Work Header

That Which Is Evil

Chapter Text





19 MARCH 1999

“So, SSA Henriksen, are you going on record today that you are unable to solve the case to which you’ve been assigned and believe it should be declared inactive?”


“Just to be completely clear, in the year since your case first began, you have been unable to apprehend the Saints of South Boston, or ascertain the identity of these quote unquote ‘Saints’?”






19 MARCH 1999

“Agent Mills, you are noted here several months ago as saying you are unaware of the identities of the vigilante killers who call themselves the Saints of South Boston. Do you wish to amend that statement?”

“Only to say the media named them that, I don’t think it’s what they call themselves. Otherwise, I stand by the contents of my report.”

“Your report is slim on the details, Agent Mills.”

“Yeah, I know. That’s the point. We don’t know who those men are, we don’t even have a name, and those sketches look like every white guy in his twenties that I’ve ever met.”





19 MARCH 1999

“Your report and your colleagues all allege no strong leads as to the identities of the men responsible for the recent string of organized crime related murders in this city.”

“If you mean the Saints, then no, no leads, sorry to say.”

“You can’t give us any information as to their identities? None at all, since you’ve had time to go over the details? This case began a year ago, Agent Hanscum, you’ve been working this since March of 98. And nothing has come up, at the time or since then?” 

“No ma’am. Never even saw ‘em. Not once. Wish I could be more help.”


It wasn’t always like this. 

Before the debriefs, before the review and the retrospectives, before the interviews, the truths and half-truths and lies. Before the Church, the Mass with that ethereal choral arrangement in the background, the little girl looking at them like she knew who they were and what they’d done and hadn’t decided if she should be afraid of them. Before a bloody casualty of a bloody power struggle left an empty grave and a dead man on a plane headed somewhere far, far away. Before Father Mackelpenny, and the Monsignor's sermon about righteousness and indifference and the way good men turned their goodness away from things that were ugly, there was just this.

There was just a meat packing plant and an illegal apartment, there was just South Boston on St. Patrick’s Day. There was just Dean, and Sam, and a bar called The Salvage.

The din of the bar sits at its usual cheerful uproar when the man they’d been waiting on arrives that night. He walks in the door, black hair above blue eyes, a slightly rumpled suit Dean never let him forget the inanity of. Nobody wears a suit in Boston unless they’re a cop or a lawyer, he’d point out, over and over, only to receive an indulgent, placid smile in return, one communicating clearly, it’s not like I’d expect you to understand . The man is relatively young, though a few years older than Dean himself, and just that many older than Sam by default. He looks out of place, with the blue tie loosely knotted around his neck and the just this side of awkward expression he always wore. It’s enough to attract some attention from nearby bar patrons. 

This is not the usual fare of a blue collar, recent immigrant Irish bar. As soon as they look, however, those familiar with The Salvage and its regulars quickly place the newcomer’s identity, and refocus back on their drinks and their own companions. 

Castiel “Cas” Novak

Boston Italian Mafia

Shirley Family

Status: Package Boy, Low Level Runner

“About fuckin’ time, man!” Dean calls over, and Castiel smiles, hooking an arm around Sam and jostling him a little as he passes. 

“Singer, how about a beer?” Castiel says over the counter, ignoring Dean, who leans with an arm arching around his brother’s back to flick Castiel in the side of the head in rebuke. He receives the requested beer quickly, settling onto the stool on the other side of Sam and deftly twisting the top off without the use of a bottle opener. He’s smiling, and Sam is smiling, and everyone is having a good time. It’s St. Patrick’s Day, and while Sam had his own opinions about the… unique way Americans choose to mark that particular holiday, Dean’s always appreciated it - any excuse for a good drink with good company is a welcome one in his book. And at The Salvage, the company is always good, though the drinks can be hit or miss.

The atmosphere is light and happy and doesn’t last long. 

“Now that we’ve got you three here,” grumbles Bobby, “I’ve got some bad news.” The wood slats of the ramp built on his side of the bar creaks as the wheels of his chair move him closer to where Sam, Dean, and Castiel sit in a cluster. They’d installed the ramp so Bobby could reach half the bar from his chair, while Rufus tends from the other side when he’s up front. It works, and it doesn’t sound safe, made from scrap lumber by volunteer carpenters, but it’s withstood the entire time Dean’s been here, and doesn’t show signs of giving out soon. 

Like Bobby, it’s more reliable than it looks. Bobby himself at the moment is avoiding looking at them by wiping at the hopelessly dingy counter Dean has never seen completely clean the entire time he’s lived in America, eyes fixed on the dull wood finish. Even when he speaks, he doesn’t look at them.

“I’ve got to close down the bar.”



It’s impossible to tell which question came from Sam and which from Cas, and Dean, for his part, just jerks his bottle at the two of them, a wordless, yeah, what they said.

“Russians,” Bobby says shortly, accompanied by a somber nod from Rufus, who’s wandered over as well. 

In hindsight, Dean should’ve known something was up when he walked in and they were both there behind the counter. Usually, either Bobby or Rufus would be in the back room while the other tended bar, managing the books and dealing with all of the minutiae of business ownership that makes Dean shudder at the thought of being anything more than a grunt employee with absolutely no managerial responsibility to speak of.

“They’re buying up every building they can. Soon the whole neighborhood’ll be gone. So we have to close. Won’t be more’n a few weeks, now, if they let us go on that long.”

The place suddenly feels quieter, emptier, less alive. Nothing physically has changed, but it’s like the building has grown smaller, shrinking in on itself. Not able to believe he heard that right, Dean looks around at Sam, at Cas, at the handful of others around the dimly lit room to see if they’re feeling what he is. If they’re feeling the Salvage die around them. It’s a thought that leaves Dean cold. He doesn’t see the same kind of stricken grief in them, and well, of course he doesn’t.

The Salvage roots him in Boston. It’s here that anchored him when they got off that plane, that made a compass rose out of a smoke-hazed bar and called him back to North. Boston is big and he’d almost got lost in it, knew it held no love for him. But where Boston held no love for him, Southie did, and it was The Salvage that taught him this, that always led him back again. Bobby Singer, an old family friend who’d moved Stateside maybe half a decade before they did, had let him bus tables until a regular offered both he and Sam a job at the packing plant. They found their jobs here, the landlord of their questionably termed ‘apartment’ here, and it’s here that Bobby had let him sit down there behind the counter out of sight, when it felt like he was weighed down and drowning. 

Sam, now, Sam hadn’t needed that, not the way Dean did, because where Dean had Bobby and the sanctuary of the space behind the bar, Sam had Dean to keep his head above water. And Cas… Castiel was born here. Castiel is rooted in Boston by something else entirely, is drowning in his own way, in a way no bar can save him from. 

“Let me talk to my bosses,” he offers, eyes bright like he thinks that might actually work. 

“You want to bring the Sicilians into this?” It’s Rufus this time, who’d been quiet until now, letting Bobby break the news about the bar. “We’ve got enough trouble with the Russians buying out the place, you bring the mafia down on our heads too and we’ll be caught in a crossfire that ain’t ours, kid.”

It’s hard to tell if it’s the tone or the wording that makes Castiel flinch, looking down at his beer with his face gone blank like it does sometimes, talking about his work. Dean purses his lips and tries not to think about Castiel’s work - about the Sicilian mob, the Shirley organization and the powder keg that’s become of it. 

In short, the Don of the Family is missing. Chuck Shirley himself, an unassuming and disheveled man with the power to twist words around until you were following orders while thinking it was your idea to begin with, hasn’t been heard from in months. There are even rumors he’s dead, and in his absence the organization is being run exclusively by his four lieutenants, the names and nicknames of which have earned them the title ‘the Archangels’. 

Michael and Luke - called ‘Lucifer’ for his inheritance, the same silver tongue and poison talent for persuasion Chuck wielded with such proficiency - are the sons of the boss himself. Though Dean’s never met them, he knows of them by reputation and anecdote, and it’s enough to know they hate each other with a Biblical ferocity, the kind of rotting resentment that only comes from a conflict warped out of a deep love. They’d been inseparable once, and one will die at the other’s hand before the year is out, if not both. Chuck isn’t coming back, and the throne has been empty too long - someone needs to fill it. 

There's no question that the other two, Raphael and Gabriel, the lieutenants unrelated to Chuck, are out of the running for succession of the position at the head of the Family. Gabriel doesn't have the guts and Raphael doesn't have the ambition. Michael and Lucifer, though, they have both in spades, and they're going to kill each other over it. The only question is , how many people they're going to take down with them in their goal of being the next leader of the South Boston mafia. Or, or if they care at all who pays how big a price. 

This is the guillotine hanging over Castiel's neck now, and it’s not just his role in the enterprise that’s reeled him so deep in. He’d never had a choice, he’s mafia born and raised. Not a minute of his life has been lived with the possibility of anything else, no school or career or different world waiting for him. Not with his pedigree. He’s third generation with the Family, like his brother Balthazar before him, and his brother Gabriel before that, the self-same lieutenant now caught in the middle of the war between Michael and Lucifer. 

Castiel's loyalty to Gabriel, the older brother who’d raised him, is matched only by Gabriel’s loyalty to his own older brothers. He may not be related to them, but he loves Michael, Lucifer, and Raphael fiercely, as fiercely as Castiel loves him. It’s for this reason that Gabriel hadn’t run long ago, like Balthazar had when he disappeared out into the Midwest, and it’s for this reason too that Dean knows Castiel will never leave, never take any of the outs Dean is sure they could find if they worked hard enough. 

How could he? More to the point, how could Dean ever ask him to?

“Sorry,” Castiel says, still staring at his drink, as if he’d somehow known the path Dean’s thoughts were taking him down. Dean opens his mouth to answer, only for Rufus to get there first, reminding him that there are other people and other problems here right now.

“Don’t need any ‘sorry’s,” Rufus tells him matter-of-factly. “Just don’t need any turf wars, either.”

There’s a few minutes of subdued smalltalk before the door bangs open with a ferocity that never accompanies any of the regulars, the aimless miasma of the Irish quarter of Boston that filtered its way more days than not into The Salvage. The man who walks in, accompanied by another man and a woman on either side, is tall and imposing, with a self-important smirk and an upraised chin indicating a superior sense of distaste for everything around him.

“My name is Abraxas,” he tells them, and Dean flicks through a mental Rolodex until he comes up with where he’s heard the name before. 


Russian Crime Syndicate

Status: Soldier

“This place,” Abraxas continues in accented English, Russian coming through in the way his mouth moves around consonant and vowel combinations learned as an adult, “is closing now.”

“Come on, man,” Sam says, slinging an arm around Dean’s shoulders and smiling wide. “He’s got until the week’s end. Have a heart. Sit down and have a drink with us. It’s St. Paddy’s day, everyone’s Irish tonight.” 

Shockingly, despite his smile and the way he indicates with his beer that the offer is genuine, that pitch doesn’t land especially well. 

The devolution of a conversation into fisticuffs is not one that Dean could describe himself as unfamiliar with. Abraxas snaps something back, his two companions square up, Sam calls him ‘Braxya’ while Dean and Castiel cringe hard, and that’s the death-knell of any hope they had of the night ending without someone or other winding up in the ER. They’re fairly evenly matched, but the fight is over quickly, and the Russians escort themselves out in a shuffling, pathetic imitation of a three-legged race. In hindsight, Dean’s favorite part was definitely pouring liquor on Abraxas’ ass and lighting it on fire. That was probably when they all knew who the winner of this particular disagreement was.

As the Russians leave, Rufus leans down and snags the baseball bat that lives under the bar counter, gesturing for the boys to accompany him outside.

“Better be sure they’ve really gone,” he says, and it’s a fair point. Not only had they beat the trio of bratva soldiers in a fistfight, they’d humiliated them, and while it had been fun in the moment, Dean knows that’s a dangerous place to be. 

Sam and Castiel follow Rufus out, but Dean stays behind with Bobby. He silently grabs a broom and begins to sweep at piles of broken glass left behind from the scuffle. They glitter on the floor in the dim overhead lighting, flecks of bright green marking where four leaf clover confetti has been mixed in with shards of shattered mugs. 

Happy St. fucking Patrick’s Day , Dean thinks, trying to ignore the way the pieces scrape loudly against the floor. It’s sure to be scratching up the old wood, but he can’t bring himself to care. It’s not like it’s not scratched up already, long years of use leaving their mark, and well, it won’t matter soon anyway, will it? He works in silence for long moments, until something makes him stop, hands stilling on the broom. Bobby’s voice, quiet but carrying easily through the still air. 

“This place was supposed to be yours. When Rufus and I retired, it was yours.” Bobby looks old, now, eyes drifting across the roughed-up room, the shattered glass on the floor and the brand new scorch mark on the wood surface of the bar. It’s an observation that hurts worse than the hits Dean had taken in the fight, just how old and tired he looks right now. Bobby is shaking his head slowly, thumb slowly picking along the inside of one of his wheelchair’s armrests like he doesn’t realize he’s doing it. “Elsewise I’d just sell, but it’s yours. It’s supposed to be yours.”

Dean doesn’t know what he’s supposed to say to that, so he looks at the floor, glances at the clock on the wall, down towards the broom still in his hands, his own scraped knuckles. They’d never actually talked about it, never had a serious negotiation of terms, but it was understood that this is how it would go. Bobby and Rufus would retire someday, and Dean would step behind the bar, take over The Salvage and the stewardship of the neighborhood that came with it. Sam’s laugh filters in from outside the open front door and Dean looks up, to the rectangle the night air is drifting in through, carried by a breeze. Sam is outside with Castiel, watching with Rufus and the baseball bat from underneath the bar to make sure that Abraxas and his cohort really have left. They sound happy. They don’t sound like their home is dying, and Dean shakes his head, looks back at the man behind the counter.

“Maybe we can get some money for the place at least,” Bobby mutters. “Send you boys to school.”

“Send Sam to school, maybe,” Dean says back with a soft snort, and Bobby shoots him a sharp, rebuking look. It’s the same look he always gets when Dean talks like that, like he and his brother had one brain to split between the two of them and Sam got the whole thing. He holds his hands up, palms out in apology, but doesn’t say anything to grant Bobby his point. 

They don’t talk after that, and eventually, Sam and Rufus come back inside. Castiel is long gone, needing to return home, and if the bratva was coming back they’d be here already, with a few more peepholes blown through the bar’s front door. Dean lingers a little longer, though he knows Sam is anxious to leave, to escape the atmosphere that’s grown solemn and exhausted as the adrenaline of the fight has faded. He can’t help but want to keep this night a little longer, keep St.
Patrick’s Day and The Salvage and his family right here. 

All too soon, though, Bobby and Rufus are shooing them out, and Dean is walking through the night air with his brother next to him, and a terrible feeling hanging over his head. Something’s coming, he thinks, looking around at the tall, looming shadows of the buildings along the walk from The Salvage to their apartment. And it’s more than just the Russians. 

Supervisory Special Agent Victor Henriksen has been with the FBI long enough to stop being impressed with the majesty of cities. The car he’s in is winding its way through the South of Boston with a nervous uniform cop in the driver’s seat, and he can see in the rearview mirror that his newest teammate is all wide eyed awe at the landscape they’re passing by. Sure, the buildings are tall, taller than anything she’d have seen back where she’s from in Minnesota, but it’s nothing Victor hasn’t encountered before. Every major city has the same buildings, and the people within them have the same malevolent, selfish egos that drive the kind of crimes he investigates. A mobster in New York is a mobster in Philly is a mobster in Boston. Peel back the wrapping paper, and they’re all the same inside. 

When they pull up to the scene, the detectives are standing around doing what looks to be theatrical spitballing, with one wiry little fellow gesticulating dramatically towards one of the bodies on the ground like he’s illustrating a point. Victor grimaces. Local cops. They’re also the same in every city. 

A second after he has the thought, he cringes, glancing back again at the two women in the back seat, both of whom had been local cops before they’d found their way to the Bureau and his team, and neither of whom would’ve appreciated that comment. Then again, as he kicks open the door and the Detective's voice amplifies - “stumblin’ down the alley; wrong fuckin’ alley ” - he can’t imagine Donna and Jody currently hold this selection of Boston’s finest in especially high regard either. 

Donna is still looking around at the city, head swiveling from side to side as it takes in the neighborhood, appearing for all the world like a tourist though Victor knows she’s absorbing information at an unbelievable pace, while Jody is speaking quietly with the cop who’d driven them there, leaving him to approach the scene alone. The trio of detectives haven’t seemed to notice him yet, two standing to the side and observing the third with arched eyebrows. He’s still telling his story, spinning some absolutely garbage theory about what went down, and Victor can only stand about a few more seconds before walking straight into the middle of it, lest his ears start to bleed and he contaminates the scene. 

“If you’re done holding class here at clown college, professor,” he says, enjoying for just a few moments the looks of complete shock and bewilderment on the trio’s faces, “I’d like to do my job, now.”

Three faces wearing identical looks of ‘who the fuck is this guy’ swivel towards him. 

“Who the fuck are you?” asks one of them, the one with that huge-guy-serial-crusher theory, voicing what goes unspoken in the other two. 

Rolling his eyes, Victor reaches into his jacket and pulls out his badge, letting it fall open as Jody and Donna arrive on either side of him.

“That’s who the fuck I am,” he says, and tries not to enjoy too much the way their faces blanch and go very serious, very fast. 

