“That’s an angel?” Mary asked quietly in astonishment, watching with her mouth agape. Dean shrugged, but it was a massive effort to keep the smirk off his face. That was absolutely an angel; full of wrath, warrior of God, all that. Occasionally it slipped his mind that Castiel had led armies and commanded legions, but moments like these reminded him and filled him with a particularly nasty pleasure. If Cas was beating on someone, you could be sure that they probably deserved it. And the driver of the bitch who’d taken his little brother unquestionably deserved a serious beat-down.

“I don’t know her name!” The driver said desperately, wide eyes darting between Dean with his arms folded and Cas, still holding the front of his jacket.

“What do you know?” Cas snarled quietly. For he surely knew something. If nothing else, he knew where she’d gone, who she’d spoken to, where Sam had ended up next. Cas was ready to beat out every piece of information from this man who had taken part in Sam’s kidnapping. The driver was looking at Dean with pleading eyes.

“Let’s get one thing straight,” Dean said, sauntering over. “He asks you something, you answer. I have no qualms letting him beat you senseless if you refuse. Understand? So answer the damn question.”

Mary watched the two of them, working in perfect sync with each other. Two days ago (and thirty years), angels didn’t exist. They were a nice idea, something for the religious and some bad dream of the demons. Now her son was best friends with one. Although friends didn’t seem to cut it. Castiel seemed to be a very close family member, more akin to brotherhood than friendship, or even something more. Something words couldn’t describe. She wondered how long they’d known each other, what they had been through. Certainly there were novels-long stories they could tell.

“I uh … I drove her around a lot. Took her to some veterinarian to get the dude all fixed up.”

Dean’s teeth ground, making his jaw twitch and causing the man to swallow hard. She couldn’t have even gotten Sammy a real doctor? “What was the damage?” he asked carefully.

“Nothing terrible. He had a bullet wound in his thigh. The vet got the bullet out, stitched and cleaned. Only, she wanted some sedatives to go.”

“Why sedatives?” Cas asked, frowning.

“He’s a fighter, that one,” the driver said nervously. “You should have seen his eyes. Even struggling to walk, he had some kind of disturbing fire in his eyes. Never seen a man tolerate that kind of stitching up without some painkillers, either. He didn’t even flinch, just kept those … eyes on the woman. The man’s a psychopath, I’m telling you. She should be more afraid of him than he is of her.”

Mary felt pride deep in her chest at this son she barely knew and she had to keep a satisfied smile off her face. Hunters obviously developed a high tolerance for pain, but Sam sounded like his older brother and she liked what she’d seen of Dean so far.

“What do you want with him, anyways?”

“I do believe that’s none of your business,” Cas replied firmly. “You will write down the list of everywhere you took them in order. Do I make myself clear?”

“Y-yes. Yes. Of course.” His voice rose a pitch and Dean had to fight off the laugh forming in his throat. They didn’t exactly show their game faces to civilians very often and watching someone who seemed to be in fighting shape cower in front of a being who was only just starting to learn proper human social cues was hilarious.

Cas let the man up, hard eyes following him closely as he scrabbled for a pen and paper. Dean walked over to stand next to him. “You good?” he asked quietly. Cas was quiet a long time and Dean was beginning to doubt he’d get an answer as the driver scribbled down his notes.

“I failed Sam in a time of great need. He likely feels as though he has lost everyone. I was blasted away without the ability to locate him. You are supposed to be dead. He is lost and alone, in great pain and, I suspect, dangerous recklessness. I will not fail him a second time.” Before Dean could try and convince the angel that none of this was on him, the driver came back, thrusting the paper at Cas, as though that would grant him some form of leniency. Cas skimmed over the short list of addresses with a critical eye. “Your swift assistance is appreciated,” Cas said idly, before his fist connected with the driver’s jaw and knocked him out cold against the vehicle he’d been tending to.

Dean nodded in approval. “Tell him what you really think, Cas,” he quipped. Cas shot him a look of exasperation before heading back to the Impala. “C’mon, mom,” Dean called, following close behind. “No point in going through all the addresses, what’s the last one, Cas?”

Cas read off the address of some city a few hours away and Dean slammed the driver’s door closed. “For once, just for once, can’t the place we need be down the friggin’ street?” He was anxious to get back to Sam. He didn’t like Cas’ descriptions of Sam’s mental state and he certainly didn’t like this bitch’s treatment of him. He was expecting Sam to be in bad shape when he found him and he needed to get to him sooner rather than later.

“We’ll find him, Dean. I promise.” Cas’ eyes were fervent locked to the man as they headed down the road.

“I know, Cas.” And Dean did know. If he knew one thing about the poor bastard, it was that nothing would stop the angel from fixing something he felt he’d screwed up. “You know this isn’t your fault, right? I need you to understand that. I need you to stop wasting your efforts on beating yourself up and focus all of that anger on the people who did this.” Cas shifted, but nodded and it was as good an answer as Dean would get. He turned his eyes back to the road. “Just make sure to leave a piece for me,” he said darkly.

“If Sam leaves anything for either of us to get to,” Cas said mildly. It made Dean smile.

Half an hour passed in silence, each to their own thoughts, before Dean looked up in the rearview at Mary, who was staring quietly out of the window. “How are you doing?” He asked, wincing at the shyness in his voice. She sent him a small smile, thinking a moment before answering.

“It’s nice, being back in this car again. Kinda lessens, well … everything else. I’m still just trying to come to terms that my suddenly adult son is best friends with an angel and that we’re tracking down your little brother who’s no longer an infant.”

“Well, when you put it that way,” Dean joked weakly.

“It’s alright, Dean,” Mary reassured gently. “It’s just going to take some time to adjust. That’s all.”

“Is there anything I can do to help with that? Questions you have or whatever?”

Mary thought about that for a long time. She had more questions than she could possibly ask in a lifetime and there were many she didn’t truly want answers to. She decided to settle for something simple. “What’s Sam like?”

Dean looked at her through the rearview before turning his eyes back to the road. “He’s a pain-in-the-ass little brother,” he said jokingly. “Yet somehow he’s taller than I am.” He caught her surprised look and smiled. He was no short-stop himself, but Sammy, well … Sammy was on a whole other level. “Yeah, he’s a friggin’ giant. Got a few good inches on me. Hazel eyes. Wears his hair stupid long.”

“It’s not that long,” Cas replied reasonably.

“It’s too damn long,” Dean said firmly. “Give me a pair of scissors while he’s sleeping and I’ll hack it all off.” Mary hid a smile as Dean went on. “What else? He’s a nerd. Always has his nose in a book, the dude speaks like twenty languages. He can be pretty quiet, surprisingly shy. He looks a lot like you, come to think of it.”

That sent a pang through Mary’s chest, something close to longing. But it was deeper than that, something she couldn’t find words for. “Do you have a picture of him?” she asked, trying to keep her voice steady.

Dean had to think about that one. They weren’t one for snapping photos of each other or themselves, but surely they had to have something?

“I have both of your wanted posters,” Cas offered.

“Excuse me?” Mary asked, mouth agape.

“Cas, c’mon,” Dean snapped, blushing. “It’s nothing, mom. Just some trouble and misunderstandings we had, it’s all cleared up. Those aren’t even recent, why do you still have them?”

Cas declined to answer. “You have several IDs you could use.”

“I mean, yeah. But I’d like to give her something a little more substantial, Cas. Here,” he tossed over his phone. “Flip through those and see if you can find something decent of Sam.”

A few minutes passed of Cas flipping through the photos in Dean’s mobile library. “There are several unflattering images of your brother in here,” the angel said in disapproval. Dean snickered, remembering the times he’d snapped a photo of Sam yawning or asleep at the computer or his reaction when he’d found out Dean had pranked him. Oh yes, Dean kept an arsenal of blackmail. He glanced over as Cas offered a photo for approval and a small smile grew on Dean’s face. “Yeah, that’s a good one.”

Cas reached back and handed the phone to Mary who took it with a faintly shaking hand. Her breath caught as her eyes roamed hungrily over the photo of her youngest son. She ignored the novelty of photographs on a portable phone, because this was the man her youngest son had become. Bright hazel eyes crinkled in a wide, white grin. He was sitting at the kitchen table with a beer in hand, across from some red-haired woman whose face she couldn’t see. His other hand was running long fingers through his tousled, longish brown hair. Dean had been right, he did look quite a bit like her. He had her nose, the high, sharp cheekbones. He was tanned, skin faintly heralding hints of the typical collection of hunting scars. He had some scruff to his cheeks, as Dean did. He looked … happy.

A tear dropped onto the screen, distorting the image and she wiped it off impatiently. She was feeling overwhelmed. She wiped her eyes and looked up, starting slightly as she noticed Cas watching her carefully. His eyes were gentle with understanding. It didn’t make her feel uncomfortable as she would have thought. She handed the phone back to him and he brushed her hand gently before handing the phone back to Dean.

“He’s a tough one,” Dean continued quietly. “Has a mouth on him, particularly in situations like these. I’m sure he’s throwing insults and heavy sarcasm instead of the information they want so badly. I think he got that from me. He’s been through a lot, more than most. Even for hunters. Somehow he’s still up before the sun to go for a run. Eats oddly healthy. Honestly, it’s embarrassing going to a bar and having him order a salad. If he cares about you, and I mean really, actually cares for you, there’s nothing he wouldn’t do for you. He tends to ignore his own issues and needs to take care of everyone else.”

Mary leaned back into the leather seat, eyes closing as she listened to Dean describe her youngest son to her. His voice was deep, quiet and soothing against the purr of the Impala. Dean kept talking long after Mary had fallen asleep until anxiety tore too much at his belly and he turned on the radio, the gentle rock weaving through his thoughts as Cas sat quietly next to him, a balm to his nerves.

 

____________________________________________________

 

Shuddering breaths tore themselves from deep within Sam’s chest. He was shaking faintly, the shock from hypothermia to deep burning was confusing his body, as though it didn’t know which crisis to tend to first. His eyes were wide open, staring straight ahead as he focused on staying silent; he wasn’t completely successful. Small moans and rasps escaped from behind firmly closed lips and blackness was seeping into the edges of his vision. He shook his head, wet hair cascading beadlets of water as he fought to stay conscious. He could feel the woman staring hard at him, but he ignored her.

“You could end this,” Watt stated, Cockney accent grating on his nerves. “Right here and now. I’ll call Lady Bevell right back and we can talk things out like civilized people.”

He spat on the floor, turning a hard glare back to her and, although his eyes were hazy and dilated with pain, the fury and hatred she saw within made her shiver. “Civilized,” he laughed hoarsely. “You shoot me. Kidnap me. Tie me to a chair and drill me for information before resorting to torture. But yeah, let’s be civilized about this!”

“You were given a choice,” she shrugged. “You just made the wrong one.”

“You ever think,” Sam spat out. “That if you’d just rang the doorbell and offered to buy me a drink that I’d have been more open with my information? You blew it. You can torture me as long as you want, I won’t give you a damn thing.”

She frowned out of his eyesight, considering the situation. Watt was incredibly skilled in her vocation. Not as talented as Ketch, to be sure, but a decent counterpart. She was competent and, although she’d struggled with some of the people she’d worked on in the past, she’d never failed at acquiring the necessary information. Sam Winchester was the first person to make Watt doubt her ability to succeed in a case.

Instead of acknowledging him, she grabbed some supplies from the cart and walked back over. Sam eyed her warily, inspecting the cleaning supplies she was bringing over. She poured isopropyl over the wound and the chilly liquid clashed violently with the deep, third-degree burn on his foot. He gave a small cry, muscles twitching faintly as he screwed his eyes shut. A sterile cloth was scrubbed roughly over the wound and his cry heightened, straining at his bonds. He’d never had someone use sanitizing a wound as part of the torture, but he had to admit it was effective. The nerves in the area were frayed and spitting like a live wire and every sensation was heightened unbearably. If one good thing was coming out of it, the pain had zapped Lucifer out of his mind and the only people in the room was Sam and his tormentor.

“Y-you ever de-bone someone?” Sam asked, pain making him stutter. Watt frowned at him, raising an eyebrow. “Oh, it’s exactly w-what it sounds like,” Sam said with a small, raspy laugh. His throat was raw. “S’not something you can do to someone topside, but … down in Hell, it’s - “

She tore a scream from him, digging deep into the burn to make sure the isopropyl worked it’s way through the entire wound. The pain shot from his foot up into his stomach and chest and Sam’s body grew taut, straining in protest.

“Sorry, what was that?” she asked idly.

Sam’s chest heaved as he fought to regain his breath and composure. “My point,” he hissed out. “My point is that … you c-can’t do anything to me. I’ve been through so much worse. What I said … about the Devil, I wasn’t lying. You have any idea what happens when the you’re locked up with Satan? When he holds a personal grudge against you?” He broke off as the blackness grew further into his vision.

“Don’t make me turn that water back on,” Watt warned. “I’m not done with you yet.”

That earned a savage grin from her hostage. “Keep going all you want. I’ve been subjected to tortures you can’t even imagine. Things that words can’t describe.” His eyes raised, impossible airs of confidence and surety surrounding him. “You can’t do anything to me.”

“I’ve only just begun,” Watt said simply, promoting an assurance she didn’t feel. He unnerved her, this one. She wasn’t sure she believed the claims of being the Devil’s personal chew toy. The man was either a psychopath or just … broken. According to all accounts, his brother had died to save the sun and they’d been over reports of the Winchesters. They were very highly regarded within the hunter community. Well-respected and viewed as the best. Still, most people talked about  them with a certain degree of fear. They’d been warned not to screw with them. Something about unhealthy codependencies that resulted in the violent death of whoever wronged them. No one went after one of the men without assuring the equal capture or incapacitation of the other because there was no doubt they’d be hunted down and taken apart.

That wasn’t an issue in this case, of course, but it was possible that the severance of such an unhealthy relationship had significantly damaged Sam Winchester’s mind. It would be something to keep in mind, both for torture’s sake and for the legitimacy of any information he ended up handing over.

Watt clicked the blowtorch on, the quiet roar of the flame making Sam swallow hard, watching out of the corner of his eye. “You going to make me do this again or are you ready to talk?” She asked.

Sam swallowed again, but mustered a glare, venom dripping from two simple words. “Screw you.”

Watt sighed and knelt down, starting a slow, agonizing line above the last wound. The sound of Sam’s screams filled the cellar, undulating with revelations of suffering. As she finished the line and went to start a third, Sam’s cries cut off with a small moan and he fell forward as far as his restraints allowed, lost in the blackness that had finally overtaken his senses. Sam, for one, welcomed the loss of consciousness. It was the only way to escape the reality he could not face.

Chapter Text

“Dean.”

The call was gentle, almost missed. Cas watched him carefully, hearing the crack and shatter of the phone he was holding in his hands. Shoulders shook with a fine tremor, heralding the anger held just beneath the surface. Cas walked around slowly, careful not to trigger that anger into the open. Dean dropped the phone, green eyes hard and full of hatred. The angel wasn’t sure he was truly seeing anything. His hands covered Dean’s, the gentle glow of white light healing the small cuts in the man’s palms caused by the glass and Dean blinked, coming back to the present, though his expression was no less furious.

“We will find him,” Cas said, just as quiet but intense and firm. “You know we will.”

“Oh we’ll find her all right.” The words were snarled, but his voice was just as reserved as Cas’. “And I will take her apart piece by piece.”

“Of course you will,” the angel said soothingly, ducking his head slightly to catch Dean’s eye. “But to do so, we must focus. Use this anger and turn it to tenacity and commitment. Sam will not benefit from anger driven to destroy and impede.”

There was a long moment of silence before Dean stalked out the door and Cas breathed a sigh of relief. Had Marion drawn Dean’s gaze, he would be a dead man. As it was, Cas was using every measure of restraint to keep from beating the veterinarian senseless himself.

“Come on, Cas.” Mary was looking up at him carefully, sensing a similar need to hurt those who had hurt Sam. Cas watched her for a long moment before his eyes began turning towards the remaining man in the room. “No, this way,” Mary said firmly, grabbing the angel’s arm and guiding him out the door. There was no guarantee that Cas wouldn’t go after the man again if given the chance and so Mary, despite the uncertainty that came with Dean’s sadistic promises and the stunning reality of ordering around an angel, guided both her son and his best friend to the car.

Dean was mute, flooring the gas and screeching out of the parking lot. Mary watched him carefully from where she sat next to him; this was a new side to her son, something she’d never seen before. There was no doubt in her mind that Dean would make good on his promises to the British woman should he be given the chance. Surely, Sam would be less than whole when they found him and it seemed that the protective nature so inherent in her four year old son had carried into his adult life. That fact both relieved her and filled her with a healthy amount of caution. She’d seen plenty of evidence that Dean had grown into a wonderful man and a very efficient hunter. Now she saw that he was also dangerous. He was a killer and that struck at her soul with immense pain.

“So now what?” she asked carefully, attempting to take both their minds off of things and turn their thoughts to something more productive.

“Well, we have her number,” Dean said tightly. “Let’s go back to the Bunker and put a tracer on it.”

Mary was about to ask him what he meant when a great force struck the Impala, whirling the car around in circles and smashing the mirrors to fragments. The impact knocked her out and she laid senselessly on her side in the front seat.

“Mom?” Dean called, panic and stress adding more color to his voice. He went to check her pulse, but Cas had already laid a hand upon her shoulder, taking note of her physical status.

“She is unconscious, but there is no serious damage,” Cas informed him and Dean breathed a short sigh of relief.

“Alright, help her!” he ordered as he leapt out of the car to inspect the damage. There was a massive dent near the trunk and he held back a litany of curses. He absently noted Cas’ furious expression as he went to check on his mother. He’d kill whoever hit them. Who had the right? Did they not know how to drive? To look both ways before crossing the friggin’ street?

“Dean Winchester.”

His name made him whirl around, a clean-kept woman leaning against the side of the SUV she’d hit them with. There was a cut bleeding down her cheek and her bark-brown hair was pulled tightly against her scalp into a smooth bun.

“I presume.”

That accent. Dean stopped cold, feeling the fury rise up within him again. She was British. Was this her? Without Cas’ confirmation he couldn’t be sure if this woman had kidnapped Sam or if she was merely an accomplice. Either way, he would beat the truth out of her. He’d wrench his brother’s whereabouts from her screams and then he’d rip her apart until nothing was left.

He forced his thoughts back to the present, eyeing her with a glare. “Are you one of them?”

A small nod accompanying that infuriating smirk on her face. “I’m one of them.”

“Yeah,” Dean ground out, sauntering slowly towards her. Each step was measured and careful because he was going to lose it at any moment. His hands reached out and gripped the lapels of her jacket, dragging her forward until their faces were mere inches apart. “You tell me where my brother is and I might take it easy on you.” He was lying, of course, but anything he could use to get the information he needed. His anger heightened as she just shrugged, declining.

Before he could register what happened, she’d broken his hold on her and swung. He ducked, but she caught his ribs and bright pain centered on the area. She’d likely cracked a rib, but he didn’t have the time to register that. He caught her in a low chokehold, but she escaped that too and knocked him to the ground. His ears rang; was she wearing brass knuckles? Son of a bitch!

