"Here," Ruby spat, throwing what looked like bean bags at the brothers as she stood at the foot of their hotel room beds. "Hex bags. They'll protect you -- throw Lilith off your trail." Her lip curled slightly. "For now."
Sam turned the bag over in his hands. "Thanks. For--"
"Shut up," the female demon spat. "Don't you dare thank me. Not after this." She waved her hand toward the television screen, where the special report of the police station's decimation was still rolling out. "Lilith killed everyone -- can't you realise that? She slaughtered your precious little virgin you were trying to protect and half a dozen people besides!" She crossed her arms and tilted her head, tossing her blonde hair over one shoulder as she did so. "So, after all your big talk about humanity even in war? Turns out your plan was the one with the body count!"
Sam and Dean looked at each other, struck dumb in the face of her vehemence.
Ruby made a disgusted sound, throwing her hands up. "Do you even know how to run a battle?"
"Do you even know how to shut up?"
The Winchesters were suddenly on their feet, guns drawn and pointed at the dark-haired man in the business suit leaning against their motel doorway, arms crossed over his chest and legs crossed lazily at the ankle.
"Crowley," Ruby snarled.
Sam blinked. "Wait -- like Alistair Crowley? Writer of the Satanic Bible?"
"Aaaah, the Moose has a brain," the newcomer purred, his voice holding a distinctly British accent. "Good call -- although I'm not him." He clicked his tongue. "Adore his name, though."
"Whatever he wants," Ruby bit out, "don't accept."
"Oooohh." He pushed off of the doorframe and stood up. "Big words from Lilith's right hand bitch herself."
"Wait -- what?" Dean roared.
Ruby glared at him. "Shut up, Crowley."
"I'm here on business, Blondie," he snapped at her. "And looking for answers. For instance -- there's the little matter of one of my girls making a deal for a soul that she has no right to. There's the little matter of just what Azazel's little minions brought back when that deal was made. And then -- of course -- there's the matter of what in the bloody blue hell the crown princess of half of Hell herself is doing sending her most trusted operative to pretend she's fighting against her?"
"Ruby, what's going on?" Sam demanded.
"Oh, Ruby is it this time?" Crowley chuckled. "Seems you went by another name last time I ran across you. And it seems you were manipulating my girls into making deals behind my back that time, too."
"Ruby," Dean barked out. "Answer Sam!"
"Yes, Ruby," Crowley spat, his head tilting. "Answer Sam. Tell him the truth for once -- tell him that Azazel and Lilith have been manipulating his family for decades to try to trigger the bloody Apocalypse, using the Winchesters as their pawns in a civil war with nothing less than Hell and Earth itself as their prize!"
Ruby's fists clenched.
"Go on!" Crowley roared. "Answer them!"
"Go back to hell," she snarled.
Crowley laughed. "You'd love that. Then you could continue to pull the wool over their trusting little eyes and continue the merry manipulations!" He turned to Sam and Dean. "I'm here with a counteroffer, buckos."
"What counteroffer?" Dean asked.
"Man after my own heart," Crowley said. "Straight to the point."
"Dean! Sam! Do not listen to him!" Ruby shouted.
Crowley faced her again. "You never told them your real name, did you? Because then you knew they wouldn't listen."
Ruby was trembling now. "Shut up, Crowley!"
He pointed at her. "Make me, Asherah!"
She flinched, eyes clicking black as she hissed.
Sam's shoulders straightened and he suddenly whirled his gun to face her. "Asherah?" he growled.
"Sammy?" Dean asked, eyes flicking back and forth between the demons.
"You're Asherah?" Sam spat. Taking her silent glare as mute assent, he informed Dean, "Asherah is a demon mentioned in the Old Testament. She tricked the people of the ancient Near East into worshiping her as a fertility goddess. And...."
Crowley nodded. "And tell him the rest of it...."
Sam gave a soft, scoffing chuckle. "And they called her the Queen of Heaven. Medaeval scholars figured out she was a demon -- one of the highest-ranking female demons. Manipulative and seductive and sharp-tongued."
"And?" Dean asked.
Sam took a deep breath. "And second only to Lilith herself."
Dean's jaw twitched. "So where does that leave us?"
"Screwed," Sam growled softly.
"Not necessarily," Crowley put in. "As I said -- I'm here on business." He nodded his head at Ruby. "She manipulated my girls into --"
"Wait, your girls?" Dean interrupted. "Your girls -- make deals."
"You're a Crossroads demon!" Dean gasped.
