evening_bat: Bat in flight, silhouetted against the moon. (Default)
[personal profile] evening_bat
Title: Meant To Be Known
Author: [personal profile] evening_bat
Rating: R-ish? Maybe? But only because of Dean's mouthiness.
Word Count: ~11,700
Summary: Written for the AU/Fusion Challenge (AU prompt #108) over on [livejournal.com profile] deancastiel: Castiel is a spirit/monster/god living on a mountain. Dean nails the daughter/sister/wife of someone influential in a nearby town who makes out like Dean has offended Castiel by his actions and must be sacrificed for atonement. Castiel doesn't actually care about the townspeople that much but he likes Dean and keeps him as his bride. I interpreted it rather liberally. Hope it's still enjoyable!

Thanks go out to:
1) [livejournal.com profile] seryan, my fannish partner in squee and longwinded analysis. Also the person that held my hand throughout wails of Oh my GOD! What was I thinking, signing up for this?! and But my idea is crap and I can't DO this! until I sucked it up and wrote the damn story.
2) [livejournal.com profile] awakencordy, whose fanmix We All Need Saving introduced me to the song of the same name by Jon McLaughlin, which provided the title for this story.


Meant To Be Known


"It cannot be tolerated! Such disrespect - such brutish behaviour - is a slap in the face to all good folk who dwell here!"

Everything would have been fine if the guards had just arrived a few minutes later, Dean fumed silently as he shifted his weight. He'd been having a fantastic day right up until the damn guards had come charging into the room. A town festival in full swing meant happy people, lots of food and all sorts of fun diversions. When Sam decided to stay behind at the inn - he'd muttered something about resting up and Dean hadn't been about to complain if Sam was finally going to catch up on some much needed sleep - Dean hadn't even had to worry about keeping an eye on his little brother. That turned out to be a good thing, since it left Dean free to pursue his own entertainment.

"He has stolen the fruits of your labour. He has defiled our wives, our daughters with his lustful advances!"

Dean snorted as the mayor's ranting hit a new pitch. What had gone on between him and the ladies at the festival hadn't been anything more than good-natured flirting. Admittedly, what had happened with that gorgeous redhead who'd taken him back to her room at the inn was an entirely different story but she'd been the one flashing him hot-eyed invitations from across the tavern. Dean smirked to himself at the memory. She'd lived up to every promise her smile had made, even the really dirty ones. Too bad she'd turned out to be the mayor's daughter.

Sam is going to have my balls for this, Dean sighed to himself. He could just hear what his brother would have to say about the mess Dean had landed himself in this time. Yeah, okay, if he'd kept it in his pants then he wouldn't be on display in front of a far-too-entertained crowd while their asshole of a mayor screeched on about what a useless excuse for a human being Dean was but it wasn't like she'd told him who she was, or that her father was crazy. Next time, he resolved, he'd just leave and skip the lengthy goodbyes. No last kiss was worth getting nabbed by overenthusiastic guards, no matter how grateful or thorough a kiss it was.

"We cannot allow such an insult to our town's patron to go unpunished! Only by sacrificing the offender can we make reparation for the liberties he has taken!"

Wait, what?

"'Sacrificing?' What do you mean, sacrificing?" Dean demanded, twisting around to glare at the mayor. The guards yanked him back into place as the crowd burst into excited chatter.

The mayor gave him a thin-lipped smile and lifted a wickedly curved knife from the velvet-draped table on his dais. "You will be sacrificed to the spirit that watches over our town," he told Dean, with a smile that was entirely too smug for his outrage to be sincere. "After we remove your corrupting influence, he will bless us with his favour."

Another flurry of noise erupted from the crowd as the mayor tugged sharply at the fabric over the table, cloth falling away to reveal a white stone altar. Dean's eyes went wide at the sight. Large, elaborately carved stone altars were never a good sign in situations like these. Dean was inclined to be skeptical about patron spirits - he'd dealt with more than his fair share of spirits over the years and none of them had been particularly protective - but a little thing like nonexistence wouldn't keep people from sacrificing him to a superstition.

"Come on, now. I don't really think all of this is necessary," Dean began, plastering as charming a smile as he could manage onto his face.

He lifted his hands in a placating gesture, using the movement to surreptitiously test the guards' grip on his arms. The situation wasn't any more in his favour than it had been back at the inn but there was no way was he going to just stand here and let himself be led to the slaughter. A sharp twist with his full weight behind it was enough to catch the men to either side of him off guard and break their hold on him. Pain exploded in his head before he'd taken a full step however, sending him crashing to his knees. Vision fogging over, Dean was only dimly aware of the hands that latched onto his arms and dragged him over to and then onto the stone block.

Awareness flooded back the second Dean came into contact with the cool stone of the altar. He arched away reflexively, eyes flying open at the unmistakable sensation against his back. Of the two of them, Sam was the one who had a head for magic but encounters over the years had granted Dean enough familiarity to recognize it when he felt it. Whatever else this altar was, it was more than just dead stone and that wasn't a terrifically comforting thought. Dean grit his teeth and tried to ignore the way his skin was crawling. He had more immediate problems to worry about at the moment.

"Let this be a lesson to all of those who would violate the peace of our town, who would try to steal our good fortune for their own!" the mayor was announcing grandly as he took up a position beside the stone, gesturing dramatically with the knife as the crowd called its approval.

Dean struggled weakly against the hands holding him down, spitting curses at the men surrounding him. Panic was starting to creep up his spine, carried on that weird hum of magic, and he couldn't look away from the glint of the knife.

"If nothing else, it ought to be an effective lesson for you," the mayor gloated under his breath, smirking openly, and Dean really wished he could at least get loose long enough to punch the son of a bitch.

Actually, really wouldn't complain about any kind of getting loose just now.

The guards seemed to be pretty determined to hold him down and Dean couldn't pull free, despite some fairly desperate attempts. His ears were still ringing from the blow he'd taken and he could barely hear the speech the mayor was making as he raised the knife high. It wasn't that he minded missing whatever insincere, insane prayer the man was spouting but he thought that if his head was going to give him trouble, he might as well just pass right out. If he wasn't awake enough to do something to stop the knife from coming down, it didn't seem fair that he had to watch anyway.

It took a moment to realize that the sound wasn't entirely in his head.

It was a thin, high-pitched buzz and it was getting louder. A couple of the guards were grimacing and he could see one man wince and hunch his shoulders against the sound. The mayor was reacting too, face creasing with dismay as he raised his free hand to the side of his head.

"What manner of attack is this?" he shouted, finally dropping the knife as he clapped both hands tightly over his ears.

"How the fuck should I know?" Dean yelled back. "It's your crazy magic rock!"

By this point, the sound was nearly overwhelming and his captors were more worried about their ears than with trying to restrain Dean. Free to move again, he tried to turn over and get his feet under him. With everyone incapacitated by whatever magic was rolling off of the altar, this was his chance to escape. He ordered himself to ignore the pain, to get up and move, but it felt like there were spikes being driven into his head and he ended up curled on his side on the stone, completely helpless as the power inside it surged under him. He was starting to wonder how much worse it could get; it already felt like his head was going to explode. It was almost a relief when the world flared white and took him with it.