“Agent Henriksen is with us from the FBI,” the Detectives’ Chief, a woman named Ellen Harvelle, tells them in a tone that invites absolutely no backtalk or argument. “ID came back on these three, and they all belong to the Russian mob, which makes this case Federal. Agents Henriksen, Mills, and Hanscum are here from the Feds’ organized crime division, and will be running the investigation. They will do so with our full cooperation, and I had better not hear any different. Understood?”

While Jody and Donna hang back and talk to Boston PD, getting their view of the situation, Victor takes the opportunity to slip away, further into the scene itself. He fumbles in the large pockets of his overcoat until he comes up with what he’s looking for - a cassette player and a pair of headphones. If he wants the scene to speak to him, it helps to be able to block out all of the rest of the noise. Able then to ignore everything going on behind him, confident that his teammates have control over the situation and the onlookers, Victor can focus entirely on the evidence, and the story it has to tell him.

There are three people dead on the ground. Two men and a woman, and all look like they’ve been involved recently in a fight - one they probably lost. There are bandages around heads, an arm in a sling, and bandages around the ass of the man lying face-down with gunshot residue detector turning dark red on his hand. To go with the GSR, there are bullet holes in the walls, on a trajectory that doesn’t make sense if you’re trying to shoot another person. 

Nearby, adding to the baffling image building in Victor’s brain of what’s happened here, are the shattered pieces of a toilet. They’re small pieces too, the kind of breakage you don’t get from merely dropping something as you carried it, or even from tossing it, and there are bits of porcelain in the dead woman’s hair, which means the toilet broke after the bodies fell. Maybe as they fell. It all tells a story of artless brutality, and Victor is beginning to see it. What might have happened here. 

Victor looks up, squinting at the top of the building they’re standing next to. The alley containing the scene runs through the middle of a block, bisecting questionable businesses from even more questionable residences. There’s a laundromat on one side, one story, with an illegal gambling ring he didn’t come here to care about running out of the back, according to neighborhood intel. On the other side, the building he’s looking at now, is unsanctioned housing, crappy apartments in a crappy five-story walkup that looks like it was built in the fifties and not maintained since then. 

Three bodies. Bullet holes. No guns. Shattered toilet. Five story apartment building.

Turning to face his team and the Detectives, Victor pulls his headphones off and points at one of the Detectives at random, the one of the two men standing closest to him.


“Detective Asa Fox,” the man says. 

“Detective Fox,” Victor repeats, waving back towards the building. “Check with the building’s super, tell ‘em we don’t care what kind of housing code they’re violating, because I don’t, and we just need to know which of their units is complaining about a leak that started this morning.”

“Yes, sir,” Detective Fox says just as the other man, the one with the colorful theories, says, “We don’t care about housing code?”

Victor swivels on him with a raised eyebrow.

“Detective Garth Fitzgerald,” Housing Code Cop says, pointing to himself. He looks like a Garth Fitzgerald. “The Fourth.” If Victor is being honest, he does not look a bit like a ‘Fourth’. A ‘Fourth’ calls to mind someone… distinguished, while this man calls to mind a happy go lucky children’s show protagonist who taught viewers lessons about the meaning of friendship. “And that’s Detective Bradbury over there, Charlie.” Housing Code points to the third cop, a redheaded woman who gives a wave and doesn’t even bother attempting to hide her amusement at the conversation. “Why don’t we care about housing code?”

I ,” Victor stresses, “don’t care about housing code, because I am the FBI, and what I care about is three dead bodies, all of ‘em bratva. You can care about housing code on your own time, Detective Garth Fitzgerald the Fourth. Please, take a look around at where our scene here is located.”

All three of the detectives comply, as do Jody and Donna, who look bored and determined respectively. They’ve seen him analyze a scene like this before, it’s nothing new. Victor has always had a way with puzzles. 

“This is an Irish neighborhood,” he explains, taking the tone of a history teacher who’s got a hundred better things to do than teach a class full of distracted high school sophomores, but stuck in the job nonetheless. “Full of illegal housing. None of them are gonna talk to us, not if they think we’re here to bust them, Detective Fitzgerald, for violations of housing code. So instead, we’re gonna go up this building floor by floor, and find out who’s got a leak problem, and whatever floor that is, the one above it’s gonna have our answers.”

“What makes you say that?” asks Detective Bradbury, who seems at a glance marginally sharper than her two colleagues, at least as far as her questions go.

“Because,” Victor says, turning back towards the scene, the shattered toilet bowl and blood spattered gravel, “this is how it happened.”

Chapter Text

Before it happens, they’re sitting there on their beds, heads groggy and hazed like they always are in the light of a morning following a night of moderate-to-heavy drinking. Holidays of any flavor ought to come with a courtesy recovery day, in Dean’s opinion. Otherwise, where’s the room to celebrate the night before? He scrubs his hands over his head, raking fingers through short, mussed hair, squinting across the dingy cement room to where Sam’s mattress sits several feet away from his. Sam looks like he’s doing better, but only marginally. He’d done marginally less drinking last night, so Dean supposes that’s fair.

Dean is just opening his mouth, about to ask about the diner down the street as a breakfast option to soak up some of the sour feeling left behind by too much revelry the night before, when their door explodes open so hard and fast it bounces back off the wall. Before Dean’s hangover-deadened reflexes can snap him to his feet, he’s taking a long look down the short barrel of a gun, wielded by a man who he’d last seen running out of a bar with his ass literally smoking. 

Abraxas is grinning, wide and manic and edged with what Dean would guess are some pretty heavy duty non-prescription painkillers, and he’s shouting in Russian. Behind him are the other two from the bar, Dean can’t quite remember their names, he thinks they might be Spevak and Ruby. Much of the fight, including what the bratva soldiers had shouted at each other, is a blur. 

“We’ve come here to fucking kill you,” Abraxas shouts at Dean, and in the space between one skipped heartbeat and the next, that gun jerks perilously closer. “But now,” he goes on, voice jumping around in octaves and volume, erratic and out of control, “I don’t think we’ll fucking kill you.” 

The gun swings, and now Dean wishes it was back on him, wishes it was jammed so hard into his forehead it’ll leave a bruise, anything that would mean it wasn’t where it’s aimed now. Sam isn’t even looking at it - he’s still looking at Dean, eyes a moment away from rolling in blase irritation - when one twitch of Abraxas’s trigger finger and Dean becomes an only child.

“Now, I think we’ll kill your fucking brother.”

When they pull Sam up off his bed, he starts spouting off, informing the woman - Ruby? - that this was “some kind of stupid joke.” It’s not the first time that Dean has wished his brother’s mouth wasn’t as smart as the rest of him, but it is the most fervently, especially as Sam actually does roll his eyes. 

“Cuff him,” Abraxas says, almost a throwaway, aside to the other man, Spevak or whatever. 

Spevak does as he’s told, yanking Dean over to the toilet in the corner of the room. Dean goes quietly- silently, boneless and stripped of words by the image of the gun, the bullets a twitch of a finger from blowing Sam’s skull apart. He barely registers the feeling of the cuffs around his wrists, cinched tight and forcing him into an uncomfortable, hunched position beside the toilet. It takes only seconds for his shoulders to begin to ache, and Dean shoves that to the side, clearing his brain of anything aside from that gun.

It's almost comical the way the tiny woman behind Sam is escorting him out of the room with a hand gripping the juncture of his shoulder like she has any hope of controlling him at all, after the growth spurt he'd gotten later than Dean had anticipated. Or it would be, were it not for the gun she's holding on him, pressing into the back of his neck like a reminder  - she doesn't need height or muscle to control him. She's got a nine mil, and that's more effective by far. 

As they pass the threshold, Sam looks back once, a kind of passive calm on his face that's somehow far worse than any kind of fear Dean could've seen there. Because it means Sam still  doesn't think they're serious. There's a gun at his neck and a mobster threatening to pull the trigger and he can't possibly be ready to fight back if he doesn't think a fight is actually coming. He turns back and follows the man in front of him out of the loosely-termed apartment, and the last look of him Dean gets is the back of his head, disappearing around the corner. Before she leaves his line of sight, Ruby looks back as well, but the look she gives him is far from passive. She grins, waves the fingers of her free hand once, and Dean has never, in his life, been this afraid.

The metal of the handcuffs bites hard when he pulls at them, unyielding and unforgiving. Footsteps echo on the stairs, clattering down farther and farther away from him by the second, taking Sam with them, and Dean pulls harder.

Somewhere in the back of his mind, distant and echoing and completely irrelevant, Dean supposes this probably hurts. His hands are wet with his own blood, streaming down from where the force of how hard he’s pulling is driving the handcuffs deeper into his own skin, and he’s going to feel that later, but right now, it’s like static. There’s no room for anything in his mind, in his reality, except for Sam, and the gun jammed against his skull with a perfect trajectory through his brainstem. Ruined wrists, wounded skin, all that can heal. The murder of his brother… That would destroy him. There’s no question. 

So he pulls harder.

The sound the toilet makes when it rips out of the floor, overlaid with a wordless scream of pain and adrenaline, is something primordial. Dean doesn’t hear it. All he hears is his own pulse, thundering in his ears as he races out of the apartment. Down will take too long, they’re five out of six stories up, so it’s up he goes, up the stairs, onto the roof he and Sam had gone straight up to, their first night in the building. They’d watched the stars and talked about how it looked the same back home, and how could the sky be the same when everything else was different.

When he reaches the edge, he doesn’t have a moment to spend hesitating, lest the fear of what he might see take up the last moments that separate Sam from ‘alive’ and ‘not alive’. 

The scene in the alley comes in pieces of visual without any sound, each piece worse than the last. The Russians. Guns. Sam, on his knees. Sam on his knees and a Russian with a gun standing in front of him, and Dean stops thinking and just acts. It all comes in the moment his foot leaves the concrete of the roof and hits empty nothing. Air rushes around him as he falls, and finally something breaks through the rush of his own heartbeat when the ruined toilet cracks over the head of the man who’d been moments from shooting Sam, a gunshot ricocheting almost simultaneously.

What happens after that, Dean doesn’t know.

The hospital is busy and bright and there isn’t a corner around which a hundred different things aren’t beeping or whistling and a hundred different people aren’t running this way and that to attend to them. It feels frenetic and threatening, and Sam doesn’t want to be here. There’s too much going on, too much that could become dangerous at any moment, that he can’t keep track of it all, and if he can’t keep track of it, he can’t protect Dean from it. 

And he has to, because right now, Dean cannot protect himself. He’s sitting on a gurney in the hospital hallway, slumped back against the wall with his eyes closed because the light hurts his eyes. They’re waiting on the paperwork that will allow him to be discharged. The hospital ran some scans on him, had a handful of doctors and nurses check him out for various life-threatening injuries, and while they’d determined he wasn’t going to die, he’s still in no shape to defend himself. So Sam has parked himself standing next to the gurney, arms folded over his chest, standing up to his full height and breadth, trying to look as intimidating as possible, daring anyone to approach them right now. 

Sam is unable to bring himself to look away from Dean's hands where they sit gingerly placed, still and tense, in his lap. The dark lines of his tattoo, ÆQUITAS curling down over the knuckle of his trigger finger like an accusation, are smudged with blood, and Sam is gripped by the impulsive urge to wipe it off, to find anything he can to clean the blood away, or cover that hand with his own, sap some of the tension he can see gripping his brother's body away into himself. Of the two of them, Dean came out of this day far worse, and Sam's watching him like a hawk. He's hurt, and still hurting, shoulders bunched stiff under the dingy robe he wears over hospital scrubs. Every time he shifts there's a small puff of breath, an extinguished sound of pain Dean arrests in his lungs just barely too late to keep Sam from noticing.

It drives the protective feeling in his chest up higher, to the point that, when someone clears their throat behind him, Sam whips around and squares up like he’s ready to start something - or finish it. He relaxes his stance when it ends up being Bobby and Rufus, wheeling and walking up to him from the side of the hallway leading to the lobby. If it weren’t for the circumstances, Sam would probably feel foolish for the overreaction. But given the state of his brother, slumped on the gurney behind him, Sam is going to stand by his instinct. Neither of them comments on it, at least, letting him settle a moment before speaking.

“Cops came around, asking about you two,” Rufus tells him, cutting straight to the point. It’s something Sam has always appreciated about him. Rufus has never been one to hem and haw around until he gets to the heart of an important topic. No, with him you can expect to have the crux of the matter slapped right into your hand the moment the conversation begins - sometimes without what Sam would usually expect to be the appropriate salutations, but right now, he appreciates that. 

“Guess they want to talk to you about a couple of dead bratva footsoldiers in the alley by your building,” Bobby puts in. His eyes are focused past Sam, to where Dean is sitting with his eyes still closed, bruised head leaned back against the wall. His tone doesn’t betray anything about how he feels about that statement, anything he may have put together about what happened in that alley. Sam doesn’t volunteer it. 

The last thing Sam wants to talk about right now is the alley, the bratva, the deep wounds in Dean’s wrists and the handcuffs the doctors had to cut through to get off him. He doesn’t want to talk about how he feels like they started a ball rolling last night in the bar, when they’d thrown down with the Russians, and that ball is now careening down a hill that’s too steep and goes too far for Sam to see where it ends. 

“Get out in front of it.” Bobby still isn’t looking at Sam, and Dean still isn’t looking at Bobby. Rufus is looking around the hall like he’s standing some kind of watch. Four people caught in an unsteady kaleidoscope of focus and avoidance and blood. “Go to the police, tell them what happened. Better you don’t make them find you.”

“Okay,” Sam agrees, and it takes a lot of restraint to curb the lingering instinct to get between Dean and anyone else who might approach him, when Bobby wheels closer. 

The man who’d been there to catch them when they landed in this country looks, in the sick glow of the overhead hospital lighting, old. Bobby’s face is lined and tired as he does what Sam had held back from doing just a few minutes earlier, reaching up onto the gurney and closing a hand over one of Dean’s. It’s the hand with the tattoo spidering away from white gauze and surgical tape hiding the deep injury left behind when he had literally ripped the toilet out of the floor. 

Sam watches Bobby hold that hand between his, squeezing it, and thinks about what that must have took, the kind of blinding adrenaline required to push past that kind of pain. He’s heard the stories, parents lifting cars off their children, friends in wartime hauling each other over their shoulders and running miles past what they should have been able to. Sam swallows down the lump in his throat and looks away. He only flinches a little when he feels Bobby take his hand, apparently having released Dean’s. There’s a gentle squeeze, and then Bobby is clearing his throat and turning to leave back down the hall.

“Car’s out front,” he calls over his shoulder. “We’ll drop you off.”

When Sam looks back over, Dean’s got an eye cracked, peering at him with an unreadable expression. Sam shrugs, and Dean’s head bobbles back and forth, and then Rufus is helping him pull his brother up off the gurney, half-carrying him outside to the car. The drive to the police station is silent, and when they arrive, Dean pulls his head off the back of his seat and looks, hazy, into the front of the car.

“We do this alone,” he says, and he at least sounds halfway coherent by now. 

Rufus and Bobby exchange a glance, and Bobby rolls his eyes. Rufus shakes his head, but neither of them verbally object, instead pulling up to the curb and allowing them to exit together. Looking up the steps to the precinct, Sam adjusts his ginger grip on Dean’s wrist, avoiding the bandages and the wounds hidden beneath them. He pulls Dean’s arm a little tighter over his shoulders, securing his own arm around his brother’s waist, and starts up the first step.

Victor is not having a good time in Boston.

Not that he was expecting this to be some kind of vacation, but still, this is not where they should be at this point of this investigation. What they saw in that alley is not the work of professionals - the victims may be organized crime but there was nothing organized about that attack. All they really have are a pair of names, attached to the two young men who live in the apartment with the ripped out toilet, fragmented pieces of unremarkable lives that didn’t leave much of a paper trail.

With the tip of one finger, Victor flips open the anemic file they’ve managed to put together from canvassing their loosely termed ‘apartment building’ and the factory where they both work. Dean and Sam Winchester. Nobody seemed to have a bad word to say about either of them. The worst Victor was able to get out of anyone was a couple of supervisors who described them as prone to goofing off on the job, especially when on shifts together. Good Catholic boys, looked out for each other and for the neighborhood. With a sigh, he flicks the folder closed. It’s so thin you can’t even tell there’s anything inside it when the cover is shut.

There’s a much thicker folder to Victor’s left, that Jody is presently paging through. It’s a primer on the landscape of the organized crime scene in Boston. The bratva stuff is pretty run of the mill, but it seems there’s a schism happening in their branch of the Italian mafia. The Shirley empire is apparently undergoing quite the family psychodrama at the moment. Missing patriarch, the Family factioning off behind Michael and Luke Shirley, the two lieutenants vying for the big chair. 

In a truly Shakespearean turn of events, the bloodiest mob related battles fought in Boston in recent years have been fought internally as the two attempt to weaken each other, while each pretends not to know what the other is doing. They’ve been conducting business as normal and taking potshots at each other on the side. About a dozen people have died in the crossfire so far, and more promise to follow as things have begun heating up in recent weeks. Don Charles ‘Chuck’ Shirley hasn’t made an appearance, even as his sons up the ante, preparing to rip each other to pieces. 

The word on the other two lieutenants, Raphael Reviello and Gabriel Novak, is that Raphael is biding his time until he can pick a frontrunner to back, likely leaning towards Michael, while Gabriel wants no part in the whole conflict. Rumor has it he’s got one foot out the door, and there are murmurs on the street that he may turn state’s evidence just to put an end to it before the men he calls brothers have the chance to kill each other. Victor knows this isn’t true, at least not yet, but it’s further stoking the unrest within the Family. 