"And it looks like there's an actual brain inside that pretty head!" Crowley smirked. "Who would have thought? I'm not A crossroads demon, however, boy-o. I'm the King of the Crossroads. And these manipulative bitches have been screwing with my girls! Tricking them into bargaining for souls that weren't theirs to bargain for!"
"My contract?" Dean asked, eyes widening.
Crowley nodded. "The terms are unacceptable. That particular minx was manipulated into manipulating you. And the manipulations end right here."
"I'll destroy you," Ruby snarled.
"You haven't the guts or the juice," he shot back before turning to the Winchesters again. "As I said -- I'm offering a deal. An out. And it won't cost a soul or a limb or anything like that. You won't even have to seal it with a kiss."
"Start talking," Sam ordered. "We're listening."
"Sam--" Dean shuddered, suddenly aware of the limitations his deal had placed on him.
Crowley chuckled. "No worries, Dean. Sam won't drop dead. He never would. Because that part of the deal never held. It would only have held if what was brought back was -- as Azazel put it -- 100% pure Sammy. And it just so happens -- it wasn't."
There was a moment of shocked silence, then Ruby started to laugh at the exact same moment Dean and Sam roared in perfect unison, "WHAT??"
"First things first," Crowley said, turning his full attention onto Ruby. Without even seeming to move -- he was a demon, after all -- he was suddenly across the room and pressing something into her neck.
She arched, her head falling back and her body stiffening. Crowley lowered his hand and the Winchesters saw that he had fastened a golden scarab to the side of her neck.
"Now, Asherah," Crowley purred. "Talk to me. Tell me the truth. Were you pretending to work against Lilith, or truly working against her?"
Ruby opened coal-black eyes. Her voice was a low monotone as her head returned to a more natural looking position. "Pretending."
Sam's jaw twitched and he turned away, shaking his head in incoherent rage. He had trusted her. He had believed her. And it had all been a lie.
Dean's free hand -- the one that was not wrapped around a gun -- squeezed Sam's free wrist.
Crowley nodded. "I thought as much. There is a reason you were pretending. Reveal it."
She seemed to struggle, but the words came out anyway. "Plan. Part.... of the plan."
"Whose plan?" Dean demanded. "What plan?"
"A-Azazel," she choked out. "A-And Lucifer. Free Lucifer.. trigger Apocalypse... remake Earth... in the Lightbringer's image..."
Sam gasped out, "Why us? Why the Winchester family?"
Ruby's black eyes shifted to him. "....I...."
Crowley's fingers pressed the scarab and she wailed out, "It could have been any family.... because of Sam's abilities.... it could have been any family w-with a special ch-child.... some-something went wrong with that....."
"What was that?" Dean asked.
"Your f-father," she replied. "He sh-should have reacted like the others did.... but he didn't. He should have denied. He should have grieved and moved on."
"Instead, he became a hunter," Sam finished.
Dean nodded. "And he turned us into hunters." Then something else she said clicked. "Sam's abilities. But those were caused by the demon bl---" He broke off, seeing both demons shaking their heads. "Are you serious?" he yelped.
"My visions are inborn?" Sam gasped.
Crowley smirked. "You're getting it. Your visions are inborn, and you have other abilities that make you very, very dangerous to demons." He waved a hand. "The demon blood amplified them and was a conduit for Azazel to reach you. But the abilities are inborn."
He shook his head. "I don't want them."
"Then don't use them." Crowley shrugged. "Simple as that."
"But the visions," Dean said. "They've stopped!"
"Dormant," Ruby stuttered out. "Not stopped."
Crowley clapped his hands. "Right, then! All we have to do to stop all this -- to truly stop Lilith, not the false way that Asherah here was feeding you -- is to keep Dean here out of Hell."
"Wait!" Dean yelped. "You're a demon -- how do we know you're telling the truth? Demons lie!" He jabbed a finger toward Sam. "And what the hell did you mean that isn't 100% pure Sam?"
"Because I like you, bucko, I'll take those in order." Crowley held up a finger. "One -- yes, demons lie. Yes, I am -- technically -- a demon. But I am, first and foremost, a businessman. I may deal in souls, but I still deal. I barter. And lies work against a successful barter. Those who deal with me and mine go into the deal fully knowing all the terms. Then it is their choice whether or not to accept those terms."
"Dean wasn't --" Sam began.
Crowley interrupted, "No. He wasn't aware of them all. Because that little minx was working for Lilith, and was no longer one of mine. Thanks for your assistance, Sam. You spared me the tedium of dealing with her myself." His lip curled. "As it is, I still have to deal with the fallout."
