There was a crash and the entire house shook, making Bobby swear around his glass of whiskey. They were eating dinner, the three of them, but now they paused, looking up, trying to figure out what had landed on the roof. Regardless, it couldn't have been good.
Dean was the first one to stand, his gun already in hand. He looked haunted as he stepped towards the door just beside the table they had been eating at, still in the kitchen and covered in papers, books, and Sam's laptop. The larger Winchester followed him, grabbing a weapon of his own.
They didn't need it though, the thing that had hit the roof too bloody and weak to fight them. Cas glanced up through his eyelids at them, slumped against the side of the house. There was blood running from one nostril and the corner of his mouth and he was flickering, as if he were trying to leave and come back, like a loose light bulb, like electricity.
He reached for them and there was fear in his dark blue eyes and pain in the way he gritted his teeth. All Dean could think of was the look on Jimmy's face when the angel had taken up residence in his daughter.
"Help." The angel croaked and the word stung as hard as any knife. He had never needed help before. Dean could do nothing but stare. He had required their services and asked for their assistance, but never had he pleaded for help.
"What is it?" Sam asked, kneeling down beside the vanishing and bleeding angel. He was so much stronger than Dean, so much more human, even with his flaws. Dean could only stand there, not as good, not as brave, not as powerful as his little brother, "How can we help, Cas?" And his voice was so kind, so patient, as if Cas wasn't an angel of the lord but anyone who was hurt, a child who needed Sam to be a calm, collected adult.
Cas tried to put his hand on Sam's shoulder to support himself, but the limb flickered in and out of existence so he dropped, "Something. 1837. Changing history."
Something clicked in Dean's head and it came out before he had a chance to think about it, "Frontierland? What you going to Back to the Future us to keep you from fading, Marty?"
Sam glared at him but Cas just stared in confusion.
"Are you going to be able to send us back, Cas? You seem to be in pretty bad shape." Sam asked, troubled as usual.
"Should. You change. Twenty four hours. Like last time."
But they didn't change immediately, as much as Dean loved his cowboy gear. Instead he grabbed Cas by his weak shoulders, hinting Sam to take his feet with a nod of his head. There was a groan as they lifted him and carried him into the house, worried all the while that he'd fall from their hands as he flashed electrically.
Bobby was startled and swore under his breath but followed them in his chair to the couch, where they lay the angel down. They watched him for a moment, his breathing catching in his throat and making a high pitched wheeze before they left the room to change.
The boys changed and when they returned Bobby had cleaned the blood from Cas's face and was loosening his clothing to make him more comfortable, as well as to look for other damage. Dean shifted his weight and took a step back, keeping his eyes away from his friend. It was wrong, seeing the angel hurt and weak like this.
"Ready?" Cas croaked.
Sam nodded, stepping forward but Dean hesitated.
"Don't worry about him, boy." Bobby consoled, "I'll take care of feathers here. Everything will be fine."
"What are we looking for, exactly?" that was Dean's really issue, "What are we supposed to do?"
"Novak." Cas winced and that was all the explanation they were going to get. It would have to be enough. Maybe Dean had been right about the Back to The Future reference. Novak, possibly an ancestor of Jimmy's. They'd have to find him when they got there.
He stepped forward and both he and his brother reached out, touching Cas's sweating and chilled arm.
Both Winchesters coughed in the dry sunlight, the strong smell of manure in their noses and dust blowing into their eyes. Everything was a sad shade of beige in the small town by the railway tracks, even the people, and the boys felt mildly out of place in their brighter clothing. At least they hadn't washed it since the last time they were there, so it fit in with the dust and sweat that was becoming of a real man.
They headed to the saloon, the best place to ask around. There was always talk in a saloon.
The bartender wasn't the kind who talked though, not until Dean had bought a few drinks and flashed him his badge, the tarnished gold star he had received on their last visit. He was a sheriff, a man of the law, and this guy would have to answer to him, even if he were from out of town.