That’s one of the most baffling pieces of this case. While the bratva has been moving in on territory so far unclaimed, eating up new pieces of the city to establish a stronger foothold, the Sicilians have been too busy stabbing each other in the back to bother much with the Russians. Certainly not over something like a bar fight or alleyway scuffle. No matter how Victor twists them, the pieces just don’t fit together. There’s something here that’s missing, and nobody but Dean and Sam Winchester can tell him what it is.

“Okay,” he announces, turning away from both folders and getting up, facing his team along with the handful of local detectives he’s been given to work with, “let’s go over through again.”

As if they’d rehearsed it - which they may as well have, for as long and as successfully as the three of them have been working together - Jody and Donna launch into a tag-team rundown of everything they currently know. 

“Sam and Dean Winchester,” says Jody, leaning against an empty desk and folding her arms, “recent Irish immigrants, dutiful Sunday Catholics.”

Donna’s turn now, and she says, “Work at a meat packing plant, nobody there has heard from them. Got unis staked out at the scene in case they return to the building at any point but so far no dice.”

“Spend most of their time at a bar when they’re not at work,” Jody jumps back in with, “kinda rundown place called The Salvage. We went over there but it’s closed, and the owners aren’t at home, we checked.”

“Nobody’s got a bad word to say about ‘em neither, neighbor called ‘em ‘angels’, if you can believe it,” Donna concludes, shaking her head. The totality of it, put together like that, isn’t enough information to so much as fill a radio advertisement time slot. 

“And we’ve got nothing from where they live to tell us where they might be hiding out?” asks Detective Fox, while Bradbury sits next to him, tapping her pencil on her desk and staring up at the ceiling. 

“The most personal thing in that apartment was a Bible with notes in it. We think it belongs to Sam, as it’s got the letters ‘SW’ etched at the bottom of the spine,” Donna tells him, and Bradbury drops her forehead down next to her pencil with a thunk and an annoyed sound in the back of her throat.

“Great,” says Fitzgerald, taking the dubiously advisable course of action and voicing the irritation he and his colleagues are all feeling. Victor raises an eyebrow at him, but the silent caution is not enough to stop him from going on, suggesting that they, “drive through the street of the nearest Irish Catholic neighborhood with the windows down blasting Gregorian chants,” to lure the brothers out. 

"You'd probably have better luck with a beer," a voice from behind him says, and he can hear Fitzgerald groan.

Since coming upon the scene in the alley, Victor has been trying to imagine what sort of person - people, had to be more than one - could have wreaked that kind of very odd havoc with such crude efficiency. Seeing them now, he's surprised for only a moment. They're reedier than he'd been expecting, these boys, and they look like they've been put through the wringer. The shorter one is supported against the shoulder of the taller, with a hazy look in his eyes indicating he might otherwise be flat on his ass on the ground. His wrists are both bandaged and heavily spotted with blood, and there’s a combination of fierce protectiveness and deliberate care in how the taller boy’s fingers are wrapped around his forearm. 

They're both wearing dusty, bloodied bath-robes over hospital scrubs, they both look like they’ve gone forty years through the desert and back, and Victor reasons he could probably take them both one-handed at the moment. He figures Donna could probably take them both one-handed. They don't look capable of murder.

But then, with self-defense thrown in the mix, it becomes clear. The blood, the dust, the bandages, it all paints a picture of 'fight like hell to survive', and he knows that in circumstances like that, where your life - your brother's life - is in question, all bets are off. 

"Why don't I speak to you two in my office a moment," Victor says smoothly, gesturing towards an interrogation room that is in no way his office, if just to get out of the line of sight of the rest of the South Boston Precinct. 

They follow him with an easy agreeableness, though how much of that is actual compliance and how much is a mountingly desperate need for a chair is not entirely clear. Victor holds out an arm and watches from the doorway as they sit down. The taller Winchester guides the shorter, more seriously injured one down first, and then sits down himself, the chairs pulled close together. Victor waits until they’re settled, then walks all the way into the interrogation room himself, sitting down across from them and steepling his fingers on the table.

“So,” he says. “Winchester brothers. Sam and Dean.” Twins, he wonders for a moment, not identical but fraternal maybe, then glances back down at the file, clocking the tentatively accurate birth years they’d gotten from the boys’ employer. Not twins, then. Four years apart, the older of the two at twenty-seven while his brother was a painfully youthful twenty-three.

“That’s Sam,” the shorter one tells him, and his voice is as hazy as his eyes are, hand braced up against his forehead. He indicates the thin-faced, shaggy haired younger Winchester, then throws the same hand in a general indication up at his own bruised, exhausted face. “I’m Dean.” 

“Gotcha.” Victor nods, sweeping his gaze from one to the other, appraising the situation and the two young men in front of him. Neither of them looks good, per se, but Dean looks like he might be about to keel out of his chair at any moment. He’s tilting sideways as it is, elbow propped against the arm of his chair and his head held up by his fist, but at least he’s leaning in the direction of Sam. If he falls, there’ll be someone there to hopefully catch him before he can crack his already injured head against the floor. 

“So. Tell me about what happened in the alley.”

"No charges will be brought against the Winchester brothers," Victor says, maintaining his well-rehearsed media-friendly neutral expression. He tries not to make eye contact with any specific person, knowing that the moment he does it will invite a barrage of questions he doesn’t want to answer. Questions he doesn’t have an answer to, which is worse, honestly, than having answers he simply doesn’t wish to provide. "They'll be released at an undisclosed time, as per their wishes, for the sake of privacy. They do not wish to speak to the media at this point."

"Agent Henriksen! Agent Henriksen!"

The voices are a seething mass, leaping and crashing over one another in a rush to be the first noticed, the first addressed. Another thing that’s the same in every city - the insatiable media who smells blood in the water better than any shark in the ocean and stirs up a bigger frenzy than they would, either. Sharks and tabloid reporters. Two of Victor’s least favorite predatory species. 

"That's all folks, thank you," he says firmly, cutting the barrage of questions off before they can start. His attention catches for a moment on somebody in the crowd, a man in an odd tan coat skirting around the reporters and eyeing them like they make him nervous. He walks up the stairs and Victor's eyes track him, and then he's gone into the building and the line of sight is broken. Victor clears his throat, looking back to the gaggle of journalists, repeating, "Thank you," and turning around to go back inside.

Chapter Text

It goes without saying that Castiel is not comfortable in police stations. The reasons for this are obvious and unnecessary to list, but he can’t help cycle through them anyway as he passes various uniform and plainclothes officers, giving a polite greeting to the receptionist and standing to be swiped with a metal detector before he heads down into holding. He’s a member of the mob. It’s not hard to come up with reasons this is a really, really bad place for him to be.

Though he’d stashed his gun outside, there’s a part of Castiel that feels his heart rocket into his throat when the metal detector wand sweeps over his hip. It lodges there and freezes, choking him, until the woman gives him a bland smile and says, “You’re good to go, sir.”

When his attempt at politely thanking her reminds him that he’s still being suffocated by his own fear, airway too tight to get any words out, Castiel merely smiles tightly back and nods. 

A uniformed officer waves him down the appropriate elevator and hallway, pointing to a cell at the end of the long hallway that’s more dourly lit than Castiel thinks is strictly necessary. Anybody down here is already having a very bad time regardless of how they ended up there, the lighting is just theatrics at that point. 

As he walks past the other cells towards the one his friends are inexplicably entombed in for the moment, Castiel recognizes several faces, friends from the bar or people he knows from the Family. This police station basement, this concrete and grey-lit oubliette steeped in resentment and an alcoholic haze, it contains handfuls of people he’s acquainted with on any given day, for everything from public intoxication to suspicion of murder. He waves and greets them, panic finally receded enough to speak with some degree of composure, and tries not to think too hard about what they’re doing there.

The last cell in the row on the left is the one that houses his reason for being here. It’s obvious that something is different about Sam and Dean’s presence here than the rest of the occupied cells in the corridor, given he’s able to pull the door right open without even needing to borrow a key off the uniform stationed by the elevator. The boys greet him boisterously, with hugs and laughter and thanks for the bundle of clothing he’s been white-knuckle clutching the whole way. Despite their gladness and warm reception, Castiel still doesn’t like any of this. 

Dean seems a little off, wobbling in a way Castiel isn’t used to and is deeply unsettled by, and the thick bandaging around his wrists is stark proof of the story Bobby had hastily told him over the phone. Sam keeps shooting his brother odd looks when he thinks Dean isn’t looking, eyes lit by a protective ferocity Castiel is far more used to seeing out of the older Winchester. This has been a terrible, violent day and there but for the grace of God is Castiel not standing in a morgue right now. The thought almost makes his throat close up again, so instead he shoves it out of his mind, coughs slightly, and asks a much more innocuous question.

“What are you doing in holding? I thought the Agent in charge, Henriksen I think, I thought he said he wasn’t charging you?”

“He’s not,” Dean answers as he goes to sit back down. His movements and posture seem like they’re trying to give off a sense of relaxed ease, but it isn’t working. He seems stiff and unsteady, and Castiel’s nerves spike again. This day is going to take ten years off his life, he’s sure of it. 

“Then what’s all this…” A sweep of Castiel’s hand indicates their entire general surroundings. “About?”

“We’re staying the night.” Now Sam has taken over the responsibility of explaining what’s going on, and any hope Castiel had that Dean’s unhelpful, evasive explanations were due to the concussion he’s undoubtedly sporting evaporates. 

“And why,” Castiel asks, feeling a headache of his own begin to build behind his temples, “are you doing that? It can’t be because of the excellent room service.”

“We wanted to avoid the media,” says Sam in the first actually useful piece of information he’s gotten out of either of them. “It’s a circus outside, apparently, we’d really rather not deal with that, especially with…” He doesn’t finish the sentence out loud, but his eyes do the talking for him. They turn again towards Dean, outlining very clearly what his concern had been, and it’s a fair one. Dean, concussed, battered beyond that, the wounds on his wrists and the blood loss that came with them, is absolutely in no condition to be dealing with the mob Castiel had walked past outside. Looking away, Sam concludes, “It’s just a better idea. They’re gonna walk us out the back tomorrow, but for now, y’know. This is our best option.”

“Also, not for nothing,” Dean puts in, body language casual except for the tension Castiel can see, the effort it’s obviously taking to keep him upright, even sitting down, “but the bratva is out there, and we’re in here, and if there’s a big old cement wall and a bunch of security cameras between me and some very pissed off Russians for the night, I’m not gonna say no to that.”

“Right,” Castiel says absently. He’s looking around again, halfway uneasy and ready to bolt out of here and never look back, half reluctant to just leave them here, go back to his life and everything that’s happening in it. Shifting uncomfortably, he tries to find something to say, small-talk to make, but nothing comes to mind.

Before he can either figure it out or actually talk himself into leaving, Dean interrupts.

“Cas, you look weird.”

Both of Castiel’s eyebrows shoot up his forehead and he whips his head around to look at his friend, saying, surprised, “Excuse me?”

“You’ve got that look on your face,” Dean elaborates, waving indeed right at Castiel’s face, “that looks like Sam when he does math in his head.” The hand that reaches out and smacks Dean in the upper arm is so gentle it barely makes a sound, absolutely incapable of having inflicted any actual pain, and somehow this makes Dean glare harder than he would have if Sam had outright whacked him like he usually would. “Yeah, so, anyway, you look weird, you’re not leaving though I know you hate this place, you lectured me about it for an hour after you had to bail us out from that Fourth of July thing, so spill it. What’s going on with you?”

Apparently, Dean is not so concussed as to not be able to pick up on Castiel’s state, which is both a relief and extremely inconvenient. 

“There’s been…” How to put this. “Some chatter, in the Family.”

“Well that sounds like bad news,” Dean says, at the same time that Sam honest to God crosses himself. Castiel shoots him a withering look, but he can’t deny that the reaction isn’t entirely out of place, especially given what kind of chatter. 

“Something is up with Michael and Luke.” It comes out haltingly, reluctantly. They already don’t like his involvement with the Shirley empire, especially since the war over succession really kicked into high gear. They don’t understand that he’s not here because he asked to be or even wants to be, but he’s in too deep to ever get out. “Sounds like people are thinking another skirmish might be about to happen.”

Sam lets out a low whistle, and Castiel shifts uncomfortably. That expression right there, that’s what he had been anticipating. The wide-eyed half-disbelief, half-disapproval that comes along with any story of the sort from him. If he thought it would do anything to help, he would remind them that they got in a bar fight with the bratva last night and are sitting in a holding cell to avoid a media storm over the two dead footsoldiers from that very syndicate in the alley behind their building. But it won’t do much good, so he moves on to something else, the real source of his concern. Mob warfare itself, well. Anything can become mundane if you deal with it for long enough, and this battle between Michael and Luke has been going on for a decade. 

This next part, though.

“We’re keeping Jack away from it as best we can, and Gabriel’s trying to find out what’s going on, but I’m getting nervous,” he says, and as the words come out he feels his pulse jump a little in his neck, as if voicing the anxiety only made it worse. “We think there’s something about me they’re not telling us. Nobody’s looking me in the eye, they won’t talk to me directly, Gabriel’s been saying the topic changes when he walks into rooms.” Castiel shrugs, tries to look like everything is okay. They’ve got enough to worry about, even without the threat of pending murder charges, and he doesn’t want to stack too many of his own troubles on top. “I’ve got a meeting with Metatron in the morning, we’ll see how it goes.”

“Well, hey,” Sam says, walking over and clapping a hand onto Castiel’s shoulder, squeezing in what is probably an attempt at reassurance. “When Dean and I get out tomorrow, we’ll help you figure things out, right? Whatever’s going on, we’ll figure it out. You and Jack are gonna be fine, we’ll make sure of it.” 

Castiel smiles gratefully at him and tries to believe it. Tries at least to look like he believes it.

After Castiel’s brief and somewhat tense visit, nobody really bothers them. A uniformed officer passes by a few times, doing rounds on the holding cells, but other than a nod and a few words exchanged, they don’t interact with the Winchesters much. This is just fine by Dean, whose head is still aching fiercely. 

Falling asleep is a process Dean usually experiences with various levels of speed and success, depending on what he’d been up to the day and evening preceding, and how much alcohol had been involved in it. This time, something is different. His head hits the pillow and Dean is gripped by the sensation he is actually fallen, body surrounded by nothing but negative space. He tries to flail around for purchase on something, instinct flinging his arms out searching for anything to grab ahold of, but he can’t feel his body moving. There isn’t even air whistling past his ears, just the sensation of plummeting endlessly down, down, down. 

Sam is there. He doesn’t know how he knows, but he does, that his brother is there beside him in this featureless landscape of nothing upon nothing. It feels like there’s an energy building in Dean’s chest, humming and alien and alive, growing bigger and brighter and faster than his body will be able to contain. He tries to reach out again, this time for Sam, but again, he can’t move. Can’t breathe, can’t think, until everything goes abruptly very still. Dean isn’t falling anymore. He feels calm, calmer than he’s ever felt, like suddenly the sea has parted and the path is in front of him, clear and inevitable. 

“Destroy that which is evil,” Dean feels himself saying, his mouth moving and the sound coming out before he can decide to speak at all. 

“So that which is good may flourish.” It’s Sam’s voice that completes the call and response neither of them had rehearsed, disconnected and echoing hollowly in the vast, empty space extending around them in all directions. 

Something snaps and shatters and the falling feeling is back, stronger this time. Dean wonders in a terrified craze if this is what dying feels like. 

In the other bed, Sam snaps awake the same moment Dean does, both of them scrambling up onto their elbows, chests heaving in unison. Dean looks over and they lock eyes. He sees the same freaked out, keyed up energy in Sam that he feels in himself, heart thundering and skipping in his chest. The blanket on the cot is scratchy and over-starched under Dean’s palms, and he can hear a faint dripping sound. Putting a hand up to his face, he scrubs off a few drops of cold water, squinting up at the ceiling. There’s a crack running the length of the cell, water sliding along its length to gather and fall just over where Dean’s pillow is positioned. Another glance beside him shows that Sam’s hair is just slightly damp. Dean can’t remember if that crack had been there the night previous, and before he can think on it too hard, he decides he actually doesn’t want to know the answer to that. 

The air in the cell feels charged somehow, like the leftover static when a thunderstorm rips through town, electricity still lingering though the lighting itself has vanished from the sky. They don’t talk, an unspoken understanding between them like that electricity, the awareness that something has changed. It’s not quite clear what, yet, but Dean knows as certain as he’s ever known anything, they’ve stumbled into something far bigger than themselves, and it’s better to go with the current than risk getting pulled underwater trying to fight it.

An odd sound breaks the hazy morning silence that’s fallen as Dean and Sam both pointedly and loudly do not discuss what happened during the night. Dean looks sharply over, trying to identify anything in the room that could possibly be making such a strange noise, and sees Sam suddenly patting around in his discarded robe pocket. Eventually he holds something up, a small device that’s intermittently buzzing and lighting up. 

“The hell is that?” Dean asks, and Sam squints at it then tosses it over to him.

“Russian’s pager, I think. I grabbed it before I left the alley.” 

Hefting the device, watching it stop buzzing there in his palm, going once more silent and dormant, Dean doesn’t know what to make of this. “Why did you do that?” he asks, and Sam shrugs. He looks uncomfortable with the question, as if the asking and the consideration of the answer has made him realize something disquieting. 

“Don’t know. Felt like it was important, I guess.”