Ruby opened her mouth, and Crowley jerked the scarab off of her neck and snarled, "You're finished." He lunged for her, shoved her backward, and tossed something to Sam in one fluid motion.
Sam caught it one-handed. Realising what he held, he flipped the knife in his hand and threw it.
Ruby wailed, arching as the demon-killer knife sank deep into her shoulder. She lit from inside and fell to the ground, dead within seconds.
Dean pulled the knife from her shoulder and gestured the bloody blade in Crowley's direction. "Answer the other question before I use this on you. What did you mean about him being not 100% Sam?"
"Haven't you noticed?" Crowley asked, jerking his head toward Sam. "Shorter temper. Quicker to kill. Colder about it. Refusing to take care of himself because his brother is in danger. Are you honestly telling me you can't see it?"
"See what?" they asked in unison.
"Hell's bells," Crowley growled. "For a pair so smart.... Look, Lilith needed to manipulate you, Sam. She needed you reeling. Off-balance. So single-mindedly focused that she could get you do to anything -- Any. Thing. -- so long as it was tied to that purpose. And she could trick you into doing her bidding that way. As you were, that couldn't happen. You were too stubborn. Too independent. Too intent on avenging dear Jessica and then returning to your normal life."
Dean blinked. "I've not heard you mention anything like that since you.... came back."
"Because he's not like that anymore," Crowley said. "You still don't get it, do you?"
"Just spit it out!" Sam growled.
Crowley let out a groaning sigh. "All right! Fine! What came back isn't interested in normal. He's not as independent. He's a hunter, through and through. And his purpose -- his one reason for living -- is his brother."
Dean's eyes went huge and his gun and his jaw both lowered in his shock.
Crowley threw up his hands. "And he gets it!"
Sam looked back and forth between the pair of them. "Well, could someone fill me in? Because you're discussing my life and I'm feeling left out of it, here!"
"Oh, my G-d," Dean breathed. "What came back wasn't 100% Sam Winchester....."
Crowley nodded and finished for him, since Dean's throat seemed to have closed up and choked off the words. "All Sam in body. But in mind and personality? That's not Sam."
Sam scoffed. "Okay. So if I'm not all Sam -- who am I?"
"......me." Sam's eyes swiveled to Dean, who was so pale his freckles were standing out in stark relief on his nose and cheeks. His voice was wrecked. "........you're partly.... me."
Dean wasn't sure exactly what reaction he was expecting.
But he was pretty sure hysterical laughter wasn't it. Sam's gun clattered to the floor as he keeled backwards onto the bed he was sitting on, his large frame shuddering as spasm after spasm of wild giggles and guffaws erupted. His head turned from side to side, tears leaking from his eyes.
Dean seriously feared for his sanity, watching his little brother lose it again and again. "Sam?" When that had no reaction, he tried, "Sammy?"
Sam slowly sat up, shaking his head and wiping his palms across his cheeks. "Okay.... okay, I see what's going on, now."
"What's that?" Dean asked warily.
"Who is he, really, Dean? Did you hire him? I almost believed the entire spiel -- and killing Ruby was a really nice touch, but a little bit overkill -- until you said that I'm partly you. C'mon, Dean, joke's over. What's really going on, here?"
Dean closed his eyes and held onto the bridge of his nose in a 'give me strength' gesture. "Sammy," he sighed. "I didn't hire him. I never saw him before today. I think he's exactly who he says he is and I think he's told us the truth up till now."
Sam looked over at him and another, though smaller, round of helpless giggles erupted. "Yeah, right. Enough's enough, Dean. Tell me what's really going on, okay?"
Dean looked incredulously at Sam, then gained his feet. Lunging, he knocked the scarab from Crowley's grasp with one hand and caught it with the other. He slammed it into Crowley's neck and the demon hissed, his eyes going red from corner to corner as he arched.
Dean stepped back as Crowley's head resumed a more normal position. "Who are you?" he demanded.
Crowley's voice had become a dull monotone. "I am the King of the Crossroads Demons. I have many names, but the one that suits me here and now is Crowley. No relation to the Satanic church founder."
"You've hit us with a lot of information today. We know that demons lie. We know that this charm compels you to be absolutely truthful. So. What have you lied about in this font of information you've delivered to us?"
The answer was as shocking as it was instant.
"I have lied about nothing. Everything I've told you was the truth."
Sam's jaw lowered as his eyes widened. "You mean... You really are a demon who's being extraordinarily honest?"
"Yes, I am."
"You really believe that Lilith wants Dean in hell so he can break the first of these 66 seals and jump start the Apocalpyse?"