"Some strangers came in this morning, dressed mighty peculiar. They even had a lady in Levi's! Very strange. Well, they then headed down to Major Hills, that's what we here call the government office, looking for one of them tax accountants, a Mr. Gunner Novak." He explained, "I didn't like the look of them and they all had knives. Guess it's a good thing he weren't at work today."
"And where was he?" Dean pressed, drinking down a glass of whiskey, trying not to let it show how much it tasted like gasoline.
"He spent the day at home. Preparing to see his sweetheart, I presume. Three blocks north than two east. No horse, no sign, but a cross over the door."
"Thank you kindly." Dean nodded, handing him a silver bullet as payment. They had no money here, nothing that would work, but silver was quite a commodity.
They were silent as they approached Novak's home, hands itching over their weapons. A lady in Levi's? That was obviously something from their own time, not 1837.
They couldn't have missed the house if they tried. There may not have been a cross over the door, but it was in the road, same as the shattered glass from the windows and the splintered wood of the door.
They raced inside, weapons drawn. The inside of the house was worse than the outside and there were tables, book, papers, anything, flipped on its side, thrown around, broken. It was a complete mess but there was no human to be seen. Only the four strangers.
They looked human but they weren't. Their posture was too perfect, the emotions missing from their faces. Only one creature they knew of could time travel anyway. Angels.
They had to get out of there, they had to get Cas, they couldn't do a thing for the tax accountant. The only thing that can kill an angel is another angel. And they were not angels.
Three of them were standing there, staring, their backs to the boys. The fourth, the lady in Levi's, was in front of the biggest mess of broken furniture, easily lifting pieces and tossing them aside. Their quarry must have been hiding underneath.
Dean looked at his brother, who wasn't taking his eyes off the scene. Luckily he was just as smart as his brother, if not smarter, and wasn't making a move against them. Dean reached over, surprising Sam by grabbing his knife.
He sliced through the calloused meat of his hand as quietly as he could and started to draw with his dripping blood on the wall beside him. He was silent all the while, hoping that the angels wouldn't notice his actions. They'd never let him finish if he had.
"Hey!" he shouted and all four of them turned, staring at him as he stood in front of the sigil on the wall.
"Winchester and Winchester." The lady in Levi's mocked, stepping forward. Obviously she was the leader of the group. "I should have known you'd be here."
"Glad we didn't disappoint." He swallowed, nervous, "Why are you here?"
She chuckled at that but stepped forward. For being emotionless dicks angels sure liked to feel better than you and laugh in your face. "Isn't it clear? We can't kill Castiel, we can't even find him. Here though, here he can't stop us, not really, and we can kill his vessel. He'll never even be born. Castiel will never make it down to Earth and he'll never stop you from saying yes."
Of course. That's what it all came down to, him saying yes.
"Why 1837?" he was still curious, "Why not just one generation before? I know time travel isn't easy for you guys!"
"Killing two birds with one stone." She shrugged, "If Gunner Novak dies here, today, you'll never be born either."
"What?" Sam stared, mouth open. Both of their minds were in the same place. There was no way they could have been descended from the Novaks.
"Don't worry." She must have read their minds, "You're not related to the Novaks. He's dating Cynthia McFerren. If he dies here, she'll never meet Bobby Ray Winchester."
"Too bad." Dean shrugged, "Seemed like a good plan."
He shoved his hand to the sigil and a blinding bright light appeared, blanketing everything in white. Once it faded they were alone in the house, well alone except for the hiding Tax Accountant.
"Novak?" Sam asked, leaping over an upturned chair to get to where the angel had been digging. Slower and less graceful than the lady in Levi's, he started to move the furniture, heaving it to the side. Dean wrapped his bleeding hand as best he could with a handkerchief before joining him.
They finally pushed it all aside, revealing a scared and hurt young man underneath. He tried to get away from them but Dean flashed his badge, saying, "Woah woah, calm down! We're here to help."
There were cuts and bruises all over him, but Dean was still surprised by what he saw underneath. He was a little bit stronger and his hair was a lot longer, almost reaching his shoulders, but he looked exactly like Castiel, down to the dark blue eyes.