A shiver runs suddenly down Dean’s spine and he remembers his own voice last night, speaking without thinking first, sensing Sam next to him in the dark and telling him, destroy that which is evil. He says nothing in response to Sam’s explanation, instead sitting on the cot and looking down at the pager, turning it over and over in his hands. It’s just a little thing, plastic and wiring somewhere inside, but it feels heavy. Important, like Sam said.

Before too long, there’s a uniformed officer at the door of their cell, opening it up and welcoming them out into the hallway. Dean slips the pager into his pocket and smiles at the woman as they walk past her, towards the stairs that lead up into the main part of the precinct. The number flashing on the screen of the pager feels like it’s burning a hole in his pants, and he wants to call it before too much time has passed since the thing went off.

While Dean heads for the payphone, Sam gets distracted by the paper sitting on someone’s desk. He hears his brother read off the headline - “The Saints of South Boston…” - and then laugh, accepting an offered cup of coffee and mock-blessing a handful of men and women with it - “Blood of Christ, blood of Christ.” Rolling his eyes and letting a fond chuckle escape his throat, Dean turns away. He needs to get to the bottom of whatever’s going on with this pager. Something’s compelling him to do it, pulling him towards the answer, and whether that something is God in a dream or just what Bobby called his ‘instinct for stubborn bastardry’ is really beside the point.

Dialing is made slightly more difficult by the wounds in Dean’s wrists. They hadn’t been deep enough for stitches, just a few butterfly closures at the worst points, but they pull and ache under the bandaging as he punches in the numbers on the worn, stiff keypad. His head throbs in time with the press of the numbers too, and his whole body still feels like one giant bruise. Small price to pay, though, he supposes, for surviving a fall off a roof. Small price to pay for his kid brother’s life. 

The person on the other end of the phone doesn’t even ask for Dean’s name. Just rattles off some information, orders. Names, a time, the address of a hotel and the name of a conference room on the ninth floor. It’s a bratva meet, and judging by the names he’s heard, ones he’s picked up from hanging around at Castiel’s house and overhearing some of the shop talk that goes on there, a meet full of high ranking mobsters with big body counts behind them.

Dean looks up as he hangs up the phone, the address of the meet scrawled on some piece of scrap paper he hopes won’t be missed by whoever's desk he grabbed it off of. Sam is still over by the side, messing around with a couple of beat cops, basking in the light of their attention. His hair is illuminated by the sun piercing through the window, morning rays creating a haloed effect that Dean can't bring himself to believe is an accident. Not if he's gonna go through with this.

"Amen," he mutters as the phone falls back into its cradle with a hollow plastic click. 

There will be no accidents from here on out. There will be only providence and justice, fate and faith and a flashing sword. It's like a fog has cleared and he finally sees the lighthouse, in beautiful, crystalline focus. Dean Winchester is on a mission.

Dean doesn’t know how Sam found this place and to be completely honest, he doesn’t really want to know. The stairs lead down into a basement lit mainly by a few narrow windows set high in the cement walls. The man Sam brought them to see, a thin, reedy fellow with a mullet who said his name was ‘Ash’, no last name provided and probably not actually his first name to boot, accepts the duffel bag of cash handed to him with a grin and a wide gesture.

“Help yourselves, boys,” he says, slinging the duffel over his shoulder and disappearing back up the stairs. 

This leaves Sam and Dean alone with the biggest amount of weaponry either of them has ever seen, never mind in one place. It’s short work to select their gear and load it into a pair of black canvas duffle bags. When Dean looks up, Sam’s coiling a length of thick rope over his shoulder. Upon noticing him, Sam holds out a second length, raising Dean’s eyebrows.

“Rope?” he asks, barely holding back laughter. “Name one thing you’re gonna need a stupid fuckin’ rope for, Sammy.”

Sam waves him off, sticking both ropes into his own duffle. “They always need a rope in the movies, y’know, for something.” 

Shaking his head, Dean just lets him do it, figuring there’s no point in wasting time arguing with his brother and his cartoon logic when they’ve got bigger fish to fry. Fish waiting for them in that big hotel downtown, the one Dean had walked past a hundred times but never gone into. Too rich for his blood. Until now, anyway.

It’s a good thing they’re dressed enough like maintenance men to go unnoticed by the front desk clerk when they walk in. The duffle bags probably help sell the image - Dean has learned, especially since coming to the States, that there’s very little you can’t go unnoticed doing in the richer ends of town, so long as you’re dressed as the help. Nobody wants to make eye contact with the maintenance guys, two scrawny, slightly scuffed, tattooed young men sure to remind them of the riff-raff they cross the street to avoid. Dean snorts under his breath as one particularly glittery lady and her cigar-hazed husband abruptly turn away from the elevator bay when they walk up to it. 

The elevator itself is too-bright and too-polished. It doesn’t look like it’s seen a day’s use in its existence, and were it not for the slight scuff marks on the floor, Dean would think maybe it hadn’t. It looks more like the idea of an elevator rather than the real thing, and there’s something quietly defiant about standing in it, the mark his shoe leaves as he steps from the center over towards the control panel. 

As he reaches out for the button that will take them one floor above their target’s meeting room, Dean sees the tattoo stretching out over his skin, moving with his hand like something alive and hungry. It reminds him of what they’re here to do. The rotting, malignant tumor they’re here to carve out of this gilded building. 

With a slight jolt, the elevator begins its slow trek upwards. Out of the corner of his eye, Dean catches the moment Sam stumbles slightly, unprepared for the floor to shift under him, and watches carefully as he regains his balance. The look on Sam’s face is as unsettled as his footing had been, and Dean reaches out, nudging his side with an elbow.

“Nervous?” he asks, and Sam glances at him, then quickly away. He nods, short and fast, and the weight of the duffel bag slung over Dean’s shoulder settles more heavily against him, as does the weight of what they’re about to do. It really is completely insane, if you think about it, and accordingly, Dean has been trying not to think about it. Sam, true to form, has turned hard in the opposite direction. 

Instinct born of years of being someone’s anchor point, Dean reaches out and clasps the back of Sam’s neck. He squeezes gently but firmly, thumb brushing the tattoo of the icon they both have inked near their most vital arteries. He feels Sam settle under his hand, but leaves it there for the duration of the elevator ride, until they come to a stop at the tenth floor, and a soft ding heralds the doors sliding open. 

The vents are, in their entirety, Sam’s idea. Dean would like to make a particular point out of this in hindsight, given the absolute clusterfuck of a nightmare that results from choosing that particular avenue of approach. There’s barely enough room for one adult man, never mind two, and the devolution into squabbling and an actual slap fight in the ceiling of a hotel conference room does nothing to help the situation. In fact, it manages to break through the world’s most flimsily constructed surface material and send them both rocketing towards the floor. It’s only, in a twist of luck that Dean is sure Sam is going to lord over his head for the rest of eternity, the ropes they’d been lugging with them that keep them from crashing straight into the ground, leaving the pair of them spinning in a suspended circle like a set of extremely well armed marionettes. 

It’s the kind of entrance none of the flabbergasted mobsters in the conference room would’ve ever forgotten, had it not been for the fact that they were all too dead to remember anything within the space of the next forty-five seconds. 

Simply put, it’s unadulterated chaos. Dean shoots wildly, aiming as best he can as he spins around the room, ropes painfully tight around his waist and legs. He can feel the recoil from Sam’s gun jolting against his back, his brother’s shoulder slamming into him with every squeeze of the trigger. It’s disorienting and nauseating, swinging there like that, the spin of the pendulum of their tethered bodies and the upended vantage point, and Dean doesn’t have the first idea if he’s actually hitting anything as he fires. 

It’s quick work to fell eight of the nine devils in the room, hitmen and disposal experts, lieutenants and orchestrators. They save one man in particular for last. He loses the weapon he brandishes to a bullet fired from Sam’s gun, an unbelievable shot that Dean can’t believe actually worked. The slide of the ropes in the crumbling ceiling jolts them down another few fast, swooping feet, until Dean can reach the floor with one hand. It’s enough to get the leverage to cut himself and Sam down, and then they’re on him. Their final target.

Alastair is his name, and his reputation around Boston is enough to keep anyone up nights. The part that makes Dean’s skin crawl the most is, the people Alastair goes after, he doesn’t kill them. He walks them right up to that line and then won’t let them cross it, leaves them to walk around carrying a message to the world on their faces, their backs, their chests. There’s a regular at The Salvage who fell afoul of Alastair and his knives once. His mouth pulls down into a permanent frown now, one that has nothing to do with his mood. 

“As shepherds we will be, for Thee my Lord, for Thee,” Dean says, voice bolstered by the sound of Sam’s interwoven with it, the two of them standing together behind the frantic bratva ‘interrogator.’ “Power hath descended forth from Thy hand, that our feet may swiftly carry out Thy command. So we shall flow a river forth to Thee, and teeming with souls shall it ever be.”

With a small flick of his thumb, the hammer of Dean’s gun cocks, dual clicks echoing around the death-soaked room as Sam does the same. 

“In nomine Patris et Filii,” they say together, the same feeling Dean woke up with that morning prickling in his scalp, “et Spiritus Sancti.”

And just like that, there’s that much less evil in the world.

Chapter Text

Whatever it was Victor had said or thought about this case in Boston being just like every other case in every other city he’s ever been sent out on, he would like to retract that now. The scene they’ve just walked into in this conference room is nothing short of baffling. Victor blinks hard as he walks through the doorway, unsure what he should possibly be focusing on first. 

It’s the pennies that really do it. Nine bodies in the room, arms crossed over their chests, and okay, that they’ve seen before. Killer with a weird conscience, maybe some thing about the soul or about a God, and you get arms folded over like that. The pennies, though, that’s different. Two shiny copper pennies, placed over the closed eyelids of each of the bodies laid out amongst the blood-spattered, extremely tacky upholstery. Seeing that, Victor is taken aback enough that it takes him several long, silent seconds to move past the pennies and onto the faces that lay beneath them.

Victor walks slowly into the center of the room, narrowly avoiding walking right into the rope hanging from a big old hole in the ceiling, which is more than he can unpack just at the moment. He’ll deal with the rope once he’s processed the pennies and the striking sense of deja vu he’s suddenly feeling, looking around at the bodies. It dawns on him as one by one he puts a name to each and every face. 

“I have a dossier on every body in this room.” He shakes his head as he says it, pacing around and noting the faces. They’re ones he’s stared at late nights in his office or some hotel room, as he tries to piece together the web spreading out across the United States, bratva and Sicillian mafia and all manner of other organized crime syndicates that have decided to go global, sinking their claws deep into fresh ground. Victor rakes his eyes in a wide circle, every penny-dotted face burned into his memory. 

These people, he knows all of them, sure as he knows Jody and Donna. His partners, when he glances over to them, have the same looks as he’d imagine he’s probably wearing now. Donna has her head cocked to the side, narrowed blue eyes flitting from body to body while Jody is focused upwards, at the rope hanging from the ceiling and slowly swaying in the air. They’ve both got these light frowns on that mean they’re putting together pieces of a puzzle, and the picture has just begun to form. 

“What are you seeing?” Victor asks, and their heads turn over to him in a pair of synchronized movements that are almost creepy in their perfect timing.

“It’s kids ‘n’ their TV,” says Donna. 

This does not make any sense whatsoever, and this must show on both Victor and Jody’s faces, because Donna is quick to elaborate. She gestures upwards towards the ceiling, the bizarre tangle of rope spidering like some kind of ridiculous modern art exhibit down from a crudely ripped hole in the thin material painted over to look fancier than it actually is. Then she indicates the rest of the scene, specifically the ridiculous amount of extra bullet holes sprayed in every direction.

“Kids ‘n’ their TV,” Donna repeats. “Dangling from the roof there shooting out in all directions, can’t imagine what in tarnation they’d do that for. Makes no sense, it’s too sloppy for pro work. ‘Cept it does seem like something out of one of those Mission Impossible type television shows. All this, we got this because of TV.”

It’s not as outlandish a conclusion as it originally seemed like it was going to be, Victor thinks, nodding slowly as he looks around. He can see what she means - it does, in fact, look like something out of an episode of Mission Impossible. Even as he’s still squinting at the bullet holes, the couch stuffing left laying on the ground like snow, Victor asks, “Jody?”

“We’ve got one guy in the middle of the floor here,” she says, pointing to the body somewhat separate from the others. Victor’s file on him is thicker than any of the others, Alastair Volkov, a butcher who fancied himself a surgeon. “He’s the important one. They pulled him away from the others, two shooters, stood over him and fired simultaneously. The rest of it might’ve been sloppy, but this one, he was an execution.”

“I’m sorry, is nobody else seeing the pennies, or…” Detective Fitzgerald has piped up with yet another insightful and valuable contribution to the investigation, and Victor stifles a sigh he’s sure would have been loud enough to hear on the ground floor of the hotel. 

Really, it’s not Fitzgerald’s fault that he has a tendency to throw his hat in the ring at the exact moment that Victor’s patience wears thin enough that one more tug snaps it. Then again, he could always try having better ideas, and then a lot more problems than Victor’s annoyance with him would be solved. Evidently, given her response, at least one of the man’s colleagues feels the same way.

“We all see the pennies, Garth,” Bradbury says, tilting her face to stare up at the half-ruined ceiling. She looks like she has a headache. “We just don’t know the… the…” Waving a hand through the air in circles, Bradbury searches for the appropriate word. “The symbology there.”

Jody chokes on the laugh Donna manages to stifle entirely. Victor eyes her, then walks over so that he’s in front of Detectives Fitzgerald, Bradbury, and Fox.

“So the symbolism,” he says, quirking a half smile towards a not even a little bit embarrassed looking Bradbury, who just shrugs and gestures for him to go on. “The symbolism of the pennies. What is the symbolism of the pennies. Anybody, ideas?”

“New hitman trying to make a name for himself,” offers Fox and Victor snaps his fingers, pointing at him.

“There we go, that’s a good one. Lot of heads rolling, lot of changes in the ranks lately, maybe some up-and-comer is looking to get ahead of the game before one of the Shirley boys finally comes out on top.” Victor nods. “That’s a good theory.” 

Fox looks proud of himself, and Victor claps the detective on the shoulder as he walks past, striding through the three of them and stepping up onto the back of the long arcing couch set into the floor. He strides across the wide couch back, spinning on one foot when he reaches the end and walking back. “Or,” he starts as he reaches where they’re waiting for him, watching with curious, fascinated faces. Donna and Jody look far less entertained by his theatrics. Donna is crouched down next to one of the bodies, studying something, and Jody might actually be rolling her eyes. Leaving them to it, Victor refocuses on Boston’s finest. 

"Or perhaps they were placed there with..." pausing for effect, Victor then finishes with a flourish of his left hand, "religious intent." There's a ripple of thoughtful murmuring around the detectives gathered in a loose semi-circle, waiting for his verdict, and to be honest, he says it mostly to mess with them. But, now that he thinks about it, the way things are looking now...

Pennies over closed eyes. Hands crossed over breathless chests. A circle of bodies around a man at the center, executed by two shooters standing over him shoulder-to-shoulder. Amateur hour with a flare for drama. This wasn't about murder, it was about message. 

Religious intent.

“Some cultures,” Victor says, stepping down off the couch and walking towards the man in the center of the circle, Alastair Volkov, “still put pennies over the eyes of the dead.” He doesn’t know if any of them have followed him, if they’re listening at all any more, but to be completely frank, he doesn’t care. Victor’s focused on his new theory now, talking slowly as it unravels itself in his mind. The Italians, the Greeks.” Sicilians. “The lore behind it, where those pennies came from, old mythology, it said that the dead had to pay the toll to the ferryman when they crossed the river Styx to the Gates of Judgement. It made sure that they came to atone for their sins, to pay for what they’d done during their lives.”

It's not a far conclusion to jump to, it isn't even a stretch. Victor continues, talks about organized crime, about an international mob war, the Bratva and the Sicilians about to rip each other - and themselves - to shreds, but it hovers in the back of his mind as he theorizes. He reminds himself about the inherent assumptions in a gangland case, about hoofbeats and horses but somehow, this time his instincts scream zebras, zebras and rosaries hanging from the wall of a condemned cement apartment. It's there whispering to him, as he leans against the bar and talks about borders and oceans, all the while staring off at pennies, piles of pennies. 

Religious intent.

“That,” Sam says in a frank, slightly distant voice, standing near the center of the room and looking slowly around them, “was nothing like the movies.”

Maybe another day Dean would razz him mercilessly for such a ridiculous comment, but it doesn’t feel so ridiculous when the same realization has crashed down on his own shoulders. Dean feels equal parts giddy and scared shitless in the aftershocks of what’s just happened. What they’ve just done. Thinking back, it seems impossible that they’ve not only survived the last ten minutes, but done so completely unscathed - a fact that Dean takes an adrenaline-jolted moment to verify, eyes raking over every inch of Sam’s form until his heart takes it down a notch. He seems fine, and Dean’s pretty sure he hasn’t managed to miss being shot even in all that commotion, so they’re two-for-two on their first big mob takedown. Not a bad day’s work for a pair of assembly line workers with dubiously sourced weaponry. 

Unaware of the assessment that’s just been run on his person, Sam is still talking about movies.

“I mean you’ve always got that one guy who comes leaping up over the sofa,” he says, gesturing at the sofa behind which there definitely aren’t any lurking bad guys. Dean would know - he checked. “And then you’ve got to shoot him like sixteen times to keep him down.”

Dean snorts softly, which seems to remind Sam that he’s there, because now he’s being rounded on, grabbed by the upper arm and shaken lightly. 