Cas stalked towards her, two fingers outstretched to force unconsciousness upon her mind, but she knocked his arm away and hit him once, twice. Dizzy, he fell to the ground, struggling to understand what had just happened. Humans couldn’t hurt angels, it just didn’t happen. Dean had swung at Cas more than once and the sensation was harmless. Dean had cracked his knuckles as though punching stone and Cas had emerged without the blow even reddening his skin. Now here he was spitting out blood, face to the ground. She had to be using something engraved with Enochian runes and that worried him. These people were not to be trifled with, it seemed. They certainly knew what they were doing and they knew who they were dealing with.

Dean went for his gun. He was done playing nice and giving her a chance. She’d stand down or he’d shoot her. But the back of his jeans was empty and he looked around for the gun that must have fallen to the ground in the skirmish.

“Looking for this?”

His blood boiled as he saw the woman raising his gun. She must have snatched it while they’d been swinging at each other. She set it down on Baby’s trunk and raised her hands mockingly. “Come on, round two. Anyone?”

Dean went after her again, swinging hard but damn, she was fast. He didn’t know what kind of magic she’d engraved on those brass knuckles to take down Cas, but every blow ignited agony on his body. When she swung at his incoming fist, he felt his knuckles bust and tears of pain filled his eyes, clouding his vision. She took him down and he fell hard.

Cas’ fury heightened; he, too, was done trying to spare her. His angel blade materialized in his hand and he swung at her, but she blocked and hit him again. It was strange and uncommon for Cas to feel physical pain, but she was certainly succeeding in her mission to introduce him to the negatives sensations. He swung at her but she caught him in a firm hold, knocking the blade from his hand. The weapon skittered away across the pavement and she took him down too. He lay curled up next to Dean, gasping. The hard road pressed cruelly on his battered body and she stood above them, cocking Dean’s gun and aiming it at them.

“You know, for two strapping lads like yourselves,” she drawled. “I thought you would have lasted a tad longer.” A gasp interrupted her monologue and Dean jerked away as she fired twice, the bullets hitting so close to his head that he heard it ricochet off the road. Another round fired into the sky and he looked up to see Mary withdrawing the bloody angel blade from the woman’s chest.

Dean merely stared at his mother for a minute, trying to formulate words. “Thanks, mom,” was all he managed before groaning and laying back down on the road. Breathing was torture. Everything, every inch of his body was in pain. He felt a hand on his shoulder and moaned in relief as the cracks in his ribs healed over, his destroyed knuckles mended. The hand fell away and Dean frowned. He was still in pain, which was strange. Cas hated seeing him in pain. He mended the smallest things, so why was he stopping now? What was wrong? He looked over and his eyes widened.

“Damn, dude. She got you good.” Cas glared at him, but Dean was right. He had dark bruises littering his face. His lips were coated in blood from where the woman had struck him across the mouth. He was sure his ribs were likewise broken. Pain-glazed eyes closed in concentration, sending that healing light he often used so selflessly through his own vessel, mending broken bone, bruised muscle, lacerated skin.

Dean sat up gingerly, watching as Cas’ body relaxed, inch by inch, until a faint sigh of relief escaped his lips. Azure eyes reopened and gazed at the sky for a moment before bringing himself easily to his feet. Ignoring Mary’s astonished gaze, he gently placed a hand upon Dean’s forehead until the healing light faded to reveal Dean’s painless features. The hand left his forehead to offer assistance and Dean accepted willingly, clasping his own hand to Cas’ and moving lightly to his feet. He crossed the short distance to Mary, fingers inspecting the laceration on her temple with barely concealed worry.

“Dean, I’m fine,” she protested gently, batting his inspecting hands away with a tight smile. “Honestly,” she promised. “ I have a raging headache. Maybe a minor concussion, but that’s it.”

“Cas could take care of that for you,” Dean offered, emerald eyes flooded with concern. He saw the wariness in her own eyes and frowned slightly.

“No, it’s fine,” she countered, smile slightly more forced. “Let’s just clean this up and we’ll get going, ok? We don’t have any time to lose.”

 

____________________________________________________

 

Sam awoke with a nauseating start.

Changes to his situation were immediately evident, heralding his life-long career as a hunter. He was on the floor. There was no sensation of bonds, whether zip ties or handcuffs or even rope. He was free to move around as he wished? That didn’t make any sense, why would they risk that?

Pain hit him, hard and fast. He gasped breathlessly, raising his head slightly off the hard, dirt floor. The last thing he remembered was the blowtorch, that scorching agony that blossomed to darkness as his mind had finally shut down. He sat up gingerly, breaths short and choppy as pain flared through joints and muscles that had been tense and strained to the point of snapping for days. His foot had been clean and bandaged. He almost snorted; they wouldn’t let him die, then. No infection, no fever, no loss of mental clarity. They wanted their answers, so they’d ensure his well-being - to a point. He shifted slightly and bit back a moan as his bullet wound flared. It felt like they’d redressed that as well while he’d been unconscious. This could work both ways, he mused. Keeping him from illness meant he’d retain that strength to break out when he found his opportunity.

Sharpness pierced into his neck and he winced as it transformed into a dull burning. He brought his hand up and inspected delicately, fingers prodding the area. A frown formed on his brow as the sensitive pads of his fingers found a small entry wound, what felt like the result of a needle. Frowning further, he caught sight of a white wire and traced it with hard eyes, finding a camera installed into a corner of the ceiling.

Well that couldn’t be good.

He stood carefully to his feet, breathing hitched and uneven as his body protested violently to movement of any kind. He couldn’t fully put his weight on either leg, with the torch wounds on one foot and the bullet wound in the other thigh. He had to wonder if that was deliberate, keeping him from using any one good limb. Whatever they’d injected into his system, it certainly hadn’t been painkillers. He collapsed into the chair he’d previously been confined too, panting with the effort. He had to do better, push harder if he was going to get out of here. He had to get out, find Cas. He had to find Cas.

Thoughts and anxieties were pushed to the back of his mind. Whatever he’d been given, it would manifest soon enough. He had to use the time he had to find a way out of this place. He took a deep breath before standing and limped towards the cellar door, biting back curses and expletives, trying to keep all of his energy and concentration on staying upright. The door was, of course, locked. He’d expected that, but it was no less a punch to the gut. He pushed against it futilely, gritting his teeth in anger.

“Let me out!” Chains rattled as he tried to force the chains apart desperately. There was no point. He knew that, but he had to try anyways.

“You really think that’s going to work?” Lucifer asked, voice drawled from where he leaned casually against the wall. “C’mon, Sammy. If there was no one around to hear your screams, do you really think anyone’s going to hear you begging for release?”

Sam’s jaw worked painfully, ignoring the hallucination. This was, truly, the last thing he needed right now.

“Oh don’t be like that!” Lucifer unfolded his arms and strolled closer to Sam. “I’m the only one you’ve got to talk to in this place! Might as well make the most of it, bounce ideas back and forth, right? Maybe I could help!”

Thumb pressed firmly into the scar on his palm and Sam watched in grim satisfaction as the archangel flickered into nothing. He didn’t have time for him right now. Shaking his head, he turned to hobble back towards the chair. Sam disliked relying on it, but he would give him some semblance of uprightness while he worked to figure out a plan. Two staggered steps towards the chair and something shifted. Something painful rang in his ears, like the blasted sound of electronics or the true voices of angels. He winced, head cocking slightly in discomfort and took another step, but the high pitch grew and undulated, piercing through his eardrums. He let out a sound of shocked pain, eyes screwing shut as his hands attempted to shut the sound from his ears, but it did no good.

Sam fell heavily into a wooden pillar, crying out as the abrasive noise only heightened. It was so poignant, so forceful that he could almost see it as a streak of too-bright light distorting the air around him. Whispers sounded through his mind - or were those sounds truly there? - and the light expanded. Sam’s hands dropped in horror as Kevin’s eyeless face, frozen in the shock of his grueling death, hung in the air before him.

No.

Dean’s face, bloody and beaten with his own fists as he fought to take hold of Lucifer. His green eyes, bright with pain, held such grief and pain at the knowledge of Sam’s failure to hold the archangel in control.

Stop!

Mary, alight and bursting with flame, barely concealing the garish streak of scarlet crossing her bleeding belly. Her face locked in torment as she burned alive on the ceiling above him.

The images flashed through the air, each scene an effective stab in the gut for all the grief and guilt that flooded Sam’s mind like a physical torment. His fault. These were all his fault. Why was he seeing them so starkly? Why were they flashing to the forefront of his mind so brilliantly that they exploded to visual memories in the air before him?

The drug. It had to be. Whatever they’d laced him with had to be responsible for these memories. That knowledge didn’t make him feel any better. The drug was only showing him what he already knew, what he’d already witnessed. Whether this was chemically induced or not, these situations had been on him and his failings. He fell to his knees as the scenes dissipated like smoke. Did those bitches know what he saw? Were they trying to find some evidence to use against him? He prayed not. They could torture him; they could beat him black and blue, slash his skin to bleeding ribbons, char his skin to a blackened crisp. He’d been through worse, he could take pain.

But something that Lucifer had stumbled onto accidentally in the Cage was Sam’s overflowing well of guilt. And oh, how Satan had taken that knowledge and run with it. Gleefully hurling all of his failings, all the blood on his hands and the responsibility of those injured and torn apart because of Sam’s mistakes and shortcomings. That was so much harder to deal with.

His head tilted up, eyes closed, towards the sky. He sent another prayer, heart aching with the knowledge there was no one left to hear it. Sam knew it was futile, knew that no one was truly listening anymore, but if there was any chance, any hope, that it would bring him aid, he would try anyways.

Please, he asked silently. If anyone is listening, please. Get me the hell out of here.

Chapter Text

“Where’s Cas?”

Dean jumped, unused to having another presence in the Bunker when both Sam and Cas were absent. He looked up from the laptop he was perusing, swirling a glass of whiskey in his left hand. “I gave him a list of addresses to check out. He’s off doing that while I find more.”

“Have you slept?” Mary took the seat next to him, at the end of the table, flickers of motherly concern sending threads of childish joy through her son.

“A bit,” he said simply, scrolling through the information of a possible hit.

Mary looked at him wryly. “How much is ‘a bit’?”

“What are you, my mother?” Dean asked jokingly. Mary’s soft laughter sent another thrill through his mind. “A couple hours. The more I sleep, the more Sam suffers.”

A frown creased Mary’s brow. “Dean,” she said hesitantly. “That’s not how it works. I’m sure Sam wouldn’t approve.” Would he? She had no idea how he’d feel about Dean’s sleep deprivation, but she was going out on a limb.

Dean just shrugged a shoulder. “He’d be doing the same for me. He thinks I’m dead, mom. He thinks you’re dead. He might even think Cas is dead, with what Feathers said.” Mary hid a smile at the endearment. It amused her, despite the gravity of her youngest son’s situation. “Anyways, how did you sleep? You pick a room?”

She nodded, taking a sip of the coffee she’d brought with her. “I think so. It didn’t look occupied, at least, so hopefully I picked an empty one.”

“Well there’s only three, well, four of us here and dozens of rooms,” Dean reasoned. “I doubt you picked a claimed one.” He paused to write a note on the pad of paper, tapping the pen on the wooden table in thought.

“Any luck?” Mary asked gently. The tapping stopped.

“No,” Dean said after a minute. “Cas has checked out two locations so far. Nothing yet.” A shadow darkened his features and Mary felt her stomach tighten at the subtle hints of fear and rage her eldest was trying so hard to hide. “But we’ll find him,” he finished firmly. The tapping resumed.

“Anything I can do to help?”

Dean shook his head, but paused, a thoughtful look in his features. “Actually, yeah. Can you call the people responsible for leasing these places? See who’s renting, how long, how they’re paying. No detail is too small. It’ll help me narrow down the list to send to Cas and it’ll help things run a little faster.”

And so they worked. Mary was more comfortable taking information over a phone than using a computer. She said it was how they used to gather information back before this sudden influx of technology and she was very good at how she went about it. The woman seemed to know exactly what to say, which coercion tactics to use, how to flip an unwilling recipient to her side. She never had to argue for the information or pull rank, however faked that rank may be. She surprised Dean with a new, narrowed down list complete with the information she’d gathered before he’d had a chance to compile a second.

“You were good, weren’t you?” he asked, eyes wide and impressed.

She sent him a sheepish smile. “Very. Let me get you some coffee.”

“That’d be great mom, thanks.” The last vestiges of energy and clear-headed awareness were beginning to seep away to fatigue and stress. He had tried to sleep, knew he needed to be alert and aware, but sleep hadn’t broken past the anxiety and he’d given up after a couple of hours. But that was starting to catch up with him and he wished he had the time for a nap. He wished that Sam had the time, but he didn’t. Whatever these freaks wanted, Dean knew Sam wouldn’t give them what they wanted, which meant there was a line to their patience. A line that would be crossed much sooner than later. Once torture didn’t work, they’d give up and they sure as hell wouldn’t be letting Sam walk. His little brother’s resilience to pain would give Dean time, but he didn’t know how long that time would last and he refused to stretch that timeline. Judging by the earlier bitch’s heavy-handedness, Sam could end up maimed and disabled and Dean just wasn’t willing to risk that.

He keyed open his phone and hit the speed-dial key for Cas, waiting impatiently for the two rings it took his friend to answer. “Dean.”

The deep voice, though gravelly, felt more like the velvet relief Dean never knew he needed. “Heya, Cas. Any luck with that last one?”

“No. It was completely reputable.”

“Yeah, I thought as much. Listen, I’ve got a new list for you.” The disappointment in Cas’ voice sharpened back to focus as he took down the names and addresses of the four new locations Dean dictated. “Mom helped narrow it down. I think these will be really promising.”

There was a long pause on the other side of the line and Dean could almost see the expression of worry for both brothers plastered on the angel’s face. “We’ll find him, Dean,” Cas said unnecessarily.

Dean smiled slightly, remembering the days when Cas hadn’t bothered with empathy, but merely stated his mind bluntly and without reservation. “Yeah, I know Cas. You’re doing a good job, I really appreciate it.”

“There is nothing I would rather be doing,” came the firm reply. “This is my top priority.”

“Just remember this wasn’t your fault, okay?” Dean said firmly. Another pause, the silence flooded with guilt. “Stop it, Cas. It wasn’t. You couldn’t possibly have known. I don’t care what your mind is telling you. You listen to what I’m telling you. Got it?”

There was a long moment before Cas’ response and Dean could tell it came reluctantly. “I understand, Dean. There is one more location, an hour away from my position. I will head there immediately. If Sam is not there, I will start on this new list.”

“Thanks, Cas. Keep me updated.” The phone beeped as they hung up and Dean rubbed his face. If he could trust nothing else, he could trust his best friend’s dedication to finding Sam. There was nothing to worry about there. What a beautiful thing it must be to never sleep.

Clinking on the table brought him out of his frustration as Mary set a mug of coffee in front of him. “Everything ok?”

“All things considering,” Dean muttered, taking a long draught of that sweet, sweet caffeine.

“Another hour and I want you to sleep,” Mary said firmly, and Dean blinked in surprise. Was that … was that a mom voice? “I mean it, Dean. I can work while you sleep for awhile. You’re no good to anyone sleepwalking like you are. I have Castiel’s number in case we need to exchange new information. The search won’t stop while you sleep. I promise.”

Dean watched her through narrowed eyes for a long moment before nodding slowly. She was right, even if he wouldn’t admit that out loud. He wouldn’t sleep well, but anything was better than nothing right now. His mother was more than competent in what they were doing and he knew she’d wake him if they found where Sam was being held. So when the hour passed, he collapsed into his bed, limbs heavy with exhaustion and stress. He didn’t bother removing his clothes or straightening his diagonal position across the mattress. Sooner than he expected, his eyelids fell shut to reveal disturbing dreams and a restless sleep, caught in the fear of loss that always came with Sam’s abductions.

 

____________________________________________________

 

Sam let out a hiss between his clenched teeth, watching Toni with hooded, vicious eyes. She seemed to be unpracticed with her blade of choice; a wicked, hooked nightmare. That made this round of torture both better and worse. She didn’t go for the worst trigger points, keeping it to his chest, shoulders, neck. But goddamn, she was an animal with it, ripping through his skin without finesse like the thoughtless blows of a werewolf in the heat of a full moon. To make matters worse, she must have coated the blade or hexed it or … something. The initial sharpness of the wounds never faded to a dull burn, staying just as jarring as when the blade first pierced his skin.

As it did again, hooking under the skin of his chest and ripping through flesh. The device went deeper this time, earning a low, hitched moan as he clenched his eyes shut. Sam could feel a faint tremor begin in his limbs. Lucifer had used similar techniques, disallowing the pain to fade naturally and it was exhausting, wearing down on the mind as much as the body.

“She could go deeper. Should go deeper if she wants her information. She doesn’t have any skill, it’s just all raw … rage. No artistry.”

Sam ignored the Devil walking curious circles around him, clucking in disapproval at his tormentor’s archaic methods, but his presence was worrying. He should have flickered out with the first bite of the knife, but he hadn’t so much as flinched through the past half hour.

“Well it’s probably the overdose of mind magic she’s been using on you,” Lucifer reasoned, leaning over to inspect the bleeding wound she’d finished with. Sam had to grudgingly admit he had a point. “Low blow, taking you to bed,” came the sniggering quip and the man shifted uncomfortably, swallowing the hard lump in his throat. He was ashamed of that tactic and it reminded him too much of distressing memories in the Cage - and Lucifer knew it. Toni couldn’t have known, of course, but something told Sam she wouldn’t have bypassed the spell even if she’d been aware. The woman was ruthless, single-minded. She would do absolutely anything that was necessary to meet her goal, which meant that Sam had a timeline.

Eventually Toni would lose her patience, coming to terms with the fact that nothing she did or said would break Sam Winchester. She couldn’t let him go for obvious reasons, which meant either chronic imprisonment or death and the former option was just too impractical to hold up. He had to find a way to get out of here before that line was crossed. Relying on Cas to find him was false hope; Sam prayed to … well not God, anymore, but whoever was up there that Cas was okay, but he hadn’t recognized that sigil and he couldn’t just assume it was for mere banishment. Cas may never find him, so this was up to him.

Which didn’t make him feel better. He was in bad shape, and not just physically. Losing Dean permanently had broken something deep within him, something so intrinsically part of his identity that he would never recover. He wasn’t sure if he’d ever be able to feel emotion the way he used to, didn’t know if he’d ever be able to grieve. But Sam knew that death might not be the worst case scenario here. He also knew that these types of thoughts should scare him, should be a red flag, but they weren’t. It was just a grim reality that he didn’t necessarily shy away from anymore. His recent failure to escape had also damaged his hopes of breaking out. Even broken in body as he currently was, he should have been able to outwit and outmaneuver that seemingly dainty Englishwoman. He was losing his touch, unable to function past recent events.