"Yes. I do."
Sam blinked. "Then what you said about me...."
"Speculation," Crowley monotoned. "Nobody is certain what happened, but your personality has definitely shifted to become more like Dean in some aspects. Most notably, the single-mindedness of your hunting and the fierce devotion to your brother."
Sam licked his lips. "And you have hinted that Dean can be rescued from this fate. Is that true?"
"So," Sam and Dean said in unison. Then Sam said, "Tell us how he can be saved" at the exact same time Dean said, "Tell us how to reverse what's been done to Sammy!"
They looked at each other, then barked out in perfect unison, "No, dude, you're more important!"
Crowley broke into laughter. After a moment of glaring, both brothers chuckled as well.
Crowley then said, "It's only speculation, mind you. Nobody knows exactly what happened. But there's a reason Crossroads Deals are sealed with a kiss. In that kiss, a tiny sliver of soul is removed and used as... as collateral on the loan, for lack of a better term. My best guess is that, somehow, that tiny sliver of soul was added to Sam when he was reanimated."
Dean frowned. "Like a jump to a car battery?"
Sam glared. "Dude, I'm not the Impala!"
Crowley chuckled at that. "No, you're not. And that's not what I mean. I mean more along the lines of.... of proof of purchase. That tiny little bit was put in there to show the price that was paid for your reawakening. Granted, this is all speculation, but...."
"But it makes sense," Sam nodded slowly. "More sense than bringing me back unchanged from the goodness of a demon's heart -- even in response to a deal."
Dean nodded slowly. "I think you're right."
Sam nodded again, his eyes on the scarab slowly pulsing on Crowley's neck. "So -- now that we've got me sorted out, I want to hear about how to rescue Dean from Hell."
"That will take some doing." Crowley's face shuttered as the truth came out. "And it might not even work--"
"We kill Lilith, right?" Dean asked.
"Would that we could, Winchester, but we need to leave her alive. The Apocalpyse has to happen sometime, after all. Just....not right now."
Sam shook his head. "But won't she just keep killing indiscriminately?"
"No," Crowley said. "With Dean-o here not in Hell, her plan is derailed for a few more centuries, at least. She'll go to ground and bide her time until the times are right again. But your generation is spared."
The brothers nodded as one. Dean frowned. "But I don't understand something."
"Well, no surprise there," Crowley muttered.
"Watch it," Sam warned and the demon tilted his head in mute apology.
Dean glared at him and then said, "There's nowhere on Earth that the hellhounds won't be able to find me if we don't break the deal. And if we do break the deal, Sammy---"
"--will be fine," Crowley interrupted. "We're not going to break the deal."
"Then there's no way to keep me out of Hell," Dean growled. "The hellhounds will find me no matter where on Earth I go!"
"Exactly," Crowley began to smile.
The Winchesters looked at each other, now hopelessly confused.
One phone call later, and the Winchesters packed up the room while Crowley talked to Bobby Singer on speakerphone. Questions and answers flew back and forth, the same things that had been gone over with the Winchesters were gone over again and again.
At last, Bobby asked the question on everyone's minds. "What do you mean, 'Exactly'? What are you talking about?"
"You're a researcher, Singer," Crowley answered. "Research the 'Removers'."
Silence for a moment, then Bobby breathed, "That's just a legend."
"Demons are only legendary too, aren't we?" Crowley shot back. "And so is the Golden Truth, but it's been attached to my neck for the last half hour or so."
There was a deep sigh, then Bobby said, "Okay. Point taken. I don't want you anywhere near my house."
"No worries," Crowley replied. "I don't intend to get anywhere near your house."
Dean scooped up the phone and shut off the speaker. "Bobby? We're on our way. See you when we get there." He closed the phone and removed the scarab from Crowley's neck. "Get out of here."
Crowley blinked up at him. "You're not going to milk me for more information?"
"We know how to get you if we do," Sam said with a smirk. "Nearest crossroads..."
Scoffing, Crowley shook his head. "Don't take this wrong, but I don't want to see you yahoos for a long time."
"No offense taken," Dean said with a smirk. "Get out of here."
Crowley stood up and walked toward the door. He turned and held out his hand. "The scarab.....if you please."
"No," Dean said. "Consider it collateral."
And Crowley broke into a genuine smile. "Now you're speaking my language." He lowered his hand and walked out the door before vanishing in a burst of sulfur stink.