“And you,” Sam says, eyes glittering with the kind of mirth that usually preceded Dean discovering that his shoelaces have been tied together or his coffee salted instead of sugared, “you asked me, I believe your words were, name one thing you’re gonna need a stupid fuckin’ rope for, Sammy. Turns out, Dean, the answer is ‘saving both of our lives’, which you’re very welcome for, by the way.”

“Whatever,” Dean shoots back at him good naturedly. He’s still drunk on relief and the thrill of falling from the roof and can’t be bothered to put up even a token protest at the ribbing. Leftover pennies jingle against each other in his coat pocket when he takes a step towards one of the bodies, peering down at it. The man is just as dead as he’d been the last time Dean saw him, and as he straightens back up, something else catches his attention.

There’s a briefcase over by the bar, and briefcases of that quality leather in this kind of company generally mean one thing is contained inside. He starts for it immediately, whacking Sam in the chest with the back of his hand as he passes. Sure enough, the interior of the briefcase holds bundles of crisp green bills, feeling and smelling like they’re fresh off the mint. Dean is ruffling through one stack, which must contain at least a grand, while Sam thumbs through the others, counting them, when he hears it. There’s a knock at the door of the conference room, and a pause, and then another knock. 

Freezing in place, hands twitching towards guns, Dean and Sam both look at each other over the top of the briefcase. With his brother just a half step behind him, Dean abandons the money and heads towards the source of the noise. They walk swiftly but quietly to the door and pause on either side. Dean is the first to peer through the peephole built into the wood, and it takes him a second to process what he sees.

The person who’s knocked is dressed in a uniform belonging to the hotel’s staff, bland and beige, a name tag affixed to his lapel in the form of a small gold bar, the name Jimmy etched into it. However as soon as Dean’s eyes leave the uniform, the room service tray held in his hands, he sees the man’s face, and he just barely manages to reign in a bark of shocked laughter. It’s Cas. 

Castiel fucking Novak is standing in this hotel hallway dressed like it’s Halloween, and Dean personally feels like it’s Christmas. He tugs Sam over by the shoulder of his shirt, and it’s clear that he recognizes their friend too, by the way his face jerks suddenly back away from the small aperture in the wood.

“We have,” Dean hisses under his breath, quiet enough to be heard by Sam but not by Cas on the other side of the door, “to fuck with him.”

And so they do, pulling ski masks back down over their faces and yanking Cas into the room to give him a hazing he’ll remember for a good long time. He stammers and stutters over his words, eyes wider than Dean has ever seen a person’s eyes go, and it’s all Dean can do not to break character when the guy pulls out the ridiculous mafia calling card name he’s never really been able to make stick - “It’s me, it’s Castiel, Castiel Novak, you know, it’s the Angelmaker, Metatron sent me to-”

Dean lets the whole charade go on a minute longer before breaking and dissolving into laughter. He hears Sam lose composure a moment later, their mirth overlapping and feeding into each other, overlapping with Cas’s now-baffled stammering. With hands that shake along with the rest of his body, cackles shivering through his entire form, Dean peels the ski mask up off his face. The expression Cas wears when he realizes just exactly who has pulled him into this room is funny, but it doesn’t hold a candle to what he says when he scrambles to his feet and manages to locate his voice.

“Fucking… What,” starts Dean’s straight-laced, suit-and-tie wearing, PTA dad type best friend, blue eyes blazing as they rake around the room, “the fucking… Fuck. Who the fuck fucked this, this fucking- How did you two fucking fucks- Fuck!”

“Well,” Dean chokes out, clapping his hand on Cas’s shoulder, grinning so hard his face hurts. “That certainly illustrates the diversity of the word, and Cas, I gotta tell you, I have never been this proud in my life.” Beside him, Sam is doubled over laughing, and every time Dean thinks he might

In complete honesty, it’s a bit of a hysterical scene, the flurry of f-bombs hanging in the air above their earnest and deadly serious friend with his perpetual slight frown and uptight tie, dressed like a bellhop with the most mundane name he could obviously think of on a little gold bar pinned to his chest. Jimmy, honestly, he couldn’t have picked literally anything else? Jimmy. It’s like a bad Pacino or De Niro movie, leaving Dean’s chest wracked with the aftershocks of full body laughter. He glances at the gun in his hand, the one he’d grabbed off Cas when they first opened the door, and flicks open the cartridge magazine, leftover chuckles bubbling through airless lungs causing him to cough lightly. 

It’s funny for maybe ten more seconds, until Dean puts a number on the bullets in the gun, and that number doesn’t match up with the number of the bodies in the room. The laughter stills completely, so abrupt he nearly chokes on it. He may not be book smart, preferring to leave that to Sam thank you very much, but he can do nine minus six. The answer to that particular equation is one that lances ice through his lungs, ice that drops his amusement as dead as the men on the ground around them, dead as Cas would be if he’d walked into this armed only with that.

“This is a six-shooter ,” Dean barks, waving the pistol at his still-terrified friend, lurching up and back and away, away from the thought, the image. “There are nine bodies , genius. What were you gonna do, pray the last three to death, Angelmaker ?” The ridiculous nickname doesn’t sound quite so funny anymore.

What’s even less funny is that Cas does not have an answer. 

Since Dean pointed it out, the fact that the number of bullets in his gun did not match up to the number of people he’d been expected to kill with it, Castiel can’t stop going over it in his mind. The meeting he’d had in the office with Metatron when he’d been given the assignment. 

He’d told the man, a step under Michael himself, that he was ready for more. That the Family could count on him, he could take it. It was for Jack as much as it was for anything - Castiel knew that the only way to secure his safety was to make himself as invaluable an asset as possible. Make himself into the Angelmaker, the next rising hit for the Family. If anything, he should’ve known it was too easy, that Metatron had let him have what he asked for too fast when he’d always denied it before, told Castiel to ‘wait his turn, it’ll come soon enough’. He’d been too eager to finally have his shot to question it the way he should have, Castiel supposes. 

Mea culpa, he thinks with a kind of hollow humor. The grip he has on the wheel of his car is so tight that the leather creaks, but he doesn’t bother trying to loosen it. There’s too much in him trying to force its way out, anger and fear and betrayal. It has to go somewhere. The implication was clear: if it had been deliberate, then Castiel was set up. If Metatron had known how many people would be there, then Metatron sent him in there to die, to orphan Jack for a second time in his young life. The kid’s only twenty, he’s not old enough to deal with any of this, especially because losing Castiel would mean losing his main protection from the worst of life with the Family. Gabriel would try, sure he would, he’d die before he saw harm come to his adopted nephew, but he’s not Jack’s father, and he’s already making a lot of enemies within the Shirley empire. 

The cafe comes up on the right and Castiel pulls over smoothly, parking and sitting silently for a long moment. It’s a small business operated and frequented almost exclusively by Shirley runners. If anyone knows what’s going on, it’s going to be someone inside that cafe. With a deep, steadying breath, Castiel checks that his gun is loaded, and gets out of the car, walking inside. He spots a pair of familiar faces across the room and stalks over immediately, coming to a stop at the edge of the table and waiting for them to notice him. Anna Milton and Bartholomew Di Pietro’s conversation dies as soon as they do, two pairs of eyes on him as soon as he walks up.

“Weren’t expecting to see you ever again,” Bartholomew tells him, and Castiel’s blood runs colder. 

“You’re going to explain what you mean by that,” he says softly, dangerously, “and you’re going to explain it right now.”

The two low level grunts in the booth look askance at each other and shrug, and the suspicious feeling that had been building in Castiel’s gut since Dean pointed out he’d been sent into a death trap explodes into certainty. In the moment before Anna speaks, Castiel already knows, and his ears begin to ring loud enough he almost does hear her over the sound of it. 

“You were supposed to die in that room,” Anna smirks while Bartholomew covers his snide, giggling mouth with one hand. “Gabriel’s gonna turn fed, we all know it, he just doesn’t have the guts to betray us to our faces. So the bosses decided to send a little message. All we had to do was stand back and watch you run off like you were headed for greatness. Cassie the Angelmaker, it was fucking hilarious, let me tell you.”

Castiel’s throat turns into the Sahara, fear and fury setting his jaw into a stiff clench, and before he can bring himself to speak, Bartholomew snorts out a few sentences through continuing laughter. What he says sends Castiel’s hand into his coat, fingers curled around the grip of his pistol. 

“They stopped trying to kill each other long enough to figure out how to kill you,” Bartholomew taunts, referring surely to Michael and Luke. “Send dear Gabe a message. And now it won’t stop until you and that boy of yours are dead. Gabriel’s gotta pay somehow. Tick tock Cassie. Do you know where Jack is? Do you know you can get there before we can?”

He knows what he has to do. From the moment Bartholomew said Jack’s name, Anna gloating next to him, they were both dead. The gun was just an afterthought, and as the bullets tear through the fabric of his long, tan coat, leaving a Jackson Pollock of red on the worn faux leather of the boots, Castiel doesn’t hear a thing. The people around him are screaming, he knows they are because he sees it in their faces, and the regret over the death and the terror he leaves behind him is overcome only by the thought of Jack, of what the alternative would be.

The door closes behind him, the gun feeling like television static against his fingers, and all the while, the ringing continues.

Chapter Text

The door of Castiel’s house slams open so hard the knob bounces off the wall, startling the absent-minded, unimportant conversation Sam and Dean had been having into an immediate silence. They’ve been waiting for him there, swapping places sitting on the couch and pacing circuits around the living room, talking about anything and everything except for the elephant in the room, the worry buzzing under both of their skins. Worry for the very person who’s now burst into the room in a whirlwind of sound and energy.

“Pack your shit!” is the first coherent thing that comes out of Castiel’s mouth, though as soon as he has the thought, Sam isn’t quite sure that ‘coherent’ was necessarily the appropriate word to describe that statement. 

“Pack… what?” Evidently it hadn’t made much sense to Dean either, because he sounds as mystified and unnerved as Sam feels. 

Instead of answering, Castiel has stormed over to the cupboard under the sink, tossed the box of black plastic garbage bags on the counter, and yanked one out. He’s throwing things in it now, a hoodie sweater from the back of a chair, a handful of hot pads, a copy of Better Homes and Gardens magazine. Trailing him into the kitchen, it’s a group effort between both Sam and Dean to get any kind of answer out of him as to what’s going on here, and when they do find out where he’d just been, it leaves Sam slack-jawed and cold. 

“So you just…” There’s no delicate way to put this. “Shot up a diner.” It does sound like there was a pretty solid thought process behind having done so, and the people who’d been in the diner would’ve ended up on their list at one point or another regardless, but it’s still so hard to imagine. Though Castiel has been with the Family since they’ve known him, been with them his entire life, really, it’s always seemed like it was an ‘in name only’ kind of thing, for all he’d been involved with the actual syndicate’s operations. To picture him doing something like this… It’s near unbelievable. 

“Yeah,” Castiel says, short and almost irritated, throwing an address book into the bag. 

“They’re gonna… They’re going to be after you now you know?” If Sam didn’t know his brother as well as he does, it would be easy to mistake the harsh edge to Dean’s voice as anger, rather than the fear it actually is.

“Yes,” snaps Castiel back at him, “thank you, Dean, I’m aware. Which is why we have to pack so that we can get out of here before the entire combined might of the Sicilian mafia comes down on our heads.” He storms back into the kitchen and yanks open a drawer, rifling around in it before grabbing something out, throwing it into the bag, and immediately going back in for something else.

“Cas, man, you have to calm down,” Sam says in the tone that usually works on Dean when he gets like this, when he’s spun off in ten different directions and not talking sense. It doesn’t work. If anything, it has the opposite effect.

“Calm down? Calm down? I can’t calm down! I just turned on the Family and there’ll be a bounty on my head in an hour what the fuck are you talking about calm down?” Castiel’s gravelly voice, usually so even and steady, thunders through the small house, a verbal expulsion of the frenetic energy gripping his entire body. Sam can almost see his very outline vibrate with the strength of it. 

"What about Jack?" 

The question is what finally draws Castiel short, stopping in the middle of tossing miscellaneous items from his apartment into a garbage bag. His eyes are wide and frantic when they meet Sam’s, and he asks, "What do you mean what about Jack?"

"I mean are you thinking about him at all right now? Are you thinking of anything beyond this great idea to martyr yourself?"

Sam can still remember the day they met, the day he and his brother let themselves into Castiel's apartment to find a kid with a Gameboy sitting on the couch, and got the response of, 'I'm Jack!' and a bright, bright smile when he'd asked what the hell he was doing there. That had cleared up absolutely nothing, of course, and it had taken a full hour for them, hungover and attempting to get a straight answer out of a teenager, to sort out why there was a kid in their friend's living room - never mind that kid wasn’t that much younger than Sam himself.

They'd sorted it out once Castiel actually got there, running late from some errand for the Family Sam had avoided thinking about too hard, but that first impression never left him. Guileless announcement, bright, bright smile. Jack, the trump card with Castiel, even in the scant years since the kid became a legal adult, always a boy in the eyes of the man who’d taken over raising him. Jack, always the last word in any conversation with his adoptive father. Or, he had been, anyway, up to now. 

"Jack," Castiel snaps, grabbing a potholder off the counter and flinging it into the bag, "is the only thing I'm thinking about right now. They're going to try and kill him, they told me to my face they were going to. How could I be thinking about anything else?"

“Slow down ,” Dean orders, hands out. Sam is glad he’s finally stepped in to help here. The bark in his voice is strong and commanding enough to finally actually catch Castiel’s attention, force him to stop in his frantic whirlwind long enough to actually hear the question in its specificity. “ Who told you?”

And so Castiel launches into the story, the diner and the smirking faces in the booths, the promise that both he and Jack would lose their lives in pursuit of shutting down Gabriel. The veiled threat that Anna and Bartholomew were on their way as they spoke, questioning who would get there first. Castiel’s hands flutter as he talks, alighting from thing to thing in an aimless drift of panic. He’s talking faster and faster, beginning to lose Sam along the way, when the door opens and suddenly there are two more bodies in the room. 

Jack is smiling when he walks in, but then, he’s always smiling. Gabriel is too, the corner of a smarmy grin Sam has only just met him enough times to know is genuine, amused and happy. They’re both having a good day, but that day comes grinding to a halt when they see Castiel and, more to the point, the state Castiel is in. 

“Cassie,” Gabriel says slowly. The smile is seeping away off of Jack’s face. “What’s going on? Why are you…” He waves generally at the trash bag, the spatula Castiel has picked up at some point during his tirade, presumably about to toss it in the trash bag with his assortment of other items packed in a panic-fueled haze. Failing to find words to accurately characterize what he’s walked in on his younger brother doing, Gabriel gives up on trying. “What’s going on?” he repeats.

Considering that Castiel is still doing a pretty decent deer in the headlights impression, eyes fixed on Jack and hands trembling where they still hold the garbage bag, Sam steps in to explain. 

“There’s been…” He stops, licks his lips, tries again, wondering how much he can get away with saying here. How little. “Trouble. With the Family.”

“Shit’s gone off the rails,” Dean puts in ever so helpfully. 

Looking between the two of them and then to his brother and the garbage bag, Gabriel nods slowly. He seems to be thinking hard about something, mouth pursed in a grim line lightyears away from his usual expression. The decision, whatever it is, is made quickly, and his face further hardens. His eyes have gone narrow and sharp, and there’s a set to his jaw that Sam wouldn’t want to be on the wrong end of in an argument. Gabriel Novak has never, since Sam has known him, looked more like a mob lieutenant than he does now. 

“Right,” he says, an eerie calm fallen over his voice. “Clearly, there’s something going on here, and it’s not good, and if I were to guess it’s about me and the rumors flying around, would I be pretty close?” Sam nods, since Castiel doesn’t look like he’s quite capable of it at the moment. “Okay. Well. What I’m gonna do is I’m gonna go ahead and take Jackie somewhere else for a bit, until you three get whatever this is sorted, yeah? Cause I’m guessing it’s nothing he should be in the middle of.”

“Definitely not,” Dean agrees, this time taking his turn functioning as Castiel’s proxy. 

It looks for a moment like that’s going to be the end of it, like Gabriel’s going to herd Jack back out of the room and that will be that. Something has Gabriel stopped, though, paused where he’d been half turned towards the door, hand on Jack’s shoulder. Sam isn’t quite sure what it is he’s waiting for, until the exact moment it happens.

“Dad?” The small voice that breaks the stillness is the thing that finally puts a crack in the frozen statue impression Castiel’s been doing since the door first opened. It’s Jack, having spoken up for the first time in the brief conversation, uncertain and nervous. Scared, but in the way that twenty-year-old young men are, wanting to hide it though not quite managing to. 

“Everything’s going to be okay, Jack,” Castiel says. There’s only one person on the planet he talks like that to, in a tone of voice so gentle, so full of fiercely aching love that it makes Sam’s throat hurt to listen to it. “Come here.”

The boy does as he’s bid. He steps out from under Gabriel’s grip and walks hesitantly forward until his adoptive father is able to take his face in his hands, studying the frown etched into his forehead. Castiel pulls him down with a gentle tug, pressing a kiss to the center of those worried wrinkles, lingering for a long moment and then enveloping Jack in a hug. 

“Everything,” he repeats into his son’s hair, and Sam looks away, unable to bear watching any longer, “is going to be okay. I swear it.”