Before he succumbed to such dangerously seductive notions, he had to find out what happened to Cas. He may never recover, but if Cas was alive, Sam wouldn’t allow the angel to lose the last person on earth that he called family. Such cruelty wasn’t in his soul, no matter how much he regretted having a such a thing right now. Searing pain blasted into his trapezius and he yelped, torn away from black thoughts.

“Can’t have your mind elsewhere, Sam,” Toni said, anger bringing her voice low. She was taut, every muscle strained in stress, which meant something had gone wrong.

“Where’s your butcher?” Sam prodded hoarsely. “Haven’t seen her in awhile.”

A pause. “She’s been recalled,” Toni replied stiffly, throwing antiseptic liquid over the wounds. The strong alcohol made him gasp and shift in pain before escalating into a sharp cry as she pulled on the blade still stuck in his shoulder.

“You mean she failed,” Sam gasped, not without a note of smug triumph. He’d tried to warn them. Another tug and the knife tore all the way through, hoarse shouts filling the room around them. Sam’s tremour deepened.

“Names,” Toni repeated. “Locations. Passcodes. I want them, Sam and I will have them. Please just end this ridiculous martyr act so we can both go our separate ways.”

Sam laughed, actually amused. “If you think, for one second, I’m buying that act, you’re a lot more stupid than I gave you credit for.” Anger sparked in the woman’s eyes and her arm flashed out, embedding the tool into his chest. Sam couldn’t tell if he screamed past the blackness that welcomed him into oblivion.

 

____________________________________________________

 

Hours later, Cas keyed off the ignition of his truck, studying the property with a keen eye. His Grace roiled in his vessel uncomfortably at the vast network of Enochian warding covering not just the building, but the property itself. Even with the banishing sigil he’d been subjected to, the angel hadn’t given these people enough credit; they knew their way around Angelic lore. Uncomfortably so, even. Cas shifted his feet, furious at the weakening power of the sigils. This was where they were holding Sam, it had to be. He’d intended on rescuing Sam himself, showing the man that he’d not been abandoned, and informing the broken soul of his brother’s survival. Sam deserved no less.

Looking around, he debated driving around the property once more, but the first three rounds had yielded nothing. There were no chinks in the warding, no weaknesses he could blast through. Fury rippled through his Grace, but it was useless. No angel would pass through these gates.

A sound emanated just faintly through the property and Cas cocked his head, listening hard. It sounded muffled, as though they were using spell work to dampen any noise that might break through, but Cas, having witnessed Sam’s time in the Cage firsthand, recognized the sound along with the sinking feeling in his chest. Sam was in pain.

But he was alive.

Whipping out his phone, he dialed Dean’s number, waiting impatiently for the single ring it took for the man to answer.

“Hey, Cas. What do you got?”

“I think I may have found Sam’s location,” Cas said, virtually feeling the sudden, sharp increase in Dean’s attention. “It’s a farm. It appears empty, but it was rented two weeks ago to a woman with an English accent.”

“Did you have a look inside?” Dean asked.

“No. No, it’s powerfully warded.”

“Powerfully warded.” Cas frowned as Dean’s voice dropped off. “Okay. See, buddy, that was your headline right there.”

The angel’s frown deepened in confusion. Headline? He wasn’t some faceless person on the news or one that created newspapers. Dean wasn’t making any sense. “Are we still talking about the same thing?”

Dean declined to answer, which made Cas roll his eyes. “Where are you?” came the question.

“I’ll text you the address,” Cas replied, letting the matter drop.

“Okay, got it. I’m on my way.” The call clicked off and Cas immediately sent off the address, knowing that Dean would be heading his way in a matter of minutes. All Cas could do now was wait, something that made him chafe in frustration. He was a seraph, one of the highest classes of angels. Even cut off from Heaven’s power and his Father gone to unknown realms, Castiel should be able to do so much more than wait helplessly while Sam suffered. Rubbing his face in frustration and worry, Cas climbed back into his truck to wait for Dean’s arrival.

Chapter Text

Laughter reverberated around the dirty, wooden walls of the cellar. It was weak and wet and filled with pain, but the strangeness of amusement in the middle of a makeshift torture chamber seemed to infuriate the the woman literally digging into him for information. A sharp, jerked sound followed the ticks of electricity as Toni stabbed the cattle prod into Sam’s stomach. The muscles of his abdominal wall contracted spastically for several seconds until the prod was pulled away and he was laughing again, breathlessly.

“Cold,” he gasped, his forced, lazy smile betrayed by twinges of exhaustion and torment. “Really cold.”

Toni said nothing, but Sam didn’t expect her to. He’d started returning the abuse, viciously. It was the only entertainment he had, but it also gave him small glimpses of the hope, of the possibility of escape. If he could push her past her breaking point, she’d make a mistake and then she’d be his. So he’d begun with mind games, and this was his favorite: hot or cold? What methods of torture were more efficient, more likely to break him? It filled him with a twisted type of mirth that the real heat would be the freezing chill that reminded him of Lucifer’s icy grip.

“What, these ol’ hands?” Lucifer asked innocently. He reached towards Sam with a taunting motion, causing the man to flinch. He glanced towards Toni, but she’d obviously ignored it as a resultant spasm of electricity. Sam had given up praying, but he fervently hoped that this particular hallucination would abate soon. He’d be in such better condition if he had a way to be rid of Lucifer, but whatever mind magic Toni had used on him was interfering with his ability to banish the archangel.

“Or Dean’s death has finally cracked you, bunk-buddy,” Lucifer reasoned. Sam flinched again, more sharply. “Maybe I’m your new sidekick!”

“Screw you,” Sam snapped. Toni turned to him, a neat brow raised and assuming the words were spoken to her, as they’d been so many times throughout the past several days.

“I’m impressed you’re still sweating with how little water you’ve received. How must it feel to be so dehydrated?”

“Less than you think,” he returned with a lazy smile. “Remember that cold shower you gave me, day one? Filled me right up. Ice cold water really does taste the best. Do you English - sorry, British - assholes drink as much iced tea as you do hot?”

Toni replaced the calm façade on her face and, again, touched the cattle prod to his stomach. The stress on his muscles made his whole body tense painfully and stuttered, choked sounds forced themselves through achingly clenched teeth. He was getting to her. She was losing her patience with him and he had to play this carefully if he wanted to bust out of this hellhole instead of winding up six feet under. How many times would that make? he thought with a detached curiosity.

A loud crash sounded from upstairs, but Sam was too busy gasping for hard-fought breaths to pay Toni any mind as she exchanged the prod for a gun and walked back up the steps, locking the door firmly behind her. He felt a stream of blood trickle down his shoulder and another slim stream of sweat itch down his temple. He groaned and shifted as much as he was able, trying in vain for  a more comfortable position. Toni wasn’t nearly so concerned about keeping him healthy as the other one had been. The manacles were chafing at his bloodied wrists. None of his wounds had been attended to and he was certain the burns in his feet and the bullet wound in his thigh were infected. There’d been no food for three days, no water for over twenty four hours and what he’d been given even then had been meager. He could feel the start of a fever setting in and it was pointless to list the wounds he’d collected throughout the past few days.

The door swung open and Toni regarded him with a strange look from atop the stairs. Sam didn’t bother trying to read the emotions, content with shooting her a plastered smirk as his chest quivered weakly. “Screw yourself,” he called lazily.

The woman’s face was a myriad of mercurial feeling as she stared at him for a long moment before tugging a figure into sight. A stumbling, sheepish, clumsy figure that sent an apologetic glance towards his little brother.

All mirth, all feeling, all emotion and thought vanished from Sam’s mind. “Dean,” he said simply. His voice was deceptively calm, as though Dean had unexpectedly returned home early from a simple hunt.

“I’m as happy to see him as you are!” Toni said cheerfully, pushing Dean down the stairs in front of her. He didn’t look at Sam, too busy studying the layout of the room, but Sam’s hazy eyes drunk in the sight of him. “While you may be able to withstand my snapping apart your body joint by joint, can you watch it happen to Dean?” She shoved the older Winchester, watching Sam with a triumphant expression.

Dean looked grimly at Sam, apology written in every feature as Sam’s eyes widened in anxiety. This was what always got them in the end, of course. They were each other’s weak point. Dean would be able to withstand Toni’s torments, but would Sam be able to watch? He truly didn’t know; neither of them did.

“Tell me, Sam,” Toni asked smugly. “Am I hot or cold?”

Sam’s cautious eyes snapped back to the woman with a vicious look for a mere second before returning to study his older brother. Was he actually here? This had to be another mind trick, surely. The sun had returned and that had meant Dean’s obliteration. There had been no other way, so this couldn’t be Dean. It just couldn’t.

Regardless, this man’s wrists were soon shackled to the post next to Sam, with a bruised temple  for the trouble he’d gone through to fight back. Dean’s “Son of a bitch!” yelp certainly seemed authentic and Sam studied him with extreme care. If this was Dean, truly Dean, he’d know. No one could ever fake his big brother, not even Lucifer.

“I see you and my brother have been having a conversation,” Dean said evenly, rage building in the eyes of his otherwise schooled features as he registered the ravaged state of his little brother.

“Rather one-sided, I’m afraid,” Toni remarked, reaching for the cattle prod. “I’m hoping you’ll be able to help convince him to be more open-minded. Or perhaps you’ll be more willing to share.”

“I have to say, I’m not feeling real chatty right now,” Dean quipped, watching Toni with care. “Try again tomorrow.”

Toni cocked her head faintly and smiled before touching the sparking instrument to Dean’s ribs. His legs collapsed as his body spasmed, leaving him hanging painfully by his wrists. Sam’s breath came in short angry bursts as he shifted helplessly, determined anew to find some way out of his chains.

Prod removed, Dean forced himself back to his feet, forcing laughter through gritted teeth and wincing as he moved his wrists. “Maybe take a guy out for a drink before you break out the kinky shit,” he muttered.

“Ah,” Toni replied simply. “I see where Sam got his crass wit.”

“Damn straight,” Dean said proudly and Sam ducked his head to keep Toni from seeing the grin he was fighting to keep off his face. Maybe Toni thought she had the upper hand here, but it was more probable that her hands were entirely too full, just between the sarcastic banter.

Toni clearly had other ideas about her standing within the room. With swift, efficient motions, the handle of the prod in her hand cracked against the side of Dean’s face. The older man shouted in shock before letting out a long stream of profanities. There was a swift-forming bruise in his temple. She hit him again, in the side, and Sam winced sharply as Dean cringed against what was likely a cracked rib.

There was pain now, in Dean’s breathing, and he shot a glare at the psychotic blonde woman in front of him. “The hell is your problem?” he demanded, angry and entirely confused. “You know, torture’s supposed to get you information or something. Or we gave you a really bad day. You can’t just pick up a couple of guys and have at it, unless that gets you off. In which case, I ain’t consenting to your weird play date here!”

But Toni, having acquired both Winchester men, had settled her proverbial feathers and Sam’s heart was sinking. She was back on top of her game, riding the high of her triumph and the cracks in her composure that he’d fought so hard to establish had been glued back up.

“Sam knows what I want,” Toni said evenly. “But, you see, he’s been quite unwilling to share. I’m hoping you’ll encourage him to open up a bit. Make some new friends, as it were.”

“Lady, you and I have very different definitions of what constitutes a friend,” Dean muttered as he winced.

Toni ignored him, threading her fingers through a familiar pair of brass knuckles. He cringed inwardly, remembering the shocking force of those Enochian-engraved nightmares from this woman’s bestie. He glared at Toni was she sauntered over, daring her to hit him.

A dare she accepted with pleasure. “Passcodes, Sam,” she requested, turning towards the younger man as Dean hissed, feeling his split lip and chipped tooth with a careful tongue. He sent a chilly glare towards Toni’s back as she took a deep breath at Sam’s silence. “Not yet,” she mused. “Anything to add?” She turned to regard Dean with a raised brow. He spat out a wad of blood onto the dirt floor.

“No,” he replied, sarcasm barely concealing the hatred in his words. “No, I just came by for some tea and a beating.”

“Really?” Toni asked with amusement. “See, I thought you might be on for a little chat about your mate. Benjamin LaFitte?” Dean’s eyes furrowed into a nonplussed look. Toni took a sip of tea, then shook herself, remembering the vampire’s nickname. “Um, sorry. You called him Benny.”

Dean’s eyes widened slightly, even more confused than before. Benny, he remembered with a slight twinge of guilt, rarely passed through his thoughts these days. He was happier in Purgatory than he’d been topside. Purgatory was where he’d wanted to be and so Dean had moved on from memories of his old war buddy.

“You know, the vampire whom you released from Purgatory and … befriended.” Dean’s eyes flickered to Sam, who was watching him with an expression of anxiety laced with grim resignation.

“I see.” Toni put down her porcelain glass of tea and wove her slim fingers, again, through the holdings of the brass. “Well, the English are nothing if not patient.” She walked slowly towards Dean and he shifted grimly, preparing himself. They’d been through enough sessions like these to know all the psychological tricks, the body language. The pain. It was nothing they hadn’t felt before, but he knew this wasn’t for him.

It was for Sam.

Dean looked Sam’s way, winking the eye that Toni couldn’t see, and steeled himself. Toni was attempting to use him as a tool to break Sam because, obviously, she hadn’t been able to break him any other way. He felt an immense wave of pride in his little brother, but knew that, if this woman hurt him enough, Sam would tell her anything, particularly with this most recent miracle of life. It was one of the reasons he’d coached so much sarcasm into his personality. Shrugging things like this off made it easier on both of them.

The blow came to his already cracked ribs and he couldn’t bite back the cry as he fell into the post he was chained to.

“Dean!”

“Son of a bitch!” Dean snarled, forcing himself back to his feet. It hurt to breathe.

“Passcodes, Sam.”

Sam sent a scathing look towards the woman before returning anxious eyes to Dean as he straightened himself. The posture didn’t last long as a metallic punch to the jaw sent stars clouding his brother’s vision.

“Names.”

“Screw you!” Sam snarled.

Toni removed the brass knuckles and picked up the cattle prod she seemed so fond of. But before the pronged end could find Dean’s body, her phone chimed on the table behind her. She paused before setting the weapon down and glancing at the screen. “Excuse me, gentlemen. I need to take this.” She sent a sickly sweet smile their way before ascending the stairs and leaving them to their own company.

 

____________________________________________________

 

“Something is wrong,” Cas stated grimly.

“What is it?” Mary watched the angel anxiously, wishing she had the same ability to enhance their senses.

Cas sighed, a hand rubbing his face. “Dean’s gotten himself into trouble again.” Mary quirked an eyebrow. Evidently Dean got himself into trouble on the regular. “I can’t … I … “ A deep, infuriated breath blew from Cas like the mighty exhalation of a dragon.

“It’s alright, Castiel. The sigils, right? Tell me where they are and I’ll go break them so you can come in.”

The seraph was already shaking his head. “Dean told me to keep you safe,” he protested.

Mary smiled slightly. “I can handle myself. Trust me. Besides, do you see any other option?”

Cas visibly ground his teeth, a mannerism that was, unbeknownst to Mary, quite un-angelic. A million possibilities raced through his mind, trying to find a situation that would save the Winchesters and keep Mary safe as well, but the woman was right - he could not get in unless someone broke those sigils and the only one with the willingness and ability to do so was Mary.

Mary, who could see the reluctant defeat in Cas’ mutinous face. She smiled gently and squeezed his arm before taking off silently into the tall grass, heading carefully towards the farmhouse. Her movements reminded Castiel of one of the predatory big cats. A mountain lion, perhaps. She was all grace and lithe silence as she disappeared from his sight.

 

____________________________________________________

 

Sam’s eyes flickered between the door above them and Dean’s grimaced face laying on his chained hands. His breathing was shallow, pain clenching his eyes shut.

“Dean?” he called hesitantly.

Dean’s heart twisted with guilt at the hoarse vulnerability in his voice. He’d failed to protect Sam, once again, and yet Sam was more worried with his brother’s well-being, as per usual. He plastered a small smile on his face and opened his eyes to look at Sam’s tattered form. “Hey,” he called gently.

“I thought you were dead.”

Another twinge on his soul, but he played it off, more worried about Sam. “I’m not sure that I’m not,” he joked. Sam started talking, words spilling hastily out, but Dean shook his head firmly. “I’ll tell you,” he promised tiredly. “I’ll tell you everything, okay? But first: who’s Angry Spice?”

A twitch upwards at the corner of Sam’s lips eased some of Dean’s worry. “Yeah,” Sam said, focusing. “She, uh … she’s … “ he huffed a small laugh of disbelief. “She’s Men of Letters. British Men of Letters,” he corrected with a mocking scoff and small roll of the eyes.

“Is that a thing?” Dean asked in astonishment. “What the hell? Aren’t we supposed to be on the same team?”

Sam was about to respond when the door opened and both men’s eyes shot up the stairs. “Gentlemen!” Toni called cheerily. “So, to recap. You live in the Men of Letters bunker. Awash in the worlds greatest collection of occult knowledge and yet, you know ‘nothing’ .”

“Right,” Dean confirmed. “What a waste!” His joking manner was spoiled slightly by the wince of pain that motion caused to his fractured ribs.

“It seems you apes have never read a single book.”

Dean could have laughed if he wasn’t in so much pain. His nerd brother had probably read more books than the entire “British Men of Letters” members combined. He saw a similar flash of mirth run automatically through Sam’s eyes before wariness replaced the mischief.

“The Men of Letters has a long tradition of intellectual excellence. In London, we’ve taken exhaustive studies of even the most arcane topics. For example: parts of the body most sensitive to intense pain.”

Sam stiffened in alarm as Toni fondled a long, sharp instrument and drifted towards Dean’s stiff position. Dean held himself stock-still, but Sam flinched sharply as the glinting tip of honed metal traced threateningly across particularly sensitive points of Dean’s body.

“The eardrum.” A tap at Dean’s earlobe. “A decaying tooth.” The cold alloy traced along his jaw. “Below the belt, of course, and my favorite.” Dean’s breathing sharpened slightly as he saw the tip drift closer to his eye. “Under they eyelid.”

Sam tugged fiercely against the chains binding him to the chair. This wasn’t going well. This wasn’t going at all how he’d planned. Dean, you stupid bastard, he thought fiercely. Why’d you have to drop yourself in the middle of it again?

Toni leaned forward, a sly look in her blue eyes. “Did you know it’s possible to die from pain?”

 

____________________________________________________

 

“ ‘Ello, ‘ello.”

Cas whirled around, angel blade materializing into his hand, battle-ready.

“Whoa! Easy there, mate!”

It was a man, Cas realized. Human, mid-forties, if he’d improved upon his calculation of physical age. He was dark-haired, dark-complexioned, hands held up in a motion of peace. But the lilt of his voice was too similar to the two women he’d vowed to immolate for him to ease his stance.

“Identify yourself,” he commanded sharply, blade glinting in the sunlight.

“Mick,” the man said, opening the lapels of his jacket slowly, showing no obvious signs of weaponry. “Mick Davies. I’m head of the British Men of Letters here in America.”