*****


When Dean blinked himself awake, he found himself looking up at a dimly-lit stone ceiling. He stared at the rough rock over him, puzzled. Something wasn't right about that, he mused. He squinted at the rough ceiling, prodding his sluggish brain for an explanation. What the hell was he doing out in a cave?

Memory hit with the force of a troll's fist and Dean sat up so fast that the world spun around him. Setting his jaw, Dean breathed through the dizziness, waiting until his vision steadied before chancing another look around. His first confused impression had been fairly accurate, he saw; he was in some kind of cave. It was a good-sized cavern and Dean wasn't convinced it was natural. The ceiling was rough enough to seem unfinished but the floor looked too smooth and there were loops and lines carved into the walls. It was hard to make out any details, since the only available light was the fading sunlight from the open mouth of the cavern. It was only when he swung his legs around to slide down to the floor that Dean noticed what he'd been lying on. At the sight of white marble underneath him, he pushed away from the stone violently enough that he overbalanced and nearly sent himself tumbling to the floor.

What the hell...?

It looked just like the stone altar he'd almost been sacrificed on, right down the carved designs. Dean hadn't had a chance to inspect the stone in town but what were the odds of two similar chunks of rock being involved in something like, well, whatever the hell was going on without those stones being connected somehow? The thing looked harmless enough now, gleaming in the reddish light, but there had to be some kind of heavy-duty power at work here. Even now, there was a faint tang of it in the air, humming quietly at the edge of Dean's awareness. Maybe the town's claim of a patron spirit wasn't as crazy as Dean had thought.

Dean huffed an irritated sigh and glared at the stone, uneasy and totally confused. "None of this is making any goddamn sense," he grumbled. He'd never heard of anything like this happening and he'd heard a lot of stories about screwy magic and screwier spirits. Sam knew even more stories than Dean did but then, Sam wasn't here to ask. In fact, Dean didn't exactly know where "here" was, which could make getting back to his brother a challenging task.

"Time to go," he decided aloud, backing a few steps away from the copy of the altar. He could worry about figuring out what this place was when he was safely out of it. Tearing his eyes away from the ominous white stone, Dean turned on his heel and headed for the entrance. Dread pooled in his stomach when the buzzing noise he'd heard back in the town square started up again after he'd only managed a few strides.

"Shit," he muttered, lunging for the exit but it was too late. Between one breath and the next, the sound reached the same shrieking intensity as before and his vision faded out in a wash of white.


*****


This time he woke up staring at the floor, cheek pressed uncomfortably against the coarse rock.

So much for getting out of here, he thought as he rolled over onto his back and waited for his head to stop swimming.

"Enough with the magic-enforced naps, already!" he groaned, scrubbing one hand over his eyes as he pulled himself upright. He didn't know how long he'd been unconscious this time but it had been long enough that the last of the sunlight had died away. For all the power still lingering in the place, it was almost completely black inside.

"Damn, it's dark in here," he muttered, only to swallow a yelp when light abruptly flashed around the entire cavern. "Okay, thanks. Now it's really fucking bright," he growled, eyes narrowed to slits against the sudden glare.

To Dean's relief, whatever had conjured this light didn't lead to unconsciousness. He waited another few moments, braced for some new attack, but nothing burst into flame or exploded or cursed him or any other kind of magical nastiness which was a very welcome change in the way his luck had been going. When his eyes had adjusted to the new brightness, he was able to see that the light was streaming from a line of sigils tracing their way around the edges of the cavern. That gave him a bit of a turn at first but he relaxed when the symbols did nothing more alarming than glow. Magical light, he could deal with.

He examined the carvings on the wall but he couldn't read any of the symbols. They seemed kind of familiar but they weren't anything he recognized offhand and he couldn't put his finger on what they reminded him of. The bright ones were cool to the touch and shone steadily even when he poked at them so Dean was content to stop worrying about them and take a closer look at the rest of the place. He prowled around the room, careful to give the entrance a wide berth. Beyond confirming his initial impressions, he wasn't able to learn much more. The ceiling was unworked rock, the floor had been smoothed somehow and the walls were covered with carvings of those familiar-but-not symbols. That left one more place to check.

Unfortunately, it wasn't any help. The symbols on the marble were the same as the symbols on the walls. Still naggingly familiar, still unreadable. Eventually, Dean gingerly laid a hand on it, hoping to provoke something but it didn't react at all to his touch. Despite knowing better, he couldn't help but feel a bit irrationally disappointed when it didn't automatically send him back.

"Wonderful," he complained. "Of course it's not as easy as that." He kicked the stone in frustration. "Fanfuckingtastic."

Giving up on the altar, Dean started pacing anxiously around the cave. It didn't help him figure out what the hell he was going to do but it did help burn off some restlessness. Eventually tiring, he put his back to a patch of wall and slid to a seat on the floor, careful to position himself so that he could keep an eye on the entrance to the cavern and the marble altar. Neither one proved particularly interesting to watch. After what felt like hours of silent observation, Dean had gone from worrying about what he was going to do to starting to wonder if it was actually possible for someone to be bored to death.

With a frustrated sigh, Dean started patting himself down. The guards had searched him before dragging him off to see the mayor but they hadn't been thorough and Dean knew they'd missed a few things. They'd taken his large knives but they'd overlooked the silver dagger at his back and the iron one in his boot. Better yet, Dean was pretty confident that they'd also failed to spot his cards. Not altogether surprising, as his cards were about as normal as everything else in his life and they were picky about who touched them. Sure enough, the cloth-wrapped bundle was still in his pocket and Dean drew it out with a small sound of triumph. They might not solve his larger problems but Dean could use a bit of entertainment just now.

Shuffling the deck, he laid out one of the simpler one-handed games he knew and let the cards distract him. When he got tired of losing, he cheated. When he got tired of that, he switched games. A little while later, he'd given up on games altogether and was trying to remember what an old girlfriend had taught him about fortune telling. He wasn't sure he remembered enough to give it a go and besides, if his fortune was going to come up as some variation of "you're screwed," he wasn't sure he wanted to know.

"Hello," a voice suddenly rasped from a few feet away.

Dean was on his feet before he thought and spun to face the speaker, hand flashing to the knife concealed at his back even as the cards fluttered around his feet.

"Who are you?" he demanded, falling into a defensive stance.

The guy didn't look all that impressive. Maybe an inch or two shy of Dean's own height, definitely more slightly built. Weird clothes, messy brown hair. No visible weapons. Also possibly lacking self-preservation instincts, given his complete lack of concern for Dean's knife as he looked curiously at the cards scattered on the floor. When he looked up from the cards, Dean's breath caught. He'd never seen anything like this man's eyes.

"I am Castiel," he replied simply.

"Castiel, huh?" Strange name for a very strange guy. Dean's hand tightened on the hilt of the knife, his mind working furiously as he waited to see what this Castiel would do. Appearing the way he had out of nowhere in a place brimming with power, linked to rumors of a powerful spirit and hosting some kind of old artifacts, there had to be something supernatural about him. As solid and as obviously alive as he was, he was no spirit or ghost but that left a whole list of things he could be and looks were often deceiving. Dean licked his lips nervously and took a chance. "Hi, Castiel. I'm Dean."