Gabriel is the one who gently pulls Jack away, when it becomes clear neither he nor Castiel is about to let go on their own. With a kind of necessary efficiency and serious gravity Sam has never seen in him before, Gabriel guides the boy by the shoulders, shooing him towards the door. Castiel follows anxiously, Sam almost worried he’s about to do something really foolish like try and prevent them from leaving, only to stop in the doorway itself. Gabriel pauses for a moment there too, his hand coming up to the side of Castiel’s neck, holding eye contact for a few seconds before he speaks.

“You’ll tell me if we need to run.” 

It’s not a question, but Castiel nods anyway. Gabriel nods back and then the door is swinging shut behind him. Both he and Jack are gone, and once more it’s just the Winchesters and Castiel, alone in the house, items scattered around them like a small storm has blown through. In a way, Sam supposes it has. 

“Alright,” Castiel sighs eventually, turning away from the closed door. His face is pale and grim but there’s a determination there, too. “If you have any ideas, now is the time.”

“Actually,” says Dean, a glint in his eye, “I think we do.”

Convincing Castiel that there’s a choice here other than taking Jack and fleeing the state, possibly the country, isn’t easy. Sam and Dean talk through the turbulent, nearly unbelievable past couple of days, filling in what he didn’t already know about and explaining what they’d been doing in that conference room in the first place - something that had been lost, originally, in the rush of realizing what had been intended to happen there. At first, Sam is worried they’ve lost him almost immediately. He has to admit even to himself it sounds completely insane, that they’d been spared in that alley for a reason and were here now to act as guards over the city, watchdogs with weapons blessed by God Himself. Hell, Sam almost doesn’t believe it, and he’d been there, in that dream they’d never found the words to talk about, when the pager went off, when the ceiling gave way and they were stopped at the last second from falling right to their deaths. 

It’s not right, the kinds of things these people have been getting away with, for years stacked on years. And because law enforcement couldn’t or wouldn’t do anything about it, the Sicilians and the bratva, they were left to run roughshod over Boston, trampling anything in their path, poisoning the city on drugs and then turning around and killing them when they couldn’t pay up. It’s even worse now, with the war of succession going on at the highest ranks of the Shirley empire, collateral stacking on top of collateral until God only knew where it would end.

“So you’re just… You’re taking out mobsters, now,” Castiel says. He’s sitting on the couch, the Winchesters perched on his coffee table side by side, facing him. They nod together, and he whistles, low and dubiously impressed. “Well. I can’t say this is what I expected to happen when you two stepped off the boat five years ago.” 

“What can we say.” Dean shrugs, a grin on his face that Sam has come to recognize as trouble. “We love to surprise. And I’m serious, Cas, think about it. If we take them out before they can get to you, it’s two birds one stone. You don’t have to skip town to avoid some hit on your head, and we make the city safer, one evil bastard at a time.” 

There’s a pause, and Sam has that same feeling again, the sense that they’ve lost Castiel in all of this, that none of it is making sense and he’s gonna rabbit the second he gets the chance. It’s hard to wrap your mind around, that’s fair, and Castiel has always had a strange kind of morals to him, for all that he’s Family himself. Sam would be lying if he didn’t say there was a part of him that wondered at the morality of it, if this really was the right thing to do, the Godly thing to do. But that kind of doubt didn’t have any place behind a trigger, and so Sam put it away, focused on the square of Dean’s shoulders and the memory of water dripping down on him from a cracked ceiling, and believed. 

Now they just need Castiel to believe too.

“Alright, well, hell.” He looks from one to the other, locking eyes with first Dean, then Sam. “I’m in. This place, my son, my brother- Balthazar was right to get out all those years ago. This needs to stop, and I can help. I know everything about every mob connection in this city, and I know just where to start.”

Where to start turns out to be a smoking bar in a seedy corner of town. A flickering, half-broken marquis over the door advertises the joint in dull red letters, PURGATORY. They sit in the car outside while Castiel fills them in, tells them how it’s frequented by all manner of sick and dangerous elements of Boston’s criminal underworld. The door itself sends a pretty clear message - it looks like graffiti, sprayed onto the dingy wood, what might once have been white paint. 

abandon all hope ye who enter here

Sam snorts. Never let it be said gangsters were a subtle breed. He shakes his head, then pulls the ski mask down over his face. With Dean at his side, and Castiel behind them, Sam reaches up and taps his forehead then down to his chest and shoulders, performing the Sign of the Cross on autopilot, then grabs the handle of the door. It opens, a waft of smoke greeting them, and that’s how it begins.

They locked the bartender in the back storage room. 

That’s the part that Victor can’t get his mind around, standing in the center of the scene of their latest carnage, looking around at the handful of bodies littering the floor. Mob, every one of them, a kill list a mile high accredited to the sterling members of society he’s currently looking down at. These are the people who got him into this line of work in the first place, the butchers whose trials of carnage inevitably dirty up his desk, orphans and caskets left in their wake. Hell, if he weren’t the person that he was, if there wasn’t a badge on his belt and an ‘Agent’ stuck in front of his name, Victor would want to track whoever did this down just to shake their hands and thank them. 

But he does have that badge, and he is Agent, and this whole mess is beginning to drive him nuts. Victor can’t make heads or tails of what’s going on, neither can Donna and Jody, because they found the bartender alive. The man, himself vaguely connected to the Shirleys but not directly involved, had been a little roughed up but overall unharmed, barricaded back where he the bar’s liquor stores are kept. It doesn’t make a moment’s sense, to leave a witness alive, when their guys clearly have no problem with killing in quantities. 

Then there’s the shooting itself.

“Look at the bullet holes in the wall over here,” Jody says, pointing with her flashlight. The building is so dimly lit, no extra lamps or ceiling lights around to help see what’s going on, that they’ve resorted to using the handheld devices to shine around, get a read on things. At some point the locals would probably bring in equipment, but for now, they’re stuck with tiny bulbs behind plates of glass, circles of white light glinting off pools of blood and soaking into smoke-stained walls. 

Stepping closer, Victor squints at the holes Jody is indicating. Donna is over with the bartender, seeing if their only witness can remember anything useful, and he leaves her to it. She’s always been the people person of the three of them, able to sweet talk information out of frightened or shell shocked witnesses while Jody’s skillset lay more in intimidation, and Victor preferred to avoid the actual human element as much as possible. He focuses on the marks blown into the wood, disorganized and sloppy. 

It’s not professional, this shooting, but it’s unprofessional in a different way than the circular spray of bullets in the hotel had been. This doesn’t feel like some shoot-em-up television grandstanding. This feels like inexperience, someone holding a gun who doesn’t quite know which end is up. 

The targets, though, were so cleanly chosen, and laid out on the floor just like they had been in the hotel. Hands folded over chests, pennies laid on closed eyelids, that odd feeling in Victor’s gut that he’s missing some crucial part of the puzzle. This isn’t adding up. None of it is adding up, and it is, quite frankly, beginning to drive Victor a little out of his mind. He turns this way and that, squinting around the gloom and trying to find the missing piece.

“See something?” Jody’s voice takes him by surprise from his right, and it’s only years of experience and training that allows Victor to squash the flinch before it sees itself to fruition. 

“No,” he says, slow and distracted. He takes a step forward and stops when a crunch signals the broken glass under his shoe. “No, I don’t see anything at all. But I’m gonna find it.”

The next lead from Castiel takes them to the home of a man named Zachariah Gallo, an executioner for the Shirleys that Castiel was reluctantly dragged on jobs with a few times. He’d just been the driver, he nervously tells Sam and Dean in the car, picking at a loose thread on the sleeve of his jacket. Somewhere in the process of all this, he’s lost the tie, the top button of his shirt undone and the collar half out of place, giving him an overall disheveled, slightly manic look. While Zachariah… took care of business, Castiel would wait outside, heart palpitations and sweating palms betraying that no matter what face he put on for his bosses, he wasn’t okay with this. 

“He’d always have this dead look in his eyes when he came back,” Castiel says, his own eyes staring somewhere into the middle distance, unfocused and clearly not looking at anything in particular. At least not anything that’s here, anything that’s now. “Like he’d been picking up the mail. And we’d leave, and the next day in the paper, well… The world is going to be a better place without him in it.”

Castiel gets a message, on the way, buzzing to life on the pager stuffed almost forgotten into his pocket. Only a handful of people have the number to it, and two of them are in the car with him, leaving only his brothers and his son as the remaining possibilities. He frowns at the screen, face going a shade paler, and Dean frowns at him in the rearview mirror.

“Something you want to share with the class?” he asks as he guides the car around a corner, taking them one block closer to their grim destination.

“I have… a problem,” says Castiel, slow and delicate. And then, because he’s realistic and he understands how things work in the Family, adds, “Which means that we have a problem.”

The message has only four words. MIKEY CALLED IL DUCE. Four words that spell out an urgent warning from Gabriel, sounding the alarm. Castiel has heard that name before, and he knows what kind of body count follows behind it. Il Duce. The Duke. The middleman you call in when you need someone in-house taken care of but don’t want to get your own hands dirty doing it. Word is he’s locked up somewhere, deep in maximum security prison, but Castiel knows better than to ever believe that means he’s out of reach of those who’d have cause to hire him. 

“Michael is…” After spending all of five seconds looking for one, Castiel comes to the conclusion that there is, in fact, no gentle way to put this. “Michael is sending a cleanup man after me. They’re going to retrieve Il Duce from prison and as soon as he’s out, he’s going to be after me, and that means he’ll be after the two of you too. One of the best hitmen in the business is about to be honing in on us.”

“So this guy, he’s bad news?” It’s said with a tone indicating Dean doesn’t mean just bad news for them. He means bad news as in the kind they’re out here today to deal with, headed straight to Zachariah’s house to extinguish.

Castiel’s face twists into a deep grimace. “You could put it that way. He’s definitely not going to stop until either I’m dead or he is.”

“Well.” It’s Sam that answers this time, voice light and eyes still focused outside, expression Castiel can see from the visible side of his face one of an oddly still, focused clarity. “We’re just going to make sure it’s not you, then, won’t we.” He says it like it’s as easy as that, and, looking from him to Dean, it’s almost possible for him to believe it will be.

Their attitude is infectious, the composed assuredness with which they both seem so convinced everything is going to turn out fine. With them both in the car, calm faces and determined posture illuminated by the bright sunlight shining in through the windshield of the car like some kind of ordained forcefield, Castiel starts feeling himself relax. Il Duce may be out there somewhere, on his way here, but hell, maybe they’re right. Maybe they can handle it - after all, there’s three of them, only one of him, and they know he’s coming. 

For a larger-than-life specter who has haunted so much of Castiel’s quieter, darker moments in recent years, Zachariah falls just like any other man does. The fight to get to him is bloody and loud, visual and auditory input overlapping and combining until the entire detached garage house is a cacophony of light and sound. There are more people than there Castiel had necessarily been expecting, but the Winchester brothers take care of them with relative ease, firing in tandem like twin barrels of a double-gage.

This is the moment, not the smoking bar, not the diner, not anything that came before it, that Castiel feels the choice most acutely - the moment he turns his back on the Family. It comes down to just he and Zachariah, though he sees Sam and Dean across the room, sees Dean’s chest pushing against Sam’s restraining hand. And when that moment does come, Castiel arrives to meet it without a moment’s hesitation. He doesn’t even think about it when the momentum of Zachariah’s attack throws them both back against the pool table in the middle of the room.

Pressed into his palm, the billiard ball is cold and smooth. It cracks hard into Zachariah’s skull, once, twice, three times, until Castiel’s fingers are slick with blood and the man has finally stopped moving. He stands there in the aftermath of it, letting the ball slip from his grasp and thunk to the ground, chest heaving with exertion. Electricity zips and hums in the air, adrenaline thudding in his ears, and Castiel waits. 

For long, static moments, he waits. But the guilt? The shame, the regret? It doesn’t come. All he feels is relieved.

It seems fitting to Castiel, in the one clear, empty moment standing on the porch before chaos breaks loose, given all of the carnage left behind them in that house, that there should be the stuff of nightmares waiting for them outside. Il Duce has found him.

And I looked, and behold a pale horse, he hears in the voice of the priest at Sam and Dean’s church, watching the Family’s executioner turn to face him. And his name that sat on him was Death, and Hell followed with him. Standing across the sleepy, quiet street, John Winchester looks up at them, draws a weapon in each hand, and starts to fire. On either side of Castiel, standing their ground together, the man’s sons each rest a forearm over one of his shoulders, and begin firing in return. 

The recoil every time one of them pulls the trigger jars Castiel’s torso, the kickback vibrating through him like Sam and Dean are opposing tectonic plates and he’s caught in the middle at the mercy of the earthquake. Unable to do anything but stand there and hope he doesn’t get caught quite literally in the crossfire, Castiel closes his eyes and waits for it to end. 

It’s violent, and terrifying, and it feels like it lasts beyond an eternity, but it does eventually end, though not before blood baptizes the porch of the now lifeless Gallo house. By the time their would-be killer, for reasons he doesn’t bother stopping to explain, gets back into his car and peels off down the street, Castiel is down from ten fingers to nine and Dean’s got a deep trench torn through his upper arm. Of the three of them, Sam has it the worst. They don't notice until he makes an awful choking sound, a sound that's going to haunt Castiel for the rest of his natural life, and possibly beyond. 

There’s a bullet lodged in Sam's thigh, Castiel sees as he frantically rakes his eyes over his friend's body, searching for the damage. Pulses of dark blood are saturating his jeans as he sways and nearly falls, Dean and Castiel barely catching him in time. One thing is immediately clear - if they don't do something to stop the bleeding, and soon, it's going to be too late.

Chapter Text

As they’re depositing Sam into the back of the car, ready to take off and get him somewhere they can do something about the bleeding and the way he looks like he’s about to pass out any second, his hand catches Castiel’s sleeve, yanking hard. 

“The blood,” he forces through gritted teeth, still pulling on Castiel’s sleeve. Sam’s eyes are fierce and intense, and despite the blood loss he’s not letting go. “Need to make- to make sure they can’t get- From the blood, in the trunk-”

“Yeah,” Dean interrupts, clearly following Sam’s logic where Castiel isn’t. “Okay, Einstein, just shut up and sit still, we’ll take care of it.” His words are brusque and tight with pain but his hand is gentle when it catches in Sam’s hair, cups the side of his head. “Try not to die in the next ten minutes, okay?” 

While Dean takes the ammonia from the trunk and heads back to the porch to destroy any DNA evidence left behind, Castiel stays at the car with Sam. Someone has to watch him, to keep pressure on his leg and make sure he stays conscious. Besides, it’s not like he’d be much use with a spray bottle, given the state of his finger - or lack of one.

The moment they burst back through the door of Castiel’s rented house, he goes straight to the phone affixed to the wall. Gabriel answers right away when he calls the number of the hotel, and Castiel talks fast. He hopes he’s successful in keeping the pain out of his voice as he tells his brother to get out fast, take Jack and find Bobby and Rufus. They should be safe there until Castiel has time to figure out what to do next, and they’re the only people he can think of who might help who aren’t connected to the Family.

Castiel’s house is not well-outfitted for emergency medical care, but they don’t have a lot in the way of options. He holds his towel-wrapped hand close to his body and watches the iron as it heats up, unable to believe they’re about to do this. 

No matter how odd or difficult the thought is, the actual act of it is so much worse. 

Once the screaming peters out, it hangs still over the room in a haze of charged air, a reminder that something awful has happened here. The iron sits abandoned on the stove, forgotten where Castiel left it when he finished his terrible job. He turns back now to where Sam has collapsed back against his brother, limp against his chest and wracked with the aftershocks of what's happened, shaking so hard it almost looks like he's seizing. He'd been the worst, so they'd done him last, and Castiel can see the logic behind it now - if they'd taken care of him before the other two had their injuries addressed, he'd have been completely unable to help. So they’d cauterized his and Dean’s wounds first and then paused, while Dean poured out three shots of hard liquor one after the other and Sam knocked them all down in quick succession. 

Castiel was given the terrible responsibility of holding the iron while Dean in turn held Sam. The older Winchester took his place sitting behind Sam and wrapped his arms around his brother to hold him still while Castiel wielded the heated tool that would save his life but caused him immeasurable pain in the process. Castiel wants to do something now, to take the hands that had hurt him in the name of helping him just moments ago and do something to mitigate that pain, but he doesn't know what to do, how to make it better, so he helplessly watches, his own comparatively minor wound throbbing, as Dean holds Sam, supporting his body and cradling his head. 

"I've got you, Sammy," Dean is murmuring, gentler than Castiel has ever heard his voice go, gentler than he'd thought it could go. His grip has gone from restraint, keeping Sam still for the terrible deed, to comfort, to a protective cradle. "It's done, it's over, you did so good. We're just gonna chill here a sec, there you go. It's over."

Slowly, wracked by intermittent spasms, Sam's shaking stops, until he lays still and boneless with his tear-damp face resting against the side of Dean's neck. He breathes in small, shallow gasps, nothing existing beyond the moment it takes to pull the next breath of air in, let it rush out again. Silence hangs in the pain-heavy air and something sends Castiel’s attention over to the door. There’s no threat to be found, no person coming in to further harm them, but Castiel continues to watch it nevertheless, even as his hand pulses in sharp throbs at his side. If anyone walks in here now, he’ll rip them to shreds. He’ll tear them apart with his bare hands, finger or no finger. 

When he’s at least regained lucidity, able to communicate in short bursts, Dean and Castiel slowly, agonizingly move him to the couch. Dean sits on one end and pulls Sam half into his lap, holding him with hands that shake from pain or something else, and talking to him quietly. He’s speaking so softly it’s almost impossible to make it out, face ducked down, lips brushing the top of Sam’s head as he talks to him. Not talking to him, Castiel realizes as he listens slightly closer. 