Fury wrote itself upon Cas’ face as he stepped forward, aiming the tip of his blade under Mick’s chin. “Then tell me why I shouldn’t slaughter you here and now,” Cas snarled. He appreciated the healthy amount of wariness and recognition of danger that scripted itself across Mick’s features. He was a wiser man then the women under his charge.

“Easy now,” Mick said, voice low. “I’m here to take you to the Winchesters.”

“And why should I believe anything you say?”

“There’s no reason for you to do that,” Mick agreed with a wince. “Lady Bevell, the woman that’s got your charges down there, she’s made a grievous error in judgement. We recognize that. I’ve come to retrieve her and set things right.”

Cas cocked his head, but the threat of metal against Mick’s throat didn’t wane. “And you’re willing to set them free, just like that?”

“I am,” Mick said firmly, looking the seraph in the eyes. “No strings attached. And I reckon you can tell if I’m lying.”

“How is it that I was unable to sense your presence?” He demanded suspiciously. Mick slowly brought a hand over, tugging down the collar of his shirt to reveal a tattooed Enochian rune. The seraphs’s eye widened slightly in surprise, recognizing it as a cloaking sigil, able to keep the subject from angelic eyes. It had been one of the sigils he’d carved into the brother’s ribs years ago.

“Only works if you’re not expecting me, o’course,” Mick explained unnecessarily. “But it does come in ‘andy. Works on more than just angels. Handful of scrying spells too.” Cas eyed him closely for a long moment before stepping down. He lowered his arm, but kept the blade at hand. Just in case.

“You’re welcome to search me for weaponry if it’ll make you feel any better.” Mick offered, hands outspread.

“That won’t be necessary,” Cas said, coolly confident. “Now break the sigils.”

“With pleasure!” Mick said cheerfully. He walked through the gate, Cas following as far as he could until the pressure from the warding knocked his breath away. He saw Mick dig around and bring up a knife that must have been kept in place near a particular sigil. The human looked around him, eyeing a network of sigils before methodically and ritualistically slashing across a set pattern. Cas let out a low moan and his feathers ruffled and settled in relief as he felt the depth of pressure dissipate to nothing. He was quick to follow behind Mick, anxious to get to the Winchesters before more damage was done.

 

____________________________________________________

 

In typical circumstances, Sam would have fought tooth and nail to escape his bonds and help rage the battle for freedom. But, as it were, he was nearly content to just let this hallucination run its course.

It had to be a hallucination, of course.

His eyes fixed dumbly to the figure of his mother, blonde braid swinging as she fought Toni for the upper hand.

I tried to tell you, Lucifer said. Have I made this ridiculous enough for you yet?

Sam almost nodded before catching himself. It didn’t do to respond to Lucifer, no matter how right he may be. He’d gotten himself into too much trouble acknowledging the archangel.

Oh come on, Sam! the angel said, voice dripping in exasperation. First Dean, now your mom? I’ve done everything I could to make this obvious, man!

Regardless, Sam couldn’t bring himself to care. If this was a hallucination, he’d lose himself to it. He’d do whatever he could to keep Dean and his mother in his sights. He didn’t care why, how, what it took. So he watched, kept an eye on how things played out because if things played out well in this reality and they all survived, he’d play along for eternity.

Mary, on the other hand, had made a crucial mistake. She was fine with Dean in her sights, had been given a blessed few days to become accustomed to her eldest’s presence. She struck the woman in the temple and handed Dean the keys to free himself. It was clinical, by the book. Motions even and calculated. She’d kept herself firm, kept her eyes off Sam because she knew that would be what did her in. And she was right, of course. The first sight out of the corner of her eyes caught her full attention and her face turned of its own accord, drinking in the alarming sight of her youngest son, the first glimpse she caught of her grown Sammy. Beaten, dripping with blood and sweat, eyes wide in confusion and pain as he fought to rectify what he knew with what he was seeing.

Dean expected this and still cursed their luck when it happened. His own motions mimicked his mother’s; cold, calculated, measured, right up until he knocked the British bitch to the ground. He took a single moment to breathe before hurrying over to unlock Sam’s handcuffs. “Looks like this ape did read a book or two,” he joked with a half-smile, trying to put Sam’s obvious discomfiture at ease. Having finally earned a win throughout the past months, Dean felt ice drip through his soul at the sound of another accent echoing through the room.

“Well played.” 

Chapter Text

They watched Mick walk upstairs, towing Toni firmly behind him; listened carefully for the start of a car engine and the receding mechanical noises that let them know he was leaving. There were a few more moments of tense silence before Cas relaxed his posture.

“They’re gone,” he informed them.

Sam sank to his knees with a soft gasp.

“Sammy!” Dean threw himself in front of his brother, thumb gently lifting a lid to check his pupils, fingers on his wrist to take his pulse. “They feed you? At all?” A shake of Sam’s head made Dean’s temper flare, but he kept his cool for his brother’s sake. Mary made a move to step forward, but she felt the angel’s grip on her shoulder, saw the warning shake of his head and merely bit her lip, watching with worry stark in her eyes.

“Dean, stop,” Sam muttered. “Stop. S’no big deal.”

“ ‘No big deal’ “, Dean mocked in a childish tone.

“What are you, twelve?” Sam quipped, but his relief at feeling Dean’s hands on him, the reassurance that he was alive was too profound for him to truly feel any thread of irritation.

Dean ignored the question, but sent his brother a withering look. “Cas can patch you up right as rain and we can get the hell out of here.”

“What? No!” The alarm in Sam’s eyes made Dean frown.

“The hell you mean no?”

“Just … just get me back to the Bunker first. We don’t know what else is out here, or who or whatever. I can make it home. Please?”

Dean frowned, but Sam repeated his plea and the older man caught the covert way Sam’s thumb was pressing into his palm, the sideways looks he was casting around and Dean understood. “Alright, Sammy. Home it is. Cas could patch you up on the way, but those flashes of light make it a little hard to drive.”

“Yeah, I know Dean. It’s fine. I can wait, I’m not dying.”

“Even so, it’s going to be a bitch getting you out of here as it is, you stubborn bastard.”

“Dean!”

The two men looked over in surprise at Mary, who was staring at her eldest with shock. There was stunned silence before Sam started laughing. Although the pain made him stop soon after he started, the mirth was genuine, a hint of mischief sparkling in his eyes at the sound of his mother rebuking his older brother for the first time in his life.

“Shut up,” Dean muttered, having the good graces to look embarrassed.

“Don’t worry,” Sam said with a quiet grin. “Next time he can spend a few days in the torture cell.”

Mary’s posture relaxed, even if her shock didn’t quite disappear.

“They have a very black sense of humor,” Cas explained with a knowing look.

“Well don’t go telling her all our bad habits, Cas,” Dean grumbled, helping Sam to his feet. Sam bit back a moan of pain, eyes screwed shut as he swayed slightly on his feet. Dean gripped him tighter. “There’s a hatch over there we can get out from. It’ll be easier than the stairs, it’s just locked.”

“That’s not a problem,” Cas said, walking over to climb the steps up to the wood and iron framing. With a single push upwards, the lock was broken and sunshine flooded the cellar. Mary just looked at the angel in astonishment before looking to Dean, who shrugged with a sheepish smile.

“You good to get up those steps?” He asked Sam, then frowned at the doubt in his brother’s face. “What’s the matter?”

Sam said nothing, merely looked down at his bandaged foot.

“Sit,” Dean ordered. Sam looked around the basement, anxiety riddled in his features. Dean grabbed his hand and dug into the scar, making Sam whip his head back around and hiss in pain. “Sit.”

Sam sat.

“They give you drugs or something?”  he asked, kneeling down to inspect Sam’s foot.

“Or something,” Sam responded darkly. “Spells or potions or something. Some kind of injection. Warped reality, hallucinations. The whole nine yards.”

Dean didn’t respond, just looked in horror at the mangled, infected burns trailing along the length of his brother’s foot. “That bitch better be grateful she walked out of here before I saw this,” he said tightly. “You were going to try walking out with this?”

Sam avoided his gaze. “I just need to get out of here, Dean.”

“Sam, that’s not gonna fly,” Dean rebuked him. “You’re not walking anywhere with this. Cas, you’re going to have to fix this before we get out of here.”

Cas walked over to kneel next to Dean, face drawn in sympathy. “I’m sorry, Sam. I should have been there to - “

“Patch me up and we’ll call it square,” Sam joked.

“I don’t understand what shapes have to do with this situation,” Cas said in confusion.

Dean caught the frown Mary sent his way and had to fight off a laugh. “Angels are very literal creatures,” he explained. “Figures of speech don’t tend to translate well for them.”

Cas glared at him and Dean thought he saw a shadow of embarrassment as a bright glow of light lit the room before fading, leaving Sam’s foot smooth and unmarred. Sam groaned in relief, clapping the seraph’s shoulder. “Thanks, Cas,” he muttered, standing back up. He shifted slightly, testing himself before nodding in satisfaction. He could deal with the bullet wound so long as one of his legs was in workable condition. He caught Mary’s wide-eyed astonishment and remembered seeing the miraculous healing abilities of angels for the first time. He supposed he’d just gotten used to it. He shook his head faintly, as though getting used to miracles was a normal thing.

“Alright, let’s get the hell out of dodge,” Dean barked out and they walked single-file out of the hatch doors and into the fresh air. Sam sighed in relief, the feeling of grass under his bare feet more comforting than he could have thought possible. He couldn’t remember when he’d lost his shoes. The thought made him frown, but the cool breeze on his various wounds was soothing and he put the conundrum behind him.

The ride back home was a torment on its own. Each bump in the dirt roads jarred his injuries and his jaw hurt from biting back sounds of pain. He wanted desperately to lapse into sleep, into that blessed black void of unconsciousness but every time he faded away, there was another bump and another wave of pain.

The struggle was not lost on Dean. “Sam, if you’re going to delay healing, at least let Cas help you sleep,” he said, looking over at his brother’s drawn expression.

“Absolutely not,” Sam said firmly.

“Why the hell not, Sam?” Dean demanded. “You’re not still having issues with Cas and - ?”

“What?” Sam interrupted. “No. No, Dean, that’s not the problem. I’ve just … I’ve had enough of people messing with my head. No matter their loyalties. No offense, Cas.”

“I understand, Sam,” Cas said gravely. “But perhaps your brother is right. We still have several hours until we reach the Bunker. I can feel your exhaustion. The more you go without sleep, the more pain you will feel.”

Dean threw his hand out in agreement. “Exactly.”

“Guys, c’mon. I’m fine, I just don’t - “

“Sam.”

The soft voice that wound around his soul from behind was so similar to everything he’d imagined about his mother. It silenced him, stilled his uncomfortable movements.

“Please let them help. You don’t have to suffer for the sake of suffering.”

He ground his teeth, tears threatening to fall from his eyes. There had been no time to process, no time to look at his mother and see her standing right in front of him, supposedly as real as he was. He could feel the concerned glances from Dean as he felt his little brother’s conflict, but Sam’s eyes were locked to the miles of road that the Impala was steadily eating up.

“Okay,” he said quietly. He’d almost called her ‘mom’, but what if she preferred Mary, considering how much time had passed? How old they were? How little they truly knew each other? “Just … just pass over the blanket back there, would you?”

Cas or Mary, he couldn’t tell which, shoved the blanket up to him and he wrapped it tightly around himself, shutting off the AC vents in front of him. Dean frowned his way. He always frowned so much in these situations.

“You good?” he asked carefully.

“Yeah, just … they started off with a cold shower,” Sam said quietly. He saw a muscle twitch angrily in his brother’s jaw. “I don’t think they realized how effective that would be, you know? It’s just been hard to get warm since then.”

Dean knew Mary wouldn’t understand how serious that was, but he caught Cas’ dark look in the rearview mirror. No, those British bitches wouldn’t have understood the effect that the icy water would have on Sam, wouldn’t have known that Lucifer burned cold. That the unrelenting, pervasive freeze would have had such a profound effect on his kid brother after so recent an exposure at the hands of the Devil. He clapped Sam gently on the shoulder before nodding to Cas. Sam shifted slightly into a more comfortable position, throat working hard to hold back the sounds of pain caused by movement. Cas leaned forward, hesitating slightly at the reluctance in Sam’s eyes, but the man nodded tightly to him and he gently pressed two fingers to Sam’s forehead, willing the man to sleep.

As Sam let out a gentle sigh and fell into unconsciousness, Mary watched in awe. “It’s amazing,” she said in a hushed tone. “It’s amazing what you can do. I can’t believe I’m sitting next to an actual angel right now.”

“That was very similar to Sam’s reaction when we met,” Cas said mildly.

“Just Sam?”

“Dean was a little … skeptical about my true nature. It took a long time for him to believe angels existed, even after we met.”

Mary caught Dean’s embarrassed look and raised an eyebrow at him. “Well can you blame me?” He asked awkwardly, voice quiet to keep from disturbing Sam’s rest.

“No, not really,” Mary admitted. “I’m sitting right next to one and I’m having a hard time believing it. And you guys … what? Work together?”

“Not exactly. I mean, yeah, but it’s more than that. Cas is family.”

Mary’s eyes widened and, although she missed the barely perceptible surprise in Cas’ own eyes, Dean did not and he bit back a sigh. All that, after all they went through and everything they’d said, he still didn’t truly feel as though he belonged. There was time to work on that, he supposed. He knew Cas felt immense guilt at teaming up with Lucifer, but after they’d resolved things, Dean had hoped the seraph would feel more accepted. Evidently that was a little too big of a miracle to ask for. He snorted quietly. What kind of world did they live in where bringing your mother back from the dead was more feasible than showing a family member they belonged?

“You should have let me heal you before we left.” Cas interrupted his thought process, glaring at him. “I have driven with broken ribs and I know it’s unpleasant.”

“Dean!” Mary’s voice was accusatory.

“What?” Dean asked uncomfortably. “Getting Sam somewhere safe was more important.”

“It wouldn’t have taken more than a moment,” Cas chastised him.

Dean shifted, seeing glares from both pairs of blue eyes in the rearview mirror. “Look, it’s not that big of a deal. If I go more than a week without cracking something, I start to worry everything’s a little too quiet.” He knew Mary wasn’t buying his joking demeanor but she dropped it regardless, although he got one more glare from Cas.

“I’m sorry you had to see him like that,” Dean said quietly. “I know that’s not what he would have wanted as a first impression.”

Mary was silent, staring at her youngest son. His pale complexion worried her and she could see a seeping wound peeking out on his chest  from underneath the blanket. He said he hadn’t eaten and it had been days. He must be so weak.

“Don’t worry.” Dean’s voice interrupted her anxious musings. “Sammy’s had worse. A lot worse. He’s going to be fine. We’ll get back to the Bunker and Cas’ll fix him up in a flash.”

It was two more hours to the Bunker. Mary had fallen asleep soon after Sam and Dean played some AC/DC at a low volume. He and Cas didn’t speak, but he felt the seraph’s hungry gaze on him, as though worried Dean would disappear again. He pulled Baby into the garage and keyed off the ignition, turning slightly so he could see the angel firsthand and not through the mirror.

“I’m not going anywhere, Cas.” His voice was soft, apologetic. Cas tilted his head down slightly, accepting the words, but his gaze did not alter. “You keep looking at me like I’m going to vanish.”

“I’m not convinced you won’t,” came the reply. Dean thought he caught a trace of anxiety, but it was always so hard to tell with Cas.

“I’ve been here for three days with no hiccups,” Dean pointed out. Cas gave another singular nod, but the hard stare still gleamed with hints of desperation. Dean sighed and opened his door, stepping out and knocking gently on Cas’ window. “Alright, get your feathery ass out here and help me get everyone in.”

Cas shook his head, but placed a gentle hand on Mary’s shoulder, pulsing a small wave of wakefulness until her eyes fluttered open. “We’re back at the Bunker,” he informed her. He looked over, watching Dean shake Sam awake.

“C’mon, Sammy. Let’s get you inside and into your bed.”

Sam flinched, adrenaline forcing him awake. “No,” he said tersely. “Find me a different room.”

Dean sighed, rubbing his jaw. “You just going to switch rooms, then? I mean, we could cleanse it, but I don’t know if that would settle it for you.”

“I dunno,” Sam admitted, eyes shutting hard at the memory of Lucifer claiming his bedroom, waiting for him in the dark. “We’ll see, I just can’t deal with figuring that out right now.”

“Fine, fine. Let’s just get you into a bed so you can rest. I want you to eat something too. I know you’re tired, but you won’t recover if you don’t eat. I can’t believe they starved you.”

Sam sighed, knowing that arguing with him was pointless. He bit back a cry as Dean helped him stand. He caught long, blonde hair in his peripheral and jumped, hazel eyes staring wide at his yawning mother.

She caught his wide gaze and paused, feeling self-conscious. “What?” she asked.

“Nothing,” Sam said softly. “Nothing. It’s just … I just thought you were a dream, you know? I didn’t expect to see you again.”

Mary relaxed and smiled, running a hand soothingly along Sam’s arm, feeling him press into her touch hungrily. His hazel eyes never left hers and she wondered at the beauty of those eyes, the height of her youngest son, even as stooped in pain and fatigue as he was.

“Hey mom?” She turned at Dean’s shy voice. “Cas and I are going to get Sam into a room and start patching him up. There’s some leftover soup in the fridge, could you heat that up for him?”

“Yeah, Dean. Of course.” She smiled gently and started walking into the Bunker before she heard Dean call out after her.

“And some tea! Sam likes tea!”

Sam elbowed Dean weakly, but Dean swore, breath catching at the pressure on his cracked ribs. Cas rolled his eyes and wrapped Sam’s arm around his neck. “Enough. You both need attending to.”

In the end, they chose a room a few doors down from Dean’s, across the hall from Cas’ typically vacant bedroom. Cas set Sam gently down on the bed and Dean helped him out of his tattered shirt, wincing at the oozing lacerations crossing Sam’s chest and stomach, the myriad of deeply beaten bruises, the burn scores. He whistled quietly. “They sure did a number on you, Sammy.”

Sam winced, leaning carefully against the pillows. “Yeah, they worked me over pretty good.” He groaned in relief as warmth spread over one his wounds, complimenting the blooming white light as Cas began his work.

Unbeknownst to the two brothers, Mary watched them silently, just out of sight. It was odd seeing a flash of light and the bloody wounds disappearing to leave smooth, unmarred skin. All the same, she was grateful to this angel for healing her son.

“Dean, they knew everything about us,” she heard Sam say, and listened more closely. “ ‘Ever since we almost ended the world the first time’,” he spat out mockingly, a bad rendition of a British accent. “I mean, they knew about Lucifer, Azazel, Ruby, the Darkness.”

“Hell, they even knew about Benny,” Dean said in surprise. “Although they don’t seem to know he’s back in Purgatory.”

“Or they just don’t care,” Sam pointed out. “I mean, they don’t seem to care for the way we’ve handled things.”

“Yeah, well when they save the world once or twice, they can judge us on our methods,” Dean spat out angrily. “Where were they when the angels were gunning for the Apocalypse? Or when they fell? Or when the sun was frickin’ dying?”