"Dean," Castiel repeated, like he was tasting the name.

"Yeah, uh. Nice to meet you. I guess," Dean muttered uncomfortably. He resisted the urge to glance away. Castiel seemed pretty harmless so far but there was definitely something not quite right about this guy.

"It is nice to meet you," Castiel agreed.

Dean blinked at the evident sincerity in the statement. Castiel was staring openly, impossibly blue eyes wide and wondering. He was looking at Dean like Dean was something amazing and Dean...didn't really know how to handle that. Coming to a decision, Dean sheathed the knife and let the tense readiness drain out of his muscles. What in the nine hells are you doing? shrieked the voice of reason but Dean ignored it with the ease of long practice. Whoever - or whatever - Castiel was, he could have attacked Dean already if that was what he'd wanted. For all that there was something about him that terrified Dean, he didn't get the sense that Castiel intended to hurt him and Dean made it a practice to trust his instincts.

"Well then, Castiel, come on and pull up some floor," he invited with a wave, almost laughing when the comment earned him a deeply confused look. He demonstrated by sitting down himself and watched as Castiel took a few cautious steps forward before easing himself to the floor. He moved like someone who was deliberately reminding himself of how to move, Dean noted uneasily. Demons didn't move like that, he knew. They took to human skins like fish to water.

But it never hurts to check.

"Christo," he said under his breath, relieved when Castiel's eyes stayed clear. He did look awfully startled, though. Dean quickly forced a laugh and waved it off. "Don't mind me. Just, y'know, talking to myself."

Castiel hesitated, then nodded acceptance. He watched silently as Dean gathered his cards, wordlessly handing him a few that had fallen out of reach. Dean reassembled his deck without comment, flicking a few curious glances at Castiel as he did. He settled himself with his back to the wall, legs stretched out in front of him. A safe distance away, Castiel sat stiffly and his rigid posture looked so uncomfortable that Dean wanted to wince.

Not the talkative type, are you? Guess that leaves me with the burden of conversation.

Luckily, years of travel with his often morose brother had turned Dean into a master of filling uncomfortable silences.

"So how'd you get here?" he asked casually, idly shuffling the cards.

Castiel seemed surprised by the question. When Dean glanced over at him, his brow was furrowed in apparent thought. "I'm bound here," he finally answered. "I've been here a long time."

Dean pursed his lips in a low whistle. "Shit. And I thought I was in deep." A chill worked its way down his spine when he realized that he might well be in that deep, what with his complete failure to find a way out. "Uh, how long is 'a long time?'"

Castiel tipped his head to the side as he considered. "Close to four thousand years," he replied.

"Shit," Dean hissed though his teeth. "That is a really long time." The thought of being stuck like this for that long was horrifying. Four thousand years in one place? Dean hadn't lived in one place longer than a few months at a time since he was a kid. He swallowed hard and tried to push down the fear that was rising in his throat.

"Listen, I don't really know how I got here or what happened but I'm having some trouble leaving. So what are the chances that I'm, uh, bound too?" he forced himself to ask.

Castiel immediately shook his head and his prompt response made it easier for Dean to breathe again. "Your situation is different. You were brought here from somewhere else. Not placed here."

"Well, that's good to know," Dean told him, while thinking, Does that mean you were placed here? He couldn't quite bring himself to ask.

Castiel gave him a faint smile before his eyes went from sympathetic to penetrating in a heartbeat.

"What happened to bring you here?" he asked. Dean fought the urge to squirm under that intent, unblinking stare.

"Told you, I don't know," Dean told him honestly. "We - that's me and my brother - were visiting this town, Greenlyn, and I kinda made some people mad. So they decide to sacrifice me to some spirit watching over the town, only when they try to stab me, I end up here. That's it." He shrugged.

"You made them angry enough to sacrifice you?" Castiel seemed a bit shocked.

"Hey, I didn't do anything wrong! Not really," Dean protested. "And I sure as hell didn't deserve to be gutted for it!"

"Of course you didn't," Castiel responded, sounding surprised, like the idea had never occurred to him.

Okay, Dean might have squirmed then. Just a little bit. He really wished Castiel would stop staring at him like that.

"Why were you visiting this Greenlyn?" Castiel wanted to know.

"No special reason. We were passing through the area and we needed to stop for a bit. It was supposed to be a nice town," Dean replied offhandedly. "My brother and I do a lot of travelling. We're hunters," he added, by way of explanation.

Castiel lifted an almost skeptical eyebrow. "Hunters?" He lowered his gaze to Dean's hand, the ring on his finger, before lifting again to rest heavily on the amulet that hung around Dean's neck. Dean kept his expression calm but was impressed and a little bit worried. Not many people knew enough to recognize the truth behind his simple-looking jewelry at a glance. "You must hunt exotic game, then," Castiel commented.

"Yeah, I guess you could say that," Dean said, smiling wryly.

Anyone could bring down some rabbits and deer to supplement their dinner table. It took a different breed of hunter to kill the monsters that roamed the countryside. Claiming bounties on them was a fairly decent way to make a living, if you had good reflexes, knew how to use a weapon and didn't mind travelling a lot. The really special monsters, the magical ones, were more of a challenge. More than fast reflexes and a strong sword arm were needed to hunt those critters. Unfortunately, far fewer cash rewards were given out, given the general attitude towards magic these days.

"There're some pretty nasty things out there," he said with a shrug. "Someone's got to stop them." Even if most of the rest of the world either doesn't know or pretends they don't exist.

"That's true," Castiel replied quietly, dropping his eyes to his hands, folded tightly together in his lap.

Silence fell between them for a moment, both lost in their own thoughts.

"So..." Dean drawled into the quiet. Castiel lifted his head and looked a question at him. "You play cards?" He held up his deck.

Castiel blinked. "Ah, I don't really know any games," he admitted apologetically.

Dean grinned. "Not to worry. I know all sorts of games. I'll teach you."

He ignored Castiel's vague protest and somewhat bewildered expression, dealing out a pair of hands and speaking over his confused objections. "It's easy. See, we each get five cards..."

He'd just coaxed Castiel through his first hand of poker when he thought he heard his name being called. He looked up from the cards and turned his head towards the mouth of the cave.

"Hey," he said to Castiel, "did you hear - ?"

"Dean!" The voice was faint but familiar and he was sure he'd heard right that time.

"Sam?" he called back, climbing to his feet. "Sam!"

Castiel rose with him, looking alarmed as he followed him across the room. "What is it?"

"It's my brother. He's here. I don't know how the hell he managed it but he's here," Dean explained hurriedly. "Sam!" he shouted, as he halted a few feet away from the entrance. "Over here!"

"Dean!" he heard Sam yell, relief clear in his voice. "Hang on, I'm on my way over!"

"Not going anywhere, Sam!" he assured him, feeling Castiel hovering at his shoulder as he waited impatiently.