Because of the stress of the last few days, the journey from Monument, Colorado, to Bobby's place in Sioux Falls took a lot longer than the expected twelve hours. When Dean nearly fell asleep behind the wheel, they sought out a motel and called Bobby, telling him they were stopping to rest.
They then proceeded to crash for about twelve hours.
After a drive-through breakfast, the brothers completed their drive to Bobby's. They got out and did the requisite belt of holy water, and then got down to business. "So what did he mean, the 'Removers'?" Sam asked. "And what does that mean for Dean?"
Bobby sighed and headed to his library with them trailing along. "Well," he sighed a second time. "I started with the legend and went from there."
"So what are these 'Removers'?" Dean asked.
"They're a legend," Bobby said as he sat down. "Let me read something to you."
Dean and Sam sat down as Bobby opened a book and began to read aloud.
"'The appearance of the wheels and their work was like unto the colour of a beryl: and they four had one likeness: and their appearance and their work was as it were a wheel in the middle of a wheel. When they went, they went upon their four sides: and they turned not when they went. As for their rings, they were so high that they were dreadful; and their rings were full of eyes round about them four. And when the living creatures went, the wheels went by them: and when the living creatures were lifted up from the earth, the wheels were lifted up. Whithersoever the spirit was to go, they went, thither was their spirit to go; and the wheels were lifted up over against them: for the spirit of the living creature was in the wheels.'"
Dean blinked. "That sounded.....almost Biblical."
"It should," Bobby shot back. "It's from the first chapter of Ezekiel in the Old Testament. He saw a vision of living creatures and each creature had a wheel within a wheel with him. The legend is that these wheels and creatures--"
"Aren't they angels, Bobby?" Sam interrupted.
"Some people think so," Bobby nodded. "Most people think so. But there's a ribbon of lore that states that these are aliens and the 'wheel within a wheel' are spaceships."
Sam smiled at him. "So which do you believe?"
Bobby snorted and tapped the paper. "Anyway, this vision is what people think of as the 'Removers'."
"So what are they?" Sam asked and Bobby looked at him.
"They're just what they say. People are removed from Earth and taken -- somewhere. Nobody knows where, but it's more than likely nowhere on Earth."
Sam and Dean looked at each other. "Nowhere on Earth the hellhounds can't find me," Dean breathed.
"These Removers, they're the answer that Crowley was getting at!" Sam broke into a dazzling grin. "Dean, this is it! This is how you're saved! You don't have to go to Hell! These Removers--"
"Whoa, settle down there," Dean held up a hand. "First of all, we don't even know if they're real. Second of all, if they are real, how do we get hold of them? Thirdly, why would they even help us? And fourth?" He reached over and curled a hand on the back of Sam's neck. "I'm not doing anything without you."
"Not even survive Hell?" Sam asked, and he sounded wrecked.
"No, Sammy. Not even survive Hell."
Bobby cleared his throat. "This is all well and good, but it's all moot unless we can find these 'Removers'. And right now they're still very much in the realm of legend. I still haven't found anything to indicate that they're even real."
"I think I can help you there." Three guns were suddenly in hands and pointed at the newcomer, who walked into the room -- through the devil's traps and over the salt lines -- like he owned the place. "And I intend to help you -- once you put the guns down."
"Who the hell are you?" Bobby demanded. "And how the hell did you get into my house?"
The man's head tilted slightly and Dean had the crazy mental image of an overgrown, humanoid bird. "Hell had nothing to do with it, Robert Singer. I am Castiel -- I am an angel of the Lord. And I am here to assist you."
"An angel?" Dean and Sam unisoned, before Dean finished, "There's no such thing!"
Cobalt eyes were fixed on his own jade ones, and Dean felt mingled amusement and disbelief rolling off the man in waves. "You battle the forces of Hell on a daily basis and yet you do not believe there are forces of Heaven as well?"
"I've never seen one," Dean growled.
"You have," the newcomer said with a slight smile. "You just did not realise it. And now, you have seen one in truth."
As he finished saying that, there was a sound like a clap of thunder and light flared behind him. In that light was revealed the shadows of two massive wings unfurling from the man's back. The wings retracted and the light faded and yes, the man was definitely smiling now.
"If you're an angel," Dean said, though he lowered his gun, feeling no threat from the strange man. "How come you look like some kind of... of holy tax accountant?"
The man -- Castiel, Dean reminded himself -- looked down at himself and touched his own chest. "The true form of an angel would render your eyes empty, bloody, sightless sockets. The true voice of an angel would burst your ears from the inside out, leaving you in impenetrable, permanent silence. This is a vessel, chosen to facilitate communication."
