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And Hell Followed With Him

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And I looked, and beholden a pale horse: and his name that sat on him was Death, and hell followed with him.

—Revelations 6:8

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The candles were sending a sporadic, flickering light across the walls. Gold that splayed faded flower wallpaper and children's drawings held by tape. There were dirty pans in the sink, a slew of crayons spread around the dining table. Castiel held his gun, the one he had just learned how to use, in front of him. Flicked the safety off with a measured breath and held his finger just curled around the trigger. He could hear voices coming from the other room, a slew of Latin he used to know but had quickly faded away from his human mind.

He was alone, in this house. Utterly, truly alone. When he rounded the corner, he was faced with the very depths of human depravity.

And she was wearing a dress.

It was a faded yellow that so perfectly matched her red hair. Red hair with butterfly clips scattered across it. Beautiful green eyes that were bloated and wide in fear. It was obvious the noose-like rope around her neck was nothing more than a way to hang her up, like how garlic is often strung from ceilings. An afterthought that was killing her. To them, she was simply an object, used for her blood. Bright, red, and virgin, collected in jars open on the ground under her.

He could still hear the faint whisperings of the witches. The ones that should have been in this room, with their satanic materials across the walls and tables. But there was only her, coated in blood, staring at him like he failed her. And he did, he had. Not long ago, he would have been able to heal her with a touch. He could only watch now, as her struggles slowed and she became disfigured in death. As her head turned, and he watched blue lips form consonants and vowels that he couldn't understand, why couldn't he understand? He needed to understand, to listen. Final words and prayers before death and the reaper takes her and

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There was something tied around him, twisted so he couldn't get out. He struggled against it, trying to gulp down air that got caught in his lungs like thorny briars. There was warm wet on his hands, and he could imagine the garish red that stained everything without opening his eyes. He could smell the iron. He was suffocating, drowning, he needed air needed air needed-

The covers were ripped off him, and he rolled off the bed onto his feet. Only, his knees collapsed and he was on the ground, pushing back until he was flush with the wall. The girl was still staring at him, burst capillaries nearly obscuring jade irises. She needed his help, she had needed him and he had been useless. Completely useless.

A hand was grabbing at his shoulder, restraining him. But he needed to help her, save her, why was he being stopped? No, he needed to help her!

"Let me go, I need to get to her!" He fought mindlessly, not thinking or caring beyond that little girl who had been there, again, within his reach. He felt his hands hit fabric and flesh, nails digging. "I need to save her!"

"Cas, Cas, fuck, stop!" He almost struck out blindly at the voice, before he realized. It wasn't one of the witches in the other room. It wasn't the gasps and weak cries of the girl slowly suffocating. No, it was only-

"Dean?" It was like a haze lifted, and he could only look into the hunter's eyes. A brighter, lighter green than the girl's. One that held sunlight and forests and the smell of rain. A color that was safe.

"It was just a nightmare, angel. That's it." The grip on his shoulder loosened, the hand lingering uncertainly. "I promise you, it wasn’t real."

It was real though, it had been. The girl was the same one that, a day ago, he’d found in a house full of witches. Everything, down to those clips in her hair, was exactly how it had been.

He tried to answer Dean, but he got lost in the smell of blood and red, too much red. Like he was drowning in an ocean of it and ants were under his skin. Like he was in a box, a coffin, far under the sea, pressing in on every side with no way out, no way out. "I can't breathe, Dean I can't... can’t breathe!"

"Shit, I need you to look at me Cas, look at me!" He flicked his gaze over to his friend's. The man he'd saved from Hell, sheltered his soul deep inside his grace. The one who knew him most intimately. "Match my breathing, okay? Focus on me, not anything else."

“I... I can’t,” The air was too thin, and he was gasping much too fast trying to get enough oxygen.

A warm hand, callous covered, laid onto his cheek. Like an anchor, he focused on it. The feeling of life and happiness and safety that came form the gesture. Dean Winchester was not one to take physical affection lightly, but here he was, kneeling on the floor close enough their knees were touching.

“You can, angel. In and out, just like always.” The hunter’s other hand rested on his shuddering chest. Right above his fluttering heart. “Move my hand, come on. Breathe.”

He closed his eyes, ignoring the blood and green and yellow. Forced himself to take deep measured breaths that so went against the adrenaline rushing through him. He could do this, this one thing. Breathe.

Slowly his gasps became more metered, finally moving into a somewhat normal rhythm. He became aware, actually aware, of what was around him. What had happened. The slight pink that foretold bruises across Dean’s face.

“I hurt you.”

The words were whispered, trembling almost as much as he was as they left his lips.

“It’s nothing, Cas. Don’t worry about it.”

He forced himself to pull away from Dean’s careful hands, internally groaning at the lost. Now human, he had this constant need for physical contact; a want to be touched, held. Loved. And Dean had given him that, when he needed it. He loathed to send it away so quickly.

“I am so sorry I woke you, I don’t know what...” His voice almost cracked. “I can book another room or sleep in the Impala if you-“

“Baby, you want to sleep in Baby?! Don’t give me that crap, Cas. Don’t tell me you’re sorry. You did nothing wrong, y’hear me? Nothing.” A careful hand gently wiped tears from his cheeks that Cas didn’t even know were there. “Was that your first nightmare, since...?”

Since he became human.

“Yes.” Red hair, butterfly clips. Dean, Dean, breathe. “I had some dreams but never anything like.... I didn’t think they’d be so... real.” He leaned into the touch, barely recognizing what he was doing. “I saw her, that little girl. I should’ve been able to save her, do something. Dean, I... I failed her.” I failed you.

“What could you have done? Even if you cut her down, she lost too much blood. All of it going down in a hospital wouldn’t have been enough to save her.”

“My grace would have.”

It hung in the air. Made it tense enough that the only sound was his still-stuttering breaths. It was true, and they both knew it. That girl wouldn’t have died if he had been an angel.

Angels didn’t have emotions, but he did. And now that were wrapping around him, tighter than the tightest bounds. He felt a sound low in his throat, keening, another tear drip along the already moist trail.

“Everyone wants to have powers, Cas. Everyone wants to save the unsaveable. That’s only human.”

“But I’m not human, Dean.” Not an angel either. Just an abomination.

But Dean laughed, a sound more joyful than one Cas had heard from him in a long time. Actual happiness, comedy, mirth, not whatever twisted thing the hunter normally felt. “Humans are evil and twisted, like those goddamn witches that killed that girl. We all have that inside us. But we are good too. Like you. You are good. Flawed, but good. That makes you human.”

It was hesitant, but hands wrapped around him, pulling him close to Dean’s chest. It was a tight embrace, one of comfort and solidarity and friendship. One of love. He let himself sink into it, accept it.

“This job... shit, half the time I don’t know how we don’t all off ourselves. The stuff I’ve seen, it’s the worst of the worst. But we also get to save people. There are little children out there that are alive because we saved them. Mothers, fathers. I’d take that and some nightmares over the alternative any day.”