He couldn't see much from his position inside the opening in the rock but he kept scanning the line of trees in his sight. Within a few minutes, he could hear the crashing sound of someone travelling at speed through the underbrush. Sam broke through shortly after and Dean went a bit wobbly with relief. It was really good to see his brother again, safe and in one piece. With Sam here, Dean was sure they'd find some way to get him out. Not that he was going to admit to anything like that.

"What took you so long?" he shouted as Sam rushed over.

He could practically hear Sam's eyes rolling from where he stood. "You look like you did well enough without me," he retorted, slowing to a walk. "Actually, you're looking pretty good, considering," he said as he came close enough to get a better look. His eyes flicked over Dean's shoulder to where Castiel still stood. "And making new friends, too."

"You know me, Sam. I love meeting new people," Dean responded with a wide, cheesy smile.

"Yeah, I noticed that back in town," Sam said, eyes narrowing for a second before he let it go. "Well, if you and your new friend have had enough of roughing it, maybe we could get out of here?"

"Yeah, about that..." Dean said uncomfortably.

"What? What's wrong?" Sam asked, spine stiffening in sudden alarm. "Dean?" He hurried forward.

"Stop right there," Dean called sharply, startling Sam into obedience. "That's far enough."

"Far enough?" he repeated as he froze, safely out of range. "What are you talking about?"

"Well, there's this little problem," Dean began, scratching the back of his head as he quickly explained what had happened the last time he tried to walk through the entrance.

Sam shook his head. "Damn it, Dean," he sighed. "How do you get yourself into crap like this? Oh, wait, I know. It's because you can't stop-"

"Come on, Sam," Dean cut in hastily. "Can't we save this until after we find a way to get me out of the magical cave?"

Dean was pretty sure that whatever Sam was muttering under his breath wasn't complimentary but he dropped the topic and that was good enough for Dean.

"All right, fine," Sam said irritably. "Move out of the way and let's get started." He gestured at Dean to let him through as he made to walk into the cavern.

"No!" Dean pointed a finger at Sam. "You stay where you are."

Sam gave him a disbelieving look. "You've got to be kidding."

"Anything but. You're staying out there."

"Like hell I am."

Dean scowled. "Well, you're not coming in here. I'm already stuck in here!"

"You don't even know what'll happen if I walk in there," Sam pointed out.

"And we've got no reason to risk it," Dean replied tightly.

The brothers glared at each other while Castiel looked between them uncertainly.

Sam finally sighed heavily and crossed his arms. "If you seriously think I'm just going to stand here and wait, you're out of your mind," he told Dean heatedly.

"Damn it, Sam! Stay away!" Dean snapped. "This is no time for you to get stupid and reckless on me!"

"Me? Reckless?" Sam snorted. "You're a fine one to talk."

Dean recognized that stubborn look and he was having none of it. "Sammy, no. This is not up for discussion. I need you out there-"

"Doing what?" Sam demanded. "Being out here isn't exactly helping me fix the problem!"

"Better than having you stuck in here!" Dean shot back, taking a thoughtless step closer as he saw Sam set his jaw.

It was one step too far. Aw, not again, Dean thought at the almost familiar burst of light and sound.

"Dean!" he heard faintly as everything went white and then black.


*****


"Dean? Dean, come on. Time to wake up. Anytime now would be great." Sam's voice was high and panicky and Dean really wanted whoever was scaring his brother to stop it because Sam should never sound like that. "Come on, Dean, please!"

Oh. Damn.

At least this time he wasn't lying on hard rock, Dean thought fuzzily as he woke up. "S'm?" he tried, voice muffled by a faceful of coat. "Leggo. M'wake."

"Dean! You're - oh, am I glad to hear your voice. You scared the crap out of me!" Yeah, that was definitely Sam. Dean lifted one heavy hand and blindly patted Sam's arm where it rested over his shoulder. He grumbled as Sam's arms tightened around him. "Don't do that again, you jerk," Sam muttered into the top of his head.

"Gettin' really tired of bein' zapped, Sammy," he slurred into Sam's chest. He wasn't thrilled about the way Sam was frigging cuddling him either but he was still woozy enough that shoving him off would have to wait.

"Yeah. I know I definitely wouldn't mind if you'd stop, you know, vanishing in a blaze of magic. Or collapsing in one," Sam agreed shakily. Dean didn't doubt that; Sam was hanging on like he was afraid to let go.

Guess it has been kind of a rough day for the kid. Couple of days? Whatever. Dean resigned himself to being hugged a little bit longer. It wasn't as if he'd have much luck pulling away now and besides, Sam could be awfully bitchy when he got scared.

"I'm fine," he protested anyway, looking around until he spotted Castiel crouched beside them. "Tell him," he ordered.

Castiel fixed those earnest blue eyes on Sam and nodded. "He'll be fine," he said solemnly.

Sam made a noncommittal noise and Dean tipped his head back to find Sam regarding Castiel with a mixture of curiosity and suspicion.

"This's Castiel," Dean announced, elbowing Sam as he finally wriggled his way to a seated position. Sam relented and let Dean up, carefully not saying anything as Dean propped himself up on Sam's shoulder. "He's an even unluckier bastard than I am. He's been stuck here for ages. Speaking of which, where are we, anyway?" he asked.

The question got Sam's attention in a hurry and he promptly left off staring at Castiel in favour of glaring at Dean. "This is an old shrine halfway up the mountain behind the town where you decided to piss off the guy in charge and nearly get yourself sacrificed," he replied snippily.

"Knew I could trust you to figure out what happened," Dean told him breezily.

"Well, I'm glad you have such faith in me because it wasn't fucking easy to do!" Sam near-shouted as his temper finally snapped. "I wasn't there, Dean. I didn't see it happen. I got the story from Caleb later that night. His partner saw the whole thing and told him, so he told me. And all they could tell me, by the way, was that you nearly got sacrificed by the crazy mayor but disappeared in some kind of magical explosion. No one knew what the hell had happened. I think they were expecting me to tell them how we'd pulled it off!"

Sam abruptly pushed himself to his feet. Dean let him up, understanding the need to move and watched as his brother paced a few steps away.

"I didn't know what happened," he continued, more evenly. "I was going crazy asking the other hunters what they knew, to see if I could figure it out. The altar/patron spirit thing was easy enough to put together but no one had ever seen anything like what happened to you. When someone mentioned there was an old shrine here, I figured it was worth a shot so I paid the innkeeper to board the horses, grabbed what I could and headed out. I didn't have anything else to try," Sam confessed.

Dean grimaced. He knew he'd have gone out of his head if he'd been in Sam's place.

"You've been gone more than a week, Dean," Sam finished softly and Dean heard days' worth of strain and buried fear in his voice.

"Aw, shit," Dean sighed. "Sorry about that, Sam." He hated the thought of putting his brother through that. Sam wasn't the one who was supposed to worry. "Wasn't a week for me," he offered.

Sam took a deep breath and Dean could almost see him force his distress aside, managing a credible, if weak, grin. "Well, that would explain why you haven't attacked my pack like a starving wolf," he said lightly. "That's kind of more the reception I expected."