Dean's eyes went huge in shock. "You mean you're possessing some poor bastard?"
Castiel smiled again. "The 'poor bastard' has a name. It's Jimmy. And yes, you could use that term 'possessing'. He prayed to be used of Heaven. He is a very devout man. And he is very aware of everything that is going on, so please refrain from casting aspersions upon his parentage.'
Sam lowered his gun and laughed. "Dude, I think you've just been verbally smited!"
"Shut it," Dean growled. He heard Bobby's gun uncock.
"Castiel," Bobby said, going to his shelf and running a finger along spines before he found what he was looking for and pulled the book out. He laid it on the table and opened it, rifling through the pages. "I know that name from somewhere...."
Castiel opened his mouth to reply, but then Bobby jabbed a finger at something on the page. "Yes, here it is. Castiel is a guardian spirit. The Angel of Thursdays. He is at once a warrior and a healer."
"And on this day," Castiel nodded, "a messenger as well."
Sam gestured at the book. "So that's you, then?"
Dean frowned. "What message are you here to deliver?"
Castiel motioned toward chairs, and sat on the windowseat with the sun at his back. As the three sat down, he began, "Tell me what you are aware of, so I may know where to begin without repeating things you already know."
Dean and Sam spoke over each other, filling him in about the Yellow-Eyed Demon. About Cold Oak. About Dean's Crossroads Deal. About Ruby and Lilith. About Crowley's visit -- was that only the night before? -- and the information dump he'd deposited in their laps.
Bobby took over and told about the 'Removers' and how that could possibly save Dean.
Castiel nodded slowly. "Then I shall fill you in on the other side. Lilith is not working alone. There are angelic powers who also want Dean in Hell to break the first seal and begin the Apocalypse."
"What?" the brothers and Bobby erupted in unison. "Why?"
Castiel gave a sigh that seemed to come from his toes and leaned forward, clasping his hands loosely between the knees that his elbows rested on. "To understand that, you need to understand what is happening in Heaven, outside mortal eyes. Our Father has been -- away -- for some time and in his absence, many of my brothers and sisters have become....." He seemed to be groping for the words.
They waited patiently until he found them. "....bored. They want tasks. Purpose. To that end, they feel that if they can help trigger the Apocalypse and use the two of you as a modern-day Cain and Abel, then paradise on Earth will come about."
Sam's eyes narrowed. "Brother against brother, huh?"
"Never gonna happen," Dean said firmly.
"They will try to force it to happen by any means necessary," Castiel sighed. "Up to and including having Dean go to Hell and break the first seal."
Bobby put in, "I take it this ain't exactly the way God wanted things to go."
Castiel fixed unsettling cobalt eyes on him. "You take it correctly, Mister Singer."
"Bobby," Bobby said. "We're all friends here, till you prove otherwise."
"Then we are all friends -- Bobby. I am here to assist." He licked visibly chapped lips in what seemed to be an unconscious gesture. "There are those who realise that this is not the time for Apocalypse and are trying to undo what has been put into motion. By any means necessary."
"Up to and including you revealing the inner workings of Heaven to us," Sam said, and Castiel nodded once, slowly.
"So what can you do to help?" Dean asked. "Cause I sure don't wanna die -- not if this is what I gotta look forward to!"
Castiel inclined his head toward Bobby. "Your demonic source was correct. The B'Shain are your best hope."
"The who?" Bobby asked.
"The B'Shain. Your preliminary research has named them the Removers, but their proper designation is the B'Shain. With your permission, I shall contact them and see if there is truly anything they can do and what -- precisely -- that entails for you."
Dean nodded. "Thank you." And he meant that sincerely.
Castiel nodded and stood up.
"Castiel, wait," Sam said, standing as well. "Crowley speculated that when I was -- returned -- I wasn't completely myself. That I now have a sliver of Dean's soul inside of me."
"I could see," Castiel said. "But it would be extremely painful for you."
"I can take pain," Sam shot back. "I have to know."
"Sammy," Dean began.
"Dean -- I have to know!"
"Sit down, then." Sam did and Castiel walked over to him and lay a hand on his shoulder. "I am sorry for the pain this will cause, Samuel."
"Sam," came the automatic correction.
"Sam." And his other hand lay flat on Sam's chest for a second.
Then Sam screamed, his head falling back, as Castiel's hand seemed to sink completely into his chest.
Castiel removed his hand and caught Sam as he toppled from the chair onto his knees. "He needs water."
"On it," Dean said, running to get a glass.