Sam gave a one-shouldered shrug. “Something about the ‘Old Men’ not wanting them to get involved.”

“Old men?” Cas asked between wounds.

Sam shrugged again. “I’m guessing whoever’s in charge of their branch. She didn’t tell me much.”

“Of course not.” Dean was seething, but Cas redirected them both.

“I believe I’ve healed everything. Is there anywhere else that I should be aware of?”

Sam got to his feet gingerly, stretching and bending, testing to see if anything had been missed. He felt no pain, only weakness from starvation and the tender tenseness that came with being shackled to a chair for days on end. “No, I think I’m good. Thanks Cas, I appreciate it.”

“There is no thanks necessary,” the seraph returned. “I would not have you in pain.”

Sam smiled slightly, clapping Cas on the shoulder and waiting for the angel to fix his brother’s wounds before turning to Dean. “I thought I’d lost you,” he said, voice strangled with emotion. “The sun was fixed, that meant Amara should have died and you were the only one - “

Dean cut him off, wrapping him tightly in a hug. Sam returned the gesture desperately, face buried in Dean’s shoulder. “It’s all good, Sammy. I’m good. I’m alive. I promise to tell you everything after you get some rest, alright?” He felt Sam nod and ruffled his little brother’s hair, making Sam step back and push his hand away peevishly. “Get some rest, Sam. Everything’s good.”

Chapter Text

It hurts to breathe.

He’s too spent to move, in too much pain to struggle. His arms are bound at the wrists behind his back, strung up from the ceiling from which he’s dangled several feet above the Cage floor. Reverse hanging, he recalls hazily, randomly, from a history lecture during his time at Stanford. There’s a floor-connected chain binding his ankles as they swing freely. He’d alleviated some of the pressure earlier by swinging his legs up to wrap around the chain from which he’s strung. The blood had rushed painfully to his head, but at least his arms hadn’t been slowly dislocating. Lucifer had watched him with interest, wondering how long he’d be able to keep that position.

Too damn long, evidently. The Devil had grown impatient, adding the ankle shackles to keep him from resuming the alleviating position.

Sam wonders how long it’ll take for the ligaments in his shoulders to tear so completely that he’s hanging vertically. The constant torment has gone on for what feels like days, allowing his mind to numb and disconnect slightly, thoughts vague and far away.

White-hot threads of electricity contract his muscles spastically, his body twitching and jerking in violent fits. He can see the yellow-white plasma fibres in his mind’s eye, streaking through his veins and muscles, the metal of the chains acting as a cruel conduit.

They fade after a few moments, leaving him screaming hoarsely at the newly increased agony in his shoulders as the spasms ripped into his damaged arms. Lucifer strolls around into his vision, twirling what looks like a cattle prod in a color-guard type dance. He touches the sparking end to the chain connecting ankles to floor and Sam’s body is seizing again, convulsions limited by the chains but the limits of motion offer up agony in and of itself.

“Stop!” he begs, when he’s able to form words. His voice is barely audible. There’s blood dribbling from his lips from his throat torn raw from screaming. “Please! Please, stop. Stop.”

“But why?” Lucifer asks, feigning innocent curiosity. “I mean, you had to know this was coming, Sammy.”

“Don’t. You don’t get to call me that.”

Lucifer’s eyes gleam cruelly at that spark of defiance he’s fought so hard to beat out of his prison-mate. “Are you sure? You said the only one who got to call you that is Dean, but Dean’s dead Sam. And you’re still stuck here with little ol’ me.”

Sam shakes his head. “He’s not dead,” he whispers firmly.

“No? Because Auntie Amara was so generous with life to begin with.”

What? Sam’s eyes widen in confusion. He’d thought this a memory. He remembers this session as he remembers them all, but this is off-script. This is pulling from reality now.

“Calling it reality’s a biiiiit of a stretch, there,” Lucifer says mildly. “Or what, you really think you got out, bunk buddy? You really think I’d let you go?”

Sam goes cold, keeping his eyes carefully trained to the floor. This was a dream, then. But these dreams were dangerous and engaging with them was playing with fire. They didn’t happen often, but it made waking up so difficult. It made trusting his surroundings, trusting Dean’s reassurances so hard. Lucifer had played with him this way in the Cage and, while it was always Dean that gave it away, the psychological torments that Lucifer created were so lifelike in every other aspect. They felt real.

“Oh, this isn’t a dream, Sam. Honestly, I think this hallucination was my best yet. Took a few years. I had to be patient. Get really into it. I even got Dean right for once! But c’mon, Sam. You’re not stupid. You get back both Dean and mommy dearest? That’s just not realistic, even by your standards, and I’m surprised you didn’t call it right there and then.”

Fear starts to sink in, flowing through his body with every faint, erratic heartbeat. “You’re lying,” Sam says resolutely, but his hoarse voice is shaking. “This is just a dream. I get these dreams every once in awhile.”

“Mmmm … no. You get hallucinations that you’re getting dreams. Look, physical torture is great and all, but it takes so much effort. Even I need a break every now and then. Time to think up new masterpieces and whatnot.”

Sam feels himself start to shake, tremors that have nothing to do with the residual electricity sparking in his muscles. “You’re lying.”

“Sam, Sam, Sam.”  Lucifer clicks his forked tongue in disapproval. “I told you I’d never lie to you and I’ve never broken that promise, not even in the hallucinations. Now, enough talk. Let’s give you some time to mull things over, hm?”

The prod is replaced on the cold, frost-tinged metal links and Sam is screaming. He doesn’t know which is worse; the physical torture or the possibility that these past years have all been in his head.

 

______________________________________________________________

 

“Dean!”

Cas’ urgent voice next to him startled Dean awake, but the unholy screams coming from Sam’s room shot him out of bed and had him bolting down the hall in record time. Mary was just outside Sam’s door, hand twisting the doorknob open.

“Mom, don’t!” Dean called, voice sharp as he walked swiftly towards her.

“Dean, what’s going on?” she asked, wide blue eyes full of fear.

“I’ll handle it,” he said firmly, hand on her shoulder to push her gently back.

“But Sam, is he ok? What the hell is - ?”

Strained Enochian pleas bled through the door followed by a strangled cry and Dean flinched hard. This was so complicated. Of all the times for Sam’s nightmares to start up again, it had to be the first night they all shared a roof with their long-lost mother. She’d wonder, of course, want to know what was up, but it wasn’t his business to say and Sam certainly wouldn’t want -

“Dean!” Cas’ loud voice interrupted his thoughts and Dean realized Sam was pleading with Dream Lucifer again. “You need to wake him up!”

“Mom, stay here,” Dean ordered with the authority he could only pull when Sam was in need. “Cas, keep an eye on her.”

“But Dean!” she called as Dean burst through the door. Cas put a gentle, but firm hand on her shoulder, pulling her back a step or two.

“Sammy!” Dean called. “Sam, wake up! It’s just a dream, don’t make me go for the bucket!” A rough sob was torn from his brother’s sleeping form and Dean tried calling to him one more time before rushing past Cas and Mary to the bathroom. Using the shower, he filled the small bucket he kept under the sink for times such as these and he rushed past the other two once more to throw the liquid contents over his brother’s tormented form.

Sam shot up with a ragged gasp, dilated eyes wide and hazy as he looked around him in terror. “Sammy! Focus, man!”

“Dean!” Sam’s voice was hoarse as he called to his lifeline.

“Right here, Sammy. I’m right here. You’ve got to focus, man.” Sam’s shuddering voice called something out desperately in Enochian and Dean felt his heart clench. “Cas?” he called, keeping his eyes locked on his brother’s form.

“ ‘He doesn’t like it when I call your name’,” Cas translated from the hallway, ignoring Mary’s worried, confused stare.

“He’s not real, Sam. It was just a dream. Just a nightmare.”

More desperate Enochian as Cas translated dutifully. “ ‘I thought the same thing, but the memory went off script and he says’ … “ Cas trailed off, waiting for Sam to pick back up before continuing. “ ‘He says it was just another psychological trip. That he made the whole thing up’.”

Dean was shaking his head firmly, but he felt anxiety gnawing at his insides. So it was one of those. Of course it was. These dreams were always the hardest to get Sam back from. “Sam, can you switch back to English for me? It’s safe, I promise. On my life.”

Panic reverberated in Sam’s voice. “ ‘English isn’t allowed. English makes them angry, even Michael will step in if I switch back’.”

“They’re not here, Sam. You’re not in the Cage. Lucifer isn’t here, not anymore.”

Mary’s mouth dropped open in shock and Cas shifted uncomfortably. She shouldn’t be hearing this, not without Sam’s permission.

“Dean!” Sam pleaded, wide eyes locked onto his brother’s.

“Sam, I promise you it’s safe. Look, I’m speaking English. Even Cas is speaking English to translate for you. Neither of us are in any pain. You won’t get punished. You’re safe, Sammy. Stone number one, now build it back up. I know you can.”

Sam was silent for a long moment before nodding slowly, trusting Dean over every warning screaming in his mind. “Okay,” he muttered hoarsely. “Okay, Dean.”

“Good man, Sam,” Dean praised, voice softening. “Drink?” Sam swallowed hard, nodding with more surety than anything else he’d answered since waking. “Cas, can you go make us some coffee?”

“Would you like it Ireland?”

“Irish,” Dean corrected as Sam huffed a small laugh. “And yeah, that’d be great.” He heard the other two retreating down the hallway and pulled a new pair of pajamas from the dresser of Sam’s new room, throwing them at Sam’s head. The younger Winchester flinched, but caught them before they collided with his face. “I’m going to go make sure Cas doesn’t scorch the coffee or put absinthe in there or whatever. Get dressed and meet me there, okay Sam?” Sam nodded, but Dean watched him seriously. “If you’re not there in ten minutes, I’m coming to look for you.”

Sam winced, remembering the extremes he sometimes took after dreams like this where he struggled to tell what was real and what wasn’t. “Don’t worry, Dean. I’ll be there. Promise.”

Dean nodded and walked out, heading to the kitchen where he saw Mary teaching Cas how to properly brew coffee to liquor. He leaned against the doorframe, watching with arms tensely folded across his chest. “You weren’t supposed to see that,” he said quietly as Mary looked up with worry in her eyes.

“What language was that?” she asked, a very faint waver to her voice.

“Enochian,” Dean said uncomfortably.

“The language of the angels,” Cas clarified, readying a handful of mugs.

“But how - “

Dean cut her off with a wave of his hand. “Look … we’ve been through some serious shit. Things you could never dream up. No, don’t look at me like that,” he said at the skepticism in Mary’s eyes. Try me, they said, but she couldn’t possibly understand. “Hunter lives aren’t normal, but the lives Sam and I have led, what we’ve been through and fought past, isn’t normal even for hunters. Far from. The world isn’t the same as you left it. Now, I’ll explain everything if Sam gives me permission, but you have to understand he may not.”

Mary chewed her lip, looking at the floor and Dean wrapped her in a cautious hug, still astonished that he could even touch her. “Is he going to be ok?” came the whispered query.

“Yeah, he’ll be fine. He’s just shaken up. Look, I’ll talk to him. In the meantime, it’s better if you’re not here when he comes in. If he finds out you were present for all of that, he’s going to freak.”

Mary looked at him unhappily, considering protesting, but she was so new to her sons, so new to their lives. It was hard to understand they were grown men and strangers at that, but she realized rationally that Dean knew his brother best, as much as that upset her. She poured herself a cup of coffee, adding a healthy amount of whiskey and retreated out the door. “I’ll be in the library,” she called.

Dean watched her walk out, conflicted. “You had to know this would come to pass,” Cas’ voice sounded behind him.

“Yeah, but so soon? I mean we just got Sam back!”

“Lucifer has only been gone less than two weeks,” Cas pointed out. “And immediately after, you supposedly died. It broke him, Dean. I did not recognize the man you put in my charge. And so soon after your apparent demise, he is kidnapped and brutally tortured with no time to process anything that has happened to him. I expected this. I’m surprised you did not.”

Dean had to begrudgingly admit Cas had a point; he should have known this would happen. “I’d hoped he’d sleep through anything once he hit the bed,” he admitted. “After what he went through, he should have slept like the dead.”

“If only I had such luck,” Sam said, trudging into the kitchen, arms folded skittishly across his chest. Dean scooted a cup of spiked coffee across the counter to him and Sam nodded gratefully, taking a long drink.

“How you feeling?” Dean asked.

“Aces.”

Sam’s voice was mulish and Dean smirked. “Sit down, Sasquatch. Let me know when you’re ready.”

“It wasn’t that bad, considering,” Sam said, wincing at the rawness in his throat. “Just be careful with my shoulders.”

“How bad?” Dean asked, taking note of the information his brother was freely giving.

Sam shrugged. “Hard to tell. If it had stayed a memory, maybe a three or four. But then it shifted, went off script. Lucifer said this was all a psychological manipulation, that I wasn’t really out. He said … “ He trailed off, fear flashing in his eyes.

“He said what, Sam?” Dean pressed, green eyes watching his brother cautiously.

“He said … he said there was no way I’d ever get both you and mom back. He said that was beyond anything.”

“Well let’s put that to rest right now.” Dean’s voice was firm, taking a drink of his coffee before continuing. “I went in fully prepared to end Amara, but she knew the plan. Sensed the souls locked away inside my chest. She was upset. I mean, really upset. A lot of talk about regrets and wishing it hadn’t come to this, that all she wanted was her and her brother to live together peacefully. So I pulled what we did on Chuck and Lucifer and had them talk it out. Just talk, nothing else. I mean Chuck was dying, what was there to lose? They worked it out, Amara healed Chuck. Chuck pulled the souls from my chest.”

“What about mom?”

“Amara said she was so grateful that I’d given her what she needed that she wanted to do the same for me. I guess that was mom. I was driving back to the Bunker and she was just there on the side of the road. She had me on the ground in two seconds,” he said ruefully and Sam cracked an amused smile. “She had no sense of passing time. She thought it was still the night of the fire, that we were still young. It took a lot of convincing to get her to understand what happened.”

“Yeah, well I wouldn’t believe you either,” Sam said, taking another long drink of coffee.

“Sam, do you understand this is real? That this has all really happened?”

The question made the younger man pause, trying to come up with a truthful answer. “I don’t know, Dean. I’m still working on that. But I’ll take you on your word until I can believe it for myself.”

Dean nodded reluctantly before gesturing for Sam to stand up. “C’mon, let’s get this out of the way,” he said brusquely, motioning for Sam to remove his shirt. They went through the exercise, working through Sam’s trigger areas. It took several minutes for Dean to comfortably place his hands on his brother’s shoulders. Sam had tensed and shuddered for a long time, distressed sounds escaping his clenched teeth. Once done, Dean motioned for Sam to sit back down and poured his little brother a double, sliding it over. “Drink up,” he said.

Sam gave him a look, but downed the amber liquid, grimacing as it burned his throat. “Sammy, I’ve gotta tell you something and you’re not going to like it.” He watched his brother unhappily as something guarded slammed into his hazel eyes. “Mom kind of … I mean she was right out the door, when … “

A loud crack split the air as Sam’s glass fell from his hand to slam on the table. He was looking at Dean with horror, shaking his head. “No,” he whispered.

“There was no way around it, Sam. You’d have to be deaf to not know something was going on. It’s no one’s fault, it’s just bad luck.”

Sam pressed his palms into his eyes and uttered a low groan. “This can’t be happening.”

“Sam, she’s got to know,” Dean said quietly. “I mean there was enough, the Enochian, mentioning Lucifer. Someone’s got to explain. Without the gory details, of course.”

Sam flinched, looking down unhappily. “I’m not doing it. I’m not going through all that. You can, if you think it’ll help. I’ll go find us a case or something.”

“Okay, Sammy. I’m sorry. Truly, I am. I wish this didn’t have to happen.”

Sam shrugged half-heartedly, standing up to pour himself another glass. “I’ll be in my room,” he muttered. Cas watched him walk out with sorrowful eyes and Dean sighed, hands rubbing his face roughly.

“Awesome.”

Chapter Text

Clinking glass on the wooden table made Mary jump and she looked up to see her eldest son scoot a glass of whiskey towards her. “Drink up,” he said quietly. “You’re going to need it.”

Mary stood abruptly. “Is Sam okay?”

Dean waved her back down. “Sam’s fine, if extremely unhappy you were outside his door.”

“You told him?” Mary asked, horrified.

“He had to know, it wouldn’t be fair to keep him in the dark about that.”

“I suppose,” Mary said doubtfully, slowly retaking her seat. Dean sat across from her, fingering the rim of his glass. She could tell he was agitated, upset.

“Mom … this isn’t an easy story to tell. And it’s not going to be any easier to hear.” He looked up to see Cas taking the seat between them at the front of the table, his sky-hued gaze a calming boon and Dean settled some. Mary watched the two curiously.

“I can tell it if you’d prefer,” the seraph offered gently. Dean shook his head, but sent him a grateful glance.

“The thing you have to understand is that I guess our bloodline is pretty important,” Dean started awkwardly. Where was he supposed to begin? “It’s a big deal or whatever. About ten years ago, we discovered the existence of angels, about basically the existence of everything in the bible. See, I’m … Michael’s Sword.”

“What does that mean?” Mary was frowning in confusion.

“It means he is the archangel Michael’s perfect vessel.” Cas tried to explain, but it didn’t clarify anything for Mary.

“See, not everyone can house the Grace of an angel,” Dean took over. “An angel tries to claim an unsuitable vessel, the vessel dies. So only certain bloodlines have the ability to house them. But I am Michael’s perfect vessel. Housing him, he’d be stronger. The strongest he could possibly be.” There was no way to ease his mother into this, so he just kept going. “And Sam is … “ He paused, running a hand through his hair in agitation.

“Sam is Lucifer’s perfect vessel,” Cas said quietly.

“Satan.”

“Uh-huh.”

“The Devil is real?”

“As I live and breathe.” Dean’s eyes were hard.

“And Sam is … “ Mary was struggling. Then her eyes widened. “Azazel!”

“Was readying Sam for his so-called destiny,” Dean confirmed grimly. “The demons called him the Boy King of Hell.”

Mary felt her eyes watering and looked down in shame. Feeling a light hand on her arm, she jumped, turning to see Castiel’s gentle gaze. “It wasn’t your fault, Mary. The angels and the demons, this plan had been in motion for eons. Even if you had not made the deal to save John, a way would have been made. As it was, you allowed Sam and Dean to have a father.”

“We don’t blame you,” Dean agreed. “Sam doesn’t blame you. It wasn’t your fault. Even if you don’t believe that, we do.” He gave her a few moments to come to terms with that before continuing. “Anyways, there was this whole thing. All that stuff in Revelations about the seals breaking and the apocalypse. We dealt with all of that, but it didn’t matter. Lucifer got free.”

“Got free?”

“Yeah, God locked him in a Cage somewhere in Hell towards the Beginning. Breaking the Seals got him out and the whole celestial plan was for Michael and Lucifer to duke it out in our meat suits to decide whether Paradise or the End would reign.”

“Well, I don’t see evidence of either,” Mary said slowly.