Sam helped him to his feet and he gasped, clutching his side before falling onto the younger of two Winchesters. Sam held onto him, helping him over to his bed, and pushing it back onto all four legs before lying him down on it.
"Okay," Sam breathed, "I'm going to have to take a look at you. I think you broke a rib or two."
Dean headed outside, letting Sam work on the tax accountant's wounds and fill him in. The older of the two patrolled the perimeter, trying to remember any of the sigils that would keep angels out and failing at it. He tried praying to Castiel as well, but he doubted that he could hear him.
When he returned, Sam was rearranging the furniture and Novak was sitting upright in bed. He was well packaged, bandages wrapped around his torso to keep his ribs in place and his shoulder swelling from being dislocated. He didn't turn when Dean approached him, just kept his eyes on the window. Dean sat at the edge of the bed, studying him. He really did look like Castiel, eerily so.
He wiped his eyes with the back of a hand and Dean realized how close the young man was to tears. He was clutching an old, leather bound bible to his chest tightly, but not in a loving way at all, "None of it's true is it? Angels are supposed to be strong. Angels are supposed to protect us. They're supposed to be beautiful and mighty and love us."
Dean rested a hand on Gunner's good shoulder, "The book got a few things wrong but there is one angel that is all those things."
"Yes. He's saved my ass so many times, pulled me out of Hell even, made it possible for us to save the world. I've never shown him any gratitude for it, hell I don't respect him half as much as I should, but he doesn't stop."
"An angel is love. It cannot stop."
"I guess that's true."
They spent the day watching over him and him showing them the ways of life here in 1837. It was much different from the Wild West movies Dean had always loved and he wished that he would stop, but there was nothing else to do. The adrenaline was gone, even though they were still here to protect him. They couldn't do anything though, not without an angel on their own side, so they just had to wait.
They slept in shifts to make sure nothing would come and kill them in their sleep.
There was a question nagging Dean as they ate breakfast. The lady in Levi's had said that they would never be born if she killed Gunner, but wasn't that a problem? He couldn't say yes if he'd never been born. Sam seemed to be thinking of the same thing, but he didn't say anything.
"So, that's it?" Gunner asked as they walked into town. They had only a few minutes until they were supposed to go back to their own time.
"No." Sam admitted, "They'll be back. We just can't do much against them. We'll come back though and we'll bring Castiel. He can stop this."
Dean wasn't so sure. Last they saw him he couldn't even stand up on his own.
"Thank you." Gunner said, slouching, "I know you're doing this to save your own lives and his, but I don't care. You're helping me and that's something no one's really done before."
And then they were gone.
Castiel's back arched and a stream of blood erupted from his lips before he collapsed back onto the couch, close to unconsciousness. Dean was at his side immediately, throwing his hat to the floor. The angel was cold against his hands and the flickering was even worse. He was right, Cas wouldn't be able to help them this time. He was too weak.
"Failed." Cas murmured.
"There was nothing we could do." Dean explained but his throat felt tight, "It's angels, Cas. We can't fight them."
The angel grabbed Dean's shoulder, tried to pull himself up to his feet. Angels are supposed to be strong. Angels are supposed to protect people. They're supposed to be beautiful and mighty and love people. That's what Castiel was. Weak and hurt and possibly dying, he was rising up, being strong. He was trying to protect them. As hard as it was for Dean to describe him with the word, he was beautiful. He was mighty.
Castiel was love.
"Sittown ya idjit!" Bobby snarled from his chair and as strong and mighty as Castiel was he halted, and obeyed, staring at Bobby as if he were afraid of the man and maybe he was. He was accustomed to receiving orders from father figures and Bobby was definitely one of those. "Now, aint nothing getting done until the birds wings have mended, alright? You sit there until you're feeling better."
"I won't be feeling better ever if the angels kill him." Cas fought.
"Just a few minutes then." He turned to the boys, "Sam. Water."