Dean scowled at him but Sam made a good point. "Yeah. I mean, I'm not even hungry. When I woke up for the first time, I thought I saw the sun setting. Then when I tried to leave, that happened," he said, with a disgusted wave in the direction of the entrance. "I poked around the place for a bit after I woke up again, then Castiel dropped in and we were just sitting around when you got here."

"Just sitting around, huh?" Sam asked, sounding amused as he jerked a thumb over his shoulder at the abandoned cards on the floor.

"Well, we had to pass the time somehow," Dean explained, with his most winning smile. "Right, Cas?"

Castiel's eyes snapped up to Dean's at that and that wondering look was back in them. "Right," he echoed, a bit belatedly.

Dean winked at him, oddly pleased when it made Castiel smile.

Sam snorted a laugh, long used to Dean's tendency to charm people. "So glad you weren't bored while you waited for rescue," he said dryly.

Dean rolled his eyes. "Yeah, yeah. My hero. So rescue me already. I'm tired of this place."

"I wish it were that easy," Sam replied, starting to look worried again. "Truth is, I still have no idea what happened. And I don't have a clue why you can't leave here. Which, you know, makes it kind of hard to find a way to fix it."

"Thought you said you talked to people, heard some of the stories. Isn't that why you came up here?" Dean asked, resolutely not giving in to the sinking sensation in his chest.

Sam shook his head. "Like I said, this was the only connection I could make with the altar in town. No one knows what happened back there. I just figured this was my only lead. How about you? Were you able to figure anything out?" he asked hopefully.

Dean grimaced. "Not really," he admitted.

Sam sighed deeply. "Okay, then," he said, reaching a hand down to Dean. "Get up and show me what's in this place."

Dean took his brother's hand and climbed to his feet, letting Sam steer him to the far side of the room.

Sam leaned in and lowered his voice as he snuck a look at Castiel, who'd watched them walk away and then busied himself with gathering Dean's cards. "So who is this guy? He's kind of strange."

"Yeah, he's weird but he seems nice enough," Dean replied in an undertone. "He says his name's Castiel and he's bound here, has been for years. He didn't really say too much about how that happened but he said it was different from what happened to me. I can tell you that he's not a spirit and not a demon - I checked - but beyond that, we didn't really exchange life histories."

Sam made a face at him and Dean rolled his eyes. "It's not like I'm having fun here either, Sam."

"I guess," Sam relented. "So can we trust him?"

Dean shrugged. "He hasn't hurt us yet. And I think he probably could."

Sam considered that before nodding. "Fair enough," he said as he stepped away, walking back to where he'd dropped his bag. He bent down and rummaged through his bag, coming up with a couple of books. He shoved their father's journal at Dean and kept the other for himself. "You start looking through this," he ordered. "I'm going to go take a look at the stuff on the wall."

Dean scowled at the book. "I hate research," he said to the room at large as he took a seat at the base of the altar.

"Well, you'll hate being stuck here even more," Sam told him unsympathetically, "so get reading."

"Yeah, yeah, yeah," Dean grumbled, opening the book Sam had pushed into his hands. At least looking through his father's journal was comfortingly familiar.

He blinked and looked up when Castiel wandered over to his side, holding out his reassembled deck.

"You want to keep them for now?" Dean offered. "I can show you a game or two to keep you busy while we're looking things up."

"That's not necessary," Castiel started but Dean overrode his protest again.

"It won't take long and it'll make me feel better," he insisted. "Come on, sit down." He saw Sam shaking his head out of the corner of his eye but he went ahead anyway. Watching Castiel pick his way through the games gave Dean something else to focus on when the research started driving him crazy. It would make him more productive in the long run and he'd be happy to say so if Sam called him on it.

"Okay, so I have one piece of good news," Sam said, some time later.

"Oh yeah? What's that?" Dean asked, crankiness forgotten when he looked up and found Sam standing half-in, half-out of the entrance.

"Turns out that I don't have any trouble getting in and out," Sam said unnecessarily.

"That's not fair!" Dean protested. "I mean, yeah, it's great," he said hastily as Sam smirked at him. Dean was not four years old, last time he checked. "So how come you get to walk out any time you want?"

Sam shrugged. "I said I had one good piece of news," he replied apologetically.

"Well, that's just great," Dean muttered, slouching and glaring at the book in his lap. Relieved as he was to learn that Sam wasn't caught in the same trap he was, he'd feel better when they were both free.

"You don't just hunt monsters," Castiel remarked suddenly. "You hunt demons."

Both Sam and Dean startled at his words. Demons came from the darkest kind of magic, the kind that people were afraid to admit still existed. The kind that got you executed if anyone had the slightest idea you were involved with it.

"How did you know?" Dean began, cutting himself off as Castiel pointed at the open journal. Several seals were sketched heavily on the page. "Oh." He looked over at Sam and shrugged.

"Yes," said Sam, voice hard and sharp-edged. "We do."

"Call it the family business," Dean put in. "Most people don't know how real the old stories are. Me and Sam make sure they never have to."

"Good," Castiel said, surprising both of them. "Demons are abominations."

Well, yeah, they were but he wasn't supposed to know that. "How do you know about demons?" Dean asked, a bit of suspicion leaking into his tone. Castiel gave him a pointed look. "Right. Stupid question. You've been around a while."

"How long is a while?" Sam asked, abandoning the cluster of symbols he'd been studying.

"'Bout four thousand years or so," Dean told him, glancing to Castiel for confirmation. He knew Sam was going to love hearing that.

His little brother didn't disappoint, eyes immediately going wide and bright. "Four thousand-? Oh wow. You probably know more about this stuff than we do, then."

Castiel shrugged and Dean thought he seemed a bit uncomfortable. "I might," he allowed.

Dean intervened before Sam got started with the questions. "Save it for later," he said with a dismissive gesture.

"But Dean!"

"Later. You'll have all the time in the world to pick his brain after we deal with this." When Sam opened his mouth to protest, Dean lifted an eyebrow. "Unless satisfying your curiosity about killing demons is more important than getting me out of this?"

It was a low blow and Sam flinched the way Dean knew he would. "Of course it's not," he insisted, returning to his inspection of the sigils. "I just thought maybe he could help us figure some of this out," he said, waving a hand at the writing covering the walls.

Sure you did, Sammy. Dean knew that Sam hadn't chosen for things to happen the way they had. He honestly didn't blame his brother for what had been done to him but Sam's new dedication to the family cause was starting to scare him a little.

"My brother is sometimes a bit too curious about ancient history," he explained to Castiel. Dean immediately wished he hadn't said anything when Castiel gave Sam a wide-eyed look of alarm.

"Shit," Dean muttered. That probably hadn't been the smartest thing to say to someone might have seen the magic wars firsthand. "Not like that," he added hastily. "Curious like he wants to learn about it, not wants to repeat it."

At least that got Castiel to stop looking at Sam like he was something that needed hunting but Dean wasn't sure he was any more comfortable with the trust Castiel seemed willing to place in him.