“Yeah,” Dean said quietly. “Because Sam stopped the Apocalypse.” His throat worked painfully, fists clenched tightly in the pain of memory. “Sam said yes to Lucifer. See, angels need consent to possess someone. They aren’t like demons, they can’t just take it. So Lucifer couldn’t force Sam and Michael couldn’t force me to say yes. But Sam said yes to Lucifer, took control of him and got him back in the Cage. Except in order to do that, Sam had to jump in while housing Lucifer.”

It took a minute for Mary to realize the implication of that statement, but then her eyes shot wide open. “So he was locked in a cage with the Devil,” she said slowly.

“And Michael,” Cas said. “He fell in with them.”

“But Sam didn’t stay there,” Mary said, trying to understand.

“He was there long enough.” Dean took a drink of his whiskey, trying to soothe his hoarse voice.

“How long?”

“You don’t want to know,” Dean said darkly.

“Dean,” she pleaded quietly.

“Our time? A year and a half.”

“Our time? What does that mean?”

“Time runs differently in Hell than it does topside,” Dean explained.

“And you know this because … ?”

“Oh, I did my own time in Hell,” Dean muttered. “But it wasn’t as long as Sammy’s tour. I was only there for four months.”

“How long is four months in Hell?”

Dean swallowed hard. “About forty years.”

Mary did the math for Sam in her head and gasped, horrified. “Oh God. Oh my God, Sammy.”

Dean pressed his knuckles into his eyes before he heard footsteps and looked up to see Sam shifting uncomfortably at the library’s entrance.

“I uh … sorry. I didn’t know you were in here.” His eyes were wide, uncomfortable and full of shame and fear, thumb pressed into his palm.

“It’s ok, Sammy. Sorry, should have told you we’d be in here.”

“I’ll just … I’ll come back later. Sorry.” He retreated swiftly and Dean groaned.

“Awesome,” he muttered. “Just great.”

“That’s almost two centuries, Dean.”

He barely caught Mary’s comment, but his heart pulled painfully. “Yeah. Yeah it is. And when you put the Devil back in his Cage and lock up his archangel brother with him, you can imagine how furious they’d be. And how their only outlet for that fury would be … “ He trailed off, unable to finish his sentence. He saw tears drip from his mother’s downturned face. “Anyways, that’s what happened. Sam has nightmares about the Cage sometimes, about what went on in there before we could get him out.”

“How did you get him out?” she asked quietly, needing a good ending to the story.

“Cas,” Dean said simply. “He’s the reason we both got out.”

Cas’ eyes widened as Mary pulled him into a tight hug, staring quizzically at Dean, who merely watched with a small smile. “Thank you,” Mary whispered tightly. “Thank you for saving my boys.”

Cas wrapped his arms gingerly around Mary. “There’s no need to thank me. My own kind has forsaken me. Sam and Dean are the only ones who tolerate my presence.”

Dean’s firm voice interrupted him, green eyes latching onto Cas with a fierce expression. “Cas is family. He’s saved our lives more times than I care to count and we’d do the same for him in a heartbeat.” The angel lowered his gaze awkwardly as Mary released him and leaned back in her chair.

“Why did the angels … ?” She trailed off, not wanting to delve into something so personal.

“The angels were hell-bent on the Apocalypse,” Dean answered. “They did a lot to get me to say yes to Michael. Cas sided with us. He rebelled.”

Mary’s eyes widened as she looked at Cas, so human in appearance that it was easy to forget he was a real angel. “I’m sorry,” she said gently.

“I’ve learned that I vastly prefer the company of humans to that of the angels,” Cas brushed her concern aside. “Even if they accepted me back into Heaven, I would prefer to stay here.”

Dean smiled, reassured to hear the admission.

“I have to say, this is all pretty hard to believe,” Mary admitted. “This is so far from anything I ever knew. Vampires and werewolves and chupacabra are one thing, but angels? Hell? Lucifer?”

“If you think this is hard to believe, you should hear about the Apocalypse we literally just saved the world from,” Dean snickered. He caught Mary’s disbelieving look and waved it away. “Another story for another time. I’ll let Sam tell you that one, he’s the good Christian boy.”

“You don’t believe in God?” Mary asked curiously. Dean choked on his whiskey.

“Oh, I believe in Him. He’s just an ass. No offense, Cas.”

“None taken,” he said gravely. “After these recently transpired events, I am of the same agreement.”

Dean raised his glass to Cas before taking another sip.

“So what do I need to know?” Mary asked. “About Sam, I mean.”

“Well first things first, don’t ever mention this conversation,” Dean said awkwardly. “He knows it’s going on, he knows I’m telling you the bare bones of it, but he’s not going to want to discuss it.” Mary nodded and he continued. “Don’t ever try to wake him up. I mean that. Come get me if he starts to get restless at night.”

“But why?”

“Well, for one, he gets violent,” Dean laughed slightly. “Got myself a broken nose and some bruised ribs learning that one.”

“The water bucket,” Mary realized. Dean nodded.

“Need a way to get him back to reality. It’s not pleasant, but it’s a last-ditch effort.”

“And the other reason?”

“That one’s more complicated.” Dean was quiet for a moment, trying to find some way to explain. “It just has to do with getting him back to real life. The torture he went through wasn’t always physical. Sometimes it was psychological. Lucifer would create this mental world, but the only thing Sam said he couldn’t replicate was me. He said that was always what gave those scenarios away, because Lucifer never played me properly. So being the only one in the room helps him realize I’m me and that, by proxy, this reality is the, well, real one. Not even Cas wakes Sam up.”

That hurt Mary deep in her chest, the knowledge that Sam struggled with reality, but she bit her lip and nodded for Dean to continue.

“If I’m ever gone and Sam starts to freak out, he’s got a scar on his right palm. Just tell him to do the hand thing. If he can’t seem to hear you, just grab his hand and press into the scar and do it hard. Don’t be gentle about it.”

“Why does the scar help?”

“Back when we were figuring this all out, Sam fell and cut his hand open on some glass.” Dean saw Cas shift uncomfortably in his chair and pressed his leg against the seraph’s under the table. He caught Cas’ guilt-ridden expression and sent a small smile before continuing. “Things were still really new, we hadn’t had Sam back all that long and he went off by himself. He was having a hard time telling what was real. Something I learned when I was struggling with the same thing is that things feel different up here than it does down in the Pit. I don’t know what it is, things just don’t feel the same. So I showed him that. It’s been his most successful coping mechanism.”

“Besides the drinking,” Mary said dryly.

Dean grinned. “We wouldn’t be Winchesters without alcoholism and heavy, heavy repression.”

Mary rolled her eyes, but she was starting to relax. Something buzzed on the table, making her jump and she saw a name pop up on the screen. “Who’s Eileen?”

Dean grabbed the tablet and shouted down the hall. “Sammy! Your girlfriend’s looking for you!”

“Girlfriend?” Mary asked, mouth agape. Sam strode into the library, a blush high on his sharp cheekbones.

“She’s not my girlfriend, Dean,” he muttered, keying open the call.

“Yeah, ok dude,” Dean retorted sarcastically.

Sam signed to Eileen one-handed, telling her to hold on. “We’re dating about as much as you and Cas are,” he quipped, walking out of the library. Dean heard Eileen’s laughter over the open speaker and blushed furiously, avoiding Mary’s astonished, questioning stare.

“He … Sam’s joking,” Cas hurried, stumbling slightly on his words.

Mary looked at him doubtfully. “I won’t judge if - “

“We’re not together!” Dean said loudly, switching the topic immediately. “Eileen’s a hunter. She specializes in banshees.”

“What was Sam doing when he started talking to her? Those gestures?”

“Eileen’s deaf,” Dean explained. “She taught him ASL, they sign together.”

“A deaf hunter?” Mary asked, taking a thoughtful sip of her whiskey. “How does that work?”

“Surprisingly well,” Dean admitted. “She’s very good at what she does. She reads lips, which helps. Her night vision is incredible.”

“And Sam is … “

“Totally in love with her.” Dean was snickering and Mary saw the obstinate, annoying older brother behind this grown man. She smiled gently, drinking in the sights and smells of her firstborn. She liked the man he had become, the man she was getting to know. He had her own flashes of mischief and it eased some of the burden to know that this life hadn’t smothered his spark of life.

“You want to see her?” Dean’s question interrupted her quiet musings and she looked up, startled.

“You think that would be ok?”

“Yeah, why not?” Dean stood up, followed by Cas and Mary. He led them down the hall and burst Sam’s door open, making him jump before shooting a glare at his older brother’s self-satisfied grin.

“Hi, Dean,” Eileen’s amused voice came from the speakers. “How’s your boyfriend?”

Sam’s glare turned into a snicker as Dean looked at him with a stony expression. “You’re dead, Sammy. Hear me? I will beat your ass.”

“What’s he saying?” Eileen asked Sam. He turned his gaze back to the video call and signed something to her that made them both collapse in smothered laughter.

“The hell you saying to her?” Dean demanded in alarm, striding towards the bed.

“Well maybe if you’d bothered to learn, you’d know,” Sam said smugly. Dean grabbed the iPad and smacked the back of Sam’s head.

“Dean Winchester!” Mary snapped before she could help herself. “Don’t hit your brother.”

The two men looked at her in astonishment before Sam grinned in utter glee, snatching the iPad back. Dean ducked his head. “Yes ma’am.”

“What just happened?” Eileen was laughing, trying to catch a glance of Dean.

“Uh … “ Sam’s grin slid off his face to an expression of confusion. He switched back to English for Mary’s convenience. “You know how I said I had a lot to tell you with the sun and the Darkness and everything?”

“Yeah?”

Sam gestured to Mary, patting the bed down beside him. “Well … Eileen? Meet … meet my mom.” He angled the lens so that both his and Mary’s face were visible to the woman. Eileen’s mouth was agape before she had the good graces to snap it back shut. She stared at Mary’s image on her screen for a long moment before signing furiously to Sam.

“Eileen,” Sam protested. “Eileen, slow down, you’re going too fast.”

“Yeah, and I can’t understand a damn thing,” Dean popped into the screen to complain.

“Well who’s fault is that?” Eileen demanded, switching to English. “I offered to teach you.”

“Hey, I tried! It’s not my fault God didn’t give me the knack for languages my nerdy little brother got.”

Eileen rolled her eyes. “Dean, you can’t blame everything on God, you know. You don’t even believe in Him.” Sam coughed, looking at Eileen awkwardly. She frowned. “Wait, does he?”

“Call it newfound faith,” Dean said idly. “That’s probably what Sam was going to tell you. Or, one of the things. You should probably come over for a few days.”

“Is that … is that okay?” She threw a cautious glance at Mary, who looked between her and Sam in bewilderment.

“Don’t look at me,” she objected. “This isn’t my house.”

Sam and Eileen laughed awkwardly, realizing they’d been waiting for his mother’s permission like two lovestruck teenagers.

“Awww.” Sam caught Dean’s sickly-sweet, condescending smile and smacked his chest before freezing, head whirling around to watch Mary’s reaction. The older woman just sighed and shook her head.

“Why does he get a pass?” Dean protested.

Sam fought to hide a smug grin as he shoved his brother towards the door. “Alright, alright, everyone out. Out.”

Mary looked back for a moment, watching her son’s hands fly in odd shapes and patterns that made no sense to her, but immersed Sam in a whole different world with the woman on the other screen. The fact that a small piece of metal and glass, no larger than a book, could connect two people like that was jarring. It made her feel dizzy and slightly ill and very much out of place. But watching the light in Sam’s eyes as he talked to this woman helped soothe some of that disorientation. She watched a moment more before closing the door behind her.

//You should really get here as soon as you can,// Sam told Eileen. //There’s just too much to tell you over the phone. Long, long long story very, very short, the Darkness isn’t a problem anymore and the British Men of Letters showed up and they’re bad news.//

Eileen’s eyes widened at that. //I thought they’d died out,// she signed, confused.

//So did we. And after our ‘meeting’, I wish they had.// Sam’s face was grim, pained and Eileen grew worried.

//My parents’ journals never said anything bad about them,// she signed slowly.

//I have a feeling it’s changed dramatically since your parents,// Sam replied. //But they’re looking for American hunters, so it’s important you know everything Dean and I do.//

//If you’re at the Bunker, I’ll be there in two days.//

Sam leaned back, relaxing. //It’ll be good to see you again. Especially after all this.// Eileen looked at him curiously, but knew he’d tell her everything when she got there.

//There was no case outside of the sun dying,// she said dryly. //I’ll pack up and head right over.//

Sam smiled softly at her before ending the call. Maybe everything truly would work out. Maybe, for once, things weren’t as bad as they seemed.

Chapter Text

“Sam!”

Eileen dropped her bags and rushed into Sam’s waiting arms. He grinned against the red of her hair, spinning her around a couple of times before breathing deeply. The smell of her shampoo made him smile again and he just held her before he heard Dean sniggering behind him.

“Not together my ass.”

He turned his head to shoot a glare at his older brother and Eileen smirked against his chest. She knew them well enough to know when Sam was reacting to one of Dean’s quips. “Hi, Dean.” Sam kissed the top of her head before letting her go and grabbing her bags. Dean waved in a casual greeting before pulling her into a quick half-hug, making the woman grin.

“You want some coffee?” he asked, waiting until she turned to watch his lips.

“Please,” she sighed in gratitude. “I drove straight here.”

Sam touched her shoulder to grab her attention. “You haven’t slept?” His brow was creased in concern and it made her smile.

“You said it was important. I had coffee on the way and just drove. I figured sleep could wait.” She shrugged.

“Maybe no coffee then,” Dean amended. “How about some whiskey and a nap?”

Eileen’s chocolate eyes sparkled. “Do you have Scotch?”

Dean rolled his eyes. “Going right for our good stuff.”

Sam grabbed her hand and pulled her along. “We’ll go put her bags in the room. Be right there.”

“Better be right back. Save the loving for later!”

Sam rolled his eyes and, when Eileen looked at him curiously, he just shook his head. “He’s just being Dean,” he responded and she shook her head, content to follow him along, thumb rubbing circles against the skin of his hand.

She paused at his bedroom door, but when he kept walking, she tugged at the hand she was holding. “Where are you going?”

She realized she’d hit a nerve when something guarded slammed into his eyes. He was looking at the door warily, pulling her gently, but persistently, away. //I don’t sleep there anymore,// he signed, lips pressed tightly together. Eileen was visibly confused and her hands rose to sign back a reply, but he shook his head. //I’ll explain later,// he offered. He seemed so disturbed to even walk past the door that Eileen let the matter drop and followed him into a room several doors down the hallway.

The bags she’d brought with her dropped to the bed as she turned around slowly, taking in the new room. Sam wasn’t one for decoration and she supposed most of his stuff was still in his old room. It had all the basics and was unadorned save for a secondary handgun and a large, sheathed knife that she guessed was coated in silver. They laid side-by-side next to the lamp on his bedside table. The sight of the bed had her yawning so hard her eyes scrunched shut. Sam’s arms wrapped around her from behind and she sighed happily, leaning into the embrace. Lips kissed and nipped gently along her jaw and neck, moving across her shoulders and she hummed happily, a hand reaching behind her to run fingers through Sam’s silky hair.

“I missed you,” she murmured quietly and he returned the sentiment by turning her around and kissing her fully on the lips. The action was gentle, reassuring and soft and she moved back against him. He nipped her bottom lip gently, asking permission for more active affection, but she grinned and shook her head. “Dean will kill you if we take too long,” she said pointedly.

A flicker of irritation flew through Sam’s face, making her giggle. “Screw Dean,” Sam muttered petulantly, leaning in to kiss her again. The smile grew on her face and she felt some of the tautness in his body fade as the man relaxed into her embrace. Eventually he broke the kiss and wrapped his long arms around her, a deep breath moving his chest from where she rested her forehead, feeling the beating of his heart. She could feel his breath, small kisses pressed into the top of her head.

Eileen stood up straighter to press a gentle, chaste kiss against Sam’s lips. “Come on,” she said, tugging gently at his hand. “The sooner we get this over with, the sooner you can bring me to bed.” She left the context intentionally vague, but she saw a spark set off in Sam’s hazel eyes and fought to keep a smirk off her face. She pulled him down the hallway and said nothing at the small flinch that she felt through his hand as they passed his old bedroom. Sam was equally silent and she would have noticed nothing if she hadn’t been touching him. By the time they reached the kitchen, she was tucked into his waist, content to just be next to him as they sat down across from Dean.

“Where’s mom?” Sam asked.

“Beer run,” Dean said, taking a bite of burger. “You hungry, Eileen?”

She nodded eagerly. Besides her visits with Sam, Dean was a phenomenal cook and she always looked forward to his meals, even if they tended to be carnivore-heavy. The older man stood up and picked up a couple of plates with home-made burgers stuffed with cheese, tomatoes, pickles. Sam grinned; the whole nine yards. The only time he ever skipped his tightly-managed diet was for Dean’s food.

“Cas with mom?” he asked after a couple of savored bites. Dean shook his head.

“He’s out watching the bees,” he said. Neither Sam nor Dean missed the slight upturn of a gently amused smile.

“He never grew out of that?” Eileen asked, referring to the angel’s temporary stint of madness.

“He says they teach him things,” Dean shrugged. “And he wants to watch them for as long as they’re around.”

Eileen’s nose crinkled. “Leave it to an Angel of the Lord to point out that our planet is dying.”

Sam grinned around a bite of burger. “He’s nothing if not cynical. I don’t think he means to be, he just doesn’t have much of a mental filter.”

Dean let them finish their food before bringing out the bad news. “I think Sam mentioned that the Men of Letters are still around,” he said quietly, watching Sam stiffen.

“He did,” Eileen said with a frown. “At least in Great Britain. He said they were bad news.” Her frown deepened as a flash of anger passed through Dean’s face.

“They’re to be avoided at all costs,” he said in a dangerous voice. Though Eileen couldn’t hear the tone, she could read Dean’s body language like a children’s book; everything was always crystal clear.

“What happened?”

So they told her. Sam stayed silent, letting Eileen focus on reading Dean’s lips, only supplying a nod or shake of the head when she would turn to him for confirmation or denial before refocusing on what Dean was telling her. From Sam’s abduction and Cas’ banishment with his own Enochian sigils, torture to detailed knowledge of their lives, plans for America’s monster problems to the search for cooperative American hunters. Eileen hadn’t noticed until Dean sat back to take a swig of whiskey that her mouth was hanging open in disbelief. She’d have thought it a joke had both men’s jaws not been tightly set, anger and pain as clear as daylight in their expressive eyes. She became aware that both she and Sam were holding each other’s hands very tightly, nearly to the point of crushing. She gentled her hold on him and ran her eyes over his form critically, looking for any signs of harm.

“Cas,” Sam said simply, a faintly amused smile and Eileen’s obvious concern. “They hit us all pretty hard. They even have weapons engraved with Enochian sigils to get at angels, but he healed us all up fine.”

Eileen’s eyes widened, both in wonder and fear. “How would they even know that much? Angels didn’t show up back on earth until … what? Less than ten years ago, right?”