"Hush, Sam, I have you," Castiel said soothingly, touching Sam's forehead with two fingers and smiling softly at the involuntary gasp as all pain suddenly stopped all at once.
Dean returned and took over, holding Sam with one arm while feeding him the water with his other hand. After Sam had taken his fill and Dean had insisted on helping him back into the chair, Sam looked up at Castiel. ".....well?"
Castiel sighed. "Your demonic source was telling the truth. You are, indeed, soulmates in the most literal sense of the word. You carry a tiny sliver of Dean's soul inside you, and there is some of your own soul missing to make room for it."
"That's why his personality has changed so much," Dean gasped, and Castiel nodded.
"But as to where the bit of soul removed to house the sliver from Dean has gone to?" Castiel shook his head. "I can't say."
"I can," Bobby said. "Like attracts like. Soul fragment's lookin' for somethin' familiar -- sure bet it went almost immediately to where it would be most at home." He nodded toward Dean. "Inside there."
Both brothers frowned, then Sam spoke up. "But -- he isn't any different. Not like I've been."
"No," Sam said, shaking his head. "As a matter of fact, he's been more like himself since Cold Oak than I ever remember--"
"Boy's overcompensatin'. He can tell somethin's off, but he's denyin' it and acting like everything's just fine. Right, Dean?" Bobby asked pointedly.
Dean just swallowed.
Sam sagged deeper into his seat. "Oh....lovely."
Castiel looked from one to the other. "I must go speak to the B'Shain."
Bobby nodded. "Come back here soon as you have anything, okay?" Castiel nodded. "And, boy? Don't just be poppin' in." He tossed an old cellphone into Castiel's hands. "Call ahead."
"I will." And then he was gone.
The next morning, the first words Dean heard when he woke were, "Soulmates, huh?"
He groaned and threw his hands over his face. "Sammy, I swear, if you don't shut up about that...."
"No, hear me out. I'm not talking some romantic bullshit or swearing undying fealty to you or any of that crap. But -- dude -- we literally -- literally....." Dean could somehow sense Sam's head shaking. "Dean, we share a soul...."
Dean sighed and lowered his hands. "Yeah, Sammy. We share a soul. I've got some of yours inside me and you've got some of mine inside you and it's way too damned early to be thinking this damned deep before we've had a cup of coffee or even gotten out of bed so why don't you just drop it for awhile, huh?"
When there was no answer, he turned his head to find Sam staring at him with wide eyes and a lowered jaw. "What?" he demanded.
"Huh," Sam said, blinking and pulling up his jaw. "There's where the Ramblefish went. I was wondering why I wasn't rambling anymore."
Dean stared at him for a moment, then made a sound midway between a groan and a chuckle and got out of bed. "Forget it. Too early. I need coffee. Think Bobby'd mind if I hooked up an IV and mainlined some?"
Sam barked out a laugh. "Get downstairs, jerk! And don't forget to save some for me!"
"Bite me, bitch." But Dean was grinning as he headed down the stairs.
Some things truly never changed, and it felt good to just banter with his brother again.
He entered the kitchen to find Bobby sitting at the table with Castiel there. Dean blinked. "When'd you get here?"
"Just a few moments ago," the angel said. "I have news--"
Dean held up a hand. "Stop right there. I need coffee. I need a shower. I need Sam. I am not gonna stand here in my pyjamas and listen to what you found and then have to hear it again when you explain it to Sammy." He padded barefoot over to the coffeepot and poured two cups. He loaded one with three spoonfuls of sugar and enough milk to change it from dark brown to creamy tan. "Gimme fifteen."
With that, he headed back up the stairs.
Sam didn't even look up from the computer, he just held out a hand as Dean passed his coffee to him. "Thanks. Found us a possible hunt to tide us over until Castiel returns--"
"Scratch that. He's downstairs."
Sam looked up. "Yeah? What'd he say?"
"Nothin'. Too early, remember? Coffee, shower, dress, and we go down and hear it together."
Sam reached out and shut the laptop with a soft 'snick'. "Sounds like a plan to me."
Coffee was downed in record time. Showers were taken at the usual speed. Because he took longer, Dean laid out Sam's clothes for him after he got dressed as a silent apology.
Once they were both all done in the bathroom and their caffeine levels had risen enough they were both fully coherent, the brothers headed back downstairs and found Castiel still sitting at the kitchen table.
Bobby was at the stove, finishing up a plate of pancakes. "Sit down and eat, boys."
Castiel looked up at him as the brothers sat. "But I thought we were going to talk."
"Trust me," Bobby said, "they can listen and eat at the same time. Go ahead, Feathers, start the story."