"Just...go back to playing cards for a bit, okay?" He tried to summon a smile. "You've got to win a game sometime." And so do we.


*****


"I hate to say this but I have got nothing," Sam admitted, folding himself to sit next to Dean.

"Damn," sighed Dean, rubbing his eyes. "I have less than nothing."

"This doesn't make any sense!" Sam exclaimed.

"Tell me about it," Dean grumbled.

"We've got a patron spirit that an entire town seems to believe in - with no local lore! Did you notice there aren't any statues or paintings or anything? It doesn't even have a name! That's the hardest part to believe about all of this - you'd think somebody would have made one up somewhere along the line."

"People usually do," Dean agreed, remembering cases of elaborate hoaxes they'd run across. "The journal doesn't have much to say about protective spirits since, you know, there aren't many. And it doesn't say anything about Greenlyn. Or the altars. You have any luck with the writing on the wall?"

"I think I might know what it is but I can't read it, so it doesn't help all that much," Sam said.

"You're trying to figure out what the local spirit is, if there is one?" Castiel broke in, looking up from Sam's discarded book.

Dean nodded. "That seems to be where things started."

"If we can figure out what it is, maybe we can figure out how it did what it did and reverse it," Sam explained.

Castiel thought that over for a few seconds before responding. "There's no spirit there," he told them plainly.

"Say what?" Dean asked just as Sam said "There isn't?"

Castiel shook his head.

"Are you sure?" Sam asked. "Would you know?"

"There is no spirit watching over any town in this area," Castiel confirmed. "Yes, I would know. And there are no powerful malevolent ones, either," he added, before they could ask.

They both stared at him before Dean tossed the book out of his lap with a frustrated groan.

"You couldn't have said that before?" he complained. "Saved me all that reading?"

"Shut up, Dean," Sam told him absently. "So what about here?" he asked Castiel, waving a hand in the direction of the altar. "Is there some sort of spirit or demigod or something hanging around this place?"

Castiel took his time about answering but finally shook his head. "No," he said, "there's only me."

Something about the way he said that made Dean narrow his eyes.

"Only you, huh?" he muttered, trying to work through the implications of what Castiel had said. Castiel nodded once but his eyes slid away.

Beside him, Sam suddenly sucked in a startled breath. Dean looked over at him was confused to see Sam staring wide-eyed at Castiel. "Sam? What is it? What are you thinking?" he asked sharply, not liking the awed look in his brother's eyes.

"Dean, you heard what he said. Think about it! He's been here for four thousand years. The writing, the magic... What else could it mean?" Sam was so excited that his words were practically tripping over each other.

"What? You think Cas is some kind of spirit or something? Hate to break it to you Sam but Castiel's actually physically here," he said. He reached out and poked both Sam and Castiel in the shoulder to demonstrate. "See? Not a spirit. And I doubt you're some kind of demigod either," he said to Castiel's bowed head, "since you haven't really done much of anything since either of us got here-"

"Exactly!" Sam interrupted. "He hasn't done anything. Hasn't taken the initiative, hasn't done anything but react to you and me."

"What are you getting at, Sam?" Dean thought he was catching the shape of what his brother was hinting at but decided he had to be getting the wrong idea.

"Four thousand years, Dean," Sam said urgently. "Just watching and waiting."

Dean's jaw dropped as the pieces fell into place. "Are you serious?" he demanded. "Sam, I know you've spent more time researching this than is entirely healthy but come on!"

"Look!" Sam stood up abruptly and stalked over to the wall, slapping his hand flat against a row of glowing symbols. "Don't you remember these? They're in Bobby's books. The really old ones, the ones he never shows anyone but us."

As soon as Sam said it, Dean recognized the truth. "Knew I'd seen them somewhere before," he muttered, before shaking his head. "Okay, fine," he conceded. "This whole damn cave is a war relic. What does that make Castiel?" he challenged.

"What else could he be?" Sam asked simply, looking so hopeful that it nearly hurt to see.

"No, no, no," Dean groaned. "Do not start this again. Sam, please. I know you believe in them and I know you'd give anything to meet one but it's not going to happen. Castiel's not the answer to your childhood daydreams!"

"But he could be! Don't you see-?" Sam was practically pleading.

"No, Sam. I don't," Dean said flatly. "You think we're standing here with what? An 'instrument of the Scouring?' That's crazy! I'll grant you that the stories are real but no one's seen anything out of the histories but minor demons. There aren't any archons left, not anymore." Something twisted unpleasantly in Dean's stomach when Castiel nearly flinched at the words, hunching his shoulders slightly.

Sam threw his hands up in the air, frustrated with Dean's refusal to see his way. "How can you believe in every evil thing that's ever gotten a passing mention in a fairy tale and not admit that this could be real too?" he complained angrily.

"In case you hadn't noticed, bad things out of fairy tales try to take a bite out of me on a fairly regular basis," Dean returned. "I'm still waiting to meet something nice from the stories."

"The really sad part about this," Sam said through gritted teeth, "is that you already have and you're too stubborn to admit it." He softened his voice and took a step towards Castiel, who still hadn't moved. "I'm right, aren't I?" he asked directly, in that completely certain voice that meant he wasn't really asking.

Castiel lifted his head and looked at them, expression smooth but eyes blazing. "Yes," he said. "You are."

Dean stared at the ridiculously powerful being sitting inches away from him on a dusty cave floor. "Holy fucking shit," he whispered.


*****


Everyone had heard the stories, history like something out of a fairy tale. Once upon a time, the world was rich in magic, the likes of which couldn't be imagined today. Only some of the mages weren't satisfied with the power they had and kept searching for more, casting and summoning and invoking until their greed tore the world apart around them. Malignant demons ravaged the land, plunging everything into destruction and darkness. Nothing could stand against them and the world knew despair. Hope returned when the remaining mages summoned the archons, powerful beings of light called to counter the dark forces plaguing the land. The archons went forth, challenging the demons, fighting until they had scoured the world clean of their evil stain. The world was different in the wake of the Scouring but everyone learned that magic wasn't to be trusted and they all lived happily ever after.

Or so the stories went.

Sam and Dean had been raised on a somewhat different version of the tales. The principals stayed the same - overambitious mages, world wide destruction, forces of light and darkness - but their bedtime stories hadn't ended with an unequivocal victory for the good guys. The archons hadn't exactly wiped out their opponents, so much as they'd shoved them back behind the doors the mages had ripped open and locked them in. For the most part, it was a good enough solution and no one really complained too much when the archons up and vanished after the war was over. In their own way, they'd been every bit as scary as the things that they fought. The problems had come when dark things started creeping back through the cracks in the world. The locks the archons had placed held the worst of the evil in but some things slipped through and this time, the humans were on their own. That was where the first hunters had come from and it was only the beginning of their story.

Dean had been cleaning up after the archons all of his life. He hadn't expected to ever meet one. Damn it. Looked like Sammy had been right about that one. Luckily, he was too busy being excited over Castiel to be smug about it.

"This is - it's really amazing to meet you," Sam was saying, clearly thrilled. "I mean, to know that you're still out there is one thing but to get to actually meet one of you!"