Dean nodded. “As far as we’re aware. At least in large quantities. We have no idea how they know so much. Not even Cas can begin to guess.”

“They were looking for the locations of other Men of Letters bunkers. Dean and I haven’t really had time to go sort through them, but … “

“I think it’s high time we start,” Dean finished firmly. “Especially if there’s so much lore and information that we don’t have that they do. They’re dangerous and we can’t afford to be dumb about it. We’ve got to fight fire with fire.”

Eileen whistled quietly. “I thought the storage of knowledge here was impressive.”

“So did we,” Sam said with a sheepish smile. “There’s so much here that we never imagined there might be more.”

“I guess we have a lot to do,” Eileen said simply.

Dean grinned. “I knew you’d be on board.” Eileen had a knack for research, much like Sam did.

“Well now that I’m up to speed on that, what about the Darkness? The sun?”

Sam let Dean explain this one as well, as there was so much information that he was missing. Dean had only explained what was necessary to combat his dissociation and his reactions were much the same, if a little muted, than Eileen’s.

“And she just … decided she didn’t want to kill him anymore?” he asked skeptically.

Dean’s eyes flicked up to Sam, sensing his mind struggling to accept this reality. “How many times have you and I been at each other’s throats, only to drown in a sudden realization that maybe it’s a good idea if we don’t kill each other?”

Sam shifted in embarrassment, remembering all the times they’d split up or thrown punches or nearly disowned the other, but he had to admit Dean had a point. If Chuck and Amara were all the deities had for family, maybe it was really possible. Particularly with Dean’s persuasive influence on Amara. “I suppose there’s enough juice in the Darkness to resurrect someone,” he muttered quietly.

“Chuck’s done it to all three of us,” Dean said pointedly, including Cas in the example. “And Amara was powerful enough that she basically killed Chuck. Getting mom back probably didn’t take anymore effort than blinking.”

Sam nodded slightly in acquiescence, mulling over the information that blessedly made sense. He dug his thumb covertly into his palm scar and relaxed some as the sensation further solidified the truth of his situation. The gesture was not lost on Dean, but the man offered no more than a quick glance in his direction, for which Sam was grateful. He was never keen to talk about these things in Eileen’s presence.

“You ok, Eileen?” Dean asked carefully, eyeing her. Sam turned to look at her.

She released her bottom lip from between her teeth, chocolate eyes alight with confusion and shame. “Yeah, it’s just … to think that my parents were part of such a corrupt organization, it’s - “

//You can’t think like that,// Sam signed hurriedly. Eileen turned her eyes up to his lips. “You’ve told me what they were like from their journals, from what they left behind. They sound like genuinely good people.”

Dean rapped the table in agreement. “It’s possible this corruption is new and, even if it’s not, I doubt they would have had the same sticks up their asses.” Eileen smiled slightly and he poured her another glass of whiskey. “They just wanted to help the world the only way they knew how, and they did good.”

“Thanks, Dean,” she said quietly, sipping on her drink. She noticed both men turn their heads out of the kitchen towards the entrance of the Bunker and figured one of the two missing Winchesters - or both - must have returned. They waited to greet whomever it was and Eileen smiled as she saw Cas. “How were the bees?” she asked with a small smile.

“Very forthcoming,” Cas replied, as succinct as ever. “Mary is back,” he continued. “I believe she has more whiskey”.

“Excellent!” Dean proclaimed. “The good stuff?”

“Dean, she just went to the cheap market,” Sam said with a roll of his eyes.

“I smelled more quality to what is in her car than what you typically keep in your liquor cupboard,” Cas clarified gravely.

Dean looked at Sam with triumph. “Cas: the ultimate quality detector.” Sam rolled his eyes again as the Bunker door clanged closed. “We’re in the kitchen!” Dean bellowed, making his brother wince and rub his ear. Dean just grinned and sent a cheeky wink his way.

“I got beer,” Mary said as she walked into the kitchen with her arms full of groceries.

“Cas said you got the good stuff,” Dean jumped in, standing with Sam to help her sort through and put everything away.

“Dean, not before dinner,” Mary retorted in her very best ‘mom voice’.

“I’m a grown man!” Dean protested. “I can have what I want!”

“And who’s money bought this food?”

“Whoever’s money you swindled at pool last night!”

“Oh please, Dean. At least it wasn’t a credit card scam,” Sam jumped in.

“Hey! Credit cards scams ain’t easy,” Dean snapped, finger pointed at his little brother.

“Easier than swindling pool, with the way you act,” Sam sniggered. “That’s why you’re always the sober one.”

Dean’s mouth dropped open to retort, but Mary shoved a cookie in his mouth before he could utter an outraged retort. His eyes closed in dramatic bliss. “Chocolate chip,” he moaned happily.

“Urgh, get a room,” Sam snipped.

“Alright, enough you two!” Mary said, rolling her eyes in exasperation.

“Made you a burger,” Dean mentioned, mouth full of cookie. “S’on the counter.” He swallowed the desert and kissed Mary’s cheek contritely before sitting back down. Mary grabbed the burger and sat next to him, across from Sam and Eileen.

“I’m Mary,” she smiled, reaching over to shake Eileen’s hand. Eileen smiled and offered her hand in return.

“Eileen,” she said. “Should I call you - ?”

“Mary’s fine,” the older woman said, green eyes sparkling in mirth. “Mrs. Winchester makes me sound old and it’s a mouthful.”

Eileen grinned. “Mary it is.”

Mary took a bite of burger, savoring it for a moment before resuming conversation. “Sam tells me you specialize in banshees?”

Eileen nodded, taking a sip of her drink. “They’re not very common here, but it’s what I do best.” She tapped an ear. “I can’t hear them, so they can’t hurt me. Makes it pretty easy.”

“Aren’t they native to Ireland?” Mary asked curiously. “I’ve never seen one.”

“They’re nasty sons of bitches,” Dean stated darkly, rubbing his ear. “That one was more than enough for my lifetime.”

“Which one?” Sam muttered. Dean shot him a dirty look.

“Ireland, Scotland, England,” Eileen stated. “Sometimes I travel over if there’s a really nasty one, but otherwise I’ve only death with five here in the States.”

The next several hours passed in amiable conversation in typical hunter fashion. Mary and Eileen questioned each other extensively about what they hunted, different techniques, their favorite tools. They grew on each other easily and the awkward tension of new meetings quickly abated. When Eileen began yawning frequently, Sam kissed the top of her head and excused them, walking back down the hallway towards his room. As they passed his old one, Sam faltered, pausing with a tight face.

Eileen tugged him away, recognizing the absence in Sam’s eyes that meant his mind was somewhere else. She guided him back into his new room and pulled him onto the bed with her. “There’s something you didn’t tell me,” she said quietly, laying her head on his chest. His breaths were even, carefully drawn and she couldn’t guess at the expression on his face.

//What do you mean?// Sam signed after a moment, hands speaking in front of her so she didn’t have to move to watch his lips.

“You know what I mean,” she stated carefully. She knew he did, and the silence that followed told her she was right. Dean had told her about Lucifer’s cooperation in defeating, or attempting to defeat, the Darkness. But Sam’s halting hands told a much more insidious story of housing the Devil under their very roof. Eileen matched her even breathing to Sam’s as she watched him recount the time of Lucifer’s stay. She could tell by some awkward pauses that he was leaving some details out, but she could take a reluctant guess at what those details were. She knew very little of Sam’s history with Lucifer, barring that Sam had spent an eternity in the Cage with him and that the Devil held a special, sadistic spot in his black heart for Sam Winchester.

Ignoring the flinches and tense muscles that came with his recount, Eileen stilled his shaking hands and brought them to her lips, kissing them gently for a few long minutes. “What do you need out of there?” she asked. “I’ll go get it for you.”

There was no reply for a long while besides the arms that wrapped tightly around her and the face pressed into her hair, wordless gratitude leaking from Sam’s skin. //Later,// he signed eventually. //Right now I just want to hold you.//

Eileen smiled into his chest and shifted closer against him, humming in quiet contentment. She felt several small kisses adorn the top of her head as she finally succumbed to sleep.

Chapter Text

Yes. Yes, yes, yes.

Yes.

It's a litany. He doesn't know how long he's been saying it, as fervent as a prayer, but once that singular, forbidden word rolls from his tongue, it just keeps coming. 

Thirty years. Hell had some kind of twisted internal clock. It was never exact, but you knew how long you'd been down here, more or less, in the cloying smoke and blood and screams and pain .

He can't take it anymore. He just can't, Alistair has finally done it. He can't pinpoint exactly what has broken him. Was it something the demon had said? Some particular nerve he'd bitten into? Some insecurity in Dean's soul, a Achilles-style chink in his armour? He can't tell or, perhaps, he just doesn't want to know. All he knows is that these long thirty years he's been lying to himself, even if he hasn't known it. 

He was always going to say yes.

Alistair unbuckles each leather strap and Dean collapses off the rack in a mess of tears and blood and broken bone. His body cracks and mends in a flash and he's standing, hunching into himself with wary eyes darting around his smokey, lightning-riddled surroundings.

"So you finally said it. I was wondering how much longer it would take." 

Dean flinches at the drawled words, white eyes like a sickly void in Alistair's hazy face. 

"But how sincere are you, really?" The demon's a smoky apparition of his true form, at once insubstantial and concrete. Dean shudders at his proximity, turning skittishly to keep him in his sights. "You sure you don't want back up, Deano? Need a little more time to ... mull things over?" 

"No!" Dean's voice is hoarse in terror. "I can't ... not again. Not anymore, please! I'll do it! I'll do anything you fuckin' want!" 

A triumphant laugh, low and nasty echoes around him and Dean's eyes screw shut. He hates himself. He thought he'd known what that felt like topside, but with a single word, he's learned what it feels like to truly loathe everything he’s made of. It's the first step to becoming something he's hunted all his life. This is how it starts.

Something cold is in his right hand and he looks down to see a blade. With a horrified shout, he drops it, the razor clattering to the floor. The  razor. Alistair's. The demon clicks his tongue in disapproval as Dean regards it in wide silence. "Come now, Dean. This is a weak start. If you're still debating, the rack will always welcome you back into its embrace." He gestures to the mess of steel, chains and leather behind Dean and he lets out a whimper of fear, leaping upon the razor like a starving man with his first loaf of bread. Alistair's smirk is not lost on him.

He flows around Dean, the cloying smell of smoke and sulphur filling the man's twisted, broken soul. "No more pain," he murmurs in the man's ear. "No more torture. You never have to get back on the rack. You've earned this, Dean. You were never meant to be here. It's time to make someone else suffer."

Dean half-believes it. He never should have been here. He had never deserved to go to Hell. But these souls probably did, right? Most people earned their place in Hell, whether out of stupidity or because they were just bad people. He could live with that, surely. He was just doling out karma.

"Precisely," Alistair cooed, as though he could read Dean's mind. Which, of course, he could. "These souls deserve what you can give to them. They've built up a history of sin and monstrosities topside with a life they never deserved." 

Dean's eyes are half-lidded, drinking in Alistair's words to make this inevitability easier. He would do this. He had to.

He just couldn't get back on that rack.

The smoke parts in front of him and, despite his gaze focused on the razor in his hand, he sees a soul strapped to a similar rack in his peripheral. He flinches, but his fist tightens around the gleaming blade and he looks sideways at Alistair. The demon's arms are folded, watching to see what he'll do. 

"She's all yours," he drawls. "Do as you will." 

Dean looks up slowly and balks.

It's his mom.

Or, at least, he thinks it is. It's so difficult to remember what anyone looked like topside, but he thinks  it's her. Blonde hair. Piercing eyes. Soft, pale skin with a quivering, full mouth. 

Dean drops the blade again and steps back in horror. A tear streams down his cheek and he backs up, shaking his head furiously. No. No fucking way, he didn't sign up for this! His back hits the all-familiar rack behind him and he shouts, jumping away like he's been scorched. 

"And here we see your only two options laid out in stark symbolism," Alistair calls. "This is it, Dean; your moment of truth. You either pick up that razor and plunge it into her soul or you get back on the rack. The choice is yours.”

If Dean had a body, his heart would have dropped into his stomach. There isn’t a choice, not really. Not after thirty years. Tears stream down his face now and he’s fighting the urge to bolt, an option he’s tried in the past, in the early days when he first got to Hell. An option that always got him back on the rack. “Why her?” he gasps.

“You don’t get to pick the souls,” Alistair answers idly. “You merely get who you get. When you advance to the big leagues, you can have options but you’re far from those future days. For now I choose and you learn. Now make your choice, Dean. I’m losing my patience. Three … two … “

The razor sinks messily into her chest and Dean’s sobbing through her screams. “I’m sorry,” he begs uselessly. “I’m so sorry, mom. I just can’t. I can’t do it anymore.”

 

________________________________________________

 

“Sam, wake up! I need your help.” Eileen was blinking blearily at the angel’s unusual presence shaking Sam’s sleeping body with insistence. Annoyance crossed Cas’ face before he sent a pulse of wakefulness, sighing in relief when the man’s eyes fluttered open.

“Cas,” he murmured drowsily, frowning. “What’s wrong?”

“It’s Dean. He’s having a nightmare, but when I tried to wake him I somehow made it worse.”

Sam groaned, shoving himself quickly out of bed. “He’s back in Hell,” he muttered. Cas nodded emphatically. Sam squeezed Eileen’s hand and hurried out of the room, running a hand through his hair. “It’s been awhile,” he said absently. “Can you see?”

Cas shook his head. He’d attempted to look into Dean’s mind to better understand how to wake him, but Dean had unusually strong mental shields. If he wanted something hidden, not even Cas could get in to find it.

Sam burst through the door to find his older brother writhing, tears running down his tortured face. It was rare that Dean dreamt of his own tour in Hell or, if he did, his nightmares were usually silent and he never talked about them. The sight of his brother in such obvious and naked torment twisted his heart painfully and he blew out a long stream of tense breath, running through his options. “Cas, do me a favour and hold him down so he doesn’t hit me.”

The seraph frowned, but complied. Sitting down on the bed, he cradled Dean’s body against his chest, catching the taut arms and holding them as gently as he could without endangering Sam’s well-being. The other man bit his cheek a moment before raking his knuckles hard against Dean’s sternum.

As expected, Dean came awake violently. The pain made him wild and Sam jumped back instinctually, despite Cas’ angelic strength successfully restraining the older man. Dean’s voice was hoarse, shouting roughly through residual sobs.

“Dean!” Sam crouched next to the bed, snapping in front of his face. “C’mon Dean, you’re fine. Focus, dude!” He watched his brother with a frown, ignoring the moans that accompanied each deep, shuddering breath. He hadn’t seen Dean this worked up about a nightmare in years. Voice low, he murmured softly, eyes locked intently to Dean’s face as he talked him back to reality.

“Sammy?” Dean winced at the scratching hoarseness. His dream state was receding and he became more aware of the cold sweat soaking his clothes, the deep shuddering of his body, the raggedness of his breathing.

“Hey, Dean,” came the quiet response, cutting through the memory that plagued his dreams. “You’re good. It was just a nightmare. Been awhile, huh?”

Dean tried to shift position but found himself restrained and the panic rekindled, fighting against whatever pinned him down.

“Dean, stop.” Cas’ voice made him startle, heart hammering in his chest. The angel’s hand over his old shoulder scar bringing back more Hell memories and Cas eased his hold slightly, trying to calm the man. “Dean, stop,” he repeated. “You’re safe. You’re in the Bunker, it was just a bad dream.” He exuded calm, attempting to ease the man’s terror and, as the minutes passed, Dean ceased his struggling and leaned back against Cas, shoulders wracked in silent tears.

Sam and Cas exchanged an alarmed look. This wasn’t the turn they had been expecting at all. Dean, typically shut tightly in with his emotions, was an open book of shame and agony. It reminded Sam uncomfortably of the first time Dean had opened up about his time in Hell almost a decade ago, admitting to the souls he’d tortured to keep himself off the rack. Sam squeezed Dean’s arm with a murmured promise to return and walked out the door, leaving Cas to hold Dean close as he cried.

“Why didn’t you leave me there to rot?” came the gasping demand.

Cas frowned, an arm tightening protectively around his charge. “Because you did not belong there,” he responded firmly.

“Bullshit.”

“A deal to save your brother hardly warrants of an eternity of agony.”

“It’s not about what I did topside,” Dean insisted hoarsely. “What I did … the things I did - “

“Were born of necessity,” Cas interrupted firmly. “Dean, we’ve been over this. You can hardly be blamed for what you were carved into while in Hell. It wasn’t your fault.” He caught a flash of memory, so coloured by guilt and confusion that it could hardly be called such. The features of the first soul Dean had ever ripped into were so convoluted and muddled that there were truly no discernible features outside of the details Dean’s mind had filled in. He wrapped Dean further in his arms, deep breath ruffling his hair. “It wasn’t her,” he said softly. “You know that.”

“Don’t know who it was,” came the reply, weighed down in self-flagellation. “That doesn’t matter.”

“Mary’s soul was in Heaven. She was never touched by Hell’s taint.”

“Doesn’t matter,” Dean gasped. “Wouldn’t have mattered. It looked like her. Sometimes it looked like Sam. I was in so much pain, I was so torn apart that I thought it was them and it didn’t fucking matter, Cas! Don’t you get it?” His voice was getting louder and he started struggling again, wrenching out of the angel’s embrace and backing up against the wall. “It could have been them. I thought it was them and it didn’t matter. I ripped and carved and tore them apart.”

Dean fell to his knees and Cas crouched beside him, wrapping him back up in his arms as Dean sobbed. “Dean, we’ve been through this before,” he said gently. “We went through this with Sam all those years ago.”

“I didn’t have to look at her, though,” Dean whispered. “I didn’t have to look into her eyes and know that … that I, what I did to her … “

“That you did nothing,” Cas said firmly. “You never harmed her soul.”

Dean shook his head to protest, but he felt a glass being pressed into his hand and jumped before realizing it was just whiskey Sam had brought back. The younger man slid down to sit next to them silently, waiting for his brother to down the alcohol before pouring more into the shaking glass.

“Cas is right,” he said softly. “Alistair fucked you up. You think getting off the rack meant you were getting off completely? He screwed with your head, man. Even after you agreed.” Sam felt a nasty pulse of rage and pleasure at the memory of how easy it had been to burn Alistair’s soul out of existence. He didn’t miss those days, but Alistair’s death at his hands would always be something he held in a particular pride and nights like these, though few and far between, always brought Sam’ darker traits to the forefront of his mind.

Dean finished off his second glass and Sam poured him another. “How am I supposed to look her in the eye?” he asked hoarsely. “How am I supposed to even stand in the same room as her?”

Sam shifted uncomfortably; he didn’t have a good answer. After all of his own shortcomings and mistakes, more monumental than most, this was an issue he was also struggling with. “I don’t know, Dean,” he admitted. “We’ve both screwed up. We’ve both made mistakes and it was easier without her around because we didn’t have to own up to her. We missed her and we ached for her, but … she was never there to … “ He rubbed his eyes tiredly, trying to find the words to express his thoughts. “Maybe things would have turned out differently,” he said eventually. “Maybe we would have made different choices, considered our actions more carefully.”