“Health of the sick, pray for us.”

Reciting something. Quoting. 

“Refuge of sinners, pray for us.”

The longer he listens, the clearer Castiel can make it out. The Litany of Mary, he thinks it’s called. 

Sam is the one who prays, of the two of them. Castiel catches him doing it all the time, murmuring under his breath as he goes about his life. Sleeves rolled up cooking dinner at Castiel’s house because there’s no real kitchen in his apartment, helping Bobby and Rufus balance the books for the bar, face turned towards the sky on the first spring morning after the snow begins to melt. He doesn’t know if it’s a habit or a comfort thing or if Sam really is that devout, Castiel has never actually asked. It’s become something of a comfort to him too, Sam’s absent-minded voice, Our Father who art in Heaven, hail Mary full of grace, may God the Father who made us bless us.

But now, Sam doesn’t so much as have the energy to hold his own head up, and so Dean is doing it for him, knowing the words just as well even if he isn’t usually the one who speaks them. 

Suddenly feeling like he’s seeing something he was never meant to see, Castiel looks back to the door. His hands curl into fists and his missing finger throbs loudly, reminding him of its presence- or. Well. Not that, actually. He grits his teeth and ignores it, staring at the door and letting the barely-audible sound of Dean’s voice wash over him. 

Whatever comes next will come next, but for now, at least until the end of this prayer, he’s going to give the Winchesters some peace. Castiel has the distinct feeling it might be the last moments they have any for a long time.

Ammonia. Victor has never before had such a personal and intense grudge against a chemical compound, but he’s pretty sure if he could, he’d challenge ammonia as a concept to a duel in the street, because that devious little bastard of a solution is the reason they’ve lost any usable evidence they could’ve gotten from the scene at Zachariah Gallo’s house. He leans away from the bloodstained pillar on the front porch and its distinct, sharp smell promising any usable DNA evidence has been obliterated, and sits heavily down on the top step. The street stretches quiet and normal out around him, as if there hadn’t just hours before been a bloody confrontation right here in front of this house.

Carnage lies behind him, a handful of the mafia’s worst lain out with pennies over their eyes and bullets in their bodies, and in front of him is evidence of a second fight following the first. There’s no trail of blood or violence from the detached guest house where the main slaughter had taken place, indicating that the second incident was separate from the first. Tread marks are burnt into the pavement of the road across the street, and bullets have blown holes in the line of trees behind where the car must have stopped. The scene tells a story. Victor can see it now.

Their vigilantes on the porch, having just finished off Zachariah and his entourage. Another person or group of people - hard to believe just one could have done this much damage - arrive in a car. They trade shots, at least one of the vendetta killers taking a hit, until eventually the newcomer screeches back off down the street. Maybe interrupted, maybe out of ammo, whatever reason, they’d gone before they had a chance to finish anyone off, going by the lack of bodies around the front steps. 

This is ridiculous. They should have found something conclusive by now. There just-


-there has to be something here somewhere, these comic book anti-hero wannabes cannot be that good, somewhere here is-


“What!” Victor is not proud of the shrill tone his voice takes when he finally whips around to look at Donna, who’s been trying to get his attention with increasing levels of urgency. 

The blond woman is standing on the other side of the porch, next to a bush where it seems like one of the crime scene techs is crawling around on the ground. Victor grimaces, not envying that man his job, and gestures wide, inviting her to please inform him of what exactly is so important she’d interrupted his internal ranting.

“We’ve got a finger.”

A what? Victor thinks, a second before Jody, down by the sidewalk, calls, “A what?”

“A finger,” Donna repeats. She snaps on a glove and gingerly holds it up, thanking the tech who hands it to her. It is indeed what appears to be an index finger. “Looks like one of our guys left something behind there, eh?”

It’s not much, and it’s not something Victor ever wanted to see, thank you kindly, but it’s a start.

“Get it back to the lab,” he says, already headed down for his own rented car. “Run the print, see if whoever misplaced it is in the system.” If there’s any grace or luck in the world, he will be.

It’s late that evening, Victor alone in the precinct burning the midnight oil, when he gets the ping on the boxy, slow computer that’s been comparing the scan to the database of criminal records. The thing he’s hoped for since Donna had held it up has come to pass. The print is in the system. Eagerly, Victor clicks into the completed result, then sits there staring at it, because this can’t be right. Their finger now has a face, and a name, and it’s someone Victor recognizes.

CASTIEL NOVAK the computer tells him in blinking, pixelated font. Castiel Novak, thirty-eight years old, low-level runner and package boy for the Shirley family. Youngest brother of one of Shirley’s lieutenants, Gabriel Novak, the one the Feds have a watch out on the potential weak link. Their middle sibling, Balthazar, evidently skipped town a while back, when things started heating up. Castiel has, according to the file, no wife, but one child, a twenty-year-old son named Jack Kline. The boy’s mother Kelly was killed in what is regarded as the first of the skirmishes between Michael and Luke Shirley, after which Castiel stepped up as the sole parent of fatherless - and now motherless - Jack. 

And he’s the man who had shown up at the precinct, what feels like eons ago, to bring the Winchester brothers a change of clothes after the incident in the alley that left three bratva soldiers dead.

Victor stands abruptly, closing out of the screen. His chair screeches back across the worn floor, and he grabs his coat off the back, striding quickly towards the front door. As he passes, the night receptionist at the station says something to him, likely some kind of polite goodnight, but Victor neither really hears nor responds. He needs some air.

In search of air and of answers, Victor spends half the night wandering the city. He walks along the water until his feet hurt and his lungs burn, as it all cycles through his mind, piece by piece falling into a puzzle whose picture he finally sees clear as the burnished light of a daytime sun. And, despite his newfound understanding of exactly what had happened, along with a pretty good grasp on why, Victor doesn’t feel better. If anything, he feels worse, not because of what he’s learned, but because of what he’s done with that information.

Or, rather, what he hasn’t done. He hasn’t called it in. Jody and Donna sleep soundly somewhere in a mid-range hotel, Chief Harvelle’s phone hasn’t rang, and though he’d known at least one of his peanut gallery of loaner detectives had been in the precinct somewhere when he left, Victor hadn’t gone to find them. Instead of doing everything protocol tells him he’s supposed to do at that point, anything that his training and history and instinct says to do, Victor is wandering Boston, torn and sick. 

The end of his journey, as the first accusing rays of the morning climb up above the fog-shrouded buildings of the downtown skyline, lands Victor on the front steps of Saint Joseph Catholic Church. The doors loom tall and foreboding in front of him, like they’re issuing some kind of warning, but Victor is too addled with lack of sleep and the chaos scrambling through his mind to either figure out or heed it. What kind of impulse sends his palm out, pushing against the polished and well-kept wood until it gives and swings open inward, Victor couldn’t say. But he follows it nevertheless, and steps inside.

There’s a confession booth, off to one side by the rows of silent seats, empty of worshippers. Off in the far end of the sanctuary, there’s someone who looks to be a caretaker or member of the clergy lower down in the hierarchy, wiping a cloth over the dully shining metal of the organ pipes. It’s quiet inside Saint Joseph’s, the air smelling faintly of incense and candle smoke. The same odd instinct that had carried him into the church to begin with propels Victor’s feet to start moving, and before he really knows what he’s doing, he’s crossed the room and is entering the small, dark space of the confessional. 

As soon as the little door closes, Victor begins to feel extremely foolish. There’s absolutely no reason to be here - he isn’t Catholic, and beyond that, there are a lot more things he should be doing right now. For starters, he should be heading back to the precinct, calling Jody and Donna as he goes, telling them that the men they’re looking for are named Sam and Dean Winchester, and they should dispatch to arrest the pair of them as well as accomplice to multiple murder Castiel Novak posthaste. Just as he’s reaching out to open it again and step out, there’s a rustling sound that alerts Victor to the presence of someone else now sitting on the other side of the booth. The barest outline of a face can be seen through the little screen separating them, and Victor looks sharply away.

“How long has it been since your last confession?” the man on the other side - a priest presumably - asks, his voice pleasantly blank, void of distinguishing characteristics, an empty slate onto which anything could be projected.

“I’ve never confessed, I don’t go to any church,” Victor finds himself saying. “I’m not- I didn’t come here for absolution. Or, hell, maybe I did. It’s hard to tell any more.”

“Why don’t you start somewhere easier, then?” the priest asks through the wall. “Why did you come to a church, if you’re not a religious man?”

The question is a fair one, regarding a decision Victor wishes he’d put enough thought into that an actual answer was possible. “Seemed like the thing to do,” he says, smiling faintly at the absurdity of it all. “Seeing as I have something of a crisis of morality on my hands, and all, and I do not belong to a profession that invites the debate of those. Not like this, that’s for sure.”

It’s probably a risk to be saying all of this. Victor doesn’t actually know how far the seal of the confessional stretches, because though he doesn’t say it outright, he’s sure it’s pretty simple to put together. Unless this priest has been living under a rock this week, he knows that the dilemma Victor is facing, that the men going into the dark places he can’t afford to go to flush the demons out of them are the so-dubbed Saints of South Boston. 

On the surface, it’s simple. Victor is a lawman. The Saints- The Winchesters, and Novak with them, they’re breaking the law, though ‘breaking the law’ is a woeful understatement. It’s such an easy equation it does itself, except somehow, Victor still feels like he’s missing a factor, something confusing the outcome.

“Perhaps some laws…” And it sounds like the priest is hesitating, choosing his words carefully. Gone is the practiced ease of the beginning of their conversation, and in its place is the determined delicacy of a novice glassblower. “Some laws,” he says again, the words carrying a slight, odd echo in the narrow walls of the wooden box they sit in either side of, “are higher than others. That doesn’t have to mean God, you know. Could mean science, could mean good old fashioned instinct of right and wrong, just as easily as the Lord. You say these men are doing things you can’t?”

“They are,” Victor agrees. His lips feel numb and he’s gone lightheaded. Maybe it’s the incense steeped into the air so long and so completely that no matter what, this one place will always smell faintly of sweet, cloying smoke. Maybe it’s the lack of sleep, the exhaustion weighing his limbs down, pulling him to rest against the back wall of the booth.

“And do you believe that they would hurt an innocent person, or let one get caught in the crossfire of what they’re doing?”

“No.” No evidence indicates that, and Victor would’ve had them in cuffs already if he’d caught even a hint. “Every person they’ve put in the morgue has been responsible for their entire body count’s worth of deaths and then some.”

“Then it sounds to me like you’ve already made your choice, and you don’t need me to tell you what to do at all.”

It takes hearing the priest say it to know the man is right. Victor thanks him, offers an ‘amen’ tacked on as an embarrassed afterthought, and steps out into the open sanctuary of the church. However soft the lighting in the rest of the church is, it’s nothing compared to the dark of the confession booth, and Victor is forced to squint as his eyes adjust. Maybe that’s why he thinks he’s seeing things at first, when he spots them.

Sitting in a pew across the church, his head tilted up towards the ceiling, is none other than Sam Winchester. He cuts an unmistakable figure with his lanky, awkward frame and shaggy hair. Shortly away from him sits Castiel Novak, though his head is bowed, forehead hung so low it’s almost pressed to the back of the bench seat in front of him. Behind them, almost near the door of the church, Victor sees a third person, and this is the one he heads for now.

“Now, I’m not much of a religious man,” Victor says when he comes to a stop, studying the face of the man in front of him as he speaks, “so I could be off base on this, but I can’t help but feel like this is all a bit hypocritical. Shooting all those men… Can’t say that seems like very godly behavior, Mr. Winchester. You two, you don’t sound much like saints.” 

Dean Winchester, obviously familiar with the local news nickname Victor was referring to, snorts softly. He looks up above himself at the soaring ceilings of the church, the motes of dust drifting in the air faintly colored by light filtering through stained glass windows. A small, easy smile pulls at his mouth, at direct odds with the words that shortly come out of it.

“Saints,” Dean says. His head swings from side to side in a slow arc as he says it, like he’s measuring something. Weighing it. “No. We aren’t Saints. We’re something else.” The young man goes abruptly still and his eyes snap over to meet Victor’s head-on. “Have you ever heard of a sin eater, Agent Hendrickson?”

Even the phrase itself is enough to send a chill down Victor’s spine. This is one of the reasons he’s never been much for active practice of religion, and even when he does participate, he’s happy at his mother’s Baptist church. Catholics seem to take everything to a whole new, often incredibly morbid level with their mythology. 

“That a Catholic thing?” he asks, quirking up an eyebrow. 

Dean shrugs one shoulder. “No one’s really clear where it came from or whose thing it was. I only know cause Sammy got on some NPR kick and kept repeating everything he thought was cool for, like, a full week after. Usually I just tune him out when he gets on a roll, but this time… There was something about this one that caught my attention. See, a sin eater was a person who would eat a symbolic meal for a dead person, taking all the sins of that person onto themselves and…” He ‘poof’s his hand like a plume of vanishing smoke, and his sleeve rides up, showing the bandaging still present around his wrist, the tattoo curving down onto his hand. ÆQUITAS, it says. Victor looked it up after the interrogation. Latin. It means justice. “Voila. Sins gone. Transferred.” 

“So,” Victor says, frowning, finding the whole thing increasingly more unsettling the longer this conversation goes on, “you’ve decided to become… Sin eaters. For the mob. And you’re doing that by- by killing them all.”

“Not for the mob,” corrects Dean, the waving hand curving until he points at Victor, then sweeps out to indicate the entire room, everything that lies beyond it. “For the city. For Southie, y’know. For Boston. For everyone else this shit’s touched, and everyone it’s never going to get the chance to touch.”

“You know this all gets harder for you.” It’s a cautious warning, half-serious half-curious, wondering how Dean is going to respond. Victor pushes a little further when no response is immediately forthcoming. “I’m serious. The rest of your lives, which could be very, very short, you run. You run and you don’t stop, and nothing ever gets easy again.”

“And, well, maybe in another life things go differently. Maybe I’m a mechanic or a farm laborer or something, maybe I’m a caretaker for the Church, fix things around the grounds and keep the lights running. Maybe Sammy’s a doctor or a lawyer and our lives are straightforward, hell, maybe our lives are just easy and simple like they were last week.” His head tilts again, to the side and he shrugs.

“But not in this life,” Victor finishes for him.

“We play the hand God deals out to us,” Dean says with an acceptance that Victor finds astonishing. It’s days like this he wishes he could walk into the doors of a church with the surety that he was walking under the eyes of God, that there was a blessing over his left shoulder and a holy sword at his right. “And me, well. I’m gonna take my hand and shoot for the moon. Agent, my brother and I, we’ll swallow the sin of this whole city if we have to, keep going until it takes us down and take as much of it down with us as we can. There’s evil in this world, and someone needs to rip it out.” 

Well. It’s hard to argue with that one. Victor didn’t join the FBI for fun.

As he walks past the older of the Winchesters to take his leave of the church, Victor makes a split second decision. The card passes between hands, and then he’s gone, back outside again, knowing he’s turned a corner he may not be able to go back around. Stuffing his hands into his pockets and snorting in the cold air, he starts briskly off down the street. Unbelievable. Agent Victor Henriksen has just given a vigilante his business card. The world really has gone mad.

It only continues to go madder. In less than an hour, the business card turns into a phone call and the phone call turns into a name Victor was never expecting to hear on this job. 

Il Duce is up there on the list of the organized crime division’s most wanted people, the infamous figures that scared even hardened criminals within the groups Victor worked to dismantle. The boogeyman who stalked the mob’s own, anyone looking to branch off into a competing empire, those rumored to be about to turn state’s. Sometimes just people who wanted out but would be too important to lose. Victor blames the fact that they hadn’t even heard a whisper of his involvement until now for how long it takes him to put the name together.

John Winchester. 

The only thing more startling to Victor than the news that Il Duce is their vigilante brothers’ father is the way they seem to brush this off when he brings it up.

“Things in our family are complicated, Agent,” Dean says, and Victor snorts. That sounds like the understatement of the century. “Haven’t seen him since I was maybe five years old. He might be my father but all I know about him is he tried to kill me, my brother, and my best friend today. And we need your help to find him before he tries again. Our resources don’t reach that far, but yours do. Can we count on you for that?”

Count on Victor to collar Il Duce? Never mind that it’s a career-making move, he’s seen the files. He’s chased a lot of monsters in his career, and this is one of the worst. “Of course. Let me know if you hear anything, and I’ll do the same.”

Chapter Text

Victor feels a little light headed as Dean explains where they plan to head next. The Winchesters and Castiel are making for the home of Metatron DeLuca, a man who is one tier in the Shirley hierarchy away from Michael Shirley himself. As far as Victor understands, the plan is to ride their current momentum to make it all the way to take out Michael and Luke, and then make a break for somewhere else to wait for things to cool down. 

Deciding to put all of that out of his mind to the best of his debatable ability to do so, Victor focuses on his own part of the plan. He reads Donna and Jody in on what’s going on - at least as far as Il Duce is concerned - though he’s immediately aware that they both know he isn’t telling them everything. Victor hand-picked this team, chose these women on purpose for their records and their caliber as investigators. They’re the best agents he’s ever worked with, but to every blessing there is a catch, and if he hadn’t known before, Victor knows now that he would never be able to get away with lying to them.

Jody frowns at him, her eyes narrowed and arms crossed over her chest. Donna just makes direct eye contact, hands tucked into the pockets of her slacks, head quirked slightly to the side. Neither of them say anything for a long, laden moment, and Victor would honestly prefer it if they did. Their faces speak for them, though. They know. And they also know he knows they know. It’s a round robin of knowing, and Victor feels it like a physical presence on his shoulders.