"My name is Castiel," the angel said. "Not Feathers."
"Fine," Bobby said as he put the pancakes and syrup on the table and swiped at Dean's hand as he tried to grab one before the plate had come to rest. "Whatever you say. Feathers."
"Don't feel bad," Sam smiled. "That's just Bobby's way. He calls us 'idjits' every day."
"I don't feel bad," Castiel replied, an eyebrow raising as Dean put a pancake on a plate and put syrup on it before sliding the plate to him. "And what am I to do with this?"
"Eat it," Dean said, his mouth full.
Castiel's head tilted in that strange, birdlike way. "But I have no need of--"
"Eat it, Feathers," Bobby interrupted.
Sam turned his head, looking him in the eyes. "Castiel. Eat it."
Castiel's jaw closed with near-audible click and he picked up his fork. A few moments later, they were treated to a soft smile. "This is pleasant."
Bobby nodded. "Glad you like my cookin'." He sat down and got himself a pancake off the stack.
After a few more moments of inhaling the stack, Sam asked, "So were you able to talk to the B'Shain?"
"I was, indeed," Castiel said before his tongue darted out -- apparently without his conscious intent -- to chase an errant drop of syrup that had tried to make a grand escape from the corner of his mouth. "I was most... disheartened... by their response."
"So it's no, then," Sam sighed, and the mood in the room plunged.
Castiel set his fork down onto his empty plate. "It's a... provisional ... no." He finished the mug of coffee Bobby had set at his place and -- following Dean's example -- used the back of his hand to wipe the liquid from his lips. "I am to return to them in a few days."
"Provisional?" Dean asked, frowning. "What's provisional about no?"
"The B'Shain feel that you are asking for their help out of ignorance. They wish you to be made aware of everything you are actually requesting of them. Once you know all the facts, you are to decide if this is still the course of action you wish to pursue. I will deliver your answer to them and everything shall move on from that point."
"Just answer this," Dean said, gesturing with his fork. "Am I gonna live and is Sammy gonna be able to stay with me?"
"If you go through with this plan with the B'Shain?" At Dean's nod, Castiel noded as well. "Yes."
Dean spread his hands. "Then I know all I need to know."
"The B'Shain feel otherwise, Dean," Castiel said patiently. "And that's why I'm here, now. I'm to make you aware of all the ramifications of this choice."
"Then make me aware of them," Dean said. "My decision won't change."
"I wouldn't be too sure," Castiel replied. "Tell me what you think you know."
Sam chuckled softly at that, and Dean glared at him before he began. "I know that they're the Removers and that they have the ability to make it so that I somehow survive the hellhounds and my contract. I don't know how."
"I have some theories," Sam said. "They can somehow mask Dean from the hellhounds. They can shield him or protect him."
"Except they're called Removers," Bobby put in. "So it stands to reason the B'Shain will somehow remove the contract from Dean."
"No," Castiel said. "They won't remove the contract from Dean. They will remove Dean from the terms of the contract."
Dean waggled his hand back and forth. "Same difference."
"No, Dean," Castiel said. "It isn't."
Sam's eyes went huge. "You're not talking about masking him or hiding him, are you?"
Castiel didn't answer.
"Castiel?" Sam demanded. "You're not talking about hiding Dean at all!"
Cobalt eyes locked onto jade as Castiel answered at last. "No. I'm not. They will not hide him from the hellhounds. They will remove him from their perceptions. Completely."
"Permanently?" Bobby growled.
"Yes," Castiel said, though his eyes didn't move from Dean's. "Permanently."
Bobby said, low and dangerous, "Get outta my house and away from my boys."
"Bobby," Dean snapped.
"Dammit, Dean, he's talkin' about killin' you!"
Castiel turned to look at Bobby. "I am not. The B'Shain are not going to kill Dean."
"Then what are they gonna do?" Bobby growled. "Because 'permanently' sounds an awful hell of a lot like killin'!"
"Dean," Castiel said, returning his gaze to the older Winchester, who now sat ramrod-straight in his chair. "The B'Shain do not intend to kill you or harm you in any way. They will merely remove you from the terms of the contract."
"How are they gonna do that, huh?" Dean demanded. "Hellhounds will be able to find me no matter where I am if this contract holds!"
Castiel shook his head. "No, Dean. Not everywhere."
Sam interrupted, "What do you mean?"
"The hellhounds will be able to find you anywhere on Earth that you go." Castiel's head tilted slightly. "So, the B'Shain intend to remove you from Earth."
On To Part Two
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