“It doesn’t do to think of such things,” Cas rebuked them both. “No one can see how things may have been. They merely are, and for the better I would think.” Both men threw him a skeptical look and Cas rolled his eyes in a rare show of very human exasperation. “Humanity was never made to be perfect. This is a reason some angels hold you in disdain. You have the ability to choose, the gift of free will. Therefore you err. Even the most accomplished of humanity have their dark sides, their vices and shortcomings. You two are no exception. You have saved humanity from extinction several times over.”

“Just fixing up the messes we’d already made,” Dean said, tone surly.

“Not all of them,” Cas pointed out. “Some were thrust upon you and you were good enough men to save everyone else at the cost of your own lives when you didn’t have to pick up such heavy responsibility.”

Sam took a swig of whiskey straight from the bottle and rubbed a tired hand over his eyes. “Dean, taking me out of the picture for a minute, Cas is right. We went over this, mom’s appearance doesn’t make a difference.” Dean tried to protest but Sam cut it off. “No, listen, it doesn’t. Those things we did, they’re already done. The consequences have come and gone. We each had people to fess up to. Each other. Cas. Bobby. Even if mom somehow finds out all the nasty details … “ He shuddered at the thought before continuing. “Even if she does, we can’t change the past. What’s done is already set in stone and she’ll either understand why we did what we did or she won’t.”

“How can you be so nonchalant about this?” Dean demanded.

“I’m not,” Sam replied simply. “I never got to know mom before she died. It’s something that always left a hole inside, you know? I always wondered if she’d be proud of the things I did and, honestly, I decided probably not. It was easier knowing she’d never see what I became at different points in my life and now I have to deal with the fact that it might happen anyways. And after putting a lot of it behind me, it’s like it’s all surging back again and I’m terrified of what she’d think. Whether I’ve inadvertently destroyed something I never thought I’d have the chance to earn.”

Dean swallowed hard. “I’m scared, Sammy,” he admitted quietly.

“I am too, Dean,” Sam replied.

“I don’t think you’re giving Mary enough credit,” Cas stated. “She is your mother. While she did not have the opportunity to see you grow up into the men you have become, I have it on good authority that you have developed into phenomenal men.”

The two brothers exchanged small, amused smiles. “And whose authority would that be, Cas?” Dean asked teasingly.

“Mine,” the angel replied, the proclamation devoid of pride or ego. “As one who has watched over your family for centuries, I have had the unbridled privelege of watching you grow into who you have become.”

The teasing sparks in their eyes shifted to expressions of embarrassment. “C’mon Cas, don’t get all sappy,” Dean muttered. Sam laughed quietly, an equal amount of awkwardness in the way he shifted position.

They spent the night passing around the whiskey bottle until the two men passed out to the blackness of alcohol. Cas gently deposited them both into Dean’s bed, an odd but comforting parody of putting children to sleep, and pulled out the chair from Dean’s desk to sit at their bedside. “Hello, Mary,” he called.

The woman eased into the doorframe slowly, movements weighed with guilt. Her eyes were red-rimmed and tear-stains marred her pale cheeks as she gazed at her unconscious sons, arms wrapped tightly around her torso. “How did you know I was here?” she asked.

“I’m an angel,” Cas supplied, as though that answered her question. Mary frowned, but didn’t push for clarification.

“I didn’t mean to eavesdrop,” she said. “I heard something so I came to make sure everyone was ok, and then I just couldn’t stop myself,”

“I am not in the habit of spilling secrets,” Cas reassured gently. “It’s not my place to tell them. You know so little of your sons, I cannot fault your curiosity.”

“They think I’ll hate them,” she said miserably. “How could they think that?”

“They are as nervous and painfully eager for you to accept them as you are in their place,” Cas said quietly. “Their lives have not been easy. You know a little of that already. They have not always made the correct decisions and they have done their fair share of damage in this world. There is a very real fear that you will judge them harshly for their shortcomings.”

“How could they think that?” Mary demanded.

Cas looked at her strangely and she found something in his bright blue eyes made her quail with uncertainty. He said nothing for a long time, weighing his words carefully before he spoke. “I am not in the habit of spilling secrets,” he finally repeated. “But you will understand their turmoil with time, I think. You are a good woman, Mary. They carry a lot of your virtue within them. They are very like you, much more than any of you realize. But not everything they have done in their lives has been on the side of righteousness. They have made grave mistakes. Costly mistakes. These revelations will be as much a trial to you as it will be to them, but I beg you to remember that these situations were done with the best of intentions and that, as a whole, your sons are remarkable men.”

This didn’t leave Mary feeling any better, but she figured it was best not to mull over his words too closely at the moment. “I used to tell Dean that angels were watching over him,” she said after a moment.

Cas lips quirked slightly in amusement. “I was,” he said. “Their whole lives and many generations past.”

“Thank you.” She looked at him fervently. “Thank you for watching over them when I couldn’t.”

Cas stood and walked over to the hurting woman, pressing a gentle kiss on her forehead, a tender motion he’d learned from Dean in his rare shows of open love. “It has been an honor, Mary.” He looked over at the two men. “Their fears are very much misguided,” he stated plainly. “I don’t think they have to worry about your acceptance as much as they fear they do.”

“They don’t,” Mary said firmly. “It’s only been a few days, but … I can see so much of their father in them. I hate the way they grew up. I hate it. But the men they’ve become … I’m so proud of them.”

Cas smiled and returned to his post next to the Winchester’s bedside as Mary walked back to her room, holding the vigilant watch he had kept for decades until they began to stir awake.

Chapter Text

Dean had never been a morning person, but the images replaying through his mind got him up at an exceptionally early hour and kept him from returning to bed. "Nine is early," he muttered to himself, knowing that Sam had likely been up for at least three hours. He vaguely remembered them sharing the bed in their drunken state, but his little brother had been long gone by the time Dean forced himself awake. He groaned, running a hand over his face and burying himself further into his "dead guy" robe. Coffee. He needed coffee.

He stumbled into the kitchen and froze. Sam was sitting at the table next to Eileen, Mary across from them as they conversed over steaming mugs of coffee. Mary turned to look at him, blue eyes piercing Dean to his guilt-ridden soul. "Hey mom," he muttered hoarsely, a shudder running down his back. He quickly poured himself a cup of coffee and rushed out the kitchen, unable to look at her with his Hell memories so fresh in his mind.

Mary's face fell as she turned back around and Sam rushed to reassure her. "It's not you," he said. His voice was fervent, reminding her of Dean when he was young. "He just had a nightmare, that's all. Bad memories."

"Was it about ... Hell?" Mary stumbled over the word and Sam raised an eyebrow at her.

"So he told you about that, huh?" he asked in surprise.

Mary nodded, eyes on the coffee cup she held tightly in her hands. "Not much, just that he was there. He didn't even tell me how or why." 

Sam shifted, old anger and pain flitting across his face. "He made a demon deal," he muttered.

"He what!" Mary gasped in astonishment. "Didn't your father ever teach you better?" 

"Of course he did," Sam snorted. "Stupid son of a bitch did it anyways." 

"But why? What is so important he sold his soul for it?" she demanded hotly.

Sam was quiet for awhile. "Me," he said finally. "He did it to save me." Mary looked at him, eyes wide. Sam sent her a crooked smile. "First time I'd died," he joked. "Dean didn't have a smarter option." 

"How many times have you died?" Mary asked in disbelief.

"I try not to ask that question," Eileen mentioned with a pointed look. "It'll do your head in." 

Sam looked embarrassed. "We kind of lost count," he mumbled, taking a long drink of coffee. “Pretty sure Dean’s got me beat, though. We got caught by a trickster once that actually turned out to be the archangel Gabriel. Anyways, I got stuck in a time loop where it was always Tuesday. Dean would die, I’d wake up. Tuesday again. That happened over a hundred times.” He shot an apologetic look at Mary, whose mouth had dropped open. Eileen just shook her head.

“I told you,” she said. Sam yelped as she shoved her elbow into his ribs. “Stop scaring your mother,” she rebuked him. He threw his hands in the air and sidled out of his chair. 

“I’m going to go find Dean,” he said. He kissed the top of Mary’s hair shyly, missing the way her eyes closed, drinking in the gentle intimacy. Eileen smiled gently into her coffee and waved Sam away.

As expected, Sam found Dean in the shooting range, attention locked fiercely into the target he'd fired round after round into. It didn't look like the man had bothered to change the target paper; evidence of buck shots, rapid rounds and singles alike showed in the tattered paper held up only by a few threads.

"I think you got him," Sam remarked casually. Dean threw him a look. "It's probably easier to tell if you've improved your aim if you, you know, can see where you shot him." 

"I don't need to improve my aim," Dean snapped, offense written in his features. "My aim's perfect!" 

"If that's what gets you to sleep at night," Sam said offhandedly.

"Alright, smart-ass," Dean said, lips pressed into an annoyed line. "Let's see you do any better." 

Sam's lips twitched as he fought to keep the smile off of his face. "Dean, anything would look better than the paper-shredding tactic you're using. You can't even tell if you grouped your shots!" 

He had a good point and Dean knew it. Instead of admitting it, however, he just swung loosely at Sam, hand whirling through empty air as his younger brother leaped backwards, laughter finally escaping his self control. He held his stomach as he bent over, whole body shaking in barely controlled mirth. Dean stalked over, ready to throw an actual punch, but Sam jumped out of the way and danced out of the door. "Get back here so I can beat you to death!" Dean hollered down the hall. 

"Come and catch me then!" came the shouted dare. Dean mutinously kept the smile off of his face, but he heard Sam retreating towards the sparring room and he was excited, despite his irritation. They hadn't sparred in a long time, perhaps years. He couldn't remember the last time he'd fought someone for the sheer physicality of it and not because it was for his life or because the victim deserved it. But Sam was being a bitch and he'd be damned if he showed anything other than righteous indignation when he caught up with his little brother. 

He stormed into the room and dodged a kick that Sam threw at him, returning with a punch towards his abdomen, which his brother avoided with ease. They may not have sparred in ages, but they knew each other's fighting styles to a tee. It was easier for them to admit they were wrong than to land a solid hit on each other. Dean had abandoned his resolute bad mood, eyes sparkling in anticipation. He realized that this had probably been Sam's idea all along, considering how bad he'd spooked in the kitchen, but he couldn't bring himself to actually be irritated right now. Both men's bodies relaxed and their movements lengthened, gaining a dangerous grace.

"You really want to do this, Sammy?" Dean asked with a smirk. "You know I always kick your ass." 

"Used to," Sam clarified. "Used to always kick my ass." He threw a quick punch, but Dean deflected, getting in a glancing hit to Sam's ribs with his knee.

"You sure you want to put that in past terms so soon?" Dean quipped. 

Sam barely flinched at the hit. He whirled around and kicked out at the inside of Dean's legs, bringing Dean to the ground. Before he could pin his older brother, however, Dean rolled to the side and was back up on his feet, aiming for Sam, who jumped back swiftly. He declined to answer, too intent on looking for Dean's tells to come up with a snarky comment. The banter itself was commonplace for these situations, but it was also typically a downfall for Sam, who ended up laughing too much to dodge away fast enough, allowing Dean to pin him until he gave up. 

"So it's the silent treatment, huh?" Dean teased, feinting to the left to throw a punch to the right. Sam took the hit, allowing him to whirl around and throw a tempered elbow into Dean's diaphragm. Dean gasped, falling to his knees as he choked in a breath, throwing a glare at his little brother. Sam grinned, rubbing his ribs and allowing his brother a few seconds to recover. It had been a dirty hit, but foul play was also common in their spars, so the elder man didn't bother to complain. Instead he threw himself at Sam, who yelped and fell backwards, arms pinned to the floor before he fully recovered. He tried to buck Dean off his chest, but Dean just smirked, mockingly slapping his little brother's face.

Sam huffed and tried to dislodge his brother once, twice more before giving up, refusing to look Dean in the eye. "Fine. Fine!"

"Uh-uh," Dean grinned. "Say it."

"Oh, screw you." 

"Say it or stay where you are, little brother." 

"Oh my god, Dean. Fine! You got me, I give! Now get the hell off me!" 

Dean snickered and stood up, reaching down to offer a hand to Sam, who glared, but took it and hauled himself up before twisting the arm he held and bending Dean in half. Dean yelped, adjusting position to keep away the danger of a dislocated shoulder. "For someone who feels guilty killing things," Dean gritted out. "You picked up a lot more of dad's dirty tricks than I ever did." 

"Oh, because you're such a saint," Sam laughed. "Keep in mind I never start those prank wars, dude. That's all you." 

"Yeah? And who ends those, Sam? Huh?"

"No one, Dean! That's the whole point! We escalate and escalate until we're both flying the white flag!" 

Dean could feel the laughter in Sam's body through the hands that kept him pinned in half. He wasn't wrong, of course. Dean ground his teeth for a long moment before giving in. "Fine, you win this round." He felt Sam release him and glared at his little brother, rubbing his shoulder. "Bitch," he snapped. "Jerk," came the typical reply and Dean couldn't help a similar grin. He saw Eileen propped up in the doorway and waved. "Come to watch your boyfriend lose?" 

"Looks like he had you solidly pinned," Eileen replied with amusement. 

"Couldn't you have walked in when I had him pinned to the floor?" Dean grumbled.

"Did that happen?" the woman asked.

"Of course not," Sam said, voice deceptively mild.

Dean's mouth dropped open in outrage. "What the hell, Sam?"

Eileen giggled while Sam fought off a smile and Dean launched himself back at him, causing Sam to laugh as he tried to fight his brother off. They ended up on the ground in a tangle of fighting limbs, losing all grace they'd previously acquired to a typical wrestling match between ornery brothers. They heard laughter and looked up from the ground, seeing Mary laughing next to Eileen. Both men startled, shooting to their feet in embarrassment. 

"Uh, sorry mom," Dean said, too mortified to meet his mother's eyes. 

“I heard Dean call for a beating so I came to watch. Who started this blood feud?” she asked, amused.

"Dean."

"Sam."

The two men shot glares at each other as they blamed the other at the exact same time. "How long have you been watching?" Sam asked awkwardly, a blush on his sharp cheekbones. 

"I walked in with Eileen," she answered. "Didn't you see me? I was standing right here." Her tone was playful, but her words surprised Sam. He shot a look at Dean, who nodded in confirmation before frowning slightly. He hadn't see anyone else with Eileen. 

He blinked and jumped, stiffening, as he saw Lucifer, elbow leaning casually on Mary's shoulder. Sam relaxed, recognizing the hallucination, but his frown deepened in chagrin. He pushed into his palm-scar, uncertainty crossing his features when Lucifer only cracked a grin and wagged a finger at him. 

"Naughty, naughty," the Devil said. "Now why would you want to get rid of little old me?" 

Sam's jaw twitched and he pressed harder. Lucifer stayed in sight for another second, as if to remind Sam that he was in charge, before flickering out with a burst of red eyes.

"Sam!" 

The man jumped as Dean called to him, a frown of his own as he watched his little brother. Sam cleared his throat in embarrassment, running a hand through his hair. "Yeah, I'm good. Just spaced out for a minute, sorry."  

"All good, Sammy." Dean's voice was slow and careful. "I've been trying to get your attention for a few minutes, now."

Sam's eyes snapped to his brother, frown deepening. "What? It was just a few seconds." 

But Dean was shaking his head. "About three minutes, Sammy." 

Sam's gaze flicked towards Mary, just long enough to ensure that Lucifer was still gone before looking around the room and trying to find something to say. The distant clang of the door saved him from the lengthening seconds of silence and he forced a smile onto his face. "Cas must be back from his beer run," he said before walking swiftly through the hallway, leaving three worried looks to follow him. 

“Need some help with that?” he called, watching Cas carry the armloads of grocery-laden plastic bags.

“They are quite cumbersome to carry,” Cas admitted, shifting a few bags into Sam’s arms. “There is beer, pie for Dean, a new bottle of … “

Cas’ voice trailed from Sam’s attention as his mind wandered to less pragmatic places. He couldn’t remember losing time like this, not to a hallucination. These things always seemed to follow the linear topside path, moving through the seconds as they typically would in real time. He’d only seen Lucifer for thirty seconds, a minute tops. A few minutes wasn’t a big deal; not that much time in the scheme of things, but the fact that what he’d seen didn’t follow everyone else’s timeline made him uneasy. He shifted the bags anxiously, a slight frown on his face as he followed Cas automatically towards the kitchen.

He stopped abruptly, nearly running into Cas, whom he hadn’t seen stop. A frown settled onto Cas’ features as he regarded Sam for a moment. “Sam, are you alright?” he asked.

Sam shifted uncomfortably under the seraph’s piercing gaze. “Yeah,” he attempted to play off the obvious concern in Cas’ voice. “Yeah, I’m fine.”

“You are usually more aware than this,” Cas pointed out. “You do not typically run into people for no reason.”

Sam snorted at the way the angel described him clumsiness. “I’m fine, Cas. I’m just a little tired from last night, is all.”

“You were up abnormally early for the chaos last night brought,” Cas sympathized. “I don’t understand why you don’t sleep later in the day, considering the active lifestyle you and Dean lead.”

“If I slept all day, we’d never get anything done,” Sam snorted. Cas merely nodded sagely as they began putting everything away. A few seconds later, the Bunker’s other residents trickled in, helping with the ritual of a day’s shopping.

“Sam, c’mere, I need your help with something.”

Sam sighed, hand paused at putting a bottle of whiskey in the cupboard, and followed Dean out into the hallway. He slouched moodily against the wall, pointedly keeping his eyes away from Dean, who was quiet for a few seconds before responding.

“You good, man?”

“Yeah, Dean. I’m fine.” Sam winced as the words came out more impatient than he intended. Dean didn’t retort, merely looked at him for another few uncomfortable seconds before Sam finally deflated slightly, acquiescing. “It didn’t feel like minutes,” he tried explaining awkwardly. “It only felt like … maybe thirty seconds.” Dean kept watching him, gently prying out the details with his hooded eyes. “It’s never skipped time like that before,” Sam said, rubbing his eyes tiredly. “It’s probably nothing. I’m probably just exhausted, it was just unnerving. I’m fine.”

“It’s been a hell of a week,” Dean admitted. Sam huffed quietly in mirthless agreement.

“No kidding,” he said, irritation and discomfort colouring his tone. “You died.”

“Except I didn’t,” Dean pointed out. “I just … mediated. With God. And His sister.”

“And then mom got resurrected.”

“You got a good bout of torture.”

“From an organization we thought was extinct.”

The two brothers gave a low whistle. “We’ve got a new problem on our hands,” Dean grumbled.

“When do we not?” Sam asked pointedly.

“Just make sure you’re good,” Dean said, returning to the point. “We’re gonna need you, Sammy.”

Sam nodded. “I’ll be fine.” He turned and walked into the kitchen, ignoring the visage of the Devil smirking at him from behind.