Just as Cas had done, Sam obeyed the order, hurrying into the kitchen to get Cas a glass of water.
The angel was still leaning on Dean a little bit, trying to keep himself upright when Sam returned. As he tried to drink the water he spilled, too much of it running down the sides of his face. As much as they both hated it, Dean took the glass from him and knelt at his side, pouring the water into his mouth for him.
When he was done he coughed but seemed stronger.
"Now?" he asked, looking to Bobby for permission. The man nodded.
"We're coming too." Sam said, his hand grabbing Castiel's shoulder.
"No." he argued, "Three people is harder than one. It will drain me."
"You'll be drained regardless Cas. At least this way we can help you. You can tell us what to do."
He nodded although it was clear that he didn't want to bring them along. Dean put his hand on the angels other shoulder and they were gone.
Cas fell from between them into the dirt and the dust, coughing and gagging on the blood streaming from his nose and mouth. Dean grabbed him hurriedly, pulling him to his feet. There were hands on the other side of the angel as well, but they were too small, too low down on his body to be Sam's.
"This is Castiel, right?" Gunner asked, looking around the flickering body.
Dean nodded and they half carried, half dragged the comatose angel back towards Gunner's ruined home.
"You think he'll be able to help? Doesn't seem to be in very good shape."
"It hurts him to time travel." Dean explained, "He's the only chance we've got."
They only had enough time to get him into Gunner's bed before the four angels returned.
"Well, well," the lady in Levi's chuckled, "Make that three birds with one stone."
Dean glared at her, stepping in front of both Cas and Gunner, not that he could do much. Sam stood to the side, staring from one to the other.
"What's your plan?" Dean inquired, "I don't get it. You want me to say yes, I know that. Say yes to Michael. You said that if you kill Gunner I would never be born. I can't say yes if I don't exist."
"Good point." She shrugged, "The thing is though, there will be a Dean Winchester. A different Dean Winchester. And he will say yes."
She stepped forward, drawing an angel blade from who knows where, her three followers still behind her. "Now, step aside so I can take care of this."
Her eyes went wide though as Cas grabbed Dean's shoulder, his blood still dripping down his face. He launched himself past his charge, knocking him back, and headed towards the angel before him. His own blade dropped from his sleeve as he knocked into her, pushing her to the ground. The others stepped forward, ready to aid her, but Sam slammed into two of them at once, not dealing any damage but taking them surprise, knocking them to the ground.
The bitch on the floor was struggling, kicking the weak angel in the ribs, trying to wrestle her blade into his back. He groaned and rose, slamming his blade into her throat. She gasped and her grace flooded from her body, burning a pair of wings into the floor.
Cas had barely stumbled off of her by the time another angel had jumped on him. He blocked a strike of the sword but took the one to his face, being pushed back.
Dean turned, not sure of what to do but knowing that he had to get Gunner out. It was all he could do. Sam was being pressed against the wall by one of the angel's he'd knocked over. He wanted to save him but he knew he couldn't.
"Cas!" He shouted, "Get Sam!"
He knew he shouldn't have, the angel was being held by the shoulder and punched repeatedly in his face, but it was all he could do. He grabbed Gunner's arm and ran out of the house, telling him to get as far away from there as possible.
Sam was barely breathing when he got back and Cas was still getting pummeled, too weak to fight back. He knew it wouldn't do anything, but Dean raised his pistol, shooting the angel that had Sam in the back of the head.
He and his shadow turned, the two angels glaring at Dean.
Sam was dropped, gasping, to the ground though.
There was a blinding burst of grace and Cas pulled himself to his feet. He was wavering, still flickering but much less than he had been. Maybe he would survive after all.
He fell to his knees and wavered before falling even further forward. So much for that.
Sam was still recovering as the angel grabbed him by the neck, raising him into the air. Dean grabbed his wrist but wasn't choking. He knew what the angel was going to do. He was going to break his neck right there.
The door slammed open and Dean glanced over. There was an angel in the doorway. Castiel. No, not Castiel, Gunner. And in his hand he held a bear trap.