So Victor just takes a deep breath, meets first Donna’s gaze and then Jody’s, and says simply, “Please. I’m asking for your help, and I’m asking you to trust me. Just for right now, trust me.”

Through their time working together, he must have earned some amount of grace from them, because Jody nods, and Donna says, “You got it, Vic. Whatever you need.”

It’s a hard trail to find. Il Duce, John Winchester, he’s good. But Victor is better, and with Jody and Donna helping him, the hit man doesn’t stand a chance. The trail is located before too long, and when he sees where it leads, Victor feels his blood run cold. Because he’s headed towards the house on the hill just outside the city proper, the one belonging to Metatron DeLuca. Keeping this information to himself and silently apologizing to his teammates, hoping they’ll find a way to forgive him for this, Victor slips out and gets in his car, driving as fast as he can and hoping he makes it in time.

When he arrives outside, he can already hear it. Gunfire, coming from the house.

Sam supposes, when it happens, that it was only a matter of time before their streak of inconceivable luck ran out. He knows from the moment a handful of lowlifes from Metatron’s inner circle burst around the corner as they’re breaking in the basement that this was a mistake. They’re all too hurt, Sam especially, limping along with a bullet freshly removed from his thigh and the wound cauterized by the most crude means possible, but… It had been so intoxicating, the feeling that they were flying sky-high, that they were Heaven-sent and God-blessed and nothing could stop them. 

Too much luck makes a person drop their guard, go farther than they should go for longer than they risk. And the fall is brutal when it comes.

Castiel is bleeding so much it seems impossible that there’s enough blood left in him to keep doing so. Still, the bullet wound in his chest bleeds and bleeds no matter how hard Dean presses down on it. He’s severely injured, maybe mortally so, and if they don’t get him out of here, soon, then it’s going to prove fatal. The shooter and his companions had run back upstairs, leaving the door to the small, windowless room they’ve been shoved into to clang shut behind them. It’s not clear to Sam what had prompted their departure, but he’s not about to look a gift horse in the mouth. 

“C’mon, Cas,” Dean is saying, leaning over their friend’s prone form where he lays on the floor and speaking to him urgently. “Come on, up and at ‘em, we have to go.”

“I can’t,” Castiel gasps out. He’s breathing in uneven, ragged bursts, and Sam can see him shaking. It’s the shaking of a nervous system experiencing such a massive shock that there’s nowhere for the excess input to go, and it’s nearly impossible to watch. “I can’t, it’s too- I can’t. You have to leave me.”

“No,” Sam says immediately, overlapping with Dean snapping, “Are you out of your mind?”

“You have to,” insists Castiel, then breaks off whatever he’s about to say next, speech falling apart into a gasping, airless cry of pain. 

As Dean presses harder, trying to stem the flow of blood, Sam drops to his knees next to them both. His hands flutter uselessly, unsure how to help, before settling around Castiel’s head. He slips one hand behind it, fingers threading into his hair and keeping his head off the cold concrete, other palm pressing to his cheek, catching hot, agonized tears with his thumb. 

“We’re not leaving you behind,” Dean tells him fiercely. Out of the corner of his eye, Sam can see his brother looking around, trying to put together some kind of a plan. “We go together or not at all, we’ve just gotta get you up, and…”

“I can’t.” Castiel shakes his head slightly in Sam’s hands, slow at first and then growing frantic. “I’m a lia-” Pain seems to overcome him again, seizing his body so strongly that he loses the ability to speak for a second time, this time halfway through a word. His breath whistles through gritted teeth and the hand laying limp near where Sam is kneeling flies up to grab onto the open edge of Sam’s coat. He holds onto it so tight that his knuckles, where the skin can be seen through the blood, blanch white. When the spasm passes, he gasps in a deep breath and finishes, saying, “Liability. ‘N’ I’m the one they want. Leave me, get out. Get a h-” Another deep, shuddering breath. “Head start.”

“Not going to happen.” Fear zings up and down Sam’s spine. He doesn’t know how they’re going to get Castiel out of here when he’s this badly hurt. They’ll have to carry him, and to carry him while fighting their way past whatever nightmare will be waiting upstairs, their guns taken off them… It doesn’t look good.


“He’s not here,” Dean reassures, but Sam doesn’t think that’s what Castiel is worried about. 

Wide, tear-bright blue eyes turn on Sam, the hand on his jacket gripping harder, pulling. “They’ll go af-after him. Now that we’re here, ‘ve seen you, know about the S - the Salvage. Gotta get to him and Gabe, if you don’t- Please. ‘M too- Please. You have to- Have to-”

“Okay.” Sam is the one who agrees, because he knows Dean won’t be able to force it out. “We’ll get help, we’ll call that Agent, he’ll be here before you know it. You’re gonna be okay.”


Staring back at Dean, Sam feels the decision in his chest, knows he’s already made it. “It’s his son. His son. If it was just us… But it’s Jack. We have to go.”

It’s obvious he doesn’t want to. Sam doesn’t want to either, and he can’t help a small jolt of resentment at Dean’s continued resistance. Arguing to leave Castiel behind feels like reaching into his chest and slowly removing his own ribs, one by one. But he doesn’t have the luxury of picking his heart on this, not when he knows without question that there’s no other way to make it out and get to Jack in time. Someone has to argue reason, no matter how badly it hurts. 

“There’s one- One thing. You can do for me. ‘Fore you go.”

It feels like drowning and catching sight of a life preserver, bobbing next to you in the water. Sam looks down and clears away a fresh wave of tears from Castiel’s cheeks. 

“Anything,” Dean says fervently, and Sam nods along. “You name it, anything.”

“The prayer. Will you say…” He stops, squeezing his eyes tight closed and swallowing hard. “Will you say the prayer? For me?”

They ball Sam’s jacket up, tie Dean’s around it to secure it to Castiel’s chest as tightly as possible, over the wound high and to the right, almost at his shoulder. That way, if he loses consciousness, if the hand Sam guides up to the wadded fabric to press it down as hard as he can manage goes limp, there will still be something trying to stop the bleeding. With Castiel’s arms folded over his chest, his body pulled up to slump against the wall, he looks almost like the bodies they’d left behind. All that’s missing are the pennies over his eyes. It makes Sam feel sick but he swallows past it, and his voice joins his brother’s in the words of their inherited prayer.

“As shepherds we will be, for Thee my Lord, for Thee. Power hath descended forth from Thy hand, that our feet may swiftly carry out Thy command.”

“So will shall flow a river forth to Thee, and teeming with souls shall it ever be.” The new voice takes them by surprise and Sam and Dean both whirl to face it. They hadn’t heard the door open, nor the man begin to walk in, the man whose words have taken over for theirs as he approaches, gun in hand. “In nomine Patris et Filii et Spiritus Sancti.”

John’s head turns to the side, obviously noticing and reading the strange, confused looks on his sons’ faces. “What?” he asks. “We grew up together our whole lives, you really think I wouldn’t know Bobby Singer’s family prayer?”

Stunned speechless, Sam doesn’t acknowledge the question or even the man himself directly. He can feel, from where their shoulders have pressed together and shielding Castiel from view, that Dean has gone stiff. John had gone away when Sam was too young to remember. Not even two. Dean still retains memories though, of the time before he’d gone to prison. 

Mary was the one to turn him in to get him arrested in the first place. This is all Sam knows about it, though from what he hears, they’re not missing much. On the few times they spoke about the man, all Dean had to say was that he was distant and cold, and not well missed when he was gone.

“Come on, boys, we should get out fast. I didn’t recognize you at first on the porch, but I know now, and you don’t have to worry any more. I took care of the problem upstairs,” John says, gesturing out the door with the gun. 

Sam has just enough time to be relieved, to hope that maybe Dean had remembered wrong or John isn’t the same person now that he’d been when he’d been put away, before the gun returns. It swings around to point at them, and Sam’s brain goes to static. He can’t figure it out, not until John speaks.

“Just step out of the way so I can finish my job, and we can-”

“No!” Dean shouts, and Sam presses fractionally closer to him, far arm flying out to shield as much of Castiel from view as possible.

“I have a job to finish here, Dean, now get out of the way.” John’s voice has gone frigid, and Sam still can’t think. 

The noise builds over itself, voices overlapping as Dean and John both get louder and louder, and then Il Duce is advancing to finish what he’d started. Whether he plans on bodily pulling them away or shooting them to get to his target, Sam doesn’t know. He doesn’t have the time to find out, either. Before John’s made it halfway across the room, another figure appears in the doorway, wearing a windbreaker and wielding a weapon pointed right at John.

“FBI,” Agent Henriksen shouts, and it sounds like an angel’s garrison, all singing together. “John Winchester, freeze!”

It’s over in a moment. John is fast but Victor is faster, and Sam wishes he could say he felt something other than winding, sagging relief. 

Together, Dean and Agent Henriksen carry Castiel out of the basement. Sam, with his bum leg, isn’t much help, but he goes ahead, opening doors and making sure there aren’t any nasty surprises waiting for them. He lives through being brought out to the car, and he lives through the drive to the Salvage, shuttered up and empty. Bobby and Rufus are waiting there to take over. A doctor who owes Bobby a favor is on his way with supplies to help, and all that’s left to do after that is pray. 

Pray and decide what happens next.

“If he survives,” Dean says, standing on the street outside the Salvage , beside Sam and across from Agent Henriksen, “we’ll try to send him to his brother, Jackie along with him. Balthazar ended up in St. Paul, out in Minnesota. He should be safe there.”

“The area's got a history,” agrees Agent Henriksen. “Used to be a saying, in organized crime, if you couldn’t find someone, they were dead or in St. Paul. For the first time, I think I’m gonna be hoping for St. Paul.”

They part ways to make arrangements, deciding to meet back up in a couple of hours at an abandoned church near the water, Our Lady of Grace.

When Victor arrives back at the hotel where his team has been staying, he knows that the time of not asking questions is over. The moment he walks in that door, he decides, they won’t even need to ask. He has to tell them.

Jody and Donna are both waiting, sitting at a table they’ve been using to work at when not at the office. There are papers all over it, arranged into neat stacks, mug shots set on top of each. They’ve obviously been working non-stop since he left, digging into things and unspooling them out into a clear, traceable path. 

“Il Duce,” says Jody. She stays seated at the table with Donna, while Victor stays standing, and points to one of the piles. The mugshot on top is of a much younger looking man than Victor shot today at the DeLuca residence, but it’s clearly him. “John Winchester. Had two sons, back in Ireland. Sam and Dean, said their names were.”

“His wife, Mary, she tipped off the American authorities.” It’s Donna now, picking the story up where Jody left off. “Said she didn’t want that kind of a man involved with her children. Saw the path he was headed down and how he treated their first son, and she wanted him gone before the baby was old enough to remember him. The boys grew up with their mother, and then they moved here. To Boston, where they met Castiel Novak, a runner for the Shirley mafia.”

They know. Victor doesn’t even need to explain. His team, his brilliant, incorrigible, team of determined bloodhounds have already figured it all out. All except one part - his own.

“I’ll meet you in the hall in five,” he says. If it weren’t for the blood he knows stains the front of his shirt under his coat, Victor would just go now, but he can feel it drying against his skin and wants to be able to at least grab a washcloth from his room’s bathroom, wipe it away. “There’s something you need to see. I’ll explain on the way.”

Four and a half minutes later, they walk out together.

“Where are we going?” Jody asks behind him as they leave the building, met outside by a cold, sunlit day. 

Without turning around, Victor tells her, “We’re going to church.”

Our Lady of Grace Catholic Church must have once been a sight to behold. It’s built with an understated, soft beauty, not quite the same as some of the grand swooping cathedrals Victor has seen other places. The building is small for a church, serving what must have been a close-knit parish low in numbers, and it’s obviously fallen into disrepair in recent years. The sign out front is weather-worn and faded, and a few of the painstakingly handcrafted stained glass windows have holes broken through them. Something about that detail makes Victor’s heart give an odd little squeeze, but he quickly brushes it off and focuses on the task at hand. He’s not here to feel melancholy over abandoned architecture. 

As he approaches the front door, Victor slowly and casually removes his gun from its holster. There’s no way to truly know what lies in wait for them inside the abandoned body of Our Lady of Grace, and he needs to be prepared for the eventuality that whatever it is, it’s not friendly. The men he’s here to meet have somewhere between eighty and a hundred percent of Boston’s organized crime world after their heads, and that’s not an equation that lends itself to a holstered weapon and open hands. 

Gun in his right hand, Victor uses his left to gently push the front door of the church open. The tape that had been across it at one point, long since broken, flutters in a chilled breeze that sweeps leaves in past his feet. The hinges, years having passed since they’ve seen the meticulous attention of a dedicated groundskeeper’s hands, screech out a horror movie soundtrack note, and the back of Victor’s neck prickles. The barrel of his forty-five takes the lead into the front hall, and then his posture and shoulders relax. 

Inside the main sanctuary of Our Lady of Grace are only two people. They stand close together at the far end, beyond rows of dusty pews in an alcove where the organ may once have been tucked, standing sentry like terracotta soldiers dug up out of tombs deep in the earth, dressed nearly identically in jackets over black shirts. For a long, tentative moment, the two sets of people, at odds in just about every way possible, stand on opposite ends of the church.

Taking a deep breath, he lowers the gun but still keeps ahold of it. There’s no way to tell if the kind of uncertain peace that exists between Victor and the Winchesters will hold, especially given the wild cards of Jody and Donna behind him, the responsibility of their lives weighing on him like twin wings made of lead. Cautiously, ready to jerk the weapon back up at a moment’s indication it’ll be necessary, Victor takes a step forward. It’s matched in the steps Sam and Dean take towards him in return, and they advance on each other in a slow, careful dance of mutually assured destruction. 

They reach one another maybe ten feet from the steps up to the altar. It feels for all the world like Victor has just stepped on the trigger-mechanism for a bomb which may or may not still contain live ordinance. It’s Dean that breaks the silence first. 

“Well?” It’s a small word for all the meaning contained behind it. 

Victor looks at the brothers, at the guarded anticipation on their faces betraying the knowledge that, should Victor and his team decide it, this is the end of the line for them, then behind him. Donna and Jody are twin pillars of nervous tension. He can see both of their hands hovering over the guns at their belts, and he can’t blame them. His own weighs heavy in his hand as he looks for several long moments back and forth between the Winchester boys and his team. 

Slowly, at first unable to believe he’s doing it but rapidly swinging into a certainty of purpose so swift and solid it rocks him to the core, Victor holsters his weapon. He buttons the strap over it, securing it in place, and lets his hands hang down at his sides, empty and threatless. When he glances back towards them, he can see the confusion on Donna and Jody’s faces, like they can’t make sense of what they’re seeing, and he can’t really blame them.

“I won’t make this choice for you,” Victor says, into a thin and delicate silence. It feels like all of Boston is holding its breath around him, but he is existing in a bubble where the tension can’t reach him. His heart beats steadily in his chest and his hands don’t shake at his sides. For maybe the first time since this whole mess started, he feels calm. At peace. “If you decide to phone it in, and me along with it, I won’t stop you.” He repeats himself, looking each of them directly in the eye, first Donna, then Jody, ensuring they’re hearing him clearly. “I won’t make this choice for you.”

Victor turns his eyes again to the Winchester brothers, who look like they’re somehow even more confused than his team is. Dean’s arm is stretched out just far enough to be obvious in its intent, a flimsy and barely effective but none the less pointed barrier between the agents and his brother. Sam’s lips move soundlessly, and Victor could swear he could make out the words all the same, as instinctual as Dean’s arm, both of them protective and shielding. 

Our Father who art in Heaven, hallowed be Thy Name.

“But I’ve made it for me,” Victor says, like it’s that simple, because right now, for once, it is.

However many angels could dance on the head of a pin, you could’ve heard all of them drop in that room that day as the dying rays of the late afternoon sun flooded through the window and set the motes of dust in the air aflame with copper light. The room is still and silent as slowly, incrementally, the pendulum swings. 

A small snap pierces the air of the room. Victor looks over his shoulder, and he pieces together what the sound must have been from the sight of Jody’s hand going completely limp at her side, her jacket falling into stillness. She’s snapped the strap of her holster back over her gun, and she’s got a look on her face like she can’t believe what she’s just done. Like she’s taken a step she can’t take back.

Looking between Jody and Victor, Donna is the one who actually speaks. In that soft voice that always makes people think she’s a pushover but is really a veneer over a steel core, she says, “And I think we’ve made ours, too.”

It’s surprisingly easy, once you’ve decided you’re going to do it, to cross a line you’d always thought was carved in stone. So Victor turns and looks back at the Winchesters, studying them. Dean has eased his stance just a little, still in front of Sam but without that squared-shoulder challenge, and Sam’s lips have gone still, his prayer falling away in confusion. 

“How far are you going to take this?” Victor asks, and there’s a glance exchanged between them. It’s Sam who looks back at him and answers, taking a small step to the side as he does, just enough that he’s no longer being shielded by any portion of Dean’s body. 

“As far as it needs to go.”

Somewhere outside, echoing deep in the heart of South Boston, a church bell tolls.





19 MARCH 1999

“Please state your name for the record.” 

“Supervisory Special Agent Victor Henriksen.”


“Special Agent Jody Mills.”


“Donna Hanscum. Sorry, I mean, Special Agent Donna Hanscum. There ya go.”