Castiel looked completely thrown by Sam's enthusiasm, to Dean's amusement.

"Sam, tone down the gushing and give the poor guy a break," he interrupted, getting a glare from one side and a quiet but relieved sigh from the other for his trouble.

He ignored Sam for the moment, giving Castiel a long, considering look.

"An archon, huh?"

Castiel nodded, eyes uncertain as they watched him.

"Gotta say, I didn't see that coming," Dean admitted.

"Not if the years of mocking me for believing in them are anything to go by," Sam muttered.

"Speaking of which," Dean said, voice hardening. "Where have you guys been for the last few thousand years? You didn't exactly finish the job, you know."

"We were ordered to leave," Castiel explained quietly. "They said we were too dangerous so they ordered us away. All but a few, like me, who were bound here to stay and to watch. We guard the seals."

"So there are more of you out there?" Sam asked.

"There were," Castiel said. "Never many but less now. Most of my brothers and sisters have gone silent. I haven't heard their voices in...many years." There was sadness under that even tone, practically an ocean of it.

"You don't look a lot like what I expected from an archon," Dean commented abruptly. "I thought you were supposed to be 'too terrible for human eyes' or somesuch?"

"We are," Castiel replied. "But some of us learned how to take human form. It limits us but it lets us speak to you without hurting you."

Dean turned that over in his head. "Explains why you move the way you do," he muttered, waving off Castiel's curious look.

"So why play spirit-god on the mountain?" he asked instead.

Castiel gave him an utterly confused look, complete with head-tilt.

"Uh, hello?" He waved. "How I got here in the first place? That town's been practically worshipping you for centuries."

"Me? Oh," said Castiel, suddenly embarrassed. "I didn't do anything - they shouldn't - I didn't know," he finished lamely.

"I'm less surprised by that than I should be," Sam announced as Dean snickered. He could just see how it had happened, too. Castiel minding his own business, completely unaware of the random wanderer who'd caught sight of something odd up in the mountains and gone racing back to town with word of the miracle that he'd seen. Entire religions had been based on less.

"Poor Greenlyn," Dean crooned with false sympathy. "All that devotion for a 'patron spirit' who doesn't even know they exist."

Poor Castiel, completely flustered by the mild teasing.

Sam elbowed Dean, hissing at him to stop it even as his mouth twitched at the corners.

"Well, I'm glad that you're you and not some spirit after all," Dean said, once he'd stopped laughing. "I mean, I'd probably be in a world of hurt if I had been grabbed up by some bored demigod, right?"

"That's my brother," Sam said wryly to Castiel, starry-eyed worship momentarily overcome by little brother scorn. "Always an optimist."

"But see, here's what I'm not getting," Dean continued, struck by a sudden thought. "There's no spirit or god or whatever here, right? Well, that's great. Except that something zapped me here and I still can't leave. So who's doing that?" he asked, catching Castiel's eyes.

The patron spirit didn't exist, there was no demigod in the area but there was a very old, very magical being who seemed far less removed than he claimed to be.

"Any ideas?" Dean asked, almost gently.

Castiel sighed, embarrassment deepening. "I couldn't let them kill you," he confessed.

Sam and Dean exchanged an unsure look. Magical kidnapping wasn't something they wanted to encourage but if Castiel had done it to save Dean's life...

"You knew about that?" Dean asked cautiously.

"I'm not unaware of what goes on around me," Castiel replied.

"Especially when one of those is involved?" guessed Sam, pointing at the altar.

Castiel nodded once. "It's not mine to use but the power in them does speak to us."

"So why was everyone so confused when I disappeared?" Dean asked. "I can't be the first person they've, you know," he said, drawing a thumb up his stomach to his chest as he mimicked a tearing sound.

"Because I've never interfered before," Castiel replied simply.

"Never?" Dean stared at him. "But why would you do that - for me?"

Castiel looked between them. "Neither of you have any idea how unusual you are, do you?" he asked.

Sam flushed at that but Dean just laughed. "Oh, we know we're plenty weird."

"You're not weird," Castiel said, almost scoldingly. "You're special. Both of you," he insisted, glancing at Sam before his eyes settled on Dean again. "But you...you shine."

"I what?"

Castiel glided forward, closing the distance between them. "You shine," he repeated, "and I couldn't let them hurt you."

Castiel had that look in his eyes again, the one that said Dean was something incredible he couldn't believe he was seeing. Dean thought it was pretty unbelievable - and damn unnerving - that anyone would look at him like that. He looked away from those too-blue eyes and glanced at Sam, hoping for a little well, isn't this weird support. To his dismay, Sam was watching him with an openly fond look.

"Oh, not you too," he said without thinking.

"I always told you you were special," Sam said softly. His brother could be such a girl.

"Aw, Sammy," Dean groaned, deeply uncomfortable. "Cut it out."

Sam outright grinned at that, solemnity falling away. "But didn't you hear, Dean?" he asked brightly, "You-"

"Don't even-" Dean started threateningly.

"You shine!"

"Shut up," Dean snapped. "I will hit you."

Sam laughed, totally unintimidated, and turned back to Castiel. "Whyever you did it, thanks for saving Dean," he said sincerely, giving Dean a significant look.

"Yeah, yeah. Thanks," he said. "And I appreciate it and all but you think you can let me go now? I promise I'm safe from the idiots back in town." Grateful he might be for the rescue but the thought of sleeping in a cave for a week while an honest-to-fuck archon tried to decide what to do with him was creeping him out. Even if he'd eventually decided to wake Dean up and try to make friends.

"I - yes, of course," Castiel agreed quickly. "It won't take long," he assured them.

"Glad to hear it," Dean said distractedly. "'Cause, you know. Places to go, people to save."

So what happened after he got loose? Were they just going to leave Castiel here? Didn't seem fair somehow and Dean thought Castiel had hung onto him a bit too tightly to be as indifferent as he seemed to their departure.

Sam seemed to be thinking along the same lines. "Say, Castiel," he said casually, "you think if you tell us something about how you're bound here, that we might be able to get you free?"

The question appeared to catch Castiel off guard. "Get me free?" he echoed.

"Yeah, you said you were bound, right? So maybe me and Sam can find a way to let you go. Then you can go ahead and, I don't know, go check out what happened to your archon buddies. Go scour some demons or something," Dean suggested.

Castiel gave him that sideways look of confusion. "There's nothing to free me from."

"What do you mean, there's nothing to free you from?" Dean asked.

"Wait, you mean - you're not spellbound?" Sam asked.

It took a second to sink in. "You mean you've stayed here all these years just because you were told to?" Dean was appalled. That was taking obedience just a bit far, no matter who or what you were.

Sam seemed equally horrified. "You know, you could leave," he tried gently.

"No," Castiel said firmly, "I can't."

Sam and Dean traded looks. Evidently, archons were not all-seeing.

"Not even if the war's starting up all over again?" Sam asked.

Castiel's eyes narrowed. "What?"

"There've been demons around since the end of the war you guys fought," Dean told him. "But these days, there's more of them than ever. And they keep getting more powerful."