It was open at first but as he slammed it into the angel's face, the one that was always just standing to the side, it closed. It couldn't have hurt, angels aren't hurt by much, but it did distract him immensely. It was enough of a distraction for both angels that Dean could kick the one holding him in the ribs hard enough to be dropped.
Gunner grabbed Castiel's blade, holding it before him. None of them knew if it would work, a human holding an angel blade, but there was a chance. A higher chance considering that this human was a vessel. He lunged forward and it became clear how little of a fighter he was. He didn't come close to his mark, the blade knocked from his hand and him grabbed by the passive angel.
Dean grabbed the blade himself, jabbing it into the angels back as he strangled Gunner, but nothing happened. Seemed it really didn't work if it wasn't an angel wielding it. They had an angel though.
Leaving the blade in his back, Dean turned, grabbing the loopy and hardly conscious angel and hoisting him to his feet. Wrapping one hand around Cas's he held it against the hilt.
"C'mon Cas." He pleaded. "Two more. Just two more."
The fingers trembled and flickered but slowly the angel dropped Gunner, the light burning through his eyes and mouth. It fell to the ground, a third set of wings burned into the floor.
Cas screamed and his voice was joined by Dean's shouting his name. The last of the angels held his blade, tight and deep in Cas's side. It wasn't a killing blow, but it was painful. He pulled it out and raised it, slamming it back into Cas's side again, just above the first wound, eliciting another scream. He didn't want to kill Castiel, not yet. He wanted him to suffer for killing his partner.
Gunner was gasping on the ground, catching up on his breathing and Sam was still against the wall on the other side of the room, passed out. Dean tried to pull Cas out of the way of the angel's blade but the angel was relentless, digging his blade in deep where he could, as long as it wasn't vital.
The weak angel in his arms was glowing from so many gashes, each one deep and blinding. His grace was leaking from him. Dean just kept moving him, trying to keep him from getting more damage, but it wasn't working. The last angel was too fast and too angry.
Gunner brought his leg around, smashing it into the back of the angel's knees and knocking him to the ground with a grunt. Dean dragged Cas down after him, still gripping his hand around the blade. Together they plunged it into the angel's chest and there was the glowing and the burning of wings.
It was over, the flickering was gone. There was a burning in Dean's skin, everywhere that Cas's wings would be touching him. He couldn't die, not now, not without an angel blade in him. He would be okay. He had to be.
He collapsed on top of the dead angel, still in Dean's arms.
It was days before they could get home and all the while Cas lay in Gunner's bed. The man had a hard time taking his eyes off of the angel, amazed by how similar they were. It took two days for the gashes to stop glowing and a third for them to close. They all watched him, taking shifts, Sam's being the shortest. Dean's were the longest and he stroked his fingers through the angel's hair comfortingly, touched his cracked lips, checked his pulse, when he thought no one was looking. It wasn't anything big, just a way to make sure that the angel was alright.
When he finally opened his eyes they were all relieved. They had a small meal to celebrate, not that Cas knew the point of it, and spoke with one another. Gunner spoke at lengths, trying to learn everything he could about Castiel and Jimmy Novak, his proper descendant. He wanted to meet him, but Cas didn't think that was a good idea so it was dropped.
Eventually Sam mentioned that they should go, Bobby must be extremely worried about all of them. If they had been younger, if they had been normal, Bobby would have grounded them for sure.
"I'll never forget you." Gunner promised as they stood outside of his house, "I'll make sure no one by the name of Novak ever does."
Cas grabbed both Winchester's by the shoulder, ready to go when Dean's eyes caught on the Bible back in Gunner's hands, "You still believe in that?"
"I have my faith back." Gunner replied, but his eyes were on Cas, "Angel's can be strong, can protect, can be mighty, can be love. I think it's harder for them to be that way, but it's good. It's what we need. I'm glad you are a real angel."
There was a whisper of pride on Cas's unemotional face and then, for the last time, they were gone.