Sam picked up the explanation. "What information we've been able to get suggests they're working on some kind of plan. We don't know what it is but we know it's bad."

"'Course it's bad, Sam. It's demons," Dean snorted.

"But it's not just the demons," Sam appealed to Castiel. "They're corrupting people, pulling them into it too." They'd learned that the hard way, Sam especially. "It's making things that much worse. Isn't that the sort of thing that you should be worried about? Go look into or something?"

Castiel shook his head. "My place is here," he said stubbornly. "My duty is to watch and be on guard. That's all."

Sam's face fell. Dean actually felt a bit bad for him. His brother's archons sure weren't living up to his hopes, not that Dean was all that impressed with them, either.

"With all the shit that's going on out there, you're just going to stay here in your little cave and watch? All because of a four-thousand-year-old order?" Dean asked, irrationally disappointed. He'd expected better from Castiel, somehow.

"Yes," Castiel replied steadily. Bastard didn't even look conflicted about it.

"You know what? Just - do your thing," Dean said tightly, waving one hand in front of him. "Undo your magic and let me out of here."

Castiel dipped his head in a shallow nod. "As you wish."

He couldn't help but tense when Castiel lifted one hand but nothing drastic happened. Castiel closed the hand into a fist and Dean heard a quick intake of breath from Sam when it started to glow. Dean was too busy being startled at the sudden warmth of power he could suddenly feel coiled around him. Almost involuntarily, he looked up from Castiel's hand to meet his eyes. He looked less human now than he had since he'd first appeared and for the first time, Dean couldn't read him at all. It was a hell of a time to realize that the power that had been buzzing at the edges of Dean's awareness all along must've been Castiel. The magic loosened around him, unwrapping itself as Castiel opened his hand. Dean bit his lip and shivered as it fell away from him, shaking his head as Sam called his name worriedly.

"Dean? You o-?"

"I'm fine," Dean cut him off, exasperated at the overprotectiveness. "It's gone. Just felt weird for a second there." And if by "weird", Dean had really meant "cold and exposed," well, he wasn't going to let himself dwell on that. The feeling hadn't lasted, anyhow and he was back to normal now.

"So does this mean I'm free to go?" he asked Castiel.

"You are," was the reply, words thin and stripped clean of feeling.

"Thanks so much," Dean said, mouth twisting in something that wasn't a smile.

Castiel inclined his head. The carefully blank expression on his face set Dean's temper off again.

"I don't believe you," he said as he stalked forward, Sam making a hasty grab for his arm. "You're seriously just going to stand there and watch us leave, go back to sitting here in the dark and the rest of the world can go fuck itself."

"What else would you have me do?" Castiel asked him tiredly.

"Something!" Dean shouted, dangerously close to taking a swing at him. "Anything!"

Sam tightened his grip on Dean's arm. "Look, you know you don't have to stay, right? You could do a lot of good out there. There's nothing holding you here," he said, using the utterly reasonable tone that made it so easy to believe him.

"Nothing except the fact that this is what I am assigned to do," Castiel replied almost angrily. "This is where I was placed and told to stay. I am what I am and I do what I'm told."

"That is bullshit," Dean growled. "The situation has changed! And no one's been around to tell you to do anything for thousands of years! You don't think you're needed more out there than in here? Think for yourself, for fuck's sake. You can do - or not do - whatever you want. Just make the choice."

"I can't," Castiel grated. He looked like he'd shatter at a touch, like one more word would be too much, and Dean finally gave up.

He clenched his hands into fists as he choked on useless, angry protests. Sam's resigned sigh was loud in the sudden silence. They couldn't argue with that kind of blind obedience, no matter how much it made Dean want to beat heads against walls until some sense got through.

"Fine. The hell with you anyway," he finally said, voice low and furious as he turned away. So much for archons.

Castiel never said a word but the sigil-light in the shrine abruptly flickered out and the sense of his presence faded. Dean took that as his cue, storming out of the cavern without a backwards look. Sam fell into step beside him as they walked away.

"Come on," he said quietly, lightly tugging Dean's shoulder. "Town's this way."


*****


Dean would have been perfectly happy to avoid Greenlyn for the rest of his life but Sam had to be reasonable and point out that their horses and gear were still there. Even if they'd had the money to replace their weapons and supplies, there was no way that Dean would ever leave his girl behind so it was back to the town they were going. They'd been hiking for a couple of hours now and Dean was still fuming. The anger had followed him through at least three tentative attempts at conversation from Sam as well as most of a canteen of water and half a pouch of dried meat as his body started counting time again. At least chewing viciously on the tough strips had been a legitimate excuse to ignore Sam until he gave up on trying to talk to him. Dean really wasn't in the mood for sharing.

"You said there are demons walking the world?" a voice asked from just behind him.

Dean almost jumped out of his skin, nearly crashing into an equally startled Sam. The two of them barely avoided tripping each other to the ground. Part of Dean was busy cursing out his reflexes but he ignored it as he caught his balance again. He recognized that voice - and that entrance.

"Castiel?!"

Dean was having trouble believing it but there he was, even more out of place than he'd seemed in the cavern. Sam threw him a what's going on now and is this good or bad? look and Dean shrugged a how should I know and I'll get back to you on that at him.

"The demons?" Castiel prompted, brushing off their confusion.

"Uh, yeah," Dean responded when Sam gestured at him to go ahead, barely recalling what Castiel had said as he'd appeared. "Yeah, they're out there. Why's that matter all of a sudden?"

Castiel stood awkwardly, expressions flickering through his eyes as he forced the words out. "I was unaware that their presence is growing stronger, as I told you. I've been thinking about what you said and I've come to realize that this is a problem, since my task was to watch for them," he said slowly.

"That is a problem," Sam said sympathetically.

Castiel nodded jerkily. It was clear that he was struggling. "It would be remiss of me to ignore the news you've brought," he blurted suddenly, eyes widening as if he'd surprised himself.

Dean was nearly holding his breath. "So what are you going to do about it?" he managed to ask casually.

"I - I think I need to go see for myself," Castiel replied, voice gaining strength as he continued. "After all, it's my duty to observe demon activity, right? If they're going to act again, I need to know about it."

"Absolutely," Sam and Dean assured him in unison.

"And I can't do that from in there," he reasoned. "Which means that I should leave - I need to leave - in order to do what I'm supposed to." He looked between them. His expression was set and determined but his eyes begged for reassurance.

Dean closed the distance between them and put his hands on Castiel's shoulders. "Exactly," he said firmly, meeting Castiel's eyes squarely. After a long, searching look, he felt Castiel relax under his hands. "Knew you had it in you," he said under his breath as he dropped his arms.

"Stick with us," Sam offered and Dean could have hugged him for it. You know, if he were the type to hug people. "We know the demon situation better than pretty much anyone else and we'd be happy to have you."

"Sounds like a plan to me, Sammy," Dean agreed cheerfully. He quirked an eyebrow at Castiel, who was back to looking amazed and maybe a little bit happy. "You in?"

"Yes," he answered without hesitation. "I'm in."

Fin


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